Cookies for a Cause: Bakesale for Japan

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The first time I attempted to bake cookies from scratch was when I was 10 years old. My two girlfriends (pictured above on the header) were my guinea pigs. They were really nice to me, but honestly the cookies were more like bricks. Since then, Rajita and Nafisah have endured many of my failed cookie attempts until I got it just right. Though, by the time I got it just right, I didn’t care about baking anymore. I found more satisfaction and restraint in just buying one serving size at a cafe and not worrying about over indulging.

Then, during this past holiday season, I got the baking itch. That may be because I have been hanging out (online and offline) with more food bloggers and bakers. Social influence. So at the 18 Reason’s DIY Desserts: Holiday Cookie Swap I baked cookies for the first time in over a decade. I was nervous and intimidated. I also didn’t have any of the fancy baking equipment, like a Kitchen Aid mixer. There were a ton of cookie recipes out there, too, which was overwhelming. I also wanted to make something healthy-ish and couldn’t find anything uncomplicated. So after anxiously debating if I really wanted to bake (the strong Vata in me), I remembered baking a cake using only almond flour years ago and it turned out fantastic. So I applied the same methodology and attempted to make cookies out of the pistachio flour I already had on hand. I was  pleasantly surprised that the cookies turned out pretty good. I took them to the cookie swap, and everyone seemed to really like them too. Also, my husband, who thinks he is an Iron Chef judge, told me he really liked them. So, I did the natural thing, and baked these cookies for every holiday party we had to go to for rest of the season.

Last Saturday I participated in Bakesale for Japan, which meant I spent Friday night baking. I had overambitious plans to make a multitude of desserts, but then when it came down to the wire, I only had the bandwidth and courage to make two types of cookies. My baked goods were going to be placed right next to professionals and pro-bakers like Tartine Bakery, Eat The Love, and Desserts First. So I baked my now infamous pistachio cookies and adapted a recipe from 101 Cookbooks. I accidentally came across the recipe and it looked so simple to make. Plus, I love and trust everything on 101 Cookbooks. I hope to post my adaptation of the recipe here soon enough.

It was really fun spending the evening baking. I opened a bottle of wine, that I randomly picked up from Whole Foods for $10, which turned out to be excellent. So with a glass of vino rojo in one hand and whisk in the other, I was baking away. Also, I would intermittently go on Twitter and follow the hashtag #bakesale4japan to chat with other bloggers who were doing the same thing I was (but probably without the bottle of wine). I  felt like I was apart of something really BIG. A few weeks ago, I felt so small and helpless when I was following the Twitter stream during the earthquakes and Fukushima meltdown.  Though, after seven dozen cookies had cooled and seeing a tweet about someone’s cute packaging, I went into panic mode. I hadn’t even thought about the packaging! Normally, I am on top of these things and have been coined the name Martha Stewart amongst my friends, but with all that has been going on, I just forgot about cute labels and packaging. And, I hate a missing an opportunity for DIY creative packaging. Then, the creative side kicked in, and managed to come up with something really unique and chic. I used leftover silk favor bags from my wedding to put the cookies in and used my adorable Moo business cards for the labeling. I didn’t even make the connection until I saw a few Japanese people really enamored by my cookies (err packaging). The silk bags were red and had gold flowers on them that looked like cherry blossoms. In the end, it always works out.

The turnout at the bakesale was incredible! I got to the Bi-Rite  Market location right at starting time, and managed to squeeze in my cookies on the very crowded table. That table was a sweet-lovers dream come true. I was tempted to buy everything. There were so many baked goods, graciously made by the blogging community, home-bakers, and professionals, that boxes had to be dispersed to a multitude of locations. At last count, together, we raised $120,254.38. The money will benefit Peace Winds Japan.

Since the community really came through at the Bi-Rite location of the bakesale, a lot of the baked goods had to be dispersed to other locations in San Francisco, Oakland, Marin, and San Jose.

Around the corner, 18 Reasons hosted an art sale where people made origami cranes.

Irvin (Eat the Love) and Anita (Desserts First) at 18 Reasons.

Someone bought my cookies!

I also stopped by the SPQR location in Pacific Heights to say hello to a few friends.

SPQR closed down the restaurant to host the bake sale. They also made paninis and crostini for the bakesale. Blue Bottle and Blue Bottle Sweets were also on site, serving their delicious coffee drinks and pastries. Nearby restaurants, Citizen Cake, Jane, and Out the Door, also pitched in with delicious desserts.

The clever ladies, Annelies and Laiko, dished out deals throughout the bakesale. I got there just in time for the 2-for-1 deal, and snatched up cupcakes to share with friends that afternoon. Let’s just say, I didn’t pay attention to my sugar intake that day.

I promise to post the recipe for the cardamon-rose pistachio cookies soon!

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Bakesale For Japan, April 2, 2011

I’ve mentioned in my tweets, Facebook, and here that I am participating in a Bakesale for Japan organized by Samin Nosrat. What was going to be a bakesale held at a few locations in the Bay Area  blew up into a national event!  Bakesale for Japan is happening this Saturday, April 2nd from 10am to 2pm in nearly 45 cities nationwide!

Go to the location nearest to you and buy a few goodies (hey, it’s for a good cause). I will be at the Bi Rite Market location for sometime. I am also making gluten-free pistachio cookies, chocolate-puddle cookies, and maybe gulab jamun.

Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded individuals and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events. Be sure to sign-up to receive posts and updates straight into your inbox!

Eating Healthy On The Road (with recipe)

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Road trip and airport/airplane food is usually dense in refine carbohydrates, salt, sugar, and fat and seriously lacking in nutrients. It leaves you bloated, fatigued, and uneasy. Though, a little planning can change all of that so you can enjoy your trip  so much more.

On The Road
Satish and I drove down to Los Angeles a couple of months ago to visit friends and family. We always prefer to drive down so we can have the convenience of our own car, but this time I was dreading the road food more so than ever before. Off of I-5 there isn’t much offered than fast food and a few sporadic fruit stands, so we usually end up making one stop at In-N-Out. I always order a grilled cheese (no meat) and fries. It’s basically just white processed bread with “cheese” and onions, blended with their special sauce. I  physically never felt great after indulging in that “food”.  Maybe, the experience is much different for people who eat the beef patties. Well, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The feeling of being bloated and fatigue..especially since I have been doing so good with eating fresh, clean food and working out. I find that once you have cleansed yourself of processed food, it’s really hard to eat food made out of chemicals. So, I made our own food! Homemade, gourmet sandwiches to go! The drive was only 5-6 hours long, so we did not need a whole lot of food. I also had packed unsalted, mixed nuts and tortilla chips (Satish loves them). We always travel with our stainless steel water bottles filled with water.  We did stop by a Starbucks for coffee/tea and a bathroom break.

In The Air
Recently, we went to Kauai for our vacation. I couldn’t have been more excited about the trip, but the airport and airplane food had me a little more than turned off. I have been trying to keep up with my new year’s resolution and I do not think vacations are an excuse to eat highly processed food. Plus, there is nothing pleasurable about it to me. I also didn’t want to leave a trail of plastic behind just for my convenience. (Processed food comes packaged in plastic). Especially, since most places and facilities do not recycle or properly dispose these materials. A couple of days ahead of our trip, I made savory muffins (recipe below) for us to take on the plane. They keep well and are filling. We had also packed our own trail mixes and Lara Bars.

Game Plan
Plan: Make sure to eat a decent meal before heading out to the airport or on a long car ride to avoid eating horrible airport food or going through the drive-thru.

-Pack your own food: fruits, sandwiches, sun-dried tomatoes,  nuts, and carrots are good choices.

-If you are driving, you can pack a cooler so the food options open up, especially if the road trip is during the warmer months. Salads can be a great, light option for the road and should not wilt in the cooler.

-Bring  water in a reusable steel/glass bottle. Fill up several reusable water bottles before heading out on the road trip (major no-no for airplanes) and you can even spruce up your water with a sprig of mint or citrus. Just squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon or sweet orange into your water bottles for a refreshing taste. You will save money and plastic from ending up in the ocean. When you run out of water, buy the largest container of water and refill your reusable bottles.  One large plastic container does less damage than 36 individual, plastic bottles. Also, if safe-drinking water is available, fill up from the sink or fountain. Also, many water-filter made for traveling.

– Do some research and try to find out if there will be better choices while driving or at the airport. This is especially helpful for longer flights and road trips.

– Relax. After all you are on vacation, and as long as you are not making too many exceptions and staying active, don’t worry about it!

Muffins On The Go Savory Muffins
Olives and Sun-Dried Tomato Muffins
I made these muffins for our recent trip to Kauai. I added the pinch of turmeric to act as natural preservative, but it did not change the flavor. I like to use sun-dried tomatoes that are not packed in oil/solution. To soften the sun-dried tomatoes, I cover them in hot water for 10 minutes before using them. These keep well in the refrigerator for 7-10 days. They also freeze well.

Ingredients
Butter, for greasing
1 cup baby spinach, washed, well-drained and chopped
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped *see headnote
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons dried basil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3/4 cup  freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup mild goat cheese, crumbled
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
2 cups whole grain flour
4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground
pinch of turmeric (optional)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 400F, with rack in the top third. Use the butter to grease a 12-hole muffin pan and set aside.

 

I buy sun-dried tomatoes that are not packed in solution or oil and soften them by soaking them in hot water for 10-15 minutes.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, two-thirds of the olives, dried basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, and two-thirds of the goat cheese. Gently mix together using a spatula.

 

You can use a variety of olives, but Kalamata works the best in the muffins.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together and add to the sun-dried tomato mix.

4. In another bowl, mix flour, turmeric, salt, black pepper, and baking powder together. Slowly add the flour mixture to the sun-dried tomato  mixture. Fold together with a spatula just until the batter comes together. Be careful not to over mix.

Be careful to not over mix the batter; it should be a bit lumpy.

5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, filling each hole 3/4 full.  Top each muffin with a bit of the remaining olives and goat cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops and sides of the muffins are golden, and the muffins have set up completely. Let cool for a couple of minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

What are your healthy tips and suggestions for road trips and airports?

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Love Drunk Cake

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I saw this cake recipe on Food52.com a few weeks ago and just had to make it. There was something really curious and intriguing about it. How would wine taste baked? Anyway, I finally found the time to make it this weekend, after a really silly, long fight with Satish. So it was an apology cake. I followed the recipe exactly, using a $2 chardonnay from Whole Foods and 100% Spanish olive oil from the Whole Foods brand.

 

It was my first time baking a cake from scratch. (Even though I love sweets, I don’t make desserts. I rather just enjoy them when dining out on occasion.) It was definitely lopsided and I couldn’t frost it like Martha Stewart. Though, it looked charming in my opinion.

I wasn’t really happy with the results, and since I am not an experienced baker, I can’t say what really went wrong. The wine was too overpowering. If I do make this again, I would use a better white wine and maybe less of it. I would also read the comments below the recipe and learn from the tips offered there.

Even though, it wasn’t a professional tasting cake, we still enjoyed it and made up.

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January Rules

The holidays were really fun- going from one party to another, learning how to make cookies from scratch, participating in cookie swaps, decadent dinners, brunches, and exciting Club Dine In! events. My favorite was Irvin’s dessert party. Irvin, a passionate baker and blogger, throws an annual grandiose dessert party. He bakes all of his desserts from scratch and asks his guests to bring only their sweet tooth. Irvin had 21 desserts, all displayed beautifully with name cards. I tried to take only bite-sized servings of the desserts I really wanted to try, but I decided that everything was sooo worth it. My favorites were the Red Velvet Cake with Whipped Mascarpone Cream Cheese Frosting and  Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Marshmallow Sour Cream Topping.

I baked cookies from scratch! Pistachio+Muscovado Sugar+Egg Whites+Meyer Lemon

I don’t feel that guilty about my indulgent ways in December and have set goals to get back on track to healthy eating and living. Instead of making large, undefined resolutions such as “losing weight” I’ve decided to go to the gym at least four times a week, limit desserts to once a week, and appreciate food more. I’ve also decided to clean up my act a bit more by participating in January Rules. Remember, the October: Unprocessed challenge? Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules has come up with another challenge: January Rules. This challenge is much more lax and asks you to follow only three rules. I already follow these rules normally, especially #2, but I need to more vigilant.

  1. When you eat grains, eat only 100% whole grains.
  2. Don’t eat high fructose corn syrup.
  3. Don’t eat hydrogenated oils, trans fats, or anything that’s been deep-fried.

Also, once a week, go ahead and “cheat.” Eat anything you want. I encourage all of you to kickstart 2011 with joining me on January Rules. Follow the hastag #januaryrules on Twitter for inspiration, motivation, and ideas.  Follow me on twitter for more frequent ideas on how to satisfy your sweet tooth, make unprocessed choices, and pretty pictures of food and other musings.

 

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A Meatless, Unprocessed Christmas (With Pumpkin Soup Recipe)

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Satish and I drove down to LA last Wednesday to spend the Christmas holiday with his sister and family. I had planned to make the Christmas Eve dinner as I really want to create tradition for Satish and I.  This entire  meal was going to be vegetarian, since my sister-in-law is a vegetarian and with all respect doesn’t like meat cooked in her kitchen. Therefore, I had packed up all of my key spices, herbs, oils, and favorite kitchen tools. I almost packed up my most versatile pan, zester, and spatula, but decided I could live without them. (Later, I learned I can’t live without the zester.) It’s tough cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. I had plans to visit a farmer’s market in LA for the main ingredients.  LA has at least 120 farmer’s markets happening during the week, so there is hardly no excuse to not go.  I curiously went to the Westwood farmer’s market on Thursday, with high hopes of finding all of the ingredients I needed for the Christmas Eve dinner.  I was disappointed to find that it was a sparse market, but I still bought kale and parsley. Later, I met my dear friend for tea and hot soup. She suggested we stroll through the farmer’s market nearby, but time seemed to slip by at the Jewish bakery as we sipped our tea, flirted with the rows of baked goods, laughed, cried, shared, and reminisced. By the time we were ready to leave the bakery, it was dark and I needed to rush back to avoid being stuck in traffic. Of course, I didn’t listen to our GPS, made a couple of wrong turns, and missed the closest 10W onramp. Awhile ago, I stopped getting upset with myself for making wrong turns and getting lost and started enjoying the new route I created. Due to the wrong turns, I happened to drive by the La Cienega Farmers Market. Since, I was crawling in the local traffic, I got to look into the farmers market held at the parking lot of the La Cienega Plaza Shopping Center. It was beautiful. The sun was already gone, Christmas lights were bright, food trucks, fresh flowers, all amidst red break lights. Peering, I saw berries, popcorn, chestnuts, citrus, and greens. I was surprised by the berries…maybe it’s the mild, spring like weather in SoCal. I was tempted to pull into the driveway and finish shopping for the ingredients needed to make the next day’s dinner. Though, I knew that every minute I waited to get onto the highway would be to risk being stuck in major LA traffic. I sighed and kept driving.  The next morning, I woke up early and rushed to the nearest Whole Foods in hopes of avoiding the last minute mad dash for groceries. I had a simple grocery list: pumpkin, Delicata squash, arugula, eggplant, spinach, ricotta, feta, and Parmesan. The Whole Foods in Santa Monica has a very tiny fresh produce section so I drove to the one in Brentwood. Surprisingly, most of the Whole Foods in West LA are much smaller in general. I nearly had a panic attack when I couldn’t find half of the fresh ingredients that I needed. The problem was solved easily by asking the grocers, who went into the back to get what I needed. (I had not made a back-up dinner menu)…

After getting a great latte at Caffe Luxxe (which was recommended to me on twitter), I was ready to start cooking. The menu was simple but I wanted to give myself ample time and not rush to finish during the end. The starter was a rather easy pumpkin soup spiced with cumin and cinnamon. I had an incredible pumpkin soup at Garibaldi’s earlier this week, which was the main inspiration. I had even made it on Tuesday, using my beloved Fairy Tale Pumpkin. Next on the menu was the Squash and Pomegranate Salad, Kale and Quinoa, and Garlic + Bread (inspired by Little Star Pizza). The main course was a variation of my vegetable rich lasagna. My niece helped me make the pistachio cookies that I made for 18 Reasons’ cookie swap, which would be dessert along with rich, hot chocolate.

Cumin Scented Pumpkin Soup

1 medium Sugar or Fairy Tale pumpkin (4-6 lbs)
olive oil for coating pumpkin
4 large garlic cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons cumin, fresh grounded
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1/2 stick of unsalted butter or 1/3 cup olive oil
6 cups water, approximately
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup Creme Fraiche (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Cut pumpkin in half, discard the stem, seeds and stringy pulp.  Rub oil over the pumpkin, coating well. Place the pumpkin cut side down on the prepared pan. Tuck 2 garlic cloves under the cavity of the pumpkin. Bake pumpkin until it is very tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once the pumpkin is cool enough to touch, remove the peel. Cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces so it’s easier to puree.

2. In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the cinnamon sticks. Once the cinnamon sticks open up, add in the cumin and ground cinnamon. Cook for 30 seconds. Remove pot from heat.

3. Puree the pumpkin in batches by adding in 1 cup of the pumpkin pieces  with a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add water to reach a consistency of your liking.

4. Put the pot back on the stove-top and heat on medium. Once the soup is heated thoroughly, add salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the Creme Fraiche. Taste and adjust seasoning.

 

Pumpkin Soup garnished with Sage

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Farmers Market Find: Blood Oranges and Traditions

Last Monday, Satish and I walked over to the Marina Middle school to pick up our first Christmas tree as a married couple. It was really exciting and I even made up a Christmas tree song while we carried it back home. Even though I am of Indian ethnic origin, my family always celebrated Christmas. It was more about embracing the American culture and spending time with family than religion. My family went all out with the decorations, presents, and food. On Christmas Eve, my many aunts, uncles and cousins would gather at my parent’s place and it would just be a big family gathering. The food was really interesting in the sense that we didn’t eat ham, squash, or green bean casserole. We had  Mexican fried rice, enchiladas, Chinese soup, frozen corn, a large variety of Indian dishes, and turkey. So the turkey and frozen corn were the only traditional, “American” food at our “American” holiday gatherings.  Since my parents grew up in India, enchiladas and Chinese soup represented traditional American food to them. Christmas had to have been my most favorite time of the year, when everyone was so happy and together. Now, I look forward to this time of year so I can make the food that is available seasonally and create my own traditions.

 

Our tree!

Our tree decked up with simple ornaments.

Between holiday parties and my parents and brother-in-law visiting, I am going to make really easy dishes that require no time or attention and am making large batches to stretch throughout the week. (I also want to spend the little free time testing out a healthier, gluten-free cookie recipe).  I caught the first sighting of blood oranges today at the market! Blood oranges are one my most beloved fruits. They are extremely seasonal and gorgeous. When just right, they have the perfect balance of sweet and sour. One of my most memorable experiences with blood oranges was at Ella’s Restaurant. Every winter they serve a 6 ounce glass of pure blood orange juice that is a brilliant blood-red color. The juice is worth the long wait at Ella’s and this year I will make my own!

 

Blood Oranges- Hamadas Farm

Stinging Nettle were also sighted!

Weekly Dinner Plan:

Monday:  Lentil salad, Butternut Squash and White Carrot Soup
Tuesday: Arugula salad, Cumin Cauliflower, leftover soup
Wednesday: Grub Crawl!
Thursday: Cumin Cauliflower, Chicken Kebabs
Friday: Dinner out
Saturday: Leftovers + Holiday Parties
Sunday: Friends and Family Brunch + Holiday Parties

Miscellaneous Cooking
Savory Muffins
Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Pesto
Pistachio Cookies (gluten-free)
Earl Grey Cranberry Sauce with Dates

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Thanksgiving Side Dish: Potatoes Mashed or Not

Follow me on Twitter Mashed potatoes are delicious, but they do take some (messy) prep work  and time which may make you resort the the instant stuff for your side-dish. Instant potatoes have been an American staple for decades. They … Continue reading

Meatless Monday: Pistachio Quinoa and Butternut Squash

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Since Autumn has really hit San Francisco, I have fully embraced the seasonal vegetables. Pumpkin, squash, persimmons, carrots, potatoes, heirloom beans, grapes, pistachios, and pomegranates. Mondays are my favorite days to cook, because my … Continue reading