Best of 2007 and A Year-End Reflection

2007 has indeed been a tremendously important year for me, both on personal and professional fronts. Personally, my parents and my in-laws were with us for almost half of the year, and there were a lot of fun-filled times, family trips, a time for bonding as well as nurturing relationships. Professionally, besides getting a promotion and accolades for my hard work, I also discovered an outlet for my love of food and cooking by means of this blog. Fun and Food started as a single page filled with a few of my favourite recipes, a page that was created solely due to my husband's encouragement, and the thought that this way I could document some of my culinary experiments. Slowly, the nice people in the blogosphere trickled over and left me some comments, some even emailed me saying I have a nice space here, and maybe I should expand it as they'd love to read more of my posts! Then there were my friends and family who left me some pointers about how I could make this blog look more professional; that was all that I needed to ignite the fire within me, and I set forward to make this blog a resource that readers would look up to, visit regularly, and feel happy and somewhat thankful about what they found here!

I took the initiative to enhance my coding and HTML knowledge, and set forth into converting this blog into a more professional, interesting and easy-to-navigate site. And as I was posting my recipes, I felt there's more to Food than plain cooking; there are so many things I wanted to know besides preparing my meals, like what goes into it? Is it nutritious or not? Can I make a healthier version of this meal? How do I bundle it so my guests would be tempted to eat it? Are there any gadgets that can make my work easier? What flavors go well with one another? And it clicked me that others would probably be wondering about similar things just like me, so why not share my findings with everyone. That led to the idea behind combining "Fun" and "Food", and gave rise to sections on Health, Gadgets, Entertaining and Chef-Talk. We also love trying new restaurants and cuisines, and it kind of made sense to share our experiences and opinions through Restaurant Reviews.

Soon blogging became a passion rather than a hobby, and I saw myself trying to scoure markets for new ingredients, pouring over cookbooks and Food Network shows for delicious ideas, baking and cooking new meals almost every other day and forcing my friends and family to be the scapegoats of my experiments (not that they are complaining, because I do cook well!:)) All in all, it's been a wonderful year. Its been only 6 months since I started this site, yet it seems like a long time. I have surely achieved some milestones, but there are many more to conquer! The path is long, and the opportunity to learn and improvise is immense. Yet my readers have been my constant support and encouragement, showing their loyalty by visiting me often, subscribing to this site, leaving fabulous comments and feedback, and also emailing me suggestions about how I could make this a better experience for them. I thank all of you with a sincere heart, and promise to try my level best to live up to your expectations! And I look forward to even more suggestions and enhancement ideas in the coming years so that I can take this blog to another level.

This has to be my longest post by far!! So if you got bored reading this long and un-ending post, it is Nupur to blame, who urged us to participate in her Best of 2007 Event; but if you did enjoy reading this one, then I'll gladly share some cedit with her:) And now, putting an end to my ramblings, here are some of my favorite posts for the year gone by:

Savoury and Spicy Recipes:
Veg Manchurian Dry
Stuffed Ravioli in Saffron and Cream Sauce
Achari Paneer Tikka Wraps
Vegetarian Lasagna
Malai Kofta Curry

Delicious Dessert Recipes:
Chocolate-dipped Orange Madeleines
Semolina and Rose Syrup Cake(Basbousa)
Pecan Pie with Bourbon Whip Cream
Healthy Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti
Kesar Rasmalai

Favourite Healthy Recipes:
Vegan Rice Paper Rolls
Low-fat Blueberry Muffins

Favourite Drink Recipes:
Beet-Cucumber and GInger Juice
The Blue Hawaiin
Hot and Spiced Vanilla Run Drink

That's all for some of my best recipes from last year. Once again, a HUGE THANK YOU to each of you:

- My regular blogging community friends who are always there to leave their precious comments and words of encouragement

- My readers and subscribers, without which my blog would have no meaning. And please keep doing that, because seeing my traffic and page views go up is like a tonic to my system:)

- The people coming here from searches or recommendations, who sometimes do take time to comment or email me, and I urge you to keep giving me your support through regular visits!

- The various blogging communities like Food Blog Desam, and other web directories, which helped me gain my initial audience.

- And last, but not the least, my family, especially my husband, and friends who have given their best in helping me realize this dream called Fun and Food.

"Ring out the old, Ring in the new; Ring out the false and Ring in the true"

Here's wishing all of you a Joyous, Prosperous and Fulfilling 2008!!

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Almond and Pistachio Ice Cream Pie

I've had enough of my holiday baking, and these simple almond & pistachio ice-cream pies are perfect for a stress-free dessert craving! I came across these mini-pie-crusts in Safeway, and they were so cute, I simply had to pick them up. And though I initially intended to make fruit tarts, once I got home and saw a bag of pistachios gawking out of my kitchen cabinets, my plans had changed. I craved for some nuts and ice cream, so naturally, I decided to go for these no-maintenance, extremely simple yet delicious Ice Cream Pie topped with almonds, pistachios and chocolate sauce.

The best thing about these pies is that they can be made a few hours before serving time, and there are a hundred ways to improvise them to suit your tastebuds. Just follow my recipe or substitute it with flavors you like.

Mini pie-shells
A can of almond and coffee ice cream (pistachio or vanilla would be great too)
whole and sliced almonds - for garnish
chopped fresh pistachios - unsalted, for garnish
Hersheys chocolate sauce

Take 6 scoops of ice cream and microwave it for 5-7 seconds. Take the mini pie-shells and fill them almost upto the brim with the semi-solid ice cream mixture. Line the edge of the pie shells with chocolate sauce, then put the shells in the freezer for at least 3-4 hours.

When you are ready to serve these, garnish with almonds and chopped pistachios. You can get as artistic as you want. I think some fresh red raspberries would also add a lovely color to the pie. Do not forget to remove the shell covers/wraps before serving!

These mini ice cream pies are perfect for small-scale entertaining! They look cute, are ready in no time, and are scrumptious to eat!

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Bourbon Pecan Pie
Fig (Anjeer) Ice Cream
Apple & Pecan Cobbler

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Mixed Berry and White Chocolate Bread Pudding

Hope everyone had a great Christmas, and enjoyed it with their friends and family. But the holidays are still on in full swing, and so is the cooking and baking spree. After taking a 3-day well-deserved skiing break, I got back to my oven to make this Mixed Berry and White Chocolate Bread pudding. Lots of desserts and delicacies fall under the "Pudding" umbrella, like gellos, panna cotta, mousse, gooey cakes and more. But the most widely-known form of pudding is the bread pudding. As the name suggests, you make layers of milk or cream-soaked bread and top it with fruits, nuts, chocolate or anything that your heart desires:) freeze it for some hours, then toss it in the oven to make it warm and gooey, and relish it with your favorite toppings. An exquisite dessert that can range from simple to elaborate and classic. There are tonnes of ways to experiment with this, but here's my version full of berries, raisins, chocolate and bread!

I'm not a huge fan of white chocolate, and don't generally use it in my cooking, with white chocolate mocha and white chocolate-macadamia nut cookies being exceptions. Somehow, it feels just right in this pudding recipe. It does help bring out the color and flavor of the mixed berries. But if you want, you can use regular chocolate too.

1 cup mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup sugar (or less, if using sweet condensed milk)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup shredded white chocolate (or semi-sweet chocolate chips)
8-9 large slices of thick white bread (not too soft, toast for 1 minute if too soft)
1 cup condensed milk

Spray an 8-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray. Line the sprayed pan with plastic wrap, pressing it against the edges and allow some of the wrap to overhang on all sides.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the mixed berries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, The salt and lemon will urge them to give up some of their juice, and that's when you know the berries are cooked, about 10 minutes. Add the raisins and continue cooking until all the berries are soft and have well-cooked, forming a sauce. Remove from the heat and let it cool.

Remove the edges of the bread slices. Cut each slice into 4 pieces. Arrange one layer of bread slices, pour 1/2 of the berry sauce over them; add the white chocolate, then repeat with another layer of same ingredients.

Gently pour the milk evenly over the layers so it trickles down. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours.

Remove the pudding and carefully peel off the plastic. Now preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and bake the pudding for about 15-20 mins, just until the pudding is warm in the center and a bit of golden on the top. Remove and cut into huge chunks and serve the Bread Pudding immediately!

Tip: The pudding may be made 2 days in advance and kept refrigerated. This can be served with chocolate sauce, or ice cream or even whipped cream. Just remember that the pudding tastes best when it's warm and gooey.

Similar Recipes:
Banana Bread and Cream Cheese Pudding
Baked Strawberry Dessert Pudding
Vanilla Panna-Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

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Old-fashioned Cuban Mojito with Lime and Mint

A mojito (pronounced mo-hee-to), is the same drink that we saw James Bond (i.e. the handsome Pierce Brosnan) sipping in Cuba, for the movie Die Another Day. This is one of Cuba’s oldest cocktails, and comes from the African word mojo, which means "to place a little spell".

Legend traces its roots to 1586, when Francis Drake and his pirates tried to sack Havana for its gold. While the invasion was unsuccessful, Drake’s associate, Richard Drake, was said to have invented a mojito-like cocktail known as El Draque made with aguardiente (similar to rum), sugar, lime and mint. Early on, it was consumed for medicinal purposes. But somewhere around the mid-1800s, the recipe was altered and gained in popularity as the original Bacardi Company was established. The new version became famous as the Mojito we all know. So here's the traditional cocktail recipe. This is a very sparkling and refreshing drink, perfect for cocktail parties or dinner events. In fact, due to the presence of lime and mint, this is one cocktail that has a lot of cleansing ability!

8-10 fresh mint sprigs
1 tbsp sugar dissolved in 1 tbsp water
3-4 tbsp fresh lime juice (use lime, not lemon)
1 oz light rum
club soda
mint sprigs and lime wedges - for garnish

In a tall glass, crush part of the mint with a fork. Add the sugar syrup and lime juice and stir thoroughly. Fill with 3-4 ice cubes. Add rum and shake a bit. Top off with chilled club soda. Garnish with a lime slice and some mint leaves, and serve immediately.

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Bombay Chinese Restaurant - Dallas, TX

Fusion between authentic cuisines has been experimented successfully since quite some time now, and has led to discovery of many retro cuisines, one such being "Indian-Chinese", chinese food prepared with Indian spices. It's a trend that began in the Western part of India and is said to be most popular with younger Indian folk. This type of food caters to a large variety of people, and ranges from mild to hot and spicy. I've always been a fan of a restaurant in Dallas which was my first exposure to this type of food in USA, and I think I can definitely say that Bombay Chinese is the only restaurant in Dallas to serve the best indian-chinese food! If you are in or around the area, be sure to try it.

Located in Richardson Heights, a small food-mall area with a range of eating places, Bombay Chinese is holding its ground since a long long time. The decor of the place is simple, with standard wooden chairs and tables adorned with red tablecloths and placemats. The walls show photographs of tourist attractions in Mumbai(India), as that is where the owner as well as the chef hail from, and the soft lighting serves its purpose. The decor can feel homely for people from Bombay, but on the whole, I think the ambience needs to be more pleasant and soothing, and can benefit from a major makeover. But I think the food is what clicks with the people more, and hence this place is mostly crowded.

The menu consists mainly of chinese-style rice, noodles, meat or seafood, and vegetable stir- fry, ranging from mild and sweet flavors to garlicky, gingery, medium-spicy and hot!! If you don't have a knack for spice, be careful and clarify your inclnations to the staff beforehand, because almost everything is dark brown and bright red, and it tastes as fiery as it looks. The Chilli Paneer and the Chicken Manchurian Dry are by far the spiciest, yet truly appealing dishes. The recommended picks off the menu would be Garlic or Ginger Manchurian Dry, Schwezwan Fried rice, Chicken Manchurian gravy, and Singapori or Hongkong Noodles. The Chinese Bhel could serve to be a good appetizer. In soups, the Hot and Sour and the Monchow Soup are by far the favorites. They also have Sizzlers on their menu, and a wide range of Seafood entrees and platters. Everything is as good as it looks, and the choices for vegetarians or meat and fish lovers are immense! And the entrees are attractively priced so that most of it ranges from $7.99 to $15.00. The servings are large, and most of them can be shared by at least 2 people.

The staff is friendly and courteous, and mostly young. They try to guide you through the extensive menu to help you choose the best dish for you, and most of the times the owner himself would take extra care to make your dining experience a memorable one. The choices for beverages and alcohol are same as those served in other Indian restaurants, and ditto for the desserts, with an exception of Banana Pancake Ice Cream, which was something different.

The restaurant is mostly packed on weekends, so this is not a place for a romantic evening or a conversation over food. The lunch buffets are a good option for people working around the area, as well as party caterer Dallas. Overall, Bombay Chinese Restaurant is a place that will be favored by those who crave for ginger, garlic, chilli and spice! The taste will linger with you even after you've left the place, and most of the times you'll be tempted to come back.

Bombay Chinese in Richardson

100 S Central Expy
Richardson, TX 75080

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Cucumber and Cilantro Dip

Chips and Dip are a favorite finger food for most of us, and with a wide variety of dips available in the markets, there's no end to the choices we have. But there's nothing that comes close to a fresh dip made at home! Plus, these are the best ways to make use of veggies and ingredients we have in our pantry. The possibilities are numerous, and you can actually enjoy dips with a lot of food like your raw veggies, as a salad topping, or with your tortilla chips! Here's a simple yet tasty and nutritious recipe for a Cilantro and Cucumber dip made with light sour cream. I add some mint and green chillies for the fresh taste and a spice kick, and the resultant dip is sure to make a lovely addition to your dinner table.

1 cup of low-fat (light) sour cream
1 fresh cucumber
a fistful of cilantro - finely chopped
6-7 mint leaves
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
salt - to taste
3 green chillies (choose the spicy ones)

Mince the green chillies, cilantro, mint leaves and cucumber in a blender with one spoon of sour cream. Puree to make a smooth paste. Add this to the remaining sour cream. Add lemon juice and salt and mix well. Transfer to a serving cup and garnish with some mint leaves or cilantro and lemon rind. Enjoy this cool and refreshing dip with your chips, veggies or just as a side dish!

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Persimmon and Chocolate Spiced Walnut Cake

Can you imagine how divine this Chocolate & Persimmon Spiced Cake smells?I'm not a huge fan of spiced cakes, but when my sister-in-law gave me a bag full of persimmons, I knew there had to be a better way to put them to good use rather than just eating them raw. So I decided to throw in the fruit with all of my favorite ingredients into a cake batter to make this luscious and aromatic Persimmon and Chocolate Spiced Walnut cake. Yeah, I'm a huge fan of walnuts and chocolate, and since I craved for a lovely dark brown color, I opted for adding some cocoa powder to my recipe. Walnuts were the obvious and easy choice to add the crunch in every bite. As for the spices, we add them everyday to our morning tea, so I was sure about the flavor they would add to my cake! Overall, it was a successful experiment, and here are the results, for you and me to enjoy!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup butter
1 and 1/2 cup persimmon puree (use 3-4 mid-sized persimmons)
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon powder (or use 3 tsp all-spice instead of separate powders)
1 tsp clove powder
2 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp nutmeg powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp baking bowder
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Greae a 9" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or oil and flour. Peel the persimmons and remove the pulp from inside. Puree it to a smooth liquid blend,without adding any water to it. Pass this through a sieve to remove the fibrous residue.

Beat the butter with the sugar to form a fluffy white mixture. In a large bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating continuously. Slowly add the persimmon puree, the butter-sugar mixture and the milk. Finally add the cinnamon, cardamom powder, clove powder, nutmeg and the chopped walnuts and whisk well to evenly mix in the spices. Whisk with hand or mixer on medium till it becomes airy like a cake mixture.

Transfer into the prepared baking dish. Bake at 375 deg F for 35-40 minutes. Insert toothpick in the center to check if the cake is done. Let it cool completely before citting into slices. The persimmon and the spice flavor will enhance over time, so this pudding cake is best baked at least 3-4 hours before you intend to serve it. You can store the reamining cake in the refrigerator for at least a fortnight!

While serving, garnish with more chopped walnuts, a sprig of mint, and whipped cream if you wish. But this Persimmon & Chocolate Spice Cake is perfect when enjoyed with some tea or coffee!

Related Recipes:
Chocolate-Banana Bread
Spiced Vanilla Tea CupcakesApricot Ginger and Cranberry Muffins

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Gingerbread Latte - A Christmas Tradition

People say that there's always a first time to everything, and though you pretty much govern whether you want to do something or not, there are times when you just get carried away by the flow and end up trying something you might have had some reservations about. One such thing that happened to me after coming to US was tasting different coffee flavors, and I must say, it was the best thing ever! I love flavored lattes, hazelnut and tiramisu being my all-time favorites. But this holiday season, my friend at work made me taste the traditional gingerbread latte. She took me to Starbucks and paid for my coffee just so I would get to know and taste the wild and spicy flavor that is zipped up in this one amazing drink! This seasonal favorite will surely make you feel warm and cozy, and ignite fond memories of the gingerbread man and the spirit of christmas!

Gingerbread has its roots in Europe, mainly Germany. In Medieval England gingerbread simply meant "preserved ginger", and was traditionally used as a soft, delicately spiced cake, a crisp, flat cookie, or as warm, thick and dark squares of "bread"; but it was almost always cut into shapes such as men, women, stars or animals, and colorfully decorated or dusted with white sugar. During the 19th century, gingerbread was modernized. The German fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, two children who, abandoned in the woods by penniless parents, discovered a house made of bread, cake and candies - gave a whole new and fancy look to an age-old tradition and lead to the birth of beautiful Gingerbread Houses, which are now baked in almost every North American household.

Whether you believe in traditions or just want to indulge in a sweet and spicy flavor, gingerbread latte is one thing that you should definitely try. Here's an easy way to make one, and this is one drink that shouts "Merry Christmas!!"

2 ounces espresso coffee powder
2 tbsp gingerbread flavored syrup (available in all coffee stores or supermarkets)(recipe to make syrup yourself is given below)
1/2 cup milk - boiled or steamed
some whipped cream - for the topping
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn vanilla powder
1/2 tsp chocolate/cocoa powder

In a coffee mug, combine espresso coffee with flavored syrup. Pour in steamed milk. Microwave again for 2-3 mins, stirring well in between. Top this with whipped cream. Sprinkle with nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa and vanilla powder and serve hot!! This is a nice drink to enjoy on cool winter evenings or simply with friends while exchanging christmas stories!

I opted for the easy way, and just got store-bought gingerbread syrup. But for all those truly enthusiastic folks out there, here's a recipe for the syrup if you want to make this yourself at home. You can actually store it refrigerated for quite a few days too. The syrup recipe has been taken from here

Gingerbread Syrup Recipe

1 cup spring water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp Clover or other mild honey
Sliced gingerroot piece
1 cinnamon stick, broken into large pieces
8 whole cloves
1/2 tspn whole allspice berries
1/2 tspn whole black or pink peppercorns
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg

Combine water, sugar and honey in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Stir in the ginger and cinnamon pieces plus the cloves, allspice, peppercorns, and nutmeg. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. The liquid will thicken into a syrupy consistency. Allow to cool, at least a half hour, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Pour into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and set aside for your gingerbread latte craving! You can also use this syrup to drizzle over a gingerbread cake!!

Here's wishing you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Hannukah!!

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Marbled Cream Cheese Brownie - Sheer Chocolate Indulgence

The holiday season is in its full swing, and believe it or not, as soon as I step out of my house, I am filled with the aroma of baking emanating from houses all around me!! All homes are adorned with twinkling christmas lights, and fabulous decorations in the front yards, with Santa, and his sledge of reindeers, giant snowman, lighted christmas trees, and sometimes even tiny replicas of Bethlehem, and as if that is not enough to remind me of the festival, my nose keeps tingling at the smells of spices, cookies, savoury treats and other holiday baking that is intoxicating, and in my case, highly addictive, as I'm tempted to turn on my oven!! Here are some semi-homemade brownies, with all the goodness of chocolate combined with creamcheese for that marbled effect. All that fudgy chocolate is so inviting, there's no way you can resist eating it!! And as this brownie recipe uses some ready-made items, it doesn't even take much time to dish out these lovely beauties! Enjoy these delicious marbled creamcheese brownies with family and friends, and spread the holiday cheer!

1 packet of ready-made chocolate brownie mix
1/4 cup skimmed milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 packet Philadelphia cream cheese - softened
sugar - only if required (your brownie mix will have it already)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of 9-inch pan with non-stick spray (or dust with oil and flour).

In a medium bowl, stir brownie mix, water, oil and 2 eggs until well blended. Spread onto the greased pan. In another bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on low speed until creamy; beat in sugar, and 1 egg until well blended. Drop some spoonfulls of this mixture over the layered brownie batter. Now is thr fun part:) Take a knife and cut through the batter several times for creating a random marbled design. Ask your kids to do this; they'll love it!! but give them a blunt spatula instead of a knife.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until cream cheese mixture is light brown. The toothpick trick should work, but the cream cheese should not be overcooked. Remember, these brownies will have a fudge-like texture, so they are more sticky and elastic, unlike cake, which is soft and moist. Remove from oven and let it cool completely before cutting into slices or chunks. You can store them covered in the refrigerator.

I took a batch of my cream-cheese brownies to my office and they all just loved it!! You can treat a lot of people on a very tight budget of less than 10 bucks!! Now that's something!!

Tip: You can add nuts or chocolate chips to these brownies too. But to add a glamorous touch, take some raspberry or mix-fruit jam and spread it on top of the cooked brownie as soon as you remove it from the oven. Then allow to cool before cutting. It looks and tastes just awesome!

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Sour Cream Raspberry Brownies

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Spinach Onion and Cheese Souffle

Cooking is all about flavors, aroma, tastes, and a whole lot of imagination! It's great to experiment with different ingredients and imagine how they would pair with each other, whether they compliment one another, or result in a stark contrasting taste. Sometimes these culinary concoctions can go awry, but most of the times it's fun, and results into something that leaves a tasty impression. Luckily for us, there are some things that just "click together", like chocolate and cookies, pasta and bread, my husband and me:), or in this case, spinach and cheese!! You can hardly go wrong with Spinach and Cheese, so for my first souffle recipe, I decided to go for a safer bet. I added two of my favorite ingredients, garlic and onions, threw in a pinch of nutmeg, and we had a luscious, good-looking and healthy Spinach Onion and Cheese Souffle for our dinner. People do get intimidated sometimes at the thought of making a souffle or casserole recipe, including me, but it's not that tough, and actually tastes great!

1 bag (16 oz) frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
4 cloves of garlic - minced
4 tbsp onion - finely chopped
salt and black pepper - to taste
1/4 tspn ground nutmeg (optional)
3 eggs - white and yolk separated
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Thaw and cook spinach in boiling water for at least 8-10 mins. Remove from water and let it drip off the water spinach in a colander; squeeze well to remove water content. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a casserole dish (or individual ramekins)with cooking spray and keep ready. Also separate the egg whites and egg yolks.

Heat butter and garlic in a saucepan over medium low heat. When butter has melted, add flour and stir until smooth and bubbling, and it turns just a little brown. Add salt and black pepper according to your taste. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. When the mixture is thick and boiling, remove from heat.

Turn off heat and stir in egg yolks, onion, spinach, cheese and sprinkle the nutmeg.

Beat only the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Stir a couple of spoonfuls into the spinach mixture. This is the crucial part; beat the egg whites more to allow them to fluff up the mixture when it goes into the oven. Very gently,preferably with rubber spatula, fold in remaining whites.

Now pour the batter into prepared dishes. The souffle is going to rise a lot, so make sure you leave enough room for it to expand, especially when you are using ramekins (just fill a little over half) Bake until souffle has risen and is browned on top, about 15 to 20 minutes for individual dishes (longer time for a larger casserole dish). Use a thin skewer or toothpick to check inside for moistness. It should be a little sticky and creamy at the center, but not uncooked.

The Spinach and Cheese Souffle is best enjoyed immediately after removing from the oven. Eat it just like that, or serve with your choice of a side sauce! (pic courtesy of ajc)

Tip: You can add your choice of other veggies like broccoli or potatoes with or instead of spinach. The basic recipe remains the same. This also tastes good with a Feta or Goat cheese variation instead of Parmesan if you have a taste for the formers.

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Spinach and Ricotta Cutlets
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Say NO to Sodas, and YES to Fresh Juices - Drink your way to a Slimmer and Healthier Body!!

I know a lot of us rely on sodas to quench our thirst during the day, but the more I look at those soda cans, the more revolted I feel, and wish they would all be replaced by fresh fruit or vegetable juices! The world would be a much more healthier place if only we understood the importance of water and juices. Sodas have incredibly little nutritional value and in addition to that they have huge amounts of sugar, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors that do no good to your body. The sugar will give you a major energy spike, but that will soon wear off, leaving you more tired than you were prior to drinking the soda. This is due to your body burning some of your energy reserves during the spike, without having them properly replenished.

Fresh juice, on the other hand, has large quantity of nutrients, minerals and vitamins, something that your body really needs, and can absorb very easily as they are easy to digest. The water content also helps keep up your metabolism and eliminate waste and toxins.

Citrus fruits have substances that make it easier for your body to remove carcinogens, thus decreasing the chance of contracting cancer. Grapes contain a phytochemical that appears to protect each cells' DNA from damage.

Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnip greens, red beets, peppers, garlic, onions, leeks, and chives are but a few of the vegetables that appear to have cancer-preventing phytochemicals.

Enzymes are your body's work force, acting as catalysts in hundreds of thousands of chemical reactions that take place insode the body. Fresh juices are a tremendous source of enzymes, which are lost in cooked food as the latter are destroyed by heat.

In addition, fruit and vegetable juices are good sources of the traditional nutrients. Citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, lemons,etc.) provide healthy portions of vitamin C. Carrot juice contains large quantities of vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene. A number of green juices are a good source of vitamin E. And most of them are a good source of essential minerals like iron, copper, potassium, sodium, iodine, and magnesium.

But again, the key point here is that you can avail all these benefits, only when you intake Fresh Juice (consumed immediately), which is best available by using a standard juicer at home or work. Any juice that is taken within 5-6 hours after it is made retains all its essential nutrients and is the most benefecial to the body. Whether you are on a diet, or just need to maintain a healthy and fit body, look to fresh juices as an alternative to coffee and sodas.

Thanks to the spreading awareness, more and more people are seen sipping Jamba Juice and Fresh Fruit Coolers; but just a tiny investment can save you a lot of money and give you a refreshing juice glass at least twice a day. Check out some juicer reviews and buy one that meets your needs. You may need a high-speed juice extractor for some tough veggies, while a regular citrus juicer might suffice for most of your needs.

We end with a simple juice recipe - the Beetroot-Cucumber-Ginger Juice that will detoxify your body, keep you full for some time, and keep working throughout the day!

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Green Pea and Mint Soup - Tastes as Good as it Looks!!

I had loads of mint leaves at home after I used barely some from the large bunch I bought at the Farmer's market, and as they don't stay fresh for a long time, I knew I had to put them to good use. I searched around for some simple soup recipes, and finally decided to try it for a delicious soup, combined with peas, just perfect for detoxifying the system and enjoying the warmth of the soup in this winter chill. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant in trying the soup, but what is a chef who doesn't experiment, so I took the leap of faith and jumped right in! The result, a beautiful green-colored Pea and Mint soup, flavored mildly with onion, garlic, fennel and black pepper, and a little bit of fresh cream adding a bit to the indulgence. It serves to be a very healthy and wholesome entree on cold winter nights, and definitely puts all that extra mint to good use!!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion - chopped
3 garlic cloves - minced
1 tbsp fennel seeds powder - roasted (optional)
6 cups water
1 lb fresh peas - boiled
1 cup fresh mint - chopped
2 tbsp half and half
2 tbsp fresh cream - for garnish
Salt - to taste
Ground black pepper - to taste

Heat the olive oil over moderate heat in a large saucepan. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, for 7-10 minutes until they are soft. Then add the fennel powder

Add the water, chopped mint and the peas to the saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the half and half, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

Now puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot, garnished with mint and fresh cream or croutons and feel the goodness of the taste. The soup has a lovely color and is soothing both to the eyes and the soul! Do keep in mind though that we are talking more healthy, than tasty!:) This Green Peas and Mint Soup is indeed a nice way to load up yourself with plenty of antioxidants!

Related Recipes:
Veg Hot and Sour Soup
Restaurant-style Tomato Soup

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Badam Halwa (Sheero) with a Toor Dal Twist - A Healthy Fusion!!

Back in India, Sooji Halwa is a simple sweet which is made in every household to cater to sweet cravings. But another favorite of mine has been the Badam Halwa, and this time I tried to add something healthier to it and cut down on the almonds and the fat they bring along with them; so I added the main ingredient of my another favorite - Puran Poli or Vedmi, and I made my own Toor dal and Badam Halwa, which tastes just as nice, with way fewer calories!

Let me warn you that this is not your traditional rich halwa that is loaded with ghee, so if you are looking for a recipe for a festive occasion, just replace the toor dal below with almonds and go for the original Badam Halwa. For the more daring ones up for a fusion challenge, follow the recipe below.

1 cup toor dal - soaked for at least 3 hours
1 1/4th cup whole almonds (or 1 cup almond paste)
3/4th to 1 cup of sugar (according to taste)
1/2 cup regular milk
3 tbsp of ghee
2 cups water
a pinch of saffron - soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk
3 tsp cardamom powder (optional)
slivered almond slices - for garnish

Boil 1 cup of water and soak the almonds for 1 hour. Peel the skin off the almonds when they are a bit cooled. They should slip right off without much hassle. Now grind the almonds in the blender with 4 tbsp milk to form a smooth paste.

Soak the toor dal for a couple hours at least, then pressure cook it with little water. Allow 3-4 whistles so that the dal is nicely cooked. Alternately, you can even cook the dal in your microwave; just adjust the water level starting with 1.5 cups and keep stirring in between. it should be cooked in about 10-12 mins. Now remove the daal and blend it in a mixer, without water, to form a smooth paste.

Melt the sugar with the 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Let this sugar syrup come to a rolling boil. The moment it starts getting a little viscous and thick, add the ground almond paste and keep stirring well to avoid any lumps. Now add the toor dal paste and the milk and mix well so that almond and dal get blended together. Add the ghee, slowly pouring over the mixture till it gets soaked up by the latter. All the while, keep stirring.

The mixture will become slightly translucent and shiny. Once it gains the consistency similar to thick pancake batter, add the soaked saffron and the cardamom powder. Switch off the heat and let the halva cool. It will emulsify after cooling, and should become more solid. Once it's cool enough, serve it warm, garnished with slivered almonds and pistachios!!

Badam Halwa is a traditional favorite for many indians, but I think this healthier version will make it more attractive for frequent indulgences!

Related Recipes:
Kesar Elaichi Sour Cream Shrikhand
Coconut Laddoos or Coconut Burfi
Soft Bengali Rasgullas

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Visitor's Guide to San Francisco Bay Area - Part 1

One of the most sought-after tourist destinations in USA has to be the city of San Francisco, which, like New York, is termed as the city that never sleeps. A beautifully designed city on the Bay at the western coast of US, this place has something interesting, exciting and fulfilling to offer to every individual; whether you are a nature-lover, a water-sports person, love architecture and history, are an avid shopper, an adventurer or a foodie like me, you will never be disappointed in SFO, and will always come back for more too! But 2 days is a very short time to capture the essence of the city; ideally, you at least need a week to revel and appreciate what SFO has to offer. But not many of us have the luxury to spend more than a weekend for short getaways. So as a resident of this area who loves travelling and blogging, I am honored to play a guide to your San Francisco Bay trip, guiding you through the must-see places and tourist attractions in and around the city, and making sure that you can experience the most of this place in a short span of 2-3 days!

Main Attractions
The first thing you need to check before booking your tickets is the weather! SFO is generally chilly and covered with fog, and rains are a common story here. So make sure you choose a correct time and season for your trip. If you are planning to stay at a hotel in SFO, choose one close to the downtown; another option would be to rent a car and find a more affordable accomodation someway closer to SF like San Mateo. Then plan your day around the attractions I discuss below, preferably in the order I've given as it will be the best use of your time.

Pier 39 - The first stop in your trip, and also the most convenient to start your sight-seeing is the Pier 39 in downtown SFO. There are several paid parking lots around the pier, but I'd advise you to park your car in the first empty lot that you see and walk along the sea for a beautiful view of the city, the bay and also for saving on parking fees. Using the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)is another convenient option, and you can plan a trip by checking available routes and schedules here. This Pier has a lot of shops and a few restaurants, and a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day, you can easily see the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge and the Alcatraz form the pier. As you walk inside, there's a fresh-fruit shop which has luscious strawberries, cherries and other fruits served with chocolate dipping sauce; these are the best fruits I've seen in the area, so be sure to try some! And when you walk to the other side of the pier, you'll see a large colony of sea-lions, more than you have ever imagined! The place stinks though, and is filled with the noise of the animals, so you might want to take a quick picture and walk on.

Aquarium of the Bay - Located right on Pier 39, this exhibit features over a thousand new animals, and opens up a fascinating world of the acquatic life in and around the bay. The adventure continues through a moving walkway which will take you through 2 crystal clear tunnels, 300 feet in length & with a view of more than 23,000 aquatic creatures. It also features touch pools, where you can touch live bat rays & leopard sharks, something your kids would surely fascinate!

Fisherman's Wharf - A short walk from the Pier 39 is the Fisherman's Wharf, and the walk is a lovely one with chocolate and food shops lined up along the street. To add to the merriment, you'll also find a lot of performers trying to entertain you, artists with stalls making funny caricatures for a minimal fee, some vendors selling artificial jewellery and some others selling sea-shell ornaments. Fisherman's Wharf is famous for its freshly-served lobsters, so if you are a seafood-lover, be sure to try one of these.

Ghiradelli Square - Coated in tradition and history, Ghirardelli Square is one of San Francisco's most treasured landmarks, the most famous one being the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, where you ca not only savor the delicious chocolate and goodies, but also see how it is actually made! And you cannot go without tasting the Chocolate Brownie Sundae!!! There are also other restaurants and shops in the square that you can browse, or just sit and relax a bit enjoying the cool air and your ice cream.

Union Square - Union Square is the central shopping, hotel and theatre district in San Francisco, California. It boasts six major department stores, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Barneys New York, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus. Union Square is also home to several famous upscale boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Chanel, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Marc Jacobs, and Hermes. The Macy's building is huge and impressive, and you can also catch a live performance at the small outdoor stage, or join in the fun yourselves when they host free-form dancing and salsa.

Lombard (Crooked) Street - This street is more famous by the name of "Crooked Street",and is basically a winding road between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets. The whole San Francisco city resides on a hill, and all roads are like a roller-coaster ride. Lombard street has 8 sharp turns or switchbacks, and is lined by magnificent homes on both sides, and an abundance of flowers and blossoms. It's exciting and fun to drive down this street, or just walk down through the steps on the side. The top of the street also offers spectacular views of the city set out across the bay.

SFO City Tour - There's a lot to see in the city, but if it is your first time here, be sure to ride one of the SFO City Tours on Motorized Cable Cars or the open-top Double-Decker Buses. They are the best way to get acquainted with the city, and they also cover major attractions in a span of 2-3 hours, places where you'd rather just take pictures and walk on. Some of the major sites it covers are the Palace of Fine Arts - a beautiful palace with brilliant architecture located by a lake in a serene setting, The Coit Tower which offers a beautiful birds-eye view of the city from the top of the observatory, The Presidio of San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, Pacific Heights, Union Square and Financial district and the world famous Chinatown and Little Italy. Priced at an affordable $25 per person, this surely is a fun way to take a quick glimpse of the city so you know where you'd like to spend more time. Another highlight of this tour would be that you'd be able to enjoy the lovely old Victorian homes in downtown SFO, and also revel in the beauty of ancient architecture with a spanish charm. The houses and some buildings are adorned with beautiful arches, balustrades and balconies; truly something anyone would be interested in looking at!

Chinatown - San Francisco's Chinatown is one of North America's largest and also the oldest Chinatown. Established in the 1850s, it has been featured in popular culture, such as in film, music, photography, and literature. The entrance to this town is marked by the famous Dragon Gate on the corner of Bush Street and Grant Avenue; St. Mary's Park is home to a statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, a war memorial to Chinese war veterans, and a plethora of stores, restaurants and mini-malls that cater mainly to tourists. The other end at Stockton Street mainly presents an authentic Chinese look and feel, reminiscent of Hong Kong, with its produce and fish markets, stores, and restaurants. Another major focal point in Chinatown is Portsmouth Square, an open space that bustles with activity such as Tai Chi and old men playing Chinese chess. A replica of the Goddess of Democracy (made of bronze and weighing 600lb) used in the Tiananmen Square protest was built in 1999 by Thomas Marsh, and stands in the square. You can easily spend 2-3 hours in this small town if you are interested in the culture and the food.

Restaurants and NightLife- How can we mark the end of a day without relishing the large spread of food that this city offers! And San francisco is also considered to be one of the most happening places in USA, and is home to several mediocre and up-scale nightclubs and lounges. A quick look at the websites I list below should help you find what you need. Food options range from every possible cuisine and is hard for me to list the restaurants here. But there's plenty to explore, so enjoy your evening and have a good night's sleep to begin fresh for Day 2 of our trip as we have more to cater to in this dazzling city!!

Useful Resources:
San Francisco/Things to do
San Francisco Shuttle Tours
SF Travel/ Attractions
Restaurants and Hotel Guide

With this, we complete the first day of our SFO adventure. Hope this provided a comprehensive guide about what's most important on your first visit. We've covered all the major San Francisco attractions, and will dedicate the second day to Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the beautiful Japanese Tea Gardens, and finally find some time to explore the quaint town of Sausalito. So stay tuned for Part 2!!

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Shiitake Mushroom and Bleu Cheese Crostini

I love entertaining friends at home, and that's why I cook appetizers more often, I guess! This Shiitake Mushroom Crostini, an italian first-course meal, similar to "bruschetta", is a perfect finger food at cocktail parties. The Shiitake mushrooms have a unique taste, and though you can replace this recipe with your choice of mushrooms, the former work better with the cream sauce, garlic and chives. The garlic and the bleu cheese are of course, the essence of this dish. I've used simple bread for the base, but you can even try the flavored ones that we get these days in stores and places like Panera Bread!

2 tbsp butter
2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms - cleaned and chopped
2 cloves garlic - minced
4 tbsp chives - chopped
1/4 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
parmesan cheese - for garnish
salt and pepper - to taste
10-12 bread slices cut from baguette
Chopped fresh parsley

Melt butter in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add all mushrooms and garlic and saute until mushrooms are cooked through and brown, about 10 minutes. Add cream and boil until liquid is completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add blue cheese and stir until cheese melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer mushroom topping to bowl. Mushroom topping can be made 1 day in advance too; just cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange bread slices on baking sheet. Bake until just golden, about 5 minutes. Top each slice with a generous helping of the mushroom mixture. Lightly sprinkle parmesan cheese over top. Return to oven; bake until topping is heated through, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve hot! (image credit: Whole Foods)

Contrary to the belief of some people, shiitake mushrooms are easier to cook and bake, and have more antioxidants than some of its peers. Enjoy this delicious Shiitake Mushroom Crostini as lovely appetizers as your next party food!

Related Recipes:
Traditional Italian Bruschetta
Mixed Green Salad with Homemade Bleu Cheese Dressing
Mushroom Ravioli in Saffron & Cream Sauce

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Beetroot-Carrot-Peas Curry over Steamed Rice

With new gadgets and appliances filling our lives each day, we have almost forgotten the older methods of cooking that involved almost no appliances and very less energy! Sometimes, getting back to the "raw foods" concept can be inviting and nutritious! I bought a huge red beetroot last week, just to catch up on some most-needed antioxidants, and after making beetroot cutlets and beetroot juice, I still had some left to try this simple Beetroot, Carrot and Peas Curry served over plain Steamed Rice. It not only tasted great, it was actually very good-looking, extremely healthy, and made me feel good that I had saved some power that evening!!

1/2 beetroot - boiled and chopped into small pieces
2 carrots - boiled and chopped
1 cup peas - boiled
1/2 cup tomatoes - chopped
salt - to taste
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garam masala powder
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup water
chopped coriander for garnish

Boil all the vegetables first and keep aside.

Take a pan, add 1 tbsp oil to it, sprinkle some cumin seeds, and when they start spluttering, add the boiled vegetables. Add the water, salt, lemon juice and mix well.

Then add the chopped tomatoes and allow to cook, covered with a lid for 5-8 mins. When all the veggies look well-cooked, and the curry taken a deep pinkish-beet-red color, add the black pepper and garam masala powder to it. Garnish with chopped coriander.

Make some plain or Jeera Rice in a pressure cooker.

Take a serving dish, layer it with cooked rice, then top it with the sauteed beetroot-carrot stew. Serve hot and fresh!

This dish is full of tonnes of anti-oxidants, vitamins and fiber. Enjoy it for a healthy meal, with the satisfaction that you did something good for your body today! I'm sending this over to sweetnicks Antioxidant-rich-food event!

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