Healthy Brunch – Not Just For Sundays

Do you have days when you crave for breakfast for dinner or brunch on a weekday? I recently had one of those, where I did not want to eat the usual lunch fixings for lunch. Since I work from home, I have the luxury to cook my own meals on most days. So, on a Wednesday afternoon, I decided to do brunch! I feel like there is a certain leisurely, let-yourself-go attitude that comes with weekend brunch. We tend to indulge in high fat, sugary treats more on the weekend, than on a weekday. To keep with the tradition of eating healthy during the week, I created myself a healthy & quick brunch menu.

The menu comprised of whole wheat blueberry muffins, red pepper & goat cheese frittata, potato latkes & fresh strawberries. It took me an hour to prepare all these items, which were light yet filling. But the excitement of eating freshly baked muffins and enjoying a brunch in the middle of the week was priceless!

If you want to follow my league, here is how…

It’s best to start with the muffins, as you have time to prepare the rest of the dishes while your muffins are baking. Preheat the oven to 400F. I used a recipe I found online & modified it slightly. I added a larger quantity of fresh blueberries (1 ½ cups), some extra honey & a few toasted almonds. I filled up large muffin cups so had a yield of 9 muffins in total. Given they were made with wheat flour, no white sugar & fresh fruit; I consider them to be guilt-free! Even if you don’t make them for brunch, they are perfect for on-the-go snacks, afternoon treats or breakfast for next morning.

My version of potato latkes are inspired by something I ordered at a French bistro, La Madeline. I don’t know how they prepared them but mine are so easy, anyone could do it. In a food processor, fitted with the grating paddle, add 3 large potatoes (peeled), ½ onion & ¼ cup fresh parsley. Once completely grated, transfer to a large bowl lined with paper towels. Drain the excess water by pressing on the potato mixture with your hands, and then transfer to a clean bowl. Add 1 egg (lightly beaten), ¼ cup grated parmesan, salt & pepper. Mix well.

In a large fry pan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil on high heat, evenly coating the pan. Take a handful of the potato mixture and flatten it in the palm of your hand, as if creating a patty. Drain out any excess water. Gently place the potato patty in the fry pan. Reduce heat to medium-low & cook for about 10 minutes until golden brown, turning once. Repeat the process with the rest of the potato mixture.

While the muffins & potatoes are being cooked, heat a small oven-safe wok on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoon olive oil. Lightly stir fry ½ finely diced red bell pepper. Beat 6 eggs in a bowl with some salt & pepper. Pour over the red peppers. Sprinkle 2 tablespoon chopped black olives & 4 tablespoon crumbled goat cheese on the egg. Let cook on low heat till the eggs begin to settle (about 5 minutes). Transfer the wok to the oven (which was set at 400F) & cook for another 5-7 minutes till the frittata starts to brown. Remove from wok by flipping the frittata onto a plate. Allow to cool for couple of minutes before serving.

I used fresh cut strawberries but you can serve any fruit you have lying around. In a small bowl, add 2 cups chopped strawberries with one teaspoon sugar and juice of ½ a lemon. Mix well & serve cold. You can also add blueberries to it for a delightful treat.

Finger Licking Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli

Who says ravioli can only be served as a savory dish? With homemade dough, fresh blueberries and soft mascarpone cheese, this dessert has all the components that will want you coming back for more. Did I mention it was also deep fried? It tastes like a freshly made fried blueberry pie, only a lot more sophisticated!

These finger licking raviolis are darn good on their own, but you can also pair them with a homemade blueberry gelato to create a delicious summer treat.

Makes 8-10

Ingredients:

1 ¾ cups all purpose flour

2 eggs

2 tablespoons water

Pinch of salt

2 cups blueberries

Juice of ½ lemon

¼ cup water

¼ cup sugar

8 oz mascarpone cheese

1 tablespoon vanilla essence

Vegetable or canola oil

Directions:

Prepare the blueberry compote by placing blueberries, lemon juice, water & sugar over medium heat in a heavy bottom pan. Allow it to come to a boil. Then reduce heat & simmer for 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Let cool completely before use.

Meanwhile, make the pasta dough by kneading the flour, salt and eggs in a kitchen stand mixer with paddle attachment. Knead for 8-10 minutes. If the dough becomes too dry, add 2 tablespoons of water. Divide the dough into two balls and roll them out into 8×4 inch rectangles. Run each rectangle through a pasta roller until it reaches a fairly thin consistency. (I get to a level 5 for ravioli pasta dough.)

Gently mix the mascarpone & vanilla. Add the cooled blueberry mixture to the mascarpone. Using a melon scooper, place 2 scoops of this filling on the pasta sheet for each ravioli. Lightly brush the pasta surrounding the filling with water so the dough sticks together. Fold over the second pasta sheet. Use a ravioli cutter to cut & seal the raviolis.

In a large fry pan, heat enough oil for deep frying till very hot. Fry the ravioli for 1 minute on each side until golden brown. Transfer to a plate with paper towels so that the excess oil is drained. Serve immediately.

Blueberry-Honey Gelato

With 2 gallons of blueberries from picking at Roland Farms over the weekend, I have been contemplating how to put them to the optimal use. Over the next few days, I will be posting totally original and finger licking recipes using my fresh picked, pesticide free, for a good cause blueberries.

The first one is a honey-blueberry gelato. I love the taste of homemade gelato as it’s fresh, creamy and you know what’s in it. The gelato recipe below is actually much healthier than any ice cream you will ever come across. It is made with mostly milk (as oppose to cream), does not have eggs, and uses fresh honey and a lot of blueberries.

Honey-Blueberry Gelato

Makes 2 Quarts

Total Time: 5 hours (Prep: 1 hour, Inactive: 4 hours)

Ingredients: 

4 cups whole milk

½ cup heavy cream

5 oz sugar

1.2 oz corn syrup

1 oz skim milk powder

3 cups fresh blueberries

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

¼ cup honey

Equipment: 

Heavy bottom saucepan

Cooking thermometer

Rubber or wooden spatula

Blender or hand mixer

Mesh strainer

Medium glass bowl

Ice cream maker

Air tight freezer safe container

Directions:

Combine the milk and heavy cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan and place on medium heat. Attach a cooking thermometer to the pan. Cook stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 170F. The milk should not form any skin.

Add the sugar, corn syrup and skim milk powder. Blend until mixed well. Cook the liquid base for five more minutes maintaining the temperature at 170F.

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath placing a medium glass bowl in it. Strain the prepared liquid gelato base into the glass bowl. Let chill completely. Cover and refrigerate for four hours.

Puree the blueberries using in an electric blender. Add the lemon juice. Blend the chilled liquid base with the blueberry puree. Add the honey and mix well. Pour into the ice cream machine and let it churn for 25 minutes (or as directed by your particular machine).

Transfer to an air tight, freezer safe bowl. Freeze at least four hours or overnight.

Watermelon 3 ways

It’s summer already and the mercury is rising. One of my favorite things about summer is fresh watermelon. It is cool and refreshing on a hot summer day. Watermelon is low in calories, but not in sugar and offers tons of vitamin C, A and B. In fact sweet, juicy watermelons are actually packed with some of the most important antioxidants in nature. So go on and enjoy a guilt-free summer of watermelons in a variety of forms.

Most people enjoy raw sliced watermelon but you can actually do a lot more with it. Here I will show you how to incorporate watermelon into 3 different courses. This is just a start. The possibilities are endless!

Watermelon martini

(recipe courtesy of Chef Art Smith)

Servings: Makes 6 large martinis

  • 4 cups watermelon (with the rinds, seeds removed)
  • 1 cup lemon vodka
  • 1/2 cup cointreau or triple sec
  • 2 limes , squeezed
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (or sugar substitute)
  • Garnish ; pieces of watermelon, lime, sugar cane

In a blender, combine the watermelon chunks and puree. Remove pureed fruit and pour into a pitcher and keep very cold, even a little frozen to make it icy.

For two generous martinis, add one cup of watermelon puree, 1/4 cup of lemon vodka, and one tablespoon of cointreau or triple sec to the blender with three ice cubes and blend. Pour into a nice festive glass, garnish with watermelon chunks, limes and a stick of sugar cane.

Watermelon salad

(makes 4)

  • 2 cups watermelon, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds, lightly roasted
  • 2 cups fresh arugula
  • 4 oz. crumbled plain feta cheese
  • 4 tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar

Arrange the arugula on 4 salad plates. Divided the watermelon and spread over the arugula on each of the plates. Top with feta cheese and sesame seeds. Drizzle the vinegar and enjoy.

Watermelon and mint sorbet

(Recipe courtesy of Ciao Bella)

  • 6 cups chopped seedless watermelon
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, minced

Make a simple syrup by mixing the sugar in water on low heat until completely dissolved. Let cool. In a blender, combine the watermelon, lemon juice and simple syrup and blend until smooth.  Add the mint leaves. Pour into an ice cream machine & churn according to directions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze overnight.  Serve cold. This recipe makes 2 quarts.

How to throw a Cinco de Mayo party

Having a Cinco de Mayo party at home can actually be quite fun. Whether you are hosting a few people or a large crowd, these easy to do ideas will make your event a big hit. As with any themed party, you must plan ahead of time to create the right mix of ambience, food and music. So decorate some Mexican flags, put some salsa music playing in the background and get your margarita glasses out.

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Slice limes and keep some mint leaves on hand to decorate the cocktails. If you can afford to, always serve drinks in proper glasses, not disposables. Believe it or not, the presentation makes all the different in the flavor of the food!

For appetizers, serve tortilla chips with sour cream, few types of salsa, homemade guacamole, queso (melted cheese dip) and picco de gallo (salad of chopped tomatoes, onions, lettuce and cilantro).

Keep the entrée simple so that you are able to spend some quality time with your guests. Prepare a pot of yellow rice and black beans ahead of time to be served as sides. Present a make-your-own taco bar with fresh tortillas and fillings. You can have three or more options to appeal to everyone’s palate – one bowl of grilled vegetables (onions, red peppers, green peppers, tofu, etc.) for the vegetarians, second bowl of sliced cooked steak or chicken and third bowl of pre-cooked crawfish meat (available in seafood freezer section in grocery stores). Also buy readymade sauces such as a mole (if you can find it), chipotle steak sauce or a spicy seafood sauce to serve with the tacos. Serve them in nice bowls (not the original bottles) and they won’t know the difference! Refill the condiments (salsa, sour cream, etc.) as many people like to have them with their tacos as well.

For dessert, you can make a traditional flan, or upgrade to a caramel flavored cheesecake or dulce de leche gelato. Now go ahead and wear your long flowing skirts and sombreros and celebrate the rich tradition and culture of Mexico. Cheers!

Guacamole

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tsp. Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. Cumin powder
  • salt & pepper

 Peel the avocado & empty the pulp in a bowl. Chop it finely & add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. 

Summer in a Trifle

This colorful trifle will get you in the mood for summer and is a sure crowd pleaser. It is not too rich or sweet, with just the perfect balance of flavors. A layer of strawberry mousse made with fresh strawberries, a layer of lemon curd for that tangy taste and coconut cream to bring it all together. Garnish with meringue cookies and you will hear “oohs” and “aahs” as you bring it into the room!

I invented this recipe while thinking of Easter colors and combined some of the flavors I love, but I am sure you and your families will enjoy it all summer long.

Summer Trifle

Prepare the night before and chill overnight for best results. This recipe can easily serve a crowd of 12-15 people.

Ingredients

  • 1 prepared angel food cake
  • 16 ounces frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  •  juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 6 lemon cookies, crushed gently
  • 2 cups vanilla frozen whipped topping, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon coconut essence

Instructions:

To make the strawberry mousse:

  1. Combine strawberries, 1 cup cream, ½ cup sugar and corn starch in medium saucepan. 
  2. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and chill.
  3. In a blender, grind the strawberry mixture until smooth like a smoothie consistency.

For the lemon curd:

  1. Beat eggs and ½ cup sugar on high speed of an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in 1 cup cream, lemon juice, butter and lemon peel. Beat on high for 5 minutes or until mixture is thick and creamy.
  3. Add the crushed cookies into the curd mixture. Set aside.
     

Coconut cream:

  1. Mix the coconut essence into the whipped topping until fully blended.

Arrange the trifle:

  1. Cut the angel food cake into ¼ inch slices.
  2. In a large (8-inch) trifle bowl, layer the angel food cake slices till the bottom is covered. Pour the strawberry mousse over it.
  3. Add another layer of angel food cake, followed by the lemon curd. Use the remaining angel food cake to layer above it.
  4. Top it off with the coconut whipped topping.
  5. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight. 
  6. Before serving, decorate with meringue cookies or toasted coconuts and lemon slices.

10 ways to eat your boiled eggs

Have a lot of leftover Easter eggs and don’t know what to do with them? Well, there is good news for you! You can use your hard boiled eggs in lots of international recipes that your family won’t get bored with. Some of these are even good for entertaining. So take a stroll around the world and see how you can expand your egg-horizon within the boundaries of your own kitchen.

 

1.      Deviled eggs – A tradition at every backyard party, but you need not stick to the basic flavors. Mix taco seasoning and a sliver of avocado. Dot some salsa on the top and serve it on a nacho. There you have a Mexican bite deviled egg.
2.     Egg Biryani – Biryani is a rice dish cooked with a meat (chicken, goat), fried onions and saffron. Boiled eggs can be sliced and used for decoration or eliminate the meat entirely and make it an egg biryani.
3.     Egg salad sandwiches – Chop the eggs in a large bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Toast bread slices, layer with a spoon of butter, lettuce, tomato and the egg salad and enjoy on a summer afternoon.
4.     Egg curry – A simple Indian style curry can be prepared with green peas and potatoes. Fry whole boiled eggs till the skin crackles and add to the curry. Serve with naan.
5.     Egg pâté – A Russian egg pate is so easy to make that you would want to take it to every summer gathering. Grind the eggs with dill, scallions, butter, mayonnaise and salt to make a paste. Pour into a mound and chill in refrigerator overnight. When ready to serve, decorate with sliced cucumbers, olives and crackers.
6.     Egg pakora – Pakora is an Indian style fritter. The batter is made with gram flour, water and spices (cumin seeds, red chili powder, garam masala and salt). Cut the eggs in half and dip each piece in the batter. Deep fry in a wok with vegetable or canola oil until golden brown. Serve as a snack with mint chutney.
7.      Eggplant parmesan – Make traditional eggplant parmesan with slices of fried eggplant, layered with slices on mozzarella, marinara sauce and sprinkled diced boiled eggs. Top the final layer with sauce and bake in a 35oF oven for 30 minutes.
8.     Use in salads – Adding protein to any salad makes it a more wholesome meal. Add sliced or halves boiled eggs to potato salad, spinach salad or a smoked salmon salad.
9.     Meat balls and patties – Sounds strange but mashed up boiled eggs do magic to your meat. It makes it soft, retains the moisture and adds more flavor. For meatballs, combine ground beef, onions, parsley, eggs, bread crumbs, fresh garlic cloves, paprika and salt. Grind all the ingredients in a food processor till chunky but not mushy. Shape into balls and pan fry with olive oil till completely cooked.
10. Nicoise salad – The French version of the American Cobb salad, the Nicoise salad makes a complete and healthy meal. Use light vinaigrette and honey mustard dressings for the veggies before plating them. Place canned tuna meat, cooked whole green beans, and boiled potatoes on a plate lined with lettuce leaves. Decorate with olives, cut tomatoes, slices red onions and quartered boiled eggs.

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Easter Candy Soufflé Recipe

Ever had a problem with too much candy left over from Easter? I do! Every year, I am left with certain varieties of chocolates that I don’t particularly enjoy and end up with a big stock in my pantry.

Like everything else, chocolate too has a shelf life. If stored properly, they can last as long as a year. But who wants to wait that long?

Use your chocolates to bake your next scrumptious dessert. You don’t always need to buy morsels or baking chocolate, most candy bars work fine. Here is a simple tried and tested chocolate soufflé recipe that takes only 5 few minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to bake. You will find most, if not all ingredients in your kitchen already. It makes a special treat and your guests would think you have spent hours making it.

Easiest Chocolate Soufflé (serves 4)

  • ¾ cup chocolate (chopped up) You can use semi sweet, milk or dark as you prefer.
  • 4 oz butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoon all purpose flour

In a microwave safe bowl, mix the butter and chocolate. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Gently stir and let cool.

In another bowl, combine eggs, sugar and flour. Add the chocolate mixture and mix well.

Spray 4 small ramekins with cooking or baking spray. Fill each ramekin with chocolate mixture dividing evenly. Don’t fill more than 2/3rd of the way. Bake in oven at 400F for 20 minutes. The soufflé will rise up. Take out of the oven and dust powdered sugar, decorate with berries and serve immediately.

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Bread, not cake

In spring of 2000, I was enrolled in a Leadership and Group Dynamic course while pursuing my Bachelors degree at Georgia State University. On the last day of class, we were asked to bring a dish each so we can have a potluck party and celebrate the end of the course. It was also a diversity exercise so we were encouraged to bring a dish that represented our own culture or ethnicity.

I prepared bite size tandoori chicken nuggets. Others brought sushi, noodles, macaroni, etc. One American girl brought a dry nutty cake in a loaf pan. It was delicious so I asked her what it was. (Growing up in India, I had never come across anything like it). She said it was “banana nut bread” and I was a bit confused.  I exclaimed to her that it tastes like cake, looks like cake, so how is it bread? Well, I am sure she had never been asked that question before so her response was “Well, it’s just called banana nut bread.”

Whatever you want to name it, I like to have my banana nut bread for breakfast, coffee time, snack, and dessert! I have also gotten my mom and hubby hooked on it (especially the one I bake). I have tried different recipe, made my different people and restaurants. Some are too dry, others don’t have enough crunch. After my banana nut bread tasting escapades, I decided to create my own recipe that would perfect everything that they all are lacking (wink). Believe me; I have people who can testify!

It is pretty easy to make provided that you have the right measurements.  I also like to make it a little healthier by using olive oil instead of canola oil or butter. The cereal helps it from getting soggy and also adds a nice crunch.

Banana Nut Bread

  •  1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 medium ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Post banana nut crunch cereal
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a 9×5 loaf pan coated with baking spray. Lightly toast walnuts in toaster oven for 2-3 minutes at 300F. In a kitchen stand mixer, beat the sugar, eggs and oil on high till combined. Reduce to medium speed, and then add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Once the mixture is creamy, break the bananas with your hand and blend into the batter. Finally, add the cereal and walnuts and gently fold with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in oven for one hour or until toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temprature. Add chocolate chips into the batter to make it more fun. Serve with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce to make it a restaurant quality dessert.

If you try this recipe, I want to hear from you…

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A taste of Italy a casa mia

The Italian language club, Ciancia met at my place last night. I have to say it was one of my most memorable evenings. Not sure if it was because of the wine, the food, or the conversations, or a combination of all of the above.

I prepared some wine and cheese platters, antipasto, penne arrabiata and fettuccini with white truffles. A good friend had gifted me a jar of fresh white truffles for my birthday, which I decided to use on this special occasion. I made a simple sauce of butter, cream, salt and pepper. Then I tossed it with the fettuccini and grated parmesan. Finally, I shaved the truffles on top and then gently tossed the pasta before serving.

People from all walks of life gathered in interest of a mutual passion for Italian food and language. The linguistic skills ranged from zero to native, so you could join in a conversation of your aptitude. Each person was required to bring a bottle of Italian wine, a dish or pay $10. We had an upside down moussaka, penne with meat sauce, salads and endless bottles of red and white wines.  

The grand finale was my home made Gelato in three flavors – chocolate, mango and maple-walnut. I could not find a recipe for mango Gelato anywhere, so came up with my own. Needless to say, it was over before you knew it!

The crowd was very diverse and eclectic. We talked about everything from food, travel, music, living abroad, volunteering, to spiritually and business. I feel like I made some really good friends who share many mutual interests.

We wrapped up the evening at midnight, by when my feet were desperately asking for some rest. I went to bed with the lingering sweet taste of truffles in my mouth.

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Mango Gelato Recipe

Make the plain base and refrigerate overnight

Peel 2 ripe large mangos, take all the pulp out into a bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, add all the mango pulp and 1 cup of the plain base in a blender. Blend until the mango is completely pureed and no chunks are remaining. Whisk into the rest of the plain base. Churn in ice cream machine for 30 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.