Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Season's best wishes to all of you from our kitchen at Ginger & Garlic! May the new year bring us all peace and happiness and get us closer to achieving our dreams, big and small :)

Here is to wishing all of you lots of delicious cooking, eating and love to spread this season...

Here is a Christmas fruit tree I prepared many years ago which still continues to be a huge reader's favorite after so many years.. super easy and always gets the oohs and aahs and wows whichever Christmas party it goes... enjoy!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vegetable Biryani

Biryani is like the ultimate rich comfort yet classy food for us. It is also a dish I feel is made for potlucks and get togethers. It travels well and is made to be cooked ahead. You can make it as simple or as rich as you want with addition of roasted cashews, raisins and deep saffron.

When perfectly spiced, biryani can be as warming to the Indian soul as people would say chicken soup is over here :)

I have made chicken biryani a few times but we make veggie biryani a lot more often. I like the veggies slightly undercooked, but if you want fully cooked veggies then just increase the veggie cooking time by 5 mins and check for doneness.

Every biryani needs a yogurt raita to tango. Our yogurt raita is usually super simple, just beaten non-fat yogurt, grated half a carrot, few mint leaves torn, salt, pepper and pinch of cumin powder. Mix, taste and let rest in refrigerator.

If there are two things I feel are crucial to this biryani they are fresh mint leaves and a good quality saffron. I add mint leaves at every stage - while rice is cooking, while veggies and simmering and also in raita. It gives a wonderful aroma and balances the rich spices very nicely!

There are a few steps in this dish but with proper planning it can go from start to finish in less than an hour and is sure to be a crowd pleaser!

Recipe:

Rice:
1.5C rice (ideally basmati, but any long grain rice should do)
2.5C water
6 cardamom pods, 3 bay leaves, short cinnamon stick, handful of fresh mint leaves
dash of oil & salt

Mix everything together. Cook in rice cooker. Turn off heat a little before cooker says rice is done. Keep checking periodically - I look for a stage where water is just absorbed and grains are separate but rice is not fully cooked - about 80% cooked.

Remove from rice cooker. Spread in a large plate and fluff. Add a touch of ghee or butter. And leet cool to room temp.

Veggies:
1C cauliflower florets, 1 carrot chopped, 3 small potatoes - chopped, 1/2 red pepper, few musrooms (really any combination of 2-3C chopped veggies)
2Tsbp oil
1/2tsp mustard seeds and cumin seeds each
1/2tsp turrmeric powder
2tsp biryani spice blend
1/4C water
1/4C yogurt
few mint sprigs
salt

Heat oil. When hot, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric powder and biryani masala. Add all the veggies, water, salt and cover and let cook for 5-7 mins. Then remove from heat and add yogurt. Mix well. Let cool uncovered.

Toppings:
Fried onions:
1/2 of large onion - sliced. Heat in 2 Tbsp oil over low-med heat until onions are nicely browned and slightly crunchy. Set aside

Roasted handful of cashews

Warm 2Tbsp milk and add 1/4tsp saffron strands. Mix well and let sit.

2Tsbp beaten yogurt

Chopped cilantro and lemon wedges

Layering:
Pre-heat oven to 375
In a largee cassarole pan, layer 1/4th of the rice. Then add 1/2 of veggie mix. Dash over some saffron milk and a Tsbp yogurt. Repeat with another layer of rice and veggies. Top with another rice round. Add more saffron milk, cashews, half of fried onions on top. Seal tightly with an aluminium wrap and then close the lid.

Cook for 20mins @375.

Remove from oven, garnish with cilantro and remaining fried onions and serve warm with raita and lemon wedges.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pesto Pinwheels

Holiday season is a time for family, friends, lots of chats and laughter and an endless stream of potlucks! 

We kickstarted the holiday season with two potlucks. I signed up to bring appetizers for both. I love to bring appetizers because that's a course which gets the first share of hungry tummys. And besides with a side of a good glass of wine and a healthy appetite, anything tastes super great and gushing compliments are over to the cook :)

I brought these pinwheels for both potlucks. They are super easy - I mean really can not get any easier and are guaranteed crowd pleasers.

I have always had people ask for more beyond what I made and that I consider as a crowd pleasing appetizer!

During holidays I always keep a packet of frozen puff pastry dough from Trader Joe's and a couple of pestos - the usual basil pesto, sun dried tomato pesto - and that's all you need for this recipe.

The only forward looking prep is to thaw the dough in refrigerator. Then a half an hour before serving take it out on counter and unroll. Spread a thin layer of one or multiple pestos. Roll it back up. Using a serated knife cut small rounds lenghwise (so you get more rounds). Bake at 400F for 12-15 mins or as per pastry package instructions.

That's it - you have a green pesto pinwheel, or a holiday red and green pinwheels or let your imagination be unbound!

These pinwheels travel well too. You can always assemble at the host's kitchen or make them in advance and just pop in microwave or pre-heated oven for a few minutes before serving. And I usually just serve them on their own, no other condiments necessary.

This appetizer is also great for chilly evenings - just make a batch, serve with your favorite wine or beer and munch and sip while watching a good movie -- one of the many blisses of a merry season :)    

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Banana Cake

It was my daughter's birthday recently.. I can't believe how fast time has flown! She is also my sous-chef in the kitchen - she is foodie by birth and just like her mom loves cooking and eating and restaurant hunting :)

Every year for her birthday I try to make fancier cakes like almond cake or chocolate cake with frosting but this year I thought of making a simple banana cake. She loves banana bread and after many iterations I have a much less fattier version of banana bread which we love eating. So I thought why not try that into a cake? 

The result was absolutely delicious! And we devoured the full cake in a matter of 2 days. This is absolutely going to be my go-to kids cake. 

I avoid frosting as much as I can on kids cakes, so we skipped frosting and instead dusted the cake with powdered sugar. But by all means frost away! Vanilla buttercream frosting would be divine with this cake!

Recipe:

Ingredients:
4 ripe bananas - smashed with potato smasher
5Tbsp unsalted butter - melted
1 egg - beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
handful of chopped walnuts (optional)
handful of dried cranberry (optional)
1.5C all purpose flour
1/2C + 2Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1.5tsp baking soda

Recipe:
Pre-heat oven to 360F

Mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking soda). Set aside.

Mix wet ingredients (bananas, butter, egg, vanilla extract). Add walnuts and cranberries. Mix well.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

Grease a 9" round baking pan with butter. Pour cake batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 mins until the top is slightly browned and center is cooked through (insert a toothpick to check). 

Remove from oven and let cook on a rack for 20 mins before prying the cake out of the pan.

Serve warm or cold - but we like our banana cake warm!


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Happy 7th Blogversary to Ginger & Garlic!

This November Ginger & Garlic turned 7 - wow, I can't believe it was 7 years ago that I wrote my very first quinoa salad post. I never thought anyone would read it. And I was ecstatic when someone did read it and comment!

It has been a long journey since then. To some extent I think the changes in how I blog reflect my own personal journey over the last 7 years. And this 7 year blogversary is making me sentimental enough to walk down the memory lanes....
Carrots with Saffron & Cardamom

This blog started off with a simple enough reason. I rarely set foot in kitchen until I moved to US for grad school. I was trying to be a better cook, reading recipes on internet, on the many blogs popping up in 2008-2009 timeframe and experimenting a lot with various recipes and cooking techniques. 

I also wanted to improve my photography -- and most importantly, I love to write, always have! This is probably the primary reason I blog; I love to write. Anything. And cooking was a great medium for me.

In an alternate universe I wish to be a successful chef and a writer, owning a beach front house where I just write, cook & bake. In this universe, I am happy to be a working mom who loves to food blog :)

The blog started off at a point when I had a major lull in my career - I felt stuck where I was and felt a bit helpless. I wanted a metaphorical escape. My husband, always the supportive type, encouraged me to start a blog, which he said will add up to something over the years - sort of like a digital diary/recipe box. I agreed. And started Ginger & Garlic.

As are most new bloggers, I was attention seeking, number of comments on a post signified to me the value of that post - and that's what I chased by posting often, posting more fancy things, blog networking etc etc. It worked. The blog was vibrant and I felt like a part of blogger community. I was super happy but not fully satisfied deep down, I think.

Around then life happened. My career picked up, a few great opportunities (in hindsight) came along at work, I jumped on them and worked like crazy; often neglected the blog for months at a time. But the blog was always at the back of my mind - every weekend I would open up the webpage and browse through old postings, always with a smile on my face :)

And then we decided to start a family. The morning sickness put me off of food in general and I couldn't even look at food pictures, let alone blog about food. So came the longest break from first trimester through the birth of the baby. I picked up steam during my maternity leave finding time to blog about cooking as a new mom - it was a wonderful period!

And then career picked up again. None of these things are planned. An opportunity comes your way, you pounce on it and do the best you can. It was a simple matter of prioritization then - family, work and some time for personal care. The blog always took the hit :(

But one thing I did not want to happen is to kill the blog or orphan it. So I came up with a new plan. The holidays Nov-Dec, right when work tempers down is when I'll invest in my blog. Then by spring time I am back in my got-to-prioritize routine. It's not much, but it's something. And something is better than nothing.

Over the years I also learnt to be true to why I blog. It is not for appreciation or acknowledgement. There are readers who will always read no matter how infrequently I post; and then there is Google which will ensure good content stays on through search., I learnt to let go of chasing appreciation and instead focused more on creating a portal where I can write about what I cherish - something which I hope to hand down to my daughter.

Something I hope she will read to her kids when she grows up and something I'll look back years from today to immerse myself in the time of "back-then" as if it never left me.... and that's why I blog.

Happy 7th Blogversary, Ginger & Garlic!    

Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving and Let The Holiday Season Begin!

A very happy thanksgiving to everyone who celebrated. Our thanksgiving was a quiet affair spent talking and eating and sipping wine with friends at home lazily over the course of an afternoon! 

For me there is so much to be thankful for this year - from family and friends to work to our house to my daughter's wonderful teachers and of-course all of you readers!

Thanksgiving is officially a home cook's holiday - a time to celebrate every home cook laboring over the stoves or ovens to put a warm and delicious food on table for their loved ones day after day. Thanksgiving always puts me into the gear for the upcoming holiday season and for emptying that recipe bookmarks I let build over the year.

The menu this thanksgiving was a set of simple oven heavy dishes. I love oven only recipes in winter, you avoid the wait and watch and stir phase next to the stove which just means extra time for sipping tea or playing with daughter.
Pumpkin Pie

We had a turkey free dinner so chicken was the star of the table instead. I cooked NYTimes Sam Sifton's roasted chicken provencal - which is a super simple roasted chicken seasoned with liberal amounts of herbs de provence (blend off rosemary, thyme, majoram and other French herbs) baked with lemon slices, potato wedges and whole cloves of garlic. It's a dish that fills here
Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup
your kitchen with warm heart-warming aromas and really could not be any easier to make! I'll snap a pic next time we make it. But do visit the recipe

Holiday Pinwheels
For starters I made holiday pinwheels again - a super simple dish - just needs puff pasty and a blend of pestos (or one, whatever you have at hand). No matter how many pinwheels I make, there is always someone asking for more - and that's a sign of a successful appetizer :)

There were three sides - my daughter, now an almost 5 year old, whipped together a cranberry chutney from Trader Joe's crushed cranberries.

We made some roasted red peppers and tomato soup with garlic bread to go-along with it and some roasted sweet potatoes seasoned with local honey, olive oil and S&P.
Vegertable Biryani

For vegetarian guests there was a veg biryani made with cauliflowers, potatoes and carrots; topped with roasted cashews, saffron and fried onions.
Cranberry Chutney & Honey Roasted SWeet Potatoes
And the dessert was the quint-essential thanksgiving dessert - a home-made pumpkin pie! I used this Allrecipes. Pie turned out wonderful - I increased the seasoning and added some fresh grated ginger for additional perk of flavors. We enjoyed the pie with some home-made whipped cream.

Hope you all had a wonderful thanksgiving and let the holiday season or eating or shopping or whatever it is that you do -  begin!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Strawberry Muffins

Really, is being foodie a gene we pass around from mother to child?

Last week I reached home from work and I got an excited call from my four year old who has just been picked up from her preschool by her dad.

"Mommy, I have a great idea - let's bake something today! Let's bake cherry pie!" she said in her most excited voice. 

It was a school night and I had plans for dinner and then had some office work lined up -- so I tried to derail her from the plan "but we don't have pie crust at home honey, so let's bake on the weekend, okay?" I say. 

Being a true foodie, to that she says "but we can make it, right? you can ask Google how to make crust! Google knows everything" 

hmmm.. "well yes, I can do that but how about we go to park instead or (reluctantly) may be I'll let you watch a Daniel Tiger instead!"... "no, let's bake something please" she says.

Wow, if today baking ranks above park and (gasp) TV then two things are for certain: 1) we are baking something today and 2) I have got a little foodie at my hand -- foodie is indeed a gene!

Pie crusts can be tedious so we instead settled on using up some of the fresh spring strawberries from farmer's market to make strawberry muffins instead.
Muffins are super easy, here is what you will need:
(makes 9-10 large muffins)
Dry ingredients:
  • 1-3/4 C whole wheat or all purpose flour
  • 1/2 C brown sugar or white granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • handful of chopped walnuts (optional)
Wet ingredients:
  • 1.5 C chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1/2C milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C vegetable oil
Recipe is super simple too:
  • Pre-heat oven to 375
  • Mix the dry ingredients and set aside
  • Mix the wet ingredients
  • Add the dry mix to the wet ingredients and mix well
  • Line up a muffin tray with liners. Add enough muffin mix to each pod to fill it completely
  • Bake for 20-25 mins until the top looks toasted and it's cooked through (insert a toothpick in one muffin to check)
  • Remove from oven and enjoy!
So that's how we spent our evening -- baking muffins, then taking their photos and devouring them with milk and a hot cup of green tea!
  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Baked Kale Chips

I am a hand-me-down owner of a large vegetable patch dedicated to many varieties of kale at our home. One of the many things the previous owner had loved and cared for when they were here.

And even with my minimal care which is mostly trial and error based, the kale is flourishing! Now the only problem is I have to find more ways to use up the kale and fast! :) 

I make kale daal, going to try kale paratha, have a favorite quinoa and kale mediterranean salad with almonds (recipe coming soon!) but the one tried and trusted kale recipe we have come to love is this baked kale chips!

These chips are nice and crunchy and you can play with seasonings a bit to what you like. Believe me you can't eat just one! But unlike other chips, in this case it's guiltless grazing, cool, right? :)

These are super easy to prepare and are very nutritious and healthy snack. I make two baked tray full of kale chips over the weekend and keep a bowl full of chips right on the kitchen table which is the perfect place to snack around.  

There are many other ways to use up the chips too: I crush the chips and add them to rice or salads sometime for color and texture. They go really well with morning oatmeal or smoothies. But really they almost always seem to vanish themselves right off of the bowl :)

Making them is easy:

  • Take 4-5 large curly kale leaves and using hands tear the leaves into small pieces
  • Wash the leaves well and dry them *completely* (drying takes time, but this is very important so take your time)
  • Pre-heat oven to 350F
  • Line a large baking tray with parchment paper and add the kale leaves in a thin layer (don't overcrowd otherwise you won't get the crunchy effects)
  • Drizzle with olive oil, salt and paper and using your hands ensure the leaves are well coated with oil.
  • Bake for 12-15mins (12 mins will give you moderate crunch with still a few soft bits; 15mins will be super crunchy)
  • Take off of oven and eat!
Sometimes I also drizzle with lemon juice after they are out of oven for a tarty taste! Or sprinkle some chili flakes before baking if I am making it for adults.

Either way, so healthy and quick... this is our #1 way to enjoy this superfood!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Chard Parathas

Staring at leftover of a large bunch of chard leaves from farmer's market, I tried thinking of some creative ways to use it for a Friday night dinner. Nothing popped up so finally settled on making just the regular usual parathas but for the first time with chard instead of the usual paratha greens of methi or spinach.

It turned out great and I thought it was a nice way of adding chard to our meals. Empowered by this experiement, I'll be trying kale parathas next and will of-course let you know how that goes :)

Otherwise the recipe is the usual paratha recipe: make a dough of 2.5C whole wheat flour, add finely chopped 5-6 chard leaves, 4-5 cloves of grated garlic, 1 Tbsp vegetable oil, 1/2tsp turmeric powder, 1tsp cumin powder, 1/2tsp garam masala and salt. Add enough water to make a pliable dough (chard releases some water, so add less than what you would otherwise add for 2.5C of water - I usually aim at 1C water).

Then let the dough rest for 30mins. Roll the parathas and cook each with 1tsp oil on hot cast iron or non-stick pan. Enjoy with raita or as I did with some harissa bought at farmer's market drizzled with olive oil -- so tasty!

  

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Semi-homemade Falafel Pita Pockets

These falafel pita pockets are the best for warm weather lunches or picnics! They are my go-to Saturday lunch after we have done our Saturday morning ritual of farmer's market and Trader Joe's and there is just not enough time to devote to lunch. 

It literally takes 15 minutes to put this together to put lunch on table and that's because it's semi-homemade :)

You know how Trader Joe's has this little sampler foods you can try; one day they gave out samples for these frozen falafels and I thought it was great quality particularly for frozen. The cooking instructions accordingly were super simple 3min in microwave or 10-15mins in oven. I usually go for microwave. Each pocket has 12 small sized falafels which is perfect portion for 3 of us.
  
I always have a packet of whole wheat pitas in the fridge, also from Trader Joe's.

We have a great hummus lady at the farmer's market - I regularly buy a packet of her baba ganoush and harissa (green chili paste) (pictured above). Both are great additions and provide a nice kick to the grown up version of these pockets. Hummas and hot sauce would be the store bought alternatives.

Now for the home-made portion: I whip up a quick tzatiki -- add few Tbsp yogurt + one grated cucumber, just squeeze after grating to remove as much water + splash of olive oil + 1tsp lemon juice + pinch of dried dill + S&P. Just mix and serve!

I prep a bunch of veggies to add to pockets - like thinly sliced red pepper, onions, sliced cucumbers, sliced avocados, even some chopped kale or spinach will go wonderfully!

Warm up the pitas in oven or on stovetop. Gather everything on table and call out for lunch! Or pack up everything and head out to a picnic to enjoy these gorgeous spring days!

Everyone can make their pockets how they like, more veggies or less veggies, super spicy or no spice - either way these are always a super hit.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Mini Blueberry Muffins for Kids Lunchboxes

My daughter, who is now 4+, and I love baking together! Often she is the baking initiator  between the two of us.

She mixes the dry ingredients, preps the baking tray, licks the spoon and of-course does the perfect job of anxiously waiting and jumping around to see when the baked goodies would be done :) 

Recently we bought a large box of blueberries from Trader Joe's which turned out not as sweet as usual so they ended up waiting to be used up. And when that coincided with my daughter's "let's bake something, Mommy", blueberry muffins it was!

I have got to say I love my new mini muffin tray. I always felt the size of a regular muffin too large for one portion and really who has the will power to split the muffin in two and only eat one half? Definitely not a 4 year old or mom of a 4 year old! So when I saw the mini-muffin tray at Target, I quickly put one in the cart along-with a mini-muffin liner set.

The recipe is a derivation of the Allrecipes version - my main variation was to reduce sugar and add more fruit and to skip the crumb topping altogether. 

The muffins turned out great! 

Recipe:
Source: Allrecipes
Makes 16 -18 mini-muffins
Ingredients:
1.5C AP flour
1/2C sugar
1/2tsp salt
2tsp baking powder
1/3C vegetable oil
1/3C milk
1 egg
dash of vanilla extract
1.5C blueberries - fresh, rinsed and dried

Recipe:
Preheat oven to 400F

Mix the dry ingredients and set aside.

Beat an egg, add oil and milk to it. Mix well. Add vanilla extract. Then add all the blueberries and coat well.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Mix well.

Line a mini-muffin tray with liners. Add muffin mix to each and bake for 20-25 mins until top is crucnhy and the muffin is cooked through (insert a toothpick to check)

Remove from oven. Cool on a rack for few minutes. Enjoy!


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Get Them Before They Go - Asparagus

(Get Them Before They Go: In this series we feature a seasonal produce or fruit our family is thoroughly enjoying these days. Infact we are enjoying it so much that we think it deserves you opening another tab of your browser right now and finding out your nearest farmer's market to visit (or a local CSA or a seasonal grocer)! 

We at G&G believe in simple & quick recipes with local and seasonal produce made with care for family dinner tables. Not only you will be enjoying fresh bounties of the nature without the preservatives and 1000s of food miles, you will also be helping the local farmer's ecosystem and sustainable growing. And seasonal vegetables picked hours before just taste so much better - you got to try it to believe! So.. get them before they go)

Spring is the season for Asparagus. Last weekend I saw first asparagus shop sprouted up in our farmer's market and bought my first bunch of asparagus for the season. While you can find asparagus year around in supermarkets, they are there only for about 5-6 weeks in farmer's markets starting about now in early spring.

When buying asparagus look for tender stocks; I feel the tender once are more packed in flavor and have fewer tough ends.
Roasted Asparagus seasoned with Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Chilli  flakes and Lemon juice
I learnt a trick to avoid cooking with tough ends - you hold an asparagus, one end in one hand each. Bend lightly until it snaps on it's own. The place where it snaps is the general place you should chop off rest of the asparagus of that bunch so you get the soft flesh and not the hard ends. Don't through away the hard ends however, they are great to make a stock or grate and use in frittattas.

Asparagus is a well-known vegetable in US so there are abundant recipes of asparagus on internet. I'll list here some of my favorite ways to cook asparagus.

1) Roasted Asparagus wih Salt, Pepper, Chili flakes and Lemon
This is my most favorite way of eating asparagus. Prepapre them by chopping tough ends (see abov). Drizzle with olive oil, coarse salt, chilli paper flakes and pepper. Roast in 400F oven for about 15-20mins so they crunchy but soft inside. Remove from oven and sprinkle with lemon juice, serve hot as a side.

Note: you can play with oven temps and cooking times or turning broiler on for last 2 minutes if you like them browned.

2) Grilled asparagus

3) Steamed and sauteed

4) Chopped asparagus in noodle dishes such as Lo Mein or Soba

5) Asparagus can be a nice substitute to cauliflowers in masale bhat (Indian spiced rice).

Whichever way you like them, make sure you don't loose them out this season!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Citrus Blossoms!

Have you ever smelled an orange blossom? If not, I urge you to visit any of the orange farms or the many home grown citrus trees which are blossoming with the heavely smelling white flowers all around California, and perhaps other parts of the country, at this time! 
Blood Orange Blossom
To me, it's the most refreshing, invigorating and pure smell that has even been invented! Better than any flowers, way better than any artificial fragrances!

My earliest memories of citrus blossom are returning home from a fun day at mountains in San Diego. The winding road takes you through many citrus farms.. just roll down the car windows and the enjoy the blossoms, so peaceful!
Lemon Blossom
Now I am fortunate to live in a house with various citrus trees in our backyard - a bloooming meyer lemon tree, a bustling kumquats (the tiny orange like fruits where the peel is sweeter than the flesh and supposed to be eaten whole) and many variety of oranges which are flowering all around showing their promise for the season.
Meyer Lemons!
Leaving you with a few photos of citrus blossoms and a link to my simple but tasty citrus salad recipe - dance of colors on the plate!

Enjoy the spring while it lasts!! :)
Kumquats!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lo Mein Noodles with Lots of Vegetables

We love our noodle fix at our house! Noodles make a weeknight dinner appearance atleast once every other week for us. 

I load them up with lots of vegetables for a heart healthy dinner and they cook so fast - what's not there to love about this weeknight dinner!

This is another one of my busy working mom's 20minutes or less dinners. The trick, as always, is a well stocked fridge and pantry. Can't emphasize this enough. Spend that hour on Saturday to make it a priority to visit farmer's markets (if in your area) or any fresh local grocer/CSA and your tummy will thank you for it for the whole week to come!

My two favorite noodles to cook with are Soba and Lo Mein. I love them both. Soba tends get slightly stickier if you overcook them even for a minute -- Lo Mein have the advantage of being more unforgiving when it comes to texture. I buy them at Whole Foods but they are available at any asian grocery stores.

I have this trick to keep vegetables in a noodle dish crunchy. You just stir fry them one at a time and remove from heat. Then add everything together at the end - easy!

I hope you will try this another 20minute weeknight dinner.. you can add meats or tofu if you want or vary the vegetables - variations are endless!

Recipe:
Serves 3
Ingredients:
1 packet Lo Mein noodles - usually has 3 bundles
few Tbsp vegetable oil (don't use olive oil for stir-frying)
quarter of a large onion - sliced length wise into thin slices
1 red pepper - sliced length wise into thin slices
2 carrots - chopped
1C broccoli florets
7-8 mushrooms - sliced thinly
1tsp grated ginger
handful of chopped green onions
handful of chopped cilantro
3-4Tbsp soy sauce, low sodium
2Tbsp rice wine vinegar
dash of hot sauce (per taste)
salt & pepper

Recipe:
Heat water in a large pot.  While water is heating, prepare all the veggies. Prep ahead is really beneficial for stir fry dishes which cook in a jiffy!

When water is hot, add Lo Mein and cook per package directions (usually 4-6 minutes), Then drain noodles and rinse with cold water thoroughly to stop cooking. Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok or a large surface area pan on medium high heat. When hot, stir fry onions, peppers, broccoli and carrots quickly one at a time - each taking a minute or two and then remove each vegetable with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Then add ginger and mushrooms to the pan. Cook stirring for 3-4 minutes until mushrooms are slightly softened. Add soy sauce, vinegar and mix well.

Turn the heat off. Add noodles, add all the veggies back, add salt & pepper to taste (go easy on salt as soy sauce often makes dish salty). 

Garnish with hot sauce, green onions and cilantro and mix well.

Serve hot with a hot cup of your favorite green tea to sip along! 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Rustic Apple Tart

This rustic apple tart is perfect for those crazy days when you have friends or family coming over for dinner but have no time left for a home-made dessert - just use a store bought pie crust. Or it's even perfect for those days when you are in the mood for making a pie crust from scratch and have a couple of apples waiting to be used in the fridge. 

Either way, whether you use store bought crust or make one home at home, no-one needs to know as a wam slice of this tart with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream is perfection in every bite irrespective!

And psst.. another thing no-one need know: when you call something rustic, by definition you make room for imperfections. Imperfections even add to the rustic-ness of the pie, you could say :). So don't let the fear of not being able to roll a perfect round pie crust stop you from a delectable home-made deessert!
Rustic Apple Tart
Recipe: Rustic Apple Tart
Serves 4 large slices
Ingredients:
1 9" pie crust - store bought or home-made
2 granny smith apples (I used Fuji this time)
2Tbsp brown sugar
2Tbsp melted butter
1/2tsp pumpkin spice (or 1/4tsp cardamom powder, 1/4tsp cinnamon powder, pinch of nutmeg and pinch of all-spice)
juice of half a lemon
dash of salt

Recipe:
If using frozen pie-crust, defrost on counter or fridge as per package direction. If making crust at home, experiment with different shapes! Apple tart looks great as a rectangle or a half-circle too!

Pre-heat oven to 400F

Slice apples thinly and evenly, add to a large bowl. To the apples, add all the spices, melted butter, sugar, lemon juice and salt and mix well.

Roll the pie crust on a pachment paper lined baking sheet. Add the apples, you can arrange them in a single layer facing one way (like the picture above) or just add them in a mound and then spread evenly - leave a little border on all the sides to be able to roll. Then using your hands lightly roll the border or tuck in the tart.

Add a little more crumbled butter and sugar specs on top (optional).

Bake for 35-40mins until the crust turns brown at places and apples look cooked. Remove from oven, let rest for a couple of mins. Cut into slices and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

5 Foodie Things For the Rainy Days..

It has been raining a lot this winter. Rain is good. Particularly for California this year.

One such rainy morning I was sitting next to a window overlooking the early spring flowers and leaves getting a nice good soaking while listening to the steady pounding of rain on our windows, and I found myself deliciously reminiscing of my favorite foodies things for rainy days over the years. And that's how this compilation was born :)

I hope the next time rainy gloomy weather strikes, you can add just a bit of sunshine and spice to your days with these rain friendly yet healthy foods! (notice no deep frying or sugar laden recipes below)

1) A steaming hot cup of your favorite beverage with spice!
First things first, one thing rain de-facto needs is a steaming hot cup of your favorite beverage just a little spiced. For us it is spiced mulled apple cider and spiced coffee or spiced chai.

Both are really simple. For spiced apple cider, I warm regular apple cider. Add to it a cinnamon stick, a couple whole peppers and cloves, a star anise, few cardmom pods, 2 slices of lemon and orange and some lemon juice. Warm on low heat for 20-30mins until the spices have thoroughly flavored the apple cider. Strain if serving to kids. And serve warm! 

Spiced chai/coffee is made by adding clove, cinnamon, cardamom (some or all of these) in boiling water and then make tea/coffee as usual. Strain before drinking.
Steaming hot cup of pumpkin spice coffee!
2) Hot bowl of soup with crusty garlic bread
Rains and soups are a match made in heaven - don't you think! My favorite rainy day lunch is a bowl of hot soup with some crusty garlic bread to dip in - like the hearty lentil soup or roasted red pepper and tomato soup or leek and potato soup or noodle bowl. And I have a great trick to turn any regular bread into garlic bread!
Roasted red pepper & tomato soup, hearty lentil soup, (bottom) curried butternut squash soup & leek and potato soup
3) How about some snacks to go with that tea/coffee?!
A good cup of chai/coffee on a rainy day can also use some of rain's favorite snacks! Our rule of thumb is to not deep fry at home, so we stay away from fritters/bhujias... but that doesn't mean we have any the less fun! Baked samosa puffs, baked sweet potato fries, kande pohe or pinwheels are all great options which are great for your belly too!
Sweet potato fries, baked samosa puffs, kande pohe & paav bhaji
4) Baking! 
There is something so therapeutic about baking.. the warm aromas drifting off of the oven or watching the joys of a bread rising - baking is a food for the tummy and the soul. And if you are stuck at home while it's pouring outside, who wouldn't like a slice of freshly baked quick banana bread or pumpkin cranberry muffins or the apple crisp to go along-with it!
Banana nut bread, banana muffins & apple crisp
5) Chocolate covered strawberries!
Now if you have a daughter to entertain on rainy afternoons, then a great idea is to make some chocolate covered strawberries together! 

You can either just drizzle chocolate to create pretty effects or go all out and spend an hour trying yourr hands at Mr. & Mrs. Berry! Get your creative juices flowing! They are really not as complex as you would think. Read about them here.
Mr. & Mrs. Berry!
Dark & white chocolate strawberries
I hope next time the rain strikes, other than the cozy blanket and the movies, you will try out one of your favorite rainy day foods too!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lentil Avocado Pita Pockets with Yogurt Mint Sauce

Ever since I saw this Mark Bittman's sloppy joe pita recipe in Cooking Light I have been itching to try it out. Honestly, what's not there to love when you have warm toasted pitas stuffed with spicy lentil stuffing, some cool mint yogurt sauce and crunchy fresh cucumber! This is a perfect early spring meal. Seems very California too :)

Have I told you that a well stocked pantry and fridge is the most well kept secret of eating more healthy meals at home? It really is. I always have a pack of Trader Joe's whole wheat pitas at hand and some dried or cooked lentils ready to go at a moment's notice.

One of these weekends we came home late from morning chores. The weather is unseasonably warm and turning spring, so I was craving lighter meals like salads, soups and sandwiches.

Quickly chopped some onions, tomatoes and garlic and put the lentils to cook (hardly 10min prep time). The lentil cooking time of around half an hour was largely unattended in which I made myself a hot cup of coffee with a slice of bread spread with fig butter as a side :)

Once the lentils were ready, the whole assembly took another 15mins and thats it, meal is served! I substituted fresh avocado slices for the cucumber slices and finished with a tangy sweet jalapeno sauce that I found at a local Afghan grocer for some extra kick.

You can eat them on their own but preferrable pairing is to serve with a warm light soup of your choice - my favorite combos are leek and potato soup or the roasted red pepper and tomato soup. Or as the guys will say, beer is a perfect pairing too :)

Recipe:
Source: Mark Bittman's sloppy joe pitas in Cooking Light
Ingredients:
For the lentil filling:
3/4C French lentils (or brown lentils or masoor)
2C water (or per the lentil cooking instructions)
1 medium onion - chopped
3 cloves of garlic - smashed
2 tomatoes - chopped
handful of fresh thyme chopped (or dried thyme)
1.5tsp cumin powder
1Tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper

For Yogurt Saucee:
1/2C non-fat or low-fat yogurt
handful of chopped fresh mint
dash of red wine vinegar
pinch of crushed red chili flakes
salt

For vegetables in the filling:
1 fresh avocado - sliced
OR 1 cucumber - chopped
some fresh mint

For assembly:
4 whole wheat pitas
hot sauce of your choice (I used an Afghan bolani jalapeno sauce)

Recipe:
Prepare the lentil filling:
Saute chopped onions and garlic in a Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. When the onions start to tender, add cumin powder and roast for a minute or two. Follow up with some chopped tomatoes, lentils, water and enough salt. Let the mixture come to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and simmer covered for 30mins or so or until the lentils have cooked through (but not turned mushy). Add more water if you need it during the cooking process. When the lentils have cooked through turn the heat off, add thyme and black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Prepare the raita:
Assemble all the raita ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasonings per taste.

Assemble:
Toast the whole wheat pitas and then cut them into halves diametrically. Using your fingers or a knife open the pitas up. Spread the raita on one side. Add few Tbsp of lentil mixture into the pita. Add a few avocado or cucumber slices, some chopped mint and finish with a dash of hot sauce.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chocolate Swiss Roll Cake

I wanted to bake something special to bring to a new year's party we were invited to. Baking for a large gathering is always fun, because you can confidently add the sugar and the butter without worrying about the horrific outcome of you finishing all of it alone! (been there, done that, repented by hours on trademill :) ) 

So I was looking for something more elaborate and this chocolate swiss roll cake recipe which appeared on PW blog recently seemed perfect.

I skipped the chocolate ganache because I realized last minute I didn't have enough chocolate in the fridge but the cake was great even without it (though presentation would have been much better with ganache, going to try that next time!)

There were two mistakes I made while making this and both ended up with the same root cause of not whipping the batter long enough. Egg and sugar batter had not come to the ribbon stage, though likely a few more minutes would have done it. And the cream cheese filling could have used a few more minutees of beating too. I have a new hand mixer and there is still some getting used I need... particularly the high speeds. I tend to stick with lower speeds and the filling definitely needed high speed in retrospect.

But all said and done, it was a very tasty cake which finished off within minutes of opening. Next time I'll focus on getting the filling right consistency and also the ganache I skipped!

Happy baking!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Tilapia Fish Curry - Bengali Style (v2)

Some recipes never seem to grow old no matter how many times you make them. They only age better with time and their v2, v3 and v4s are born. This is one such recipe for me - I have tried endless tweaks on this fish curry and tried perfecting it a little more every single time.

Original version called for various spices, this time I substituted all the spices with curry powder instead. Result was equally delicious! The trick is to find a good quality curry powder if you don't make one at home. I generally use Trader Joe's curry powder and I am quite satisfied with it; it's a very mild version heat-wise but packs a lot of punch. Home-made has it's benefits but using a good quality store bought one is a very useful time saving arsenal of a busy mom. Another good one I like is Maharaja curry powder from Penzy's spices.

I own a small bottle of mustard oil and all my Bengali recipes now start with mustard oil instead which I feel is great way to add flavor.

We devoured the fish curry with rice and lime wedges.
This photo is from the time I had made it previously - we were too busy eating our dinner this time to stage a good one :)

Recipe:
Serves 3
Ingredients:
3 tilapia fillets (preferably fresh)
quarter of a large onion - finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic - grated
1/2 in piece of ginger - grated
2 tomatoes - chopped
1 small potato - sliced
1/2tsp kalonji/nigella seeds (substitute with mustard seeds if you don't have kalonji - but try to use kalonji if possible, it gives it that Bengali taste!)
1tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp curry powder
2Tbsp yogurt
salt
juice of 1 lime
2Tbsp mustard oil

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Fajita Fridays

We love Mexican food at our home and fajita Fridays are one of our favorites! The fajitas below look like a spread but once you make them a couple of times and get the hang of recipe, there are lots of opportunities for process improvement and parallelizing making this a very convenient Friday or any weeeknight 30minute dinner too.

When we lived in San Diego there was this place in Old Town called Cafe Coyote which we used to visit every Friday. They have a roadside stall where they serve fresh off the stove tortialla with butter and salsa just 50c each -- which was a steal for my student days! Most Fridays we ate roadside tortiallas but on special occasions we went inside for a more sit down dinner and that was always their fajitas for me..

After years of hopelessly searching for a Cafe Coyote alternative in south bay I started making fajitas at home instead and that's how our fajita fridays were born.

I have a set of Mexican spice blends I ordered from Penzey's spices which has been a great investment. Now I can get that authentic Mexican flavor to even the simplest of home-cooked meals which is great inceentive to eat more at home. If you like tacos and fajitas a lot, I definitely recommend investing in good mexican spice blends.

So here is how I make it:
Spanish Rice:
1C rice
2Tbsp chopped onion (or less)
2 cloves of garlic - crushed
2 small or 1 large tomato - chopped
1 tsp tomato paste
1Tbsp olive oil
1 3/4C water
salt, pepper, pinch of dried oregano

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. Then add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes and saute for a couple of minutes.

Add rinsed rice and saute again for a couple of minutes. Add water, salt, pepper, oregano and transfer to rice cooker. Rice will be ready in about 20minutes (or as long as rice cooker takes)


Black beans:
1 can of rinsed black beans
1Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove - crushed
1/4C water
salt

Saute garlic in olive oil. Then add black beans, water, salt to taste (go low salt for canned beans) and cook on low-medium for 5-10minutes or until all the water is absorbed.

Guacamole:
2 ripe avocados
1Tbsp finely chopped red onion
handful of cilantro leaves - chopped
juice of half a large lemon
salt & pepper

Mash avocados roughly (not a smooth paste). Add the rest of ingredienets. Mix. Taste and adjust for taste

Pico de Gallos (basic salsa):
2 small tomatoes - finely chopped
1 Tbsp finely chopped onion
1 green chilli
handful of cilantro leaves  - finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
1/4tsp of salsa seasoning
salt & pepper - to taste

Mix everything. Taste and adjust for taste. Set aside for about 15-20mins before serving.

Fajitas:
thinly sliced veggies (I used onions, red pepper, mushrooms, carrots), optionally can add thinly sliced chicken pieces.
Juice of a lemon
2tsp fajita mix (or to taste)
2Tbsp vegetable oil
salt & pepper

Mix all the veggies with 1Tbsp olive oil, juice of half a lemon, fajita mix, salt & pepper. Set aside to marinate for as long as you can. When ready to cook, heat a large non stick skillet, when very hot add 1Tbsp oil and veggies. Stir-fry on high heat for just a few minutes stirring in between until the veggies start to char. Remove from hear - sprinkle with remaining juice of half a lemon. Serve immediately with warm tortiallas.

Time optimization tips:
  • Start with rice first. Once rice starts to cook, then start on other things in parallel. Rice cooking I find is the main time gate.
  • After rice is on it's own, I usually marinate veggies for fajitas and put the salsa together so they both get most time to marinate.
  • Then I cook beans
  • And lastly guaco.
  • If you have additional help in terms of kids or husband, guaco and salsa are great to delegate!
  • At last right when you are ready to eat, then stir fry veggies/chicken and then wipe the same non-stick pan with a paper towel and warm tortiallas.
  • Dinner is served!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

OT: My Favorite Recently Read Early Childhood books

Once a month or so we, the mother daughter pair, visit our local library and borrow like 20-25 young kids books. So many that recently I started carrying a grocery bag to library - no kidding! She makes me read atleast 4 books a day and sometimes 8 on weekends. And 20-25 are just enough to provide variety for the month.

I love public library of our new town. It's large, has a varied selection and all books are in great condition and has a lovely decorated children's section that even adults would want to stay and read in. And a big bonus for me is the small coffee nook --- makes for the perfect book reading experience!

Image Credit: goodreads.com
We borrow varied subjects and authors but once in a while few books just strike a cord! This is a snapshot of some such - not just to list out for readers but also as a memory for me for future..

We love all the Lucy Cousin books - Maisy goes to Hospital, Maisy goes to Movies, Maisy's vacation etc etc. Simple sentences, lovely illustrations and easy concepts to grasp for little once. I highly recommend to read one to your <5 year olds!

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Next one is not a famous book but one that I simply adored reading to my daughter. No Time for Mother's Day is a lovely story of a young girl whose mom is also a busy business owner. Mom is always busy, juggling home and office and runs out of time for the standard Mom things - for example, she gets called from office on a Saturday and needs to cut short an outing with her daughter. The mom loves her family and she loves her work too (strikes strong cords with me!). 

The dad and the little girl are really supportive of mom's work and appreciate her for all she does. The daughter also understands how busy mom is all the time and knows that her mom is different from her aunt and thinks hard and finally gives mom the gift she really enjoys for mother's day which is a full day of quiet. No work.
Image Cerdit: goodreads.com
No stress. Just relaxing. I love this book on so many levels and love how it embodies the struggles and joys of parenting with demanding office duties. And that everyone is unique. I would love for more such books to be available to be honest.

Another book we really enjoyed is Mud Soup. It's about a boy who is so afraid to try "mud soup" offered by his Mexican class-mate thinking it literally to mean soup made with mud. Finally he gives it a try, loves it and realizes how silly his scare was -- this book touches a delicate topic of cultural diversity and being open to new experiences. Something I think we all could do a little more of.

Another series we always enjoy grabbing is the Berenstain Bears - mama for mayor, homework hassle, we are a family, Christmas time.. all are great books. Simple sentences, easy concepts and a good short story line. 
Image Credit: goodreads.com

There are many others we love reading - most recent once being Sophie's Squash, many Dora the Explorer books and Mary Eenglebright's collection of classics.

Local libraries are such a great resource to try out and read many different books at no cost. And in this age of apps-for-everything just visiting library and picking up new books to read is, I feel, a great way to get kids excited about reading and build their curiosity.. I love.
Image Credit: goodreads.com
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This page and all of its contents is copyright of Prajakta Gudadhe. All rights reserved.

This is a web catalog of the recipes that I have tried and tasted in my kitchen. While these recipes and instructions have worked well for me, please use all the information and the recipes from Ginger and Garlic at your own risk.