Tuesday, November 27, 2007
So, I'm going to India tomorrow for about 6 weeks. I will try to blog from there depending on my dad - the vacation nazi. I think the man has a day planner in his head mapped out by minutes. This is the first time I'm going in 7 years and why I chose the same exact time he did, God only knows. I figured it might be easier to have him around, but I'm seriously reconsidering. When you go on vacation with him, you need to check into a spa afterwards. Seriously, it's that bad.
So up until yesterday he's been calling me with all sorts of things such as...
him: "Do you have room for diapers?"
me: "why do we need diapers?" (I stop to remember that i'm potty trained.)
him: "because my friend called and his son had a baby and they need diapers."
me: "why does he always wait until the last minute? Don't they get diapers in India?" What is wrong with these people folks?
And then last night around 10pm, I get another urgent call from him telling me to go to Wally World to get a 3-pack of TSA approved locks. 'Tis the season for thievery.
Ya, the man's a little shaken and gets rattled easily when you mention India trips. Last time they went to India, 3 bags got stolen from the baggage handlers on their trip back home. Of course, it was none of the food, it was all the expensive, hard to replace stuff from their South India tour of Madras and Ooty. Which was fine by me... I am a foodhead after all.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Fiesta is huge and they carry almost any Indian vegetable you can think of; tindora, paan leaves (6 for $1.00!), dudhi, karela, small white eggplants, guvar and methi just to name a few. They also have a long aisle of nothing but Indian/Pakistani groceries such as different flours, rices, dals, Gits packets, juices and achaars. Not to mention the Mexican and Latin groceries you may ever need in a lifetime.
So, there I was browsing the cheeses and this older gentleman turns my way and starts speaking in Spanish. Since I've moved to Texas, I've gotten really used to this. I just looked at him, trying to understand all the words and what he was saying so maybe I could help him. But he just kept jabbering really fast and I guess I must have looked confused because then he said loudly and angrily, "Don't try to act like you don't know what I'm saying! You young people come to this country and don't even know your own language. You don't respect your elders or talk to them in your language. You forget where you came from."
Ooooh, I was so mad! I couldn't help it and just screamed at him, "As a matter of fact, I'm Indian and I not only speak my language, but I speak another 2 fluently as well and if you spoke slower, I could've understood everything you were saying a minute ago." And finally yelled, "And for your information, the queso blanco is in the deli section asshole." Maybe it's just the Texas effect.
For one large mug:
- bring a cup of water to a simmer
- add 1 tspn green tea leaves or a bag of green tea and let steep for 3 min
- strain if using loose tea leaves
- add juice of half an orange and raw honey to taste
Notes: You may be familiar with the new Lipton Citrus iced teas in a bottle, this is very similar in taste. You could also squeeze in half a lemon, tangerine or even pomengranate juice. It's low in cost and you get the added benefit of no preservatives or artificial sweeteners.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
We went to an all weekend wedding event. After eating Indian food for the last 3 days, we had enough. It was time for a Mexican inspired breakfast.
- saute chopped onion in olive oil until translucent
- add a chopped potato and a sliced red bell pepper
- season with salt, pepper, ground cumin and ancho chili powder or red cayenne to taste
- after potatoes are cooked through, add 1 1/2 cups refried beans or one can vegetarian refried or black beans
- heat through
- serve with warm tortillas, salsa, cheese and guacamole
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
It gets worse. Someone in my office stopped and asked, "what kind of turkey do vegetarians eat?" Yes, I know you're probably all wondering, WTF? Is this person for real? Yes. Did this person ask me in front of the entire office? Yes. Did this person mean tofurkey? No, she doesn't know the existence of tofu.
So, now you know what I go through every freakin' holiday. Really, I don't understand why almost every person in every place I've ever worked in has made me a national spokesperson for vegetarians worldwide. And then while they got you, they might as well find out about everything else. Like your religion or lack of. Such as "I know you're Indian, but do you celebrate Thanksgiving? And, "would you be offended if I put up some Christmas decorations?" Like there's only one religion to go around 1 billion people. I mean besides being unprofessional, this was borderline retarded.
And these are the same people that when they are ordering pizza at work, they eat up all my veggie pizza first. I swear to you, this has happened on more than one occasion people! If I don't run and make a beeline for it at lunch, it will be all gone. Then I'll get to hear "it looked so good, i just wanted to try it", "i've never eaten anything vegetarian before" to "that was pretty good for being vegetarian, but next time I'll stick with the meat lover's?" Not one measly slice left. Happy Holidays folks.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Feels like fall is slowly arriving. This is how I know...
My neighbor has huge pine trees whose branches overlook my yard. I usually welcome the extra shade in the summer. In the winter, it's another story. I want to go over and chop the trees down. The needles fall all over the cars, the driveway, the roof. They completely blanket the entire pond so when the fish try to eat their food, they get pine needles instead. I had to grab my handy long wooden branch and wrangle pine needles from one of my fish's mouth. Ahhhhhh! Somebody loan me an axe!
Since it did feel like fall in any case, I talked myself into craving something warm and toasty. I had half a cauliflower and a gorgeous red bell pepper. I think the combination of these two vegetables is just perfect. They're both mild and take in all flavors readily.
The main thing to keep in mind about this dish is that you don't want to overcook the cauliflower. It's turns to mush and the texture will be blah.
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 15 min
Here's what to do:
- heat up 2 tbspn oil in a wide saute pan
- add panch phoron or: 1/2 tspn each of the following seeds: mustard, cumin, fenugreek, nigella and fennel
- add chopped cauliflower, red bell pepper and salt
- stir and cover for 5-7 minutes
- add few slit green chilis and a tbspn each of garam masala and cumin powder
- cover and cook until cauliflower is cooked through about 5 more minutes
- squeeze lime and garnish with cilantro before serving
Notes: serve with roti or naan, rice and dal and find it in your hearts to forgive the Corelle :)
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I have called my version nicoise because I use a variety of olives, green and black. It comes together easily and the prep time is chopping time and toasting the bread in the oven. It is a very refreshing and filling salad. You probably have all the ingredients at home in your pantry, so get cookin'! Even if you don't have all the ingredients, it's ok... use what you got and don't worry about the rest.
Prep time: 15-20 min
Bake time: 20 min
- loaf of french or italian bread cut into cubes and place in a single layer on cookie sheet to toast at 350 deg for 20min, let cool
- red onion, sliced
- 2 large tomatoes or a pint of grape tomatoes, washed & chopped
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and chopped
- 2 avocados chopped
- handful of grated pecherino romano or parmigiano reggiano
- handful of olives, roughly chopped
- handful of capers
- italian dressing, to taste or make your own*
- crushed red pepper to taste
- salt & pepper to taste
combine everything except bread. Add bread 10 min before serving.
Notes: *Make your own Italian dressing by combining: olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, one clove of smashed garlic, salt, pepper, italian seasoning, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sugar.
Friday, November 16, 2007
I can't really call this a recipe and it sounds so simple, but it tastes divine. We make a couple months worth at a time. It will keep for 2-3 months in the fridge as long as no water is added. We use it whenever any dish calls for garlic, but mainly it is used for any sabzi (stir fried vegetables) and daal. You add it in the oil first before you add the rest of the vegetables or daals. You can also just eat it on the side with bhakri like we used to when growing up.
In Gujurati, this chutney is called lasunyo, meaning "of garlic". I'm sure almost every region of India has their own version, but this is kept very simple so it can be added to hundreds of dishes quickly. It's so versatile and with just 2 ingredients, it's worth a try at least once. Please do give it a go, you will wonder how you managed so long without it.
Pound together in a mortar and pestle, do not break out the Cuisinart for this one! Very important, it will completely change the taste and texture.
- 2 heads of garlic peeled
- 1/2 - 1 cup of red chili powder
- it should be of a semi dry consistency, not too wet or liquidy
- store in a clean sterile bottle and keep in fridge
Vagharelu dahi (yogurt with garlic and chili)
- cup of yogurt
- 1 teaspoon of lasunyo
- mustard seeds, cumin seeds, hing (asafetioda)
- pinch of turmeric
- 1 tspn oil
- pinch of sugar (optional)
- heat oil and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and hing
- add lasunyo and turmeric and stir for one minute on low
- add yogurt and salt and pinch of sugar (optional)
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
A big time saver is getting all your dinnerware, serving platters and utensils out and organized. This way, when people start arriving and someone is just dying to help (ya right), you can point them straight to your pile instead of having them rummage through all your messy cabinets trying to find a platter to put your chips and olives in, all the while loudly proclaiming, "what do you use this for?", "this box is expired" or "why'd you buy this?"
As far as creating an atmosphere, I don't care for dinner parties with formal table settings and pressed linens. Where you have to be nice. Where you have to pretend you love her dress, shoes and nail polish even before you're buzzed. Where you have to all sit around the table together and are forced to make small talk. UGH! I can't remember the last time my friends and I all sat together for dinner except at a restaurant, can you?
I'd rather prefer to keep things more casual. You know, when you can just point to your bar area and let them at it or hang out and watch my beautiful fish-ies swimming in the pond or sit on the kitchen counter keeping me entertained while I'm readying everything. To me, that's the best part of the nite. After that, people will just eat your food and leave. You know the ones.
So, for my kind of party, do-it-yourself-bars are the key.
Mashed potato bar - idea stolen from some restaurant a long time ago
What you need to do is:
- prepare a whole bunch of mashed potatoes and keep them warm - so make sure there is enough cream/milk/butter/liquid so they don't get hard and crispy instead
- put out nice big soup bowls or martini glasses
- put out different kinds of toppings - be creative, but if you aren't, here are my suggestions:
- chopped scallions
- roasted garlic
- cubes of extra butter
- different seasoned salts
- different powdered spices such as garam masala, coriander or cumin powders
- steamed veggies such as broccoli or cauliflower
- cheese sauce or just different flavored melting cheeses
- I'm sure you carnivores have thousand more options
For dessert, try my Cheesecake bar:
- make some or buy some ready made cheesecake filling
- put out some nice champagne or wine glasses for this one
- serve with assorted toppings:
- melt chocolate chips up with a little cream - a good way to use up all that chocolate
- melt some caramel
- puree different fruits with a tiny bit of sugar like raspberries, blueberries, quinces, mangoes or strawberries
- crushed chocolate wafer cookies or oreos
- crystallized ginger
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
This dish was a play on lasagna roll ups I made awhile back, but since i'm always finding new ways to cut down on carbs, I made these using large globe eggplants instead. This will serve 4 if served with a salad and garlic bread on the side. It's a pantry friendly dish and not as time consuming or as labor intensive as eggplant parmigiana. Most of the time is just oven time, so this dish is great for weekday meals.
I make my own pasta sauce by sauteeing half a chopped onion with a couple of garlic cloves and a dash of chili flakes. Then add a can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes and let it simmer while the eggplant slices are baking in the oven.
The fastest way to go about making this dish is first to preheat the oven to 375˚, then slice the eggplant and get that going in the oven while you work on the sauce. It took me 30 min total.
Prep time: 10 min
Bake time: 25 min
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 jar pasta sauce or make your own about 1 1/2-2 cups
- 7 bocconcini cut into thin slices or 1 cup grated mozzarella
- dried italian seasoning
- crushed red chili flakes
- olive oil
- preheat oven to 375˚
- wash, trim eggplant and slice it vertically - you should end up with about 8 long slices
- place in a single layer on a baking tray and brush with olive oil on both sides
- season to taste with salt, red pepper flakes and italian seasoning
- place in oven for 10 min and then flip slices over and put in oven for another 10 min
- spread a tablespoon of pasta sauce on each slice and roll up
- place all the eggplant rolls seam side down in a greased casserole dish
- cover with remaing pasta sauce, sprinkle with bocconcini and bake until heated through and the cheese is melted about 5-10 min
Monday, November 12, 2007
The city of Austin is known for its live music, food, university and an eclectic lifestyle. It is a place where hippies and techies alike call home. It is frequently referred to as the Silicon Valley of the South. The city houses Dell, IBM, Samsung, Texas Instruments and countless others. With the surge of the IT dotcom sector in Austin, the number of Indian residents steadily rose.
Despite my unabashed love for the city, what Austin is not known for is a decent Indian restaurant. Last nite my sister in law's parents came to town so we all went out to Madras Pavilion. Now I know this isn't a very fancy place, so I wasn't expecting a professionally trained waiter with a pinstriped apron to make wine recommendations with each course, but that shouldn't take away from the food, service or ambience.
This is not going to be a fun review, so let's just dive right in. First impression, the plates were chipped. Not regular wear and tear from a dishwasher, but large pieces of plate were missing. My sister in law's mum ordered a mango lassi and asked for an extra glass, the young server girl who brought it to her seemed to not really understand English, but nodded her head anyway. She didn't get a glass. When the order taker guy cum manager cum owner arrived we asked again for a glass and he brought it out quickly, but it was dirty like the soap scum hadn't been washed off. This is my biggest problem with restaurants - that they don't inspect the barware before sending it out. Strange enough, it's also the easiest to fix. I walked over to the register where the order taker guy cum manager cum owner was standing and showed him the dirty glass and asked him to bring another. This time around, he brought a foam cup. Maybe they ran out of glasses. Hey, it could happen. I suppose.
Then the food began to arrive. To start with, we all shared a plate of gobi manchurian which was good, a little too oily though. Then my sister in law got something like idli manchurian. The idli was cut into large pieces and then deep fried. It was then covered with a spicy sweet gravy. This was actually really good. So good in fact, we were all getting hungry and anticipating the food.
Ok, so here comes problem number 3 - the food arrives in 10 min intervals. The two people that order a plain dosa and an onion dosa get theirs first. 10 min later, the 3 mysore masala dosas come out. 10 min later, the 3 chinese dosas come out. So, by the time the last group got their food, group number 1 already were done eating. I am sure if Chef Ramsey is reading this, he's probably headed straight there. Even my sister in law mentioned that this was straight out of a Kitchen Nightmares episode.
There was nothing spectacular or memorable in the least about the food. The chinese dosas seemed promising from the menu description, but they were a complete dud. I've had so much better from hole in the wall type of places than this one. The other thing that is really surprising is that they get so many orders and catering events from the local Indian population because they are the only vegetarian Indian restaurant in Austin.
I was going to give this place an F, but decided that the order taker guy cum manager cum owner stayed pleasant regardless of our criticism. So, this place gets a D- for bad dinnerware and service. Next time you're in Austin, eat Tex-Mex.
Friday, November 9, 2007
I emailed Amy of Olde Crone's Bewitching Bath Soaps awhile back to find out some more about her products and mentioned that i found out about her through Manisha's wonderful blog. I was intrigued because of the goat milk chai soap that Manisha had mentioned. I am constantly on the lookout for new natural and organic products, so when I was researching her product line, I found most things to be VEGAN! Truly, this lady rocks you all.
Sometimes it can be difficult in the U.S. to be able to purchase products directly from the artisan, whereas in India, you will find them all over the streets peddling their goods. And unlike shopping at retailers like Walmart and even Bath & Body, where the name of the game is shelf life, isn't it refreshing to find someone who has taken the time to make these wonderful handmade artisan soaps without chemicals? I've just ordered 4 types of soaps, citrus herb lip balm and lavender lemon lotion. Most of the soaps I saw run for $5. A small price to pay to be a goddess don't you think?
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Since our president insists on this time change thingy, I cannot seem to get my sleep and waking up patterns going smoothly. To top it off, me and A have had sore throats and coughing fits. You know those nites when you keep tossing and turning because you can't breathe from one side and then have to turn to the other? Ya, one of those. Then my phone was off by an hour. So by the time I got to sleep it was time to wake up. I was dressed and ready for work at 6am. WTF? Should I go in early? ya right.
Needless to say, I had an extra hour on my hands. I figured I might as well put it to use by cleaning up a bit and getting dinner semi-prepared. I soaked some brown basmati rice and washed about a pound of fingerlings. I also washed about 7-10 thai chili peppers, peeled 2 cloves of garlic and got out a knob of ginger and crushed these in my mortar with some sea salt and a sprig of curry leaf.
When I get home I will only have the actual cooking left to do since almost all the prep work is done. Just quarter the fingerlings and saute them in a bit of oil and then cover for about 10 min, stirring in between. Then add the crushed mixture and 1/2 - 1 cup of water. Keep covered and stir once in awhile until the potatoes are cooked thru. Squeeze in half a lime. Before you start on your potatoes though, put your rice on to cook so it will be done around the same time. Oh ya, I probably should have told you that first - my bad.
Serve with a tomato & onion salad. And write to your congressman/woman and tell them how you really feel about time change. after all, if you're not with me, you must be against me :)
For you folks spoiled by the written word,
Prep time: 10min
Cook time: 20 min
- 1 lb fingerling potatoes
- 7-10 thai chilies
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- knob of ginger
- sprig of curry leaf - optional
- sea salt
- half lime/lemon
- 2 tbspn oil
- wash and quarter the potatoes
- saute in oil and cover, while you pound in a mortar: chilis, garlic, ginger, salt, curry leaf
- after 10 min, add this crushed mixture and 1/2 - 1 cup of water to the potatoes
- cover and stir once in awhile for another 10 min or until potatoes cooked thru.
- check seasoning and squeeze lime over potatoes
- sweet potatoes would be a good substitute for those of us trying to steer away from bad carbs.
- garnish with cilantro if you have it on hand
- serve with roti, naan or rice
- for a more pronounced indian flavor - after the oil is heated, add the following and allow to pop: mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds and cook on.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
So the other nite we met up a friend at a place called Ziggy's in downtown Houston. It's a funky little cafe-ish bistro type of place. At first I thought I would have to get dressed up because I'd never been there before, but A said it's not that kind of place... so as usual, jeans and flip flops were still the order of the day. Don't hate, it's in the 80's here!
When we got there, it was not what I really expected - in a good way. Sometimes downtown dining is way tooooo formal and stuffy. As soon as we pulled up, I saw people sitting and talking on tables outside. We love our winter weather here in Texas by the way. It was a good mixed crowd. There were some older couples eating dinner and some students sitting around messing with their laptops and having a beer. Very casual. Very flip-floppy. I liked it.
Once you walk in, you basically order and pay at the counter where the young guy hands you a menu and he'll serve you your drink and give you a number. Sodas and iced tea were self serve at the fountain. I got the iced tea and noticed that they were both decaf and one was white peach. I'm not so into decaf or white peach. I stuck to plain decaf and with a couple packets of Splenda it was pretty decent. A and our friend Paras both got the black bean burger. Paras had the good sense to ask for it with jalapenos and cheese. I wasn't feelin the burgers that day and not wanting to get stuck with a lemon, I ordered the spinach and mushroom enchiladas and we all shared a large side of potato and sweet potato fries.
I tasted A's burger, it was so good. The burger was on wheat bread which was really soft. The regular potato fries were made on premise and they were also very good. The sweet potato fries were cut super thin and it seemed like all we got were the skins. Just crispy skin. Not so good.
The menu stated that the enchiladas take an extra 20 min, so I was prepared for the wait. The guys were eating their burgers and were almost done before I got the enchiladas. Now I make some good Tex-Mex at home myself, so I'm not exactly going to give a restaurant the benefit of the doubt if it ends up sucky. Hey - when in Texas! The enchiladas arrived smothered in cheese. First impression failed to impress. However, once I scraped off all the cheese nonsense, the corn tortillas were pretty awesome and the filling was decent. The spinach stayed a nice bright green so it was obvious they didn't cook it to death and the mushrooms were sauteed. It was served with some brown rice and black beans on the side. Can I just say, I really needed some salsa? The black beans and rice were bland. If I had to reorder again, I would stick with the black bean burger. I will post a couple versions of Tex-Mex enchiladas in a later post.
Monday, November 5, 2007
I have this little (my sister would even go so far as to say, nasty) habit of waking up EARLY on the weekends. Usually between 6-7am I wake up, do my weekend ritual of opening all the curtains and blinds and letting the sun pour in while I go around dusting and sweeping and whatnot. This is when I am full of energy, the sunshine in the house renews me, letting me borrow it's life and vitality. And trust me when I say I take advantage of this rare time. If things don't get cleaned, swept, mopped or dusted in the mornings, then they never will until the next weekend. And for some reason, I don't like to clean or do any housework when it's dark out, I know that may sound silly to some of you out there, but I just can't. This may be partly my mom's fault because we had this weekend thing of waking up on Saturdays and cleaning the entire house before we were allowed to go out. Actually, before we even asked to go out or for her to drive us to a movie or over to a friend's, we knew the house had better be cleaned. I can appreciate that sort of thing now, thanks Mum!
However, after last nite's bridal shower/party, I was pooped. There was no cleaning to be done nor blinds to be opened. I didn't have any strength. It's like those certain times when you've been up all nite and your stomach is queasy and nauseous because you've been doing stuff you probably shouldn't have. Think Anthony Bourdain type of nite! Well, I don't think he can ever be outdone, but we sure try.
I guess all the cleaning gets to me because I am usually starving afterwards. I needed to make something quick and easy and in one pan.
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 15 min
- 15-20 fingerling potatoes - washed and quartered
- 1/2 red onion - chopped in large chunks
- 1/2 bell pepper - washed and chopped in large pieces
- 2-3 jalapenos - washed and chopped in large pieces
- 2 tablespoons oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- in a wide saute pan, heat oil, add chopped potatoes and salt, cover
- after a few minutes add the onion, bell pepper and jalapenos, cover
- stir every so often for the next 10-15 min until the potatoes are done
- after the potatoes are cooked, add freshly ground black pepper and serve
Notes: if you want something even more filling and carb-laden or to feed a hungry crowd, turn these into breakfast tacos. Warm up some tortillas, fill them with O'briens and refried beans, and then top off with some spicy salsa.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
This Saturday, we went to a friend's Jack & Jill bridal shower. They were gracious hosts and served so many delectable appetizers. There were two tables set up for appetizers and a separate dessert counter. The first table consisted of mostly meat based dishes. There were meatballs in a tomato sauce, eggrolls, shrimp and garlic bread. The other table consisted of a veggie platter with a light green ranch dressing - i'm guessing it was blended with either cilantro or green peppers. There was also a cheese and cracker tray, tortilla pinwheels filled with cream cheese and chopped bell peppers, a pasta salad and a spinach corn casserole. I'm sure I'm missing a lot of other items, but this is all I could remember.
On the counter and in the dryer* (yes, you read right) there were a variety of drinks - basically choose your poison option. The desserts consisted of fruit skewers with a vanilla sauce and chocolate dipping sauce. Delicious! There was also a tiered tray of bite sized cheesecake in raspberry, turtle and plain flavors. I tried the turtle flavor. The crust was a thin layer of chocolate wafers and topped off with nuts and more chocolate. Sort of reminded me of an Indian burfi I had once. Finally, there was a tray of different flavored pound cake slices.
All in all, it was a fun night relaxing and catching up with friends. Thanks to Mitch and Bon and their families for throwing a great party!
* Apparently there was a little bit of mystery involving the "good stuff," in the dryer. It was put there as not to offend certain family members. Permission to enter the lair was granted only to the cool.