And I’m back…

I’m back! Well, back to blogging that is. I’ve had a few very hectic months. What with the crazy storm in October, our trip to India in December and January, and basically just catching up since then.

I’ve taken some time to get things back in shape around the house, and all the while, have enjoyed some moments… Take a look!

India – one of my favorite photos from India. We visited both sides of our family which was amazing! We were also fortunate enough to travel through Rajasthan. While in Rajasthan, we rode camels in the desert and Manish was able to get this great shot at sunset.

At 56 – Joe finally agreed to bring one of my favorite, unique wines into the shop! The 2009 Francois Cazin Cour Cheverny. This deliciously crisp and lively white hails from the eastern part of the Loire Valley. Made entirely of the Romorantin grape varietal, white fruits and minerals take center stage while a little bit of salinity and stone fruit round out the finish. Gorgeous wine for sipping or enjoying with a variety of food for this time of year!

At home – We celebrated moments with family…

Travel – We traveled (with the girls) to our old stomping grounds of San Francisco! Caught up with old friends, visited old teachers, and saw our old apartment(s!) All the while making new memories soaking in the gorgeous scenery, enjoying dinner with new friends, and forging business relationships that will hopefully be blog-worthy in the near future! More on that later!

At work – We said farewell and good luck to a good friend and colleague. Thank goodness we will still be seeing you – but we’ll miss you at 56!

Ricotta Cheesecake with Chai Spices

I grew up enjoying the sweet, rich dairy concoctions from India that my mother would make for celebratory occasions. Often making her own version of ricotta, she would always allow me to “sample” the still very hot batter for her famous Indian sweet… “Burfi.” I leave the burfi-making to my mother, but one of my favorite tried and true dessert recipes of all time is for ricotta cheesecake. Perhaps dating back to the pleasure I felt as a child while eating my mother’s creations, ricotta cheesecake takes me to a very happy place 🙂

I’m sure if I had an Italian grandmother, I would have a treasured family recipe to pass down to my children… But instead, I have a recipe that I have tweaked through the years, and one that I may say I am quite proud of. But something about this dessert just wasn’t screaming “pass me down to your children because this defines who you are as a mother, wife, and cook!” So, I Nita-fied it. Enjoy!

Ricotta Cheesecake with Chai Spices
Serves 10-12

2 lb whole milk ricotta (fresh if possible)
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of ginger powder
3 tablespoons unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
1 lb cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ tablespoons masala blend for chai (see my previous post)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of salt free matzo meal (if you can’t find matzo meal, process matzo crackers into fine crumbs)

Drain ricotta in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 inch springform pan with 2 ½ inch sides with butter. Combine the 2 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon, ginger powder, and breadcrumbs together in a bowl, and sprinkle inside the pan. Coat all sides and bottom of pan, tapping out excess.

Transfer the ricotta to a food processor and puree until smooth, scraping down sides when necessary. Add cream cheese and puree until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and puree, scraping down the sides when necessary, until very smooth. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and just set, about an hour and 15 minutes.

Let the cake cool on a rack (it will deflate slightly.) Then refrigerate uncovered for an hour. Cover the cake and refrigerate overnight. To serve, remove the cake from the refrigerator about ½ hour before serving. Remove the pan sides and dust with powdered sugar. Cut in slices and serve with chilled whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Spice of Life

Home remedies have been a part of my childhood, my adulthood, and my livelihood. When I was a kid and I had a sore throat, my mother would tell me to drink a “tea” made from boiling grated ginger in water, adding honey and lemon to taste. My father would tell me to chew on a clove for a tooth ache. When I got married, my mother in law suggested that I wear a necklace of garlic to get rid of my cold. And after having my first child, she suggested rubbing asafetida on her belly to get rid of gas.

Immediate relief was not the intended goal here… but the homeopathic route was always preferred over the pharmacy. The slight burn and tingle or the ginger provided balance to the soothing nature of the honey and lemon for my sore throats. Clove oil is one of the main ingredients in natural tooth paste and dental anesthetics. Garlic, when crushed, forms a sulphuric compound called allicin which aids in healing colds. Asafetida has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries – aiding in relieving digestive issues.

The ingredients for these home remedies are not only nature’s way of healing, but they are some of the brilliant gems of my pantry. Inspired by my recent visit to India, and all of the amazing spices and flavors, I wanted to share my recipe for Chai Masala. Known to cure sore throats and aid in the prevention of colds and fevers, this spice blend is extremely versatile! I use it when I make Chai, but also found another creative way to utilize the exotic nature of its flavors… My next post will talk more about that…

Every household in India serves Chai – ALL DAY LONG. When we first arrive at someone’s home, we are served Chai. Mid day, we are served Chai. Late afternoon, or tea time, we are served Chai. After dinner, we are served Chai. So, needless to say, I had my fill of Chai while visiting India. I like my spice blend to be on the spicier side, so I tweaked my recipe to accommodate my preference. Enjoy!

Photo taken from

Spice blend for Masala Chai
Makes 1 cup

5 cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
¼ cup whole black peppercorns
3 tablespoons green cardamom seeds (pods removed)
freshly grated nutmeg (I use about 1/3 of a single nutmeg)
3-4 tablespoons ground ginger powder

Dry roast in a heavy fry pan over medium heat the cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, and cardamom seeds for about 5 to 7 minutes. Cool completely. Transfer roasted spices to a spice grinder (in batches if necessary) and grind to a fine powder. Stir in the nutmeg and ginger powder until well combined. Store in an air-tight container.

Masala Chai (Indian Spiced Tea with Milk)
Makes 1 cup

¾ cups water
¼ cup 2% milk
scant ¼ teaspoon spice blend for masala chai
scant 2 teaspoons loose leaf black tea (I use Assam)

Heat the milk and water in a pot over high heat. Just before it comes to a boil, add the masala. Just as the mixture boils, add the tea. Let the mixture simmer for 2 minutes, watching constantly to make sure that it doesn’t boil over. Take off heat and let it steep for another 1 to 2 minutes. Strain into a tea cup, and add sugar to taste.

The Storm and the Calm After it

Oct 29th 2011 is a date that will go down in the history of whacky and formidable storms. For the sake of remembering, and being able to tell my grandchildren about what we “survived,” I will post pictures here. Forgive the lack of content in this post but I really do not want to re-live that week. Simply stated, it was a freak storm… Leaves still VERY intact on the trees while the heavy snow fell. Electricity was gone for days. It turned our worlds upside down. Lucky for us, we had a 7 night vacation in store for us later that week. (Hence, the “calm”) So we left these worries behind… (Click on photos to see larger format)

Our street after the storm
Our blocked street 4 days after the storm
Our backyard after the storm
Believe it or not, our car actually survived this accident!

Farmers Market Finds

Rainbow Carrots

Every year on the Saturday before Labor Day, Manish and I take the girls and meet up with Jigna, Piyush, and our nephews in Hoboken or NYC. We then proceed on our annual pilgrimage to the green market at Union Square, then Eataly (for the past two years at least,) followed by a picnic at a family friendly park. The kids enjoy choosing their own foods from the market (and cheeses and breads from Eataly.) And we enjoy exploring and learning about the unique and colorful crops that some of these farmers bring to the table. This year, Manish and I stocked up on many of the farmers market finds and tested them out in our kitchen… and here are some of the culinary results!

Pea Shoots - we used them for everything from salads to stir fries!

Heirloom cherry tomatoes were chosen very carefully. We tasted as we shopped, and these were the sweetest! We used some basil and fresh mozzarella to create  a very simple heirloom salad. September on a plate 🙂

Squash Blossoms…. I tried to re-create a dish that I experienced earlier this summer. Squash blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta, lightly breaded, pan fried, and drizzled with an anchovy butter sauce…

One of the farms literally had someone sauteeing shisito peppers – fresh – with garlic – and we sampled. Need I say more? We brought some home, and we devoured. Beware though… one out of every 10 is SPICY hot! Delicious, nonetheless!

We didn’t bring these home though…. the hottest pepper in the world. The Bhut Jolokia. From India – translated to “Ghost Pepper.” We had to take pictures though – gorgeous huh?


PASSION… I am inspired everyday to learn more about what I am passionate about.

CREATIVITY… I am inspired by the creative geniuses that surround me, and make me want to challenge myself.

ASPIRATIONS… I am inspired to be a positive role model for the two most important little ladies in my life.

LOVE & SUPPORT… I get inspiration everyday from my supportive family, who love me no matter what path I choose to follow.

Thank you for being my inspiration!

A Magical Dinner

Maya 2010-2011

A few months ago, Maya told me that for her twelfth birthday, she would love to visit Spain. When I asked her why, she simply stated that she thought it would be a cool country to see – the sights, the people, the language…… the FOOD. Ah! There it was! MY Maya was back. She took a few years off from being the foodie we bragged about back in San Francisco… but friends, this was it. I saw the spark in her eyes as she talked about tapas. She was BACK!

Some of you may remember the little girl who used to go everywhere with us in San Francisco – ordering the sushi rolls and sashimi, the shellfish risotto, and the (brace yourselves) oysters on the half shell from the raw bar. She wanted the lamb when the option for chicken fingers was present, and as I stated in one of my previous posts, only “fancy mac and cheese” would do for her – none of that “K” brand stuff! 😉 Yes, she made me proud. But for whatever reason (Manish blames it on moving back to the burbs) she regressed after moving back to NJ. She had issues  with “green stuff” in her pasta sauce (ie herbs!) And the more exotic the dish, the less she wanted to try it. She still loved sushi, but it was the super adulterated rolls that were intriguing her now (ie the Berkeley Heights Roll, the Basking Ridge Roll, The Philadelphia Roll… you get the point.) Sigh. Burgers, dogs, and fingers were the items that she was now excited about. And the Cassoulet, Coq au vin, and Moules frites that I attempted to entice her with were too bizarre to even fathom. Double sigh.

The Heading on Mayas Birthday Menu

Fast forward to a few months ago. I told her that Spain was pretty much out of the question (HELLO!!!??,) but perhaps we could consider doing something else? She asked if we could go to dinner…. at elements. 🙂 She heard Manish and I talk of our experiences at elements and said she was intrigued. “Will I like it?” she asked. “No, You will love it.” I answered. And she did. She LOVED trying everything that Chef Scott Anderson put on her plate. She felt like royalty, and was truly honored to be catered to the way the entire team at elements did. She called the experience “Magical.” And it was. My baby loves elements. Oh, we are in TROUBLE! 😉 See below for the details of our meal.

The team welcomed us, and we were seated in the main dining room. Maya was the first to notice the heading on the menu. “happy birthday Maya! (maybe Spain next year.) She relaxed, and let her hair down. She knew it was going to be a fun night. Maya ordered a fabulous ginger “beer” concoction crafted by Mattias, while Manish and I started with two new cocktails on the list. I had the privateer, which was made with 3 really intense and flavorful artisanal rums, while Manish had a Rum Sazerac. For the amuse bouche, we had a trio. First was a horseradish slaw with brussel sprouts. Next, a leek soup. And last, a spicy beef tartare. The perfect small bites to whet our palates. Our appetizer was a dumpling type of pasta with taleggio cheese and shaved black truffles. Maya saw her parents literally scraping our portions clean with a fork, and licking up every last bite of cheese and truffle, So she followed. And she was happy she did so 😉

First and Second Courses

The tuna tartare was spectacular, dressed with scallion, ginger, and white soy. The Buri (adult yellowfin) was served sashimi style and was so buttery and savory. I actually caught Maya closing her eyes at one point, just soaking in the awesomeness of the fish. She was so intrigued by the purple cabbage soup. Inside were chunks of pastrami… every bite was so balanced with seasoning, so colorful. This was one of her favorite dishes.

Courses 3, 4, and 5

Next was the local tilefish. This was pan seared and accompanied by caramelized endive, macadamia and coconut. The dish encompassed such an “island” flair. Fabulous combination of flavors! A foie gras course was introduced next… Maya was excited to try it, but unfortunately did not enjoy it as much as Manish and I did. The sweet and tart flavors of the fruit “tart” accompaniment provided a perfect balance to the rich and buttery torchon. Next was the pheasant. It was accompanied by a tagliatelle with a sauce made with squab liver. Maya LOVED it, and told us that she couldn’t believe that squab liver could taste so good. The 48 hour short ribs was Maya’s favorite. She is a die hard comfort food fan, and the ginger, szechuan peppercorn, and petite mushrooms didn’t sway her one bit. She remarked that it was even better with all of the sophisticated flavors. Maya had the “kit Kat” dessert while Manish and I had the cheese course.

Manish and I sampled some of the wines/beers that Justin suggested to pair with the courses. We loved the way the Chouffe Tripel paired with the short ribs. This was a match that we would have never thought of but the Belgian IPA style went perfectly – especially due to the flavors in the short ribs. Another favorite pairing was a special pour of the 2007 Dehlinger RRV Chardonnay. This was perfect with the tilefish, and those magnificent tropical flavors.

On our way home, we re-capped what our favorite dishes of the night were, and Maya summarized her evening in one word. MAGICAL. The only thing that I regret is not having my camera with me to capture some of the amazing expressions on her face throughout the evening. Next time, I guess!

Autumn in a Bowl

Autumn is my favorite season.

My older daughter spent her first five and a half years admiring the green scenery of northern California. She didn’t understand me when I told her that I missed the seasons that we had back east. When we moved back to NJ, she realized what it meant to see the “leaves change.” It was always just an expression until then. She was amazed by our Japanese Maple, and how it could go from being green one day, to brown the next, to a purple and then finally to a scarlet red. And then, the colors fell. FALL – the inevitable but saddest part of the season. That year was a tease, because the autumns ahead were going to be wet and dreary, producing only a few bright colors on our natural canvas, and therefore, more aptly named, FALL.

Autumn 2010. This is probably the most “true to season” autumn we’ve had here in NJ in almost 4 years. My girls are daily commentators on the earthy spectrum of colors that vary in shade day to day – both in front of and behind our house. Trees, flowers, and shrubbery have never been so interesting to them. Such simple pleasures… the fact is that this season in the last four years has been pummeled with rain, wind, sleet, hail, and even snow… washing away the foliage before the changes in hue can even occur.

Paying homage to my favorite season, I’d like to share with you a recipe for “Autumn in a bowl.” I think that the slightly sweet, nutty, and mildly citrus notes of the dish pair extremely well with a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. Specifically a Vouvray. And even more specific, if you can get your hands on one, a wine from Domaine Huet.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Crema

1 medium sugar pumpkin (approx 4 lb)
½ cup water
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½  teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water (or more if needed)
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
½ cup crème fraiche
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Halve the pumpkin lengthwise. Place cut sides down on a rimmed baking sheet, and add ½ cup water. Roast for 1 ½ hours, or until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel pumpkin and roughly chop into 1 inch pieces. In a large pot, sauté onion, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf in the olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add next 6 ingredients and stir until everything is well coated, about 30 seconds. Add the pieces of pumpkin. Stir until well coated, about a minute. Add broth and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, about 30 minutes. Add orange juice and simmer for 2 more minutes. Discard bay leaf. Transfer soup to a blender, and blend until very smooth. Use a strainer to refine the soup if you wish. Add water to the soup if you prefer a thinner consistency, and rewarm. Transfer soup to a tureen or serving bowl. Combine crème fraiche and cilantro. Mix well, and add salt & pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, and top with a dollop of cilantro crema.

Serves 6

Gastronomic Week 2010… First Stop: Origin Thai III

September… I LOVE this time of year. It’s as though the Weather God knows to crisp up the air as soon as Labor Day hits. Cool mornings give way to sun drenched days, and the evenings that follow demand pleasant “after dinner” walks outside.

Being a September “baby” also helps support my adoration for this month. I grew up with parents that made a big deal over my birthday. So, needless to say, it is always one of my most favorite days of the year.  While most people my age like to FORGET about their birthdays, I like to celebrate – with FOOD – preferably, for more than one day. This year, even though the people around me will not realize it, I will be celebrating ALL WEEK! I’ll post as I “experience.”

Thai Disney PhotoBoard

First Stop, Origin Thai III in Basking Ridge. French inspired Thai food. How much better can it get!? With the prodding of Maya, Manish made “early birthday” reservations for the four of us last night. We like to go to the Basking Ridge location because it’s convenient, close, and the newest one out of the three locations. The girls feel like they are going out to a “fancy restaurant,” and we have the added benefit of bringing our own wine! Here is what we consumed…

Shrimp and Crab Spring Rolls with a Basil Sauce – Crispy outer shell encased a delicate seafood medley filling. Dipped into the sweet Basil sauce, this was HEAVENLY!
Lemongrass Steamed Mussels – A “go-to” dish EVERY time we as a family visit Origin Thai. We all love mussels. The only thing this dish was missing was the bread to sop up the broth!!!
Crispy Whole Snapper with Tamarind, Chili, Garlic, Sweet Shallot Sauce
– RIDICULOUSLY flavorful. The fish was so delicate (despite the cooking technique) and the sweet and spicy sauce was perfectly balanced. YUM.
Wild Boar with Chili, Thai Basil, Shitake, and Bok Choy – Extremely flavorful, and soooo savory. Would have licked the plate clean if they didn’t take it away as soon as they did! The only negative was that some of the boar pieces was “more cooked (ie tougher) than others. Didn’t really take away from the dish… just an observation.

For dessert, Maya insisted we order the warm chocolate cake and Kayla went for the Banana Crepe. And, the 2006 Donnhoff Felsenturmchen Riesling Spatlese that I was gifted a year ago made for the perfect accompaniment to most of the dishes above!

Cheers! And stay tuned for my next stop!

Family Chat

Some of these will seem funny to you, and some won’t make any sense at all – but all of these moments made an impression on me!

1. My dad to me… “Beta, I Eat to Live… YOU Live to Eat. That’s why I can’t tell you if this soup is missing anything.” (Beta is a term of endearment usually used by your elders addressing you as “honey or sweety.”)

2. Kayla on the phone to Maya who was visiting her friend in Maryland for a week… “Hi Maya didi… I miss playing with you, and can’t wait to see you this weekend. I loooove you!”

3. Maya to me after Kayla just said the words above (and voice crackling a little)… “My heart hurts.”

4. Maya to me at Origins Restaurant earlier this summer. I asked her to stick her nose into my glass of wine and tell me what she smelled… “Mommy, ewww. Why does this wine smell like gasoline?” It was a young Riesling! 🙂

5. Manish to me during our Fingerlakes trip, and Piyush agreeing… “Nita you really need to WATCH your face.” (Apparently, I spent the weekend making “faces” whenever I didn’t like a wine that I tasted)

6. Kayla to me when we first told her we were going to Disneyworld… “Oooh – when we get there, can I knock on King Triton’s door and ask if I can play with Ariel in her room!?” No Joke.

7. Kayla to me – and funny enough, Maya said something very similar when she was Kayla’s age… “Mommy, you’re the best cooker ever.” So I responded “Thank you honey, what’s your favorite dish that I make for you?” Her response… “Cereal!”