Packing Collage

I'm heading to Mexico for a few days to cover the Cancun-Riviera Maya Food & Wine Festival

It's going to be five full days of feasting--I can't wait to share it all with you!

I'm usually a terrible packer, leaving it until the absolute last possible second, so this time I decided to create a little packing collage on Polyvore, just the same way I would plan for a party. This provided me with a little inspiration for a packing "theme" and made it possible for me to streamline while still bringing everything I need.

For this trip, I'm going with a palate of navy, red, coral, and gold, with brown leather accessories (and my cowboy hat, of course!).

I'll be sure to share pictures and delicious recipes with you when I get back from the trip!




Hi lovelies! I prepared a cozy Latin spice roast chicken (with extra-crispy skin), spicy Argentine chimichurri, and caramelized roasted rutabaga to enjoy for dinner tonight while watching the premiere of the new ABC show The TASTE.

Will you be watching?

Dessert will be a sliced of Nigella's Flourless Clementine cake (which I posted on my food blog, Always Order Dessert). That's where I write and share recipes daily so be sure to hop on over and check it out if you haven't yet!

Remember you can follow me on Twitter (@nandita) and on Facebook. Come by and say hello!



Dark Chocolate Cheater Pot de Creme

This easy little dessert has become my latest obsession. It takes about 5 minutes and is done almost entirely inside a blender, but the results are just as decadent as anything you'd get at a fancy french restaurant. It's my new favorite dinner party dessert since it can be prepared days in advance, and is best served up in tiny portions.

Video: Cucumber, Basil & Limoncello Cocktail

I pretty much freak out whenever I see cocktails on menus that have fresh herbs like basil or cilantro in them. If you add cucumber or passion fruit to the mix, it's pretty much guaranteed that I will be drinking it ALL NIGHT LONG. Here I show you how to prepare a fun cocktail featuring limoncello--a sweet Italian liqueur made from lemons--cucumbers, and basil. So fresh and fun for summer. I hope you enjoy!

Mother's Day Brunch Idea: Homemade Chocolate Croissants

One of my favorite things about brunch are the pastries! Flaky croissants, freshly baked muffins, danish--you name it...I love it! Chocolate croissants, in particular, are one of my favorite brunch treats and they are actually pretty easy to make when you start off with good quality all-butter puff pastry dough. (I love the brand Dufour, but just check your grocery store for their options. In NYC, Fresh Direct makes a great in-house all-butter version that I use in this video.)

Comfort Soup

Photo by Matthew Genitempo, via.
Growing up, ours was a very holistic sort of household; my parents would usually skip the over-prescribed antibiotics and brightly colored drugstore meds in favor of more natural remedies. I remember many instances of being chased around the house with a gloopy aloe leaf, bee pollen capsules or arnica gel. Sore throats were usually tended to not with capfuls of cough syrup, but rather spoonfuls of lemon juice and raw honey. Tummy aches got ginger tea, and fevers were cured with bay rum-soaked cloths and bowls of hot, spicy seafood soup.

That soup was my favorite. Upon the first hint of a temperature, my mom would make a trip to the seafood market and come home with a bag full of shellfish, sea bass, scallops, and a live lobster, thwacking around in its box. She started with a sofrito base, sauteing diced peppers, onions, and other aromatics until fragrant. To this she'd add chunks of calabaza (West Indian pumpkin) for color and thickness, and season it with Old Bay and cayenne. All the while, she'd peel shrimp, dropping the shells into a large simmering pot that became shrimp stock. By the time she was ready to ladle the soup into bowls, the house was filled with a rich seaside aroma.

I loved the soup, but it wasn't a regular on the menu at home. For one, my dad, who is sensitive to spice, was never really a fan. And the pounds of fresh seafood were rather pricey. So my mother only ever made it when I got sick. Or at least, when she thought I was sick, for I went to great lengths to feign illness in the hopes that she would make me a pot of that incredible soup. I used to plan it in advance, acting a bit weak for a couple days, before finally asking to be sent to the nurse's office at school. There I would complain of nonspecific aches and curl up listlessly until my parent's were called. And then at home I'd lay patiently in bed, reading a book and pressing hard against the thermometer with my tongue in order to raise the temperature a few degrees higher.

Several years later, as an adult, I finally confessed. My mother laughed it off and noted, "you could have just asked me to make you soup."

In the years since, I've openly adopted my parent's holistic ways, responding to Eugene's request for a decongestant by dumping a teaspoon of cayenne into a mug of tea and making many pots of the same soup, which has also become one of his favorites. This past week, after several days of nonstop work and late nights, my body gave out and I found myself ravaged with a nasty cold, too bleary to do much for myself beside make tea and reheat leftovers.

My mom, upon learning I was sick, offered to come by on Monday with the ingredients to make me soup. She came over and spent a couple hours working on the soup telling me about how she used to have something similar when she was a child in Puerto Rico. It was nice to have her buzzing around in the kitchen, and to have the apartment filled with those incredible smells of my childhood. When it was ready, we sat down on the couch to each have a bowl, the spice and steam instantly making it possible for me to breathe through my nose again.

Everybody has a comforting dish they enjoy when sick. For some it's chicken noodle soup. For others it's cinnamon toast. For me, it'll always be spicy seafood soup.

7 Ideas for Easy Weeknight Dinners

In a dinner rut? Here are 7 easy ideas for delicious from-scratch dinners you can get on the table with just a few minutes in the kitchen--no complicated recipes or ingredients necessary!

1. Quick Pan-Seared Fish:
Fish is basically nature's fast food. It cooks in minutes with very little fuss. Rinse fish fillets of your choice (either fresh or frozen & thawed) in cold water and then pat with paper towels until very dry. Season generously with kosher salt and black pepper, and cook in hot skillet brushed with olive oil, about 2 minutes per side for skinny fillets, 4 minutes per side for fat ones. Serve with a pile of dressed salad greens, steamed veggies, or rice, and a few lemon wedges. Try this with tilapia, striped bass, cod, halibut, or salmon.

2. Crunchy Baked Chicken Tenders:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Dip raw chicken tenders in buttermilk that has been seasoned generously with salt, pepper, and paprika. Coat them in panko breadcrumbs and lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then flip and bake 10 more minutes. Serve with dipping sauces or use to make crunchy chicken sandwiches.

3. Cold Spicy Shrimp and Soba Noodle Salad:
Prepare soba (buckwheat) noodles according to package, then rinse with cold water and set aside. Add thawed cooked shrimp. In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons sesame or olive oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sriracha or hot sauce, 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 minced garlic clove, and pour dressing over shrimp and noodles. Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with chopped scallions or sesame seeds, if desired.

4. Pesto Bean Salad:
Rinse and drain 2 cans of low sodium black beans, then empty into a large bowl (or use equivalent homecooked black beans). Add a handful of dried cranberries. In a blender, blitz together 1 bunch fresh basil, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup pine nuts or almonds, and 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil. Toss the pesto with the beans and cranberries. Serve on a bed of fresh baby arugula.

5. Roasted Root Veggie Jumble:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and chop a few each of: carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, beets, and a large red onion. Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread out on baking sheet and roast until tender, about 40 minutes. Serve topped with crumbled feta or goat cheese.

6. Bangers and Smash:
Boil 2 pounds of small new potatoes until tender, then drain. While potatoes cook, combine 1 pound of sausage links (I prefer hot Italian sausage, but choose your fave) with 1 cup chicken broth in a shallow, covered skillet. Let simmer on low about 12 minutes, until cooked through and broth has reduced into a glaze. Transfer potatoes to a bowl and use the back of a fork to smash, season with olive oil, lemon juice, a teaspoon of mustard, chopped parsley, and salt and black pepper. Serve topped with sausage links.

7. Creamy Vegetable Soup:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy-bottom pot. Saute one diced onion, one diced pepper, and three smashed garlic cloves until soft and fragrant. Add chopped broccoli and asparagus, and top with 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer until veggies are tender. Puree in batches until smooth, then season with salt, black pepper, and cayenne (optional) to taste.

Want more ideas? Sign up for my busy weeknight cooking class this Saturday the 25th in NYC, to learn more delicious easy weeknight recipes and other tips and techniques for getting dinner (and other meals) on the table quickly on even the busiest of nights!

How to Cook When You're Too Tired to Cook--5 Tips

Cooking after a long day at the office can sometimes seem impossible. I mean, I absolutely LOVE to cook, but there are still days when I'm so exhausted that the thought of stepping into the kitchen to prepare a meal sends me running straight for the take-out menus. But with a serious commitment to cooking more at home, I've had to find ways to push through the slump.

Here are 5 tips I've discovered make it much easier to get a home-cooked dinner on the table, on even the weariest of evenings.

1. Don't Starve Yourself: I often make the mistake of eating lunch too early or getting so caught up in work that by the time I realize I need dinner, I'm literally too hungry to cook. When you wait too long to eat, your blood sugar drops and you'll find that your abilities to focus, problem solve, and think creatively are weakened--the exact skills you need in order to look in the fridge or pantry and figure out a dish. Solution: Stop, breathe, and have a snack. Think things like: nuts, a tart apple and chunk of cheddar cheese, a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and a bit of honey, a small plain yogurt drizzled with maple syrup, or even a hard-boiled egg sprinkled with salt and pepper. These will regulate your blood sugar and give you the energy you need to prepare a proper meal.

2. Become Your Own Prep Cook: This is my number one tip for busy folks who want to make dinnertime easier. The day you bring home your groceries, go through your ingredients, and process and prep them right then and there. This means dice up a few onions and peppers, chop up carrot and celery sticks for cooking or snacking, rinse and spin salad greens, portion out chicken breasts and toss them in sealed baggies with quick marinades, whisk together a quick homemade vinaigrette, etc. Figure out anything that can be done in advance to make cooking quicker and easier, and do it. It'll probably only take you about 30 minutes or so to do on the spot, but that advanced planning will mean that you can then whip up dinner in mere minutes when you get home from work.

3. Plan Your Menu: There was a time when housewives regularly planned out weekly and even monthly menus in advance. They knew that, for example, Monday would be meatloaf night and Tuesday would be chicken. As old-fashioned as it may seem, even a loose version of menu planning can be just the thing to keep you on track when you're too exhausted to think. While I'm not suggesting that you plan out every single detail of what you will eat this month, it might be worth figuring out a loose plan of a few dishes you know for sure you will make this week, and then write them down on a pad near the fridge. When you get home from work, look at your list, pick something, and get to work. If you followed #2, this should be even easier.

4. Make a Big Batch of Something: About once a week, I like to make a big batch of soup or pasta or quinoa that I can quickly serve myself on those nights when I really don't have the energy, but don't want to rely on frozen food or take-out. I usually go with a simple, hearty recipe that will keep well for several days, and which can take multiple reheatings or just be eaten cold. In the summer this usually means egg or tuna salad, a cold pasta salad, or a large bowl of herbed quinoa with dried fruits and nuts. In the winter, I like hearty soups made with beans, spicy sausage, and plenty of diced veggies. Braised meat dishes like ropa vieja or pulled pork also work well, as do baked pasta dishes like lasagna.

5. Keep it Simple: Remember that home-cooking at its best is meant to be simple. When you start off with real, quality ingredients, there really isn't much more that you have to do to it. There is no need to make elaborate dishes or follow recipes with multiple steps. Just let the ingredients guide you.  Some easy ideas:
  • Steam some chopped broccoli, carrots, or zucchini (frozen is fine!) and toss with olive oil, black pepper, and a generous sprinkle of grated cheese. 
  • Grate lemon zest all over plain cooked pasta and toss with salted butter, black pepper, and a can of drained and rinsed tuna.
  • Chop up leftover grilled chicken or deli turkey, and mix with bagged salad greens, grapes or diced apples, a handful of nuts, and your favorite dressing for a quick and delicious salad. 
  • Toast some bread and top it with a whole smashed avocado and a sprinkle of kosher salt. 
  • Or (my favorite) scramble up a pile of cheesy eggs, top with chopped chives, and serve with a glass of wine and a good book. Refill wine as necessary. 
Figure out  2 or 3 easy meals like this that you can pull off in minutes without much thought, and you'll be well on your way to becoming a confident home cook.

Elegant Entertaining

I came across this stunning photo of model Mary Jane Russell in an elegant set of chinoiserie style silk hostess pajamas and turban. How fabulous would it be to host a casual, but chic, cocktail party (or perhaps even just one special guest) while outfitted in something like this?  I'm now determined to find myself a fabulous pair of hostess pajamas to lounge around and sip cocktails in.

Photo from Vogue, 1953 via Habitually Chic

5 Easy Things You Can Do TODAY to Feel Instantly Refreshed

1. Mix up a Batch of Spa Water
Few things are more refreshing than drinking a glass of ice cold water with a few slices of lemon, mint, and cucumber floating around in it. It's an easy way to make that plain glass of water taste better, and to encourage you to hydrate more, which in turn will help you de-bloat quickly, get rid of eye puffiness, reduce your appetite, and leaving feeling totally revitalized. To prepare, simply fill up an attractive pitcher or beverage dispenser and drop in one sliced cucumber, 1 sliced lemon, and a few sprigs of fresh mint. Keep this in the fridge at home or in your office, and make a goal to empty it by the end of the day.  (Added bonus? Cucumber, lemon, and mint all contain properties that will also help reduce bloat and flatten your belly.)

2. Go to Sleep 20 Minutes Earlier Tonight
It may not seem like a lot at the end of a harried day, but those extra 20 minutes of sleep will absolutely make you feel healthier and more energized tomorrow morning, and throughout your day. Even if you can't get to sleep quickly, the mere act of laying quietly in a darkened room will help relax your mind and help you sleep deeper.

3. Cross Something Quick Off Your To-Do List
Been meaning to schedule a dentist appointment? Have a few pairs of shoes you need to take in to get the heel tips replaced? Need to request a copy of an old invoice you lost? We all have a few nagging things on our to-do list that we put off for no real reason in particular (I, admittedly, have like 20 of these things), but taking the time to just do ONE of them, will help ease up the stress and perhaps even free up a little mental space so you can move forward and tackle the rest.

4. Take a Walk Around the Block
Working inside all day can make you feel stuffy, tired, bored, and even sore. A bit of exercise can definitely help, but there is no need to go for anything complicated that involves you changing clothing, driving to the gym, or worrying about making it back in time. Just grab your coat, say you'll be right back, and take a walk around the block, your building, or even just the parking lot. It's just a couple minutes, but it will refresh you and keep you going for the rest of the day. Even better? Get a coworker to come along.

5. Get Rid of Something You Don't Love
Physical clutter has a sneaky way of weighing down on us without even realizing it. There is a definite negative energy that arises when you find yourself surrounded by objects that you don't need or like. When I need a quick mental burst, the surest way is to pick a drawer or closet or cabinet or shelf, and just toss something. Pull out a sweater to donate, throw out a pile of old Christmas cards, or even take down a painting you never really enjoyed that much. Don't worry about how much it cost or if it was a gift--if you aren't crazy about it, just ditch it. A few weeks ago, I threw out everything that was on my refrigerator door--promotional magnets, store receipts, postcards, etc. I cleared off the entire door and was AMAZED by how much fresher and lighter everything suddenly felt.

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook, Stumble, and Twitter! Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter (@nandita), become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my free once-a-week newsletter by filling in your name and address in the box on the right.

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me. Thanks for reading!      

7 Great Books for New Cooks

Resolved to learn how to cook (or just cook more) in 2012? Here are a few great books to get you (or a loved one) started and inspired. When choosing books for a new cook, I find that it's best to start out by thinking of the kinds of books she or he typically reads--memoirs? romance? practical books with lots of technique? There are food books that touch on all of those themes, and it's just a matter of finding the right one. Pair these books off with a pair of tickets to one of my upcoming NYC cooking classes, and you'll be on the right path to your new life as a home cooking superstar!

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School 
I find this book and story particularly exciting, because so much of it is similar to what I do with my own culinary services and cooking classes. In this book, the writer, Chef Kathleen Flinn, tells the story of how she went into the kitchens of cooking novices and worked with them to both understand how it is they feel about food and cooking, and then to actually teach them how to make cooking a realistic part of their life (all the while explaining WHY it's so important to do so). Part memoir and part cookbook, it's an incredible story that will both teach and inspire. If you only pick up one of the books on this list, definitely get this one.

Think Like a Chef
Originally written long before Tom Colicchio became the star he is today (though new editions of the book do reference Top Chef), this is a solid book by a talented chef and good teacher that focuses on the technique and mindset of cooking. It is a book that is clearly written for a reader who wants to truly learn. It goes beyond recipes to walk the reader through basic techniques, key ingredients, and recipes that are laid out in a very specific order to teach you not just to follow a recipe, but to understand the formula so you can create and adjust it for yourself. All throughout, interesting anecdotes and stories keep the book interesting and an actual pleasure to read.

How to Repair Food 
This is a brilliant and handy little reference book to own, and one which I recommend to both new and seasoned cooks alike. With remedies for nearly every single kitchen mishap imaginable, as well as a fabulous list of pantry ingredients to keep on hand for kitchen emergencies. Covering everything from sunken cakes to salty soup to burned meat, it's a great little volume to keep in the kitchen for those times when things go wrong (because they will!). I think of it as my kitchen "First Aid" kit.

Cooking for Mr. Latte
There are a LOT of "memoirs with recipes" out there, but this is by far my favorite. Written by Amanda Hesser who was, at the time, the food editor of the New York Times Magazine, and currently the co-founder and editor of Food52, the book tells the story of her courtship with her now husband, and the way that food played into that relationship. Unlike most food memoirs, which tend to be a little bit--er...syrupy--this one is funny, witty, but still romantic and sweet. The recipes that are interspersed throughout the book are elegant, but simple enough for novice chefs, who will most likely be so inspired by the actual stories, that they'll eagerly head to the kitchen to try them out.

How to Cook Everything
The title really does say it all here! This book contains 2000 simple recipes for just about everything. It's the book to pull out if you find yourself with an ingredient you want to cook, or just need a quick basic recipe for a classic dish. The book also defines cooking terms, and includes menus for different occasions. It's not a gorgeous picture book full of incredibly impressive recipes, but it's easy to follow, accessible, and definitely the kind of book you'll find yourself referencing regularly.

The School of Essential Ingredients
This breezy novel by Erica Bauermeister might not seem like an obvious choice for those learning how to cook, but the sweet story about how one cooking class transformed the lives of all who took it is definitely very inspiring. The book is interspersed with lessons on cooking techniques, so you'll actually find that you learn a few practical cooking tips while enjoying the story. It's a fun and entertaining read that will get you into the mindset for making home cooking a real part of your life.

In the Small Kitchen
If you have a teen or a twenty-something in your life who is just starting to develop an interest in cooking, this is definitely the book to give him or her. Written by a pair of friends, the book features recipes and lessons specifically for new cooks living in dorms and small apartments. Covering everything from pantry staples to basic techniques, the book provides recipes broken down by specific occasions (date food, brunch, entertaining, etc.). The book is interspersed with personal anecdotes that make the book just as fun to read as it is to cook from.

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook, Stumble, and Twitter! Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter (@nandita), become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my free once-a-week newsletter by filling in your name and address in the box on the right. I also offer culinary concierge services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me. Thanks for reading!          

I'm in Shape

Well that is one resolution I can officially cross off my list! I am officially ending 2011 in SHAPE! (Magazine, that is.)

Pop on over to today to check out my Crockpot Cinnamon Apple Butter recipe (made with NO sugar added) along with 8 other delicious healthy slow-cooker recipes that will help get you in shape, too.

(OK..that's it for the puns. I promise.)

For more healthy cooking recipes, tips, and ideas, be sure to sign up for my Healthy Cooking Class in NYC on January 16th. Spots are very limited so don't delay!