Thursday, March 26, 2009

Special Ingredients

I remember how hard it was for me, being an Indian, to wrap my mind around "Western" cooking for lack of a better term... the idea that you can eat things just as they are, with no added flavouring. For example, something I love these days: asparagus, steamed, with a squeeze of lemon juice and a small pour of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Contrast that to Indian cookery, where everything is basted with at least the aggressive trio of garlic, fresh ginger and a green chile. I still remember when we were vacationing in Switzerland one year (oooh la la!), and Dad took us to this small tavern at the top of a hill for my birthday. Their menu was simple, and Dad seized on the pork chop. But the menu didn't say how it was cooked, and when Dad asked the waitress/co-owner, she looked a bit puzzled and said that it was cooked with nothing at all. He looked like someone had told him Santa died. If I know my Dad, and I do, he had expected some kind of mustardy-mushroomy preparation. As a concession, she offered to have her husband, the chef, cook it with some peppercorns which brought a slow smile to Dad's lips. Ultimately, I can't remember whether Dad liked it or not. Honestly, I think I was too drunk to remember (it was my 21st birthday!). All I remember was the puzzled and slightly devastated look on Dad's face when she said that they were going to essentially, just throw it in a frying pan. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that -- sometimes I think you can taste the quality of your meat better that way. But that's not the Indian way. Maybe because good meat is a given (since you usually know where it comes from, who killed it etc.)... maybe just because we're stubborn and addicted to our spice box.

I seem to have married a man just like Dad in that respect. If he had his way, Bren would eat all his meats covered in chocolate and ginger (crystallized).

That's affected my cooking of course. I'm trying to cook more simply, so I don't put you off. I want to be encouraging, not off-putting! And I don't want to hide behind lots of flavouring, so my food tastes muddy. Do you know what I mean? Ah, there's a lot of thought in this noggin of mine. Stay a while, won't you?!

Anyway, upon Brendan's suggestion, I came up with a cheat sheet of LA spots I frequent to get some of the more out-of-the-ordinary items I use. Check 'em out. It's cheap entertainment if nothing else. Ha!

Bhaarat Bazaar/Samosa House
I prefer this spot to the India Sweets and Spices on Venice. It used to be a small place on Washington Blvd (just west of Sawtelle), run by a short, round, white-haired old lady. Now the rest of the family has taken it over (I believe), and they've remodeled the place, expanded it, and decided to push the output of their small kitchen, a heat-lamp buffet line of both delicious standards like sag paneer and unusual items like a tasty jackfruit dish that I still haven't figured out. So yummy. Their dosas are really good -- Kuv and I got them one Thanksgiving, and they tasted like home. You can find ready-made chapatis/rotis in the fridge and the whole array of spices, pickles, chutneys, lentils and marinades on the racks. They also stock a lot of fresh produce, which isn't always in the greatest shape, but I get some typical Indian produce there like green chiles and something called thendlies or tindora there. I'm not sure what the equivalent is in English. I love this place.

Elat Market
Located on Pico, east of Robertson in West LA. A Persian-Jewish market with the cheapest yet delicious, probably non-organic, produce around. This place is great for plump, decadent dates, zatar, fresh fenugreek, fresh lavash bread, what my friend told me was the best tahini in Israel/Palestine...
Go in with armour though. You WILL get jostled around by the perfectly-primped Persian and Eastern European ladies, young and old, who will push past you in an effort to grab a bunch of parsley, but pretend that you injured THEM in the process. Count to 10, count to 10...
This place is also wonderful for fresh, whole fish. The eyes are still glassy and none of the fish I have ever bought from them smells fishy. It's a bit pricey -- I bought a small branzino this week, enough for the two of us, for $11. But they will scale it for you, and clean out the insides, and even fillet it if you want. They do sell Chilean Sea Bass there though, which breaks my heart (being overfished and all) so if you're looking for ethically-captured fish, you're in the wrong place. They also sell good-looking kosher beef, chicken and turkey.

99 Ranch Market
On Sepulveda in Van Nuys (near the CostCo), this Chinese market has tons of delicious finds like turnip cake, and hoisin sauce in a squeeze bottle. I know, it sounds silly, but I love sauces in a squeeze bottle. Their produce and fish win the prize -- lots of live fish, lobster, crabs and shellfish. Oh, and if you're looking for tongue, real ox tail and sundry body parts, you can find them here. They also stock bao the size of your face. They're a little dry from what I remember, but if you're trying to impress someone, they do the trick. Ha!

This place scares me a little bit. Why are two chicken breasts only $5? What happened to that chicken? Hmmm? No, this place is great for the canned and jarred items. Remember that massive jar of roasted red peppers I used in the Ezekiel's Wheel Salad episode? That was $7 from Vons. Yup. The pickled beets? Vons. Their fresh produce is pretty good too, based on freshness and value, now I think about it.

I nearly forgot this place! Located at Washington & National, just east of Culver City, this restaurant supply spot/gourmet store has my mecca when I first moved here, without both a car and the ability to drive. I used to walk here every week, and stock up on affordable aluminium pans, strainers, a small tin of smoked paprika, a couple tins of Italian tuna, some real vanilla essence. It's not cheap, but if you're looking for good chocolate (they stock Valrhona and Callebaut), good olive oil or good anything else really, this is the place. They also stock Bren's 2nd favorite beer, Trois Pistoles.

Online resources
I have yet to try these out since I'm waiting to work through some of my spices at home, but I have heard great things about:
The Spice Store
World Spice

I hope that's helpful!



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Unemployment Stew

Unemployment checks have kept us afloat (with a little, ok a LOT of help from savings and odd jobs) for a long time. This week though, panic set in. The last unemployment check arrived. Now what?

I can't say that I've come up with answers beyond the typical, GET A JOB! And the Indian part of me is even ashamed to talk about this. Not having worked for so long goes contrary to our culture, to our very DNA, to the very direction my blood flows! We are a country of ridiculously hard workers (at least the people in my family are). My dad comes from a family of farmers, dragging their butts out of bed at the crack o' dawn so that they could then drag their feet through rice paddy after water-logged rice paddy to harvest rice, monkey-climb up tall coconut trees for a nariyal (coconut) or two, come in for a breakfast of curry and rice (ew, I can't imagine eating fish curry for breakfast!), and then out again to go to school or other chores.

Dad (on the left) being gangsta

Mum barely saw her dad while she was growing up because he had taken a better-paying job in Doha, far from the love of his life, my gran, and his other loves, the children. My gran died early, before he could make enough to come back permanently and live the life he always wanted with her. To this day, I believe he died of a broken heart more than anything else.

Me & Grandpa

And then... there's me. I got a job two weeks before graduation, at my dream company, CNN. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. How could I have gotten my dream job already? I worked HARD there, putting in 15-hour days. And yet, ever since I moved to LA, I have not kept a steady job. I've had lots of work, yes (thankyou Lord!), and actually, it's been much more rewarding than staying at the same job for 5 years. I've freelanced at CNN, covering the economy, immigration, wildfires and entertainment. I've produced documentaries about illegal street racing and the genocide in Darfur. I've quit news altogether and worked for one of the best chefs ever. And while it has been exciting, my poor sweet friends and husband must have gotten bored of me whining the same refrain every month or so: "What am I supposed to be doing with my life?". I've asked God the same question with tears running down my face. I made a vision board but I had no vision. It was mostly empty save for a photo of a house and a photo of a kid with the word "mother" next to it. I've never known what to do.

Anyway, that's a long preamble, huh? I'm just trying to say that I used to think that I'd wasted a lot of time not working. But somehow, I think God needed me to hibernate or something. Every time I applied for a job, it was as if the application disappeared into the ether; I never heard back. Once I applied for a job that I was 99.99% sure I was going to get -- everyone around me thought I was going to get it too. But I didn't. I was heartbroken, but I realise now that, had I gotten that job, I would have died inside. And there's no way I would be where I am today, which is on the precipice FINALLY of figuring out what to do with my life and with the talents God gave me: I want to cook on TV.

Oof! I said it! That was really scary!

Anyway, what does that have to do with unemployment? Well, Bren and I being out of work has been one of the biggest blessings ever. It freed his creative mind up, and motivated him to work as hard for himself as he had been working for a company he didn't believe in. He is incredibly productive, as you all know (take a look at his YouTube page -- this man puts at least two things up everyday!). Having him at home, with his constant example and encouragement, inspired me. And now I'm shooting my own cooking show... all on the money that Bren paid into unemployment all those unhappy months. I strongly believe that God has been working some fishes and loaves magic on that unemployment check too -- we've had to cut expenses, yes, but we've been blessedly comfortable.

And yet, despite all of that divine provision... I have been losing sleep this week trying to figure out what's next! I am trying to have faith, to remember Jesus' comforting words from Matthew (Chapter 6):

"You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?"

I go back and forth, between being buoyed and being worried. I know it'll all be alright, and as my sweet director on the Darfur film always says, "Hey, I'm not living in an IDP camp!". God has led us through some unebeliveable stuff in the past few months. This is nothing.

Anyway, all of this has been running through my mind this past week, when I came up with this stew. Chorizo and I are long-lost lovers (insert phallic joke here) but I was always a little uncomfortable with chorizo's traditional components, which mirror your worst sausage nightmares. Enter: vegetarian chorizo!! I first found it at Trader Joe's, and used it in my Lucia-Lucica Fried Rice. But I worried that you poor souls who don't have a TJ's near you would lose out. Then, I found it at the regular supermarket, in the refrigerated section next to the regular chorizo! Hallelujah! Not only is it MUCH LESS fatty than it's meatier cousin, it's free of gruesome body parts, and to top it all off, it's cheaper!

And that's the thing about this stew: bizarrely cheap, it tastes extravagantly rich. That's because it uses just a few cheap ingredients: vegetarian chorizo, dried beans, a fennel bulb, a small butternut squash and some veggie stock. Even on an unemployment check, you can eat like a king.

And so, I can say without even a smidgen of sarcasm on my face that the Lord has blessed us with unemployment! Whoopee! Not only has this time encouraged both of us to lean on His arm even heavier than we were before, it has pushed us both out of our coccoons, emerging as pretty, pretty butterflies (Bren is black, red and gold I suspect. I am red with sparkles!). In addition to doing whatever we can to live to punch some of God's light into this darkness, we are both doing what we want to be doing career-wise, until someone pays us to do it. God is good. And so is this stew.

Unemployment Stew Vegetarian Chorizo Stew with Fennel, Butternut Squash and Pinto Beans

You'll need:
1 cup dried pinto beans
1 pkg vegetarian chorizo, casing removed
1 big bulb, fennel, chopped small-ish
1/2 medium onion, chopped small-ish
2 tbsp chopped ginger
2 medium tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine or pernod/ouzo
6 cups vegetable stock
1 cup butternut squash, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 sprig mint leaves (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges to serve

1) Wash and sort pinto beans, soak in water overnight.

2) The next day, in a big soup pot, over medium heat, saute the crumbled chorizo, until it darkens in colour a little, about 7 minutes. Some of the spices should stain the bottom of your pot. Don't worry if some sticks to the bottom. That'll flavour your soup, and we'll get that off later. Remove chorizo from pot.

3) Add about 1 tbsp olive oil, then add fennel, onion and ginger. Saute until softened, about 10 minutes.

4) Add tomatoes, cook until mushy.

5) Add wine, scraping up browned bits. Cook until it has almost fully evaporated.

6) Add stock and drained beans. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Cook, covered, and stirring occasionally for 35-40 minutes.

7) Add butternut squash, and cook, covered, for another 20 minutes, or until both the butternut squash and the beans are cooked through.

8) Add chorizo, and cook until warmed through. Add chopped mint. Serve with wedge of lime in each bowl. A dollop of yogurt is good too, especially if you find it spicy (although the vegetarian version of chorizo is usually milder).


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Worm

Over the past 3 weeks, Bren has read:

- Geek Love
- Water for Elephants
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (in one day)

Over the past three weeks, I have read:

- New Moon (the second installment in the Twilight series, decidedly lighter fare.)

He is SUCH a fast reader, it makes me grrrrrrrrrr.

But as my friend Karen said to me the other day, when I was moaning about it, "I think it's a really good idea to compare yourself to everyone around you."

I love Karen.



Aarti Parti Episode 7: Roasted Cauliflower!

Episode 7 is up. This week: cumin/coriander/amchur (dried mango powder) dusted cauliflower, roasted and topped with a dollop of limey yogurt. We used three different kinds of cauliflower: purple, orange and green (romanesco)!

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks

3 medium cauliflower heads, stripped of leaves and stalk chopped off
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp amchur (dried mango powder)
salt and pepper
1 cup low fat greek yoghurt
zest from one lime
splash extra virgin olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit/180 degrees celsius

2) Slice cauliflower down the middle, then slice as many 1-inch steaks as you can (you'll probably get two). Separate the rest into florets. Do the same with the other head of cauliflower.

3) Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Brush a little oil over the paper so the cauliflower doesn't stick.

4) Place "steaks" and florets on the baking sheet.

5) In a small bowl, combine oil, cumin powder, coriander powder and mango powder with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Brush over cauliflower with pastry brush. Drizzle over florets and toss to coat.

6) Roast for 20 minutes or until tender and crisped around the edges.

7) In another small bowl, combine yogurt with lime zest, a splash of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime (as much as you like).

8) Serve steaks with a dollop of yogurt on the side. Eat and discover cauliflower's nutty, smoky goodness!



Friday, March 20, 2009

I Love Being Right!


BRENDAN: that was a funny voicemail from my agent. She said that I had to make sure I knew the dialogue inside and out for my call-back tomorrow, but there wans't any dialogue at the last one, so there isn't any in this one I don't think.

AARTI: Huh. That's funny.


AARTI: Hey ba, did you get back to her about the dialogue thingy?


AARTI: (over-reacting a bit) WHAT? Why not? Come on, baba!

BRENDAN: Why are you yelling at me? I'm sure it's nothing at all! It happens all the time!

AARTI: That's ridiculous. What if she's right? Ugh!

Brendan coldly starts typing an email to his agent, gritting his teeth and wondering why the heck Aarti is freaking out about something that has nothing to do with her.


BRENDAN: (whispering) So guess what. You were right.

AARTI: (confused) What?

BRENDAN: There was dialogue.

AARTI: Huh? (Pause). OH!

BRENDAN: Yeah, she just emailed the sides to me.

AARTI: (erupts in self-righteous laughter). OH MAN! I LOVE BEING RIGHT!!!!!!

BRENDAN: Yeah. It's great.




Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Danger of Being Comfortable

You're probably sick of me writing about how much I love Nicholas Kristof. I confess, I don't read his columns every week, but whenever I do, I am comforted to read the reasoned thoughts of an honest-to-goodness journalist, the real deal... not someone who gets themselves a blog or a TV show, spouts their opinion (hiding behind the "I'm asking questions no-one else will!" crap when we know full-well why people aren't asking those questions...because they're skewed!), and considers themselves in the same standing as Murrow. Oof, it makes my blood boil I tell you!

Today's column is particularly brilliant. Kristof takes on the idea that the fall of national newspapers, due to our scampering to the vast range of "news" sources online, spells trouble. Not just for the newspaper industry but for society as a whole, because left to our own devices, we have been searching out only those news sources that confirm our own world views or prejudices, because that is more COMFORTABLE than reading newspapers or watching traditional news shows that challenge our preconceptions.

He goes on to point out that the movement is just one symptom of a larger problem -- that we, as a country, are holing ourselves up both figuratively and physically, amongst those just like us. In the wake of the recent election, I felt that effect acutely here in LA, where the overwhelmingly "blue" nature of this town is mostly comfortable to me (gimme that healthcare! Cut that war out!)... until I start talking to people about traditionally "red" issues like, say, abortion. You all know how I feel about that! (I still treausre that discourse so deeply in my heart. Thankyou guys!). I remember a friend saying to me, "I've never actually met anyone who believes what you do". I like to think that suddenly, those people on the other side of where she stood were 3-dimensional, not just a bunch of kooks trying to control other people's lives.

Isn't that a sad state of affairs? Isn't a melting pot of ideas better than a homogenized one?

I can't put it better than Kristof, so here you go:

Something to think about, anyway. What do you think? Am I over-reacting? Do you think that you get a variety of news-related opinions/news sources every day? What news sources do you check out on a daily basis?



Less Said the Better

Hi my darlings! If you guys are anything like me, I'm sure you're annoyed with me for the lack of follow-up on the whole house guests issue. Well, here's the explanation: I realised that advertising the fact that I had a mouse in my kitchen is not that smart given that I'm trying to entice people with my recipes. (Imagine me smacking my forehead, HARD).

Hopefully, it's enough that I tell you that the rodent issue is over, and we are blissfully house guest-free. My kitchen is spic and span!

If some of you sickos (ha!) really want to know the story (and really who wouldn't!), and see the photos, email me/leave me a comment and I'll send it to you. And no, it's not the gruesome ending you're thinking!



Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Hair of the Dog Hash

Ouch. My head hurts. But everytime it throbs, I smile remembering the source of my pain.

Having married into an Irish-American family, St. Patrick's day has taken on an entirely different meaning for me. I barely noticed it when I was growing up in Dubai, except when the Irish boy in my class, Jonathan Ryan, poked a daffodil through his lapel. Oh-ho, have times changed now that I've come to America!

Now, as a Sequeira married to a McNamara, I celebrate the famed serpent-banisher's day in a wholly secular fashion at O'Briens, an Irish-owned pub in Santa Monica. The tradition was started by Bren's Uncle Dan, to whom this day is akin to Christmas.

Uncle Dan, pondering the real cause of the potato famine.

Uncle Dan will get to O'Briens at about 7am, have an Irish breakfast (REAL bacon! sigh!), washed down by a few Irish coffees, before we get there at around 10am, have an Irish breakfast and wash it down with, oh I don't know, 6 or 7 irish coffees. As the supping transitions to Guiness and Harp, we relax into the massive booth, cheering every new wave of friends that comes to visit and covering our ears when the bagpiper inevitably starts up. We might have some lunch around 2pm and eventually, when the clock strikes 4, we'll drag our numb bums out of the booth, wave tata to the lovely staff, and venture out into the (too bright by then) sunshine, sharing our giddy Guiness giggles with everyone we meet.

It's a day of laughter and carousing and family. It's great.

This year, we were "victims" of the economy; no O'Briens for Dan. Nor for us. Dan was devastated. The St. Patrick's Grinch seemed to have succeeded.

But then, Bren and I had the same idea. Why not try to do the same thing at our place? We called Dan who enthusiastically rode to the rescue, a Santa of sorts, loaded up with an assortment of Irish whiskeys, TWO corned beef briskets, and more carrots and potatoes than should be legal. I followed Elise's example over at SimplyRecipes, boiling one brisket the traditional way (with Dan's direction: lots of potatoes and carrots, substituting a couple bottles of Guiness for the water), while roasting the other in the oven with honey-mustard and brown sugar.

I have to say that I liked the beefy flavour of the roasted version, but I also liked that the boiled version was less salty. Next year, I think I might boil it for an hour, and then roast in the oven for an hour. You can see the difference in texture here too; the meat on the left is boiled, on the right is roasted.

I also made some of that awesome onion-date compote, and we set up a station so that people could fix themselves an Irish coffees whenever they chose.

We had such a blast! What a fantastic day!

We had just the right number of fantastic people come over and lounge on our couch, drinking in the ocean breeze and the sparkling sunshine, and swaying ever so slightly to the endless mix of Pogues, Van Morisson and the Chieftans blasting out the stereo.

Doesn't Bren look oh-so Irish in this photo?

Today, we are both hurting, Bren more so than myself. And with the remainder of the corned beef taking up precious room in our fridge, I decided to make my all-time favorite breakfast dish of all: corned beef hash.

Uh-oh. I feel a spot of Corned Beef trivia coming on. Can't. Stop. For. Give. Me....

Did you know that corned beef is not a traditional Irish dish? When the Irish came to New York City many moons ago, they were looking for a substitute for the pricey bacon joint of the old country. Whaddya know, they stumbled upon the brisket cut of their Jewish neighbours, which had that same hardy, meaty texture. And, bob's your uncle, corned beef was born. Mooooo.

And did you know that the "corned" part refers to the salting process used to preserve meat back in the day? Meat was thrown into a barrel with kernals of rock salt ("corns"), so that it could travel on long journeys without refrigeration! These days, we mirror that process by soaking the brisket in brine for a day or so.

Phew! Glad I got that out of my system!

This version of corned beef hash is a little different from the traditional, a reflection of the two flags figuratively flying over our lowly apartment: Ireland and India. In addition to the traditional corned beef and potatoes (I used the same ones I cooked the boiled brisket with), I added some roasted red peppers for sweetness, some fresh ginger, garam masala and coriander. I also snuck in a splash of whiskey to try the ol' "hair of the dog" treatment. I am therefore dubbing it the McSequeira Hair of the Dog Hash (my last name is Sequeira and Bren's is McNamara, for those of you who don't know me yet).

Oh also, there's no cabbage. I don't like cabbage and nor does Bren. If you like it, add it. If you don't, then we're better friends that I thought. Ha!

I love hash 'n' eggs, so I carved four holes in the top of the hash, and poured an egg into each, allowing the residual heat of the hash to cook the eggs through. We just polished off half of it and while my head still throbs a little, my tummy is very very happy. And there's still another half for dinner!

If you have any leftovers, or if you're planning on making some corned beef this weekend, give it a go. Slainte!

McSequeira Hair of the Dog Hash
(Corned Beef Hash with Ginger, Irish whiskey and garam masala)

You'll need this stuff:

1 onion, diced
2 tbsp ginger, chopped small but not minced too finely
2 roasted red peppers, chopped
1/2 tsp ground coriander (or you can use the whole kind if you like a stronger coriander flavour. Soak them for about 10 minutes in water though to soften 'em)
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp thyme
2 generous cups potatoes and carrots (cooked) from previous day's boiled beef
(Alternatively: peel and dice potatoes and carrots into 1/4" pieces, cook in boiling water for about 2 mins or until tender. Drain and set aside)
2 cups corned beef, chopped into 1/4" pieces
Splash Irish whiskey
Splash of half and half (or cream; optional)
4 eggs
Salt & pepper
Small handful chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

1) Heat a couple of tablespoons of canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once shimmering, add the onion and ginger. Saute until lightly browned, dark brown around the edges and sweet smelling, about 10 minutes.

2) Add garam masala, coriander, thyme and roasted red peppers. Saute 2 minutes.

3) Add potatoes and carrots, flattening slightly with your spatula. Once warmed through and sizzling, add the corned beef. Pour in whiskey and (if you like) half and half. Turn heat up to medium-high, weigh down with a plate and something heavy. Allow to cook and crisp on one side for 5-7 minutes.

4) Remove weights, toss the hash so browned bits are on top. Add a touch more oil if it's sticking too much. Flatten again with your spatula, weigh down and allow to crisp up, 7-10 minutes.

5) Remove weights, carve 4 small holes in the hash with a spoon (not all the way down to the pan). Taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour an egg into each hole. Turn the heat off, and cover, allowing the eggs to cook for another 10 minutes or so. Sprinkle with chopped parsley or cilantro and serve!

Enjoy it!



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 6: Ezekiel's Wheel Salad

Lordy guys. I'm so sorry that I haven't been writing with the German-like accuracy and commitment to schedule, as I was previously to doing the Aarti Paarti show. I've got to work on my time management.

I hope that you'll accept Episode 6 of Aarti Paarti as a good enough peace offering! This week is what we're calling Ezekiel's Wheel Salad. It's a chickpea salad, with roasted red peppers, toasted pine nuts and (ideally) pomegranate seeds, tossed in a light tahini dressing. It's great for picnics and BBQs and potlucks! The vegans will thank you!

I'm off to figure out whether I can make corned beef or not. Happy St. Pats!

UPDATE: I've had some requests so here is the complete recipe with instructions!

1 shallot, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup tahini
1/2 or so hot water
1 clove garlic, minced
Splash of extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 cans chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
3 roasted red peppers, chopped
3-4 pickled beets, chopped (OR handful of pomegranate seeds)
Handful chopped parsley

1) Combine shallots, lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt in a bowl. Allow to sit. Go do wheel pose. :)

2) Have some hot water on standby. Whisk in tahini, and when it starts to seize up, add 1/4 cup of hot water. Keep adding water until you have a smooth, lighter-coloured sauce (usually takes up to 3/4 cup of hot water).

3) Add a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Add garlic clove, and season with salt and pepper. Stir.

4) Toast pine nuts over low heat for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from heat immediately. Add to tahini dressing. Add chickpeas, red peppers, beets/pomegranate seeds, parsley and a healthy sprinkle of zaatar. Toss. Serve at room temperature and bathe in all the compliments you'll get!



Friday, March 13, 2009

Hothouse Films Season 4

A lot of you wonder what Bren has been working so hard on all day and night (I'm not exaggerating). It's Hothouse Films! Take a look at his work on Season 4; there's a show featuring really awesomely-bad dancers (dance machine), one featuring how Rohrshach (of the Watchmen) handles the mundanity of life with his best (and only) friend Brendan, another featuring some chill wisdom from Matthew McConaughey's "brother"... and that's just a few of them.

And check out my favorite one of them all: Bas Booly's songs for kiddies, featuring Bren as a hopelessly sunny yet sick children siong-a-long show host. You might spot a cameo from yours truly!

New episodes next week!



House Guest cont.

Part of the mystery of the hungry house guest has been solved. We have located the entry point. Check out our (defunct, brrrr) heater.

Now look down. Look closer. At the fiddlestickin' HOLE IN THE WALL.

It's a wonder that we haven't had mice, rats, possums or f'in elephants in here before.

(I'd just like to put it on record that it is very hard not to swear at the moment. But I am proud to say that I haven't sworn yet... on this subject at least :)

Anyway, back to the mouse. And yes, it is a mouse. We were warned that it might be (kill me now) a RAT, but I am much calmer having seen the thing with my own two eyes last night; he popped his little head out from behind the bookcase and stared directly at me, then quick as a flash, snapped his head back behind the bookshelf. Then he'd peek just his nose out, snap it back, then his whole head, then back... he was so apprehensive! Clearly, he was trying to get back into the CAVE in the wall behind the heater but he didn't trust us not to pounce on him.

His little cat-and-mouse game (groan, I know) was so endearing and so captivating that I let the season finale of Sober House, one of my favorite shows (I <3 Dr. Drew!), roll on behind me whilst I waited with bated breath to catch sight of the little guy scurry out from behind the bookshelf. Isn't it funny that sometimes little things like that are so much more entertaining that million-dollar shows?

Anyway, Bren pointed out his round ears, which he said indicated that it was a mouse, and when the cute little thing finally did gallop into the wall, I had to concur. As he scampered up the heater, I spoke to him sternly saying, "Listen little one. You are not welcome here. Please go away. You are very cute but you need to find someone else's house to invade. This place is not for you. " We also roared at him, yup like lions, so that he wouldn't feel welcome here, but I guess he doesn't understand human, and he's used to roars because he was deffo back last night. Looks like he was more daring with his apple dinner, but didn't really care for the tomato. It also appears that those little bits that I thought were droppings are actually tightly curled bits of apple skin -- picky little bugger!

He was a cute little thing, bless him. Alas, I failed to catch him on camera. He and I seem to have the same palate: fresh fruit all the way! But he's got to go, and after reading all your comments on the best traps (thanks guys!), I grabbed the traditional kind this morning. Bren put them in place and they're ready to go.

I'm dreading finding him tomorrow morning, or (shudder) hearing the traps go off in the middle of the night. Sorry little friend. But I know it's only a matter of time before you start getting busy and bringing little babies into my house. :(

And then I'm ready to CLEAN! I want this book. I love her stuff.




Thursday, March 12, 2009

House Guests & Shame


I woke up this morning, ready like Tigger to bounce out of the house and to the gym; I have been slightly appalled at the "fluidity" of my arms in my cooking videos and so I have decided to put a stop to it. Ha!

Anyway, as I was walking through the kitchen, I noticed this in my fruit bowl:

I pulled it out on the counter, so I'd remember to ask Bren about it when he woke up. I figured maybe he'd seen a brown spot or something on it and dug it out with his fingers. It seems like the kind of yucky-boy thing he'd do. :)

Ah but it's an even yuckier thing. When I got home, I asked Bren about it and he said he hadn't touched it. We both looked closer, and Bren confirmed my deepest fear: tiny teeth marks. We have mice.

Deeper investigation uncovered a gently nibbled cherry tomato. I love that the mice in my house have turned their noses up at my rice and oatmeal, in favor of my fresh, organic fruit. Ugh!

And (excuse me while I throw up), mice poo:

Now, I always laughed at those men and women who jump up on chairs when they see a mouse. What's the big deal? But having a mouse as a house guest? That's a different matter. At first I felt uneasy, as if I had been invaded. I imagined them sniffing around all my precious cumin and mustard seeds, which from past experience, I've learned they quite like. I'll have to replace them all! And no more keeping any food on the counter, especially fruit. But my fridge is so full already (thankyou God!) and you can't keep tomatoes in the fridge because they'll lose their excellent texture and and and....

I was spiraling.

Then, my fear turned to shame.

"Wait a second. Does that mean my kitchen is (GASP)..... dirty?"

Freeze that scene for a second, as I give you some background. I come from a family of horrifically comprehensive cleaners. I doubt there is a house on EARTH as clean as my mum's. I'd even let those two British ladies on the BBC inspect my mum's house and I bet they wouldn't find a cotton-pickin' thing.

Having worked in hospitals overseeing sanitation and cleanliness issues, Mum is the gestapo of cleaning. In addition to interrogating you about your cleaning techniques and schedule, she will run her finger over the top of your window moulding, inspect the yellow'd arms of your white workout shirts, and scrub all your tarnished copper and brass pots by hand... FOR FUN. Mum mops the floors everyday, cleans the bathroom every other day, only uses her bath towel for a week tops, changes her sheets ever week.... and so on and so forth. (Don't tell me you do this too! I don't think I could live with the shame!!!). I remember how appalled she was when visiting me at graduation in Evanston; she whispered, "Is Bren really going to wear the same shirt he slept in to lunch with us?". I nodded slowly, my shame keeping my from making any eye contact.

You can see how having anything resembling a dirty kitchen is sort of like letting the family legacy down. In a haze, I instinctively reached for the dish soap and started washing the dishes.

Luckily, we have a pest-control company in the family! (If you're in Boston and you need envrionmentally-conscious, yet effective, pest control, look EHS up. They're the best. Plus you're keeping in the family. My family I guess. Which I'm happy to share with you, if you ask nicely.)

Anyway, Bren reminded me of all the stories Bren's brother Jed has told us of going to the best, fanciest restaurants in Boston, and finding all kinds of rodents, no matter how clean the kitchen was. Where there's food, there are rodents. Bren managed to talk me off the ledge a little, but I've still got my pinkie toe on it. And I'm going to tackle that kitchen bit by bit, giving it the legendary and oft-feared Sequeira treatment.

Ground Zero

Bren shot off a quick email to Jed, and we're set on our mouse-trap strategy to persuade the little buggers that they might find another home more... hospitable. In the meantime, every little sound makes me suspicious. I'm trying to send out mean vibes to any critters in my vicinity and hoping that'll make them scatter, because honestly, I'm kinda scared of seeing what the mouse-traps snare.




Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Popeye & that Crazy Bastard Greens!

Popeye should be the international comic strip of the food-obsessed. I mean, first of all, the hero relies on a can of spinach to rescue his girl from hairy situations. And second of all, his girlfriend's name is Olive Oyl!

On the other hand, who likes canned spinach? Blech! And isn't it funny that SPINACH made Popeye's triceps bulge? I mean, there's absolutely no protein in it, right? And I must admit that I always found it creepy that Olive Oyl, who seemed kinda young, was involved with this much older man who relied on a slimy green sludge to come to her rescue... sort of like a precursor to viagra. Ugh! I just grossed myself out. Sorry.

Perhaps THAT'S why I never liked spinach when I was a child! Mum would try to serve it all different kinds of ways, but alas, I would sulk off and slice up a tomato as my vegetable-alternative for dinner that night.

Since then, I've embraced spinach, especially when it's combined with a pound of cheese. Exhibit A: spinach-artichoke dip. Exhibit B: Chicago-style deep dish spinach pizza. Be still my cholesterol-laden heart!!

Sadly, Bren, who grips his inner child more fiercely than anyone I know, still despises spinach. In fact, whenever I cook kale or other greens, he usually freezes with his greens-charged fork an inch from his open mouth, looks at my suspiciously and mutters, "there's no spinach in here, right?".

Luckily, at this time of year, there are a plethora of leafy green alternatives at the market, delicious and nutritious enough to lure in Brendan's specific palate and Popeye's greedy one!

Yesterday, I went to my favorite stand at the Culver City
farmers market, where the farmer, Brandon, displayed a Benetton ad of greens: black kale (which I used in this week's Aarti Paarti show), russian red kale, red boar kale, rainbow swiss chard, regular swiss chard, collard greens... I wish I'd had my camera with me. But the prices were even more amazing. 3 bunches of greens for $5! WHAT? And what's particularly great about these tougher greens is that they don't wilt as much as spinach does, so one bunch goes a long way. I grabbed the swiss chard and the two red varieties.

I also grabbed my newest discovery: beet greens. Have you tried them? I used to toss them away with nary a thought, the memory of which makes me clutch my heart in sorrow now! I didn't think I could love beets any more than I did (not the red ones though. Those are still yucky to me. Sorry, I know I'm snobby.), but once I realised that these rough-hewn gems provided TWO meals, at a price of $1.25 a bunch... I was a devotee for life. Plus, I love how the roots feel in my hand -- they are so pleasantly curvy, with that suggestive little tail... it makes me want to draw some eyes on them and stick 'em on my bed.

Waaaait a second.


I've read that you need to use those beet greens almost immediately, or else they'll start to rot. But I beat the odds by cutting the leaves off the stems, washing 'em, drying 'em in a salad spinner and then storing them, wrapped in some paper towel in a plastic container in the fridge. They lasted a little more than a week!

Anyway, this week's recipe is an improvisation on an Andy Nusser recipe, Fusilli a la Crazy Bastard. Apparently, he and Mario Batali love this New Yorker cartoon (you can order it from the New Yorker website; isn't that cool?!):

His dish is uniquely delicious, a messy melange of beet greens, roasted tomatoes, walnuts and goat cheese, served over that crazy bastard, fusilli. I decided to nix the goat cheese (ah, lactose) and the pasta. Instead, I added some classic Indian seasoning and served it over brown rice. I present you Popeye & that Crazy Bastard Greens!

N.B. I supplemented the beet greens with some swiss chard. You can use whatever greens you like, except for tougher, longer-cooking ones like collards.

Popeye & that Crazy Bastard Greens!
(Cumin-Coriander-Fenugreek scented Beet Greens & Swiss Chard with Roasted Tomatoes and Toasted Walnuts)

You'll need this stuff (plus spices):

1/4 cup raw walnuts
2 generous cups cherry tomatoes
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp canola oil

1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 coarsely ground fenugreek seeds
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1lb beet greens (supplemented with whatever greens you have if you don't have enough), washed, sliced roughly
1/2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of garam masala
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C. Toss walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Chop coarsely.

2) Turn oven up to 450 degrees F/230 degrees C. Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. When oven is hot, throw tomatoes in and roast for 10-15 minutes, until brown spots appear on some of 'em.

3) Meanwhile, slice up your greens roughly. I discarded the beet steams, but I chopped up the swiss chard stems finely.

4) Heat canola oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add cumin, mustard and fenugreek seeds. They should sizzle upon contact. Allow them to cook about 30 seconds until fragrant, add garlic and cook carefully (don't let it burn!) for 30 seconds. Add greens, coriander powder and a sprinkling of salt. Toss until well combined, turn heat down a touch and cover, allowing greens to wilt for about a minute.

5) Add roasted tomatoes and walnuts. Toss to combine and cook until warmed through. Add freshly ground black pepper. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately (it doesn't taste as good when reheated).

Enjoy! Hope your triceps expand beyond your wildest dreams!



Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Episode Five of Aarti Paarti!

We are eating much lighter these days, thanks in part to soaring food prices. That's why this week's recipe is such a delight. It cost me about $5 to make. And it fed both of us: me, a greedy little woman, and Bren, a greedy 6ft Krav Maga man. With leftovers.

And so I present to you, this week's Aarti Paarti: Kale-Pecan Frittata!




Thursday, March 5, 2009

In Phoenix

I'm in Phoenix at the moment, visiting my sister Kuv. She's getting married (whoopee!) at the end of the year, so we spent yesterday looking for The Dress with her future mother-in-law. I've only ever done this once with a friend of mine, and I fell for the first dress she tried on so I wasn't that confident in my abilities. Plus, Kuv looked good in every single dress, which was both encouraging and confusing because it was hard to choose. But I think we might have found The Dress! Wheee! I can't post the photos of course (mum, we'll send them to you, don't worry!) in case the Husband-to-be happens to wander over here.

Anyway, that's why I didn't write yesterday. I do have one quick recipe to tell you about. We might make it this week, so I'll post it then.



Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Proud of Myself

I feel quite proud of myself, chaps.

A few weeks ago, my friend Laura hired me to bake her a cake for her big milestone birthday this past weekend.

To be honest, I was really nervous about it. While I was flattered that Laura trusted me enough to ask me, I hadn't baked in a while, and it's never been my strong point. I don't like to jump into things that I haven't thought out long and hard, but that seems to get in my way more often than not; the more I think about things, the more I talk myself out of them, telling myself that I won't be able to do them etc. And with the golden rule of improv (say yes!) still pulsing through my veins, I went for it.

And I'm so glad I did! I am well chuffed with myself!!

Upon Laura's request, I made a triple-layer double-chocolate cake, with raspberry mousse filling, covered in buttercream frosting, and decorated with edible flowers and homemade white chocolate butterflies! I can't believe I pulled off the butterflies.

Not only did it turn out prettily, but it was honestly, hand-on-my-heart the yummiest chocolate cake I've ever tasted. I used this recipe, but re-jiggered it using some brown sugar in addition to the white. Even though both Bren and I were boycotting dessert until his birthday in April, I had to get his opinion on the quality of the cake. He took a bite, and I put my hand in front of his mouth, in case he wanted to spit it out. But he giggled and managed to garble, "I don't want to stop eating it!".

And Bren also came up with the fantastic idea of spelling Laura's name out in petals and stems:

I was so happy baking this cake, and for the first time, I understood people who say that they can't believe they get paid to do what they do. Even when I was covered in flour, nursing sore arms from whisking eggs in a double-boiler, and doing what seemed like the 14th load of dishes, my heart was humming a happy little ditty. It's funny what passes for fun when you're doing something that your soul finally finds fulfilling.

What a blessing! God is good! And so is Laura! YIPPPEEEEEEEEEEE!


P.S. Let me know if you'd like me to bake a cake for you too!

Aarti Paarti Episode 4

This week's episode is up! Take a look; I made curried popcorn.



Monday, March 2, 2009

Take my Books!

Hey guys! You all are a smart, literary bunch; want some books?

We're still trying to pare down our possessions, and so I have a bunch of good books to give away. I can send them to you too, if you're willing to pay postage. I already have them up on Bookins and Paperbackswap but they are going very slowly!

Until I Find You - John Irving
Shadowplay - Tad Williams
The Case of the Vanishing Ventriloquist (Kid's book)
A Million Little Pieces - James Frey (WITHOUT the disclaimer at the beginning re: being a liar!)
What Color is your Parachute - Richard Bolles (a little water damaged, 2005 edition)
The inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai (Man Booker Prize winner 2006, Anita Desai's daughter)
Outskirts and Other Plays - Hanif Kureishi
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce (claimed by Genie!)
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (claimed! by Patty Jean!)
The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Running With Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
Under Milk Wood - Dylan Thomas
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
The Rules of Attraction - Bret Easton Ellis
Their Eyes were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
Nature Girl - Carl Hiassen
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Fried Green Tomatoes - Fannie Flagg
On the Road - Jack Kerouac (claimed by Genie!)

Let me know! Thankyou!




This woman is amazing! Belt-tightening means less parties which means catering businesses are suffering. But this woman's catering business is booming. Why? Because she is more focused on others (teaching disadvantaged women how to better their lives, and employing them) than in making money for herself. A non-profit catering company. What an idea! She is such an inspiration!

I've got to start thinking this way!


all text and photographs on aartilla the fun © 2005-2009 Aarti Sequeira unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.