December 14, 2009

Creamy Goodness

Since the day I saw Meeta's Panna Cotta, I have been waiting for a chance to try it. And it happened yesterday! Actually I wanted to make panna-cotta for dessert on Saturday with my root vegetable au gratin, but didn't have enough time. Ok, I have never tried panna cotta before, but I have to say what I made have set really high expectations for me when I get to have it at a restaurant next time. It was a simple dish, hardly took about 20 minutes to make, and full of creamy goodness! I think the best way to use saffron and cardamom in a dish is to have them complement each other, but not have one flavor dominate the dish. Cardamom gives a nice aroma to anything you add it to, and well, saffron is more for the color and the taste. They came together perfectly in this panna cotta.

As a vegetarian, I substituted gelatin with agar and used cream, sugar, saffron and cardamom. Thats it! Just 5 ingredients in this delicious recipe. Well, I also used pistachios for garnish. So here's how I made it - boiled cream with sugar, added strands of crushed saffron and about 6 pods of cardamom in it, turned off the heat and let it steep for a few minutes. In the meantime, I soaked about 1 tsp of agar in a couple of tbsp of cream. After about 10 minutes, I turned on the heat again, and constantly whisking the cream, added the agar mixture. In about 3-4 minutes, the consistency changes and then I moved it over an ice bath, whisked for a few more minutes and poured it in individual serving dishes. They were covered and let set in the fridge for a few hours. And before indulging, I added some chopped pistachios. Yummy :)

December 10, 2009

Kuya's Asian Cuisine

It's been a while since I wrote a restaurant review, but thinking about Ishq in South Beach the other day has motivated me to catch up. A few weeks back when we went to CA for thanksgiving, our flight from Milwaukee was delayed by a couple of hours. By the time we landed in CA at 3 pm pacific time, we were literally starving. From the airport we headed straight to Kuya's Asian Cuisine in San Bruno, serving primarily Filipino food. This was one of the closest restaurant which was still serving lunch and had good reviews on yelp. It was a nice (but small) restaurant, and they were ready to customize any dish as vegetarian for us. We love that about Mom and Pop type of places. We ordered the Bicol Express (Spicy mixed Vegetables cooked w/ Coconut milk) without the shrimp and pork. I think they basically made use of all the veggies they had, with a good amount of tofu. The dish was delicious and we finished it really quick. I was a lot more impressed with the flavors than I expected. They also had a good hot sauce on the side that helped us up the spice level on this already hot dish. A good place for a quick lunch!

Wishes

With Madison receiving close to 21 inches of snow in the last couple of days, the roads are pretty icy today. And this was our first snow storm. With at least four more months of everything blanketed in white, I am already wishing for pretty colorful flowers!

December 9, 2009

Eggplants & Lentil Stew

I made this spicy dish for lunch today. We have about 21 inches of snow already and it is still snowing - today is a 100% snow day. Seeing everything in white outside the windows and being cooped up inside the house, I was tempted to make a colorful dish and it turned out great. This is a pretty easy recipe and would take only about 20 minutes to cook, serves 6. And I am taking a big step in Recipe Writing!

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Ingredients
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6 eggplants (brinjal)
2 Tomatoes
1 Onion
1 clove garlic
1 Tbs. sambar powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1 pinch asafoetida
1/4 tsp chana dal
1/4 tsp urad dal
1/2 cup toor Dal
1 tsp oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp mustard
2 Green Chilies

---
Instructions
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1. Cook the toor dal in a pressure cooker, with twice the amout of water, a little salt and a pinch of turmeric.
2. Chop up the onion, two tomatoes, brinjals (small Indian eggplant), a clove of garlic, and a couple of green chilies.
3. Heat some oil, add the tempering - mustard, cumin, urad dal & chana dal, asafoetidas.
4. when the mustard pops and the dals turn red, add the onions and cook till soft.
5. Add the garlic, chilies and tomatoes, sambar powder and salt.
6. Add the eggplants, some water, cover and cook for a few minutes.
7. Once the eggplants are soft, add the toor dal, cook for a few more minutes.

A yummy stew to delish with some rice :)

December 8, 2009

Fried Okra

During spring break - when we were in Florida, we had dinner at an Indian restaurant called Ishq at South Beach. Our appetizer was Crisp fried Okra with dried pomegranate (first pic). We have not tried deep fried okra before (other than the breaded variety), and it was delicious. I have wanted to make it at home since, but as I hardly ever deep-fry, haven't had a chance to make this dish. Last week, when I had some friends over for dinner, instead of deep-frying, I simply sauteed the okra till crisp, on my cast iron with high heat.


The paring knife was great in slicing the okra, then I added some rice flour, salt, green chili powder and Amchur - dried mango powder, for the nice tangy kick. I started with about a tea spoon of olive oil, but not anymore after that. All that yummy-ness without a lot of oil :)

I am sending this to Think Spice blogging event by Sunita for the Think Amchur hosted by Bhagyashri of Taste Buds.

December 2, 2009

Simple Dessert

For tonight's dinner, I went with a 'Less is More' theme - a simple appetizer of cranberry-walnut bread with a ricotta - pesto topping, fried (not deep) okra, tortellini in a mushroom-eggplant-mascarpone cream sauce and finally the dessert.

This is probably one of the simplest desserts I have made - I whipped together the leftover ricotta (from appetizer), mascarpone from pasta sauce, added agave nectar and a tablespoonful of nutella. Topped the banana slices with this mixture and sprinkled some walnuts on top. Next time, I have to add some chocolate shavings too... yummy :)

November 30, 2009

Back from the Bay Area

We are back from a fabulous vacation in California and are now back to work. It is going to take a while to sort through the pictures from this trip and write about all the fun stuff we did. Here is one of my favorite picture of the Bay Area as we were leaving - we can see the Bay bridge, Alcatraz, Golden Gate bridge and the port of San Francisco!

November 18, 2009

Traveling - again!

For the thanksgiving we are taking off for California! Our plans are to be in San Francisco on Friday and fly out next Saturday. At this point, we don't have detailed plans, other than the cities we will be in. In SFO, we plan to go to the California Academy of Sciences, Fisherman's Wharf. In Yosemite, we have plans to spend two nights and go on one of their guided tours. Hopefully we will hit the beach when in Atascadero. Other than that - it is going to be an exciting trip meeting with friends we haven't seen in a few years, eating a lot of good food and generally being outside!

November 17, 2009

The perfect breakfast!

I am sure this technique has been around for a long time, but I just recently discovered it - cut out the bread in the middle with a cookie cutter, toast the bread on a pan, with an egg in the center! Yummy :)

November 16, 2009

Animals are Amazing!!!

How could I not share this? Paul Nicklen and a Leopard Seal.

Cataloging Books

Shankar got me "Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink", the latest book by Jane Goodall for my birthday last week. With each addition to our personal library, there is a need to electronically catalog all our books. I have been thinking about expanding my Amazon Listmania, to include all the books we have. But with the new ebook readers being able to sync with Google Books, I decided to go the google route! It was easy to search for and find the books, add to my library and label them. I finished adding most of my cookbooks (all those in English), and one other bookshelf in the house. Click here to access My Library!

November 15, 2009

Mango & Sweet Potatoes Curry from Laos

I made this really interesting curry last night in my soapstone cooking pot, after a similar curry we had in a Laotian restaurant in Madison. This is a pretty simple recipe and very easy to make. What made it interesting for us was the chili pepper I used for the sauce. I had picked out this extremely hot chili from the farmer's market from a Vietnamese person and he told me this was very hot (it looks like a Caribbean pepper). I got 5 for a dollar and hadn't had the chance to try it before. By now, they have dried pretty well, and I thought it would be perfect for a curry laden with coconut milk. I blended the following for the sauce: Peanuts, peanut butter, some tamarind paste, few shreds of coconut, the hot chili, some sugar, lemon grass and kafir lime leaves. The sauce became so hot with the pepper - I only used a few spoonfuls of it for the actual dish and have stored the rest as my favorite hot sauce. The chili turns out to be much more hotter than a Habenaro pepper!

I cut two sweet potatoes, one zucchini, squash (an Indian variety of winter squash - but any squash would be good), and half a mango, sautéed them for a few minutes. I added some water and let the vegetables soften before adding a few spoonfuls of the hot paste. Once the vegetables were completely cooked, I added a can of coconut milk and simmered for a few more minutes. In spite of adding an entire can of sweet coconut milk, the dish turned out to be still pretty hot and delicious :)

November 9, 2009

eBook Readers

I would actually like to have an eBook reader - when they get better. As much as I like to read my books hard copy - I just looked into the 'nook' and it supports PDFs. This got me so excited, that finally I can read [science] papers, on a reader, than on the computer. But one feature that I would like to have along with the ability to read PDFs is the text-to-speech option, which the nook lacks (present in kindle, but no pdfs). Alas! when is someone going to make a reader that supports both the features and make the life of an academic so much more geeky?!

November 5, 2009

Favorite Animal

As I was waiting for the little zoo train at the St. Louis Zoo yesterday morning, I ran into Natalia - a little girl from the Dominican Republic who is in the US to get a surgery on her leg. One of her legs is much shorter than the other, and she had recently been fixed with a shoe, that helps her walk (and run). Since the train was running late, we decided to walk around some of the exhibits. Natalia, who mostly speaks only spanish told me her favorite animal is the 'elefante', which is also one of my favorite animals :)

The St. Louis zoo has four Asian Elephants, and the male is in an enclosure by himself. The three females, one of which looked like a calf, are together. They also have a separate enclosure with a pool where they can go for a swim. It would have been so cool to see them also swim, along with the baby Hippo!

November 4, 2009

Hippo under the Water!

I spent this morning at the St. Louis Zoo. I had a great time, walking around and taking a ride in the train around the 90 acre zoo. The first part of the zoo was the River's Edge and had Rhino, Hippos, Cheetah, Bush dogs and elephants. In spite of having been to so many zoos before, I saw so many animals for the first time and it was thrilling. The most wonderful experience of the day was watching a baby hippo swim!

This is the first time I am witnessing a hippo actually swim - this baby was basically doing circles in his pool, with the mom and dad watching from a corner. He has gracious movements, and it was fun to watch him swim along with hundreds of fishes. Unfortunately, we forgot to bring our camera on this trip and the pictures were taken with my iPhone.

November 2, 2009

I am thinking of...

... all the birds of the Galapagos and the disease ecology of their parasites and pathogens...

Galapagos Hawk

October 31, 2009

Random: Sundial

This sundial, with a 30 foot long style is located in downtown Oshkosh, and is supposedly one of the largest in the world. Though I am fascinated by sundials, I have never attempted to tell the time with it, because of all the corrections involved. This picture was taken in the spring, during one of the gallery nights when my students did a fundraiser for the humane society.

One of the interesting things about this sundial is that it was removed temporarily when they were filming 'Public Enemies' in Oshkosh.

October 29, 2009

Pausing to reflect...

A coyote we saw at the Grand Canyon in 2007

October 28, 2009

Missed you Chicago!

I was looking forward to spending part of this week in the Windy City, with plans to visit the Field Museum and the Lincoln Park Zoo, Devon Avenue, Vanille Patisserie and Tamarind Restaurant. Alas, Shankar did not get to go to his conference, and I missed Chicago, and all the wonderful things it has to offer.

October 25, 2009

Avocado Rice

Last night's dinner was a simple meal with Avocado Rice, Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes and Lettuce sauteed with coconut. Usually when we get avocados, they are ripe and really good for guacamole. This time, I found some Haas avocados at Trader Joe's that were not quite completely ripe, and would hold the shape when diced. I also had a couple of Poblano peppers at home and hence a Navajo type Avocado rice for dinner. The poblano peppers were sliced thinly. The avocado was diced and soaked in lemon juice. I also used half an onion and some cilantro. The onion, peppers were suateed in butter and then, I added cooked rice, some salt and some hot sauce (left over from a Thai restaurant). Then the cilantro along with the avocados were folded in and mixed well. I wasn't sure how the avocados will hold on the heat, hence I turned off the stove and just let it soften in the warmth of the rice. Served with some yogurt to offset the heat from the peppers, the rice was yummy :)

October 23, 2009

A First!

I love to paint on glass, and have done quite a few pieces over the years. I even sold a lot of them when I was in India. Most of what I painted so far in the US have been given as gifts to friends. I did not have the time to pull out my paints since I started teaching. But with not working this semester, I finally decided to check out the art supplies sale yesterday at one of the local bookstores. I came home with a simple easel, a few canvas boards and an acrylic paint thinner.

I have used acrylic on paper before for craft projects, but never painted on canvas. I practiced a little bit to get an idea about how the paint will be on canvas, before starting on this Ganesh.

I started on the second Ganesh, even as the first one was still drying! This is bigger, drawn on a 9x12 canvas board. I like the flesh color on this one better than the first. Though I have ways to go before I am able to comfortably blend colors and produce more shadows, I love the way this one turned out.

October 19, 2009

Peacock and a Prairie Dog

This totally qualifies as something funny! When we were in Albuquerque a couple of summers back for the ASM conference, the picnic was at the zoo. In almost all the zoos I have been to in the US, the peacocks get to wander around, and also get in some of the other animals enclosures. When we were watching the prairie dogs, this adolescent peacock, got in their enclosure. But I suppose he didn't quite realize what he was getting into. The prairie dogs kind of spooked him, as they were running and rolling around.

The peacock, opened up its tail, hoping the myriad of 'eyes' may scare the prairie dogs. But then, one of the prairie dogs decided that the feathers look way too yummy. He just walked up to the peacock and started to nibble on one of the feathers. It sent the poor peacock into a frenzy. Every time it moved, the prairie dog just kept walking up to it, may be wanting to play! It was such a different scene from watching prairie dogs in the wild, to seeing this silly behavior in a zoo. Needless to say, we spent quite a bit of time watching these guys and laughed so hard :)

October 18, 2009

Governor Dodge State Park

We camped at the Governor Dodge State Park on Friday night and went on a hike yesterday morning. Amy had a great time on both the days. On Friday evening she was playing with a couple of other dogs. She was leading us on the hike (she likes to run ahead of everyone) on Saturday, with some reruns to check and make sure we were still around. She was so tired by the end of the trip, she did not budge from her bed to greet a friend yesterday! She also jumped through some hula hoops we found on the trail :)

October 14, 2009

The must-visit Map Room

During our trip last week to St. Louis, one of our best finds is The Map Room in the Benton Park neighborhood. We came across this place through a search for desserts on Yelp! For once, I was glad that Ethiopian restaurants don't serve desserts, and to please my sweet tooth, we ended up in this quaint place. The Map Room is special in so many ways - their extensive yet inexpensive menu offers a range of pastries (all made by local small businesses), coffees ~ that you can spike with your favorite liqueur, and alcoholic drinks.
Michelle, the owner is so friendly and full of contagious enthusiasm. She has converted an old meat factory - which you cannot even guess unless you pay attention to the pictures or talk to her - into a wonderful place that we ended up visiting three times in 4 days! The theme reflects the name and has a charming international flair to it ~ music from different countries on different days of the week, international movies on Saturday nights in the courtyard, and their drink selection is also based on this theme. Michelle is hoping to have their pastries reigned in to reflect country specials soon.
They have a variety of games and Shankar and I ended up playing cards while sharing some apple Sangria.
The Caribbean Mango Pie was seasonal and I was so happy to have the last piece of the day! The fancy chocolate pastry is actually chocolate ganache on an almond macaroon, dipped in milk chocolate. (There was also a dark-chocolate version of this). I cannot get enough of this little delight. We even brought some home, along with a couple of Budapest torte. The next day, we also played scrabble while enjoying pear sangria and a carrot cup cake. If I lived in St. Louis, you know where to find me!

October 12, 2009

Monday Morning Blues

Wishing I were someplace warm, by the ocean, and without the ton of stuff I gotta be doing :)

These are a couple of the Galápagos Sea Lion (Zalophus wollebaeki), from the Rabida Island south of Santiago. Picture taken in June 2005.

October 9, 2009

Nikko's Bathtime

Nikko - our Jenday Conure, loves his bath. He usually takes bath in his drinking water, but if we notice he is getting ready for one, we give him a pie plate with cold water and he goes crazy. This was his fun time from two weeks back, on his adoption day! You can click on the picture to view a larger image.

October 7, 2009

Gateway Arch in St. Louis

We are in St. Louis for the week, and we have been to the arch twice already! Here are some night shots of this magnificent structure. Hopefully I will get to see it again during the day, when it is not dreary and raining, before we leave the city on Friday.

October 5, 2009

Hiking @ Pope Farm Park

On Sunday evening, Shankar and I went on a Moon viewing / hiking to Pope Farm Park in the Town of Middleton outside Madison. This was a trip organize by the Madison Outdoor Meetup group. This park, of about 105 acres was converted from farmland to what it is today - woodlands and prairies, with beautiful views & highlighting the geology & Native American history of the area. To me, one of the really wonderful aspects of this park is that they have fourth grade students volunteer to collect seeds from the prairie plants and plant them in other places in the park during the fall and spring. We didn't get to see the moon that night , but it was nice to see some friends, and walk a hiking trail at night.

September 27, 2009

Abstract Floral

This is an abstract of a Peonia that bloomed at our Owen house last summer. If I were to participate in this photography contest, I think I would photoshop this image further :)

September 25, 2009

Dal Makhani

I made this Dal Makhani when we were in Oshkosh, a few months back. This recipe does not use the traditional dals used in the dish. Instead, I used whole moong beans and adzuki beans (if you look closely, you can see the green and red beans). This is a simple dish to make and I think one can use any variety of beans for this wonderful dish. All you need are beans, tomatoes (puree preferred), onions, ginger, garlic, green chilies, garam masala, butter, cream and garnish - cumin & cilantro.

The beans have to be soaked in water for a few hours to fasten cooking. I use a pressure cooker and to the soaked beans added the paste of ginger, garlic, green chilies and some garam masala. Once the bean were cooked, I added the tomato puree, the diced onions and let it cook for a few minutes. Topped it off with roasted black cumin, mixed some cream, added a spoon of butter. Served with cilantro sprinkled on top! And don't forget the salt - as per your taste :)

September 14, 2009

Dinner Time

On Sunday, we had a couple of friends come over for dinner, and we had a wonderful time. Here's what was on the menu:

To cook the Turkish Orange eggplants I picked up from the Madison farmer's market, I made Mualle, a Turkish eggplant and lentil stew. The recipe is very simple - basically chop up the eggplants - I used two kinds, the orange ones and the green Thai eggplants, some tomatoes, onions, garlic, green chilies, mint / basil and some lentils. I used a pressure cooker for this dish - oil the bottom of the pan, layer the eggplants, and a mixture of the rest of the ingredients, and the lentils. Add salt according to taste. Top off with some pomegranate molasses, and cook for three whistles (or about 3o minutes). The Mualle is served with rice and yogurt.

I made a simple yogurt sauce, instead of plain yogurt to go with the dish, with some chilli garlic paste. The side dish was sauteed brussel sprouts.

Dessert was pears poached in a lemony butter-sugar sauce, topped with rum-raisin mascarpone and a date. Yummy!

September 10, 2009

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