Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween / Banana Bread

Spiders for Halloween effect :-)
Happy Halloween everyone!!!
I know this Banana bread is not spooky enough to be a Halloween treat, but I wanted to take something to my friends at work. So, whipped up this bread last night. I always like the taste of quick breads the day after. Of course this banana bread tastes great warm out of the oven too. Thanks to my aunt who gave me this simple, easy and foolproof recipe couple of years ago. I baked so many breads from then on that I can tell the recipe even in my sleep now. I have two loaf pans and I always bake two loaves because it's the same effort you put whether making one or two. I freeze the other loaf wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. It stays good for a month or two. When ready to use, just pop it out of freezer and thaw it overnight at room temperature.
Here you go with the recipe.

What you need:
(makes one 9X5 loaf)

1 1/4 cups All purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 and half ripe banana
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Steps to follow:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a bowl beat eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla extract together. Mash bananas in a separate bowl, add to this mixture and beat again until everything is well mixed.
  3. In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients - flour, baking soda and salt.
  4. In 2 or 3 batches add flour mixture to wet ingredients and beat until batter comes together.
  5. Grease a loaf pan and pour batter into it.
  6. Bake for 51-53 min. Stick a knife in center and it should come out clean.
  7. Take it out from oven, cool it in loaf pan for 15 min.
  8. Loosen the sides with a knife and place it on a rack to continue cooling for another 30 min or so.
  9. Slice it and serve or store in airtight container. Keeps well in fridge for a week.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Handmade Gift Boxes

As a Diwali gift my friend Shwetha sent me these cute little diyas that she painted herself. Aren't they lovely!!! Not only I liked these but also the box she packed them in. Later I got to know that she made these beautiful gift boxes at home using scrap paper. I wanted to give them a try. As per Shwetha's suggestion I started with thick magazine papers as a practice. Check out the picture below, boxes came out perfect and colorful. All you need then is a nice ribbon to tie it on. They are super simple and easy to try. Scrap paper can be bought at any craft store. The Sky's your limit with colors and prints available in scrap paper. Here is the video link for step by step instructions.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Deepavali

This festival of lights is celebrated through out India and overseas. I remember growing up,  my Mom would start the preparation days ahead with cleaning home, shopping new dresses for us, making delicious sweets and savory items. Sweets are the best part I would look forward to J. Here in US, if the festival falls on a busy schedule weekday it's difficult to make all arrangements. In such case my go to items are these easy, breezy Peda and Kalakand made using microwave. I totally forgot where I picked up these recipes couple of years ago, but you can find many variations on internet.
I place these peda and kalakand pieces in muffin paper cups for easy pick up and neat look. Arrange them on a tray, wrap it with plastic sheet and they are ready for gifting.

What you need:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
14 oz condensed milk
2 cups dry non-fat milk powder
Pinch of cardamom (elaichi) powder 

Steps to Follow:
  1. Add butter in a microwaveable bowl and heat for a minute or so to completely melt it.
  2. Add condensed milk to melted butter, stir and microwave it for one and half minute. Then add milk powder, mix everything and keep microwaving it for 2 minutes intervals (keep stirring every time you take it out) until it comes together like a dough. The color of the mixture changes to ivory white.
  3. Add cardamom powder, stir and let it cool until you can handle.
  4. Scoop small amount of dough and make it in flat disks or any desired shape.

What you need:
2 tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
14 oz condensed milk
15 oz ricotta cheese
Pinch of cardamom (elaichi) powder 
Chopped almonds and Pistachios to garnish
Additional butter to grease a plate

Steps to Follow:
  1. Add butter in a microwaveable bowl and heat for a 30 seconds to completely melt it.
  2. Add condensed milk to melted butter, stir and microwave it for one and half minute
  3. Then add ricotta cheese, mix everything and keep microwaving it for 2 minutes intervals (keep stirring every time you take it out).
  4. This will take little longer than peda (approximately 8 intervals). The mixture should turn a very light brown color and not watery (you will know when it’s ready 
  5. J)
  6. Add cardamom powder and stir.
  7. Grease a plate with butter, pour the mixture on it and spread with a spatula to make an even layer of probably half inch thickness.
  8.  Top it will almonds and pistachio pieces. Let it cool and cut it to any desired shape.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Handmade Jewelry

Recently I went to a jewelry show hosted by my friend Mandakini. She makes these amazing handmade jewelry with precious, semi-precious stones and beads, pearls..etc. It was difficult to decide what to pick, as all her collection was beautiful. Don't mean to sound like a testimonial but her work is very neat and professional . There was this one piece made with mother of pearl, I really liked the colors and natural cut. If you are interested, please feel free to contact her. Here are some pictures -.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I guess there aren't many people who don't like chocolate chip cookies. Even my husband who isn’t a big fan of chocolate likes chocolate chip cookies J . I am a chocoholic and love anything with chocolate.
First time when I made these cookies, I sent them as part of a care package to my Sis. She mentioned that as soon she received it, she and her roomies finished the whole tin. From then on it became a tradition to send these to my Sis and also to my cute 4 year old cousin Jay.
I customized my recipe from a cook book and also from original Nestle toll house recipe. This book I have is all about Chocolate. Whenever I flip through the pages, I feel like making everything in there. They are all very delicious and sinfully rich in chocolate. With the holidays coming up may be I will blog a series about these goodies that make perfect gifts.
I like my cookies on the sweeter side, so I use milk chocolate chips, but they can be swapped with semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips based on your taste. Also, these are softer and chewier cookies.

What you need:
(makes around 20 medium sized cookies)

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup (1 stick) butter softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup regular granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking soda
1 pinch of salt
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Steps to follow:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla extract together. Add egg to this mixture and beat it until the batter is fluffy.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients – flour, salt, baking soda.
  4. Combine dry ingredients to batter and mix until everything comes together.
  5. Fold chocolate chips into the batter.
  6. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil (grease it with butter).
  7. Drop spoonfuls on the sheet allowing room to expand.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye, they will brown easy.
  9. Once edges are brown take them out and let them cool on the cookie sheet for 5 min.
  10. Then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely. They will stay good in the fridge for 1 week.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pumpkin Swan

While we were shopping at our local grocery store, my husband found this small pumpkin that looks likes a swan. Isn’t it cute J .We were amazed at the similarities in shape. I got it immediately and here is the picture -

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kurti Collection

I don’t mean to brag but my Sis is real multi-talented. Just as a hobby she made many kurtis over the summer break and sold all of them. She designed and made them with 100% cotton bought here in US. Of course the accent fabric is from India. The pictures don’t do much justice as they were not taken in good light but all of her collection was beautiful.
Here are few pictures and you can find more here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Homegrown Mint & Limeade

Here in California, it doesn’t feel like fall. It’s still hot and my mint shrub is growing crazy. Growing mint at home is fairly easy. It’s a very low maintenance and hardy plant. There are many varieties but I prefer spear mint flavor so I always go with that. Pick a healthy shrub from the nursery and plant it in pot or directly in soil. It can grow in full/part sun. Keep it well irrigated and trim it regularly.
Mint has lot of health benefits. It’s good for digestion and rich in anti-oxidants. I will post the recipe of mint tea my husband makes some time later. It acts like decongestant for cold and cough.
Today, I gave my mint shrub a haircut J . I am going to make a big batch of Mint chutney and freeze it for later use. But first, I needed something to cool off. So, I made mint limeade, a slight variation of classic lemonade. I used few sprigs of mint, as I didn’t want it overwhelming. It came out good and had a cool subtle flavor of mint. It tasted like virgin Mojito and looks pretty with specks of green.

What you need:
(makes 2 servings - approx two 8 oz glasses)

Juice from 1 Lime
8 to 10 medium sized mint leaves
1 ½ tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cups of water
1 cup of ice

Steps to Follow: 

  1. In a blender, add all ingredients.
  2. Blend it till mixed, just until mint leaves and ice is crushed.
  3. Pour it into glasses and top it with couple ice cubes to keep it cool.
  4. Garnish with mint leaves and serve.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Armenian Cucumber

We planted cucumbers for the first time this season. When I was browsing at my local nursery, I saw this Armenian cucumber variety and I was not sure how it was gonna taste but wanted to try it anyway. I am glad I did that.
Cucumber is a creeping vine and it needs a trellis for support. We used branches of a tree that we cut down. Also, it prefers full sun. I was so excited when I saw the first baby cucumber and was waiting to get a taste of it J
It was of course worth the wait, the fruit was so tender and had slight nutty flavor. The skin is light green in color and there is no need to peel it. We cut the cucumber into round slices and ate it just like that without adding anything. This is for sure going to be a regular in our backyard every year. Do give it a try in your next vegetable season either with seeds or saplings.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blueberry Muffins

From my childhood, I loved the shape of cupcakes or muffins. They are so cute and petite. When I started baking the first thing I bought was a 12-cup muffin pan J
Muffins are not as sweet as cupcakes and make an easy breakfast. Especially if you have a train or bus to catch or beat the traffic like me this is perfect ‘on the go’ breakfast, loved by both kids and adults alike. I tried so many varieties of muffins but Blueberry ones are fool proof. This is one of King Arthur flour recipes that I adapted to my taste. You can also check out their blog for awesome baking recipes.

What you need:
(makes 12 muffins)

2 1/4 cups All purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 tiny pinch of nutmeg (I know not a baking measurement J, but little goes long way, if you don’t like the taste of nutmeg, you can skip it)

Steps to follow:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Beat butter and sugar together in a bowl first and then add eggs, yogurt, vanilla extract and beat the mixture together.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a separate bowl.
  4. Now add the dry ingredients in 2 or 3 batches to wet mixture and incorporate everything into a smooth batter.
  5. Add blueberries and with a spatula fold them into the batter.
  6. Line the muffin pan with paper cups or spray with oil.
  7. Scoop the batter into the muffin pan and bake it for 20 – 24 min.
  8. Insert a tooth pick into a muffin and it should come out clean when done.
  9. Take them out of oven, cool in the pan for 5 min and then place muffins on rack to finish cooling.
  10. Muffins will keep fresh in the fridge for 3 - 4 days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Decorating with House Plants

Adding a touch of green to any room is a quick decorating tip. Small house plants are easier to maintain and require very little space. They are perfect on a coffee table, side table, fireplace mantle or even on bed side table. I also like to have them in bathrooms because the mirror reflection adds more greenery to the space.
To be frank, I killed many plants in the past but few weeks back I picked up some plants from a local nursery to give it another try. They are doing good so far. J
The trick is not to mess with them too much. Water them only when needed and keep them in well lit rooms. Direct sunlight is not necessary.

Here are the varieties I have -

Pothos/Epipremnum - We commonly know this as 'money plant'. It is a hardy plant and will survive very well in soil or just in water.

Lucky Bamboo - This is such a low maintenance plant and I have this from past 2 years. Just keep refilling water in the pot. It seems this should be always received as gift rather than buying yourself J. I got this from a cousin. As the plant grows change it into bigger pot and add some marble stones for a neat look.

Dieffenbachia - This plant has decorative two toned (green/white) leaves. It needs moderately moist soil, so don't let the soil go completely dry.

Red-margined/Red-edged Dracaena - I really love the colors on this plant. it has beautiful pink stripes which goes very well with my rug and cushions.

Dracaena Marginata (Dragon Tree) - I bought this plant as is from Home depot and just topped it with pebble stones to cover the soil.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Yellow Peach Jam

I love the fact that we live just thirty minutes away from a farming town. Depending on the season they have u-pick options and also fresh produce farm stands. Few weeks back we went there to check what’s available. One of the farm had these beautiful yellow peaches ready to u-pick and we got almost 8 pounds of them home. I froze some to use later in smoothies and with very ripe ones made a big batch of peach jam. I always use this standard recipe for any stone fruit and it comes out perfect.
I like mine on a toast and my husband likes it on roti J

What you need:
(makes 2 half pints)

1 1/3 cups peeled, pitted and finely chopped peaches (See tip below*)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp powdered pectin

Steps to follow:

  1. Heat water in a big pot and once it starts boiling, immerse the glass jars and lids for sanitizing. Process them for about 10 min, take them out on a clean dry towel and keep it aside. Don’t throw the water, we will reuse them later (step 9).
  2. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring mixture to hard rolling boil.
  3. Skim foam, if necessary.
  4. Continue boiling for about 3 min.
  5. Place a steel spoon in ice cold water, then take a spoonful of mixture and let it cool. If you like the consistency of jam, turn off heat.
  6. Do remember that jam needs to cool down to fully set. So, turn off the heat when the mixture is little runny.
  7. Ladle the mixture into sanitized jars, do not fill till the top, leave about half inch.
  8. Clean the rims if necessary and close the jar lids.
  9. Now place these jars in that big pot with 1 to 2 inches of water, close the lid and bring it to a boil. Process jars for about 5-10 min. Removed lid and let jars stand for 5 min.
  10. Remove jars and cool. After a day, check the lids by pressing in center, they should not flex up and down.
  11. Jam can store up to 6 months. But once open, keep it refrigerated.

*Tip: Clean peaches and place them in hot water for 1 min. Take them out and place them in cold water. Skin comes out easily now.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gift Baskets

When it comes to gifts, I always prefer giving something personal to my family and friends, something that's useful to them. Gifts baskets perfectly match the description and ofcourse they look beautiful too. Recently for our house warming party, I created gourmet food baskets as hostess gifts. Our basket had Mango Nectarine jam, Apple Almond bread, Roasted spiced nuts and white wine. Except for wine, I made the rest at home. My Sis and Sis-in-law did an amazing job of gift wrapping these baskets.
It's very easy to put together a gift basket that looks very elegant and professional. You can buy individual items from store and assemble them all together. The contents can vary depending on occassion like Baked goods, chocolates, jams, cheese, wine, fruit, bath products, candles....etc.
I will post the recipes for Mango Nectarine jam, Apple Almond bread, Roasted spiced nuts soon but here is the proceduce to make a gift basket.

What you need:

1 Wicker basket (Dollar store is the best place to get this)
1 Roll of Cellophane transparent plastic wrapping sheet (Can find them in any craft store)
Decorative ribbon and bow
1 Tissue gift wrap sheet (Again Dollar store is the place. You get 20 or so in $1 pack)
Paper shred or old new papers

Steps to follow:
  1. Take the wicker basket, line the bottom with paper shred or old news papers (crumble them).
  2. Set up your contents in the basket to check if paper cushioning is enough. You can place more paper on one side to get different height for contents.
  3. Now take the contents out and cover the bottom paper cushioning using tissue wrap. Tuck excess tissue to sides of the basket.
  4. Place the contents so that they sit sturdy in the basket. Let tall items lie flat or at a low angle (ex: wine bottle)
  5. Cut cellophane sheet with length atleast more than twice of basket size. If there is excess you can trim but not the other way. So have little extra to start with.
  6. On a table, place the basket in center of cellophane sheet and bring all sides of sheet to top of the basket. Tie it firmly as a bundle with ribbon.
  7. Cut excess if needed and stick a decorative bow.