Monday, December 15, 2008


In the winter when its cold and frosty, we tend to eat things that are warm. You might remember a blog I wrote a few months ago about cravings and certain things which I like to have when it's cold. One thing I didn't include in there was Casseroles. Now, the previous post was more about how cravings might actually be a way our body tells us what it needs... this one is more about "comfort foods" in various climates. For example juices and citrus based items like lemon chicken, cold soups, fresh steamed veggies and fruits are all things we like to have in the summer or spring when its warm and humid outside, because they're fresh and light.

Getting back to the cold weather we generally want to have soups, warm breads, heavy/cheesy pastas, meats with thick sauces and generally heavy foods which are not only served hot but also comforting in nature. The easiest thing probably to make, after eggs that is, are casseroles. You can use any number of items you may have in your pantry and fridge. You can even turn leftovers in to a whole new dish! You can be as creative, or not, as you want.

The other night I made a chicken and vegetable casserole and I'm going to include the recipe here so you can try it, or use it as a guide to make variations based on whats in your fridge. I had a lot of frozen vegetables that were needing to be used up and ground chicken meat which hadn't yet been frozen.

1lb ground chicken meat
1 small white onion (diced)
1 -2 tsp crushed garlic (depending on taste)
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
some frozen corn
some frozen spinach
some fresh mushrooms (sliced small with stems)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 -2 cups shredded cheese
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (or to taste)
salt to taste
soy sauce to taste

Boil/cook about 1.5 cups of macaroni, mini farfalle or mini penne and keep to the side. In a deep skillet add some olive oil and diced onion, cook on medium to medium-high heat stirring occasionally. After about 3- 5 minutes (letting onion become completely translucent but not too brown) add the mushrooms and parsley. Cook for a minute or two until the mushrooms are coated. Then add crushed red pepper, chicken and garlic. If the chicken doesn't have much moisture add a 1/4 cup of water. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the chicken is about Medium-well done and the water is almost dry. You will want to stir everything a few times in between but do let it cook covered to retain some juice and not dry out the meat. Ground chicken tends to get very dry pretty quickly so be careful.

Now add all the frozen vegetables, salt and soy sauce. Let this cook until the vegetables are done, you should have some juice left at the bottom of your pan (in other words to not dry out the vegetables completely). Turn off the stove and add whole can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, mix in well.

Turn the mix out in to a casserole dish (glass or ceramic baking dish), then add the prepared pasta and 1/2 the cheese. Mix everything together and then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake in the oven (uncovered) for about 25 to 30 minutes. When the edges start to brown, your casserole is ready. Let the dish stand outside the oven for 5 minutes before serving since it will be very hot.

Please note: If for some reason you feel that there might be more pasta than sauce/meat mix, you can add some water, milk or chicken stock before baking to thin out your mixture a little.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tis the Season

It’s been a while since I last posted and I apologize. With the holidays in full swing, I was a little distracted with family, friends and concocting up some fun recipes. I have a few notes jotted here and there, so I’ll probably be posting a couple things in the next day or two. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, kept warm in places where the temperatures dropped (like Cleveland) and had a hearty meal that will tide you over till next year! Now, I say this partly because I’m about to tickle your taste buds and share with you what we had this Thanksgiving. With a family as large as mine, you have all kinds of tastes and likes/dislikes; a number of food allergies and a variety of age groups present at all times. How do you please everyone and keep every person safe and happy?

First of all, my mother decided it was time the kids took over so she left her kitchen AND the arrangements all to us. The tasks were split between my one sister, my sister-in-law, myself (which included my husband) and my father- who decided he really wanted to have fried turkey but had to make it himself! Pause- as a side note I should mention before continuing, that my father is actually a great chef and has his own catering business in Cleveland, OH.

Moving on…

Each person decided what they were going to make and slotted a time for kitchen/oven use the day or two prior to Turkey day, since that would be my day (making the 2nd turkey and all). We had to compose this menu keeping in mind that my brother is allergic to nuts and shellfish; my cousin had a 10 month old that wanted to eat everything mommy touched; my mother and I are not fond of very sweet things and hate mixing sweet and savory together; there were a number of youth who choose meat over veggies ALWAYS, my father who can not eat much spice as opposed to my sister-in-law who must douse her meals in vats of tobassco and then of course the certain few with their cholesterol and blood pressure restrictions. All of this somehow led us to the following spread:

Butternut Squash Soup
Corn Soufflé
Green Bean casserole
Yam casserole (candied) one version with pecans and one without
Cranberry-Apple Sauce
Mixed Vegetable Stuffing
Cheddar Mashed Potatoes
Fried Turkey
Baked (Roast) Turkey
Plain Turkey gravy
Turkey/Mushroom gravy
Pumpkin cookies/muffins
Snicker Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Pineapple/Cherry Tart

So with all these choices, we managed to please everyone and raised the bar for all the new additions to the family in the past year (my husband, my sisters’ husband and all the babies!).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ask the Ancestors

I was recently talking to a friend and she asked if I knew anything about Acai berries, with it being so hyped up right now. My response to her was that I was familiar with it and this new rage sweeping health nuts; but that I don’t give much credit until I find some historical or cultural background. For example, if you take green tea, it’s been around for centuries in the Middle Eastern (Arab), Indian and East Asian (Chinese and Japanese) cultures. People from these cultures have been drinking green tea for centuries, post dinner or after large meals to help with digestion. They also add mint or cardamom to act as a breath freshener and digestive.

The Japanese culture also used green tea for medicinal purposes and for centuries has produced it in many forms to serve a variety of purposes. One thing which was never proven in the western world is how green tea can help reduce the harmful affects of smoking in the human body. It was widely understood that green tea helps cleanse the body of toxins but traditionally men in the Arab world drank green tea when they smoked the water pipes (hookah). Japanese men, a group known to be heavy smokers, are more commonly known to have health issues related to stress, NOT smoking. The benefits of incorporating green tea as part of a health
food regimen are vast.

We can find a similar cultural significance with Fish Oil or Omega fatty acids. In the South Indian and Bengali cultures, the importance of fish oil is widely understood. If you ask a child on the street” what is the best
food you can have”, they will tell you fish! Ask why? Its not only brain food, its food that gives you life. They may not know the medical benefits or theories but they know it’s good for the heart, thus giving you life. You can find many recipes and even videos on how to make fish on

Getting back to the initial topic of this article; based on our conversation my friend sent me information on the Acai Berry. Its significance in the Amazon culture, its use for health and healing and the number of tribes that believe in its benefits are shocking! I had no idea that it was something so common in South America and that it was widely used for many medicinal purposes centuries ago. The various tribes not only used Acai for antibiotic and anti-venom purposes but understood its energy boosting properties. The men also used Acai to help with prostate issues (it was considered natures Viagra).

More recently, researchers have found that the Amazonian people used to have Acai when they would have fatty foods. It was learned that the Acai not only has antioxidant properties but is high in Omega fatty acids, which help to reduce the bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol in our body. One important thing to note, the health properties of an Acai berry are only active for 24hours once it has been stripped from the tree. This is why many people used to pulp and freeze the berry when using it in other forms. If you find yourself getting a smoothie with a boost of Acai or having desserts with Acai berries… learn the nature of the source. In other words see if the
chef or restaurant is using pulp, freeze-dried powder or juice? The juice will most likely be good for flavor but not the nutrients, unless of course you are in Brazil or Peru where the berry could have been freshly harvested!

I will leave you with some traditional ways in which the berry was/is eaten. In Northern Brazil, the Acai or Jussara (one of the common folk names) is served either sweet or salty with tapioca. In southern Brazil they like to have it in a bowl with granola or all over Brazil in ice cream form. Acai used to be sold commonly as a juice, soda or ice cream flavor but the old Amazonian tribes used to also make Acai wine!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Acai Berry

I was talking to a friend today and she asked if I knew anything about Acai berries, with it being the new fad an’ all. My response to her was that I was familiar with it and this new rage sweeping health nuts; but that I don’t give much credit until I find some historical or cultural background. For example, if you take green tea, it’s been around for centuries in the Middle Eastern (Arab), Indian and Asian (Chinese and Japanese) cultures.

Based on this conversation, she sent me information on the Acai Berry and its significance in the Amazon culture. I was shocked! I had no idea that the benefits of this berry were so vast and that it was widely used for many medicinal purposes centuries ago. She also related to me that her friends’ parents, from when she was a child, used to sell Acai juice and swear by it. I guess it comes down to exposure. She is from South America and had exposure to people from those cultures when growing up. I was part of the Arab and Indian culture; hence my awareness of certain foods or ingredients comes from those traditions and beliefs that were passed on from generation to generation.

So here lies the purpose of my next article! I will take time this week to write about this in more detail and share the significance of Acai! I’ll include other natural foods that have been around long before western popularization. Keep your eye out for “Ask the ancestors”!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Is something missing?

We recently had some friends come stay with us. One of them is a vegetarian and I made dinner for them one night. Now, I have to preface this post by saying I AM A HUGE MEAT EATER... I love meat, especially red meat!

Don't get me wrong, I love vegetables too; but for me a meal isn't really complete until there is a meat component involved. Most of my vegetable recipes include some form of meat, for eg. when I make a vegetable or potato pulao I add chicken stock for flavor and nutrients.

So here I was standing in the kitchen trying to put together a meal (not just a single dish) with no time to head to the grocery store. Make do with what I have and about an hour to have it all ready and serve! I managed to pull it off but constantly felt as though something was missing or that I didn't add everything necessary.

Moral of the story: think creatively. I made a potato pulao but instead of chicken stock I added extra salt and extra green chili's. I made a Mulligatawny soup (lentil soup) which usually has not only chicken stock but actual chicken in it. Instead of adding the chicken stock, I pureed some onion, tomato and garlic in to it for flavor. I also made some okra on the side, which mind you was the only true vegetarian dish. It all worked, even despite my feeling that something was missing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Simple Soup

Have you ever had one of those days when its one thing after the next and before you know it, the day is over? I had a relatively busy day today and decided I was fine with having left overs for dinner. My husband cooked up some "Hoppin' John", last night and there was quite a bit left. We spent most of Sunday watching various cooking shows with a variety of chefs, one was all about the South and Creole recipes. Anyway, as wonderful as this dish was, by the time we decided to actually eat, I felt I really wanted soup.

There seemed to be nothing in the pantry and we used all the chicken stock Sunday night. I decided to try a little experiment and it turned out pretty well, so I'm going to share it with you! I guess you can call it a vegetable egg drop soup. It took less than 20 minutes to whip up so its really simple!

1/4 cup chopped onion (frozen)
1/4 cup chopped celery (fresh)
1/3 cup mixed vegetables (frozen)
2 tblsps butter
1 tspn garlic salt
1-2 cubes chicken bullion
1 egg beaten
2-3 cups water

Saute the onion and celery in the butter for about 4 minutes on medium heat. Add the mixed vegetables and continue to saute. When the frozen vegetables seem to be cooking and turning color just slightly, add the garlic salt and water. Mix well. Let the soup cook for a few minutes then add the chicken bullion and dissolve directly in the soup. Continue to simmer the soup, do not boil.
Beat the egg, adding some soy sauce if you like. When the bullion has dissolved and the soup is almost ready, slowly add the egg. Stir as you pour the egg allowing it to break in the water and not become a blob. Let everything simmer for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Check for seasoning and if you want, add some salt, pepper, soy, vinegar, etc.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Its cold outside these days and I just want some hot soup! Last week I had an almond obsession, I wanted everything with almond or cashews. I dug up all my almond cake recipes and baked a few... it was kind of cold outside then too.

Have you ever thought that maybe our bodies crave what we need? Since I was old enough to understand anything about food, I picked up on the notion that my body tells me what it needs. Almonds, cashews and most other dry fruits are great to have in the fall because the way they metabolise in our bodies, generates heat (warmth). They also help build up a layer of fat which further insulates us in the cold weather.

Similarly, I've had random cravings for orange juice, steak, green beans. Now normally, people have cravings for unhealthy or junkie food items like chips and ice cream. I often crave McDonalds french fries... this is different; obviously. I don't mean to imply that just because you have a craving, you should indulge. Filter! Recognize! Differentiate! I think you get the point. We should listen to our bodies when there might be a genuine need for some nutrient. Or even if you're going to eat out and you have to pick a restaurant, let your body do the talking. There might be a reason why you feel like Sushi instead of Mexican!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Something a little different - Pumpkin Sabzi

Back in the early 90's I was fortunate enough to live overseas. In Karachi (Pakistan), people visit weekly outdoor bazaars where they can purchase fresh produce directly from farmers or their representative. In a sense this is an old school version of a farmers market, usually being the only place one can purchase fruits and vegetables. Grocery stores and delis are few and far between.

Thanks to the nature of this system, I was exposed to eating fresh vegetables and fruits IN SEASON! No flash frozen, cold storage or manufactured fruits and veggies. This in turn exposed me to some foods I had never thought of trying or even ever seen before. This brings me to a recipe you pumpkin lovers might enjoy!

Pumpkin Curry (vegetarian)

1/4 of a medium/large sized pumpkin- peeled, cleaned and diced into 1" pieces
2-3 tbspns cooking oil
1 medium sized onion, sliced
1 tspn cumin seeds
1/2 a cinnamon stick
1 tbspn salt
1 tspn crushed red pepper
1/2 tspn crushed garlic (optional)
1 Roma tomato diced (optional)

1/4 cup water

In a large skillet add cooking oil (what ever you use regularly). When warm but not hot add the cumin, crushed red pepper and cinnamon. Let the cumin brown slightly (do not burn). Add the onion and stir. Let onion cook till they wilt or start to become not brown. Add the pumpkin, garlic and salt. Stir well and add some water, just enough to steam, then cover. Let cook for about 10min stirring a few times in between.

After 10-12 minutes, add the diced tomatoes and re-cover. Cook the curry, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is soft and somewhat translucent. Tomato should be completely dissolved and pumpkin so soft that it melts in your mouth (it should not be chewy but soft enough to mush with your tongue).

Its simple, quick and delicious! The optional ingredients make this more of a curry, but you can keep it simple and more fresh tasting without the garlic and tomato. I hope you enjoy it.

It's Pumpkin Season!

Pumpkins are great in so many ways, each year I learn something new about them! It’s not even November yet and I’ve already tried pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin spice beer (trust me I am NOT a beer drinker but this was pretty good) and pumpkin bread. I dug up all my pumpkin recipes in preparation but have yet to start cooking.

I went shopping a few weeks ago and walked by the seasonal aisle. There were displays for pumpkin filling, flour, chocolate chips, holiday cake and cookie ingredients. It prompted me to pick up a couple cans of pumpkin. I came home all ready to bake but ended up postponing due to the arrival of some last minute house guests. To make a long story short, that weekend I ended up going to the vet with my two sick kitties. The doctor told me that because I give my cats all natural foods, they may not be getting enough fiber. She recommended that I add pumpkin to their food since it is high in fiber. Imagine that, one more reason why pumpkin is good for you (and your pet)!

I came home and started to give my kitties pumpkin mixed in with their normal food, they loved it and it really helped. I actually tried some pumpkin straight out of the can mixed in with yogurt; it was pretty good and helped me as well! Out of curiousity, I Googled ‘pumpkin as fiber’ and was surprised to see how many sites list pumpkin as being high in fiber and a great alternative to taking pills or fiber supplements. Turns out that each ½ cup serving of pumpkin (fresh or from a can) has 3.4 grams of fiber. If you want to compare, a ¾ cup of cooked oatmeal has 3.9 grams of fiber. That’s nearly 20% of your daily recommended amount (
R.D.A varies person to person based on weight and individual body needs)

Who knows what I’ll learn next year, but for now I’m happy with my new find. Make sure you check back from time to time, I'll be posting some great
recipes and articles that you might enjoy.