Thursday, December 26, 2013

Curry Lentil Wontons

So, there I was on Christmas day celebrating someone else's holiday with my family by hiding away in our house. I didn't want to go out for the stereotypical Chinese meal, and even if I did, my wife is not terribly fond of Chinese food. Indian food, on the other hand...that's a whole different story. We all love Indian food.

Indian food is the new Chinese. But I felt a tug toward my stereotypical heritage and felt that I had to bridge the two cultures together. So, I developed the recipe below to celebrate two nationalities not my own on a holiday not my own. Nondenominational deity bless America!

Curry Lentil Wontons

  • ½ cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 roma tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger root
  • 1 cup dried red lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 tsp madras curry powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • Enough canola or peanut oil to deep fry

Sort through the lentils to remove any stones, and rinse and drain the lentils. Saute the onions, tomato, and ginger in 1 tablespoon of oil until the onions are translucent. Remove from heat and add 2 cups of water and 1 cup of lentils. Return to medium heat and cook for about 30 minutes or just until the water is absorbed and the lentils are soft. In the last five to ten minutes of cooking, add the curry powder, cinnamon, and salt. While the lentils are cooking, cook the brown rice in a separate pot in two cups of water. When both rice and lentils are fully cooked, mix the two together.

Heat a couple of inches of oil in a small pot to 350 degrees F. Dampen two edges of the square wonton wrapper with water. Place one tablespoon of filling in the center of the wonton wrapper and fold diagonally, sealing the edges. Fold the corners of the triangle over and press down gently to maintain the shape. Fry each wonton in the oil just until the skin is light brown. Transfer to a rack or paper towels to drain. Serve with tamarind sauce.

NOTE: I'm sure my way of folding the wontons is nowhere near traditional, but it works for me. If you have a better way to fold, go for it. Where melding cultures here anyway. Nothing is sacrosanct.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Musings on the Hilly Hundred

According to America’s Health Ratings, Indiana was ranked 41st in overall health and 42nd specifically in physical inactivity . Therefore, it’s heartening to discover that the hard core bicycling community is still going strong in central Indiana. This weekend marked the 46th annual Hilly Hundred, a challenging bike tour in which 5,000 entrants mostly from Indiana bike 100 miles in two days through the hills of southern Indiana, climbing over 6700 feet total. It’s a moderate challenge to the uber racers, a major challenge to the super riders, and a grueling ordeal to everyone else. I should know since I just completed my 4th Hilly. Cue dramatic music.

Of course, the weekend is immense fun. They feed you, fête you, and cheer you on. The rest stops have donuts, muffins, apples, bananas, cider, and granola bars. Lunch is a modest affair, but there is plenty of food available, even for vegetarians like me. They give you ice cream, bands play at the rest stops, you get a t-shirt, and the vendors in the vendor tent separate you from your money an artistic flair. And then they kick your butt throughout the hills of Indiana.

Here are some semi-random thoughts and observations regarding the weekend.

Be proud of your accomplishments. My goals for the Hilly Hundred were to a) finish the entire ride, b) not be the last person to finish, and c) ride (not walk) the ENTIRE ride. And yes, I did all three. I rode up Mt. Tabor without walking, all 0.2 miles of 20% spank your bottom grade. And I rode up the hills in Bean Blossom, all 2.0 miles of slap your face. Of course, since all the other riders are also riding these hills, I have to go back home before I get any real appreciation.

There is always someone faster than you and someone slower than you. I try not to judge my progress by how many people pass me on the road, but sometimes it’s difficult, especially when half the ride is zooming past me, and the other half would zoom past me if they hadn't started at 10:00am instead of 8:00am. So, I can’t help but feel some personal pride every time I pass another rider. Of course, the riders I passed included a 70 year-old woman, a 12-year old boy, a guy on a unicycle, and another guy fixing his tire.

The Hilly is a great time to make new friends. This year, I rode part of the Saturday run with an attractive 23-year old chemist. She told me that she is a runner much more than a bike rider, which I could pretty much tell by the lack of any fat on her body. Nonetheless, she dusted me on most of the hills. I took a small amount of pride in passing her when coasting down the hill. I told my wife that this was because I had a superior bike. “You don’t think it had something to do with the mass differential?” she asked. “Shut up,” I suggested helpfully.

Wind is not your friend. Or rain. Or cold. On Saturday we had all three. So, I had a second donut to make up for it. It kind of helped.

The Hilly is a great time to meet up with old friends. I have some friends that I literally see once a year at the ride. We typically start together, and they proceed to leave me in the dust. But they meet up with me at the rest stops, and we talk about our past year. Today, one of my friends was talking about his new bike. I mentioned that the bike can make all the difference. I told them about the young lady I rode with yesterday, and how my superior bike coasted past her on the downhill. “I think that has more to do with the difference in weight than the bike,” my friend commented. “Shut up, “ I suggested helpfully.

Sometimes it is all about the physics. Last year, I asked my coworker, an avid biker, how I could improve my speed without getting a new bike. “You know,” he said with a smile, “it’s usually more about the rider than it is the bike. You have to improve your legs and reduce your center of gravity.” So, this year at the vendor tent, I bypassed the fancy new tires and frames and handlebars , and I looked for someone selling new legs. Can you believe it? No one was selling. What’s up with that? I was so disappointed. The best I could do was lower my center of gravity. So, I had another pumpkin spice donut.

You are never too old to ride the Hilly Hundred. I don’t have any official statistics, but my unscientific assessment is that the median age of the riders was about 48. There were lots of young, college-age uber racers in their full regalia, but there were plenty of men and women in their 60s zooming past me as well. Of course, many of them have paid off their mortgages, so they can pour more money into their bikes and equipment. Yeah, I’m sure that’s why the portly old man was passing me on the hill. Either that, or he found the vendor selling the new legs.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Coconut Lime Rum Cake

What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with a rum cake? OK, in all honesty, what holiday is NOT made better with a rum cake? I invented this recipe by cobbling together a number of other recipes and adding my own touches. Enjoy!

One note. To make a less alcoholic rum cake, add the rum to the syrup while it is boiling instead of adding it at the very end.

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs plus 3 large yolks
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ¾ cup well-stirred sweetened cream of coconut such as Coco López
  • 2 tablespoons rum

Rum Syrup

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • juice of one lime
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup rum

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Lightly butter cake pan, coat pan with flour, and tap out excess flour.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

With an electric mixer, Mix together whole eggs and yolks, sugar, vanilla, rum, and Coco López in a large bowl. Gradually mix in flour mixture until combined, then mix in butter until just combined. Pour into cake pan and rap pan on counter to expel air bubbles.

Bake until golden brown and cake starts to pull away from side of pan, about 45 minutes. While cake is baking, prepare the rum syrup. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Once it is melted, add the sugar, water, lime juice, coconut, and pinch of salt. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat and stir in the rum. Once it is mixed in, return the pan to medium heat for about 30 seconds.

When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately pour about one-third of the rum syrup over the bottom of the cake. Pour slowly so the sauce has time to seep into the cake. Cool the cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Invert cake onto rack and cool 10 minutes more. Once cool, carefully remove bundt pan from cake. Using a fork or skewer, poke holes all over the top and sides of the cake. Slowly pour the remaining syrup over the top of the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. If any of the syrup pools at the bottom, scoop it up with a small spoon and repour over top of cake.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Avocado Orange Salsa Relish

Happy Cinco de Mayo, y'all. To celebrate, I created a new recipe which I added to our meal of cheese enchiladas, salsa picante, and chips. Since I'm the only one in the house who will eat avocado, I had the salsa relish all to myself. However, I was fine with that. Please feel free to try out the recipe for yourself.

3 avocados
1 orange
½ cup onion
1 jalapeno
¼ cup cilantro
1 cup cooked corn
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin

Zest the orange and mix with lime juice, chili powder, and cumin. Peel the orange, remove the pith, and chop into small pieces. Chop the onion, jalapeno, and  cilantro, and mix together with corn, orange, lime juice, and spices. Mix together the orange, onion, cilantro, and corn with the lime juice and spices. Coursely chop the avocado and mix into the rest of the ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste.

Happy Star Wars Day

Happy Star Wars Day. May the fourth be with you. 

As the "holiday" approached, my family knew that we needed to celebrate, or at least commemorate, Star Wars day in some small way, but frankly, the observance was getting to be somewhat perfunctory. Frankly, I was getting bored with the Lucas Grand Vision. Sure, we could have watched A New Hope for the 100th time and recited the script. Sure, we could have made up a drinking game to go along with Return of the Jedi. Sure, we could have played Mystery Science Theater 3000 with Revenge of the Sith. Well, maybe we couldn’t have done that last one. Some things are just too painful to mock. It would be like mooning a person with terminal cancer. It just isn’t done.  

I figured at least we could model our dinner meal around Star Wars to at least show our geek patriotism in some way, but all of the Stars Wars-themed recipes on the Internet were pretty pathetic. Most were along the lines of “wookie cookies,” which, to my surprise, did not actually contain real animal hair. Clearly, it was up to me to create a proper Star Wars meal. So, with the help of my family, we did just that. Actually, my wife came up with most of the ideas. It was just left up to me to turn them into recipes and actually make the food.

The meal consisted of a Tatooine coconut curry on couscous (representing the sand and the exotic desert culture), a Dagobah swamp stir fry (watery vegetables all in shades of green and white), and a Hoth smoothie (frozen bananas, coconut, soy milk, and vanilla frozen yogurt). For dessert we had frozen yogurt with Magic represent Han Solo in the carbonite. Clever, right? 

The Dagobah stir fry (water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, baby corn, bok choy, green beans, tofu, and an experimental sauce that I will never again repeat) was not a big hit, but most of the family members loved the curry and the smoothie. The recipes for both of them follow. 

Of course, now that Star Wars Day is over, I need to get going on tomorrow’s menu for Cinco de Mayo. Maybe I’ll make some wookie enchiladas. Without the animal hair.


3 green onions
2 cloves garlic
2-4 carrots (about 1 cup chopped)
1 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
15 oz can coconut milk
15 oz can tomato sauce
15 oz can chick peas
1-2 dashes of Tabasco sauce
1 cup dried cous cous
1 cup water

Chop the onions and press the garlic. Saute both in  large frying pan in the oil about 1 minute, then add the carrots and sauté a couple more minutes till the carrots are just tender. Drain and rinse the chick peas. Stir into the pan the curry powder, cumin, coconut milk, tomato sauce, chick peas, and Tabasco sauce (or other hot sauce) and simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, cook cous cous to directions separately and fluff with fork.  Serves 6-8. Or possibly 3-4 if you are hungry.

Note: I actually made homemade paneer (Indian cheese) and added chunks of the cheese to the curry. However, the chunks dissolved in the curry, simply thickening the sauce. I personally don’t think the paneer is necessary for the curry, but I leave it for y’all to decide when you make the recipe yourself.


3 frozen bananas
¼ cup finely shredded coconut
2 cups soy milk
2 cups vanilla frozen yoghurt

Blend all ingredients in blender till smooth but not melted. Serves 4.