The Family Food Blog


Month: June, 2012

Espresso and Ramekins: Exploring Sur la Table

by thefamilyfoodblog

One of my aims in starting this blog was to bring together aspects of food and eating that aren’t usually combined, to create a more complete picture that properly reflects real life. Hence the recipes, restaurant reviews, and exploration of ingredients. Most of the food-related blogs I’d seen focused on either recipes or restaurants, and when tossing around the idea of my own blog, I realized that that just isn’t how I – or most of you, I’m guessing – eat. Those bloggers who post new recipes every day impress me to no end and give me plenty of Pinterest fodder, but when reading their posts, I always wonder: do they ever get bored or tired or simply want to take a break from cooking?

And to the restaurant mavens, I ask: don’t you ever just want a PB&J or some cereal and milk?

So, in keeping with that idea of the “complete food experience,” I thought I’d write about a little shopping I did yesterday afternoon. I was in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of DC and had an hour to kill between my morning dance class and lunch with a friend. Since fancy cooking store* Sur la Table happened to be right between the class and our lunch spot, I decided to stop by. Soon after entering, a sales associate gave me a free cup of coffee in exchange for watching her demonstrate this Nespresso cappuccino maker. As my main purpose in being there was to use up some time, I was happy to oblige.

Um, the coffee was good. More importantly, though, it was HOT. Which meant I was going to stay put in that air-conditioned store for at least twenty minutes, switching that hot cup from hand to hand until it finally cooled enough to drink. And then drinking it.

I decided to spend that time browsing through their dishware and sale section. I’ve sort of been on the hunt for small bowls lately, something the right size for ice cream or dip or a bunch of grapes. Ramekins, I discovered while searching, are another nice option. The biggest difference is that unlike bowls, they don’t have rounded interiors. But in my opinion they more than made up for that in terms of sheer cuteness. Especially the tiny 1 oz ones, which would have made a great casserole dish for Barbie and Ken.

I seriously considered the Nantucket ice cream bowls, but wasn’t able to tell if they were microwave- and dishwasher-safe. By the time I had finished oohing and aahing over those and the adorable mini ramekins, my coffee had cooled to a drinkable temperature. I quickly perused their food offerings (this pancake and waffle mix was tempting) but ultimately didn’t buy anything.

* Technical term. According to popular use, Williams-Sonoma and the Corningware store also fall into this category.


Breaking out of a (Rye) Rut: Salad for Dinner

by mukwritesbooks

Happy Father’s Day!

N told me a couple months ago that she was going to try to make a non-bread/pasta/rice-based dish once a week. It would be a good challenge, she said, keep her creative in what she cooked. Being a normal younger sibling, naturally I wanted to do exactly what she did.

I’ve tried to keep the once-a-week rule in mind, sometimes making soup, other times roasted potatoes & vegetables. But recently I became lazy, and especially after buying a large loaf of rye bread early last week, a lot of my recent meals have featured, well, rye bread. Finally, I decided that my lazy Sunday trip to the grocery store would be a good time to pick up some new ingredients: cannellini beans and arugula. I’m really not a big salad person, but I enjoy the spicy flavor of arugula.

So I ended up making a bean & arugula salad. That with a boiled egg ended up being quite a filling dinner – plus a small bowl of Greek vanilla yogurt for dessert.

Even if you aren’t able to drain all of the can liquid from the beans, don’t worry. Any leftover liquid actually adds some thickness to the vinaigrette and keeps the arugula moist.

Cannellini Bean & Arugula Salad

Ingredients (for 2 servings)

1 15.5-oz. can cannellini beans

3 large handfuls of arugula, roughly chopped

1/4 onion, chopped (red would be ideal, but I ended up using white)

1/2 tomato, chopped

1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette


Drain the cannellini beans and empty them into a large mixing bowl. Add the onion, tomato, and arugula. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and toss. Enjoy!

Introducing: Nalini-Style Omelets

by thefamilyfoodblog

My approach to omelets is different from most people’s: I think of eggs not as the central ingredient, but as more of a binding agent to link together all the toppings. In my view, the toppings are what make it interesting. This results in a totally different (read: much lower) eggs-to-toppings ratio than your typical omelet. Be warned.

And so this morning, with a fridge full of vegetables from yesterday’s grocery shopping, I went to town with my omelet.

Ingredients, per omelet

  • 1/2 plum tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large Shittake mushroom, coarsely chopped
  • 1 spring onion, sliced
  • 1 1/2 tbsp onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp goat cheese (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper to taste


Cut vegetables and put in a bowl. Crack egg and add to bowl. Pierce the yolk and mix using a fork.

Nalini omelet bowl

In retrospect, I should have used a bigger bowl. This one made mixing tricky!

Add olive oil to a frying pan on medium-high heat. Once pan is fully heated, pour in the the egg mixture. Spread out on pan using a spatula. When the underside begins to brown, flip the omelet and allow to cook for a minute or two more.

Nalini omelet pan

Omelet cooking in a pan. It’s okay if it’s not flat and fully spread out – that’s the point!

Top with goat cheese and serve immediately. I had mine with a cup of Twinings English breakfast tea.

Slide the omelet onto a plate and sprinkle with goat cheese as desired.

On a completely unrelated but important note, Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

Herb Bread and Upscale Grilled Cheese

by thefamilyfoodblog

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about our balcony herb garden. Recently, we decided to use the fruits (well, the herbs) of that garden along with the bread machine to make some herb bread. I’d bought P a bread machine cookbook as part of his recent birthday gift, and we were both excited to go beyond a basic white loaf.

So I cut a few tablespoons of thyme, oregano, basil, and rosemary and added them to the white bread recipe. As I was cutting the thyme, I was startled to find this little guy wiggling next to the stems:

Green Worm

A little green worm, next to a teaspoon for size reference. We put him in the Tupperware to keep him in place while preparing the bread.

The bread turned out delicious!

A two-pound loaf of white bread needs only about two tablespoons of herbs. Any mix is fine; use whatever you have.

A few days before making this loaf, I’d come across this post on DCist describing a local restaurant’s new Tuesday night tradition: a grilled cheese bar. Using some Toscano pepper cheese from Trader Joe’s, I decided to take my own crack at it. And it turned out delicious!

Grilled cheese with Toscano pepper cheese on homemade herb bread. Where’s the missing quarter-sandwich, you ask? My tummy!

The Magical Spicy Jar

by mukwritesbooks

Never underestimate the power of the spicy jar.

My birthday was on Sunday, and my friend EG gave me what I must deem one of the most creative gifts I have ever received: a jar of layered spices, labeled as “The Spicy Jar.” I’m still trying to figure out what some of the layers are, but there is definitely sea salt, oregano, curry powder, paprika, a couple sage leaves, a few dried red chili peppers, black pepper, and some type of chili powder.

Yes, here it is, just for your viewing pleasure: the one and only “Spicy Jar”

This past weekend was full of lots of eating on my part and little to no cooking <– the perks of being the birthday girl! So when I got home from work today, I was excited to get back into the swing of things and make a nice homemade dinner. I rediscovered a box of orzo in my cupboard and decided to make Orzo with Veggies & MorningStar sausage. Of course, the guest of honor was none other but the Spicy Jar! I doubled my spontaneous recipe to make enough to take to work for lunch the next day:

 (for 2 servings) 

1/2 cup (dry) orzo

1 tomato, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 onion, chopped

1 medium zucchini, chopped

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp “Spicy Jar” contents

3 MorningStar sausage links


Prepare the orzo, according to the directions on the box. (I let them cook for about 9 minutes before turning off the stove.) Set aside.

Coat the bottom of your pan (it’s convenient to make the orzo first so that you can use the same dish for the veggies – less to wash!) with the olive oil. Sautee the vegetables, starting with the onions on medium-low heat for about 3 minutes, and add in half your spices. Then add in the tomatoes and garlic and zucchini. Once the tomatoes have released some water, add in the other half of your spices. Let this mixture cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat.

Meanwhile, prepare the Morningstar sausages – I cheated and used the microwave (covered, for 1 1/2 minutes…but I don’t have the most powerful microwave, so aim for about 1 minute and see from there). Chop and add to the mixture to soak up some of the spices/liquid. Once fully mixed, add the cooked orzo back in and stir to combine. Enjoy!

Despite the title of this post, don’t think that the “Spicy Jar” is beyond your reach. Yes, even mere mortals like yourself can gather the individual spices needed to create this yummy blend. And it makes a great gift…..



…hint: I’ll probably be done with this jar come June next year.

Woodlands!…in Langley Park, MD

by thefamilyfoodblog

Fans of South Indian food will know of the popular restaurant chain Woodlandsin India. So imagine my surprise when I found out a few months ago that they also have restaurants here in the United States! (Hint: I was pretty surprised.) I was curious to see how the Maryland version stacked up against its Indian counterpart, which I still remembered more than six years after my original visit – so it was pretty good – and so after a long day of laundry and apartment cleaning, P and I headed over to check it out.

Woodlands Restaurant, Langley Park

Woodlands in Langley Park, MD. Not the best of neighborhoods or exterior decoration, but the food made up for it!

The first thing we noticed about the stateside version of Woodlands (website | menu | Yelp) was its location. Not the most glamorous of neighborhoods or the classiest-looking loiterers people around, but we didn’t feel unsafe.

The second thing we noticed, upon entering the foyer, was a handwritten sign saying that they only accepted cash. I’m not sure if this was a temporary glitch or a usual policy, but it would have been useful to see that somewhere on their website. We made a brief detour to the Bank of America ATM across the parking lot and then returned.

Once we came back, we ordered onion bhajias, a.k.a. pakodas, as an appetizer; Jaipori paneer dosai and special rava masala dosai (which is my go-to) as entrees, and a mango lassi to split. The onion bhajias were great! Crispy but not too oily, and served with two chutneys. I held on to the chutneys to eat with my dosai.

Sorry, I didn’t take any photos of the food. It seemed too yuppie for a place like this.

The dosais were pretty good, too, if a little overcooked in some places. Jaipori paneer dosai was a new dish to me, and quite tasty with a small pile of seasoned paneer wrapped in the dosai as you may expect masala to be. The rava masala dosai was good, too. My one complaint was that the sambar was a little weak – not much of a zing to it, and it was really more soupy than anything. As for the lassi, I liked it but P was not a big fan (more for me!). I’ll say this: it was definitely a lassi, so if your mango beverage tastes run more toward juices or smoothies, it’s not for you.

Would I go back? Probably. It’s a seven-minute drive away, solidly good food for good prices (our total was less than $30), I had enough leftovers for another meal, and it’s one of few places around here that serves South Indian food. But have I had better? Yes. Udupi Palace (website | menu | Yelp) and Mayuri (website | menu | Yelp) in the South Bay are two examples that come to mind. Interestingly, Yelp had better things to say about Woodlands than either of those, but that may be more a result of geography than anything else.

Mutter Paneer: Homemade Cheese with Peas

by thefamilyfoodblog

About a week ago, I tried making mutter paneer for the first time. Mutter paneer, a popular Indian dish of fresh cheese cubes and peas in a tomato-based sauce, requires many small steps, and the paneer needs to sit overnight for best results. As I rarely plan out meals more than a few hours ahead of time (and that’s only when I get distracted at work and am daydreaming about 5pm), I’d never made it before. But it’s one of my favorites and as I’d learned on a recent trip home, not that hard apart from the planning aspect. So when I got a special birthday request to make it, it ended up being a good chance to try it out. Once I made the paneer, I loosely followed this recipe.

Mutter Paneer

Mutter paneer, ready to serve.


For paneer:

3 cups milk

1 tbsp distilled white vinegar

Cheesecloth and strainer

For sauce:

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp cooking oil

3/4 cup peas, room temperature

1 large white onion, chopped

1 large or 2 small tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped

1/2 green chili, finely chopped (add more if desired)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)

Dash of jeera/cumin powder

Dash of turmeric powder

Dash of salt


Cilantro to garnish (optional)


For paneer:

Boil 3 cups of milk on the stove for about 10 minutes, until it begins billowing out and forming a film. Add 1 tbsp distilled white vinegar and stir until the milk starts to form solids and the whey becomes clear, taking care to scrape the solids off the side of the pot. If it is not very clear, add a little more vinegar.

Place two layers of cheesecloth at the bottom of the strainer. Pour the milk mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Bundle and gather up the cheesecloth, being careful to avoid the heat, and place the bundle on a plate. Push down gently to get the water out. Put a weight on top of the bundle and set aside for 3 hours at room temperature.

Remove the cheesecloth and wrap paneer in one layer of absorbent paper towel, covered by one layer of aluminum foil. Wrap tightly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

For mutter paneer:

Cube and lightly saute the paneer in butter until it is slightly browned. Set aside.

In a medium pot, heat the cooking oil, and add onions. Sprinkle with salt and saute for about 5 minutes. Mix in ginger, green chili, garlic, cumin and turmeric, and saute for a minute. Add tomatoes and 1 tbsp water and saute for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Use a potato masher to blend the mixture into a coarse sauce.

Add peas and 1 cup of water. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add paneer and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. If necessary, add flour or cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Season with chopped cilantro and serve. I served the mutter paneer with store-bought naan and raita, a yogurt sauce with cumin, salt, pepper, and cilantro.

Summer Vegetable Pie, Oh My!

by mukwritesbooks

This flavorful veggie pie works both as the main entree or as a filling side dish.

I originally came across this recipe a few summers ago, and sent it to N so that she could try it out too.  While it’s a good guide for cooking instructions and ingredients (you can basically put in whatever vegetables you want), I’ve found that both times I made it, I needed to triple the cooking time. The recipe says 15 minutes, and when I made it yesterday, it stayed in the oven for about 50.  I have a feeling it’s because I sauteed the vegetables for longer than the suggested 3-5 minutes – making them softer and more watery.

In any case, it’s a light but filling dish that tastes just as good the next day, although I would suggest reheating in a toaster oven rather than the microwave to get the pastry crispy. I think I also do prefer the gruyere cheese as a topping, but my now 1/4-block of English cheddar was good too.

Before (left) and after (right) shots of the pie. Folding the pie crust so that it overlaps adds some nice texture and design to the dough.

Can’t Get More “Local” than This: Balcony Garden

by thefamilyfoodblog

Last year, after spending $3 for a tiny package of fresh basil and not using it up one too many times, I decided to start growing my own. Basily, as I oh-so-creatively named my plant, became my equivalent of a pet. I got friends to babysit him when out of town and even took him to work with me once (not on Take Your Child to Work Day, unfortunately. Or maybe fortunately). He grew well and contributed to many a bowl of pasta.

So perhaps it’s surprising that it took me so long to expand upon the idea and plant a whole balcony garden. But now that I have some outdoor space, it finally happened. The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, when apparently all of DC had the same idea – Home Depot’s nursery was mobbed – we put our garden together.

Balcony Garden

From left to right, in a sunny corner of the balcony: thyme, cilantro, oregano, Roma tomatoes, cucumber, and strawberries.

Yes, that fuzzy thing in the lower left corner of the photo is my thumb.

In the week since they were planted, I’ve already seen some growth. Particularly the cilantro plant, which was unceremoniously dumped on its head during the planting process. Oops. We’ve also got five little strawberry blossoms, under which you can see tiny green fruits starting to grow. Still in the works is finding some rosemary. I guess all those other people at Home Depot beat me to the rosemary plants.

Somewhat unrelated: Anyone out there a fan of the Munch Bunch books? You know, Aubrey Aubergine, Olly Onion, Button and Tiny the mushrooms? I think they were the inspiration for my plant naming strategy (e.g. Basily Basil). Speaking of Basily, you’ll notice that the patriarch of this group is missing from the photo. Rest easy, he’s back now and holding down the fort in the corner between the two planters.