Bread, not cake

In spring of 2000, I was enrolled in a Leadership and Group Dynamic course while pursuing my Bachelors degree at Georgia State University. On the last day of class, we were asked to bring a dish each so we can have a potluck party and celebrate the end of the course. It was also a diversity exercise so we were encouraged to bring a dish that represented our own culture or ethnicity.

I prepared bite size tandoori chicken nuggets. Others brought sushi, noodles, macaroni, etc. One American girl brought a dry nutty cake in a loaf pan. It was delicious so I asked her what it was. (Growing up in India, I had never come across anything like it). She said it was “banana nut bread” and I was a bit confused.  I exclaimed to her that it tastes like cake, looks like cake, so how is it bread? Well, I am sure she had never been asked that question before so her response was “Well, it’s just called banana nut bread.”

Whatever you want to name it, I like to have my banana nut bread for breakfast, coffee time, snack, and dessert! I have also gotten my mom and hubby hooked on it (especially the one I bake). I have tried different recipe, made my different people and restaurants. Some are too dry, others don’t have enough crunch. After my banana nut bread tasting escapades, I decided to create my own recipe that would perfect everything that they all are lacking (wink). Believe me; I have people who can testify!

It is pretty easy to make provided that you have the right measurements.  I also like to make it a little healthier by using olive oil instead of canola oil or butter. The cereal helps it from getting soggy and also adds a nice crunch.

Banana Nut Bread

  •  1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 medium ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Post banana nut crunch cereal
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a 9×5 loaf pan coated with baking spray. Lightly toast walnuts in toaster oven for 2-3 minutes at 300F. In a kitchen stand mixer, beat the sugar, eggs and oil on high till combined. Reduce to medium speed, and then add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Once the mixture is creamy, break the bananas with your hand and blend into the batter. Finally, add the cereal and walnuts and gently fold with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in oven for one hour or until toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temprature. Add chocolate chips into the batter to make it more fun. Serve with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce to make it a restaurant quality dessert.

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Tipping on a budget

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In these financially demanding times, it can sometimes get difficult to pay for the services we normally would. Moreover, you want to compensate the service provider by tipping him/ her adequately. All of these costs add up quickly.

I want to share a story with you on tipping when on budget. When my grandparents first visited US from India in the 1960’s they were allowed to bring only $80 cash per person with them and credit cards did not exist at the time (at least not in India). My grandmother brought tons of souvenirs and gifts with her to give away as tips. She would leave a pair of earrings (artificial costing less than 25 cents) or a scarf for the waitress after a meal and the waitress would be so grateful. She would think that a queen has just left her a tip! Sometimes, my grandmother would take off the (inexpensive) jewels she was wearing and leave them behind…How classy! Her suitcase was full of goodies like these that she would use whenever a tipping need existed. America wasn’t exposed to ethnic wear back then so it they were much appreciated exotic gifts.

Fifty years later, I seem to carry some of her habits. Just the other day, I gave away two tickets to a comedy show (which I got for free) to my Barista at Starbucks. (I did ask him before if he would like them). Also, I brought back very unique key chains from Morocco during my last visit (with designs of good luck, ethnic shoes, blessings, etc.) which I have given as tips and thank you gestures too. During Christmas, it can get very expensive to give cash to service providers, so I usually go on a baking spree. I make biscotti, apricot breads and plum or fruit cakes for my hairdresser, manicurist, mail delivery lady, massage therapist, etc. They seem to appreciate it a lot. 

It’s a funny story but by no means am I propagating substituting cash for goods to your service providers. They work hard too and deserve to be paid for it. But if the cash value of your gift is more than what you can afford to pay then, I believe it’s ok to do once in a while. Just make sure you are genuinely thanking them.

Cooking Fusion in your home

In my attempt to stimulate your global palette, this is the second post in a series of Fusion cooking.  These are just some tips that will veer your creativity in the right direction. Keep in mind, there are unlimited possibilities in terms of what you can do yourself!

 

Trick #2 : Play with spices

Spices have been traded, imported and introduced across borders for many centuries. Some say humans have been using spices since 50,000 BC for medical remedies, food and mummifying. Spice trading was an important activity amongst sailors. Fortunately, we now live in a world where our neighborhood grocery store bestows us the best spices from Asia, Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America – all in one isle!

India is the largest producer of spices in the world, but you need not cook Indian cuisine to enjoy them. Here are some chows and spices from different parts of the world that you can combine to create your own fusion….

Saffron – The sweetness from saffron makes a risotto very flavorful. Use only a pinch in the beginning as it will continue to add color as the risotto cooks. It can also be used with short grain rice or Israeli couscous.

Curry Powder – Use a teaspoon of curry powder as base of soups, before you add stock. It adds a new dimension to your potato leek soup or squash bisque.

Paprika – Sweet and spicy kinds of paprika are sold in Hungary. It is now used to add a little heat in a number of dishes, but the sweet kind can be used more freely. Try a paprika chicken stew using both kinds, but be careful not to go overboard with the spice or you won’t be able to taste anything else.

Cumin Powder – While cumin seeds are lightly roasted and used in some Indian cooking, cumin powder is fine to use straight out of the box. It has a strong peppery fragrance and is best when combined with other spices. You can add it to stews, soup and curries.

Red Pepper – These come in a variety depending on the geographic source and vary in their heat and flavor accordingly. Powdered red pepper should be used to flavor dishes, season meats and add taste. Fry a pinch with oil and roast nuts in the pan for a quick cocktail snack. Rub it on raw chicken or meat along with salt and pepper before you cook. Mix with some crushed peanuts and season fish fillets, then pan fry for a Thai style treat. Sprinkle on breads, add to sauces and don’t be afraid!

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Additionally, spice mixes such as Zatar, Cajun, Garam Masala can be used to season meat and fish and paired with a starch from another cuisine. See Cooks across borders for more ideas.

I am eager to hear from you. What are your favorite spices? Have you had a recipe go wrong by adding too much or too little spice? Please share…


Best Friend’s Chocolate Cake

I attended high school in a small town in northern India. It was an all-girls Catholic Convent school, right across the street from where I lived. Our school was considered to produce polished, well-spoken, and smart girls who were quite successful in whatever path they chose after graduation.

From sixth grade until now, I have been best friends with two of my classmates. We use to hang out together all the time, be it sitting in class, having lunch during break, going for movies on the weekends, to spending all festivals and holidays together. All three of us moved to different parts of the world after college, but still managed to remain in touch and keep the friendship alive.

When my friends would come over, my mom would sometimes bake cakes and make noodles (my two favorite eats growing up). Since she could not find bags of chocolate morsels in stores, she would buy bars of Cadburys chocolates and melt them into the cake batter. It would be so delicious and rich!

One of my best friends from high school came to visit me at my home in Atlanta, back in 2005 while she was in New York for an assignment. Needless to say, I showed off my culinary skills by baking a chocolate cake for her. She fell in love with it and asked me to make it every time she visited then on.

It’s a very simple velvety chocolate cake with no layers or icing. I like it because it’s not too sweet and can be had at any time of the day. It serves well at tea or snack time so you don’t have to wait for dessert to enjoy it.

Chocolate Cake RecipeDan's Chocolates

1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate morsel

½ cup butter, at room temperature

16-oz brown sugar

3 eggs

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

8-oz sour cream

1 cup hot water

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoon powdered sugar

Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave for 1 minute or until smooth. Stir gently.

Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer at medium speed for 5 minutes, and then add eggs, 1 at a time. Beat until just blended. Add the melted chocolate and beat for another 30 seconds.

Mix together flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Now, gradually add the flour mixture to the chocolate base, alternating with sour cream. Beat at low speed during this process. Add the hot water in a low steady stream still blending on slow. Stir in the vanilla.

Spoon batter in a prepared (floured and greased) angel cake or a 10-inch round pan. Bake at 350F for 55-65 minutes or until wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, sift powdered sugar on top and enjoy.


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Leela’s Lobster Malai

I spent New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Leela Palace Kempinski hotel in Bangalore. It was a magnificent palace converted into a 5-star hotel, rated as one of the best in India. The architecture and gardens of the property are worth considering a tourist destination itself!

Even their restaurant is rated the best in town. The hotel advertised a special party to celebrate the occassion. At a steep entry fee of $100/ person, you would get access to an open bar, a mile long multi-cuisine buffet, entertainment and dance floor. Since I could not afford to stay there, I decided to splurge for New Year’s Eve at least. The place was adorned in a carnival theme, with colorful drapes and masks of every origin. There were two rooms with buffet tables that would put a King’s banquet to shame. Needless to say, it was worth every penny!

Here is a recipe from the web site that I tasted in the buffet. I love lobster and am always looking for ways to incorporate it into ethnic cuisines. Hope you like it too!

Lobster Malai –  Serves 4

Ingredients   Qty.
Large Fresh Lobster : 04 No (600-800 Gm. Each)
Fresh Onion Paste : 250 Gm.
Ginger Julienne : 20 Gm.
Green Chilli Finely Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coriander Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coconut Milk (Ist Extract) : 200 Ml.
Fresh Coconut Milk (2nd Extract) : 250 Ml.
Bay Leaf : 02 No
Cinnamon Powder : 02 Gm.
Spice Clove Powder : 02 Gm.
Coconut Oil : 110 Ml.
Turmeric Powder : a pinch
Salt : To taste
Ginger : 75 Gm.
Cumin Power : 08 Gm.

Preparation

  • Blanch the whole lobster in hot salted water. Take out the meat from the tail and cut length wise slices.
  • Heat oil in a kadai, put chopped green chilli and ginger julienne. Fry for sometime. Add fresh chopped coriander and fry well.
  • Add ginger, cumin powder and sauté well.
  • Add onion paste and sauté till the raw smell goes out.
  • Now add second extract of coconut milk and bring to a boil.
  • Put salt and turmeric powder and reduce the sauce to half.
  • Add cinnamon, clove powder and bay leaf.
  • Add first remove of coconut milk and lobster meat slices and simmer for sometime.
  • Garnish with ginger juliennes and fresh coriander sprig., serve hot with Malabar Parottas or Appam

 I appeared in the local newspaper the next day for being at the Faces and Masks party. You can see my picture on the DNA India web site.


Bangalore, India: Offering More Than Technology

India seems to have becomes a popular destination for many in recent years. In addition to the 5 million visitors each year, there are the corporate executives looking to expand business, spiritual seekers headed to an Ashram, novelists and films crews capturing local stories, nonprofits discovering opportunities to solve some deep rooted problems and cultural enthusiasts who just want to see it all! Not surprisingly, Tourism is the largest service industry in India.

Bangalore (aka Bengaluru) located in southern India is India’s third most populous city and fifth-most populous urban agglomeration. Hit by a strong wave of globalization, Bangalore is now a popular IT hub and is known as the Silicon Valley of India. It is home to many multinational corporations, colleges and research institutions.

While Bangalore doesn’t have a lot to offer as a tourist destination, it is a popular choice to live in India. Also, it is a good halt for business meetings and close to other popular cities. It is a bustling metropolis, full of young people from all over India who like to unwind in the numerous malls, bars, restaurants and lounges after work. The weather is always temperate (80F even in December) and it’s very green (despite the outrageous traffic.)

Whether you have a couple of days or a week to spend here, your visit to Bangalore would not be complete without seeing the LalBagh Botanical Gardens, a 240 acre vast expanse of flowers and plants built in 1760. Come here before sunset to take a stroll, watch people and get some fresh air. The Shiv Mandir depicts an interesting mix of traditional Hindu religion God’s with modernized spiritual teachings. Even if you are not a devout, it’s worth watching the giant statues of Lord Shiva and Ganesh, walking through the array of caves made to look like a tour through some of India’s famous religious sites. Also, there is a small bazaar where you can shop for gifts of statues, jewelry, etc. If you have time left, visit the Palace of Tipu Sultan and the Bull Temple as well.

For dining, the choices are endless. One can find any cuisine of the world here, but being in the South, I highly recommend giving Kerala and Andhra foods a try. A word of warning, spices and chilies are used wholeheartedly in the preparations.  For International flavors, try Medici, 100 Ft, Chamomile, BBQ Nation, Catch Marine, Italia or Sunny’s. Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Road, Old Airport Road, Indiranagar are streets full of great restaurant options. The Jamavar restaurant at The Leela Palace Kempinski is rated the best restaurant in Bangalore. There is also a Sunday brunch served at the hotel which is the talk of the town.

No trip to India is complete without some good old shopping. Commercial street, although chaotic and crowded, is perhaps the best option for both Indian and Western fare. You can find everything from traditional wear (sari’s, suits, stoles), accessories (bangles, bindis), handicrafts to contemporary wear.  While some stores here are fixed price, many can be haggled at. Bargaining is not considered a negative concept in India. The Mantri Square is the largest mall in India with over 250 outlets, a bowling alley and a multiplex cinema. For higher end brand, head to UB City where you will find Louis Vuitton’s and upscale cafes. Finish the day with a cocktail at one of Bangalore’s hip lounges or clubs Fuga or H2O.

As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in January 2011.

Morocco vs. India

 My friends travelling with me must be tired of listening to me say “This reminds me of India” dozens of times since we came here. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between India and Morocco, to say the least. Here are a few worth pointing out…

Over crowdedness: When I was walking around in Casablanca, it was a similar experience as being in New Delhi i.e. utter chaos everywhere. Traffic pouring from all directions, hundreds of cars and bikes, none following road rules, yet finding their way through the mess without any incidents. My American friends felt very scared of riding in the petit taxis holding on to their seatbealt-less seats in run down cars fearing a collision at every turn.

Pollution: Again, the car exhaust fumes, dust, dirt, garbage-quite like any big city in India! It’s hard to breathe and throat hurts sometimes.

Bollywood: I heard  the song dil to pagal hai playing in a taxi where the guy insisted it was Arabic music! Another stalker in Rabat who pronounced me “Princess of Morocco” sang me some Hindi film songs. Many street vendors sell Bollywood DVDs. Shah Rukh Khan is supposedly very popular here as a few people mentioned him to me randomly. Posters of Aishwarya Rai are found on billboards and stores.

Shopping: I was so surprised when I walked into a convenience store the other day to buy some water and found many of the products that I grew up with in India. Lux and Pears soap, Fair and Lovely creams, etc. were cosmetics I have not seen in the west at all! Also, the street vendors, road side book stores, knock off designer bags, etc. eminds me so much of Connaught Place in New Delhi. Even the shops inside the Medinas make me feel like I am walking in a Redi (sort of flea) market. How much you pay for an item depends on how well you can haggle. No tension there-I am an experienced bargainer!

Culture: Apparently, the tradition of arranged marriages and joint families is common here as well. The people are very friendly and always willing to help. I have been warned of men verbally harrasing women by whistling, commenting, etc. but am quite used to it having lived in India for so long. They also like to talk to foreigners, perphaps to entertain us in exchange of cash.


Architecture: The area of Rabat where our volunteer house is takes my memories back to my hometown of Chandigarh in northern India. Here, there are two story bungalows with gardens, surrounded by a high wall and gated entrance. The roads are clean and there is a lot of greenry. The styles of the homes is also very much like what you would find in stand alone houses in India.

Me: I constantly hear from locals “You look like a Moroccan” and am actually getting preferantial treatment (such as not being ripped off and being allowed to take pictures, etc.) so I decided to become one! Now when they ask me if I am Moroccan, I say “I am half Moroccan and half Indian.” Funny thing is other volunteers at the home base actually belived this too! I am sticking to my story for now.