Author Archives for Swati Raje

Healthier Options for Takeout

Since I started this blog, some have asked me if I cook “like this” everyday.  The truth is yes, I try to.  But as we all know that isn’t always possible. The problem is I am not a fan of takeout and can’t afford to eat at restaurants quite so often.  My solution is to use prepared or frozen ingredients that I purchase at the store and turn them into a quick and delicious meal in less time than it takes to order and pickup mediocre takeout food.

Today was a busy day.  There were too many loads of laundry to do, sheets to change, a house to clean, food shopping for the week, along with my son’s activities.  After 2 hours on the tennis court my son was hungry and I hadn’t even thought about dinner.  For just such nights I keep a few things around the house that help me out.  We had Veal Osso Buco Ravioli with sauteed yellow and green Romano flat beans.  And it was ready in 20 minutes.

The ravioli is a Mario Batali brand and there are many different stuffings.  The veal osso buco is one of my favorites.  All I do is boil some water, cook the ravioli for 4 minutes, and toss it with some extra virgin olive oil and some parmigiano reggiano. 

The Romano beans I buy frozen at Trader Joe’s.  I saute them pretty much the same way I cook most of my veggies – toast cumin seeds in olive oil, add garlic, add the beans, salt and pepper.  Saute for 3 minutes, then add 2 tbsps of water, cover and cook on medium low heat for 8-10 minutes.

This dinner literally took less than 20 minutes and is so much healthier than any takeout food you might consider.  Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s and other specialty markets today carry so many options in partially prepared meals and allow you to feed your family a quick and healthy meal that they will love.

If anyone has another shortcut meal like this, please post and share with us.  May you have many culinary adventures this week. 

Swati

Have your steak and eat it too!

Most people I talk to are afraid to cook steak at home.  Particularly during the winter when the BBQ grill is not an option.  Well, be afraid no more.  Steak is easy to cook and all you need is a stove top grill.  I have a large one that fits over two burners but you could just as easily use a grill pan which can be found at almost any store which sells pots & pans.

For last night’s dinner I chose a Wagyu Kobe skirt steak which I marinated overnight, grilled and served with a homemade chimichurri.  It was quick, healthy, and delicious and my friend who “doesn’t like to eat meat cooked at home” ate every bite and particularly liked the chimichurri.  I accompanied it with mashed cauliflower and parsnips (you’ll never miss the potatos) and a tomato-dill soup.  If you’re not distracted by other things like work or baking brownies for your son’s birthday as I was last night, the whole meal can be made in about an hour or less.  Here’s how…….

Wine served – Ledson 2005 Cepage – Sonoma County

Sorry folks……with all the aforementioned distractions I forgot to take photos for this one.

Tomato-Dill Soup

1 28oz can of San Marzano whole tomatoes (can also use crushed)
1 Cup of fresh dill – coarsely chopped
1 medium red onion – sliced
2 cloves garlic – sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp heavy cream
Fresh whole baby spinach leaves

Heat olive oil in a pot on medium high heat.  Add garlic, onion and crushed pepper and saute for 1 – 2 minutes until soft.  Add the tomatoes and stir.  Using a potato masher, mash the tomatoes into pieces.  Add dill, thyme, salt and black pepper and stir.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes.  Allow to cool for a while.  Puree soup in a blender until smooth.  Pour back into the pot and return to heat and bring to a boil.  In the meantime, prepare your soup bowls by placing about 8 – 10 leaves of spinach at the bottom.  Once the soup is boiling again, turn off heat and add cream.  Stir and ladle the hot soup into each bowl.  The heat will wilt the spinach.  Serve with no garnish – It’s delicious as is. 

Steak Marinade

2 large cloves garlic chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp Olive oil

Combine and pour over steak in a ziploc bag.  This is enough for 1 skirt steak (approx. .75 lbs) which serves 2.  Refrigerate overnight.  Grill steak to desired doneness.  Skirt steak can be cooked to well done and will still be tender.  Cut steak on a bias against the grain to serve.  Serve with Chimichurri (recipe follows)

Chimichurri

2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 Tbsp Red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 Cup Italian parsley – finely chopped
1/4 Cup Cilantro – finely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and let stand for 2 hours before serving.

Cauliflower & Parsnip puree

1 head of cauliflower – cored and cut into large florets
1 medium parsnip – cut into cubes
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp olive oil

In a large pot heat the oil and garlic until it starts to brown.  Add the parsnips and cauliflower, and then the salt and pepper.  Stir to coat with the oil and continue to saute for about 5 minutes on med-high heat.  Add chicken broth, turn heat to low, cover and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until cauliflower and parsnips are very tender.  Allow to cool slightly.  Using an immersion blender, puree in the pot.  Add cream and stir until smooth.  Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

I hope I have inspired you to try “grilling” some steak in February.  Let me know if you have any suggestions or alternatives……Enjoy!!!

The Biryani Challenge

A few weeks ago I was challenged by a friend, who is a self proclaimed biryani connoisseur, to make an authentic biryani because I made the mistake of saying that I make a pretty good one.  You see he’s from Hyderabad, the land where biryani originated.  It was argued that more than likely I make a pulao rather than a biryani.  I countered that while I don’t make mine exactly in the traditional style, I use the same technique with a recipe I have developed on my own over the years.  And this is where it all started……I took on the challenge and d-day was yesterday. 
For those of you who don’t know what a biryani is – it is an Indian dish made with layers of rice, meat (usually lamb or chicken), sautéed onions, eggs with lots of flavors and spices in between.  You may think you’ve had this in Indian restaurants because so many have it on their menu.  But what most restaurants call a biryani is not the real thing.  It is indeed a pulao which most certainly is not layered or as complex to make and nowhere nearly as delicious.
I started prepping early Saturday.  Ideally I should have marinated the chicken on Friday but Happy Hour in NYC with friends took precedence over this task.  As I went through my day marinating the chicken, slicing and sautéing the onions, etc. I began to worry.  After all I had something to prove, but I had no idea what I was being pitted against since the comparison was going to be made against something I had never tasted; a very personal taste that belonged to someone else.  I thought how in the world do I get myself into these situations and why?  But I calmed down and went about the task at hand.
I finished the final touches on the biryani yesterday while my friend watched me slave away and sipped on a glass of wine.  I must say he was very respectful and no comments were passed on my technique from the peanut gallery.  The house smelled amazing as I pulled it out of the oven and I knew that I had been successful.  But of course that did not mean I was successful in the challenge.  And so we sat down to dinner and I watched anxiously for the reaction.  It was the one I had hoped for.  I was given 10 out of 10 for effort and food, but I downgraded myself to a 9 because of a slight negative comment on something I do with my biryani that I will not change.  You see I call mine a “refined”  biryani which means that I debone the chicken and remove the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves, etc. out of the rice after cooking because I don’t like to necessarily bite down on them while I’m enjoying my food.  I don’t like the intense flavor that they bring to an otherwise balanced bite.  Apparently not everyone feels this way because my friend likes to have all of that left in – can’t please all the people all the time.  But in an effort to make amends, I had saved everything I pulled out in a bowl and just had him add it all to his plate.  And voila! He had the best of both worlds.  I was happy with my rating since the highest rating for what he calls the “best biryani around here” is 7 out of 10 at Paradise Biryani in Edison, NJ.  And I had proven that what I make is definitely not a pulao.
If anyone would like to attempt to make this recipe, I did make notes this time on the ingredients and measurements (sort of) and will put the recipe in my next post.  I must warn you that it takes a lot of time, patience and TLC.  But the result is quite rewarding and delicious and you will not be disappointed.
Final note to self:  Next time just give in and admit that you make a pulao!

A Whole New Perspective on Albany, NY

This past week I had to travel for work to a small NY town called Gloversville.  It is about 40 minutes Northwest of Albany.  I do like to get out of the office once in a while, and be out there in front of my clients in the trenches so in that sense I welcomed the opportunity.  What I don’t like about business travel is the thought of eating meals alone.  Breakfast is not so bad since I can read the newspaper while I sip my tea and eat my yogurt.  But dinner is the meal I dread.  I just don’t do well eating alone which is strange because I do quite a lot of traveling on my own for business and pleasure.  Strangely, I also dread the options of eating at the hotel restaurant or worse – ordering room service.  But despite grueling work demands, my three days in Albany were fun, memorable, and I came back with new friends.
I opted not to stay too close to Gloversville.  For one, there is only one hotel within 20 minutes, and two there is nothing going on up there in the month of February.  Instead I stayed in the state capital of Albany just off the I-90 East so access to the highway was easy for my daily commute.  I arrived on Tuesday evening and after a workout and shower I was hungry.  After the long drive I decided that it would be easier to eat at the café downstairs and proceeded to take a seat at a table.  The woman at the front desk assured me the food was good.  I waited 15 minutes and no one had paid any attention to me because there was not a server or host in sight.  I went to the front desk woman and asked her to call someone.  5 more minutes and nothing!  Having little tolerance for incompetence which is only exacerbated when I’m hungry, I went back to the front desk and asked for local restaurant recommendations.  She cheerfully told me to head toward Wolf Rd, which I know from my past travels, has mostly chain restaurants.  So I asked her if she knew of any restaurants that were not chains.  She looked me squarely in the eye and with big smile said “You should go to PF Changs, it’s really good.”  To which I replied, but that’s a chain…….5 more minutes and she finally understood what I was looking for and directed me to a restaurant just a few miles away called Grappa ’72.
I entered Grappa ’72 and headed toward the bar.  There is absolutely no way I will sit and eat at a table alone.  Yes, I know that sounds weird – especially if you know me.  I much prefer the bar because at least some of the other people also are there alone.  As I walked up I was greeted with a great big hello from Tom , the bartender, who proceeded to ask my name and then introduced me to everyone around the bar.  I’m thinking what a friendly place!  I ordered a glass of wine that he recommended – Luiano Sangiovese – which was delicious.  Their wine list by the glass is quite impressive with an unusually large selection of Italian wines, and they have the proper stemware for different wines – a place after my own heart. 
For my dinner I chose a mixed green salad and lemon rosemary roasted chicken with asparagus and roasted potatoes.  Conversation continued and before my dinner came, I felt like I had known these people for years.  They were from all walks of life and had come to Albany by way of many different places like Washington DC, NYC, San Francisco, etc.  I was having fun!  My dinner arrived and it looked amazing.  I had switched to a Morande Pioneri Sauvignon Blanc from Chile which was definitely a better pairing with the chicken than the Sangiovese.  It was grassy on the nose and palate with a hint of lime zest.  My chicken was delicious!  I never ever eat the skin on chicken but this was so flavorful and crispy that I broke my rule and enjoyed every bite and made sure I thanked the chef later.  I was so happy that the café had not paid attention to me.  I ended my evening chatting with my new friends and exchanging information.  And before leaving I was invited to join a few of them at a different restaurant called Barcelona the next day.
My next evening at Barcelona was quite nice too.  Vincent and Laurel were there and we chatted like old friends.  I was introduced to an 84 year gentleman who served in WWII in the French Legion and to this day jumps out of airplanes for kicks.  Can this story get any better?  The menu at Barcelona is Mediterranean style tapas and Tony behind the bar is a riot to listen to with his rough attitude with all the patrons who he obviously knows.  I ordered some grilled artichokes with goat cheese and roasted peppers along with some spicy baby back ribs.  I had worked late that day and skipped the wine and ended my day.
For my last evening, I decided I was going to go back to Grappa ’72 as I had honestly preferred the ambiance and food better.  This time I had some very good veal with my same Sangiovese plus a special treat of a live jazz band and Tom singing some Sinatra once in a while.  I met Armand the owner whose wife incidentally makes all the desserts on their menu, and Gregory who is originally from the Bronx.  I had more work to complete for the day so I kept my last meal in town brief, said goodbye to my new found friends and went back to my hotel feeling like I had a home to go to the next time I go up that way.  I didn’t care that I still had 3 hours of work to do.  It just wasn’t a big deal.
The next time you go to the Albany area, be sure to stop in at Grappa ’72 or Barcelona and be sure to say hello to everyone for me.  Who knows, you may come back with some new friends too.  Not a bad week after all that dread. 
Happy travels!!!
Swati

A Brief Escape from Reality

This weekend I treated myself to an escape in New York City.  I had plans with a friend late Saturday night and I decided to get a hotel room instead of trekking back home late at night. This would allow me to go in in the afternoon and just use some time to relax.  It has been a bit stressful for the past few months and I needed to get away.  I love NYC in the winter on cool, crisp, sunny days and mild evenings.  There’s no place like it with all the aromas of roasting nuts, hot dogs and the halal food trucks.  There are no tourists and the streets are relatively empty; especially on Sunday morning.

I spent my Saturday afternoon and evening doing things I never get to do: a relaxing afternoon tea, painted my nails (fingers and toes), read a book, browsed through Bloomingdales, etc. I stayed in a Art Deco styled boutique hotel and the adventure of the evening was figuring out how to turn on the shower.  Yup, had to call in an engineer to show me – quite embarrassed when he turned it on within 2 seconds.  I proceeded to meet my friends at Time Hotel Lounge/Club on 49th St.  It was great to not have to worry about how much I was drinking since my bed was only a cab ride away.  Drink of the evening was something called a Cucumber Smash.  I am not much into sweet drinks, and I never make the mistake of ordering a glass of wine at a club (you never know what kind of swill you’ll get) so this was perfect – Cucumber infused vodka, mint, St Germain, lime juice & some muddled cucumber.  Delicious!!  Had a fantastic and fun evening before crashing at around 2:30am.

Slept in till 9:30am – something else I almost never get to do.  I had my eggs benedict for breakfast sans spinach (they were out) and sans the Bloody Mary (had enough vodka & gin the night before).  I requested a late checkout and decided to go for a walk in Central Park.  It was a beautiful Sunday morning.  A little breezy but quite pleasant with a coat and scarf.  The park was fairly empty with only the locals out for runs and walks with their kids.  After walking for about an hour, the smell of the hot dogs got to me and I had to have one.  Yes, I know they’re not healthy, but how can you go to Central Park and NOT eat a hot dog from a street vendor?  I ate mine with sauerkraut and spicy mustard as I always do and kept on walking.  I wound up somewhere around the Met and made my way over to Madison Ave.  This is one of my favorite avenues in Manhattan.  Especially up that North.  It is rarely crowded.  In fact for many blocks I was alone with my thoughts.  At this point I was as relaxed as I could ever be and started heading South back toward my hotel.

As I got close to 864 Madison Avenue, I picked up a heavenly aroma.  When I got there I peeked inside and saw one of my favorite things – Macarons.  The name of the place is Maison Laduree and it specializes in macarons.  Please don’t mix these up with macaroons which are coconut cookies.  Macarons are a French pastry that looks like a round sandwich.  It is light and airy and spread with various delicious fillings. 

I got two macaron with salted caramel and they were absolutely devine.  I nibbled at them slowly the whole walk back to my hotel, and as I left to return home the lingering taste made me feel like my brief escape from reality was truly complete.  I thought about bringing a few home but decided to hold on to this experience to myself for now.  I’ll share another day!
There is absolutely no other city in the world quite like New York!!!  No one will ever convince me otherwise.
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