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Monday, July 23, 2012

A birthday celebration

     I've been planning my husband's birthday for months.  Although I'd already given him his present two months earlier - a day of dolphin interaction and swimming at Orlando's Discovery Cove attraction park - I wanted to prepare a special meal on the actual date.  I wreaked my cookbooks trying to find some sort of fusion, if one must, between Indian flavours and Western ones.

     A friend of mine whom I lost contact with left once at my place a book called Quiches, pies and tarts.  I love all of those, either sweet or savoury, and there is one in particular I had always planned to make, ever since I started dating Pakistani men: Indian dhal pies.  As it happens, I was planning to make it for my ex-boyfriend’s birthday, but my present husband benefited from it, as well he should.  You will need to collect some special ingredients, like besan flour and masoor dhal (or red lentils), and add one or two spices to your spice rack, that is if you don’t already have them.  It bears mentioning that, although the recipe does not call for salt, I added a pinch of it to the dhal mixture, yet it could very well have done without it as one really does not miss it.  These pies also freeze very well, so if you plan to do so, stop just short of the shredded cheese.  Place them on a plaque in the freezer for about an hour or so, until moderately hard, then transfer to an insulated bag to complete the process.

Here’s the recipe for 6 individual pies:

*      10 oz. potato, diced
*      14 oz. butternut squash, diced
*      2 carrots, chopped
*      2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
*      2 oz. broccoli florets
*      1 onion, chopped
*      1 tsp. ground turmeric
*      1 tsp. garam masala
*      1 tsp. ground cumin
*      2 cloves garlic, crushed in a mortar
*      1 tsp. black mustard seeds
*      ½ cup red lentils
*      2/3 cup grated Cheddar
*      ¼ cup thick yoghurt
*      2 cups besan flour
*      1/3 cup milk powder (preferably skim)
*      4 oz. cold butter, diced
*      1 egg, lightly beaten
*      Baking beads


1 – Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Place the potato, butternut squash and carrot on a plaque and drizzle with the olive oil.  Bake for 40 minutes, turning once, until golden brown.  Steam the broccoli for 3 to 5 minutes.

2 – Cook the onion in a little oil until soft.  Add the spices, garlic and mustard seeds and cook for 1 minute.  Wash the lentils several times in cold water, then add to the mixture along with 1 cup of water.  Bring to the boil, then simmer, stirring, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the lentils are soft.

3 – Grease the six fluted loose-based tins. Process the flour, milk powder and butter for 15 seconds until crumbly.  If you don’t have a food processor, just rub the mixture between your fingers until it becomes crumbly.  When it comes together, turn out, gather into a ball and roll out to line the tins.  Cover with baking beads and bake for 7 minutes.  Remove the paper and the beads and bake for an additional 5 minutes.  Allow to cool.

The final product, with a side of Green
Goddess cole slaw.

4 – Divide the lentil dhal among the pastry shells, top with the roast vegetables, broccoli and Cheddar.  Bake the pies for 5 minutes to melt the cheese and top with a little plain thick yoghurt to serve.

     To complete the birthday celebration I decided on a truly Indian sweet instead of the proverbial cake.  Indian sweets are, to my taste, generally unimpressive, but when I saw this dish being prepared by Chef Anjum Anand in her cooking show, my taste buds were asserting it will be worth a try.  A creamy, pale yellow cream, Shrikhand (or Sweet Saffron yoghurt), is one of the main desserts in Maharashtrian and Gujarati cuisine.  A festive dish kept for special occasions, it’s basically sweetened thick yoghurt with a bit of nuts, some fruit and silver leaf for decoration, very refreshing for a hot summer day. 

     Edible silver leaf is not easy to find here in America (not even in Asian stores) and if you do, it will cost a bundle.  Here’s where I got mine from  After all, this was indeed a special occasion.

This recipe, which will render approximately 4 servings, should be started the night before and finished about half an hour prior to assembly.

Shrikhand is delicious and refreshing.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The world of Anthropologie

     In the busy lifestyle that we lead nowadays, many have been the times when I wanted to get away and lose myself into an idyllic, comfortable - yet stylish, world of my own.  The answer to all of this I found, notably, at my local Anthropologie store.  Undoubtedly, this is the store for any woman who wants to challenge her inner French girl.  It is not only what is offered at “Anthro” (its more familiar name), but the way that it is offered as well.  Because in Anthropologie, one shops as if in one’s own home, with the exception that everything displayed is for sale.  In fact, as soon as she enters, the shopper gets stroke by a feeling of being inside a very cozy Provençal home, where things are scattered about, yet there is a certain disorderly harmony about the style, the colours and the elements. 

My neighborhood "Anthro" at the Mall at Millenia.
In clothing, Anthropologie sells everything from dresses, tops, swimsuits, accessories, coats, tops and bottoms, lingerie, shoes, ethnic jewellery and perfumerie.  All the clothes have a decidedly European or Oriental style, which is laissez-faire, sophisticated and at times quite exotic.  Last Christmas I indulged myself in a one-of-a-kind Mongolian coat, with fur collar and intricate embroidery.  It is one of my favorite pieces as I know the likelihood of seeing a duplicate in the street is not only practically nil, but the style, with bone buttons, is a standard that will always be either in fashion or, at its best, vintage.  My newest acquisition, however, are a pair of suede flats in goldenrod colour by Pilcro.  I grabbed them as soon as I saw them as I find that bright yellow is a colour that pairs well with a neutral outfit, thus naturally bringing up the Fall palette of any wardrobe.  Plus, one cannot beat the comfort.

Happy Birthday to me in my exotic
Mongolian coat!

     One of my favorite areas is that of home furnishings.  The store offers the oddest – and priciest – sofas, along with wonderful bedding (mostly 300 thread), kitchen aprons, décor, candles of premium quality by the likes of Seda France, Voluspa and an exclusive line designed by New York City’s Le Labo especially for Anthropologie.  One can also find porcelain door knobs and coat hooks from India; as well as tea and coffee sets, and – my newest favorite – Fleur de Lys carved glasses from Portugal and milk drinking glasses from Italy.  My newest indulgence is a set of stainless steel etched silverware in a flowery design.  I have also recently spotted a wonderful selection of dish towels made of pure cotton with colourful designs and appliqués.  There is an extensive selection of bedding sets, ranging from in soft pastels or in bright colours like their new “Pavo” design.

An antique chest with goodies at the Tampa store.

     Books are another favorite of mine in Anthropologie.  The store offers a large collection of journals – both blank and pre-outlined, books on style and decoration, travel books about the world’s largest cities with references to food markets, walking plans and general curiosities, children’s books with titles such as “Just being Audrey”, to nurture a sense of style in young girls from a very tender age by illustrating the life of unforgettable icon Audrey Hepburn, and cookbooks and recipes aides from the likes of Alice Waters and her “Chez Panisse” series.  For those interested in sketching, Anthropologie is one of the few stores where one can find a set of nine coloured pencils from Thailand carved out of natural tree branches.
Like shopping out of someone's own home.

     In addition to the stores, the company mails a seasonal catalog to its regular customers and has recently started sponsoring a magazine entitled Anthology, which carries the style philosophy of the company by including not only decorating tips, but also recipes and suggestions for flâneurs.
Yet another excellent source for Anthropologie’s items is the company’s website.  Regular visits will let this most excellent company’s fan see what is new and what is coming to the stores, plus the fact that it offers standard shipping for free means that one will not pay more than in the store while ordering online, yet the selection is wider.

     Two things that I find this company needs are more customer-friendly pricing (in this times of crisis Anthropologie’s prices are generally exorbitant), and their own credit card with reward points to be able to afford all those purchases!! But next time you find yourself in need of those moments to “get away” while feeling great, surrounded by beautiful things, do head over to your nearest “Anthro” and indulge your senses.