Thursday, December 18, 2014

DIY Gifts, spread the cheer!

It's that time of the year! Tomorrow the schools will break for Christmas holidays and there is a general air of festivity in the air. 

We have a small tree and it's up. The child is expecting a ton of toys and has so far forgotten to write to Santa for it, despite my gentle reminders. Oh well! Santa has to give what he feels like. 

It's fun to see Li'll S as excited about Christmas as he is about Diwali, of course the main excitement is the gifts part, the getting , not the giving. We need to sit down and explain that part to him one day. 
I did some DIY for the Christmas Teachers Gifts. I really enjoyed the planning, shopping, making and assembling part. 
I have never been the craftsy person, I well remember how I have suffered ( as have my parents) when completing craft homework / projects in school. I used to get help from all quarters just to finish that task. 
We had embroidery ( basic stitches) and knitting in school. The pillowcase I was trying to embroider was a real pain, I mean 'real pain' I pricked my finger several times, I was 'punctured'. The thread avoided the eye of the needle like plague and in the end, I gave up and got someone else to do it for me. Knitting was another hurdle, the clicking foot long needles were fun initially but the knit /purl had me twisted, luckily my Mom was an expert and soon corrected all my mistakes ( it seemed almost as if I was doing the exact opposite of what was written) and I had a sweater, booties and cap set for an infant. I kept it safe all these years and my son wore it first!

Whoa! I'm rambling.. Pardon me. We were talking of DIY and the gifts I made.
This year, I made a small hamper for the teachers and I sincerely hope they like it.

The idea of a 'spa in a jar' struck a chord in me. I have one child and he can shred my nerves. Don't get me wrong, I love my little fella to bits, but there are times I wistfully dream of a remote control which I wish a Mom had, just to sometimes hit the mute button or sleep mode! 
Imagine how stressful it must be to handle 20 such energetic kids, all with different temperaments. With that idea in mind, I made this.

Spa in a Jar ( a loofah, nail polish remover pads (yellow round case), 2 shades of sparkly nail polish, a chap stick and some chocolates)
The Spa in a Jar is customizable, add what you like. Maybe a moisturizing lotion, or a lipstick, manicure set, face mask... I refrained from those as I had no idea what the brand preference is.
I found these chalkboard stickers which I used on the jars and wrote 'Relax' on them. 

The second Jar was Hot chocolate mix, a favorite during this season. 

There are many sources of hot chocolate recipes all over the net. 
I made mine like this:

3 cups Non-fat Milk Powder
2 Cups powdered Sugar
1 1/2 cup White chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup Cocoa powder ( natural, unsweetened)
Pinch Salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Pulse small amounts (I used a small food chopper) to make a fine powder.
Sieve the powder ( there will be small bits left even though it looks fine to the eye) and pulse the rough bits. Mix everything thoroughly and pour into a mason jar ( use a funnel, if you have one, this will not mess up sides and if you do not have a funnel, just snip off the bottom of a disposable foam cup and pour the hot chocolate mix in the jar. Top with peppermint chips and /or mini Marshmallows.

Instructions: To make, puor 1/3 cup of the powder in a mug, pout 1 cup hot milk, stir and enjoy! If desired, add whipped cream on top.
It's cold out there, Baby! Let's warm up with Hot chocolate!

These jars were packed in small bamboo baskets and wrapped in basket bags ( I really have to work on my gift wrapping skills, I suck at it, big time).

Have you also made any gifts this year? Do share your ideas in the comments or on the Facebook page.

Wish you all a Merry Christmas! Hope this holiday season is a happy one for you and your family! 
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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fall in my backyard

We are almost halfway through December and in another 2 weeks we are looking at starting a new year.
Did I just blink and did this year also slip through my fingers? When I sit back and think of it, what did I do this year? What did I accomplish? I don't think I have the courage to talk about it,just yet.

Let's go back to something a lot more cheerful.
While most of the country was enjoying fall colors in early or mid October, Dallas was still as green as ever. Weather fluctuations happened and on Nov. 1st. late night, as I peered out, I saw soft snow falling, just a small flurry, it looked like a dusting of powdered sugar everywhere. The colors still remained green on the trees.
Mid-November, things started to change and I saw splashes of color here and there. 

Thanksgiving is a special time. Even if I am late (oh well, I'm early for next year) I wanted to share this with you all. I made these simple sugar cookies and decorated them with royal icing and made small hampers for my son's teachers ( cookies, 'stress relief' hand sanitizer, body mist and thank you card). I loved making these cookies and even better, my son loved eating them! He watched *carefully*, with bated breath, as I packed the little hampers and let out a *huge* sigh of relief when he saw me piling the cookies in the box kept aside for him.
I also made small hampers for our bus driver ( who displays a lot of patience, I know that I am incapable of. Imagine a gaggle of about 40 kids in high spirits, some 4 year olds howling for mommy and older ones talking loudly)  and one for a senior citizen who is the crossing guard near our bus stop and the public school crossing. 
You can easily make these into Christmas cookies. Packaged carefully, these can make nice gifts.

For the cookie, I needed a recipe that  did not 'spread' while baking. There are plenty of recipes out there. I used this recipe.
I got these cookie cutters from Michaels. For the decoration, I used Royal Icing and used the flooding technique.
YouTube has several videos on how to use royal icing to decorate the cookies.
It just takes a bit of patience and practice to make and decorate the cookies.

For myself, I like plain cookies, they taste so good! Not that I had the chance to taste the decorated ones. Li'll S guarded his loot rather jealously.

I am now looking at Christmas hampers and gifts.  What are your plans for Christmas gifts? Please share your ideas here, in the comments below or on the AC@H Facebook Page.

Have a wonderful week ahead!
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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ridge Gourd Curry

This time last year, I used to drive home 3 kids from the bus stop. Li'll S, Li'll V and Big S. The ride was a short, but an interesting one. The topics would be varied and the discussion, deep.
My son was the funny one, in the group. Big S was the one who had a topic to talk about, being the eldest.
Little V, as her mother rightly says, is not one to take a back seat. One tough cookie ( but very sweet) who had her say in everything!  Her favolite colol was led,she wanted to glow her hail leally long, she leally liked leading and she loved watching caltoons on TV and leally planned her playdates and sleepovels down to the last detail.

I miss listening to the chattel , chatter....

Today, Big S has moved to sunny California and Little V to another school. 
I do get to meet Little V's mom and she regales me with her adorable daughter's stories when we meet for potlucks.

On one such potluck, Little V's Mom got this very simple and very tasty vegetable curry. Most of us, in our potluck group are wimps when it comes to handling spice and this vegetable entree was just what suited us. 
Unlike most vegetables, this does not have any spices, but don't let that deter you from trying it out. Mild yet very tasty, this has won the 'Kid Approved' badge of honor. Thank you, S! 

While I was never a big fan of the ridge gourd, I have tried out this version and loved it. But I try and avoid peanuts as much as possible, now ( they give me migraines)  and so, this version is made more often. 


1/2 cup Moong daal ( skinned , yellow, in this case)
2 long Ridge Gourds, peel the outer tough skin, remove the fibrous part and dice into small pieces
2 small Tomatoes, chopped
1 medium Onion, chopped
1 tsp EACH Mustard and Cumin seeds
3/4- 1 tsp Turmeric powder ( I eyeball it)
1/2 tsp Red chilies powder ( I use Kashmiri) or to taste
Handful coriander leaves

Wash and soak moong daal in water for 30 minutes. 

In the mean time, peel ridge gourd and cut into small pieces.

Heat oil and add mustard seeds, as  they begin to pop, add cumin seeds. Add  the chopped onion to it  and fry until cooked and light brown.

Now add ridge gourd pieces, tomatoes, soaked daal , turmeric, salt, red chili powder and coriander leaves.

Cover it  and let it cook for 5 to 8 minutes on medium heat.

Now add little water about a half cup and cook until it's done.

Serve hot with rice or fulkas.


Ridge gourds, look long and you might feel 2 is probably a lot, but once the peel and the inner fibrous part is taken off, you are left with little vegetable, apart from that, in Marathi we call this a 'chorti bhajee' / चोरटी भाजी , meaning it shrinks, something like okra, if you know what I mean.

I have often heard ladies complaining that Ridge Gourds are sometimes bitter, though I have never had the misfortune to get one, on the safe side, I taste- test when I buy the gourd, as taught to me by an elderly Gujarati lady at the grocery store. I snap off a small piece and pick and taste a bit before buying. 

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Halloween Party, in a jiffy!

Hello Everybody! I'm back after what seems ages and so much has happened! 

Firstly, Diwali was the best in many years. Not because I made the goodies (like I do every year) but ...... this year, I made them with my Mother! Oh yes! The parents are here. 
I am happy, is an understatement. After the scare last October, I consider this a miracle and am thankful for it, every single day.

Li'll S is thrilled. He looks for his Ajji ( Grandmother) when he gets down from the school bus and after dumping his backpack with me, holds her hand and walks off. 
He loves to play with her (of course he does, she allows him to win, every time). He is careful around my Dad, I have warned him. But he was happy when Ajja ( Grandfather) came to pick him up at the bus stop and his little chest puffed out as he strutted to the car. 

After a wonderful Diwali, we were looking forward to Halloween. Li'll S was. He was excited, he wanted a pumpkin, he wanted a super hero costume and most importantly, he wanted a ton of candy. 
So we picked out a pumpkin, lugged it home, which by the way was so heavy, that I knew, it was going to hurt my tendinitis affected hand. What the heck! The child was happy. But I drew the line at carving, there was no way I could do that,  M would not bother and my parents have never done it..... solution? A short trip to Dollar Tree and 2 packets of push-pin type scary pumpkin decorations ( and a mummified skeleton and bat silhouettes and 'blood' cling stickers and a scary 'werewolf' faced wall decoration and a tombstone ) later, we came home.
Up until then, the plan was just to decorate the house, go trick or treating and then eat out.
And then the child says, now lets make it a party. 2 days before Halloween.

I whatsapp'd my friends and invited them over. Everybody contributed something towards the party, this was an unexpected gesture and so welcome, their contribution and more importantly, the help and fun that they added to the whole thing! I am lucky to have such sweet friends.  
The plan was simple. Go trick or treating, come back and meet at my place by 8:30pm.
My menu was simple.
Pizza, snacks, goody bags, candy and a 'witches brew' drink.

Ring the bell, IF you dare to enter....

For those like me, who cannot carve pumpkins for some reason, here is a safe alternative. Just push in the eyes, nose and mouth ( which does not look too bad, up front) and be done with it. 

For the snacks I made cupcake 'ghosts', a giant cookie and broomsticks.
The frosting was Butter cream, which made it easy for me to make lumpy ghosts .
The giant cookie was a chocolate chunk, baked in a rectangular 9 x 13 pan ( next time I'll use a bigger pan) and decorated quickly, with the same butter cream.

alt="kids Halloween party snacks"

The 'broomsticks' were made simply by cutting string cheese and inserting pretzel sticks. I used a knife to fray the ends a bit to give it a 'broom' like look, not very nicely done, I'm afraid. But the kids loved it.
alt="Halloween party pretzel and cheese  broomsticks"

The 'Witches brew' ( no picture, I'm sorry) was made by mixing Pineapple Juice ( 1 can - 46oz), Ginger ale and Lime soda (one, 2ltr bottle , each)

The children had a great time and there was a lot of noise and high spirits. The children who had gone trick and treating showed each other their candy and added more from the bowl at home and compared and gave their opinions. 

Li'll S and 3 others ( accompanied by adults) had braved a haunted house in the neighborhood for candy and came out all of a dither! A zombie tried to take my son's candy filled jack-o-lantern, which scared the daylights out of the child! 
All 4 kids came out of the haunted house shaking at the knees and swore NEVER to go to one again. EVER.

We are now looking forward to Thanksgiving. 

I know I have a lot to be thankful for.
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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Perfect Pizza

Years ago, one cold winter night, the husband and I, after strolling through the Christmassy streets and admiring the beautiful lights and decorations, finally paid heed to the gnawing pangs of hunger that only a cold winter night can awaken in a person.
The urgent need to stuff our faces with something hot and filling was mounting and we turned our steps purposefully towards where we would find food.
We walked quickly and entered a pizza restaurant. I wish now, I could recollect the place or name of that restaurant, but all I remember are some details, like the color scheme was red and white, of course, had a 'cave like oven', there was a small table inside that we bagged and placed our order for pizza. 
I could not take my eyes off that 'cave', it was the first time I had seen a wood burning oven and the whole thing was a novel experience to me. 
I was amazed at how deftly the pizza dough was tossed in the air and caught, "dayyum (you know what I mean), look at that, those are mad skills and here I was, feeling proud that I could make round-round fulkas!" 
The expert then shoved the whole pie from 'an oar' in to the oven where the blazing fire baked it to absolute perfection in no time at all.
The terms pizza paddle, pizza stone were alien to me and I  just processed the info in terms that made sense to me.
It took me a while to bake my first pizza. I was over the moon. I stuck to this recipe and never thought of trying anything else.
Why let go of a good thing, right?


Let it go  (I know you just sang that part :) )

There is a difference between good pizza and GREAT pizza.

Last week I tried something new, rather apprehensively. Though baking is not as intimidating to me now, I do not consider it easy.
But how could I not pay heed to something that read so well?
Turns out, this was the Bestest Pizza ever ( according to M as well as Little S)
I was so pleased that a picture of a small pan pizza while baking was posted on the Facebook Page and  I got several requests for the recipe.

The only reason I could not post earlier was ( brace yourself, this is a sob story) the laptop, with all my pictures, crashed. I have no clue why ( of course I got blamed for being careless and not taking backup despite having a back up disk... yada...yada) and I still cherish the fond hope that someone, somewhere will help recover the darn laptop, just long enough for me to rescue my pictures and videos.
And let me add, while the iPad is fine and everything nice, where and how the aitch am I going to upload pictures from my camera? Aitch,  it won't even let me paste a link in the draft post.
Anyhoo, a miserable face and constant cribbing and whining and moping finally gave me access to M's laptop and here I am clicking away, happily.
No picture, I'm afraid, but not too long, I have promised my friends, that I will make pizza for them and I will take pictures then.

In the mean time, here is the source of this fantastic recipe and  my adaptation below.

To make the base
Take 5 cups of flour ( maida)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar or honey
2 cups water - room temp
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp oil

Start with combining flour, yeast* and salt and mix well to combine
If using stand mixer use paddle ( if u don't have a paddle attachment, use the dough hook). On low speed mix the dry ingredients - just to ensure distribution.
Now add the liquid.

*If using regular, active dry yeast, let it bloom in warm water to which sugar is added and then add this to the flour

On the mixer, use low Speed and paddle and mix till the dough absorbs the liquid. There shouldn't be any dry flour  on the sides or bottom.
Takes about a minute
If using hand ( wooden spoon) stir well till the same result is achieved - all liquid is mixed in dry ingredients.

Let the dough stand for 2-4 mins
Now, on the mixer, start on medium-low speed and let it go on for another minute.
If using hand, follow same mixing procedure of mixing with the sturdy wooden spoon.
The dough should be soft and slightly sticky.

Now u need to use your counter top.
Pour some oil on the clean counter top and spread oil in a large circle ( like an ex-large pizza shape)
Now, gently dump the dough on the oily surface and pat it.
Use a stretch and fold method.
This simply means, after you have gently patted the dough into a circle, fold it. First fold on the top and then at the bottom, u should have a rectangular block with round edges.
Fold the round edges over one another.
Cover this dough with a clean  bowl.
Let it stand for 5 minutes.
Repeat the stretch and fold
For 3 more times (total of 4 times).
After every 5 minutes , u will notice how the dough changes. The gluten is working here.
The dough becomes firm.

At this stage, you can divide the dough ( maybe into 2 parts. One to be used now and other frozen for later.
Oil the dough u want to freeze and transfer to a freezer safe bag or container and put it away

After the above, transfer the remaining dough ball to a well oiled bowl ( I used the big Pyrex one) and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Make sure the bowl is big enough to accommodate the doubled dough as it ferments.
Stick this bowl in the fridge and leave it  overnight to ferment slowly. This slow fermentation is the key to a perfect crust.

When u are ready to make the pizza, pull the dough out 90 mins before  you start.
Leave it on the counter top.
Start by preheating the oven to the highest level ( mine goes to 550) so yours should do the same or about 500 at least
I use my pizza stone and that is the best way to make an awesome crust. The stone retains heat very well and that helps the crust.
Keep in mind that the pizza stone needs time to heat thoroughly, I'd say 35-45 mins. 
If you don't have one, use what you normally do.

Do the prep (sauce,chopping veges/ meat, grate cheese) and keep everything at hand.

Once the dough is at room temp, lightly flour the (clean) counter top and lay the dough ball and pat it gently with your finger tips and form a circle.
Now comes the stretching part.
Flour the back if your hands and gently lift the dough onto your balled hand ( think like a boxing stance) now gently turn the dough on your fists and do so along the edges, let gravity do the rest.
Let the dough rest in between if you think it's not panning properly. Letting the dough rest will ensure that it will stretch well after a while and make the dough supple.
If using hands to stretch the dough is difficult or you are just not ready for it, go ahead, lay it on the paddle and stretch it with your hands or even a rolling pin, but be gentle)
Once the dough is even and large, transfer it into a lightly floured paddle ( I do not have one- I use my large wooden cutting board) and even out any unevenness ( ummm.. I know that did not sound right, but I hope you get my point)
Now add sauce. Spread it out carefully, starting at the center and going outward. Leave the border bare.
Add the cheese now (use mozzarella - cheddar  and if u like, sprinkle some Parmesan)
Lay the vegetables over the cheese.

By now the oven and stone are very hot. Be very careful ( I prefer to wear my sunglasses when I work with such a hot oven) and open the oven door.
Lower the paddle and in back and forth motion? Shake the pizza on to the stone.
Close the oven door and leave as it for about 2 mins.
After 2 mins, open the door, carefully, and turn the pizza in a clock wise or anti clockwise, half way,  direction to ensure even cooking.
At this stage, you will notice how the dough has puffed up and has started getting brown.
After you have turned the pizza, let it bake for another minute or 2. This will ensure that  the crust has baked to a nice golden brown and the bottom is also well done .
Pull out the pizza carefully and place it on the chopping board and cut into wedges.
Serve with chilli flakes and grated parm cheese or marinara to give it a pizzeria touch.

I must mention here, I went all out this time and made marinara sauce at home too. For this, I got messaged Shilpa, I remembered having read the recipe on her site as well as on her FB page.
She promptly replied with the recipe ( and also told me that the original came from Pelicano).
I made the sauce as per the recipe and it is a keeper.
The only suggestion my son had was, to use more. That is proof enough.

I got a few questions regarding the recipe (the base) and decided to clarify these as part of the notes

- The pizza stone has to be 'really hot' in order to get the best crust.
- It takes a good 40-45 mins for the stone to heat up and retain that kind of heat. Once I put the dough on the counter top and cut the vegetables, I switch on the oven and leave it, so I get good 50-60 minute heating time (and hence the sunglasses when I open the oven door)
- Yes, you have to set the oven to the highest temperature it will go to
- Does it take just minutes to bake? yes, it does. But do use youe judgement here, you will see the dough bubble and start turning brown, let it turn dark and then change the direction and let it bake some more
- check the bottom of the pizza with a long handled spatula, it should look well done (brown, but not dark!)

That's it for now, folks. I'll be back soon with some pictures.
Enjoy the weekend.
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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Left Over, make over. Cake, berries and cream, Voila! summer dessert!

Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to make cakes for my friends and their children. Most of them being my son's age. 
It is fun to bake and to make a cake the child has dreamed of. Kids have fantastic ideas. 
The satisfaction of making their eyes sparkle on their special day and of course the kind words parents shower on me really make it so worth the effort. 

It all started with Sonali asking me to make a Black Forest cake for her husband's birthday (Sonali's favorite cake) which was a hit! 
That was followed by the same for Sonali's Birthday, naturally. 

Cake, berries, whipped cream

Then a small cricket enthusiast celebrated his 7th. Birthday.
His Mother and I put our heads together and came up with the idea of a cricket themed cake. She gave me full freedom in regard to the design.

If you ignore the mess in the background ( that is keeping my son busy, he was SO interested in 'decorating this cake' that I had to give him something else to mess with, that yellow fondant mat, I asked him to make some accents with that mat, the poor baby ran around getting things ready to make 'em) 
The cake was a 2 layer butter cake with a whipped chocolate ganache in the middle and a Cream cheese- butter cream frosting.
The 'grass' is cake crumbled and colored green and then toasted till crisp.
The cricket pitch is fondant ( home made, marshmallow Fondant) 
The cricket bat and the player are hand made ( my first attempt) with Gum paste.
The ball is Fondant and the stumps are made with cake pop/ lollipop sticks

The second opportunity came when my dear friend A, was taking a cake as a surprise for a friend's birthday. She wanted a black forest.
During the same time, my son had the last of his Marathi classes. I made a batch of Eggless Chocolate Cupcakes and decorated them with Nutella Butter cream and packed them all fancy, the kids loved them! 

And just last month, my friend T's son turned 6 and they had a big party and the theme was 'aqua'. It was a pool party with an entertainer ( with a water slide) and the kids had fun.
The parents and I sat down and decided to make a cake that was 'beach themed'. 

 The cake was Vanilla and Chocolate marble cake with a whipped cream frosting in the layers as well as on top. 

I used Blue mist to color the ocean and used a Foam cup to make the wave and added a dollop of cream. 

White whipped cream was used to make the ocean foam.

The 'sand' was made with crumbled graham cookies

The Graham Teddies are laid on 'Air Heads' candy beach towels and the Surfer Teddy is also on an Airhead surf board.
Can you spy the shells on the cake board? these are made  using candy molds ( from Michaels) and melting chocolate.

And then there was my Spider Man cake for my son. 

What with all these cakes made, I have a lot of leveling to do and so there are always the domes to 
either throw or eat. 
I hate wasting food ( look in my fridge, you will find small Rubbermaid or Pyrex food containers containing daal or vegetable, just those 5-6 tbsp. that was left over :) ) 

And so, these 'domes' get a makeover! 

summer dessert

What you need is: 

Left over cake ( cut in cubes)
Whipped cream
Sliced and macerated Strawberries ( or Raspberries or a medley of berries)

Place cubes in the bottom of the serving cup/bowl of choice.
Top with the sweet berries with juices.
Swirl (or spoon) whipped cream .
Add a few more cubes of cake and repeat with the berries and cream.
Top with a fresh (washed) strawberry and serve.

These were a hit with my son! It meets the 'Kid Approved' category award. 
For left over Chocolate cake domes, you can pair it up with either fresh berries or even Cherry Pie filling and whipped cream, Black Forest in a cup! 

This makes a light and easy dessert option and looks SO pretty! A wonderful and easy to make summer dessert.
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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Spider Man, Spider Man, does whatever a spider can.....

A month ago, the Little one turned 6. 
Not so little anymore, huh? 

Still looks little to me.

And then I see, the kinda new school trousers skimming the ankles and I think, " I just got those. they look new ( unlike the  trousers I got at the beginning of school year, those are in such a bad condition, if I have my son wear them today, they are short, worn and torn and frayed, why he'd look like Oliver Twist !)
Makes me smile to see him grown up and yet, such a sweet innocent little heart tugger (you know what I mean)! 

School was still in session when he celebrated his birthday. We gleefully packed the goody bags that he proudly took to school.
Sadly, the school does not allow Kindergartners to have any celebration at all, so making and sending a cake was not an option. I made a small cake at home and we had a small celebration.

There was talk of the birthday party. But that got muddled with apartment hunting, which was exhausting but .... all's well that ends well.We found something suitable and sealed that deal.

The topic of the birthday party was on! 
It was decided that I would host a small Mother and kids pool party. Mid-week, my friends agreed and it was settled. The moms would also get in the pool and splash away! 
I have good friends, they agreed on such short notice. 

The main thing in a birthday party is the cake. Last year, Little S wanted a Burger cake. This year, it was Spider-Man.
Surprising, because he is not really a spider man fan (I am). But, if that's what he wants, that's what he gets.
I looked around and finally settled for this.
And though this could have been loads better, I am glad, I tried and most importantly, the birthday boy was thrilled.

The cake was my old reliable, Vanilla cake. The filling between the layers ( I kept it at 2 layers only) was macerated Strawberries ( wash, dry and chop the berries into slices and sprinkle with powdered sugar, cover and let them sit in the fridge) and whipped cream. For that, you need, 2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream, 1/4 ( or less, say 2 tbsp., your preference) Confectioners sugar and 1 tsp Vanilla extract. Chill the bowl and beaters for about 15-20 mins and then start the process.
Add the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a regular bowl and your hand mixer) and whip on high speed until soft peaks form.

Follow the video instructions for assembly.

I used Butter cream for the top layer of frosting and Gel color to get this vibrant shade of red.
The one change I made was, I used Salted Butter, instead of unsalted butter, it helps tone down the cloying sweetness of  the frosting. I went with this frosting because it holds up well in the heat and would not turn runny or spoil in any way. Plus, butter cream is a dream to work with.

I had a wonderful time making this cake but ( yes, there is a 'but'), I dislike using so much color.
I gave this some thought and I wonder if spraying the cake with red color would have helped? It would have made things easy for me!
It's all learning. Maybe next time.

That border got cleaned up before cutting the cake

That's it from me. Enjoy the long weekend folks and stay safe !
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Sunday, June 08, 2014

Rava Oats Dosa

We lived in Wadala ( Mumbai) and my (late) Grandmother lived in Thane. A small distance that involved traveling by local train. 
Every holiday, we would go to her home. The whole family would meet. My aunts lived within walking distance from my Grandmother and my Uncle, with her. It was an overflowing house when we all met. 
Just the way we liked it.

We would start out early and walk to the station and get in the line to take tickets and then walk to the platform to wait for the train. I would walk to the 'Ladies' compartment with my Mom and that meant passing the Paper and Magazine stall. 
I loved looking at the colorful books, papers and magazines,but what I used to be excited about was the story books and comics for children.
Some 30 plus years ago, Tinkle, Chandamama, Chacha Chaudhary, Phantom, Mandrake the Magician etc. were a rage and later Archie comics and of course Marvel comics. Though these (Archie and Marvel) were not so easily available on he station stands. 

If we had about 4-5 minutes until the train arrived, my mother would look at the magazines ( Femina, Women's Era, yes!yes! those were popular and of course the filmy stuff, Stardust, Filmfare and in cheap print, Mayapuri ). I would inch towards the comics and touch them reverently, then I'd sidle up to my mom's side and tug at her  saree pallav and gesture, smile and beg, beg, beg with my eyes. The tactic usually worked. she would usually buy me a comic I wanted.

To travel from Wadala to Thane, in those days, we used to change trains. Like a typical Bombay kid, I was used to traveling in the local trains and knew exactly what to do, I'd tuck the comic book under my arm ( if I was wearing a fancy frock) or into my jeans waist band ( not pocket, the waist  was safer)  and stand... waiting. As soon as the rain stopped ( and the ladies had exited) I'd JUMP in and scramble to get a seat, a window seat preferably, whip out my comic and place it either next to me or on the opposite seat to reserve it for my Mom. Once we were seated comfortably, I'd start reading and stop only when changing trains. 

This week, when I went to the library to pick up some books, I saw a flyer for a book sale and decided I had to! go .
After spending a good amount of time walking thru the aisles and then at the cook book shelf (more on that later), I wandered to the kids section and after looking (and reading) the books on the table nearby, I found, to my delight, some of my childhood favorites!  
I grabbed them and let me tell you, I'm still lovin' them! 

Busy days and end of school term next week means the little one will be home all day. To all those who say, YAY! it's summer! Let's go out. I invite you to Dallas. 
I'm going back to my safe, air conditioned, cocoon. Thank you. Enjoy your summer.

I have also decided to fatten up the little one. He is scrawny. when I see well nourished children, I sigh. When I see chubby kids, I often wonder, how? h-o-w?? 
He takes after his father. Scrawny. 


I try various things on the Scrawny ones. In between I started giving Little S, fulkas and a vegetable stir-fry. He protests, of course he does. But I am well prepared. This will invite criticism, but I switch on the T.V and feed him. Calories are calories. 

In all these after school snacks, I prefer making Dosas for him. Hot off the griddle , smeared with ghee (for him) sometimes I just spread cheese inside and serve it with some ketchup. He seems not to object.

Instant Dosas are a boon in such cases. I have loved Rava Dosa for as long as I remember. Lace like, crisp and paper thin. Oh! I recall eating them at restaurants ( my Mom used to order it and I'd 'share' with her). As I stand at the stove making these, there are a few things I have changed. My Rava dosa is not oily as those in restaurants and not as paper thin, as a result. And to kick up the health factor a bit, I add lightly roasted and powdered oats. These are more tummy filling than the original version.Ideal for a weekend breakfast or an after school snack.

You need:

2/3 cup Oats ( regular oats) , dry roast these- the color changes slightly and they smell toasty, cool and powder.
1/4 cup EACH Rice Flour and Rava / sooji
1/2  big or 1 medium Red Onion chopped, fine
Chiffonade a few Curry leaves
1 tsp Jeera / Cumin seeds
1-2 Tbsp finely chopped Cilantro
Salt to taste
1 tsp finely chopped Green chilies
3 Cups Water (or more as required to make a super thin batter)

Mix all the ingredients listed above and carefully add water, mixing well as you pour. This is important. dumping all the water in at once will lead to clumping, you can sort it out, but that s just a waste of time.

Taste and check the salt adequacy. Cover and keep aside for 10 mins.

When ready to make dosa, first heat the tawa / griddle , very well.  If you are using a non stick griddle, like I do, just spray oil (PAM or similar) and wipe off with a clean tissue.

Stir the dosa batter well ( by this time, the solid has sunk to the bottom and it looks like muddy water, a good stir  is needed) add more water if needed, while the batter is sitting, it absorbs water and becomes slightly thick. Remember you want a very thin batter.

To make this dosa, unlike the regular dosa, you will NOT drop batter in the middle of the griddle and spread it out into a circle. No ! What you will do instead is, scoop the batter in the ladle, start on the outside of the griddle and just 'pour' the batter in a circle. Go from the outside of the griddle in the middle. The batter spreads well and because the griddle is super hot, it becomes lacy.

Drizzle some oil ( or spray)  / butter or ghee ( for the scrawny ones) as it cooks.
Most people stop the cooking as soon as the bottom is crisp and golden. I usually flip the dosa and cook briefly on the other side too.

These crisp golden lacy dosas are best served right off the griddle with a chutney of your choice and sambar. Sometimes I serve dosas with just chutney(s) and the second chutney usually is Molgha Podi with a drizzle of oil. To make these for dinner, stuff the dosa with potato masala.


- You can increase the amount of oats to 1 cup
- You can cook the onions before adding them to the batter. Heat a tsp oil, add some mustard seed , when they pop, add cumin, when the cumin sizzles, add the curry leaves, green chilies and onion and sprinkle a pinch of salt and cook till translucent. Add this to the batter and make dosas
-If you like, add 1/2 tsp of black pepper powder. Exclude for kids.
-You can skip the onion to make regular rava / rava-oats dosa.

Enjoy your Sunday, folks! Have a good week ahead.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Egg less Chocolate cake / cupcakes

Last weekend we watched Captain America (2) movie. We all (little S included ) voted for it. 
I was thrilled. I grew up on a steady dose of Marvel Comics and all these superheroes were and are my favorites. At one time I desperately wanted to be a mutant, like the X-men and wished and wished for some strange power to manifest itself on every birthday. 
I could not let a spider bite me, I flee at the sight of anything that creeps, crawl or slithers. I was definitely no Asgardian. With hi-fi technology limited only to the multi-billionaires and only in the USA, I was left with just my imagination and the only option available to me, to be a mutant.
Years of disappointment only made me read all possible comic books I could lay my hands on.

Then there was the fairies stage, I wanted some fairy to grant me wishes. Or at least take me to fairy land ( just like in Enid Blyton's books).

After that came the detective stage ( this was after the adventurer stage, where I wanted to be that lucky kid who found some treasure or a gang of smugglers). I realized (after reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes, I as neither as intelligent or as intrepid as him) I was not quite cut out for that sort of a thing. 

While that sort of dream faded over time, the charm of comic books remained strong. And so, every super hero movie that is released is a visual treat for me. 
I was glued to the screen during the movie making sure that little S had his supply of popcorn and chips. After these were done, he got antsy and I transferred him to his father.
The movie was good. 

Just like my generation had their favorite super heroes, my son's generation has theirs. As of now, Power Rangers, Avengers, Spider-man and Ninjago rule.

A very special 4 year old (R), is a HUGE (yes, yes, in capitals) fan of Ninjago. He gets his from his elder brother.  So naturally, his birthday had to be a Ninjago themed celebration.

His Mom (Samta), wanted cupcakes to take and share with R's  pre-school friends. 
Kids love chocolate ( and so do most adults, chocolate is the universal language) and we fixed chocolate flavor. And Samta and her family are vegetarians and prefer egg less cakes. 
I decided to make egg less chocolate cupcakes with butter cream frosting and fondant decorations.

I found a Quick and Easy Chocolate cake recipe that I have tried with great success. this recipe makes two, 9 x 2 round layers or 24 cupcakes.

DeDe Wison's Quick n Easy Chocolate Cake

3 cups All Purpose Flour (APF)
2 cups Sugar
2/3 cup, sifted, Natural Cocoa
2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2 cups Water at room temp.
2/3 cup Oil 
2 Tbsp. Apple cider Vinegar/ white vinegar
1 tsp Vanilla extract

Pre heat the oven to 350 F

Grease the cake pan or get the muffin pan lined and ready.

Whisk the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, sugar and baking soda) and set aside.

Using a whisk/ had held mixer or your stand mixer, mix oil, water, vinegar and vanilla

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and mix until well combined and smooth.

Divide the batter evenly in the pans and bake for 30 mins. or until a tooth pick inserted comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan over a rack for about 10 mins and then invert on to the rack to cool completely.

This cake is moist and very delicious. I was always apprehensive about egg less baking and that I would be a big flop at it. This recipe  has made me confident :) 

For the cupcakes, I used my butter cream recipe for frosting (the yellow part) and covered the cupcakes in fondant. The eyes and brows are made using fondant too.

I am not a fondant fan and can never eat it, but I cannot deny that it looks good on cakes. 

Coming up (soon) is another cake I had the opportunity to bake for a 7 year old! 
See you soon.
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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ulundu Sadham ( Black gram daal rice) : A quick lunch box option

"Oh look at that giant bug! hahahahaa! April Fool! "
"Look, Loooook, what is that?" hahahaha! April Fool!"
" Looooooook, a giant... monster ( animal/ bug/person).. hahahah! April Fool" chants Little S in a sing-song voice.
He loves April Fools and refuses to believe that we fool others only on the first day of April. 
It's been a long 3 weeks of April fooling in our car and home.
It reminds me of all the silly pranks I pulled on my parents, mind you, some were good.
And so, just as my dad participated in all my pranks (whether he fell for them or not) I do the same for Li'll S. All the way back from school, going for karate and on the way back. 
It's been a long 3 weeks......

I have been cooking a good deal, jut not posting. It's weird, I want to but something holds me back. It isn't lack of time, just motivation, I guess and that I am reading books and watching TV. 
On my last trip to the library, I picked up Climbing the mango trees by Madhur Jaffrey  and am thoroughly enjoying reading about her memories of growing up in India. It also brings back a surge of memories of my childhood and how some things do not change with time.

I am also watching a series on Netflix, 'Midsomer Murders' which Nupur mentioned on her blog and I find them very engrossing. 
I mentioned the series to some friends here and they are thrilled to have something to watch in the afternoons (one friend and I share our liking for Brit books as well as TV series, as she rightly put it, "English  drama is so classy..." I agree, there is a quiet dignity to how everything is portrayed). 

And now we move on the topic of cooking ( which is the reason, this blog exists) I must add, we have cut down on white rice, significantly. Earlier no meal was complete without rice. Many a times, rice and daal were our meal, but that has changed now. And when I do make rice, there is always some left over. This left over rice is usually sauteed with vegetables and converted to fried rice or a quick Lemon rice for M's lunch box.
There are so many variations to transform plain ol' white rice into a spectacular dish with layers of flavors. 
I prefer working with left over rice, it's quick and easy.
For my recipe today, I use left over rice and the recipe is adapted from Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan.

I used:

approx. 2 Cups Cooked Rice
approx. 10-12 Cashew Nut pieces 
1 Green chili, slit ( seeds removed)

In a pan, dry roast, 2 tbsp. Urad daal, 1 tsp. Black Peppercorns (kali miri), 2 tbsp. Sesame seeds and 1 1/2 tbsp dry flaked Coconut.
Cool the roasted spices and grind to a powder in the coffee mill.

Heat oil in  wok / kadhai/ saute pan. Add 1 tsp. mustard seeds and 1 tsp each urad and chana daal ( I usually have this mix in my spice container and never measure, I just add it, eyeballing the amount) As the mustard seeds pop and the daals turn golden, sprinkle in a couple of hefty pinches of Asafetida and then add one (halved) dry red chili, the green chili  and a few curry leaves.
Stir the tempering and then add the rice and the spice powder and salt to taste. Mix well, be gentle though, don't break the rice. Taste to check salt. Switch off the flame and serve.


-If you cannot tolerate heat, reduce the amount of peppercorn to half or as less as you prefer, ( that is a safer and better option in case kids are going to eat it) but do not skip it.

-This rice is best served warm, however it keeps well and tastes good at room temperature too. 

- The original recipe uses fresh cooked rice

- You can use fresh coconut, however that means the shelf life of the rice is short. 

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