Kitchens of India: Pav Bhaji (Mashed Vegetable Curry) Review

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Review:

This is one of my favorite quick lunches – just reheat and eat! Pav Bhaji is a type of mashed vegetable curry made primarily of potatoes, tomatoes, and peas blended with butter, ginger, and spices. Like many Indian vegetarian dishes, it is richly flavored and savory enough to be a hit with both vegetarians and meat eaters.

The ingredient list for Kitchens of India’s version of the dish is refreshingly short (just 10 ingredients) and doesn’t require a chemistry degree to understand, which is always a bonus in my book. I like to eat it by itself or with bread or naan for lunch, but it would also make a great side dish for an ethnic meal. If you’re on a diet, you will want to be a little careful of the serving size – this is not a low calorie food. The pouch it comes in contains approximately 2.5 servings of 210 calories each, so if, like me, you tend to eat the whole thing in one go, you’ll be consuming about 525 calories.

Kitchens of India’s Pav Bhaji is spicy, but not eye-wateringly so. I’d put it about a 2-3 on a scale of 1-10. That’s just about the right level for my taste, but of you love spicy foods, you may want to add more. Conversely, if you’re sensitive to capsicum, skip this one.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Endangered Species Chocolate Review

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Endangered Species Chocolate is our family’s favorite brand of chocolate bar. The 72% dark chocolate series in particular is excellent: velvety smooth and richly flavored without being either overly bitter or excessively sweet.

I also appreciate the ethics of the company, which is what initially induced my mother to pick up our first bar years ago. The company donates 10% of net profits to wildlife conservation organizations such as the African Wildlife Foundation and The Xerces Society (a personal favorite, due to its excellent work in the under-appreciated field of insect conservation). Endangered Species Chocolate bars are also made using ethically sourced chocolate and other ingredients. They are Rainforest Alliance certified and many of their products contain USDA organic ingredients or sustainably-sourced palm oil. Endangered Species chocolate bars are also Kosher and gluten-free, and some bars are vegan.

My only complaint is that melting and resetting the bars ruins the texture of the chocolate to a greater degree than you find with cheaper chocolates like Hershey, so be extremely careful about leaving these bars in a hot car!

As a premium chocolate brand, Endangered Species Chocolate bars are pricey. I’ve seen it as high as $4 per bar! Fortunately, they seem to go on sale pretty frequently at 2 for $5 or a similar rate, and we stock up during the sales. You can also lower the price per bar by buying in bulk via Amazon or other retailers.

Here are our family’s favorite (and not so favorite) flavors:

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Japanese Rice Washing Bowl Review

Review:

After purchasing the Work Bench ‘N Box toy tool set for my son, I realized that I was just a few dollars short of being able to get free shipping from Amazon, so I went looking for something cheap to make up the extra. I happened to stumble on this Japanese Rice Washing Bowl for $4.79 and clicked the buy button faster than you can say “Sushi!” Washing rice, buckwheat groats, and other small grains has been a major annoyance of mine for years, since some grains inevitably fall through or get stuck in my regular colander, and doing it in a bowl makes it difficult to drain properly without risking dumping everything in the sink. This bowl seemed like the answer to my prayers.

I was impressed by the sturdiness of the plastic when I pulled it out of the box and since receiving it, I’ve used it a number of times on various small grains and similar foods, as well as occasional larger things like mushrooms or Bing cherries. The holes on the bottom are so small that it can be a little difficult to get the last drops of water out, but there are somewhat larger holes near the top that can help. There is a lip below the larger holes that slows down the rice (or whatever you’re washing) while allowing water to escape. All-in-all, I’m very pleased with it and only wish I’d discovered it years ago.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

GreenGood Composter Model GG-20

greengood-electric-assist-composter After years of living in our own home, we had to move back into an apartment last year due to a change in jobs and a cross-country move. One of the things I miss most about my house is my compost pile and backyard chickens. My girls would come running whenever they saw me coming out the door with my silver compost pail, and they’d spend hours every day picking through the pile for edible scraps, worms, and other yummy treats. It was not just fun to watch, it also kept several pounds a week of vegetable peelings and other food waste out of the local landfill, while providing rich soil for my garden and reducing feed costs for the girls.

After saying goodbye to this idyllic scene, we moved into an apartment with a cramped kitchen, no balcony, and no municipal composting program, so I’ve been reluctantly forced to consign our food waste to the landfill. I hate it, and miss my girls more with every handful of carrot peelings I toss out, so I’ve been researching indoor composting options.

The most popular option for indoor composting seems to be vermicomposting, but as a lifelong cold composter, I’ve never bothered with fussy stuff like the ratio of green to brown waste – I just dump it all in as it becomes available and assume it will come out in the wash. And it does, albeit slowly. With worms, you have to worry about things like pH or they’ll die. I’ll be honest, it seems like too much work to get it right, and I don’t want to be responsible for a bunch of dead worms if when I inevitably mess up. I’m a softie and that sort of thing upsets me.

Compost tumblers may be another option, but I’ve heard odor can be a problem with them.

I was feeling a little discouraged about it all when I stumbled upon this article by The Green Mama, which introduced me to another option: The Red Dragon electric assist composter, aka GG-20. (Note: the article was written in 2012, and the model now appears to be silver.)

According to the review, the Red Dragon odorlessly converted kitchen scraps into compost within 12-24 hours, all in the space of a typical trash can. Zowie! Perfect for a cramped kitchen like mine!

Here’s a video of the Red Dragon’s big brother the White Dragon at work:

Now the downsides:

First, cost and availability. The Green Mama’s review reports that electric assist composters cost $300-900. Ouch. The Red Dragon itself seems to be a Korean product and not widely available in North America, though I found a Canadian owner who reported a price of $680.

Second, electricity consumption. My first reaction to the concept of an electric-assist composter was bafflement over why one would add electricity to a process that doesn’t need it, especially when a large part of the motivation for composting in the first place is to go green. The manufacturer’s website reports that the unit requires a relatively substantial 60-90 kWh/month which is comparable to the energy consumption of a 14-19 cubic foot Energy Star refrigerator.

Despite my concerns about the energy consumption, I’ve decided to tentatively add the GreenGood GG-20 to my wishlist because the size, speed, and odorlessness with which it operates sounds perfect for my needs in other respects, but I’d love to hear more accounts from people who have owned or tested the Red Dragon or its successor, the Silver Dragon. Does it work as well as reported?

The Roasted Vegetable

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Review:

Want to read

I’ve recently been rediscovering the joys of roasted vegetables thanks to recipes such as this Roasted Cauliflower With Cumin Seeds and would like to continue expanding my repertoire and experimenting with the most successful ways to get vegetables into my daughter’s tummy. This book not only focuses on roasted vegetables, it also gets great reviews.

Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories

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Review:

Want to read

I have a go-to stir-fry recipe taught to me by my father that works well and is a family favorite, but I’d like to expand my skills and this cookbook has come highly recommended from many sources.

Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking

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Review:

Want to read

I’ve heard many wonderful things about Fuchsia Dunlop’s Chinese cookbooks (which also include Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking and Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province) but have never prepared any of the recipes. This one seems like it might be the best choice of the three for beginners (I enjoy Chinese cuisine, but have had mixed success cooking it myself) thanks to the “home cooking” aspect – I don’t need to re-create a Chinese wedding feast, just feed my family with simple, delicious, and healthful food.

The Redwall Cookbook

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Review:

Want to read

I blame Brian Jacques for my fondness for books with great food descriptions. Though the fictional feasts of Redwall don’t have quite as much variety as those of Westeros, they always made my mouth water and I’m quite curious to see how some of them actually taste.

The Yummy Mummy Kitchen: 100 Effortless and Irresistible Recipes to Nourish Your Family with Style and Grace Cookbook Review

Review:

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I checked this out from the library during one of my periodic attempts to add some new dishes to my repertoire. I liked the emphasis on fresh, whole foods and (mostly) meatless meals. Plus, the book is simply gorgeous to look at. Attractive food photography makes a big difference in how likely I am to actually try any recipes, and this book’s food photography is top-notch, so I ended up trying several and photo-copying a bunch more for my “To Try” folder.

The recipes I’ve tried so far were all relatively simple and easy to make, and very tasty. The Crispy Baked Fish and Chips recipe was a family favorite that’s now entered our regular rotation, and we liked the Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, too, though we preferred our old Moosewood standby, Pasta al Cavolfiore. However, some of the other recipes contained unusual ingredients or things that I don’t think I could realistically get my 7 year old to eat. (By kid standards, she’s only moderately picky, but that’s still plenty picky enough.) I would recommend this book more for families with kids who have somewhat more mature and/or naturally adventurous palates.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Cast Iron Wok Review

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Review:

This is a cast iron wok with black enamel exterior. I’ve used it on both flat top electric and gas stoves with success. I was impressed with The Wok Shop’s customer service.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)