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

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.

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.

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!

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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!

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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:
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. 
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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.
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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Masale-bhat (Indian Spiced Rice with Cauliflowers and Potatoes)

Masale-bhat literally means spiced rice. The diversity in Indian cuisine is so amazing that I think every region in India has a unique way of preparing masale bhat and the one below is from my home state, Maharashtra.

Masale bhat was an integral part of every wedding while growing up in Maharashtra. In fact I don't remember attending a single marriage ceremony where this mighty dish was not served! It is a sign of how well loved this dish is by everyone. Masale bhat with mattha (cold buttermilk drink with mint, chilli and cumin) are like the inseparable duo of our home town celebrations!

I bought a large head of cauliflower from the farmer's market this weekend - it was the rarely seen loose cauliflower (versus the tightly bundled florets version we find here) so I ended up buying a bigger head than I wanted. And while I was thinking of what to make, I thought of the mighty masale bhat.

It was a very tasty meal devoured by everyone! The way I have been eating masale bhat in childhood, garnishes of dollop of ghee, lemon juice and cilantro are really important. Definitely recommend not skipping those. 

Also kala masala is a quintessental Marathi spice powder. Garam masala could be a substitution but taste won't be the same - you can find kala masala in Indian grocery stores here or many reliable recipes by other bloggers!

This was a lunch loved by everyone -- we will be making this again and again and again and hope you do too!

Recipe: Serves 4
2C rice
3.5C water
3 green onions - whites and greens chopped thin
2 potatoes - sliced into wedges or thin circles
2C cauliflower florets
1tsp ginger-garlic paste (OR 3 cloves of garlic crushed and a small ginger piece grated)
1 small tomato
2Tbsp oil

2 whole cloves
2 whole cardamoms
3 bay leaves
1 small cinnamon stick
1tsp mustard seeds
1/4tsp asafoetida
2tsp kala masala (or goda masala)
1/2tsp garam masala
1/4tsp turmeric

Chopped coriander leaves
lime juice
Ghee or butter
dried coconut flakes (optional)

Wash and soak rice in water. Set aside.

Then prep all the veggies. Separate the whites and greens of chopped green onions. Thinly chop tomato and cut the cauliflower into medium sized florets.

Heat oil in pressure cooker. When hot add mustard seeds, as they sizzle add asafoetida, cloves, cardamoms, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Let sizzle for a minute.

Then add white part of the green onions followed by ginger and garlic. Cook for a few mins until onions start to brown. Then add potatoes and cook a few more minutes. Follow up by chopped tomato and turmeric powder. Then add cauliflower, kala masala, garma masala and stir well. Cook for just a few minutes.

Then add rice with water, salt to taste and stir well. Start the pressure cooker and cook for 2 whistles. Don't overcook the rice.

Serve with a dollop of ghee or butter, chopped coriander and green onions and lemon juice.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Pizza Love

We love pizza at our home - right from the little one to the grown ups of the house-hold, everyone is a pizza fan. 

But, we don't like the heavy cheese version where all you really taste is cheese and a meat topping. We like our pizza to be lightly dressed in cheese, we like to change up the cheeses we add, we like to taste the crust just as much as the pizza, we love to load it up with vegetables and we love to experiment with unusual toppings!
Veggie and Persimmon topping

So as you can guess, we make our pizza at home to satisfy all these requirements :). But really, pizza making can be a weeknight dinner thing with just a few tips and tricks.

Veggie with Mushroom & Olives
We buy pizza dough from Trader Joe's - they carry 3 varieties, plain white, whole-wheat and herb. The herb is my favorite - you taste the rosemary or the thyme when you bite into the crispy crust - so yummy!

You take the dough out about 15 mins before you have to form a crust and use generous amount of dusting flour and olive oil to roll the dough using hands as thick or as thin as you want. All of our pizzas are thin crust - we get about two medium sized pizzas from one dough packet.

This is embarrasing to admit but dozens of pizzas later, I still don't have the hang of rolling a perfect round base - it tends to be a map of the world base, but it tastes just the same, so who is looking :)

Tomato sauce also can be home-made and quickly. Just chop 2 tomatoes, saute in olive oil with crushed garlic and pinch of chilli flakes. Add salt, pinch of sugar (very important!) and a dash of good balsamic vinegar. Let it cook uncovered for 5-10mins while you prep the veggies.

We like to change up cheese - sometimes it's mozzaerlla, sometimes parmesean but quite often it's goat cheese - which adds such a nice tanginess to pizza, though it doesn't really melt so if you want melted cheese stay with parmesan or mozzarella.

Veggie with Figs!
Our usual toppings are mushrooms, red peppers, onions, tomato slices and then we add the mystery topping ingredient!

My daughter has the honor to choose one ingredient from fridge and let me just say that she makes some bold choices :)  but I am so glad we do this as every now and then one of the topping choice just sticks as winner -- she usually ends up choosing fruit, so thinly sliced apples or figs, halved grapes, sliced parsiman go great. Same with thinly chopped spinach ribbons. Just experiment with toppings, it's so much fun!

Veggie with Eggplant topping
Pizza stone is a great investment if you cook pizza often - I can never get the same crust as I get with the pizza stone. I have this but a cheaper model will be just fine too.

It takes me about 20 mins of prep time and then 20 mins of unattended baking time (at 420F) and dinner is served.  

Friday, January 1, 2016

One Food Resolution You Should Consider for The New Year.....

Happy new year to everyone! As we say Good-bye to 2015 and welcome 2016, it's a perfect time to review the good about the past year and identify things to improve for the new year.

If there is one food resolution which has been near and dear to my heart for over 4 years now is to eat more home-cooked meals and buy locally and seasonally grown food as much as possible. The later facilitates former to a large extent.

This is our fifth year of exclusively sourcing all the produce from local farmer's markets and eating seasonal, and I am so happy that we stuck with this path for as long! It has so many tangible and intangible benefits to health and lifestyle!

Before global transportation was as pervasive (think our grandparent's generation), eating local and seasonal is what everyone did. You ate apples in fall, squashes and tomatoes in summer and strawberries in spring - it was all part of enjoying the season. And you preserved or pickled seasonal vegetables to enjoy year-around..

Then happened global transportation boom and food industrialization - both resulted in foods being easily transportable 100's of miles from their original picking destination to being shipped to opposite parts of the worlds for consumers to enjoy year-around. Not only it's taxing to the environment but it also causes foods to be picked ahead of ripening resulting in more use of pesticides or preservatives and compromised taste.

The best way to start buying local and seasonal is to visit your local farmer's markets or be part of local CSA or co-ops which will deliver a basket of locally grown seasonal produce right to your door-steps.

There are innumerable advantages of eating locally and seasonally. 
  • First, you are eating produce picked right at it's peaks within hours of being picked. Not only it is fresh, it also tastes so much better! 
  • You will help local farmer's eco-system and sustainable growing practices
  • Fruits and produce bought seasonally is often cheaper purely due supply and demand helping you save $$
  • And the weekly ritual of visiting farmer's markets, choosing through rows and rows of freshly picked produce can be so therapeutic and if kids are part of it right from their childhood, I do believe they are naturally grown towards eating more vegetables and eating healthier!
There are also some challenges to seasonal/local eating and here are some tips I found useful over the years:
  • Seasonal can often mean repetition - you end up buying same vegetables weeks in a row because that's what is in season. But then, this is your chance to be creative in kitchen! Google various ways to cook with that vegetable and experiment with a new one every week - who knows, you will find a keeper recipe somewhere in there that you didn't even know about!
  • How do you know what's in season - there are great resources online or visiting farmer's markets is a more fun way to find out for yourself :)
  • Access to locally grown seasonal food - farmer's markets, CSAs, produce co-ops or even some supermarkets now-a-days carry local seasonal produce marked as such!
In this day and age of genetically modified everything and food industrialization, I truly feel that eating local and seasonal is a small step in the right direction, for our health, for our local farming ecosystem and for the environment! 

I get to talk to the farmer's who grow our vegetables on our plates everyday and I know I am doing my part in developing the local sustainable ecosystem, but really the main reason I eat local/seasonal is the taste, there is just no comparison to food with 1000's of food miles -- just try your local farmer's market next time and see it for yourself!

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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.