Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Tree Pastries


Holidays this year have been relaxing thanks to no travel plans – got a chance to catch up on some reading, chores, paper reviews (I know that sounds like work) as well as a good dose of cooking and baking! For Christmas this year, I wanted to try something that I had not made before – but couldn’t decide between a sweet or savory dish. So I ended up making both.

These puff pastry Christmas trees are not only pretty to look at and delicious in taste, they are also extremely easy to make. You could make the puff pastry and filling from scratch, but I have used store bought frozen pastry sheets, pesto sauce and Nutella for the fillings.

4 Puff pastry sheets – I used 2 packs of Pilsbury brand pastry sheets from the frozen section at grocery stores. Each pack has two sheets. You could certainly make your own pastry dough.

Pesto sauce (Or other savory sauce of choice)

Nutella or other chocolate spread (Fruit preserves and pastry cream would work well too)

Optional toppings:
Savory – Butter, Parmesan cheese
Sweet – Sugar glaze (confectioners sugar, milk, vanilla essence)

Thaw the pastry sheets overnight in the refrigerator. Spread pesto sauce on one sheet. Place another sheet on top. Cut out the Christmas tree shape (you could make a stencil on paper first). How wide you want to make the tree is up to you – I used the maximum width of the pastry sheets, with the stem being about an inch tall. Repeat the same procedure with the remaining two sheets using Nutella spread for a sweet version.

Make symmetric cuts leaving about an inch in the middle. My pesto tree had wider strips but I decided to make the cuts closer for the sweet one. Starting from the bottom-right, twist each strip in the clockwise direction. Repeat the same on the other side making sure it is symmetric (anti-clockwise twists on the left side).

The pastry puffs up a lot as it bakes, so press on the edges (especially at the tree top and the bottom). Also, pushing the lower “branches” upwards works best as they tend to move apart as they bake.

Bake for about 20 min or until golden brown. Add toppings while the pastry is warm.

For the pesto tree, brush the warm baked pastry with melted butter and sprinkle Parmesan cheese (it looks like snow!).

For the sweet pastry, prepare the sugar glaze by mixing ¼ cup of confectioners sugar with just enough milk to form a thin paste (add milk by teaspoons). Add a few drops of vanilla essence. Drizzle glaze on warm pastry.

Tip: If the edges (top, bottom, or even branch tips) start to brown a lot while the pastry is still uncooked in the middle, you can use pieces of aluminum foil to cover these areas to slow down the browning.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cookie-Dough Brownies

Are they cookies that look like brownies? Or are they brownies that look like cookies? It's the best of both worlds in one awesome dessert!
This recipe has been on our to-post list for almost four years - oh, the golden grad-school years! In those days, we typically celebrated our colleagues' birthdays by baking something for the whole research team. We had done cookies, and we had done was time to try something different! We thought - why not combine the two? Consequently, our fellow researchers unknowingly became our research subjects (aka guinea pigs). Fear not - we taste-tested our "prototype" before releasing it to the hungry masses!
Ingredients for cookie dough:
1 cup flour (I'll typically do half all-purpose, half whole wheat)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/2 cup butter (softened)
5 TBSP granulated sugar
5 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I prefer dark chocolate)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Ingredients for brownie:
4 oz. (1/2 cup) chocolate chips (again, I prefer dark chocolate)
2/3 cup butter
2 cups sugar (I typically do half regular sugar, half brown sugar)
4 eggs
1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
Chocolate glaze:
1 cup chocolate chips
1 TBSP butter or canola oil 
Mixing the batters
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13x9 pan.
For the brownie batter: melt the chocolate and butter together in a microwave-safe dish for 2-3 minutes on 40% power. Beat in the sugar and eggs. Stir in flour and baking powder. Spread into the greased baking pan.
For the cookie dough: Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk butter, sugar, and vanilla together until creamy, then add the egg and mix. Pour dry ingredients into the wet mixture and stir to combine. Mix in chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoons into the brownie batter, pressing down slightly so it sets in the batter.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until brownies set and the edges look a little dry. Let cool 10-15 minutes.
Glazing the goodness
Melt the chocolate and butter or oil together in the microwave as described above for the brownie batter. A second round of heating may be necessary to melt all the chocolate chips. Once all the chocolate is melted, pour over the cooled brownies and spread evenly. Refrigerate for a few hours so the chocolate glaze will set.
When it's time for a dessert or snack, slice and enjoy!


Monday, October 13, 2014

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

The first time I had Brussels sprouts was probably only 3 years ago. I had never even heard of them back in India and after I came to the US, I was a little weary of trying them because of all the negativity around the taste and smell of Brussels sprouts. Then one day as I was browsing through some food blog, I came across a Brussels sprouts recipe and the picture looked so good! I decided to look up different ways that people like to cook them, combined a few ideas and ended up with one of my favorite Brussels sprouts recipe. I’m sharing this recipe here in hopes of converting some Brussels sprouts avoiders to seekers (or tolerators ;-P )
1-2 lbs Brussel sprouts
Feta cheese crumbled
Walnuts - chopped
Vinaigrette (This vinaigrette would be good for about 2 pounds, but extra vinaigrette can be used as salad dressing)
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
~1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Garlic (optional)

To make the vinaigrette, mix all the ingredients and whisk until combined (adjust honey, mustard, salt, pepper to taste). You can make a bigger batch and store it in the refrigerator. It tastes great as a salad dressing or drizzled on roasted vegetables. I typically take it out of the refrigerator about a half hour or so before using it so that the oil comes back to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking with parchment paper or silicone mat (not necessary, but the Brussels sprouts will come off easily and also makes cleanup easier).

Wash the Brussels sprouts. Trim the stems and remove the outermost leaves. Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise. Toss the sprouts with about half the vinaigrette and make sure they are coated well (add some more if required).

Arrange the sprouts cut side down on the baking sheet, and bake for approximately 15-20 min until brown on the bottom. Flip them and bake for another 10-15 min until the other side is browned. You may need to turn the pan a couple times to get them browned evenly. The crispy leaves on the outside taste great so don’t worry if you feel like a few are over-browned.

Remove from oven and add more vinaigrette to taste. Toss in feta cheese and walnuts, and serve warm as a side.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ricotta Biscuits

As with many recipes posted here, this one for Ricotta Biscuits came out of the desire to make something before something in the refrigerator went bad. This time around it was half a container of ricotta cheese that remained after attempting to cobble together a lasagna from other leftovers. I didn’t want to make another lasagna, so it was between a quiche and something cookie-like. Cookies are better for snacking on, so the hunt was on for a cookie recipe that incorporated ricotta cheese. I found several recipes that sounded heavenly, so tried to mix a few, and the result was something more akin to tea biscuits or scones. They still made wonderful bite-sized snacks (it was quite easy to scarf down three or four of them without even thinking), so the mission was still accomplished!

1 cup butter (or ¼ cup applesauce, ¾ cup canola oil)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
16 oz. ricotta cheese (I had low-fat on hand)
2 TSP vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups fine-ground whole wheat flour
1 TSP baking powder
1 TSP baking soda 

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a cookie sheet. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in ricotta cheese and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients, then stir into the wet mixture. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes until the edges start to brown.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Varenyky (Ukrainian boiled dumplings)


Every culture has some recipes for comfort foods that not only warm your stomach, but also warm your heart. Even though there is a vast variety in these foods, there are also similarities between the comfort foods in different cultures. Soups and stews are some of the best examples. Another common theme in comfort food around the world would be dumplings. Whether it is the Italian ravioli, Japanese gyoza or the Nepali momo, a warm plate of these soft filled pillows of dough makes for a wonderful meal.

Several Eastern European countries make similar types of dumplings with each one having their own twist on it. Varenyky (pronounced: va-re-ni-ki) are boiled Ukrainian dumplings. They can be made sweet or savory, with the most traditional fillings being cherry, farmers’ cheese, mashed potato, mushrooms or cabbage. The recipe I have here is for a mushroom and potato filling, but the same dough and procedure can be used for making varenyky with any other filling. After playing with the dough recipe for a little while and not being too satisfied with it, I asked my friend Maria for her traditional recipe used at home. She was kind enough to share the recipe with me and to let me share it with you all on the blog.

Making varenyky can take up some time, but there is something very therapeutic about the whole process from making the dough to filling and sealing each dumpling. It also makes for a good weekend afternoon project and once you’ve made a big batch, they can be frozen to enjoy at a later time!

1.5-2 cups flour (Start with 1.5. Add more if the dough is too soft before rolling)
1.5 tbsp oil
¾ cup warm water
Pinch of salt
Flour for dusting the rolling surface

2 large potatoes
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms
Oil for frying mushrooms


~3/4 cup chopped onion
~2 tbsp oil
~2 tsp flour
Sour cream
Chopped parsley/spring onions

To make the dough, mix the flour and salt. In a separate bowl/cup, mix the water and oil. Stir a little and add to the flour. Mix well. Knead for a few minutes. Cover with a towel and let the dough rest for about an hour. I had to add about ¼ - ½ a cup of flour in addition to this because it was too soft to roll.

While the dough is resting, boil the potatoes until soft. Peel and mash the potatoes (potatoes should be soft, without any lumps). Fry chopped mushroom in oil until they have released moisture. Mix the mushrooms with the mashed potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

To make the varenyky, roll out a portion of the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness (use flour for dusting). Cut ~2 inch diameter circles using a cookie cutter or inverted glass. The dough will stretch as you fill and seal the varenyky so don’t make them too big. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Spoon about two teaspoons of filling in the center of each circle (this quantity might have to be adjusted a little depending on your dough consistency and size). Fold into a semicircle and seal the edges well by pressing them together firmly. At this point, the varenyky can be frozen if you are not cooking them right away. Place them on a plate without touching each other and leave in the freezer until hard. Then they can be transferred to an airtight container or a Ziploc bag.

Before cooking the varenyky, prepare the onion for topping by frying them in oil with the flour until golden brown.

To cook the varenyky, heat water in a medium/large pot. Add salt to the water. Bring the water to a rolling boil. With the heat still on high, carefully add the varenyky to the water. Cover and cook until they are fully cooked and rise to the surface (~3-5 minutes). Take the pot off the heat and remove the varenyky. Add the onions along with the leftover oil in the pan. Cover and shake the container until the onions + oil coat all the varenyky.

Serve warm garnished with chopped parsley or spring onions and a dollop of sour cream for extra deliciousness!


Monday, May 26, 2014

Farmer’s pie (for the vegetarian shepherd)

Typically a shepherd’s pie is a meat pie with a mashed potato topping. What would you call it then if it doesn’t have meat? Well, I called it “Farmer’s pie”, but creative name suggestions are welcome :-). Irrespective of the name, it makes a delicious and hearty meal coupled with a salad and maybe some bread. I used chickpeas as the base ingredient to pull everything together, but any kind of beans can be used. If you’re not particularly fond of beans or don’t need the extra protein in the pie, beans can be skipped and you could use more vegetables of any kind you like. The ingredients I used were what I had at home, but other vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, squash etc.) could be used as well. 

1 medium onion - chopped (~3/4 cup chopped)
2 cloves of garlic
1-2 carrots – chopped
~¾ cup chopped green beans
1 small bell pepper – chopped
1 can of chickpeas (or ~1.5 cup cooked chickpeas)
½ cup of cooked red lentils (optional – I used this because I had some leftover)
1 Tbsp oil
Paprika (optional)
Cumin powder (optional)
Vegetable stock/water (if required)

For the topping:
~4-5 red potatoes (or any other kind) - boiled
1 sweet potato (optional) - boiled
1 Tbsp butter

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and carrots and sauté until the onion is translucent. If using cumin powder, add that at this point. Add green beans, bell pepper and cook for a minute. Mix in chickpeas and lentils, salt, pepper and paprika (adjust to taste). Cover and cook for a few minutes until the chickpeas are soft. Use a fork or a potato masher, mash the mixture just a little, but make sure there is still a good texture to the filling for the pie. If the filling seems dry, add a little stock or water and let it heat through to make sure the mixture is moist. 

Mashed potato topping:
Mash the boiled potatoes separately. Divide the butter and add it to the potatoes. Add milk if required to mash them to a smooth texture. Season with salt.

Assembling and baking the pie:
Fill a casserole/baking dish (I used a 8x8 glass dish) with the pie filling, leveling it with the back of a spoon. Top it with the mashed potatoes. You can get creative here and make any design you would like. Piping the potatoes with a frosting tip is also a good option. I just spooned the potatoes over the filling alternating between regular and sweet potatoes, and then made a pattern on it with a fork. The patterns help make several edges on the mashed potatoes which crisp up in the oven.

If you’re not baking right after making the filling and the topping, let the pie heat through in the oven at 400 F for about 10 min. If the filling and topping is still hot, this step can be skipped since everything is already cooked. Broil on high until the top is browned a little. Serve warm.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014


It’s the Filipino Godfather of chicken dishes. Get it? Don…Godfather…

Actually, “don” in this case comes from the Japanese donburi, meaning “rice bowl dish,” and one of my husband’s standby’s when we go to our favorite Japanese restaurant is katsu-don (pork rice bowl). One of his other favorite meals is adobo (uh-doh-boh), a traditional Filipino dish made from pork or chicken stewed in a spiced vinegar-soy broth. One evening while making adobo, he proposed combining the two, so with the addition of some leeks and onions, Adobo-don was born!

12-16 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 bunch of leeks
1 bunch of green onions
1-2 small sweet onions
½ cup soy sayce
¾ cup vinegar
1½ cups water
Black pepper
Garlic powder
Canola oil
Rice (I prefer brown)
Making the adobo
Layer the bottom of a large pot with chicken. Dust with pepper and garlic. Add another layer of chicken, and again season with pepper and garlic. Repeat until all the chicken is in the pot. Combine the soy sauce, vinegar and water and add to the pot, making sure all the pieces of chicken are submerged. Bring to a boil, then reduce to med-lo and cook for about an hour.

Making the “don”
Prepare rice according to directions on the package.

While the rice and chicken are cooking, prepare the leeks. They can be especially dirty, so after rinsing the outside and shedding some of the outer layers (much like lettuce) I like to slice them length-wise in quarters so I can rinse between the inner layers as well. Chop off the root end and the super green top ends, keeping the white part and about 2-3 inches of green. Chop these remaining parts of the leeks into segments about 3 inches long. Rinse the green onions and similarly chop them into 3-inch segments, discarding the root end. Coarsely slice the sweet onions into strips approximately the same size as the leeks and green onions.

Sauté the leeks, onions, and green onions in about 3 tablespoons of canola oil until they are soft. Add a few ladles of the chicken broth (once the chicken is done cooking) to the vegetables for flavor, and season with additional garlic powder and a sprinkling of soy sauce as desired.

A chicken bowl you can’t refuse!
Now it’s time to assemble the bowls! Rice on the bottom, followed by some vegetables, then top with a few piece of chicken, adding some adobo broth for more flavor and moisture. Then enjoy the bowl of deliciousness!