Papas Con Chile (Mexican Mashed Potatoes)

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Nearby to my house, there’s a Mexican restaurant that serves these awesome mashed potatoes as a side to their dishes. Suffice it to say, they are positively addicting. They are creamy, and cheesy, but still a little crunchy with the addition of finely chopped veggies. Also, I’ve never seen these potatoes anywhere else, so it makes me wonder if they are truly Mexican. Oh well. They are delicious, and that’s all that matters.

I will warn you though: these definitely aren’t diet friendly. But hey, we all need to splurge some times. And if you balance these potatoes with a salad or fajita veggies on the side, you can have a pretty nutritious and delicious meal. Also, this dish can be thrown together in minutes, which makes it a great side dish for entertaining!

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Papas Con Chile (Mexican Mashed Potatoes)
Serves: 8
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
3 lbs. red potatoes, washed, with skins on
3 oz fat free cream cheese
1/2 cup reduced fat cream
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
10 oz. Velveeta 2% milk cheese, cubed
Salt, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup green onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp jalapeno, minced

  1. Boil potatoes with skin on until soft.
  2. In a large pot over low heat, add potatoes, cheeses, and creams and mash until cheese has melted. Stir in remaining ingredients until fully incorporated, and heat on low, stirring occasionally, until evenly heated through.

 

 

Easy Vanilla Flan

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The first time I had flan, I was said, “flan is so weird.” I mean, it really is. It lies somewhere between a custard and jello, and it’s sweet and sticky with its caramel topping. Even though it’s not super heavy like triple layer chocolate cake, it’s still pretty sugary and generally unhealthy, and not necessarily easy to make, especially when you go the “homemade caramel” route.

I’m all about the shortcuts here.

I came up with a yummy flan recipe with a couple of diet friendly modifications, and it was a big hit among my guests! I love the way that the caramel just flows over the flan. The recipe itself isn’t super time consuming, and you can just throw it in the oven to bake, and kind of forget about it for an hour. FYI, that’s just enough time to watch a rerun of Law and Order: SVU on TV. I’m down with any recipe that allows me to do such things.

Also, I used one large ramekin instead of several small ones (to save on dishes and such), and then cut the flan into small pieces.

Easy Vanilla Flan
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups liquid egg substitute (like Egg Beaters)
1 14oz can low fat sweetened condensed milk
2 13oz cans low fat evaporated milk
1/2 cup granulated white sugar, or sugar substitute (like Splenda or Stevia)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar free caramel topping (like Smucker’s)

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. In a stand mixer or using a whisk, blend the egg substitute with both milks. Slowly mix in sugar, and then vanilla, until the mixture is smooth and uniform.
  3. Pour caramel topping into 6 ramekins, or into 1 large ceramic, round pan. Swirl the caramel around until the bottom of the dish(es) is covered.
  4. Pour the milk mixture into the pan(s), and place ramekin(s) into a large glass or ceramic baking dish. Fill the dish with 1-2″ of hot water, and bake in the oven for an hour, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven, and let cool. After the flan has cooled, place flan in the fridge for at least an hour.
  6. When ready to serve, use a pairing knife to loosen the edges of the flan. Invert onto a plate, and serve.

Veggie Enchiladas

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This has certainly been the longest, coldest, most whirlwind winter I’ve ever experienced. Once I finally got a chance to sit still for a hot minute, I got sick, and then the chaos began once again. We’ve had a revolving door of guests, from my dad’s week long stay, to a long weekend of Chirag’s college friends, to my bestie Jake’s quick trip, things have been nonstop and wonderful. This weekend, two more friends are coming from out of town, but we’ve planned to keep things fairly low key. If nothing else, I’m just ready to clean out my backlogged shows on my DVR.

This past weekend was the most insane of all. Chirag’s roommate hosted a huge birthday party for himself, and invited old friends and new for the weekend. It was crazy, and fun, and sleepless. On Sunday, 4 of Chirag’s friends, and Chirag and I needed a break from all of the craziness at their apartment, and so I invited them all to my apartment for lunch/dinner/our only meal for the day. The boys were so excited to cook “real food,” so we did a huge collaborative meal.

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The food was delicious. I made chole and bhatura; Nikhil made paneer tikka; Arsh and Sanchit made aloo paratha; and Chirag did all of the chopping and cooked the paratha. Arsh also made yummy mango lassis, and I threw together some onion slices with lemon juice and red chili powder. We ate and ate and ate until we couldn’t move, cuddled up on the sofas and watched a Hindi movie. I maybe had a small bowl of ice cream during the movie. 🙂

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I love hosting people at my house. For some reason, the pile of dishes that follows a wonderful meal with loved ones seems less daunting than the few dishes left after a meal for one. I love bringing people together over food, which can obviously be done at the home or at a restaurant, but I prefer my home, so I can better control how many calories I intake.

Last week, while my dad was visiting, I invited his best friends over for dinner. They have been our family’s friends since before I was born, and we always have a fun time together. I had gotten home early from work that day, so I had time to make tons and tons of Mexican food for dinner. It took a while, but for a normal meal where you are not entertaining, each dish doesn’t actually take too long.

Enchiladas are my favorite Mexican dish. They are so easy to make, and calories can be controlled if you are mindful. I mix in tons of veggies to make each enchilada more filling and nutritious, and I make my sauce from scratch so as to cut back on sodium. All and all, these are yummy and satisfying, especially on a blustery cold night!

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Veggie Enchiladas
Serves: 8
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
For the Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp Mexican chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt, to taste
1/2 tsp cayanne pepper
2 cups no salt added vegetable broth

For the Vegetables
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, sliced (I used one green and one red pepper)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1 cup spinach, roughly chopped
1 packet reduced sodium taco seasoning

For the Beans
1 tsp olive oil
2 cans refried beans (see note)
1 packet reduced sodium taco seasoning
1/2 tsp cayanne pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt, to taste

For the Enchiladas
2 tsp olive oil
8 low carb 8″ whole wheat tortillas
2 cups reduced fat cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Sauce: heat oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add flour, stir and cook for a minute. Stir in chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, cayanne pepper, and salt, and cook for an additional minute. Slowly stir in broth, breaking up any lumps, until smooth. Turn down heat, and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the sauce becomes slightly thick.
  3. Vegetables: heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in onion, garlic, peppers, and jalapeno. Stir occasionally until vegetables are heated through, but still somewhat crisp (~ 5 minutes). Add in green onions, spinach and taco seasoning. Stir to coat all veggies with seasoning, and cook until spinach wilts.
  4. Beans: heat 1 tsp oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add beans, taco seasoning and other spices. Stir until beans are heated through.
  5. Enchilada assembly: heat oil in a saute pan or cast iron skillet. Place each tortilla in the hot oil for 30 seconds on each side, until the tortillas become soft and bubbled. Pour enough sauce onto a baking dish to just cover the bottom. Onto a tortilla, spoon on a tablespoon of sauce, 1/8th of the beans and veggies, and 2 tablespoons of cheese. Roll the enchilada and place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat for remaining tortillas. Pour the remainder of the sauce over the enchiladas, and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly, and tortilla edges are golden. Serve hot.

Note: I used refried beans on this particular occasion because it’s what my dad likes. I also like to use whole black beans (drained and washed) that can be prepared the same way as above.

Tofu Lettuce Wraps

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Isn’t it hard to believe that 2014 is well underway?? In my opinion, 2013 went by way too fast, but I’m so excited to see what this year has in store for me! Already, it’s been eventful, and we can thank the polar vortex for that. Fortunately, the coldest part of the winter is followed by the warmest, and I’m enjoying the “heat wave” that is 35°F weather. It truly is the little thing.

Chirag and I rang in the new year with friends at a local brewpub, and we had a wonderful time celebrating, dancing, and eating cheese. He left for a business trip in Europe on the 2nd, so I’ve taken advantage of the excess of free time that I seem to have these days by becoming a permanent fixture on my sofa, along with my two closest blanket friends. It has been too cold to do anything other than go to work, and then burrow. Next week, I’m making the long journey across the planet to see my grandma for 2 weeks. I absolutely cannot wait to see her! I’m having a hard time containing my excitement, which is accompanied by a really hard time focusing on non-trip related things. Here’s a list of things I’m excited about, regarding my trip:

  1. Everything grandma (hugs, laughs, stories, midday naps, watching her favorite soaps even though they are extra ridiculous)
  2. FOOD. All the food. I’m salivating already.
  3. Long chats with my aunt.
  4. Meeting my cousin’s baby for the first time, and playing with her 4-year old again.
  5. 85°F weather. All day, everyday.
  6. Sleeping in/relaxing/no work-related stress. Sleeping past 5:30am on a Friday morning would be bliss.

There are so many more things I’m excited about, but I’ll keep it short here.

So, I know that in this post, and in the media, and probably in anyone’s daily conversations lately, the weather has been the number 1 topic. I mean, not only is it socially acceptable long-elevator-ride-small-talk, but it’s been so extreme. The weather often influences my lifestyle in a hundred different ways, and I’m sure it does for others as well. For instance, early this week, when the weather was at its absolute worst, I caved and made the most delicious cheesy baked pasta and it was perfect. Warm and comforting — everything you could ever want out of a cold weather dish. But coming off of the holidays where I ate one too many Baked by Melissa cupcakes, and more donuts than I’d like to admit, I felt compelled to eat something lighter and cleaner by midweek.

Enter lettuce wraps.

I’m a carb person. I love everything carby and starchy: bread, rice, potatoes, crackers. I actually don’t even remember the last time I had a lettuce wrap. That’s why I was surprised when, on Wednesday, I found myself craving an Asian lettuce wrap. It was one of those “where did that come from?” moments. But I went with it, and I was so glad I did. First of all, lettuce wraps just look pretty. Those bright green lettuce leaves are so beautiful and fresh; it was hard not to find this dish appetizing on the onset. Also, the filling was so simple and light, yet flavorful and hearty.

Feel free to make changes to suit your tastes with the filling. I used tofu, corn and cole slaw mix (lettuce, cabbage and carrots), but you can also chop up some mushrooms and peppers, or use a meat substitute, like BOCA meatless ground crumbles. You can also change this from wraps to a salad (it’s probably easier and tidier to eat it as a salad, but finger foods are so much more fun!) I’ve also included step-by-step pictures at the end, since the colors are so beautiful!

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Tofu Lettuce Wraps
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
2 tsp olive oil (or 1 tsp each of olive and sesame oil)
14 oz. firm or extra firm tofu, drained, rinsed and excess water pressed out
1 cup frozen corn
1 hot green chili, chopped
1 cup cole slaw mix
1 tsp crushed red pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp vinegar (balsamic or rice wine)
Romaine lettuce leaves, washed and patted dry

  1. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add tofu. Using a spatula or spoon, crumble the tofu into very small pieces. Cook for 5 minutes, flipping occasionally, or until the tofu becomes golden.
  2. Add green chili and corn to tofu, and cook for another 2 minutes, until the corn softens.
  3. Add the cole slaw mix to the tofu mixture, and cook for 1 minutes, until the cole slaw wilts slightly.
  4. Stir in crushed red pepper, chili powder, garlic powder and soy sauce. Let the mixture simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed by the tofu and vegetables.
  5. Remove the mixture from heat, and drizzle in vinegar.
  6. Serve hot tofu mixture in cold lettuce leaves.

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Lemon-Berry Muffins

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Can you believe Christmas is less than a week away? I can’t wait to be with my family, drinking hot cocoa and decorating cookies. My family is generally less traditional than most on Christmas (we would rather pick out our presents than have the element of surprise on Christmas morning), but we still do some things every single year. We always eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast before we dive into the presents, and we always have cookies and chocolates galore.

This year, we’re also getting together with several of my cousins. The various members of my extended family are more or less moving targets, where everyone leads busy, exciting lives, so I am extra happy that, for the first time in a long time, we’ll all be together again. I feel more joyous this year than any Christmas in the past!

Though I’m not traveling until next Tuesday (Christmas Eve), most of my friends and colleagues at work have taken all of next week, and some even the week after, off for the holidays. I spent many hours embossing cards and decorating envelopes last night so I could distribute handmade holiday cards to my coworkers. I am so pleased with the way they turned out and I hope everyone likes them!

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Onto less Christmas-y things… 🙂

I have mentioned before that breakfast is the single most difficult and stressful meal of my day. I’m wishy-washy about me feelings on eggs (although I recently made an egg dish that I loved and will be sharing soon!), cereal and oatmeal get boring REALLY fast, and since breakfast meats are obviously not an option, I’m left with sugary sweet dessert-like breakfast foods. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love donuts as much as the next girl, and though Krispy Kreme donuts on the regular would be my dream, I’d be about 500 pounds with clogged arteries by age 30. So, that’s not an option either. I get cranky and sluggish if I ever skip breakfast, and it just sets me up for a certain level of dietary failure for the rest of the day.

To add further complexities to my breakfast conundrum, I leave my apartment at 6:30am on workdays, when my thoughts are still monosyllabic and I operate under conditioned, reflexive motions that allow little flexibility to add “making breakfast” to the mix. I’m barely awake and functioning, and I’m expected to make breakfast? What?! To circumvent this issue, I get my breakfast, lunch and various snacks ready for work the night before. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner, and lately my snacks have been clementines because they are so good and I eat them like candy. For breakfast, I either bring something I can microwave and is contained in a single piece of Tupperware, like eggs or oatmeal, or I bake muffins.

Muffins are the best. The best kind (read: full-fat kind) are buttery and decadent and bursting with sweet flavor. In the past, when I’ve made “low fat” or “guilt-free” muffins, they aren’t the same by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, for starters, they never even rise up to give that beautiful muffin top shape. I think that’s the only time in my life I’ve ever said “beautiful muffin top,” by the way. “Healthy” muffins tend to be drier and crumblier too, so the texture is way, way off.

But for the first time, this week, I baked muffins that have more full-fat taste without being full-fat. I adapted a recipe that I found here. In fact these muffins are only 5 Weight Watchers Points Plus (by my own calculations), whereas a regular muffin can run you anywhere from 8 to 12 Points Plus! My favorite part of these muffins though? The muffin top, of course!

Lemon-Berry Muffins
Serves: 12 (1 muffin per serving)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup of sugar (or Splenda sugar substitute)
1 cup nonfat milk
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen mixed berries

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray or line a muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk lemon juice and sugar together until well combined. Add milk, oil, eggs and vanilla extract and beat on low until smooth.
  3. In large bowl, whisk both flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the milk mixture slowly and combine. Carefully fold in the berries. Divide the batter equally into the muffin cups.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are golden and springy to touch, and the muffins pass the “clean toothpick” test. Cool, and enjoy!

 

 

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Weekly Menus

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Eating well can be complicated and overwhelming. Not only do you constantly have to use as much will power as possible to avoid office treats and late night snacking, but mealtime can be frustrating and confusing. Particularly during the holidays, will power is mostly questionable. Just this morning, our office secretary knocked on my door to say that she brought in a homemade pecan crisp and she had replenished her jar of candy canes on her desk — Lois, the things you do to me and my diet!

One trick that I learned to keep me organized and calm about my meals was to create a weekly menu. Every Monday morning, I outline my meals for the week, as well as snacks if I get hungry in between. It is so helpful to visually see my week in meals, and it keeps me from putzing around the kitchen, grazing in the pantry, while wondering what to it. It also prevents me from caving in and ordering take out or making a box of macaroni and cheese. Also, it is incredibly helpful for grocery shopping. I buy exactly what I need, and no more than that, so less food is wasted.

When planning my meals, I follow these guidelines:

  1. Use the same or similar ingredients throughout the week. It’s incredibly wasteful to buy a whole bunch of cilantro for just one dish that calls for 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Instead, I try to make sure perishable ingredients are used several times during the week, so that I am sure they will be used before they spoil. Additionally, recipes that include canned foods like beans or tomato sauce should be treated the same way, if your recipes don’t include using the whole can.
  2. Embrace leftovers. During the work week, I usually take leftovers from the previous night’s dinner for lunch. This makes my life SO much easier — I have fewer meals to worry about, and I can make two meals at once! Also, it is so much easier to make 2 portions of a dish than 1 portion when I’m cooking for myself.
  3. Use your menu as a grocery store guide. Your menu will tell you exactly what ingredients you need for the week. Let that be your road map in the grocery store, and try not to stray into the cookie aisle! (It happens though…)
  4. Variety isn’t always necessary. Breakfast is the single hardest meal for me to plan, particularly because I go to work so early and I need something that travels well in my lunchbox. I usually try to plan just one or two simple recipes that I can throw together easily or make all at once, like muffins or breakfast breads. This makes my 6:15am brain happy, and my 8:00am tummy even happier.
  5. But variety and experimentation never hurts! I like incorporate new, exciting recipes into my meal plans along side tried and true go-to recipes. It keeps my week exciting, without being too stressful trying to learn new recipes all the time.
  6. Schedule in time to eat out. I love my friends, and my family, and Chirag. And we all love eating. A lot. Quite frankly, if I refused every dinner invitation, I probably wouldn’t have much of a social life. Just try to make smart decisions about eating out, and if you can, take a peek at the restaurant’s menu beforehand and narrow down a short list of healthy options that sound yummy. I always try to eat lighter meals before eating out so that I can enjoy my restaurant meal to the fullest… and maybe even split a dessert too! 🙂
  7. Plan your meals around your life, not the other way around. Do you have to work late on Wednesday? Can’t get home until late on Thursday? Leaving work early on Friday? On-the-go all day on Saturday? Plan to make your quickest and easiest meals on your busiest days, and save those more tedious ones for when you have more time.
  8. Have fun with it!! I don’t treat my menu like a steadfast binding contract. I leave some wiggle room (snacks are generally optional, if I feel hungry between meals), and if my aunt invites me over for a home-cooked meal, you can bet that I’m saying yes, letting my previously planned dinner move to the back burner. Menu planning isn’t always exciting, and on most Monday mornings when I’m writing my menu, I’m half asleep and in a daze. I brighten things up with colors and swirls to keep up the energy all week!

 

Sweet Potato Tikka with Coriander Chutney

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In our family, sweet potatoes always make an appearance at Thanksgiving. My mom would make this amazing whipped sweet potato dish that I loved, but I think she and I were the only ones that actually liked it. My dad wasn’t exactly a fan. Last year, I tried something new, and created a sweet potato dish with an Indian twist, and it was easily the best part of our Thanksgiving meal.

I made these sweet potato tikkas (or patties) again this year, and dad and I had them on Thanksgiving night, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday evening, because they were so good. On Saturday, I paired these tikkas with Chole to create a layered, deep flavor profile, and it was the BEST use of leftovers ever. I have a feeling that next year, chole will be included in our Thanksgiving spread. 

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Coriander chutney is a staple in Indian cuisine. If you’ve ever been to an Indian restaurant, they always give a small side green chutney (that’s the coriander chutney) and tamarind chutney (it’s sweeter and maroon in color) with papad/papadum (crispy discs made of black gram). Coriander chutney can be slightly spicy and fairly citrusy and bright. Indians eat coriander chutney with a myriad of dishes, so it’s a fairly useful condiment to know how to make. Of course, you can buy it prepackaged in an Indian grocery store. My dad also likes to make a big batch and then freeze small portions into ice cube trays, so he can defrost little portions as he needs them. Smart guy!

Sweet Potato Tikka with Coriander Chutney
Serves: 6-8 (makes 3-4 patties per person)
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
For the Tikka
4 sweet potatoes
⅓ cup finely chopped white onion
1 tbsp. finely grated ginger
1 tbsp. finely chopped garlic
⅓ cup finely chopped cilantro
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh green chili
2 tbsp. gram flour (chickpea flour/chana besan)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. garam masala
½ tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
2 Tbsp bread crumbs
½ lime
oil, as needed

For the Chutney
1/2 clove garlic
1 green chili
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 cups fresh cilantro, loosely packed
1-2 tablespoons water
Salt, to taste

  1. For the Tikkas: Put sweet potatoes in pot and fill with water. Cover and boil on high heat for approximately 30 minutes or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork without resistance.
  2. Set potatoes aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes with your hands and put into a large bowl. Mash with a potato masher.
  3. In the meantime, mix ginger, garlic, cilantro and chili until a coarse paste is formed.
  4. Add onions, seasonings, garlic-ginger paste, flour, lime and breadcrumbs to potatoes. Mash and mix until well-incorporated.
  5. For the Chutney: blend all ingredients until smooth.
  6. Heat oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Using your hands, form 2-inch wide patties from the potato mixture.
  7. Cook tikkas for about 4 minutes, or until brown, then flip and repeat. Serve warm with coriander chutney.