Procrastination……..

So it’s come to a point AGAIN where I’ve wondered where the time has flown. I have been away from the blog for about a whole month now. While the guilt of not posting has been breathing down my neck constantly for the last few weeks, I think I have some idea what writer’s block means. My head has been churning with ideas about all the things I want to share with you all, but the discipline to put it down in words has eluded me. To my credit, I did sit down at the computer couple times to start working on a draft. But first, I wanted an image to refer to my procrastination:

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Or, how about this one: You can change ‘dissertation” to “blog”

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Did you know that Pinterest is such a good source of entertainment information?!?! :))

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While I was online, I found out that Feb 5, 2015 is World Nutella Day! Of course, I had to go through the 700+ recipes to see what might inspire me, right? I’m mean, it’s Nutella!! Look at this picture for No Bake Nutella Cheesecake. You know you want some. nutella_cheesecake_03

Or, how about some Creamy Nutella Liqueur. Sounds delish. I’ll be making some for the next girls night :).

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The cheesecake & liqueur would be so amazing to share while chatting away with my high school classmates – we’ve been spending quite a bit of time over the last few days catching up on WhatsApp and it’s such a welcome sight to wake up to dozens of messages from friends waiting to be read. We’ve been reliving the simple pleasures of growing up in India in the 70s and 80s (there, now you all know what age group I’m in:)). Life has taken us in different directions – personal, professional & geographical – yet, it was easier to feel a connection with them after 20+ years than it is to make ‘new friends’ as we get older.

We also travelled to the west coast over the holidays. While I’d been to LA several times before, it was my first trip to Scottsdale & Sedona, and I loved it!! The landscape is so unbelievably beautiful and unlike anything I had seen around DC.

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Santa Monica Beach & Pier

Though I’m not a beach person in the summer (I’ve been told I’m weird – many times!), I enjoy walking on the sand in spring and fall. The cool ocean breeze, the sound of sea gulls and lighter crowds all make for a relaxing outing.

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Santa Monica Pier

We biked to Santa Monica Pier for the rides, games and watching the sun set.

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Universal Studios, CA

While my kids are too old for Disney, Universal Studios is a great place to go, especially with an 11-year old. I really wanted to do Mummy Returns, but my kids said I was ‘too old’ for it! The best part of the visit was that I was able to climb 200 steps  from the lower to the upper lot. The looks on the faces of the people on the escalator was prizeless. Of course, it’s probably a breeze for many of you but was definitely an achievement for me. The last few weeks at the gym were finally showing some results. 🙂

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Crazy Cayote Tacos – enroute LA to Scottsdale – Featured on Anthony Bourdain

Many of the places we ate at on this trip were hole-in-the-wall / mom-and-pop joints. I mean, there’s only so much chain restaurant meals you can have over 10 days. I will write more about them and provide links for you to use if you are ever in the area. Crazy Cayote Cafe was a family run shack located just outside an Indian Reservation about 2 hours out of LA towards Scottsdale. We had really delicious tacos, spanish rice and a burrito almost the size of my forearm!! All items were under $10 bucks, and the portions were pretty big. Spicy too! But in a good way :))

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McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trail – Scottsdale, AZ

Besides Old Town, Scottsdale, we really enjoyed the scenic hike at McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These tall saguaro plants are exclusive to the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona & western Mexico. It is the tallest cactus in all of USA, but grows at an excruciatingly slow pace of about an inch or two every 10 years. While they can grow up to 40-60 feet tall, interestingly, their roots are only a few inches deep long and are spread as wide as the plant is tall. About 1.6 million of these plants are in the Sonoran desert, and are truly a sight to see.

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Earthquake fault line at Broken Arrow Trail, Sedona, AZ

One of the coolest things of the trip to Sedona was taking the Broken Arrow Trail with Pink Jeep Tours. We rode with a professional guide/driver in an open pink Jeep Wrangler, and were taken off road to some spectacularly beautiful view points. The picture above shows an earthquake fault line (different versions state anywhere between 12-30 miles long), and I was amazed at how straight it was, although I’d never expected to see one in my life. It was supposedly so ‘small’ that it didn’t even have a name. Our guide called it “Nobody’s Fault” :)).

We also got a chance to finally go up to the National Christmas Tree by the White House. The 2014 theme was Pathway of Peace. The tree was surrounded by 56 smaller trees representing every US state, territory & Washington, DC. Model trains chugged around at its base, and there was also a giant Menorah on the grounds. We had driven by on several other years, but this was my first visit on foot.

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National Christmas Tree 2014 (time.com)

College acceptance letters came back and my son got into his dream school. Back to feeling “Where did the time go?” It wasn’t that long ago that I was walking him to the kindergarten classroom. ******* sniffle****

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Now that you know why I’ve been away, I hope you can excuse my absence 🙂 and walk along with me as I work my way through my recipe stash and share them with you in 2015. I have a lineup of interesting & international cuisine to share with  you – salads, personalized Valentine’s Day cake, idlis that need no fermenting, easy entertaining recipes, and even low-carb healthy meals that I’ve been making each night for the last few weeks. Hope you all enjoy your weekend and have a fantastic 2015.

World’s Best Salsa

Homemade Salsa

Ok….I know I sound like a braggart using this title. But really!!! – this is truly the best salsa I have ever eaten!! (Notice all the exclamation marks.) I got this recipe from my friend Soumya, and no store bought version even comes close. My family loves their chip and 7-layer dip, and they always ask me to make a BIG batch of this yummy and easy salsa. The icing on the cake is that it keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days AND it freezes well too. What’s not to love about that?!?!

I have tried making this salsa with fresh or canned whole or canned crushed tomatoes. It just seems to taste better with canned diced tomatoes; stock up on a few cans from Costco and you whip up a batch in no time :).

Homemade Salsa

  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes – (do not drain)
  • 1/2 small red onion (medium chunks)
  • 2-3 jalapeno peppers (quartered)
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • salt to taste
  • lime / lemon juice to taste
  • pinch of sugar

1) Add all the ingredients in a big food processor jar and pulse till it reaches desired consistency. I like my finely minced.

Sometimes, I mix hummus & this salsa together to make a spicy and creamy salad dressing – give it a try. For other related recipes, check out my post on Homemade Chipotle-Style Buffet & Tortilla Salad (Lots of Vegetarian Options)

Corn & Peppers Medley

Corn & Pepper Salad

Served with our Homemade Chipotle-Style Buffet and Tortilla Salad (Lots of Vegetarian Options). This is super easy to put together, and is so colorful on the table.

Corn & Peppers Medley

(Serves 10-12 as salad topper)

  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 medium red onion (diced fine)
  • 1 red bell pepper (diced the same size as the corn kernels)
  • 1/2 medium green pepper (diced the same size as the corn kernels) – optional
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers (diced fine)
  • 2 (15 oz) cans sweet corn (well drained) – [can use frozen corn – thawed & drain well]
  • salt to taste
  • Lemon / lime juice to taste

1) Heat a wide, flat-bottom pan on medium high. Add oil.

2) Saute the onions till just turning soft, about 1 minute.

3) Add jalapenos & peppers and saute for another minute.

4) Add corn & salt and saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

5) Adjust lime juice and salt to taste and serve.

Easy Shredded Mexican Chicken for Tortilla Salads or Burritos

Taco Chicken in Crock Pot

I made this chicken as one of the toppings for my Homemade Chipotle-Style Buffet & Tortilla Salad (Lots of Vegetarian Options) dinner. While I made this in the crock-pot, it can be made on the stove-top too. 3-ingredients is all it takes, and it can be used to top salads, tacos, stuff burritos, make nachos, or served on top of rice or quinoa. The leftovers freeze well, so make a batch and stock up.

Easy Shredded Mexican Chicken

(Serves 10-12 as a salad topping)

  • 2 lbs skinless & boneless chicken thighs ( use chicken breast if you prefer that)
  • 1-2 Tbsp taco seasoning
  • 3 cups salsa

1) Spray the insides of a 4-5 quart crock-pot insert with non-stick spray.

2) Add the chicken, salsa & seasoning and mix well.

3) Cook on LOW for 4 hours without opening the lid.

4) Check for doneness at end of 4 hours and shred with 2 forks.

5) Adjust the seasoning as needed and cook for another 30 minutes if necessary.

STOVE-TOP METHOD:

1) Mix chicken, salsa & seasoning in a wide pan with a lid.

2) Top with about 1/2 cup broth/water and bring to a boil.

3) Reduce the heat and cook for about 15-20 minutes on low. [Keep the lid slightly tilted so that some of the moisture and steam can escape.]

4) Shred with two forks and adjust seasoning as needed.

5) Put back in the pan and saute on medium-high for another 3-5 minutes and serve.

Tofu Sofritas (Vegan)

Tofu Sofritos

Original Chipotle Tofu Sofritas is braised (seared on high heat in fat, then simmered in a liquid) in a combination of spicy peppers and spices. While I would have loved to replicate the exact recipe, I didn’t want to buy 1-use ingredients like poblano, adobo, etc. This version here is quite close in taste, but easier and not as saucy as the original. You can use store bought taco seasoning or make your own blend with ingredients at home.

Tofu Sofritas

  • 1 (16 oz) extra firm tofu (if not available, use firm)
  • 3-4 Tbsp oil
  • 1 medium onion (chopped fine)
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 Tbsp taco seasoning
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • 1-1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/3 cup salsa (or 2 Tbsp tomato paste & 2 Tbsp water/stock/beer mixed together)
  • salt to taste

1) Drain tofu from package and press to remove as much moisture as possible.

2) Move to a bowl and crumble the tofu with your hands or a fork.

3) Mix in the taco seasoning, red chilli powder, cumin and oregano.

4) Heat a wide & thick-bottom pan, and add oil.

5) Add the minced garlic and saute till golden. Do not burn it.

6) Add the chopped onions and saute on medium-high till it starts to brown lightly.

7) Now add the seasoned tofu and stir fry on medium-high for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add another teaspoon or two of oil if the tofu mix sticks to the bottom of the pan.

8) Add in the salsa or tomato paste mixture and mix well. Continue stir frying till well incorporated and the mixture is almost dry. Adjust salt to taste. Top with chopped cilantro if you like.

This can be served on a salad, in a burrito, as a lettuce wrap, or with rice or quinoa.

For serving suggestions, and to see other related recipes, see my post on Homemade Chioptle-Style Buffet & Tortilla Salad (Lots of vegetarian options)

Vegetarian Pinto Beans for Burrito Bowl or Tortilla Salad

Pinto Beans

 

Serve these beans as an option alongside Mexican-style black beans, tofu sofrito, cilantro-lime rice, and salsa chicken when you want a Homemade Chipotle-style Buffet & Tortilla Salad (Lots of Vegetarian Options). It can be made ahead and heated at the time of serving. Leftovers freeze beautifully, and I’ve had it without any accompaniments as a hearty chilli. Adjust the spice levels to suit your tastes – this version is medium spiced.

Vegetarian Pinto Beans for Burrito Bowl or Tortilla Salad

(Serves 12-15)

  • 1 lb dry pinto beans *** (picked, rinsed, soaked in water overnight)
  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped fine OR (1 Tbsp paste)
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 (15 oz) tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup taco seasoning (or to taste)
  • 3 cups water
  • salt to taste

1) Discard the soaking water and rinse the pinto beans well. Drain and set aside.

2) In a large stockpot, heat the oil on medium-high.

3) Saute garlic, then onion for a few minutes till fragrant and just starting to brown.

4) Add cumin powder and stir for a few seconds.

5) Add the pinto beans, taco seasoning, tomato sauce and salt. Mix well.

6) Bring to a boil, then reduce flame and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours uncovered, stirring occasionally.

7) The beans should neither be dry or runny. Add more water or broth is it looks too dry, or cook uncovered for longer on a higher flame if it seems too runny.

8) Check beans for doneness, and adjust seasoning.

 

***NOTE: You can substitute 4 (15 oz) cans of pinto beans for 1 lb dry. Drain 2 cans and reserve the liquid. Follow recipe as stated above by using 2 cans undrained & the beans from the drained cans too. Cook according to above instructions, but reduce time to 30-40 minutes. If you need more liquid, then use what was reserved from the cans. Or simply rinse out all beans, and use about 2-3 cups of water / broth.

Chipotle-style Cilantro Lime Rice (Vegetarian)

Cilantro Lime Rice

This is an easy and mild recipe that you can serve with a Mexican or Tex-Mex style dinner. I made this for my Homemade Chipotle-Style Buffet & Tortilla Salad (Lots of Vegetarian Options) for an informal gathering at our house a while back. (The photo is pathetic, but the taste was delicious!).

Chipotle-style Cilantro Lime Rice

(Serves 12-15)

This recipe scales well, so feel free to reduce or increase proportions as necessary. I have listed a large quantity as I served a dinner party.

For a family size meal (2 adults + 2 kids), 1 cup of rice might be enough.

  • 3 cups long grain rice (eg: basmati)
  • 5-1/2 cups water
  • 2 – 3 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 2 – 3 medium limes (juiced)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 stick butter (or scant 1/4 cup oil)

1) Rinse the rice with cold water and drain completely.

2) In a medium saucepan with lid, mix rice, salt and water, and bring to a boil on medium-high.

3) Once it comes to a boil, stir once, cover and reduce heat to minimum.

4) Allow to cook undisturbed for about 15 minutes. Open the lid and fluff the top layer gently with a fork, and cover quickly. Turn off the heat and allow the rice to rest for 5-10 minutes.

5) Add butter, cilantro & lime juice to taste. Adjust salt as needed. Mix well and serve.

I served this with a Homemade Chipotle-Style Tortilla Salad with beans, tofu and chicken options.