Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cold Cucumber Sandwiches

I was at the library the other day and I picked up this movie called ‘Marley and Me’.  This is a comedy-drama about a couple and how an incorrigible dog becomes a part of their family.  A warning for those who are into action and espionage, this is very much a chick flick.  With my schedule, I fear I may have to return it without being able to watch it.  However, with the long weekend coming up, I am hoping I will be able to squeeze it in somewhere, even if I do it in 20 minute phases.  You see, my problem is when I sit down to watch a movie, I like to watch it undisturbed.  All the characters in the movie have my undivided attention and I hang on to every word.  This means, I wait until both kids are asleep, and all needs and wants fulfilled, before I embark on my movie-watching venture.  I made the mistake once of turning on the TV in an attempt to watch a show, with everyone still in their element at home, and I discovered that I spent 8 of the entire 10 minutes rewinding, and playing with the volume, straining to catch every word and dialogue spoken.  What does a girl have to do to get a half hour (or an hour and a half) of uninterrupted “me” time?!
So, the movie watching has taken priority over reading (blush), and cleaning closets (a huge project that is getting bigger each time I postpone it!) .  I read yesterday that one should throw away five things daily in an effort to de-clutter.  I have been putting off my feng shui bedroom renovation project because it starts with de-cluttering!  More on that later…
I am sure you all have plans for the 4th of July weekend.  Many of us will enjoy barbeques, while the rest will head over to the beach.  For our office celebrations tomorrow, I am planning on taking something simple –  cucumber tea sandwiches.  These are easy and yummy, and just right for the summer time.

Cool Cucumber Sandwiches
Sliced Sandwich Bread - remove crust
Cucumbers - very thinly sliced
Salt and Pepper
Chopped Cilantro for garnish
Photo from VeganYumYum

Spread mayonnaise on bread slices.   Arrange cucumber on these slices and sprinkle salt and pepper on top.  Garnish with cilantro.
Variations:   You may use whole wheat or multigrain bread, or even the "Very Thin" sliced bread.  Substitute butter or cream cheese for mayonnaise.  Use other herbs for garnish.  Use cookie cutters for different shapes, or ketchup and other condiments for color and flavor.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Love Actually", loved it!

I love watching movies.  But, working full time, with two little ones in tow at home, I hardly ever have the chance to watch any.  So, when I do get a chance, I pick something that leaves me happy, and makes me feel like it was so worth it. 

I 'd once asked my sis' if she had any recommendations for a silly, cozy movie, and she had suggested "Love Actually".  Very recently, I had the chance to view this movie from 2003 (Lots of catching up to do!). And I loved it.  It's warm and charming, a classic chick flick, with some humor thrown in.  It didn't hurt that this is a British film, I rather fancy their accent!

As all archetypal foodies will agree, any good movie must be enjoyed with a good snack. Here is my recipe for homemade baked chips - nutritious even, since they are made from sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Crisps

2 large sweet potatoes - sliced (use a mandolin for thin, even slices)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp Olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Arrange the sweet potato slices on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and add seasononing.  Toss to coat all slices. Bake both sides for about 8 minutes each until crisp.

Variations: Substitute sweet potatoes with potatoes, add herbs like rosemary for a different flavor.

Other TV snack options include sliced apples, yogurt and plain popcorn (healthy options, of course). A more delectable choice for those with a sweet tooth is strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sunday night is Sandwich night

It's amazing how fast the weekend zips by. One moment, I am basking in the idea of resting and enjoying myself (the promise of Friday nights), and in the blink of an eye, I find myself feverishly trying to wrap things up before the weekend is over.

We just got back from a lovely princess theme party where my older daughter had a grand time playing dress up and story time, savoring cake, and crafting a necklace.   It's got me thinking about what I am going to do for my two little ones' birthdays.  They are turning 5 and 1 in a couple of months.   There is an ice cream place not too far off which might be a hit for the summer.  There is also the option of hosting at home with outside entertainment for the kids.  My older daughter has a guest list all prepared for her party.  On the other hand, my little one turns 1, so this would be a big one, we may invite relatives and friends from all over the country.  Maybe we should celebrate both parties together...lots to think about.  Any suggestions on how we could have a rocking birthday party for the girls, I wanna know about them.  Do post your ideas for me.

And now, back to Sunday night dinner.  Nothing's easier than sandwiches. 

Vegetable Sandwich

Slices of :
Sandwich Bread
1 Potato, boiled
1 Cucumber
1 Red Onion
1 Tomato
Cheese (provolone or your personal favorite)

1/2 cup Green Chutney(see recipe below for fresh homemade)
3 tsp Chaat masala (tangy -spicy masala from Indian grocery store)
Salt to taste
Apply green chutney on one side of all the bread slices, and butter on the other.
Now arrange all veg. slices on chutney-ed bread, followed by cheese, sprinkle chaat masala on top, then grill the closed sandwiches.
Serve with ketchup or hot sauce.
This is so quick, and so yum!

The green chutney can be store bought, or homemade per recipe below:

Green Chutney

1 bunch cilantro
3 large cloves of garlic
salt to taste
2 drops of lemon (optional)
3 green chillies (optional- for those who like it hot)
Blend all ingredients and you have yourself some delicious cilantro chutney.  There are many different variations to this basic recipe.  You may add some peanuts to the mix.  Or substitute cilantro and garlic with mint and onion. 

Until tomorrow, sayonara.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

So Happy It's Thursday!

It's only Thursday and I am already thinking of quick recipes that would leave me more time to do other things over the weekend.  For a quick brunch item that is packed with nutrients, try a vegetable frittata.  This is kinda like a crustless quiche, without the flour, or like a big fat omelette, made with eggs and filled with all your favorite vegetables and herbs for flavor.  Easy to make, easy to eat.

Vegetable Frittata

8 eggs
1/4 cup Diced Zucchini/Squash
1/4 cup Baby spinach, torn to pieces
1/4 cup Bell Peppers strips - make it colorful
1/4 cup Diced Plum Tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped leek
2 tbsp Chopped Cilantro
1/4 cup Provolone cheese - soft, grated
2 tsp Garlic paste
2 tbsp Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. 
Heat olive oil in a pan and saute garlic. Add vegetables and cook for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and mix in the sauteed vegetables and then the cheese.
Grease a Pyrex dish or baking pan, pour in the frittata "batter" and bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into frittata comes out clean.

Add any other vegetables of your choice to make this your own.  Experiment with other herbs such as basil.  Spice it up with some chopped jalapeno in the mix! 

Make a picnic out of this with salad, slices of pound cake and lemonade.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Strawberry Salad

In the season of strawberries, what better to eat than Strawberry Salad?   I have a wonderful recipe to share with all of  you that I just love to eat during the summer.   This is light, healthy and will favor your taste buds as well.

Strawberry Salad
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup baby spinach
1/5 cup almond slivers(blanched, roasted, salted, any way you like 'em)

For the dressing:
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
1 tsp orange juice
2 tsp honey(optional - I like that tinge of sweet)
1 tbsp finely chopped chives for garnish and flavor
a dash of cinnamon
Whisk dressing ingredients in a mixing bowl until smooth.  Add strawberries,spinach and almonds to the blend and toss.  Eat fresh or chilled.

Variations: Sometimes, I add red pears or apples and/or dates, to make this more filling and healthy.  You may add walnuts too.  Use mixed greens instead of spinach for a change. Goat cheese is another way to go for added nutrients.  Add your own special touch with raspberry vinaigrette, or spice it up with some cayenne pepper.

Let me in on your twists on salads this summer. 

Waking up on a Wednesday

Yesterday a co-worker and I talked about the goodness of drinking smoothies, and how very easy they are to make.  It's a good way to get those fruits in, she said.  That got me thinking, maybe I could start off today with a delicious smoothie.  Usually, my week day mornings don't afford me much time, so we 'll go in for a super easy recipe.  Since mangoes are in season and they taste divine, how about a Mango smoothie? 

Breakfast Mango Smoothie

1 peeled and diced mango(ripe one preferred)
½ cup orange juice
1/4 cup greek yogurt (plain/flavored)
2 tablespoons honey
2 ice cubes
Throw all ingredients into blender until pureed.  Pour into glass/travel mug and enjoy.

This was an easy one.  Feel free to experiment with different fruits in season this time of the year, like berries. Add a banana for a powerhouse smoothie.  You could also do fruit-veggie combos that give you atleast one serving of each for the day.   I like to add the greek yogurt for calcium and protein.  There may be some who feel the OJ and yogurt are conflicting foods, and you may leave out one of the ingredients.  Have a delectable day!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Smart Sunday Supper

This weekend would have been a "All Housework" (laundry, vacuum, cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping), "No Play" kinda weekend had it not been for an impromptu invitation from a close friend to meet at her place for tea.  I gladly accepted and loaded my troops into my faithful old Subaru to head over to hers.  She had also invited another sweet friend, and the three of us launched into our rants of wifely/motherly woes and delights, with lots of good laughs thrown in.

When we reached home, it was time for dinner, and all I wanted to do was to call it a night with a smile on my face as I indulged in an enjoyable recollection of our recent talkfest.  What could I whip up quick that no one would (hopefully) frown over, and it wouldn't take me more than 20 minutes (is this even possible?)?  At times like this, an imaginary timer goes off in my head that makes me dash about the kitchen like I was in a race to get to the finish line.  I decided to go with Oriental style stir fry and noodles.  The catch - this is quick only if you use frozen/pre-cut vegetables - but I read somewhere that they pack these fresh to keep all the nutrients in, so no guilt there, right?  For those of you who are willing to put in a little more time, especially for the chopping experts, I recommend using fresh vegetables for better flavor and well, freshness.

Noodles - Asian-style

1 pack instant noodles per person ( I prefer Ching's - they cook in four minutes!)
Vegetables strips/shreds: Carrots, Cabbage, Peas, Corn, Beans, etc - Or use the frozen mixed vegetables blend
1 tsp garlic per pack of noodles
1 tsp low sodium soy sauce per pack of noodles
1 tbsp oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp Sriracha sauce for spice (optional)
Put noodles to boil , add vegetables.  Drain and set aside in strainer. 
In a pan/wok, add oil, saute garlic.  Now add noodles and vegetables, mix in soy sauce and salt and pepper.  And voila! the noodles are ready in a matter of minutes!

This dish can be improvised with the addition of mushrooms, bean sprouts (fresh or canned), baby corn (frozen or canned),water chestnuts (canned) - these would be in the international section of the grocery store along with egg noodles and the like.  Also, some like to add white pepper instead of black, it is typically hotter and offers a better kick.  And last but not the least, drizzle some sesame oil on the noodles and serve.  Mind you, sesame oil has an intense aroma and flavor so check with everyone first!  Please let me know what your experience is like when making this, and share your variations.

Okay, so that's the noodles, now the stir fry - this is super easy with the frozen Stir Fry blend from the market.

Vegetable Stir Fry

1 large pack of Stir Fry blend from frozen section - this would include peppers, onions, broccoli and more
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp garlic ( you can tell I love garlic - it's all about the flavor)
3 tsp low sodium soy sauce 
salt to taste
Crushed red pepper for heat (optional)
Chopped parsley for garnishing

Add oil to pan/wok  and throw in vegetables, add salt.  Stir often until cooked but crunchy - make sure they don't get overcooked and mushy or they will be no fun to eat.  Once done, we flavor as follows - add the garlic and mix it in, add soy sauce, red crushed pepper and garnish with parsley.  Looks yummy, tastes great! 

I always complement this meal with fortune cookies or ice cream in the end.  The kids love it, and so do the grown-ups!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Breakfast Scramble

As I scrambled this morning to get ready for work, my stomach rumbled, I decided I was hungry and thought of a deliciously healthy item that takes only minutes to prepare - Scrambled Tofu.  Not only is this a vegan dish, but you can boost this morning helping of protein by adding fresh vegetables along with oodles of flavor by adding some spice. 

Here is my special recipe just for you:

1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1/4 cup chopped colorful peppers (optional)
1 tsp ginger/garlic paste
1 tbsp oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp curry powder for flavor
Chopped cilantro to garnish

Preheat a pan over medium high heat. Saute the onion, tomato and peppers in oil until partially cooked, then add the ginger/garlic paste. Break the tofu apart into pieces and allow to cook with lid for some 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add spices and cook for another minute. Garnish with cilantro.  Eat as is or with bread.
Play around with the choice of vegetables, you could add spinach or broccoli or peas and carrots, corn, beans, whatever takes your fancy.  Couple this with an orange and you are golden.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer graduation with chilled fruit

Today was my daughter's graduation from pre-school.  It was a superb event, entertaining and emotional. All the parents clapped as a bunch of adorable little kids walked in with self-made pre-school hats on their heads.  The children sang songs after which we had light refreshments.  We bade a tearful farewell to the very dear dedicated teachers.  We took lots of pictures, with friends et al, until my daughter was asking to go home!  I felt so proud and happy when I looked at my daughter, even though this is just her graduation from pre-school!  As we all know, and Oprah assures us, "Every ending brings with it a brand-new beginning."  I am eager to see what adventures will come our way as we progress from school to college - we got a long way to go :-)

Nothing like celebrating with something sweet, but can it also be healthy, and easy, and help us cool off in the summer heat?  Let's try this colorful and simple favorite of mine - fruit medley!

2 medium apples; sliced
2 medium oranges; segmented
2 medium bananas; diced
1 cup berries - pick the one(s) you like
1 cup honeydew melon; diced (or watermelon/cantaloupe)
1 kiwi, sliced
1/2 cup pineapple chunks

Just toss these together in a bowl and enjoy as is.  You could chill this first in the refrigerator if you like. If you like them really sweet, drizzle some honey on top.  Garnish with a sprig of mint. Feel free to experiment with any fruit, it's a good way to get your daily nutrients, especially if you stick to those that are not too high in sugar.  To keep this healthy, I would advise against whipped cream and chocolate to go with this :-)

And the spice (optional, of course) in this dish comes from something called "Chaat Masala" which can be found in an Indian grocery store.  Just sprinkle a teeny bit of this seasoning on the fruit pieces, and you will find yourself falling in love with fruits. Indulge yourself!

Savory crepes- yum!

I finally got my hands on the June edition of Oprah magazine.  This is one magazine that has a lot of interesting and inspirational articles, and I love getting into it.  This issue is her "Thank you" issue at the end of her 25-year old show, and looks back on two and a half decades of memorable moments.

Now I just had to come up with something easy to make for dinner, to allow for some time to look through the new reading treasure on my nightstand. about savory gram flour crepes? Crepes for dinner?  You are right - this is typically a breakfast or evening snack item, but make a dinner of it on a weekday and you will be pleasantly surprised at how early you can retire from the kitchen, with smiling faces and full tummies round the table in no time.  Wrap up is a breeze as well, leaving you some time before you turn in for the night. 

Here is the basic recipe for savory crepes (or pancakes if you make them thicker):

2 cups Besan (gram flour - I buy this from an Indian grocery store)
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp ginger/garlic paste
1/2 cup finely chopped Onion (optional)
2 finely chopped Green Chilli (optional - this is to make them spicy)
1- 1 1/2 cup water to make batter
Oil for cooking
  • Mix all the ingredients and water to make a smooth batter.
  • Heat a frying pan, put 1 tsp oil & spread 1 ladle of batter evenly on it.
  • Cover it with lid to let it cook, then flip and allow it to cook until brown and crispy.
  • Serve hot with condiment of choice.

To alleviate any guilt I felt on not offering healthy vegetables at the dinner table, I added shredded baby carrots and finely chopped spinach to the batter.  Eaten with yogurt or hummus, it makes for a fairly good meal.  Ketchup, chutney or marmalade complement the crepes well.  Yum!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Devour a Delicious Book & Snack

My favorite pasttime is reading.  Nothing relaxes me and refreshes me as much as a good book. These days, however, all the reading I do is limited to reading Dr.Seuss and fairy tales to my daughter. All the same, I always glance through bestseller lists hoping to read one of the latest hottest titles out there.  I scan the library which we frequent for children's books and dvds.  For the most part, my holds become available and expire, or if I do land up with a book on my wishlist, it is soon time to return it (after 2 renewals) and I find that I have barely made it past the first few pages.  Things will change soon, I know, once the girls are a little older.  Until then, I grab whatever few minutes I can, to read a few words here and there, for inspiration or humor, sometimes even the two minutes that my daughter lingers in the shower will do.

After one such motivational article, I decided that if I really wanted to take a few minutes to read, I was the one that had to make it happen.  One of my friends recommended a book on women empowering themselves in today's world (Watch out, hubby!) and I ordered it online.  As per my new reading plan, this morning, I woke up a full fifteen minutes earlier, to allow for some quiet reading.  This hot new book by Lisa Bloom is called 'Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World'.  I loved the no-nonsense title, and got right down to it. The first half of the book outlines facts and stats that explain how a woman is bogged down by the social mindset that she has to do everything! Sound familiar, anyone? 

I am now in the second half of the book that gives you solutions to turn your life around so you can disentangle yourself from the daily grind and actually devote some time to yourself.  Having some time to unwind, think, to be my own person,realize my dreams, make a difference in the world - sounds great to me. This is not to say that we should neglect our kids and familial responsibilities while selfishly catering only to our own needs, but we can realize our full potential if we learn to live for ourselves too.  The first step towards that is to think - think about what we want to achieve in this lifetime, and how to get there. 

I will step off my soapbox now, and let you in on a delicious and healthy 5-minute snack that all you bookworms out there can enjoy with your own personal page turners.  You could even take this to your next book club meeting.

1 can butter beans, drained
1 can black eyed beans, drained
1 tomato
1 bell pepper
1 onion
1/2 cup corn (optional)
2 jalapenos (optional)
5 black olives (optional)
taco seasoning
a few drops of lime juice
chopped coriander/cilantro for garnish

In a large bowl, add chopped tomato, onion, bell pepper,olives, jalapeno and corn. Drain and rinse beans. Mix all ingredients. Season and garnish. Serve chilled.
This can be eaten as is, but is even yummier with Frito Lay corn chips.  You may add variations such as adding cheese/sour cream/guacamole on top (in moderation), or season it with your own spices like roasted cumin, salt and pepper. You may add or substitute any other kind of beans such as kidney or pinto.  Happy Reading!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Healthy mocktail anyone?

Like any typical working mom, when I get home after a long day, I am exhausted and the first thing I want to do is put my feet up and relax.    Instead, as soon I get my feet through the door, I am met with chaos.  The baby is impatient to be held, my older daughter wants to play and I need to get dinner started. Since the baby sitter is eager to call it a day as well, I relieve her after a quick wash and change.  From that moment on up until ten pm, there is non-stop action.  Who needs a gym workout when you can run around for hours at home?

In order to give myself a chance to breathe, today I thought I would give myself five minutes to wind down. Ideally, one should take deep breaths and focus the mind on calming things.  If this is something you can do, go for it.  Me?  I 'd rather have a cocktail instead!  Now that would take the edge off, wouldn't it?

But, this blog is about eating well for the body, mind and soul. So, we will skip the alochol and have a healthy bloody mary sans alcohol, which will still taste fabulous!

Here is the recipe:
16 oz. V8 (low sodium, spicy V8 if you like it hot)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
For extra heat and flavor, a dash of tabasco sauce
a couple of icecubes
Celery stick/Lemon slice for garnishing

Blend ingredients, garnish and enjoy the drink!  After you have this, there will be no guilt(no alcohol, no unnecessary calories),
and the spiciness could actually wake you up and get you going.

Now all I need to do is train my husband to make this for me when I come home :-)

Cardamom tea - Cheers!

So, the fever bug has now passed from my four year old to my eight month old , which resulted in a particularly sleepless night as my little one expressed her discomfort with a routine wail or two.  Each time I leapt out of bed and rushed to the crib to soothe her with cooing sounds and a quick check to see how warm she is, all with my eyes closed!

Finally, at 5:30 am, I gave up trying to sleep, and decided to get an early start to my day.  After a quick shower and much brain wracking to decide on what goes into our lunch boxes for the day, I finally got ready for work.  That was the easy part of my morning, of course, coupled by the fact that the touch of Tylenol had induced a drowsiness in my little one that was allowing me to work without interruption.  The tough part is getting my older one to wake up for pre-school after sleeping at 11:00 pm.  Now you all know how easy I am on my kids!  But today, even that should be a breeze, because today is Beach Day at school...

So, how do I reward myself for getting everything done well before the baby sitter arrives?  Cardamom tea!
I can already smell the infusion of tea and cardamom.    For those of you who would like to join me for a few sips on this beautiful day, here is the recipe:

1/2 cup water
1 tsp tea leaves - I prefer black
3 pods of cardamom
1/2 cup milk (optional)
1 tsp sugar(optional)
Bring water to boil, and add the rest of the ingredients.  You may allow the blend to steep by letting it sit covered.  However, I like to "cook" my tea, so I just let the contents simmer for a few minutes.  Pour into your favorite mug, and indulge your senses in the sweet aroma of the cardamom.  Not only will you find it very calming, but if you google the benefits of cardamom tea, you will find that apart from providing respiratory and digestive support, it also works as an aphrodisiac ( ;-)