Sweet Travels – Lancaster, PA

Sweet Travels – Lancaster, PA

Firstly, hope everyone is enjoying your holidays and a very Happy 2020 to all!

As you all know all my trips be it small or big is surrounded by nothing but Food, Food and Food 🙂

So we decided to take a short drive with fam to Lancaster, PA just to break from routine. During my drive to PA, I was browsing vegetarian places for food stops as always and to my surprise came across plenty of options. During my stay and later on with numerous conversations with restaurant owners I came to know that a huge population in that area was vegan/ vegetarian.

I decided to pick a few that seemed interesting to me. So here goes :

The first one we tried was on Christmas Day and happened to be the one that was open and was packed.

1) Oka Asian Fusion

Primarily Japanese cuisine, Oka’ s menu was packed with delicious Sushi/ Hand Rolls of various kinds. The interesting part of the menu was a vegetarian section which had a good number of vegetarian choices for sushi rolls.

We decided to try the Avocado Peanut Sushi roll. And trust me guys – I am not a huge fan of sushi at all. This one was delicious and I have to admit that I ordered another plate of it after wiping clean the first plate:))

The menu also offered some fusion dishes like the vegetarian pad thai and spicy basil with tofu that we also tried and was delicious as well.

2) Issei Noodle

A small warm and cozy restaurant which smells delicious as you walk in. Once again, one of popularly recommended places which had plenty vegetarian options since the menu has a vegetarian section.

This place is known for its exceptional Ramen bowls so we ordered

Spicy Tan Tan Ramen :

Although it was not on the vegetarian section of the menu the waitress gave us the option of customizing this dish minus meat and fish sauce and substituting with fried tofu and people when I tell you – how delicious this dish was – I inhaled the dish and it was gone.

So hearty and healthy !

Haru Warm Ramen : was the next dish we ordered which again the waitress offered to substitute the pork and shrimp with tofu and vegetables. This dish was equally delicious.

The kids love curry dishes so they ordered a Red Curry dish with rice which was made mild and was so hearty too.

Last but not the least we ordered dessert which were 3 flavors of house made Mochi – Coconut flavor, Mango and the Red Bean. It melts in your mouth and by far the best Mochi I have had.

3) Roots

This casual urban vegan joint was so refreshing. The owner Rob makes his own Seitan from scratch and food is delicious.

We ordered a butternut squash pizza with caramelized onions , vegan Banh Mi and buffalo cauliflower. I would say each dish tasted so fresh and I understand all the vegetables and mushrooms are sourced locally.

This place has no freezer or uses no microwave so the food is pretty much fresh and made to order.

For dessert we ordered a Vegan orange cake to be honest to which I had very low expectations. How can one be successful baking a cake without eggs, cream and butter ??? But my friends – it simply blew my mind off. The cake was delicious with fresh oranges when you slice through. A place worth visiting and giving a shot for sure.

4) Upohar

This global vegetarian Restaurant I cannot emphasize how much I loved visiting.

Owners Puerto Rican Chef Christina Maldonado and Kolkata descent Srirupa Dasgupta create a global vegetarian menu which features a variety of dishes not limited to:

Syrian Rice, Green bean sauté, Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Syrian Kale, Cuban black beans, Yucca, Yellow rice with Pigeon Peas and fried sweet Plantains.

Christina, when I mentioned Love for extreme spice levels got a small container out which had this sauce – made out of ghost peppers, green chili, habanero and star anise. Mind you we had to get 2 more of those small containers and wiped it clean and ordered a TO GO 🙂 – WARNING – It is extremely spicy!!! I grew up eating high level of spice so thoroughly enjoyed it.

Christina and Srirupa are not only extremely talented Chefs as you can tell the food is homely and super flavorful yet healthy and delicious. They are women who also wanted to give back to the community by training refugees and who bought in their household dishes to the table and giving them a new life.

In Bengali language “Upohar ” means a gift.

Upohar is truly such a gift to the community and I say this since I have eaten at so many traditional Indian fare buffet places – this one was truly exceptional and global bringing Cuisines from all over the world to the table and to top it all – VEGETARIAN !!

Last but not the least – ORDER the FLAN people. By far the best FLAN and yes I am not ashamed to say I had Christina pack a second order of flan to take back home along with my container of ghost pepper concoction ( wink wink)!!!

Thank you Christina for the awesome experience. And I look forward to coming back here more…..HIGHLY RECOMMEND !!

Until next time … lots of love and wishing you all a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year and most importantly a healthy 2020 !!

Cooking Class for the Newcomers-Encore Club of Short Hills and Millburn

Cooking Class for the Newcomers-Encore Club of Short Hills and Millburn

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The Newcomers-Encore Club is a social club open to all residents of Short Hills and Millburn, no matter how long they’ve lived in the area. The Club organizes various fun events and activities through out the year for its members.

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One of my good friends Neetu Salhotra approached me with an idea for offering a cooking class for the Newcomers group. I agreed and we both exchanged a few ideas and emails to come up with the following menu for the group.

  1. Quinoa with roasted Cauliflower, Cranberries and Walnuts
  2. Curried Brussel Sprouts with Paneer and Bell Pepper
  3. Lentil pudding

I printed recipe cards and handed it to everyone. There was a lovely group of 10 wonderfully enthusiastic people ready to whip up these dishes. I split them into groups of 2 and they were so good at following the recipe and carrying out their tasks like chopping/ cooking/ seasoning/ garnishing-that we finished the class right on time for all of them to taste the dishes that they cooked as a team.

It was interesting that they all had one thing in common to tell me that they learnt a few new ingredients that they used in the class-

  1. Freshly ground garam masala
  2. Fresh coriander seeds
  3. Fresh cardamom seeds for the pudding
  4. “Jaggery” for the pudding- it is a healthier substitute for sugar
  5. Dried Fenugreek leaves for brussel sprout dish

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I think it is extremely gratifying to know that people have a nice take away from the class apart from learning to cook couple dishes -in this case- introduction to a set of new ingredients that they werent used to cooking with and now are willing to incorporate in their everyday cooking:)

I am very grateful to all of you and always appreciate the team effort that leads to such wonderful cooking experiences with beautiful people like you.

Stay tuned for more events coming up soon…..

 

 

 

Vegetarian Thai Green Curry

Vegetarian Thai Green Curry

I have been looking for a completely vegetarian green curry paste that I can use to make my thai green curry and finally found this awesome brand. Now i have to share this recipe with everyone:)

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The brand is Maesri Green Curry Paste and this is the only one that is completely vegetarian and contains no fish sauce. Yay! Once you get hold of this can, trust me you can make green curry in less than 20 minutes. This is an easy yet delicious dish to prepare if you are entertaining and you are pressed for time.

Ingredients:

1 Onion

1 Bell pepper

1 yellow squash

4-5 big florets of broccoli

1/4 cup of petite green peas

1/4 cup of green asparagus

2 cans of coconut milk (Chaokoh brand)

1 can of Maesri brand Green Curry Paste (from Asian or Korean supermarket)

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1 block of firm tofu

Canola oil

Salt to taste

Red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon lemon pepper powder(optional- alternately use lemon juice instead)

Green Scallions for garnish

Preparation:

Chop all the vegetables like onion, bell pepper, yellow squash evenly so they cook evenly. Boil a pot of salted water and add broccoli florets, peas and chopped asparagus and cook for about 4-5 minutes. Then transfer to a bowl of cold water to retain the green color of the green vegetables and also to stop the process of cooking to retain a crunch.

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photo 3 (2)photo 4 (2)Chop the block of firm tofu into cubes.

TIP: Prior to this, always wrap the block of tofu in paper towel and keep something heavy over it for about 15 minutes. This helps drain the moisture from tofu making it crispy golden brown when thrown in hot oil.

Place a pan under medium heat and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Transfer chopped cubes of tofu to the pan with oil. Add salt and crushed red pepper flakes for heat and toss well till the sides of the tofu cubes turn golden brown and crispy. Transfer the crispy cubes on to a paper towel to drain the excess oil.

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Now place a sauce pan under medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of canola oil and transfer the chopped onion, bell pepper, squash along with broccoli, green peas and asparagus to the pan. Add salt, garlic and lemon pepper powder and mix well. Now add 2 tablespoons of Maesri brand green curry paste and mix so that it coats all the vegetables well.  Saute the veggies for another 3-4 minutes and then lower the flame. Add 2 cans of coconut milk and mix well. Switch off the flame once the coconut milk starts simmering under low flame. Add the crispy tofu cubes at the end so they do not break while tossing and mixing. Gently mix well.

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Serve with hot sticky rice or I usually serve it with basmati rice.

Recipe: Chick Peas with Grated Coconut

Recipe: Chick Peas with Grated Coconut

Ingredients:

1 can of chick peas

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1tsp lemon pepper powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cayenne powder

1 tsp turmeric

2 cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

Canola Oil

1/4 cup grated coconut- frozen or fresh

Preparation:

Heat a pan with canola oil. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and wait till splutters. Add turmeric, cayenne, coriander powder, salt and lemon pepper powder. Then chop garlic and add to the pan. Saute for less than a minute. Then transfer the chick peas from the can and mix well for about 3 min’s so it soaks in all the flavors of the spices.

Turn off the heat and add the grated coconut and mix well.

Enjoy! This is such a great healthy snack!

If you do not wish to use the caned chick peas, you can buy the packet of chick peas from the store and soak it overnight. Pressure cook it and use the cooked chick peas.

Best moments from my cooking demo at Whole Foods in Montclair

Best moments from my cooking demo at Whole Foods in Montclair

I must begin by saying that I had the most wonderful time cooking for such a wonderful crowd at Whole Foods at Montclair in NJ yesterday.

Carmen, the lead for cooking demos at the store was such a cheerful person and helped me out completely with the set up of my station and making me feel like I was at my home kitchen:) Evelyn ran every single time to get stuff whenever I ran out of sampling plates or spoons. I dont remember stopping for a single minute to even drink a sip of water. I was completely in my zone once people started coming in and thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it that I dint want to miss any of it:)

So what did I cook? I had exchanged several emails with Carmen before coming up with this menu. Knowing Montclair and its residents, I knew QUINOA was one of my choices. A lot of people came up to me with difficulty pronouncing Quinoa and I had to break it up for them as (pronounced as K-i-N-WAH) 🙂

I decided to go for a Quinoa Salad. One, the reason being -Tuesdays at Whole Foods is Local Tasting meaning I was asked to make the best use of as much as local produce that was at the store. I instantly felt like a kid in a candy store- especially if you ask a vegetarian like me to pick local produce/veggies!!!!

The second reason being- Quinoa is a grain-like crop grwon for its edible seeds and is a complete protein as per nutritional evaluations. Quinoa high in dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. Quinoa is also a source of calicium and is popular amongst vegans and for those who are lactose intolerant. Quinoa is gluten free and considered easy to digest.

I decided to incorporate as much veggies possible, like zucchini, summer squash, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers…..and made a Quinoa Salad. Of course I sauted my onions, tomatoes, zucchini and squash with my special blend of freshly toasted and ground Indian spices! or freshly ground “curry” powder.

My demo was to start at 3 pm but I reached the store early so I have enough time to set up and start cooking the Quinoa. Carmen said the expected crowd between 3 and 6pm on a Tuesday at Whole Foods was about 150!!!! So I cooked for that many :))))

I had this huge pot that was simmering away with my Quinoa and veggies in it. I had just begun making my sauce- I wanted to make an Indian curried sauce to layer on top of the quinoa to take the salad to a next level.  Meantime, I saw many people approaching my station and urging me to make samplers. Being the person I am, I started making samplers of just the Quinoa while working on the making that sauce at the same time. I was so happy to hear wonderful comments from people who merely tasted the Quinoa with veggies. A lot of them said, they got the package of quinoa but when they took it home and tried cooking it- it was dry or that they werent able to get the proportion of quinoa versus water right.

A simple trick is- I never follow package instructions because it always says 1: 1!!!!! No way- you will end up with a plate of undercooked quinoa. Always, add extra broth or water to check  if the quinoa is cooked completely. You know its done is when all the grains have turned from white to transparent, and the spiral-like germ has separated. Also, while cooking the Quinoa always try and keep it covered or use a lid to cover.

Now I make my sauce with garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes and my freshly ground spices. I layer the Curried sauce over the Quinoa. I wanted to use a layer of crunch on top of the sauce so I used Organic Tempeh from Whole Foods and crumbled it, seasoned it well with cumin, coriander and “curry powder”. I saute the crumbled tempeh with a tad bit of oil in a pan till it gets a crisp coat on the surface. Now Tempeh is a meat substitute made of Soy and is very high in protein.

So I layer my sauted crumbled tempeh over my curried sauce and quinoa with veggies. I garnish the whole dish with some green scallions, colored bell peppers and some tomatoes and top it off with some cilantro!

A lot of you them who stopped by my station asked me if I sold the Sauce in a jar and they wanted to buy it:)LOL

But I promised them, I will look into it- its a possibility I would explore!!!!

They loved my sauce and the dish and were very encouraging and  appreciative,

All the kind words, words of encouragement and love is what motivates me so keep it coming guys…..can never get enough!!!

Thanks much to my friend Rob and his sister April Peters for coming out, tasting my dish and being so supportive!

Thanks again to every single person who came out to Whole Foods, and stopped by my station to taste my dish-Appreciate your time and I hope I was able to answer every one of your questions on the dish and otherwise…..

(This pic was taken at the end of the cooking demo at 6pm and I am exhausted, struggling to smile for the camera but my husband and kids came to pick me up and I was thrilled to see them !!!!Thanks so much for being so supportive!)

With much love ……. and looking forward to more events so keep tuning into my blog for updates on events and where to find me:)