Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween! 3 Flavors of Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween everyone! I apologize for lagging behind on foodie posts...but I have my book, THE DJINN'S DILEMMA (Nothing whatsoever to do with food, but the hero is yummy!), coming out from Harlequin tomorrow and that's been keeping me busy. However, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays ever, so I couldn't resist :)

The family had a lot of fun creating this fantabulous pumpkin display :) Then the DH decided to clean the seeds out of the mushy gunk & experiment in the kitchen. So he made three different batches of roasted pumpkin seeds.

(Image from Trojan was so perfect, I had to share...if that's a problem let me know, and I'll remove it)

Now the basic recipe for home-roasting pumpkin seeds is simple:

2 cups of raw whole pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons melted butter or oil
Salt & pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Toss seeds in a bowl with butter/oil and seasoning.
3. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a foil-covered baking sheet (the foil makes cleanup easy). Bake for 30 to 45 minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Now the DH experimented with different additions (yup, I'm a good influence):

1. He replaced the seasoning with a Cajun spice-blend. This was spicy & yum! My favorite.

2. He added chili powder (the type with cumin in it) & brown sugar to one batch. Kids & he liked it.

3. For the third batch, he added Italian Spice-blend, garlic powder & parmesan cheese. This was the pretties to look at & pretty darn yummy :)

Let me tell you, the entire house smelled divine thanks to this experiment :D

I hope you're having a fun & festive Halloween! Do you have a favorite flavor of roasted pumpkin seed?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tea with Spiced Chickpea and Sweet Potato Tidbits & Thoughts on Marriage

The moment that set me on my journey to become an American occurred over tea, a cup of warm, sweet cha.

In our typical Bengali household in Bangladesh, once under British rule and forever haunted by colonial traditions, tea time was a precise ritual. At 4 p.m. in the afternoon I’d show up at my parents’ bedroom carrying a tray with a fat pot of tea, sugar, milk and a snack. My homework would be done, my mother would have had her afternoon nap, and my father would still be at work. Rain or shine, this was our together time.

I remember how grown-up I felt when I was eventually allowed to have a cup of tea instead of having my glass of milk. It was around my 13th birthday, sort of a nod from my mother that I wasn’t a child anymore. It was my duty to fix our cups of tea, arrange the plates and snacks in pretty presentation, because a young woman, a prospective bride, had to be a good hostess. Offering and serving tea was an essential skill on the road to a marriage.

The tea couldn’t be steeped too long, or it would be bitter. Too little, and it’d be flavorless. You had to add just the right amount of milk so that it would resemble a rich, bright dulce de leche. Not too dark, not too pale.

Once I poured too much milk and my mother sniffed at it. “I wanted tea, not milk with a touch of tea,” she said. “Fix me another cup.” So I did and took the cup she’d rejected. One sip and I realized she was right. The taste was insipid, a disappointment.

With this tea we would have a snack. The word “snack” suggests something quick or of little consequence. That would be misleading. The snack would depend on many factors, the weather, my mother’s whim and the cook’s whim.

On hot days, when the cook didn’t feel like cooking, it would be a fruit salad or platter of pretty store-bought cookies. On rainy days, it would be something hot from the stove and savory: freshly fried onion pakoras/fritters, or piping hot samosas. On cool winter afternoons we’d have some variety of traditional pithas –sweets- flavored with coconut, ja-ggery (dried sugarcane sugar), or date palm syrup.

I looked forward to being surprised at tea-time and relished whatever morsel that happened to accompany the tea. Not so my mother.

My mother usually had a late breakfast, and over her morning cup of tea, would talk with the cook about the day’s menu. On good days, when their ideas meshed, she’d receive nods of agreement. On other days, the cook would annouce what she thought would be better. At tea-time, the cook’s preference turned up.

At first, my mother would send the dish back and specify what she wanted. I got to be the messenger. She got her request. However, if the item had to be fried, it was almost burned to a crisp. Or it looked perfect, but somehow the cook forgot the salt. My mother learned to consult the cook on each day’s menu rather than give her a list.

I didn’t realize it then, but the cook taught me a lot, not only about food but also about how to deal with my mother. :)

To this day, I decide what to cook depending on the weather and my moods, the season and the taste. However, I also pay attention to presentation.

But I have my own ideas about what's needed for a marriage. :)

Spiced Chickpea & Sweet Potato Tidbits

2 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 a small onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes or chilli powder (or to taste)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed into 1/2" pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons finely julienned ginger (divided)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed into paste
1 15.5oz-can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoons of tomato paste diluted in 1/2 cup of water (keep more water on hand, to prevent sticking)

Garnish: reserved julienned ginger, chopped fresh cilantro, finely chopped red onion,a squeeze of lemon juice, slivers of Romaine lettuce.

Serve with: cocktail breads, pita wedges or crostini.


1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Add the whole spices (all the seeds)cook for 1 or 2 minutes, they should start sputtering.
3. Add other spices, cook for about 1 or 2 minutes and add onions, cook until softening.
4. Now add the chili, sweet potatoes, half the ginger, and garlic. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes
5. When the sweet potatoes are half-cooked, add chickpeas and jalapeno. And the tomato water. Lower heat and cook 10 to 15 minutes.
6. When done, the sweet potatoes should be just done and the dish should be saucy...but not like a curry. Take off heat.
7. Top with garnishes (except for the lettuce).
8. Serve with bread, allow guests to build their own tidbits --bread + a bed of lettuce (for crunch)+ spiced chickpea & sweetpotato mix. Enjoy!

This post has been brought to you as part of October's #Letslunch twitterparty. Check out all the other yummy posts:

Hapamama's High tea with Taiwanese Sandwiches

Patrick's Welsh Rarebit

Cheryl‘s Cheese and Onion Sarnie at A Tiger In The Kitchen

Emma‘s Brown Sugar Shortbreads With Hawaiian Jam at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Linda‘s Singapore-Style Ginger Tea & Kaya (Coconut Jam) Toast at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Little Lemon Meringue Tarts at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Rebecca‘s Millionaire’s Shortbread at Grongar Blog

Steff‘s Lemon-Lime Shortbread Cookies at The Kitchen Trials

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Eat Like A Professional Foodie: 5 Restaurant Tips

Usually when I go out to eat with a group, I get kidded (a lot) for taking photographs of everything (from the restaurant decor to the food) and dissecting the menu searching for the perfect dish that might could make me fall in love at first bite.

Recently, thanks to the JPW Learning Center and it’s first Cookbook Gala, I got to hang out with a few professional foodies –the food editor of the Washington Post (Joe Yonan), an internationally known food blogger (the Homesick Texan a.k.a. Lisa Fain) and cookbook authors with at least one if not more cookbooks under their belt (the above two, plus Rebecca Rather, the Pastry Queen, and cookbook maven Terry Thompson-Anderson).

(At Armenta's: I'm in the purple-pink tunic, next is Joe, Terry, Lisa is at the head, then Mary Ann from JPW, Rebecca & Anne Marie, JPW staff.)

Yes, these people constantly talk and think about food, they go over menus like a detective searches for clues, and many of them do take pictures of everything. However, they bring so much more to the table. Being the intrepid reporter, I took notes and here are some tips to take your restaurant experience to new heights.

1. Choosing a restaurant – ask anyone and everyone for restaurant recommendations. Where ever the foodies went –airport, football game, restaurants, book signing—they talked to locals and asked for restaurant recommendations. Then they dug deeper and asked why the person liked that particular restaurant. While sometimes our eating plans constantly changed as new information came along, we did eat some very good meals.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Rebecca Rather, the Pastry Queen from Fredericksburg, TX, not only asked the server questions about the menu items, but also asked to sample a sauce before she ordered. I was stunned. What a simple solution to getting exactly what you want and avoiding disappointment in a restaurant. Duh.

(Rebecca Rather quizzing the waitress)

3. Ordering at a restaurant – peruse the entire menu and order a selection of items so you can get a good feel for the restaurant. Several of the pros ordered more than one item. Yonan mentioned advice from another foodie: professionals “eat through the pain.” Now I’m not recommending that since it’s not the healthiest nor the most comfortable state to be in. However, if you’re eating with another person or more, consider ordering different things. And this brings me to my next point.

4. Share – eating with foodiesis like sitting down for a lively, raucous family meal. You’re not related by blood but by the love of food. Foodies, professionals or not, are generous with their food and drink. Almost every dish at the table was shared and discussed, enjoyed and eaten.

5. Foodies play with their food. They aren't afraid of mixing up flavors, and trying food experiments at the table.

(Queso we doctored up with two other sauces on the table)

Bonus Tip:

6. Enjoy the food with all your senses. Professional foodies don’t rush through their meals if they can help it. Instead, they slow down and focus.
They notice details like color and shape, they inhale the aroma wafting off the plate, and they pay attention to whether a chip breaks with a crisp crackle or into limp, oily disintegration. They note the texture of the food –creamy and rich or rustic and chewy?

They taste the food, picking up all the different weaves of flavor –the salty and the sweet, the surprising kick of a spice or the fruity notes of apples and melons hidden in the depths.

So next time you go out to eat, slow down and enjoy your meal. Savor the experience. Do you have any restaurant tips to share?