Sunday, December 29, 2013

The List: December 2013

December is rolling to an end, and, incredible as it seems, 2013 is on its way out. What a ridiculous month this was. Too many chips, dips, cookies, casseroles and parties altogether. Here's some of the highlights of this month.

A sampler of our Baking Day products
Baking Day: I got together with two friends one Sunday for a big baking day. From noon until 4 PM, we baked non-stop. Dozens and dozens of cookies including cranberry chocolate chip cookies, fruit and nut shortbread, almond biscotti, mini elephant ears. One person mixed, another scooped while a third manned the oven. V was given the job of shooing the kid and the dog away from the cooling cookies. We also made samosa style puffs to snack on.What an excellent way to spend a chilly afternoon.

I took some of the cookies to a neighborhood cookie exchange and got to meet some new neighbors over wine and appetizers before swapping boxes of cookies with them. It was a lot of fun but I've realized that I like baking cookies more than I like eating them. Or more accurately, I only like eating cookies that have been made by myself or by Trader Joe's!

Cooking for lots of friends, old and new. A highlight of the month, no, this year, was last week, when old friends of ours drove 12+ hours to come spend a few days with us. We were 11 of us crammed into the house- 6 adults, 4 kids under five, and 1 dog in the middle of it all. Can I just say how wonderful it is to cook for foodies who are not picky and who eat with gusto? We just lazed around the house and cooked and ate and laughed the whole time.

On the menu were some of our favorite meals- dosa, waffles, misal, sev puri, enchiladas, lasagna, biryani. I baked elephant ear cookies with the 5 year old- they somehow vanished in minutes off the baking sheet, even before I could transfer them to the cooling rack. We made several loaves of buttermilk bread from the New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day - this bread was a huge hit with the crowd. Also a big hit were these mandelbrot or almond biscotti- I've made many batches this holiday season and everyone has raved about them.

One friend whipped up Kentucky Sours- whiskey cocktails that are a quick and tasty way to get tipsy fast! He shared the recipe: 1 part egg whites, 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lime juice and 2 parts whiskey. Or something like that, I was too buzzed to pay attention ;) Another friend made fluffy omelets for breakfast- funny how something as simple as omelets can be different when made by someone else. It was a food festival all the way.

The kids all enjoyed their 72+ hour play date. I got matching pajamas for all four kids and it was super cute to see them prancing around in excitement looking all matchy matchy. They all got stuffed stockings and presents on Christmas morning, just for fun. Even Duncan had his own stocking with toys and treats. He amiably played the role of a one-dog petting zoo and deserved some pampering. We would put the kids to bed and then watch stand-up comedians on Netflix. Our roaring laughter kept waking up the littlest baby, much to his mamma's consternation.

All in all, it was a treat to get to bond all over again with old friends, and they were the nicest house guests possible- jumping in to do the dishes, happily eating leftovers every few meals, meaning that we had lots of fun while not wasting any food.

Then- another surprise, a visit by Mandira of Ahaar and her sweet family- it was great fun to chat in person over a cup of chai while our kids played together. She's even sweeter than I imagined her to be!


Mini stockings as gift card holders for Lila's teachers. I used this pattern- it was quick and easy. Sewing curves was the only slightly difficult part, but it is a gift card holder and not a garment- it does not have to be perfect. I sewed the ribbon loops by hand.

For a friend's daughter's third birthday, our gift was a fleece blanket paired with a
book. When this child comes over to play, she always snuggles with the quilts I have in the living room, which is why I thought she might like this. I made this by putting together two different 1.25 yard pieces of fleece and sewing them together with a blanket stitch on the edge. The book is Press Here by Herve Tullet- Lila got this as a gift from my friend Cathy and it is so delightful that I bought more to give as gifts.

And I've been knitting small gifts- a giraffe hat for a giraffe-collecting co-worker who is expecting her first grandchild.


mini sweater ornaments for a couple of quilter friends.

Reading took a backseat this month. But I read Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth, continuing her memoirs of being a midwife in the East End of London. Again, this book is beautifully narrated and worth reading even though there are portions that are almost unbearable. Also, this month, I read one of Agatha Christie's most famous books that somehow I had not read until now- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. And I re-read a book that I read and loved as a child: Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. It is a sweet and sentimental story- an orphan girl, a wise and dashing uncle, 7 boisterous boy cousins, aunts galore- and a great read if you're looking for something light this holiday season.

Watching  holiday movies, which is a first for me. I very rarely watch movies and almost never the holiday classics. Too many people kept gushing about Love, Actually so I finally watched it. They call it a feel-good movie but it seemed rather bittersweet to me and with too many story lines- certainly there were many cute moments, but they were sprinkled in among plenty of ludicrous ones. And for some reason, men (the PM and the writer) kept falling in love with women who served them tea. What gives? But I enjoyed the soundtrack very much. Have you seen this movie? Am I over-analyzing it? :D

It's A Wonderful Life was showing on some channel as I surfed through and I'm glad I finally watched this classic. As I was knitting holiday gifts, I also watched and thoroughly enjoyed some episodes of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, set in 1920s Australia.

So what have you been cooking, baking, eating, reading, watching this month? Did you get any exciting holiday gifts?

I wish you all a wonderful 2014. Via One Hot Stove, I hope to continue sharing my favorite recipes and books and crafts with you in the coming year. Cheers!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Vegetable-Heavy Potluck Casseroles

I always think of myself as a cook rather than a baker, but in fact my oven gets fired up almost every day, and that's especially true during these cold months when the warmth and aroma of baking feels like an extra special hug.

When we moved into this home over a year ago, I had to make friends with a new-to-me oven that had been put into the kitchen by the previous home-owners. For one thing, this cooking range has an electric range rather than the gas range that I was used to in St. Louis. This made my heart sink a little bit, I'll admit. But I have come to love how energy-efficient this range is- a big pot of water for pasta comes to a boil in mere minutes, and the surface holds heat so well that I can turn off the heat and let food simmer just in the residual heat.

This oven is quite a bit fancier than any I've used and one of the features is the convection baking mode. As it understand it, convection baking utilizes fans inside the oven to circulate the air, cooking food more evenly and efficiently. But the airflow also tends to dry out the food more than a normal (conventional) oven would.

For almost a year, I ignored this feature- not wanting to risk a dish not coming out right. Then I remembered that I've used a convection oven in the Campus Kitchen where I volunteered once upon a time. It roasted vegetables in record time. That's just it- I would try the convection setting for roasting trays of veggies. It is hard to mess that up! It worked like a dream; a large half-sheet of sweet potatoes, say, are tender and browned in about 15-20 minutes as against the usual 40-45.

I am convinced that roasting converts vegetables to candy- I can barely stop eating them right off the baking sheet. We enjoy them as a side dish and in the last 2 weeks, I also use them in three casseroles that were my contributions to various holiday potluck gatherings. These are ideas rather than strict recipes!

Lentil Sweet Potato Pilaf
This was inspired by a surplus of sweet potatoes bought on sale after Thanksgiving and the need to use them up fast. Lentils and sweet potatoes are a wonderful combination and as comforting as you can get.

There are 4 components to this dish:
1. Cook Basmati rice in the rice cooker until it is tender and fluffy.

2. Roast cubes of sweet potato tossed with some olive oil, salt and pepper in a 375F oven until tender and slightly browned.

3. Make a lentil curry: Saute onions, ginger and garlic. Add soaked brown lentils (whole masoor), salt, turmeric, red chili powder, biryani masala/garam masala, tomato (optional) and cook until the lentils are tender. You don't want this curry to be as thin as dal but not too dry either.

4. The extras: fried onions (freshly pan-fried or store-bought), minced cilantro.

In a greased casserole, layer these 4 components, biryani-style. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350F. Serve warm.

The next two recipes use white sauce/ bechamel sauce. To make white sauce:
  1. Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a heavy pan. 
  2. When it foams, add 2 tbsp. all purpose flour and stir it around to a paste.
  3. Let the flour bubble gently getting a little toasty but not too dark.
  4. Whisk in 2 cups hot milk, stir, bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Off the heat, stir in 1 to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
PS: I edited the white sauce on Dec. 21, 2013. I'd forgotten to include the cheese!
Vegetable Gratin
My mother made baked vegetables all the time when we were growing up- it would be the special "continental dish" at her parties and very popular with the family friends.

I made my version by roasting 1 tray of cauliflower florets and pepper slices with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper: Carrot, broccoli, green beans, and corn and peas would be nice additions as well. I scraped the roasted veggies into a baking dish and poured in the white sauce. Then I scattered a topping of breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan. Broiled the dish until the top was blackened browned and you're done. Note that you have to watch the broiler like a hawk. Being distracted by toddlers leads to what you see in that picture up there. Still delicious, once you pick off the carbonized breadcrumbs.

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

This is a great way to lighten up mac and cheese a little while also making it tastier, in my opinion. I used caulflower here but one could also use broccoli- the added advantage of using broccoli is that the florets look like little trees and you can call the dish "macaroni and trees" to the delight of your pun-loving friends.

Here, I cooked a box of tri-color rotini (any short pasta will do). Then I tossed it with a tray of roasted cauliflower and the white sauce. Pour it into a baking dish or two, top and broil as above and viola. Kids are all over this dish, by the way.

All three of these potluck dishes were crowd-pleasers and I'm sure to make them again and again, especially now that roasting vegetables is so quick.

I'm usually careful not to over-schedule myself but I've really blown it this week with 1 holiday dinner, 2 potluck parties, 1 cookie exchange/neighborhood party, 1 ballet to attend. Also,1 meeting and 1 presentation at work, 1 vet check-up and 1 pediatrician check-up. Not a moment to lose! We have friends coming over to spend the holidays with us and I can barely contain my excitement.

I'll be back at the end of the month with The List for December 2013. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, friends. 

Monday, December 09, 2013

A Little Giveaway

I've been at the receiving end of much generosity lately and I have a chance to give back a little with Giveaway Day hosted today on Sew Mama Sew.

This is the season for giving, and a bottle of wine is a popular host gift- popular but, you know, just a little boring. You know what your chilled wine needs? A hat and a scarf. Sometimes you need a little whimsy and frivolity in life, right?

These dressed up bottles of wine always result in smiles and chuckles. Today, I have four sets of chilled wine garb to give away- for you to give away or to keep for yourself.

  • I'm only giving away the wine garb- you'll have to buy your own bottle of wine to dress up! 
  • This giveaway is open to US participants only.
  • To put your name in the hat, tell me in the comments: What gifts are you excited to give this holiday season? 
  • Please leave your e-mail address in the comment so I can contact you if you win, or link to your website and make sure your e-mail address is easily accessible there. 
  • I'll draw 4 winners on December 13th and e-mail them for their shipping address.
Pattern credit: If you are a knitter and want to make these yourself, here is the free pattern generously shared by Lisa Valentino.

Visit all the giveaways here and here on Sew Mama Sew to put your name in the hat for lots of fun prizes. Good luck and thanks for playing along!

And the winners are lesleyjean, Amanda, EightPP and Mandira. All winners have been e-mailed for their address.

Note: So many people who commented failed to include their e-mail address and did not have a link to one either. They lost their chance to win, unfortunately. When you enter a giveaway, please make sure you can be contacted if you win.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The List: November 2013

This is a new tradition on One Hot Stove- at the end of the month, I do a round up of the highlights of that month, and invite you to do the same in the comments. Here are the lists for September and October.


A Thanksgiving meal, of course. We were invited to a small Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a senior colleague and her husband. They made a traditional meal but went out of their way to get a Trader Joe's vegan turkey-less stuffed roast for the vegetarians, so it was my very first Thanksgiving with a turkey stand-in! It was delicious, accompanied by the many sides like cranberry relish, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans and mushrooms and buttery rolls with honey. It was so nice to spend Thanksgiving day catching up on chores around the house/yard and then to just show up for a nice feast.

My contribution to the meal was a chocolate pecan pie. This time I used a frozen pie crust from Trader Joe's and I wasn't happy with this pie crust at all. I should have made my own like I usually do or perhaps bought another brand.

Cooking and Baking a few DIY experiments this month.

Naked apple pie with
salted caramel sauce
Salted caramel sauce: Our neighbors invited us for dinner, and I made dessert to take along, continuing the apple baking fest with a naked apple-vanilla pie. At the last minute, I decided to make a salted caramel sauce to drizzle on the pie. I used this recipe, and my only change was to double the amount of heavy cream to a cup. It was amazingly easy to make. I've made caramel many times before and I find it easy to rely on the color of the caramel rather than using a candy thermometer. The resulting sauce is rich and decadent with a distinctly grown-up and gourmet taste thanks to the salt. This sauce takes mere minutes to make, and a few inexpensive ingredients, and would be a lovely holiday gift (it can be enjoyed on ice cream, pancakes, fruit)- just remind the lucky recipient to store it in the fridge.

Chocolate syrup: We were visiting someone's home, and Lila wanted a cup of warm milk. On a whim, I stirred in a bit of chocolate syrup that I found in their fridge- you know, the ubiquitous brown plastic bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup. Well, that was enough for the kiddo to fall in love with "chocolate duddu". A bit of searching revealed that chocolate syrup is nothing but cocoa powder, sugar and water.
DIY chocolate syrup

I made Lila her very own chocolate syrup: Mix 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan (these proportions are flexible). Bring to a boil, whisking often to dissolve the cocoa powder. Simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Let the syrup cool and store it in the fridge for a couple of weeks. This is a simple chocolate syrup that is great for stirring up a cup of chocolate milk, also nice for drizzling on waffles and pancakes.

Pumpkin and roasted pumpkin seeds
Pumpkins: We went pumpkin picking with Lila and got home a couple of small pie pumpkins. October turned to November and I knew I had to use up the pumpkins fast and not relegate them to the compost heap. Cutting up pumpkins and other winter squashes seems like such a bother, I always feel like I'm risking my fingers as I hack away at them. This fabulous tip was just what I needed: baking  the whole pumpkins at 300F for about 30 minutes got the skin a bit soft and easier to cut and the whole process was almost fun. The only disappointment was that the pumpkin tasted so very bland.

I rinsed and roasted the pumpkin seeds- it is too easy to over-roast and burn the pumpkin seeds and unfortunately mine were a bit over-done. But pumpkin seeds are so crunchy and tasty- you just eat them shell and all.

Image: Goodreads
Brain on Fire: A Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, a memoir of a young woman who is gripped by a sudden and severe psychosis which turns out to be a rare autoimmune disease. It is an engrossing read (although I felt it could have been better as a long magazine article and not necessarily a whole book) and made me reflect on the stigma of mental illness and how little we understand its physiological causes.

I'm also continuing to follow the adventures of Bertie, the child prodigy and Cyril, the dog with a gold tooth and Domenica, the freelance anthropologist in The Unbearable Lightness of Scones and The Importance of Being Seven, both of the 44 Scotland Street series.

I read many glowing reviews of a cozy mystery called Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann, a novel in which a herd of sheep solve the murder of their shepherd, but unlike all the people who loved this book, I did not enjoy it much and gave up a third of the way into the story.

But the best thing I read all month wasn't in a book but on a blog: Kamini's funny, warm, delightful essays on everyday life in Madras- The Twelve Days of Convalescence and Shopping for Liquid Gold.


I watched the first two seasons of Downton Abbey earlier this year- and the combination of family drama and glamor and social commentary sucked me right in, of course. This month I stumbled on a blog where, to my amazement, I found complete episodes of Seasons 3 and 4 of Downton Abbey- after spending many happy evenings experiencing emotional upheavals with the Crawleys while knitting holiday presents, I'm all caught up.

To drown my disappointment at having no more episodes to watch, I've now turned to another historical British mystery drama, The Bletchley Circle which I found on Netflix.

The best thing I watched this month was not on a screen, though. We got a babysitter (after what seems like months) and went to see a live performance of improv comedy: The Two Man Group of Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood- the guys are regulars on the TV improv show Whose Line is It Anyway which I used to love. They are ridiculously clever and funny.


Our Thanksgiving hosts are avid and knowledgeable birdwatchers. I found fabric with winter birds and made them a pair of potholders as a small hostess gift. Potholders are touted as a beginner-friendly sewing project but I personally find it a bit of a pain to sew those thick multiple layers together.

At my daughter's preschool, they put up wish lists from local families who find themselves unable to afford Christmas gifts for their children. One six year old girl wished for art supplies- the note said she likes Hello Kitty. Well, I found some Hello Kitty fabric and made her an art tote bag (using this very easy pattern) that I filled with coloring books and drawing pads. It has 6 pockets stuffed with little treasures like erasers, stickers, markers and stamps. I hope she likes it.

Happy Birthday, Duncan!

According to the adoption papers, today is Duncan's first birthday. This enormous puppy with the big and gentle heart is the best thing that happened to us this year. Every single person who meets him falls in love with him. This weekend alone, he "converted" a little girl who was visiting us- she is terrified of dogs, but after an evening with Duncan, she was cuddling with him on the sofa and giving him kisses.

Duncan makes our hearts melt every day. Even if he does get in trouble quite often with his puppyish goofiness. His biggest misadventure this month: he was snooping under my sewing table, got his foot entangled in the sewing machine power cord, and when he walked away, he pulled the sewing machine which came crashing on the floor with the most appalling crash. Duncan was terrified and fled. I was furious and yelled at the top of my lungs. By some miracle, the sewing machine has a large crack but it still works fine! Toddlers and puppies- no matter what exasperating thing they do, you can't stay angry with them for long. I mean, just look at that face.

Looking forward to...

...a month of fun and festivities- my calendar is happily packed with events like The Nutcracker ballet and a cookie exchange and a potluck breakfast. I'm also looking forward to participating in Giveaway Day next Monday- so come back next week for a chance to win something I've made.

Happy December, friends! Let's make the best of what's left of 2013. But before then, I've love to hear about how November treated you: What have you been cooking, eating, reading, watching, making and planning? What are you looking forward to in December?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

12 Tips for Simpler Entertaining

Does the word "entertaining" conjure up visions of pristine tablecloths and sparkling silverware, cocktails and canapes? Well, in our home we entertain almost every weekend, and you'll see none of those things, ever. The only thing we guarantee is a warm and welcoming home and plenty of food on the table.

When I was talking about cures for life's big and little ailments last week, Anu asked,

"Between working full time and managing a preschooler and a baby, I feel the last thing I want to do is cook for people on weekends. But, I want to have people over too, any tips on how to get over this mental block? Is there a book to cure this? :)"

While I can't think of a suitable book about the warm fuzzy feeling of cooking for friends (if you think of one, leave a comment, please), I do have a lot to say on the subject and thought of writing this post instead of writing the world's longest comment.

I have people over for meals because I like to feed people. Also, I'm a homebody and I'd rather have my fun at home than go out on weekends. Beyond the simple pleasure of sharing food, it is how casual acquaintances grow to become close friends, when the small talk continues to deeper conversations about our hopes and dreams and fears. This is especially important for expats who live far, far away from family. Our friends become the family we choose. Over the years, we have realized that formal entertaining is not our style, but that casual meals fit in well into our lifestyle. This beautiful meditation on formality echoes my thoughts on the matter.

I truly believe that entertaining is not just for socialites. However, with all the juggling that people are required to do- working full time, caring for kids and other family members- it also should not become one more thing that adds to your burdens. So here are my top 12 tips for simpler entertaining, a pep talk of sorts. There's nothing new here, but sometimes it helps to be reminded. It requires a mindset of being at peace with yourself and embracing your own entertaining style, never comparing yourself to anyone else, of knowing that your goal is not to impress anyone but to build a happy community around yourself and share your home and bounty with others. 

From a memorable lunch that I was
invited to
1. Think beyond "dinner" parties. Hosting a full-fledged dinner can seem daunting. A great way to start small is to invite friends over for tea, cocoa or lemonade in the afternoon. Serve some cake, sandwiches, or snacks and you have yourself a party. Other ideas for not-dinner parties could be an ice-cream social on a hot summer afternoon, a wine & cheese party for grown-ups and a cookie party during the holidays.

Choose the best time of day for your schedule and serve some meal that fits that time. My personal favorite is to have friends over for brunch at 10 or 11 AM- I'm a morning bird and it is easier for me to put together a meal in the morning than in the evening. Brunch dishes are easy to make and almost everyone I know enjoys them. Then, host and guests get to have the rest of the day to do whatever they please.

Part food with help from the store:
crackers, fruit, cheese
2. The whole menu does not have to be cooked at home. You could order in food from a favorite restaurant. You can get pizza delivered and make a salad to go with it. Dessert can be a favorite store-bought ice cream or pie or simply a bowl of fresh seasonal fruit. In short, there are countless ways of filling in a menu with favorite store-bought or restaurant-bought foods. Once I really wanted to throw a birthday party for Neighbor Girl but couldn't do any cooking because it was a busy weekday, so we invited a bunch of friends and ordered in Thai take-out from our favorite restaurant. I made a birthday ice cream instead of cake where the recipe consisted of mixing a few things and pouring the mix into the ice cream maker. It was so much fun and very little work.

3. Accept a dish if it is offered. If your guest asks to bring  a dish, accept graciously. It is a win-win situation. It gives them a chance to contribute to the meal and they don't have to go looking for another hostess gift like wine or flowers. And one thing on the menu is taken care of.

In the same way, when I'm invited as a guest, I always offer to bring a dish. The key is to make a fairly specific offer: "May I bring over an appetizer or the dessert?" to which it is easy for the host to respond, "Dessert would be lovely, thanks" rather than the vague, "Can I bring something?" which invariably compels the host to say, "No, you don't need to bring anything".

Part of a taco bar
4. Try a "build your own" food bar. One of our best parties recently was a grilled cheese bar (some details in this post), and taco bars always go over well. I once attended a holiday party with a chili bar- big pots of meat and vegetarian chili with a bunch of fixings: cornbread, spaghetti, cheese, lettuce etc. The prep for these meals is fairly quick and it is a great way to cater to people with different dietary needs. Think of ways to simplify the menu.

5. Potlucks are popular for a good reason. They make it possible for large groups of people to get together while sharing the responsibility.

6. A quick tidying up is all you need. We live in a real home, not in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens, and there's no sense in pretending otherwise. Not to mention that a toddler and a dog call it home too. We just put out fresh towels, scoop up scattered toys into bins and vacuum the floor. 10 minutes and we're ready for company.

My philosophy is that the kind of home I want for my family is the same kind of home I want for my guests- reasonably tidy and clean. So there's no special cleaning for company. I will say that it helps tremendously that we don't have a lot of stuff- there is minimal furniture and no knick knacks whatsoever. If you have too many things which results in clutter and makes it hard to do a quick cleaning, you may want to subtract but perhaps that's a discussion for another time.

If you have a friend who peeks under the sofa looking for dust bunnies, I would recommend getting rid of the friend even before you get rid of the dust bunnies. Seriously, we need to surround ourselves with warm, gracious and forgiving friends, not mean-minded people who are looking for ways to bring us down.

7. Organize get-togethers outside the home: If you're still feeling stressed about inviting people into your home, consider meeting outside, perhaps for a picnic in the park when the weather is nice.

8. Make it a movie night or a game night. Sometimes it can help to move the focus of the party away from the food. How about a movie evening where you serve popcorn and snacks? Or a game night where you play scrabble or cards or antakshari and serve some chaat to nibble on.

I forgot to put sugar in the muffins.
We survived.
9. Mistakes, missteps and mishaps are a learning opportunity. Sometimes, you make too little food, or the entree burns or gets over-salted. Or maybe two guests get into a heated argument about politics. None of this is a crisis. None of your guests are at risk of starving to death. Take a deep breath and try again. Of all the things that can go wrong in life, these are the most insignificant ones.

10. Communicate. If you're wondering if friends are expecting a full-blown home-cooked meal of korma and biryani while you're planning to order in pizza, don't sit and wonder and worry. E-mail them or call them and say, "We found this great pizza place- how about coming over for some  take-out pizza and salad and ice cream on Sunday night?" and see what they say. If you're worried about the reaction to something that you're planning, just ask ahead of time so friends know what to expect.

11. Relax. Think about the times you've been invited to someone's home and what you've enjoyed, then you know what your guests will enjoy. Me- I love it when my hosts are happy and relaxed and let me feel at home. I like when I'm offered seconds but don't like when I am forced to eat more than I want to. I feel anxious when the host hovers and fusses over me. It is not fun when the host apologizes for every little thing and you are compelled to protest again and again, "No, no, everything is great, really". Just kick back and enjoy the moment and the company. The food and the venue is secondary.

12. Being a good host comes with practice, practice and practice. Start small, take baby steps, see what works and do it again. Note the missteps and try to avoid them. Having friends over is a chance to be creative and show someone a good time and the friendship you get out of it is worth the extra dishes you have to wash!

I'll leave you with a recipe for your next party: my version of sev-puri.

Simplifying is all very good but I fear that my recipe for quick sev-puri is a bit too simple and quick. Because I can assemble a plate of sev-puri in under 3 minutes using stuff I have on hand and that can lead to some disastrous snacking. Consider yourself warned.

Things you need to stock up on:
1. A bag of tortilla chips, I use these in place of the traditional flour puris simply because they are easier to source.
2. Buy plain sev, sold in Indian stores.
3. Keep a boiled potato or two in the fridge.
4. Make a large batch of date tamarind chutney and store in jars, one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

To make sev-puri at a moment's notice:
1. Mix diced boiled potato, minced onion (a very small amount) and lots of minced cilantro.
2. Spread tortilla chips in a platter.
3. Scoop a bit of the potato mixture on each.
4. Sprinkle with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
5.  Add dollops of the sweet chutney.
6. Top with sev and enjoy right away.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the US- I hope you have a wonderful holiday! I'll be back next Monday with the list for November 2013.

Meanwhile, tell us in the comments: Do you enjoy having friends over in your home? Got any tips to share?

Monday, November 18, 2013

No-Knead Naan and the Need to Read

I'm been doing my part to popularize Indian food lately. We made new friends in the dog park and invited them over for an Indian brunch of dosa and egg burji and such. They enjoyed the food and asked if I would teach them to cook a few Indian dishes. Nothing would make me happier, of course, and our first lesson consisted of rajma, pulao with lots of vegetables and some hard-boiled eggs, and koshimbir. They practiced that meal a few times (texting me pictures- they got an A+ each time) and then they wanted another lesson.

So we got together yesterday and made a big pot of matar paneer. Normally, I'd have put up some jeera rice to serve the curry with, but then I thought I'd try out a recipe for naan from a new bread book I'd been sent to review. I'm notoriously bad at making flatbreads and I've already shocked many readers by revealing in this post that I buy tortillas rather than rolling my own rotis. So this whole naan exercise was an experiment to say the least.

The book in which I found the naan recipe is the latest one by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François- they specialize in artisan bread in five minutes a day. The general idea is this: you mix the usual suspects- flour, water, yeast and salt without any kneading (just a quick mixing) and let the dough ferment for only a couple of hours or so on the counter top. Then cover the dough and stick it in the fridge. Later that day or over the next several days, you lop off a chunk of dough, let it rise again for a while and bake a fresh loaf. The process can be seen in this video.

This method making bread making accessible because there's very little effort involved in making the dough and when you have the dough ready, fresh bread can be made even on a weeknight, say. Hertzberg and François have adapted this general method to all sorts of doughs that in turn make a mind-boggling variety of breads. For instance, there is an olive oil dough that is perfect for pizza and focaccia, a rich eggy brioche dough for breakfast pastries and a 100% whole wheat dough for sandwich bread. I think I'm going to be baking my way through most of this book over the next few months!

The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book starts with a detailed description of the method and all sorts of tips for trouble-shooting. There is the basic master recipe which can be shaped into all kinds of artisan breads like baguette and ciabatta. Then there are chapters on flatbreads and pizza and enriched breads and pastries and a whole section devoted to gluten-free breads.

Let's circle back to the naan, which in my understanding is a flat bread that is usually made with white flour, leavened with yeast and cooked in a blazing tandoor oven, giving it puffy blistery spots and a smoky taste. In this recipe, I used the light wheat dough from The New Artisan Bread, which has a bit of whole wheat but still mostly white flour, and the naan is cooked on a hot cast iron tava, which is a very convenient way for a home cook to make it. I'm noting down the recipe as I made it, but the book has lots of details that I can't possibly cover in this post.

No-Knead Naan 
(Adapted from THE NEW ARTISAN BREAD IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, makes about 8 naan, serves 4-6)

1. Make the dough by mixing the following in a large bowl until the flour is incorporated:
  • 1.5 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 tbsp. granulated yeast
  • 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2. The dough will be very wet and sticky- that is OK. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours or until it rises and collapses.

3. Cover the bowl with a lid (not an airtight one) and store in the fridge. From this point, you can use the dough any time within a week. I left it in the fridge for only 6 hours or so.

4. Later when you want to make the naan, heat a cast iron griddle. Divide the dough into 8 portions, roll each one with floured hands into a round, and pan-fry with ghee. My addition was to press poppy seeds into the rolled-out naan- it makes them even tastier...and reminds me of naans served in restaurants.

The recipe suggests covering the pan to cook the inside of the naan, but I left it uncovered.

I clearly still need practice to roll out dough but the naan-making was a success. The fresh puffy naan was simply a delight to dunk into curry and savor while still hot. If you're scared of working with yeast, would be a simple recipe to dip your toes into the world of bread-making.

Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of  THE NEW ARTISAN BREAD IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking at no charge. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

* * *
This next part of the post may result in lots of additions to your (probably already teetering) to-be-read pile, I'm just warning you.

Two book blogs- Regular Rumination and Sophisticated Dorkiness are hosting Nonfiction November, a month devoted to non-fiction books. I've been observing from the sidelines as several bloggers shared their favorite non-fiction reads in Week 1. Week 2 was "Be the Expert" as bloggers shared lists of books related to particular topics that interest them.

Week 3's assignment is a fairly challenging one: to pair a fiction book with a non-fiction book. As in, if you like this fiction book, then you should go and read this non-fiction book. I am recommending this pairing:

If you like Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, or any other
comics/graphic novels at all, you should read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It is an absolutely brilliant look at the history of comics and the art of cartooning. I don't even like comics that much but McCloud's book is just so fascinating that I will be reading many more.

Also this week, I've been reading a book about books; a non-fiction book about fiction. It is called The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You by help a reader deal with the particular situation that they're facing. I can't for the life of me tell if this is an actual profession but it well could be- maybe there is a licensing exam and everything. 

The premise of the book is that while there are self-help manuals for all of life's problems, sometimes the pages of a novel can offer help in the form of a literary character facing a similar situation, or by simply transporting you to a different setting for a welcome respite. As gimmicky as the book is, I spent several hours flipping through it in delight.

Among their prescriptions, I found some books that I've read and liked and I agreed with their application, so to speak. In parentheses are quotes from the book.

Ailment- Resistance to change
Cure- Empire Falls by Richard Russo: "If..."surviving not thriving" is pretty much your MO, let Empire Falls suffuse you with a rueful understanding of the perils of inertia".

Ailment- Aging parents
Cure- Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry: "Family Matters is a wonderful example of how to look after one's aging parents with compassion- and how not to".

Ailment: Under pressure to have children
Cure- We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver: "If you are sick of justifying your childlessness...send them this novel for Christmas. They won't ask you about it again".

Ailment- Being different
Cure- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: "Eugenides's generous expression of Cal's character shows how full and uncontainable the human personality is, how much it exceeds commonly assumed boundaries".

Ailment- Inability to express emotions
Cure- Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: "If you, too, find it difficult to say, "I love you", try saying it with food".

Ailment- Hypochondria
Cure- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: "Let this novel lure you from your bed to find your own secret garden".

There are 751 novels listed in this book, the vast majority of which I have not read, but the weird thing is that most of the descriptions sounded depressing, or just not very inviting for some reason or other and only a few novels made it onto my TBR list.

"The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna tackles head-on the varied nature of childbirth through four interweaving stories". This book is prescribed as a cure for childbirth. And here I thought there was only one cure for childbirth and that is to birth the child!

Prescribed as a cure for despair: "...Alone in Berlin teaches us that sticking tenaciously, proudly, defiantly to our sense of what is right and true is enough- and the only fail-safe cure for despair that there is". This book is written by Hans Fallada.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury is prescribed as a cure for dread. " are hooked. You have to know". Although Bradbury has a reputation for intensifying dread rather than alleviating it, but now I really have to read this book.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is recommended as a cure for writer's block. I will read it and see if this cure works for me.

The book has a list of ten best novels for thirtysomethings, and I felt like I had to choose one to read: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

Do you read much non-fiction? Got any favorites to share? 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Festive Menus

Happy Diwali, friends!
From the One Hot Stove family, we wish you a year shining with joy.
This month marks one year since we moved to our new home, but I feel like we've been in Georgia for much longer. That means I feel very much at home here and feel accepted into the community and that is something to be very grateful for.

There's no doubt that cooking is a big part of how I cement friendships- I've noticed that lots of people are willing to put up with me because they like to eat home-cooked food!

A few days ago, Ruma left me a comment asking for menu ideas for the American celebration of Thanksgiving which falls on the 28th of this month. Thanksgiving- an entire holiday devoted to cooking and eating with family and friends, kicking off a 4 day relaxing weekend in which to cook and eat some more- is indeed a cook's dream come true. Over the years, I've hosted and attended several memorable Thanksgiving meals. Ruma's question got me reminiscing about Thanksgiving meals since I've started writing this blog over 8 years ago...

 Thanksgiving 2005 was cooked on a tiny range in New York City (the range with a single solitary hard-working burner which led me to name this blog One Hot Stove)- we had over a dozen guests and a distinctly non-traditional seating arrangement: one guest had to sit on the dog bed next to a very miffed Dale. Thanksgiving 2006 was not documented on the blog because at that time, I was writing my dissertation 14 hours a day. I do distinctly remember visiting V in St. Louis that week- spending the day at my laptop in an overheated apartment and then cooking a wild rice pilaf for Thanksgiving supper.

Thanksgiving 2007 had a simple yet enjoyable menu and was the first of many times that I made chocolate pecan pie. I probably spent Thanksgiving 2008 knitting! I started knitting and crocheting that year and was so obsessed that I stopped blogging for several months. Thanksgiving 2009 saw me making a traditional dish- green bean casserole and one non-traditional but very seasonally appropriate one- pumpkin flan. On Thanksgiving 2010 I tried something new- I live-blogged the day of cooking and the menu was a mix of Indian and American dishes.

Thanksgiving 2011 was special because we had a brand new baby daughter- and we spent the holiday with our friends down the street who had a brand new son. The menu was simple enough and a mix of Indian and American favorites- broccoli cheddar soup, vegetable biryani, raita, sweet potato fries and chocolate pecan pie for dessert. I remember that we four new parents enjoyed dinner over several hours in the living room, taking turns holding the babies and digging into the food.

Thanksgiving 2012 was our first in Georgia and we were invited to a friend's home for a large Thanksgiving potluck party- I took what-else-but chocolate pecan pie and vegetable biryani. We have been invited to a colleague's Thanksgiving gathering this year too, so I will only be contributing a couple of appetizers and a dessert to Thanksgiving 2013.

After that jaunt down memory lane, let me get back on track to Thanksgiving menu ideas. I enjoy cooking for this holiday because the dishes are oriented towards (a) Hearty food and (b) Vegetable-centric dishes and (c) Earthy flavors. All of which are practically hallmarks of how I like to cook. Pumpkin and winter squashes, green beans, potato, sweet potato, broccoli, corn, pecans, cranberries, mushrooms, maple syrup are some typical ingredients seen on Thanksgiving menus.

I try to make sure that there is variety in any party menu so that one ingredient is not over-represented and that there is a mix of heavier and lighter dishes. Party menus are a great way to showcase one's best dishes, for sure, but I for one can never resist experimenting on my friends with a new recipe. I never have a problem mixing dishes from different cuisines- and there's always one or more Indian dishes on the menu because that's my culinary background. It works seamlessly- I've never heard anyone complain that the menu is not matchy-matchy enough.

I'd pick one dish from each of these categories to make a Thanksgiving menu that I would enjoy both cooking and eating:

1. Appetizer

  • Hot spinach dip
  • Samosa puffs
  • Sweet and spicy mixed nuts
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Crostini with mushrooms

2. Soup

  • Mushroom soup
  • Broccoli cheese soup
  • Lentil butternut squash soup

 3. Main dish

  • Roasted vegetable biryani
  • Butternut squash lasagna
  • Pumpkin mac and cheese
  • Cauliflower gratin
  • Caramelized onion quiche

4. Side dish: cooked vegetable

  • Sweet potato fries
  • Maple roasted brussels sprouts
  • Chipotle mashed sweet potatoes
  • Green bean casserole 

5. Side dish: raw vegetable

  • Spinach pecan salad
  • Raw shredded beet salad
  • Crudites

6. Dessert

  • Chocolate pecan pie with vanilla ice cream
  • Pumpkin flan
  • Apple crisp

For some years, I've been toying with the idea of cooking an Indian-American fusion Thanksgiving menu. Who knows if or when this will actually happen, but here's my fantasy of what such a menu might look like.

Green bean patties/cutlets with cranberry chutney (an homage to mashed potatoes and green bean casserole)
Curried lentil butternut squash soup

Whole roasted tandoori cauliflower (to be carved at the table!)
Vegetable kofta biryani

Warm carrot halwa served with pumpkin ice cream or alternatively,
Warm pumpkin halwa served with pecan kulfi

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes? What are your favorite tips for cooking for festive meals? Got a fantasy Thanksgiving menu to share? Tell us in the comments!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The List: October 2013

In my corner of the world, October saw a fall in temperatures and a rise in festivities. Halloween is in the air with pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere and creepy decorations on lawns up and down the street. V and I were laughing at ourselves because the neighbors have strung up fake cobwebs but we've been shirking yard work for so long that we have real cobwebs stretched across the front of our house- really!


Jasmine rice! All these years, I've resisted buying this fragrant Thai rice because with 4 or 5 types of rice already sitting in the pantry, I did not want to add one more. Well, this month I finally bought some and can I just say that I'm smitten with jasmine rice now. It cooks up soft and flavorful- wonderful in East Asian dishes, of course, but equally tasty in pulao. Do you cook with jasmine rice regularly?

Enchiladas! I love enchilada platters in Mexican restaurants- the typical ones with fiery looking red sauce and a heap of lettuce and tomato on the side. Well, this week I made red enchilada sauce from scratch using some assorted dried Mexican chiles that I've had in the pantry for ages...and while the sauce was tasty, it was also 5 times hotter than I wanted it to be. Oops. Well, V won't eat spicy food so I'm working my way solo through this huge tray on enchiladas, and quite enjoying it too. This sauce, once I've tweaked it, will be completely blog-worthy so please stay tuned for a authentic(ish) red enchilada sauce coming soon to your friendly neighborhood Indian food blog.


Impossible Coconut Pie, pinned from here. Impossible pies get the name because a little flour is mixed right into the batter, but separates into a thin crust while baking (same principle as for the mini quiches I posted last week). Well, this particular recipe couldn't be easier, in fact I just gave the ingredients a whirl in the blender making it even easier. But the results, while tasty, were not mind-blowing. I made this as a birthday treat for my quilting teacher who loves coconut. Next time, I'll try another recipe for coconut cake or something. By the way, the picture shows the souffle-like pie billowing as it came out of the oven, when cooled, it deflated a good deal.

Oh, and I continued the apple baking fest by making apple cake and apple muffins. The cake was good but a little too dense and eggy for my taste. The apple muffins were wonderful- I cut the sugar way down. And the recipe said it would make 12 muffins  but actually made 16.


Image: Goodreads
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. The book tells the story of Ursula Todd, born in England on a snowy February night in 1910. Well, in the first chapter, tiny Ursula is stillborn, perishing with the umbilical cord wrapping around her neck. The very next chapter tells a different version of the story, one in which the doctor made it through the snowstorm and clipped the cord just in time, saving her life and letting her grow up. And so on and so on, the book asks the question: how would life change if a different choice had been made, if circumstances were different and life took a different turn? This novel is written in a very unusual style, bouncing back and forth in time and storyline, but it grew on me quickly and I will be thinking about it for a long time. I highly recommend this intelligent and well-crafted book. Not necessarily a light read (after all, anyone born in 1910 faced two world wars before they reached middle age, if they even reached middle age) but well worth your time and mental space.


An apple hat and matching scarf- a birthday gift for Lila's little friend who turned two.

Fall yarn wreath, pinned from here. It was fun to make and easy as can be (I

used push pins to fix the flowers- no glue needed) but I should have used a larger wreath form- it is way too small for the door. Oh well. I'm still sending it and the coconut pie as pins #4 and #5 to Trish's Pin It and Do It challenge.

Laughing at conversations with my two year old.

Lila (making stirring motions): Lila's cooking.
Me: Oh, what are you making?
Lila: Making bananas.

Me: Hey, baby Lila!
Lila (in same tone of voice): Hey, baby Mama!

Planning a small Diwali party. Now where did I put those diyas and tea-lights...

Supporting my friend Bala's art. I knew Bala briefly in St. Louis and we've been friends since. She's an incredibly generous soul, has rescued dogs and birds, and she's trying a recipe from every country on her blog. I still remember the veggie sushi she made for us almost three years ago.

Bala sent me my little one this sign as a gift
when she was born-
it hangs proudly in her room.
Those familiar Indian art forms of rangoli, kolam and mehendi- Bala interprets them on canvas. I am mesmerized by her mandalas and kolams. For years, she has donated paintings to raise money for various worthy causes and is now raising money to go pro. I am cheering her on and spreading the word! Please read her story and support her if you can.

Nicest thing that happened this month: A very sweet reader named Rashmi read in my book survey that I don't have an e-reader and promptly sent me one that she isn't using any more. It is very fun to try an e-reader for the first time, but more than that, I was so touched by this generous and spontaneous gesture.

October was a lucky month because I also won a quilting book and an online quilting class in blog giveaways. Inspired by all this generosity, I looked around for a couple of things to share in turn. Nothing as big as an e-reader but if you'd like to put your name in the hat for these little gifts, please fill out the forms (there are just two questions in the form- so I know your e-mail contact). I'm afraid I can only ship within the US, but please feel free to enter on behalf of family/friends in the US if you live elsewhere. I'll randomly draw winners on Sunday, November 3.


1. A Marathi book written by a group of pediatricians (my mother co-wrote and edited this book) called Balahaar Margadarshika (guide book for children's nutrition). It has dozens of kid-friendly recipes, informative articles and cute cartoons. You will need to be able to read Marathi in order to use this cookbook! Put your name in the hat by filling this form.The giveaway is closed- won by Uma.

2. One of my favorite books, the Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. I bought this copy in my library's annual book sale and it is in great condition. Put your name in the hat by filling this form.The giveaway is closed- won by Prathima.

3. A scarf: I knitted this soft and squishy blue drop-stitch scarf for no one in particular, and saved it in my "gift box". Maybe you'll enjoy it this winter? It is fairly short, but would look nice cinched with a brooch or tucked under a jacket collar. Put your name in the hat by filling this form. The giveaway is closed- won by Jui.

How did the month of October treat you? What are you eating, reading, making, planning, and laughing at? What was the nicest thing that happened to you all month? Share in the comments, please and thank you. Happy Halloween and Happy Diwali to everyone who's celebrating!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Crust-less Mini Quiches

No chit-chat today (shocking, I know)- just a quick recipe that I made this morning for an event at work. It turned out well and I wanted to jot it here before I forget the approximate proportions.

This is a big batch of crust-less mini quiches (but the recipe can easily be halved) that are perfect for breakfast, snacks or as appetizers. It is a take on these mini quiches that I made a while ago and had almost forgotten. Oh, and they are much less work than these other mini quiches I've posted before.

There is a lot of flexibility in this recipe, this is just the way I made these today...

Crust-less Mini Quiches
(Makes 24)

1. In a skillet, saute 1 medium minced onion in a little olive oil.

2. Add 6-8 cups of vegetables diced small (I used mushrooms, broccoli and zucchini) and your choice of seasoning (I used salt, oregano, paprika, cumin...) and saute on medium-high heat until the veggies are tender.

3. Let the vegetables cool down.

4. Preheat oven to 375F.

5. In a large bowl, beat 7 or 8 large eggs. Stir in the cooked veggies, more seasoning if you like, 4 tbsp. cream cheese (cut roughly in small cubes), 1/4 cup whole-milk yogurt, 1/3 cup of shredded Parmesan and 1/3 cup of shredded cheddar. Sprinkle mixture with 1 cup flour and 1 tbsp. baking powder and fold those in.

6. Spray 2 muffin tins well and ladle the mixture into the 24 wells.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffy and golden, and a knife inserted into the center comes clean.

8. Serve hot or at room temperature.

See you next week with The List for October!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Apple Pie for a Crowd

(...and an apple cake that you'll want to hide and eat all by yourself.)

Clearly, I'm going to town on the crisper full of apples that we bought in North Carolina. They are exquisitely crisp and sweet, perfect for snacking on (Lila likes apple slices slathered with peanut butter) but as a baking enthusiast, I had to try them in some recipes too.

There's nothing like the smell of baking apples to remind me that Fall is here. Well, that and the metric ton of dead leaves clogging up the yard that I'm trying my best to avoid raking.

The first recipe I tried was Dorie Greenspan's French Apple Cake from David Lebovitz's blog. What's a French apple cake versus an American apple cake? Well, instead of the traditional and much beloved pairing of apples with cinnamon in American desserts, this cake is flavored with rum. Not to confuse a French recipe with an American idiom, but this recipe simply hits a home run.

The cake is made of very basic ingredients, along with a dash of rum, as I said before. I used Bacardi Gold rum which sits in my pantry all year round only to be used in fruit cake. My only modification was to use 1/2 cup sugar instead of 3/4 cup. The apples are so plentiful that the batter is merely a coating for the apple pieces. This cake was a delightful treat, with soft chunks of apples in a cake so light and tender that it almost tasted like custard. I don't have much of a sweet tooth but I honestly kept coming back and stealing chunks of it all day.

The second recipe came about when I needed to take a dessert to a gathering. I was longing to make apple pie but a pie only serves about 8. Normally. In my house, it serves 2 or 3. Anyway, I discovered that there is such a thing as a slab pie, that is, all the layers of a pie baked in a larger format like a 9 x 13 pan or a half-sheet pan.

I found a recipe that called for pie crust to be patted into the pan- seriously makes things easier. Here's my tweaked version. This apple slab pie was an absolute treat, especially served warm (leftovers can be easily warmed in the microwave oven).

Apple Pie for a Crowd
(Adapted from this recipe)

1. To make the crust, combine the following, cutting the butter into the flour.
1.5 cups flour
1.5 sticks cold butter, cut in small pieces
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar

2. Add ice cold water a couple of tablespoons at a time and mix until the pie dough just comes together. Pat this dough into the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Put the pan into the freezer while you make the rest of the layers.

3. Crumb topping: In a bowl, mix the following, again cutting the butter into the rest of the ingredients.
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. cold butter
Pinch of salt

4. Apple filling: Peel, core and chop 6 apples. Toss them with 1/4 cup sugar, juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 tbsp. cinnamon.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

6. Assemble the slab pie: Pour apple mixture into the pan and level it off. Scatter crumb mixture evenly on top.

7. Bake for an hour or until the filling is bubbling.

These two recipes were both pinned to my Sweetest Things board and are Pins #2 and #3 for the Pin It and Do It challenge.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Sewing Machine and A Sneak Peek Into My Sewing Room

As I'm learning to tame the beast that is my sewing machine, I've discovered the vibrant community of sewing and quilting blogs written by people who generously share tips, tutorials, advice and inspiration. So, when I stumbled on this post asking for sewing machine reviews, I decided to jump in and contribute a review about my sewing machine.

What brand and model do you have? I have the Brother CE-5500PRW Project Runway™ Limited Edition Computerized Sewing Machine.

How long have you had it? I've owned this machine for 2.5 years. But the first year I owned it, I did not use it at all. I only looked at it anxiously from time to time before putting it back into the closet.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)?
I bought it for $135.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)? I use it for piecing quilt tops, quilting and simple sewing projects like wallets and bags and pillowcase dresses.

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get? I sew two or three hours every week, on average. So the machine gets fairly light wear and tear.

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does your machine have a name? My machine is called Big Brother. I definitely like my machine- Big Brother is my buddy and we're learning to work together!

What features does your machine have that work well for you? The machine is simple to use. Changing thread, loading bobbins, changing needles, changing feet was all easy to learn. The drop in bobbin is very convenient. The machine has 50 stitches or something ridiculous like that, but I only tend to use the straight stitch and the zig zag. My sister (who sews professionally) used the machine for a month when she was visiting me and she liked it very much.

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine? I found it very difficult to sew multiple layers on this machine. Buying a walking foot has made this a lot easier, so I highly recommend buying a walking foot if you buy this machine.

I've used my quilting teacher's Bernina once or twice, and using that very high-end machine gave me an experience of driving the Cadillac of sewing machines. So I understand that Big Brother is noisy and not as smooth as some machines are!

The throat of the machine is small which will make it a challenge to quilt anything bigger than a crib sized or possible twin sized quilt. It works for me because I have no intentions of making big quilts.

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?  I would certainly recommend this machine to beginners. Before you start sewing/quilting, you have no idea how much you'll use a machine and whether you'll end up liking these crafts, and it does not make sense to buy a high-end machine. I like to start small and work my way up.

Brother makes very inexpensive machines that have good features. I have read many reviews that the machines are not durable and not sturdy and this may well be true, but so far mine is working well.

Do you have a dream machine? If I'm still sewing and quilting avidly 3 years from now, I might splurge on a refurbished Bernina or Janome.

This is where where Big Brother lives:

I've been having great fun converting our spare bedroom into a sewing room/studio for myself. It is hard to describe the pleasure that comes from having a tidy, bright and cheerful space devoted to creative pursuits, and this is where I now do most of my sewing and blogging. Knitting is done strictly in front of the TV but the knitting supplies and other craft paraphernalia do live in this room!

This space was inspired by photos of countless sewing rooms that I've seen on blogs and on Pinterest. My sewing room came together via lots of purchases at IKEA and some generous hand-me-downs from my quilting teacher- she gave me the ironing board and the thread rack.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

By one window is the sewing/cutting table, where Big Brother sits. The table is big enough for a cutting mat. V was nice enough to mount the thread rack onto the side of the bookcase so that thread is just at arm's length when I sit down to sew.

There are stacked bins for my fabric. I've decided that I can only have as much fabric as can fit into these bins. When I mention this to quilter friends, they just laugh out loud.

I have plans for the blank wall at the back- I want to make it a design wall like this one. Designs walls are very helpful for laying out quilt blocks to "audition" them.

By the other window is a small desk- and this is where much of One Hot Stove is written.

I learned a new technique called paper piecing and made this dog as a sample. Somehow the droopy ears reminded me of Dale and so I put it in a frame and it sits on my desk.

My mother and sister gave me several adorable block-printed cotton fabrics from India. I put them in thrifted wooden embroidery hoops and now this cheerful grouping makes me smile every time I look at it. This has got to be the easiest wall decor project ever.

It turns out that ironing seams is one of the most important steps in sewing and quilting. When I come into the room to sew, the first thing I do it to switch on the iron.

I spent my entire lifetime trying to avoid ironing by buying wash and wear clothing or cheerfully wearing crumpled cotton clothing- it is the one chore I hate with all my heart. And now here in my sewing room is an ironing station. A place devoted to nothing but ironing! As Alanis Morissette would say, "Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?" "Iron"ic! Get it?? :D

This ironing station was inspired by this one that I pinned here and is Pin #1 for this month's Pin It and Do It challenge. Psst- if you're looking for motivation to try something you've pinned, it is not too late to sign up.

I found this button rug at IKEA and just couldn't resist buying it for the sewing room.The tapestry was a gift from my parents- they bought it on their travels through India. I think it is Pipli applique work from Orissa.

Duncan likes to drape himself decoratively on the rug.
My button jar. It makes me inordinately happy. 
 Have a wonderful Sunday and I'll see you be back on Tuesday or Wednesday with an apple dessert.