Orange Cardamom Almond Biscotti from and for David Lebovitz!

Yesterday  the teenager in me ( who I usually try very hard to repress) had a field day! She took a bus, then the muni and trekked all the way up to San Francisco and stood in line outside ( no, not a club or backstage at a rock concert ) but a bookstore, (this one) to meet one of my favourite cook book authors and bloggers, the inimitable David Lebovitz!

I have been a huge fan of his cook books and his wonderful blog featuring to die for recipes such as flourless chocolate cake and home made ice cream interspersed with lovely accounts of his life in Paris. So I considered it a truly Divine coincidence that he was visiting San Francisco and around the same time that the Sweet Punch baking group had chosen his biscotti recipe for this month! I am thrilled that I was able to bake a batch for him adding an orange cardamom twist to his own recipe.

Orange Cardamom Chocolate Almond Biscotti

Biscotti literally means "twice baked" and it is a sort of hard crunchy cookie similar to the texture of rusk that is popular in India and it is perfect to dunk in your mug of coffee or hot chocolate. It is usally made with eggs and traditionally no butter or fat is added. It keeps for a long time, so it's great to make ahead and give away as gifts. It's also surprisingly easy to make! 

I followed the base recipe from David Lebovitz here on Joy of Baking 

Naturally I had to bake up a batch adding my own twist by adding 1/4 tsp cardamom  and the grated zest from one orange which I rubbed into the sugar, and this was the only change I made.

It's a good thing I doubled the recipe to make two batches because we LOVED it too! I don't know if David liked it, but I hope he did!

Here are some more glimpses from the day:

I was hoping to buy Ready for dessert but unfortunately all his books were sold out so I had to ask him to sign a copy of Baked and that pamphlet instead which he very kindly did!  (Sending this picture off to Susan because it is a Black and White Wednesday! )

The cute little Omnivore bookstore was swamped because apparently every foodie in SF loves David and made it a point to come see him, fog or not! I was even an hour early and went to the nearby Martha and Brother's coffee shop to tank up after my long commute and guess who was sitting right at the entrance? David! but since he was deep in conversation I just said a quick hi and went to get my coffee and a yum turnover that had zucchini and onions and tomato and all sorts of yumminess inside it. Besure that I will be trying to replicate it at home soon!

When I got back to the store there was a line stretching all the way around it! This picture of finally entering it was after about half an hour! Notice how everyone came prepared with copies, except me :( Note to self: When going to book signings, even if IN a bookstore, get your copy before-hand! 

Still it was a fun day and the man is as witty, friendly and laid back in person as he is in blogdom. I also got to meet the fun Christina of Learning by Fire  (who took that picture of David btw- thanks Christina! : ) and Irvin of Eat the Love  who also hosts some fun foodie events at 18 reasons.

The wonderful ladies who run Omnivore are super nice and they even gave us samples of buttery toffee with pop corn bits in it, covered in dark chocolate from poco dolce ( which alone was worth the trip to discover) and wine!

I took along the biscotti and also some spices from Kerala. Sort of as a small thank you for how much we all enjoy his books and recipes and tales of Paris :)

David opened the bag, and in his inimitable witty manner, gasped with he saw the small bag of Kudampuli/ Kokum and asked me if it was marijuana! David, I really hope you enjoyed the biscotti and get to use the kudampuli and enjoy it in sol khadi or fish curry or something edible and DO NOT try smoking it!

Sugar High Friday August 2011 Round up: Rice Sweets

I was so excited about hosting Sugar High Friday  the sweet blogging event created by the awesome Jennifer, The Domestic Goddess. I had chosen the  theme Rice , since it hadn't been done before on SHF, and had grand plans to try out many South Indian rice based sweet snacks and desserts for the event. But before I even realized it, the deadline was already here and I am filled with regret at all those rice sweets I had planned to make but didn't! Blame it on the farmer's markets and grilling, and picnics, and my mom visiting and the plain fact that its SUMMER ( for only a little longer! ) I hope to make and post those sweets on my to- do list soon.

But for now, I am so happy to present some wonderful rice treats from these awesome people who took the time out to meet this challenging them. Rice as a sweet is not too common outside some communitites, so its great to learn about these. Rice sweets are also usually gluten-free (But not always, please check other ingredients and possibilities of cross contamination) and so a great option for those with allergies. 

Thank you so much for sending these goodies in :) I so wish you could attach a sample along with your entries :)

Sugar High Friday Aug 2011 - Rice Sweets Round up 


andi unda (roasted cashew and rice sweet balls)

Today tea time seems to be either a long forgotten luxury or a quick sip of something scalding to get you going through the rest of the day.
In my grandmother's home in Kerala, however, tea time is a languid, happy part of every day. It is when the men folk are back from town, the women including my mom and aunts are done with most of the day's chores  and us city kids home for the summer holidays, were tired out after a day spent running loose.

We would arrive panting, an internal alarm having magically alerted us while climbing trees,  splashing in the river, feeding and petting my grandmother's collection of critters including a flock of white geese that followed her around everywhere, and three cows, or while simply flopping down with our books, reading away the summer holidays.

Everyone would gather at the kitchen table, including very often neighbours and aunts who lived closeby, always unannounced, walking in through the kitchen door that was always open, sometimes with a freshly baked pound cake or some other palaharam (Malayalam for sweet snacks) to share. How I miss those cozy, informal tea times in today's hurried days!

There would be boxes of laddoos or jaelabis that the uncles brought home from town, cookies or tea cakes or warm pazham pori (banana fritters).
We kids were allowed into the dark store-moori ( room) to choose among the treasures within and bring out tins of typicak Kerala snacks like banana chips, sharkaravartty ( jaggery coated crunchy fried bananas), crisp kozhalappams, achappapams ( made with rosette moulds) , uniappam and other goodies that my grandmother, mom, aunts and the cheduthi's painstakingly made together sharing stories,  along with the various tasks involved with the cooking.

My eyes would light up when I spotted the glass jar containing these smooth brown rounds.
But there was a catch. They could either be the dreaded avalose undas ( which I hated as a child) or these cashew andi undas which I loved. They both looked quite similar to me so every time I picked one up I would wiiisssshhh so hard before taking a bite, that it was an andi unda and not avalose unda! Of course today now that  they are both much harder to come by, I would happily eat either!

The flavour of andi unda of roasted cashews, jaggery and roasted rice is truly wonderful. It is a simple snack involving only 4 ingredients. Some people add spices like cardamom and cumin, however my Amma doesn't since she feels that they may take away from the wonderful flavor of the roasted rice and cashews. Here is her recipe, more of a rough guide since she doesn't measure anything mostly going on colour, smell and taste as do all grandmothers in India! So if it doesn't taste sweet enough for you, simply add more powdered jaggery, if its too dry, add more coconut. Taste away and adjust as necessary.

black and white wednesday: bagel breakfast

Canon T3i  18-55mm lens  f/5 iso 1000

Hope you are all having a lovely week soaking up the summer sun! Friends on the East Coast, hope the mild quake you experienced did not cause any problems and all is well with you all. From what I hear it was more puzzling than worrying, so that is good. Here in California we experience mild tremors now and then, though I still have not got used to them and still panic a little. Just another reminder about how fragile life is, and how everything great and small is all in God's hands. 

Here is a picture I took of morning coffee and bagels for Susan's Black and White Wednesday, a culinary photo event

I shot it in colour and then used the free online editing program Picnic by Google Photos to play around with various effects including fading black and white, 1960's, vinignette which gives it that darker edge as well as cross processing.

Since I am learning, I thought it would be a good idea to note down the camera settings mainly for my own reference. Not that anyone else would be interested! ( Fishing for compliments here. Someone please tell me my photographs are pretty and my camera settings are worth knowing.Thanks!) 

Also, here is an article I LOVED on creating moods in photography using lighter or darker back grounds and controlling the exposure and light by Ilva Beretta, somethign that I am playing around with currently, overexposing or underexposing pictures with a +1 ot -1 to create a brighter or darker mood to suit my own mood that day! 

Editing this post to add some GREAT news! I was perusing the awesome Xiaoulu of 6Bittersweets Wednesday Favorites  a collection of photos and recipes that she liked that week and I fell off my chair when I saw that she had included my bourbon peach ice cream in her fabulous list!  I am soo stoked! Head on over there and check out the collection and the rest of her droolworthy blog! 

diy ice cream maker and bourbon peach egg-less ice cream with rice crispies

There is nothing like a peach when it is in season. Sweet, soft and  juicy, the way it is meant to be. Right now the farmer's markets here are filled with  glorious stone fruits, and not so many berries as the weeks before. Dizzying varieties of peaches and nectarines, pluots and plums. From a deep ruby red, to white and soft rose tinged. We had a fabulous time, eating our way through the samples, sweet juicy fruits making out fingers sticky and stained pink. The little monkey clutched a strawberry, completely besotted by it. He refused to eat it with the expression that clearly stated that he found it too pretty to eat. He was very upset when it slipped out of his fingers after a while. A slice of sweet, golden peach  quickly helped him forget his loss and he had no problems devouring slice after slice, like the rest of us!

A mom of two walked past carrying a basket filled with fruits that her children were gorging on, both hanging on to the handles and fruit juices around their mouth and dribbling down their chins. "This is even better than a leash!"I heard her exclaim. I agree. If you were carrying a basket of these peaches, I might follow you around too!

I had a carton of cream and inspired by my new copy of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, I decided to make her bourbon ice cream and add some roasted peaches, to use up some of the peaches that were not as sweet as the others, which we had quickly finished.
Since I am hosting Sugar High Friday with the theme of Rice Sweets, I decided to serve the ice cream on a bed of rice crispies for a bit of crunch in lieu of a cone or wafer. Fabulous, if I may say so myself :)

Since I no longer have the ice cream maker that helped me with glorious salty caramel icecream and pistachio ice cream,  I decided to make one myself!

If you look at the popular ice cream makers you will see that all they really are is a bowl with inbuilt jel like liquid which becomes frozen so that the bowl becomes really cold, and a mixer attachment which churns the ice cream base so that it prevents ice crystals from forming and making the ice cream gritty.

balsamic roasted wild strawberries with greek yogurt

Each trip to the farmer's market that I have the great blessing of living just walking distance to,  is like a treasure hunt. I am always excited about what I will find that day. A few weeks ago when berries ruled, where now there are mountains of peaches and nectarines and plums, I chanced upon a stall with tiny strawberries. The cheerful woman missing one front tooth, who had woken up at 3 am to bring this bounty to us, pointed  out that this was the same variety of the regular larger strawberries, just those growing wild on the mountains.

I bought some of each, the regular ones and these tiny ones to compare. The wild berries had a concentrated strawberry flavour and tartness and crunchy seeds while the plumper ones were juicier, being fleshier and I actually preferred those to eat. 
The mountain berries however, would be wonderful in dessert and jam, being incredibly flavorful. 

small wild mountain strawberries 

larger fleshier regular strawberries sliced 

Both types were nothing like the tasteless ones from the supermarket. From thinking that organic produce was just overpriced hype, I have become a locavore convert! Seriously the difference in taste between something that is grown in small farms organically and brought fresh to the market to that which is grown on a large scale God-knows-where to look pretty and last longer on supermarket shelves but taste like water balloons is something you have to taste yourself to understand! So get yourself to your local markets or farms where ever in the world you are, if you haven't already! 

I had grand ideas of making balsamic roasted wild strawberry ice-cream and cut up whatever strawberries remaining I hadn't greedily eaten ( both kinds) into a roasting dish with a tablespoon or so of sugar,  a squeeze of lemon juice, a scraped vanilla bean and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and after about 8 minutes at 350 F in the oven I just about died when I tasted the sweet  juicy warm goodness.

Forgotten was the ice cream and we happily ate it by itself or topped some greek yogurt with sweet juicy red spoonfuls. It would make a great cake or ice cream topping too, but sadly it was all gone before I could investigate further!

Roasting fruits is a great way to experience them completely differently. Adding just a few spoonfuls of sugar and nothing else even, while roasting or stewing with a little water on the stove top, turns fruits that are slightly tart and sour and thus untouched on your dining table into something that everyone will fight to finish! They break down a little and become soft and slightly jam like, releasing delicious juices.
I had tried this with peaches last summer, (and again this time in roasted peach and bourbon icecream) where the edges get browned and caramelized. Bananas are great to roast too, as are a lot of other fruits. 

Am playing around with my camera settings and very slowly learning about exposure and the other nuts and bolts about photography. The awesomely talented and wonderful Xiaolu, Aparna, Prerna have been awesomely patient and not laughed at my embarrassingly noobie questions. Thank you! 

I submitted the first photo to Food Pixel's fruit as core ingredient themed photography event. I am now liking this darker feel that I achieved shooting against a dark back ground and by reducing the aperture and also reducing the exposure bar by a couple of points, and further increasing the shadows on a simple editor like Picasa tho I need to look into a more powerful editor soon. This is new for me, after  years of obsessively trying to make my pictures brighter! 

For those of you who want to learn more like me, here is what I'm reading and trying to get into my small brain!
Will update this list with more as I find them, but first, going to have to force myself to read beyond the first few pages of my tedious and boring camera manual :(

Sambhar and Cilantro Coconut Chutney

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free, Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.....Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake" Rabindranath Tagore 

 I am grateful to be free today and not shackled by terror and fear, pain, disease, anxiety, guilt, and hunger. While celebrating freedom, and everything Indian that I love and hold dear today, being India's 64th Independence day I decided to post a very simple recipe for Sambar and Coconut Cilantro Cutney as an accompaniment for morning idlis. Sambar a typical Tamilian dish, is a simple lentil stew with vegetables and spices is one of the most well known and common everyday dishes, not just in the south but thanks to the popularity of masala dosa and idlis, everywhere in the country.  Truly, sambar, idli and dosa makes the nation come together!

When I was studying I lived in our college hostel in Tamil Nadu and  what started off as dhal or parripu in the afternoon, would sometimes turn into rasam at night or sambhar in the morning! Perhaps not the best place to develop a love affair with Sambhar, but I blame that daily morning dose or (rather dosa! ) for my lifelong obsession with Sambhar and with lentils. One time during the rainy season while we were all gathered in the mess hall for breakfast, the usual morning chatter of over a hundred hostelites was broken by a loud shriek. What happened was this: one of the girls was eating her dosa and sambar and took a dab at a curry leaf and to her shock, it moved! turned out the "curry leaf" was actually a small slug that had fallen into the sambhar!  Not the nicest story to associate with sambhar, but everytime I eat sambar, I remember that rainy morning, and the many meals made better because it was shared with large groups of chattering girls. How I miss them all! 

Here is a more delightful little story entitled I love him and he does not like sambhar  over at mylittlemagazine that I chanced upon today which I really identified with, being a Madrasi ( actually Malayali from Kerala) in Mumbai for two months, I was asked hilarious questions like " Is Bangalore in Madras?" No, they are two cities in two different states, I would patiently reply to much nodding for anything south of Mumbai is termed South India and loosely Madras! I sought to explain how each state has its own distinct identity, language, culture and food. And seriously, it never ceases to amaze me. 

Tested and Approved by you!

I simply LOVE to hear that you have tried out one of my recipes, and what you thought about it. It is seriously one of the highlights of my life! After all that is what this blog is all about, so DO try them, post them on your blog ( do add a link to my recipe post please!) and DO let me know what you and your family thought about them. Of course good comments would make me happier, but especially if you didn't like it, I would love to know what you didn't like or what went wrong, so that I can also learn.
To keep track of this precious feedback, I have created a new page called Tested recipes and I will also regularly do blog posts featuring all those who took the time to write in :)

If you would like to add something you made from my blog I would be thrilled if you could leave a comment with a link to your blog post ( if you have blogged it) or you could mail me on magpiemails AT gmail DOT com or message me on facebook or twitter Photos would be wonderful, but would be great even just to hear that you tried it and what you thought, any additions or changes that you made .. 

Divya tried my Mom's recipe for Syrian Christian Ishtoo or stew in coconut milk and you can hop on over to her lovely blog Easycooking to read what she thought.

(The picture above is from Divya's blog)

Here is my quick and easy chicken curry in coconut milk made by Yogitha 

(The picture above was sent by Yogitha)

Here is what she had to say: "... it turned out well and I luvd the taste :) managed to get some compliments from my family too ...all thanks to you :))))"

Jo from New Zealand tried my eggless, butterless one bowl vegan banana cake:

"... it was FANTASTIC! We added choc chips so could have reduced the sugar slightly. Butter and free range eggs are SO expensive here that home-baking is not very cost effective, HOORAY for recipes like this! Thanks so much :)"

nutella ganache frosting roses & ruffles cake by you and me!

I have been having a bit of a blogging block lately. I have been cooking and baking and taking loads of pics with my brand new camera (!), and enjoying this wonderful summer bounty of  luscious berries and sultry peaches and enjoying trips to county fairs and bbq's, but just haven't been able to post anything for some reason or the other. 
But there is something I have been looking forward to for a long time, my mom will be here in two days! I am just waiting for her to arrive and hopefully do so much more this time than at her last winter visit. Looking forward to all the cooking we will be doing together too, and all that I will learn and have to share with you! And most of all, hand over the little monkey to the long awaiting hands of his grandmother :)
Then receiving this talented women blogger award by Femina Magazine what just the shot of motivation that I needed and I knew I had to post this cake that I have been meaning to for weeks and weeks. Since my birthday is long gone, this is the perfect occasion to post it!

I was so excited about baking my own fancy birthday cake with layers! and frosting! and filling! that I asked you for suggestions and what glorious ideas you all came up with! Each one was more tempting than the other. So instead of baking some 50 different cakes like I soo wanted to, I decided to control myself and combine all my favourite suggestions into one dreamy cake which was a true collaboration of ideas between me and you, and some of my favourite bloggers too!

Special thank you to those whose suggestions I just had to incorporate:

Cool Lassie: who suggested Red Velvet Cake, 
Aparna who suggested Martha Stewart's Ruffle Cake, 
Vimitha Anand and Divya Kudua who both know me soo well and said that birthday cakes are meant to be chocolate! 
Jardeeling who suggested an intriguing vertical layer cake! 
Soma who suggested a chocolate cake with a strong coffee flavor (aaahh!my own idea of Heaven! )

I chose these not because the other suggestions weren't awesome as well, but because I ( the birthday girl afterall) had a hankering for nutella and needed to narrow it down to the ones that would complement and not overpower the nutella. I tried making a ganache frosting with nutella and chocolate and it was  totally awesome! It is now my favourite frosting, the one of my dreams and just soo easy to whip up with just 3 ingredients: Cream, Chocolate and Bliss Nutella!

And now finally on to the recipe that I am truly sorry for having kept from you for so long!

Femina's talented women blogger award!

I'm so thrilled! The national publication Femina, awarded me a talented women blogger award "Blogger Bee" under the Food category, as part of their "Woman that you are "campaign! 

As part of their campaign they chose to acknowledge talented women who excel in the online world of Fashion, Beauty, Social Justice, Food, Books, Films and Home decor and I am so honoured to be among  these rocking women 

In case you can't read that, this is what I had sent them when they asked me for a short write up:

I love food and am an enthusiastic home cook and new mom who cooks, bakes and blogs at,  from the SF Bay Area. I am rediscovering the food that I grew up on, in Kerala by cooking it, along with our awesome team of home cooks and bloggers who too share this passion at where we are trying to preserve, share and celebrate our wonderful cuisine.

Femina is without a doubt the best woman's magazine in India and I practically grew up on it. They have an awesome food and recipe section and I remember my sister and I  trying out a simple recipe for aloo tikki  ( but it was mostly her- I just ate it all!) from my mother's copy when we were about 7 and 10! 
As a teen, their fashion write ups definitely contributed to my sense of style.  I breathlessly followed all the entertainment news, interviews of women achievers in all sorts of different fields, workout tips, the Femina Miss India pageant and so much more! I am sure that Femina has in some how or the other impacted the lives of almost every woman and girl growing up in India, and opened up the world for many us. 

This is what they have to say about their latest campaign featuring a TVC with newest Bollywood sensation Kalki Koechlin which you can click here to watch: 

"We have chosen to put the spotlight on the modern Indian woman's expanding roles & changing equations at her Home, Workplace, Social space, Personal life & the Online space.
She is the Princess of all things, She is Nobody's fool, She is the Wizard of Odds, She is the Femina Woman"

Thank you Femina and thank you my dear readers for motivating me to keep blogging and keep growing!