About Me

Hello. I started this blog to write about what I do in my chosen profession : a housewife. Some day I might cook or bake something interesting and enlist my 2 year old to help, on another day I make something from scratch instead of buying it from the store and sometimes I craft with my daughter. Once in a while, we travel or have a fun day outside. I am also doing what I can to recycle and reduce waste. I am still learning all of this and documenting my journey through this blog

Planning a weekend getaway at a cabin

In my last post, I talked about our relaxing getaway at a cabin surrounded by mountains in Maggie Valley. To make the actual vacation more relaxing, I knew I had to plan ahead. I planned the entire menu for the weekend and selected dishes that will require minimum effort but deliver maximum taste.Smiley I also prepared thepla and cake beforehand to take along because it is always good to have food on hand.
In this post, I wanted to write down the lists I made for grocery shopping, the food related stuff I packed from home and the menu in detail. This would be a handy reference the next time we go on a similar trip.

Grocery shopping list
This list contains the perishable items that I did not want to bring from home. It had to include ingredients that can work in multiple dishes so that I do not have to buy a lot of stuff.
  • gallon jug of milk
  • 2 bell peppers
  • dozen eggs
  • 1 bunch spinach
  • bread
  • 10 tortillas
  • frozen pizza dough
  • 1 lemon
  • a bag of shredded cheese
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 3 ears of corn
  • 2 onions

Pack at home list
This list contains ingredients needed in small quantities or ingredients that are not easily available in regular grocery store.
  • 2 cups rice
  • badam milk powder (for daughter's milk)
  • sugar
  • tea powder
  • tea masala
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cumin powder
  • garam masala
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 4 inch piece of ginger
  • oil
  • ketchup
  • tub of fake butter
  • frozen homemade pizza sauce
  • frozen homemade cake
  • homemade methi theplas
I took frozen pizza sauce and cake so that it would defrost on the way and not spoil.


Planned Menu

This is the menu planned for the weekend and the ingredients used.

Meal Dish Ingredients from store Ingredients from home
Saturday dinner fried rice onion, bell pepper, spinach, jalapeno, lemon, eggs rice, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, garam masala, oil
Sunday breakfast fried egg and toast with tea egg, bread, milk salt, pepper, butter, sugar, tea powder, tea masala, ginger
Sunday lunch grilled pizza with corn on the cob pizza dough, cheese, bell pepper, onion, spinach, corn, lemon pizza sauce, butter, salt, oil
Sunday dinner black bean quesadilla tortilla, black beans, bell pepper, onion, spinach, cheese, jalapeno oil, garlic, pizza sauce, salt, cumin powder, pepper, ketchup
Monday breakfast omelette, bread eggs, onion, bell pepper, cheese, milk, bread salt, pepper, garam masala, oil, butter, ketchup

The same ingredients were used in multiple but totally different dishes so we did not feel as if we were eating the same thing over and over. We were also able to use up almost all the ingredients we bought.
We also got to experience grilling for the first time. And now I get why it is so popular here. It is fast, flavorful cooking while enjoying the outdoors and good weather.

weekend trip to the cabin in the woods

Well, not literally....but we did go to a beautiful cabin in maggie valley. It was just the vacation we needed. 2 days of total calm and relaxation, away from everything.
It all started with a search for cabins on vrbo.com where each cabin is more beautiful than the other. We were totally confused which one to select. We were finally able to pick one!
We planned to start on Saturday morning with the only goal of relaxing over the weekend. So no waking up early and all that stress. We started at around 11 in the morning. We reached Asheville right around lunch time at 1:15.

Asheville is the foodie heaven and a hippie town in the mountains. There is a restaurant at every corner there. We wanted to avoid downtown Asheville with the parking problems and the walk to a restaurant. So I found this hidden gem of a small restaurant Cecilia’s Kitchen, away from downtown with its own parking lot. It is a small restaurant with a small parking lot but its a beautiful location with woods behind it and a small cabin like exterior, going with the mountain scene. We sat out on the porch with sunlight streaming in through the roof. The only other diners were about to leave and it was a serene experience eating the delicious food on the porch. Speaking of delicious food, we had the corn empanadas and the tomato-cheese empanada. They were so yummy and unlike anything we had eaten before. We could tell they were made just like someone might make for their loved one at home. The crust was perfectly flaky without being oily and the fillings were so unique tasting. And the food is totally budget-friendly. Being the sweet lovers that we are, we couldn't leave without dessert. So we had the crepe with chocolate, walnuts and banana. It was great too!
Cecilia’s Kitchen, Asheville

After the lunch, we went to pick up groceries for the weekend at the Ingles grocery store next door. It was a single break for all purposes :) I had made a shopping list and menu for the weekend at home beforehand. This is specially important for a short cabin stay otherwise you have no idea what to eat at the cabin and you end up getting in the car to go out and eat and there go your couple of hours when you could be relaxing and cooking and eating in the comfort of the cabin.

So, we did the grocery shopping and reached the cabin just after the check-in time at 4:30. We loved it the moment we opened the door and set foot inside. It did fit in with our needs perfectly. Not too far into the mountains; private but not completely secluded. We knew we were going to get our relaxation on!
log cabin near asheville

After putting away the groceries and our stuff, we went about taking pictures because the cabin was so beautiful. I had brought along methi banana theplas made at home the previous night and we made some good ol' masala chai to go along with them. While we were having tea, I put the rice to cook in the microwave so that it would be cool and ready to turn into fried rice when we are ready for dinner.
Then, we were ready for the big stress buster of the vacation - the huge jetted tub.
Jetted tub
After an hour in the tub, it was time for dinner. The fried rice was ready in no time. We also had cake which I brought from home. After dinner, we tried to watch a movie but I was too sleepy by then and called it a night.
Next morning was a nice and lazy Sunday morning. We had our fried eggs, toast and tea breakfast out on the front porch bench. It was drizzling and a little cold that morning. Perfect for a hot breakfast! The day progressed into nice and sunny weather.
Cabin porch
We talked to our parents in India over the wifi, tried our hands at the pool table (Its a pool table and not a lake table as our daughter said! Smiley ) Then we fired up the grill for lunch. We grilled corn on the cob and we also grilled pizzas.
grilled pizza
Having stuffed ourselves with lunch, we spread out on the sleeper sofa to watch a movie. After the movie, we went for a walk to see the stream across the street. We played some ball out in the yard. As if the little movement tired us out, we slept some more. We woke up in time for dinner and made quick black bean quesadillas. And there was the cake too! After dinner, we watched one more movie. Its been a while, maybe a year, since I watched a movie. We also went through bottles of root beer and ginger ale over the weekend; mixing them up to get sweet and spicy in the same drink. (They are non-alcoholic drinks, in case my family is reading this Smiley ). That is something we rarely do because we are very conscious of not drinking fizzy drinks but we love both the root beer and ginger ale so we let loose in the name of finishing up the bottles.

The next day, we had to check out. We made a big breakfast of omelettes, toast and tea. After packing everything up, we left the cabin around 11:15. We had planned to go to "Parrot Mountain Gardens" in Seiverville. It was about an hour and half in the opposite direction. We had a coupon for icecream at the famous Apple Valley creamery so we thought we should stop there first and have icecream for lunch Smiley
The plan kind of backfired because we ordered a banana split and a brownie sundae. That looked like at least half a gallon of ice cream. There was no way we could eat it and we tried to eat as much as we could. We could only get through about half of it. But eating so much sugar made us feel sick. It was already 2:30 by that time. So we decided we will not spoil all the relaxation we had going for us by going to parrot mountain. It would have made us more sick walking in the harsh sun and reaching home at midnight would nullify all that relaxation. So we turned back to head home.
We did stop for a quick bite at a mexican restaurant on Asheville exit. Again the food was delicious and fresh. And spicy enough to make us forget the sweet ice cream.
We were home at 9 after stopping at the airport lookout to see some planes landing and taking off (our daughter loves them) and having dinner. 

Pinto beans and nachos

Continuing the mexican themed party post, let me get to the beans and nachos. This is the first time I bought pinto beans. I always substituted kidney beans for pinto beans. Although the substitution works, the pinto beans have a slightly distinct, more mexican taste.
Nacho sauces


Mexican style pinto beans

I made a huge pot of these beans. And I had very little leftover. I did not expect the beans to be so popular at the party but everyone liked them a lot. I am writing the scaled down recipe.

Pinto beans for nachos


Ingredients:
1 cupdry pinto beans
1bay leaf
1 smallonion
1 tspgarlic paste
1deseeded jalapeno
1 heaped tsptomato paste *see notes
1/4 tspchilli powder
1 tspcumin powder
1/4 tspsmoked paprika *optional
1/8 tspitalian seasoning *see notes
1 tspcoriander powder
1.5 tspsalt
1/4 tspchana masala *see notes
  • Soak the pinto beans for 5-6 hrs. Pressure cook the pinto beans with the bay leaf for 15 mins.
  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and add the onions, garlic paste and chopped jalapeno. Saute for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste, chilli powder, cumin powder, coriander powder and paprika if using. Mix well and saute for a few minutes.
  • Add the cooked beans, salt, italian seasoning and the chana masala.
  • Mash up some of the beans and let it simmer for 10 mins. Add more water if it is too thick. The beans need to be a pretty thick consistency without bordering on solid. 
Notes:

  • 1/2 cup tomato puree can be used instead of the tomato paste.
  • Oregano is typically used in refried beans but I did not have it. So I substituted italian seasoning which contains dried oregano.
  • Chana masala is obviously not a mexican thing. But I loved the taste of the beans after adding the tiny bit of chana masala.

Nacho cheese sauce

The cheese sauce that I used for the nachos was a simple white sauce with cheese and flavored with onions, garlic and some jalapenos.

Nacho cheese sauce

Ingredients:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1/2 small onion
3 cloves garlic
1/2 deseeded jalapeno
1/4 tsp cumin powder
3 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cup hot milk
8 oz (1/2 cup) cheese (mix of cheddar and jack)
  • Heat oil in a pan and add minced onion, garlic and jalapenos. Saute for a minute. Add the cumin powder.
  • Add the butter and flour. Whisk to form a paste and cook for 2 mins.
  • Add the hot milk and whisk to form a smooth sauce. Simmer till the sauce thickens.
  • Add the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Loaded vegetarian nachos Loaded Nachos
The loaded nacho plates. So yum!

4 Bean Picnic Salad with carrots, cucumbers, peppers and mango

Last week, there was a picnic at my daughter's preschool. Everyone brought a dish to school and all the parents and children sat outside on blankets and had lunch. My daughter loved playing in the playground and eating popsicles and ice cream. She was not ready to leave. We had to carry her outside.
I wanted to make a side dish for the picnic which could be made ahead of time as I had also volunteered to help set up the picnic lunch. And as I have said before, I am not a morning person, specially when it comes to cooking. I wanted the dish to have some indian flavor as well.
This bean salad idea just came to me. I jotted down the idea because I knew I would forget it when the time comes to cook it a week later. 

Bean salad

This salad has 4 types of beans, lots of veggies and some fruit and a nice sweet and tangy dressing. It tastes better once it sits for a while in the refrigerator. So it is the perfect make-ahead dish. It also goes nicely with a light Indian meal. I made a huge quantity. Halving it would make a good salad portion for 4-6 people depending on the rest of the meal. It also makes for a healthy snack. Make a batch and it will keep in the fridge for atleast 4 days.

Picnic Bean Salad


Ingredients:
2 cups black eyed peas
2 cups kidney beans
1.5 cups chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1.5 cups black chickpeas
4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp asafoetida/hing (optional) *see notes
1 large red onion
1 long english cucumber
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
3 medium carrots
2 mangoes (ripe but not soft)
1 bunch cilantro
4 tsp cumin powder
6 tsp chaat masala
Dressing:
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp black pepper
  • Soak the beans overnight (6-8 hours). Drain and cook in a pressure cooker with 2 tsp salt and asafoetida if using. Do not add a lot of water to the beans. Just enough to cover. Drain the beans after cooking. The drained water can be used for other dishes. Pressure cook for 1 whistle (10-15 mins). We do not want mushy beans.
  • Cut the onion, cucumber and bell pepper into 1 inch strips. Peel the carrots into ribbons using a vegetable peeler. Cut the mango into cubes. Finely chop the cilantro.
  • Mix the drained beans and prepared vegetables and fruits in a large bowl. Add more salt as needed, cumin powder, chaat masala and zest of 2 lemons.
  • Prepare dressing in a separate bowl by whisking together apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper.
  • Toss the salad with the dressing and chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
4 Bean Salad


Notes:

  • I used asafoetida while cooking the beans because it is a good digestive aid. Adding salt while cooking the beans will flavor the beans which will taste bland if salt is added only in the dressing.
  • Canned beans can be used instead of soaking and cooking dried beans.
  • Strawberries can also be used in this salad with or without the mango.


Basic Mexican dips - salsa, pico de gallo with corn, guacamole

Continuing on the previous post where I promised the mexican party recipes. The most basic, very fresh and flavorful recipes for any mexican party are : salsa, pico de gallo and guacamole. I just love these dips and they are totally addictive with corn/tortilla chips.

Mexican Dips

Guacamole

Lets start with the simplest of the recipes. I have added some yogurt to the recipe to make it creamier and lighter at the same time. I also think it might have helped with keeping the guacamole bright green even the next day. i also left one avocado pit in the guacamole which is also said to help retain the color. I did not add garlic to guacamole to let the avocado and lemon taste take the mainstage.

Guacamole

Ingredients:
4 medium avocados *see notes
1/2 onion
2 jalapenos, seeded 
few sprigs cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin powder
2-3 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp thick yogurt
  • Put the finely chopped cilantro, onions and jalapenos in a bowl.
  • Add cubed avocado flesh to the bowl and mash everything up with a fork.
  • Add the salt, cumin powder, lemon juice and yogurt. Mix everything up and keep covered till ready to serve.
  • The guacamole will not stay great for more than a couple of days. But that will not be a problem if you have chips on hand.
Notes:
The most important part of making guacamole is selecting avocados. The avocados have to be neither too firm nor too soft. They should not be brown at all. The fool proof way to select avocado is to flip the stem end open and see the color. If it is bright, the avocado needs to go in your shopping cart. Another way is to lightly press your thumb near the base and if it gives just slightly, good to go home with you! If it does not budge, it is raw and can be ripened on the counter but if it is too soft, it is overripe and most likely turning brown inside.

Corn Pico de gallo

Pico de gallo often called "pico" lovingly Smiley is often confused with salsa. From what I understand, salsa has crushed or blended tomatoes and more liquid while pico has chopped ingredients and lot less liquid.
This pico has fresh roasted corn because who doesn't love corn? specially with corn chips? Smiley

Corn Pico de gallo


Ingredients:
2 ears corn, oven-roasted *see notes
5 good ripe and juicy tomatoes
1 medium red onion
3-4 jalapenos, seeded
6-8 cloves of garlic
1 bunch cilantro
1 lemon juice and zest
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin powder
  • Easiest directions ever. Finely chop all the ingredients and mix together in a bowl.
  • Let it sit together to release the juices and to bring out the flavor
Notes:

  • Frozen, thawed corn also works. Or fresh steamed ears of corn can be used instead of roasting them.
  • To roast corn in the oven, place the corn with the husk intact, in a 400 F oven and bake for 30 mins. Peel the husk and run a knife lengthwise along the corn ear, while resting it on a chopping board, to remove the kernels. 


Salsa

As I wrote above, salsa is more liquid and less chunky than a pico de gallo or salsa fresca. I used a recipe where the salsa is cooked.  Although it tasted like a good salsa but it did not taste like the addictive salsa from the mexican restaurants. I followed this recipe. Next time, I will try using fresh tomatoes and also leave the seeds in on one of the jalapenos. This time, it was a touch too tomatoey and not spicy enough.
I will update the recipe when I work on it again.

Salsa


Ingredients:
1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 onion
3 seeded jalapenos
1/2 bunch cilantro
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp oil
  • Blend canned tomatoes with juices, cilantro and jalapenos in a blender
  • Heat oil in a pan and add the onions and garlic and saute for half a minute
  • Add the tomato puree from the blender and add the salt and cumin powder
  • Cook till the salsa reduces and reaches your desired consistency.

cinco de mayo party - nacho and brownie bar

Cinco de mayo literally means the 5th of May in Spanish. And I think it is just an excuse to have a Mexican themed party. I read that it is more popular in the US than in Mexico where it is celebrated in only one part to commemorate a small Mexican army defeating a larger French army.
I also needed an excuse to call friends over and make some nachos. So this was totally a last minute party. I was watching "The Chew" on Thursday where they were showing cinco de mayo themed recipes and I thought this is a great chance to make nachos. We called up our friends on Friday evening and I had less than 24 hours to put together a nacho bar and a brownie bar. Although I had done some of the shopping in the morning, it is not the ideal situation. But it was just a casual "friends over for snacks" type of party and I love challenging myself (but only in food related situations Smiley )

nacho bar with all the fixings


So heres what I managed to make :
  • cooked salsa
  • roasted corn pico de gallo
  • guacamole
  • cheese sauce
  • pinto beans (refried beans)
and cut up some
  • lettuce
  • spring onions
and laid them out with store bought
  • chips
  • pickled jalapenos
  • olives
  • sour cream
For the brownie bar, I of course made spiced brownies, salted caramel chocolate sauce, lemon-lime whipped cream with some store-bought vanilla ice cream.

But everything didn't go so smoothly. I wanted to make a mexican style cilantro-lime rice so that we could also have "burrito bowls" along with the nachos. That would have been two dishes with one batch of the various toppings. But somehow half the rice turned to mush and the other grains were uncooked. I had to throw out the batch although the flavor was good. I will try it again tomorrow for lunch.

I also made a watermelon lime fizzy drink along the lines of the mexican drink "watermelon agua fresca".

Watermelon Lime fizzy drink

Everyone loved the zing and the fizz of a seemingly innocent watermelon juice. This recipe makes about 3 litres of drink which would serve around 8-10 people.

watermelon lime fizzy drink watermelon lime fizzy drink

Ingredients:
8 cups (personal size) watermelon cubes
1 cup water
1 cup lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 - 1 tsp chaat masala
4 cup lemon soda
  • Blend the watermelon cubes and strain into a pitcher to remove any seeds.
  • Add the lime juice, water, sugar, salt and chaat masala.
  • Stir till the sugar is dissolved. *see notes
  • Just before serving, add the lemon soda and stir.
  • I also left some lemon soda on the side so that people could add extra soda in their drink if they liked.
Notes:
The sugar and water can be heated to dissolve the sugar and make a sugar syrup. This cooled syrup can be used in place of the sugar and water in the recipe
I will include the other recipes in the coming posts which will hopefully be real soon Smiley