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?