Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas goodies

We made some goodies to drop off at the youth shelter here for their Christmas lunch. Here they are alongwith their recipes:

Chocolate Mocha Cake with coffee icing

I got this recipe from The cake came out very soft and moist. Though it was tasty I didn't find it very coffee-ish as I expected it to be; but otherwise it's a wonderful recipe and easy to make. I've copied the recipe here verbatim:

What you'll need:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup strong brewed coffee
1 cup buttermilk (read below for substitute)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Let's make
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans or one 9x13 inch pan. I used a 9X13 pan and that size was perfect. Also I lined the pan with parchment paper which was very helpful as the cake is very soft to take out of the pan.
  2. In large bowl combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center.
  3. Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Batter will be thin. Pour into prepared pans. Instead of buttermilk, I took 1 cup milk, added 1 tablespoon lime juice to it and kept it for 10-20 minutes. I read somewhere that this way you can substitute buttermilk.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and finish cooling on a wire rack. Fill and frost as desired.
For the icing:

Again I picked this coffee icing recipe from It's slightly lacking in instructions. For a beginner like me it doesn't say how long you need to beat the mixture. It looks smooth after just a few minutes of beating; but with experimentation we learned that you need to beat till it becomes fluffy. I'm not sure if excessive beating could spoil it, that's another thing I'll experiment.

What you'll need:

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons strong brewed coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Let's make:
Beat together confectioners' sugar, butter or margarine, coffee, and vanilla until smooth. Add more liquid or confectioners' sugar as needed.

Veggie Patties (or puffs)

With great pride I can say that this recipe is mine :). All you need is phyllo pastry and any kind of filling. I get the phyllo pastry from mediterranean store, they have it in the frozen section. Here's a photo of the exact product that I get; while searching for the photo I found the recipe for the mediterranean dish made from these pastry sheets. I typically use a potato filling but you could use any veggie filling. The way I prepare the pototao filling:

  1. Boil and peel potatoes.
  2. Mash them.
  3. Take few teaspoons oil in a wok. When it's hot, add some cumin seeds (~2 tsps) to it. Once they start spluttering, add some turmeric powder and chilli powder and then add the potatoes.
  4. Stir and cook for 5 minutes and your filling is ready. You can change the ingredients to suit your taste. If you like it hot, add some green chillies. You could also add some amchur power (mango powder).

To make the puffs, take a square sheet. Dip your finger in water and line 2 continuous edges of the square sheet with the water. This helps in sealing the pastry later. Assuming that the diagonal of the square sheet was dividing it into half, put some filling one half of the sheet. Now seal the sheet such that it forms a triangle. Do this for all the sheets.

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Place the patties on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or till golden brown. The duration differs with different ovens.

Til Laddoos (Sesame balls): quick and easy

I've been wanting to post this recipe for a long time but was never getting a chance to try it. Finally I did! This recipe is from my mom and is one of the best recipes if you want to make a quick and delicious Indian sweet. Those who're familiar with the making of Indian sweets know that they require enormous amount of time and effort. So recipes like these are very coveted!

What you'll need:

1 cup Til/Sesame
1/2 cup khoya (I use the frozen khoya available at Indian stores)
3/4 cup sugar
chopped nuts, optional

Let's make:
  1. Roast the sesame till golden brown at medium-low heat otherwise you run the risk of burning sesame. Keep stirring almost continuosly.
  2. Grind the roasted sesame seeds.
  3. If you're using frozen khoya, thaw it. Roast it till it starts leaving oil. This takes around 5 minutes.
  4. Mix all the ingredients with hand. Run the mixture through your fingers to ensure that it mixes well.
  5. Take a small amount in your hand, press it with your palms to form a solid and then shape it like a ball.
  6. To give a smooth texture, put the ball in a small bowl and rotate the bowl continuously for a minute.

Nature Girl

Author: Carl Hiassen

All's well that ends well - that's what I would say about this book. Neither would I recommend it nor admonish it.

It's about a woman who gets hyper-active about anything and everything; mostly when she percieves something bad. When her son was born she was under the impression that the world is conspiring to kill him. She once sent over 100 letters to the concerned government authority expressing her angst against the oil drilling in Antarctica. This time she's out to teach a call center guy a lesson but she hardly has an inkling of the adventures that'll penetrate her plans! It's incredulous to see what efforts she would make just because some call center guy called her at dinner time. I would call it "the mad, mad world!".

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Appearance of God

(Teachings from Gita) He knows everything: past, present or future; apparent or unapparent. He is the omniscient (sarvagya, सर्वज्ञ).

He's the origin; there neither was anybody before Him nor is; there is no reason for Him, he's the reason behind everything and everybody and he's the oldest. He is eternal (sanaatan, सनातन).

He is the master of all, the all-powerful, the indweller in all, the governor of all and the one who decides the fruit of each labor. He is the supreme controller (niyantaa, नियंता).

Even though he is all of the above, he's very tiny. He's smaller than the smallest particle and present everywhere. He's the smallest (sukshmatam, सूक्ष्मतम).

Despite being the smallest, he's the foundation of this entire universe; he's responsible for maintaining and looking after everybody. He is the dhaata. (I'm unable to translate this in english - if anybody has any suggestions please let me know)

He's the caretaker of all but still so distant and imperceptible by senses. The brain and heart get their strength to think and opine from Him but they can't think about His true form. He sees them and everything else; controls the flow of strength through them but they can't see Him. Hence his appearance is beyond thought (achintyaswarup, अचिन्त्यास्वरूप).

He always spreads light; through his never ending, knowledgeable, divine light He brightens up everybody. He is a constant light in our life (nitya chetan prakashrup, नित्य चेतन प्रकाश्रुप).

With such a light, the clouds of ignorance can never shadow Him. On the contrary, with his lustre he breaks the dawn of ignorance. Ignorance can never even linger near him.

The Historian

Author: Elizabeth Kostova

A very engrossing book! I must say that there are very few such books these days when you just can't leave the book till you read the end and this book is a member of that elite club. The only problem I had with it was that it is supposed to be a true story and it's focus is on Dracula (a european emperor who becomes a vampire).

The story is about the author's father's life. Her father is a historian and while doing his graduation he comes across a strange book that the figure of a dragon and the word "Dracula". On showing it to his advisor he realizes that there's more to it than meets the eye. After this discussion, his advisor disappears adding to the mystery. So he starts off his search for his advisor and the dark secrets. During his search he meets several other people who've recieved a similar books and offer to help him out. He also encounters the author's mother who has her own reasons for doing research on Dracula.

The book is very well written. The author has weaved the story from the letters from her father and with research of her own which included talking to historians her father had worked with.

Bottomline: A must read.

Rama, a thai restaurant in San Diego

Cuisine: Thai
Price: $$

Rama is a thai restaurant in/near Gaslamp Quarter (in San Diego downtown). The ambience is simply fabulous. As you enter there's a lounge and from there a passageway leads to the dininig hall. There are sheer curtains between each table setting providing privacy to each party. The service is excellent, one of the best that I've seen. We just had to specify once to the waiter that we wanted our entrees vegetarian and then on he took care of everything. Even when he brought the hot sauce varieties he only brought the vegetarian ones without us needing to say so. This was when we discovered that the green chillies in a transparent liquid is actually green chillies in fish sauce! Coming to the food, it was also very scrumptious.

So all in all, the restaurant is almost perfect but that comes at a price. It's somewhat expensive. The only water that is offered is bottled water and yes you've to pay for it!

Rating: Excellent

Rama Restaurant
327 Fourth Ave.
San Diego CA 92101
619 501 THAI(8424)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tropicana non-vegetarian juice!!!!

This is my most harrowing discovery: Tropicana orange juice with omega-3 fatty acids has fish oil and other fish products! Who would've ever thought that a fruit juice could contain animal products and that too a juice advertised as "freshly squeezed orange juice"!! Then I did a search and found this link that lists all the Tropicana, Minute Maid and Florida Naturals juices that contain animal products. On reading the discussion on that post I found that OJ with Vit D from Tropicana are vegetarian but not vegan and from Florida Naturals are NOT vegetarian. Whoa! That was a saving grace.

This just adds the number of items where we need to check the ingredients list!