Monthly Archives: March 2012

Honey Lavender Cookies

To celebrate my twiggy lavender plant surviving another winter…I decided to make cookies!   Lavender happens to be one of my very favorite things.  I dry my laundry with lavender sachets, I wash my hands with lavender soap, I even put lavender drops on my pillow before I go to bed at night.  Obsessed?  Probably.

You can even find a few sprigs of lavender on top of my microwave, along with photos of my 2 grandmothers and my recipe book.

Aside from practically bathing myself in lavender, I also love to cook and bake with it.  It’s fabulous combined with other herbs, mixed with a little butter, and smothered all over a roasted chicken.  It’s equally delicious added to strawberry jam (see recipe here).  Lavender is one of those herbs that can easily teeter the boundary of being both savory and sweet.

I haven’t really baked anything lately, so I figured it was probably about time I did.  I wasn’t in the mood for cake, a pie seemed like too much work, but cookies sounded perfect!  Because Piyush had taken the car today for work (and my vehicle is still at my Dad’s shop), I was stuck at home.  That meant I had to make due with what I had.  …and what I had made some pretty awesome cookies, if I do say so myself.

lavender biscuits, honey lavender biscuits

Lavender Honey Cookies

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Chicken Jalfrezi

Chicken Jalfrezi

It’s no secret that I love Indian style curries.  They’re delicious, spicy, and usually pretty healthy (assuming you are making them yourself!).  Yesterday, I shared my recipe for a good gravy base that will have you turning out curry after curry in no time.  Today, I’m going to show you how to use that base to make a dish that will blow your mind! Continue reading

Curry in a Hurry! Simple Curry Base Recipe

Do you love Indian style curries, but don’t make them at home because you think they take too much time?  Or effort?  Or skill?  Do you make curries at home, only to find that they’re nothing like the ones you order at your favorite restaurant? I’m going to let you in on a little secret…something I do, sometimes, to help save time.  Ready?  Here it goes:

It doesn’t look like much, I know.  And, most traditional Indian cooks would not make so much gravy at one time…or freeze it.  In fact, In India they don’t freeze much of anything (in my experience).  But, luckily for you…and me…I’m not a traditional Indian cook. Continue reading

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Spring has Sprung! Garden Progress and a New Wreath

This Winter/Spring has been the weirdest.  I mean, really, we used our snow blower only twice this year- and even then it wasn’t entirely necessary.  With unusually warm temperatures in Minnesota, my perennial gardens were blooming…with weeds!  In early March!

The dandelions have begun to take over!   Last year when everything in the backyard was weeded properly, I mulched everything really well.  Before mulching, I didn’t lay down any sort of weed barrier.  Big mistake.  I battled the tenacious (and quite vicious, if you ask me!) Canadian Thistle all summer long.  I felt like I was fighting this losing battle, and gardening just wasn’t fun anymore.  I had to be outside every single day (sometimes two or three times a day) attacking this stupid weed.  I tried everything (nearly), and even asked the local garden center what to do.  Their recommendation:  Total Vegetation Killer.   Yikes!  I didn’t want to go that route, so this year I decided to rake up all the mulch I laid down last year and put down some landscaping fabric.  It was a lot of work, but my super awesome friend, Megan, came over to help:

Megan helping lay the fabric

We managed to finish two of the biggest areas—in a little over 2 hours!  We were rockin’ it!  It was actually kind of fun, and I hope it really does keep the weeds from taking over this year.

When we purchased our house, nearly two years ago, both the front yard and the backyard looked like hell.  I mean, it really looked like a wild jungle.  A single, 80 year old lady owned our place and I think all the gardens became too much for her to handle.  Heck!  I’m not even 30 and they were too much for me to handle!!!

Here’s a few photos of the backyard from last year—after everything was pretty much cleaned up.

This looks small, I know. It's not though. It is probably at least 6' wide. The raised bed that's in there is a 4'x4' if that gives any idea to the actual size of this garden.

This was the worst. I'm not real sure why they decided to build the fence like they did and leave that portion of the yard unfenced, but it is a HUGE area...and the weeds love it there. I'm thinking of planting a pine tree in that empty space (which is bigger than it looks).

This area still looks a little wild. I'm going to get rid of all that green stuff in the front part. It's invasive and I hate it. I don't know what it is...

I've tackled this area already this spring....fabric laid down, just need to mulch. And possibly divide that hydrangea?

I laid fabric on the backside of this garden last year...and the thistles were no longer a problem. I'm hoping that's true for everything else this year.

I was excited that my new home had all these beautiful flowers and plants, and I had all these big ideas about how pretty it was going to look when I was done with everything.  I knew nothing about gardening, couldn’t tell the difference between some of the flowers and the weeds, and very quickly became discouraged.  I didn’t know where to start and the further I got into the project, the bigger the project seemed.  We had a landscaper come out and tell me what things were (and they did that for free!), then we decided to hire him to clean everything up in the backyard so that I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.  We were so happy with his work that we hired him again this year to do our front yard (which still looks like a jungle!).  Now I just have to keep up with everything…

Do any of you have giant perennial gardens?  How do you keep them (semi)weed-free?  How about veggie gardens?  Our gardens in the front yard are so full of stuff that laying landscape fabric down is not really an option….and it kind of makes me crazy thinking about how I’m going to keep up with it all.

I’m excited though…hopefully my veggie garden will do good this year and I can make salads, like this:

with things I grew myself.

I was so happy last year when my first tomato grew!  Unfortunately my garden struggled…but I got a few things out of it.

On a totally different topic, with the arrival of spring, comes a new wreath for the door!

I bought the wreath, itself, at a garage sale last year.  For a dollar, I believe.  It’s a brown, straw form.  Although I bought this pre-made, it looks easy enough to make on your own.  Basically all that grass looking stuff is just hot-glued into/onto the form.  I then added the sprig of purple beads and the butterflies.  I thought it needed a little somethin’ extra.

Before I added the embellishments to it, the wreath had been sitting on my counter…taking up space.  My cat, Penny, decided she liked it:

Penny, nesting.

She thinks she owns everything…

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Shrimp Fajitas (without the funky chemical “spices”)

Have you ever went to the grocery store with the intention of making either fajitas or tacos that night for dinner?  Did you pick up some amazingly fresh produce, buy some lovely seafood (or equally expensive chicken breasts), and then throw one of those packaged fajita/taco seasoning pouches in your cart?  I have.  Many times.

I’d go home, cook everything up, add the spice mix (following the directions on the back), take a bite, and immediately wish I would’ve went to Chipotle instead.  There’s just always something so funky tasting about those little spice packets, and no wonder!  Look at the ingredients:

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I’m pretty sure Mexican’s don’t use soy sauce to make fajitas.  Or caramel coloring.  Or natural flavors.  What the heck are natural flavors anyway?  Shouldn’t the natural flavors come from the vegetables and the proteins? Where are the spices? After reading the back of that package, there was no way I was going to use that to make our dinner. A little salt, pepper, lime juice, cumin and chipotle would do the trick.  I decided to use chipotle chile powder because it has a nice smokey flavor to it, and it’s not an artificial smokey flavor either.  Chipotle chile powder is made from ground up smoked jalapenos.  It’s not super spicy, but gives the dish the flavor and the kick that would be expected if you ordered fajitas in a restaurant.

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I loved the texture on my lime…it looks like it has goosebumps!

I had bought a few green and red bell peppers last week, and they were starting to get a little wrinkly—the red peppers were 88 cents/each…which is a steal in our area.  Here, in Rochester, red bell peppers are usually nearly $3 a piece!  Isn’t that insane?  One red pepper costs more than a whole pineapple!  I’m glad summer is almost here so I can grow my own!!!

I didn’t have any shrimp at home, so unfortunately I had to make a trip to the grocery store.  I bought a little less than a pound of medium wild US caught shrimp, an onion, and a new head of garlic.  When I got home I threw the shrimp in a marinade, cut up all my veggies, and got to cookin’.

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Cooking the shrimp—marinade and all!

One thing I really love about fajitas is that you can make them ahead of time and just reheat when you’re ready to eat them.  Piyush decided that he had to go golfing today, so I had no idea what time he’d be back for dinner.  Once he got home (at 7:15pm), dinner could be on the table in 5 minutes.

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Two, Perfect Shrimp Fajitas

These fajitas were absolutely amazing, and ditching the pre-made spice mix made all the difference, I’m positive of it!  I would even go so far as to say that my version of the shrimp fajita could rival that of any restaurant!  Yes.  They were that good.

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Shrimp Fajita mixture

I served the fajita mixture on high fiber tortillas (50 calories/ea) that I had spread about a tablespoon of refried beans onto.  I topped them with some romaine and greek yogurt.  There were some beautiful tomatoes too, but I forgot all about them until after we finished eating.  Dohhh!

My shrimp fajitas recipe makes quite a lot.  This is a really light supper, and each fajita is only around 160 calories.  How exciting is that?!  I had two, Piyush had three, and there is more than enough left for dinner tomorrow.   I work really early tomorrow and the following day, so not having to worry about making dinner will be a good thing.  That means I can (hopefully) go to bed earlier!  I might even make it to the gym!

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Next time you make fajitas at home, I hope you are inspired to ditch the chemical packets and try your hand at making them “from scratch.”  I swear it’s easy…and it’s way more healthy for you than adding a package of powder created in some lab!

Shrimp Marinade:

  • 1 lb fresh medium sized, wild caught shrimps (not previously cooked)
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • juice of half a lime
  • zest of half a lime
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. ground chipotle chile powder
  • 2 tbsp. minced cilantro
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

Rinse and dry shrimp.  Put them in a large ziploc bag along with the other marinade ingredients.  Toss everything together until the shrimp are all evenly coated.  Let the shrimp mingle with the marinade for around 30 minutes—while you are cooking the veggies.  

Veggies:

  • 2 large red bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 2 large green bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 large white onion, cut into strips
  • 8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pan.  Once it is hot add in the onions. Cook the onions over med-high heat until they are nice and browned.  This will take around 10 min or so.  Once the onions are browned, add in the garlic.  Cook for about two minutes and then add the peppers.  Stirring occasionally, cook the peppers until they are tender but still have a little bite to them.  Add the mushrooms and cover the pan, they’ll take about 5 minutes to cook.  Season the veggies with salt and pepper.  Remove the veggies from the pan and set them aside.

In the same pan you cooked the vegetables, add a little olive oil (I used my misto).  Dump the shrimp in the pan along with the marinade.  Stir everything together and then put the lid on the pan.  After a minute give everything another good stir and flip the shrimp.  Once the shrimp have cooked for around 4-5 minutes (once the shrimp are fully cooked), add the veggies back into the pan and stir everything together.  Let the mixture cook together for about 5 minutes, with the lid on.  Take the lid off, scoop the mixture into tortillas, and enjoy!!!

Your mouth will thank you!  Mine did.  :-)

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Easy Aloo Tikki (Potato Patty)

I thought today was a good day to prepare and freeze some Momos.  Piyush and I are planning on visiting my family this weekend, and I wanted to take some easy—and healthy—food along.  My family lives in a tiny town where there really aren’t many options for food.  There are even less options for good food (unless mom is cookin’ something up).  Piyush is going to be writing some software for my dad to use in his business—and plans to have it completed by Sunday, so he won’t really have a lot of time to devote to eating.  I’m not sure if my family of (very) picky eaters will jump at the chance to try my steamed momos, but it’s worth a try.

I made the momos a little smaller this time, and ended up with a lot of leftover dough.  I think next time I make them I will make double the filling and keep the amount of dough the same.  (If you’re wondering what the heck a momo is, check out this post.  It will enlighten you.  I promise).

While making the filling for the momos I ended up with about a half cup of extra mashed potato.  I decided I was going to make Piyush a special snack to eat when he came home from the office.  The momos are an amazing treat by themselves, but those are for the weekend.  Instead, I decided to make Piyush something I know he loves….Aloo Tikki!

Aloo Tikki

“Aloo” means potato and “Tikki” means a small cutlet, patty or croquette.  Aloo Tikki is basically just a patty made out of mashed potatoes and spices.  It’s so easy to make, and so tasty.  There are about a million recipes for this delicious little snack.  Some recipes I read called for the use of a pressure cooker and some involved incredible amounts of prep time.  I, personally, believe that something so simple should also be simple to prepare.

Because I was making the momos, I had the mashed potatoes made.  I also had grated some carrots, diced some onions, and crushed some ginger.  All I had to do was mix everything together…toss in some spices…and fry ‘em up in a pan.  I can’t say there is really a recipe—with an exact ratio of ingredients.  Instead it’s kind of like…a little of this, and a little of that all tossed together and the results are a delicious party in your mouth.

I think the key to making a good aloo tikki is simply just tasting as you go.  You could really throw anything in these patties:  peas, cauliflower, fresh chiles…whatever you have!  As for the potato, you’ll want to have enough to bind everything together.  I also throw in a little bit of panko bread crumbs for some extra binding power.  I hate it when the tikkis break apart when you’re cooking them!

As for the spices…salt, pepper, garam masala, coriander leaves (cilantro) and chile powder are all that I used.  You could substitute panch phoron (Bengali 5-spice mix) for the garam masala…and that would be awesome!  Just make sure to taste everything as you go along.

After you have everything mixed together really well, roll the mixture into balls—a little over a tablespoon will do.  Then, roll the balls in flour (not too much), flatten into patties and heat up your oil!  I don’t use much oil at all, just a little bit to coat the bottom of the pan (don’t use a non-stick pan!).  Once the oil is heated, put the tikkis in the pan and let them cook until both sides are nicely browned.  Serve the delicious aloo tikkis with both tamarind chutney and green (coriander/mint) chutney.

Yum!

Dinner tonight will also be quite simple.  Leftovers!

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani ---Lentils in a creamy tomato gravy. I use 1/4 c. half and half and 2 cups of yogurt to replicate what you'd typically get at an Indian restaurant. To help achieve that creamy look I blend everything together before I add the main ingredient (lentils) ...This is before the cooking.

Dal Makhani

Delicious! After 4 hours of cooking... This is not a quick and easy dish to make.

Yesterday was Holi, the Hindu holiday also known as the Festival of Colors, so I made Piyush a few different curries.  I made Dal Makhani (or at least my version of it).  I’ll post this recipe sometime soon…it’s long and kind of complicated, although it really shouldn’t be!  It involved a lot of spices:

This wasn't even close to all the spices I used...this was only for one part of the gravy.

This dish took over 5 hours from start to finish, actually.  Not all of the time was active cooking—but still.  It took a long time!

I have also been craving more vegetables lately, meat just hasn’t sounded appetizing.  Therefore I also made a curry that was a cross between Butter Paneer and Muttar Paneer.   I made a really easy gravy (curry) and added in some mushrooms, peas and paneer.

Paneer is a fresh, Indian cheese made with milk.  It reminds me a lot of tofu.  You could use tofu in place of paneer, if you’d like.  The dish will have pretty much the same flavor.  Before I add paneer to a dish I fry it up in about 2 tsp. of oil and a tsp. of garam masala.

cooking paneer

I just think it tastes better that way.

Have a happy weekend, everyone!!!!