Coleslaw – That My Kids Actually Eat!!

If you have kids, you know how hard it can be to get them to eat vegetables. Even if they were introduced to them early, there is always that picky stage that most kids go through and introducing new veggies can be tough.

The other day I needed to come up with a salad for lunch and all I had was cabbage and carrots, so I made a coleslaw, hoping my kids would at least taste it, since they love carrots (and it had a few raisins, too). Well, they loved it. Logan surprised me by saying it was his favorite – he had never had it before. Ha.

Yesterday I decided to try serving it again, though I threw in a few things the first one didn’t have. It was beyond successful, and they ended up eating some veggies they normally would toss aside. So I’m sharing the recipe with you in the hopes that you will have the same success with your kids. I’m calling it:

A Coleslaw My Kids Will Eat

You will need:

1/2 of a medium head of white cabbage.

3 medium carrots

1/2 a medium cucumber, seeded

1 large handful of clean spinach leaves

1 handful each of moong dhal sprouts (or whichever sprouts you have), peanuts, sunflower seeds, and raisins

For the dressing:

1 tbsp. mayonnaise

3 tbsp. plain yogurt

salt and pepper to taste

First, grate your carrots using the smallest holes on the grater.

Mine looks like this.

Mine looks like this.

Finely slice the cabbage, making the strips as thin as possible. (You could also grate it, as I have done before. Grating it this fine makes it a bit soggy, but still good to use, and the kids ate it without knowing it was there.)

Stack the spinach leaves on top of each other and slice into thin ribbons.

Quarter the cucumber, de-seed it, and then dice.

Toss in the sprouts, nuts and raisins.

Make your dressing right on top of the salad, just like I did in my pasta salad. Throw the ingredients on top of the salad, then mix well.

Serve in the same bowl, or transfer to a nice bowl if serving to guests.

Serves 4 – 6.

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And prepare to be amazed. I’m still in shock that my kids loved it so much.

 

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Lila’s Fourth Birthday

Another year has gone by and my baby is now 4. This past year, I think the best word to describe her is stinker. Yes, she has always been trouble incarnate, but this year especially so.  The terrible twos are nothing compared to the terrible threes!

So this year she chose butterflies for her birthday theme. She wanted a butterfly cake and butterfly gifts. That gave me a rather broad spectrum to work with, but I managed to get some things that she loved.

The day before her birthday, we took these butterfly cupcakes to her school so she could share them with her classmates in the summer camp.

The body is chocolate gems, the wings are mini-cookies, and the antennae are fruit rolls cut into tiny strips.

The body is chocolate gems, the wings are mini-cookies, and the antennae are fruit rolls cut into tiny strips.

Then on her birthday, I made this butterfly cake. I used my carrot cake recipe, swapping half the carrots for zucchini, and using cheese in the frosting instead of it all being icing sugar. It tasted quite nice, but I want to experiment with it and find a way to eliminate the icing sugar and make it with honey instead.

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In the afternoon we went to a fun play place, Bunny Bounce Funland. They had an inflatable bouncy house with a slide, a play area with a ball pit, trampoline, small swing and various other jungle gym toys. There were also a few arcade games and mini basketball/bowling games, air hockey, etc. that you could get tickets from to cash in for various items.

The kids had a load of fun, and Glad passed the time playing some arcade game. We had planned on staying 1/2 an hour, but ended up staying 1 1/2 hours. None of them wanted to leave even though it was past their dinner time.

At home we cut the cake and they decided that on birthdays, dinner should just be cake. 🙂 All the more reason for me to make it healthy.

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Then came the gifts. Lila had already gotten some before – a bubble blower set from daddy and an outing with me to a shop she had repeatedly requested to go in. It was one of those small costume jewelry/makeup/hair stuff places. She picked out a large pink hair clip, a set of clips and elastic’s with strawberries on them, and pink nail polish. In her words, “I have to have nail polish, Mommy, because I’m big now.” Ha.

The ones she opened were a Winnie the Pooh puzzle set, matching earrings and necklace set, faux gold butterfly earrings, a shirt with butterflies on it, and a mini purse that contained “makeup”: some chapstick and sparkly pink pressed powder.

She has wanted to play with makeup for some time, and once climbed way up to the high shelf in the bathroom where I keep my makeup (to keep her out of it) and took my bag down. When I found her, she had eye-shadow all over and black waterproof mascara on her face, lips, and legs. What a cleanup job! So I figured it was best to get her something she could safely play with.

She had a fun day overall. She is already talking about what she wants to do on her 5th birthday. Slow down, girl, and enjoy being four.

Pasta Salad

Pasta is at the top of my most favorite foods. I like it prepared in most any way, but a pasta salad is great for when it is hot and you want to eat something cool and fresh. Today I will show you how I prepare a pasta salad. It is simple and easy to do, and can be made in advance.

You’ll notice that I haven’t put many quantities. That is because I do it by eye; if the amount looks right, then I use it. That being said, there are always leftovers.

Begin by putting the pasta on to cook. Here I’ve used macaroni but you can use any small pasta that you have on hand. Shapes like shells, bows, spirals, and tubes are fun for kids and look good. I used 150 gr. of pasta, and for 5 of us, it is more than enough.

To save time and water, I first put into the water the veggies that need to cook. I use frozen peas and corn, so I put the peas first and let them cook ’till nearly done. At that point I add the pasta and corn. Depending on the type of pasta you are using, you may or may not want to add the corn yet as it cooks quickly.

Next, choose the veggies you want to use. I tend to use whatever I have on hand, so my salad changes each time. For this particular salad (the one in the photos) I used:

  • spring onion
  • cucumber
  • peas
  • corn
  • carrot
  • bell pepper (capsicum)
  • coriander leaves
  • moong dhal sprouts (sprouts made from green lentils, found in most veggie shops here)

Other veggies that I have used before include spinach, green beans, onion, lettuce, and more.

Wash the veggies well and chop small. You want them smaller than bite size, both to make eating easier and to make it look nicer. Throw them in a large serving bowl as you go.

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Once the pasta and veggies are done, drain and rinse with cold water. You will want to cool them down so you can add them to the raw veggies.

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Choose your protein items. I like to use paneer, chickpeas, chunks of cheddar cheese, peanuts and beans. The sprouts mentioned above are also protein. You could also opt for boiled eggs, shredded chicken, canned tuna (or other cooked fish), etc., whatever your personal favorite is.

I often mix 2 or 3 protein items into the salad, depending on what I have on hand. Paneer gets used the most, as do chickpeas. I love adding a handful of peanuts as they add crunch and texture. My salad is generally vegetarian since we eat lots of chicken for dinners.

Shown below is 200 gr. of paneer, and I don’t cook it. It is cheese so you don’t have to cook it (but you could lightly fry it if you prefer). Just give it a wash when you take it out of the packet. The dressing will give it lots of flavor.

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Toss in the pasta. The order in which you add stuff to the bowl really doesn’t matter. As you can see, I put the pasta in already but the carrots are still waiting to be chopped.

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Once everything is in the bowl, it is time for the dressing. You could make the dressing in a separate bowl, but I prefer to make it right on top of the salad since the salad itself is still waiting to be properly mixed.

Below you can see all the ingredients (except for the garlic paste) that I use in my dressing – yogurt (that is my very large container of homemade yogurt), olive oil mayonnaise (regular works fine too), salt, pepper, and chili powder.

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For the dressing I use roughly 1 part mayonnaise to 3 parts yogurt. That serving spoon is what I used to measure so it was one spoon of mayonnaise to 3 of yogurt. Add a small amount of garlic paste, about a 1/2 tsp., and the spices. You will have to judge according to your taste, so if it makes it easier to do so, prepare it in a small bowl so that you can add more salt, pepper or chili powder if needed.

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Now slowly mix the dressing into the salad. If your bowl is overflowing like mine, take your time. Slowly turn the bowl as you mix the dressing in and combine all the ingredients. Everything should be covered with dressing. Make sure to get down to the bottom of the bowl so nothing is missed.

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If you didn’t pre-mix and taste your dressing, now is the time to do a taste test, just to be sure there is enough salt and spices. You can always add a little more if needed.

This salad can be served right away, or you can chill it in the fridge until needed. I find it actually tastes better the next day, as the flavors in the dressing have had time to blend together.

So there you have my pasta salad. If you try it, let me know how it comes out. I hope you like it.

Our Healthy Diets – and Aspartame

Over the past few months, I’ve been doing my best to change the way we eat at home in order to improve our diets and make sure they are the most nutritious they can be. Since I found that I needed to change my own diet in order to lose weight, of course I wanted everyone to eat better. So I began to see how I could change my shopping list in order for this to happen.

It was a slow process, changing one or two items at a time, eliminating the less healthy options and replacing them with healthier ones. For example, I switched jam for honey. At first I thought the kids would prefer the jam, but they don’t. They love honey and pick it all the time, so now I no longer buy jam. Though I was buying the healthiest jam I could find, it was still high in white sugar, so I’m happy they love honey. I recently found a place that sells brown sugar so I was able to stop buying white sugar, too.

I also searched until I found real cheese and totally stopped buying the processed stuff. Real cheese is quite expensive here, so it took some time to find one that was in my price range, but it was worth the search.

I do most of my cooking with olive oil, and I keep on hand some sunflower oil for making baked goods, or else I use real butter. I also have a small jar of extra virgin olive oil for salads and hummus and stuff like that.

I used to buy a lot of cookies and other snacks (that I mostly ate), but now I’ve replaced them with more fruit. Good thing my kids are fruit lovers. They will eat it any time. Their preferred snacks are peanuts, raisins, dates, plain crackers (whole grain ones), chikki (a treat made from peanuts or sesame seeds and jaggery), granola, and of course, fruit.

While I used to buy certain items because they made meal prep easier with small kids, now that my kids are older I do make some other things since it is healthier, and often cheaper, than buying them already made. For example, I began making peanut butter this week to cut the cost of what we were spending on it. Logan loves peanut butter and will eat it every day if I let him. But the one I was getting kept going up in price and for one small jar of 460 gr. I was paying the same as for a kilo of chicken. It was way too much. I found that I could buy 1/2 a kilo of plain peanuts for less than half of what I was spending on peanut butter, and it only took me about 10 minutes to whip it up in my blender.

I have one of those blender sets that comes with different cups and blades, and one is specially for grinding. I just put half the peanuts in with a little salt, then slowly worked the blender until it came to a spreadable consistency. It is lighter than the store bought stuff and not sweet, but the kids eat it with honey anyway so why keep buying something that has extra sugar and is breaking the bank when I can make it for less than half the price, and it is healthier to boot!

I still make my own yogurt because it is cheaper, and I make granola for that reason as well. The plus is that I can make the granola how we like it and it is very healthy.

Learning to like veggies is a little harder since they are not sweet like fruit, but my kids are slowly progressing. Logan was stuck on only having carrot sticks for a long time. They had to be raw (he never ate them cooked) and the only other veggie he sometimes had was cucumber. He is slowly coming around and is trying new things here and there. He now claims to like lettuce, and wants to eat green veggies in order to turn into the Hulk. (Who says superheroes can’t do anything for kids?)

Lila and Scarlett will try more veggies. Lila loves most raw veggies that I serve, including spinach, but tends to pick out cooked ones. Oh, the other day I made a carrot and cabbage coleslaw, with the cabbage being finely grated instead of chopped. Logan only saw the carrots and raisins, and claimed he loved it. Big win!

It is great to see them eating better, and I am feeling better knowing we are on our way to healthier lives through eating better.

Now onto what I really wanted to write about today.

Despite making all the above-mentioned changes, along with getting more exercise, I was still not feeling as good as I should have been. I really can’t explain exactly how I was feeling, but it was a general “could there be something wrong with me” feeling. At the end of each day I felt blah. I would feel better in the morning but by evening I felt weird again. To top it off, I began having fears I’d never had before, fears of instant death, fears of leaving the house, leaving my kids, being alone in the house when Glad was gone, constant thoughts of “you’re going to die right now”, etc. It was really weird.

Then one night I had something happen that had never happened before – I had a panic attack. I tried to go to bed, but every time I laid down I was sure that was it for me, that I was going to stop breathing. I kept getting up and lying back down, and each time I laid down it would hit me again. I prayed hard and the feeling finally went away.

It continued to happen several times after that. I never knew when it would hit, and I couldn’t figure out what could be the cause. I was beginning to wonder if I was seriously sick or something. I spent a lot of time praying just to get rid of the fear and it helped some but not completely. I also found myself getting upset with the kids more easily, losing my temper and yelling, screaming really, at them for minor things, which was really odd. I’ve never been one to get upset so easily over such small things.

Since I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t tell Glad what I was feeling until about 10 days ago when I began to feel this odd pressure in my nose and forehead. We talked about how maybe I should have a medical check up  but the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced there really wasn’t anything physically wrong.

The day after we talked, I was on Facebook and happened on a picture of diet sodas that had a list of the side effects of Aspartame, and one of them was – get this – panic (anxiety) attacks. Now, I don’t drink any soda at all, and have never touched a diet soda in my life, and with all the mostly fresh, natural food I was eating, how could I possibly be getting Aspartame in my diet?

Then I remembered the gum I was using. I like to have some when running to keep my mouth moist, plus I would have one when out with the kids, or at the park, etc. I was chewing two to three pieces of this sugar-free gum daily. So I checked it and, sure enough, the sweetener was Aspartame. I had used this gum for months but was only recently hit with these odd things, so my guess is that it took time to build to danger levels in my body since I wasn’t getting it any other way.

I stopped using it immediately, and now, roughly 10 days since my last piece, I feel better. I can’t prove 100% that the Aspartame was the culprit, but I can say that I am beginning to feel like myself again. The fears are slowly going, since they kind of got stuck in my mind, but now I find it easier to fight them off. I am also no longer having panic attacks. And yes, I’m not yelling at the kids like I was.

I am now becoming a label-reader in the store. I check the ingredients listed in any new item I pick up to be sure there is no artificial sweetener of any kind. I buy very few pre-packaged items these days, so it isn’t too hard to avoid. It’s so sad, though, that the general public is subjected to these types of dangerous food ingredients, all for the sake of skimping on calories.

What is your home diet like? Do you avoid junk and eat healthy? Have you had any problems from using artificial sweeteners?

Moist Carrot Cake

Here is a new recipe for you, adapted from one I found I know not where. The original called for a full cup of oil and 2 cups of sugar, and while is was good, it was also oily and too sweet. I wanted something healthier since in our house we are striving to eat as clean and healthy as possible, so I experimented and changed the recipe around a bit. I reduced the sugar to one cup, and the oil to 1/3 of a cup. The remaining liquid comes from yogurt. I also use brown sugar (when I can get it) and whole wheat flour.

Because it is so healthy, I often serve it for breakfast or lunch once a week. It goes great with coffee, or served with yogurt and fresh fruit. My kids love it like that.

I’ve learned from cooking shows that one of the secrets to light moist cakes is to not over-beat the eggs or the batter, to sift the flour to add air, and to gently stir in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Try this and you will find your cakes will be lighter. This particular one comes out very light and airy when these tips are followed.

So here is the recipe.

Just out of the oven.

Just out of the oven.

Begin by finely grating 3 cups of carrots. Do a little extra so you can pack the cups, about 4 medium-sized carrots. Set aside.

Then mix together:

4 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2/3 cup plain yogurt

1 cup brown sugar

Mix together (don’t beat) until all ingredients are just combined. Add the carrots and stir.

(Optional: You could substitute half the carrots for grated zucchini. Raisins make a nice addition too.)

Next, sift together on top of the wet ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix gently with the wet ingredients until the flour is just mixed.

Pour into a pre-greased and floured 8×8″ pan and bake in a 350F oven for 40 – 45 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

This recipe also makes great muffins. Just reduce the baking time to about 10 – 15 minutes.

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Yummy! Especially with my morning coffee.

 

This post is being linked with Spatulas on Parade‘s Foodie Friends Friday linkup.

SpatulasOnParade

Fruitcake Recipe Miscalculation Adventure

This year I had a near-disaster with my Christmas fruitcakes: I ended up with too much batter due to a mental lapse and miscalculation. The story itself is quite funny.
 
I had finally put together my perfect fruitcake recipe. I tested it and everyone liked it so I prepared to make a larger batch to cover all my cakes at once. I only have a small oven, so of course, the pans are small (7″). My recipe makes enough for two of these pans or one larger pan – but that is what I forgot about when I began to calculate the ingredients I would need for 6 cakes – the amount I meant to make.
 
So instead of multiplying the recipe by 3, I did it by 6, meaning I would get 12 cakes out of it with the size pans I was using. Even when buying the ingredients, it didn’t register that 3 kgs. each of fruit and flour and 24 eggs was more than I meant to use.
 
I dug out my biggest pots to mix it all in. One was already full of the fruit I had presoaked in rum, and by the time I had mixed in enough flour to coat it all, the pot was overflowing.
 

I mixed the dry ingredents in another pot and the wet ones in a third pot.

 

As you can see, each of the pots were full up and it wasn’t going to be possible to mix everything together in one pot. I think it was around there that I realised my mistake, but there was no going back now that I had begun.

I began to think hard about how I could put it all together. The only item in the house large enough to mix everything in was the shower bucket. Before you freak out and think “gross”, I scrubbed it with Lysol and then washed it with dishsoap, so it was very clean (on the inside) when I used it. And yes, I had to mix it with my hand as it was a thick batter, just the way a fruitcake batter should be, but in the largest quantity I had ever seen. I hadn’t planned on mass producing cakes.

 
As I stood there elbow-deep in fruitcake batter, all I could do was laugh and make sure I got pictures of the whole thing. Once it was mixed, I was able to transfer it into the pots again and get the bucket back to its rightful place in the bathroom.
 
 

It took me two days to bake all 12 cakes and I’ve ended up with more than I planned on, but maybe I will end up needing them. At least half will be given away to friends and taken to school by the kids but the rest are for us. Maybe I should save some of them for next year.

My Perfect Fruitcake Recipe

I’ve spent years trying to find the perfect fruitcake recipe. I’m particular about fruitcake. I like it moist, with lots of fruit but no nuts, and no odd ingredients that are hard to find. So after reading and researching hundreds of recipes, the solution was to put my own together.

Here you will find my personal fruitcake recipe – tried, tested and delicious. I followed the fruitcake tips found at this link and they came out better than any recipe I have tried before. I only have a small oven so I worked with 7″ x 2 1/4″ square and 7″ x 2″ round pans. This recipe is enough for two pans that size or you could use a larger one. Check this site for approximate pan size conversions.

Perfect Fruitcake

Ingredients:

4 cups dried fruits – I used 3 kinds of rasins, apricots, candied cherries, candied fruit peel, tuttie fruttie, and dried amla (gooseberry). You can use any dried fruits that you like or have available. If you enjoy nuts in your cake, substitute part of the fruit for chopped nuts. Walnuts and almonds are good options. (Tip: make sure your rasins are seedless before you put them in. I didn’t and only discovered the seeds after all my cakes were baked.)
Rum – enough to cover the fruits (you could use brandy instead, either one is ok)

2 1/2 cups flour (I used whole wheat but you could use cake flour if you want)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. each of cloves, nutmeg and ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup cooking butter, softened
4 eggs
orange juice or rum

Steps:

1) Begin by presoaking your chosen fruits. Place in a bowl or pot that has some expanding space, since the fruit will swell as it soaks up the rum. Add enough rum to cover the fruit, then cover with a lid and allow to sit. The site I mentioned above suggests soaking them a minimum of 3 days. I did them for a week.

2) When you are ready to bake your cake, drain the liquid off the fruit and set aside to use in the recipe. It will be syrupy.

3) Place a cake pan in the bottom of your oven, then fill with water. This will help to keep the cake moist while baking. (If you are doing more than one cake, check after each one to see if more water should be added.)

4) Line your pan with wax paper or foil. To help it stick, lightly grease the pan with a little cooking oil. Then put the paper in, pressing into the corners and sides so it can fill properly. With the foil, you will have to press it down slowly so that it doesn’t rip. Set aside.

5) Preheat your oven to 300 deg.F. (If you read the link above, you will see they said to cook them at 325 or less. Mine took 1hr. and 15 min. to cook at 300 in the pan size I mentioned. Larger pans will take longer, as will cooking at a lower temperature. Lower it if you have the time.)

3) Toss the fruits with 3/4 cup of the flour in order to cover them well. This will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the cake. Set aside.

4) Mix the remaining flour and all the rest of the dry ingredients together in one bowl.

5) In another large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar, then the eggs. Measure the liquid that you drained off the fruit and add to it as much juice or rum as you need to make a cup.

6) Mix the dry ingredients into the wet, a small amount at a time ’till it is all mixed.

7) Add the fruit to the batter until just mixed. Spoon into the prepared pan, making sure to not fill it more than 3/4 of the way. If it is overfilled, it will rise too much, take longer to cook, and not look as nice.

8) Cover the pan with some foil to keep it from overbrowning. What I did, since I have such a tiny oven, was I covered the cake for the first hour, then I took it off for the last 15 minutes and the color on top was perfect.

The top pan is the cake, the bottom one the water.
9) Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick or knife into the center. It should be moist but not raw. Place on wire rack to cool. Once cool, remove the foil.

10 ) Fruitcakes taste best when they are aged. To age, tear a large piece of foil, then place a cloth on it. You are going to wrap the cake with it so make sure it is clean and one that you don’t mind getting this kind of use. Cheesecloth is best but you can also use tea towels or cotton diapers (clean ones, of course).
Set the cake in the middle and pour rum all over it. The cloth should soak some up, then wrap it well, first with the cloth, then the foil. Store in a cool, dry place.
A minimum of 4 weeks is recommended for proper aging, so you will need to resoak the cloth in rum each week. After that time, your cakes can be frozen until you want to use them. This way, you can make them early in the year and then store them until Christmas (if you are someone who plans way in advance and doesn’t wait until so late like me. : ) )

You can eat these cakes straight out of the oven, but they taste better with some aging. If you haven’t done so yet, go and read this list of tips so that your fruitcakes can come out perfect too.

Happy Baking!

Note: If you try this recipe and you like it, feel free to share it but be sure to link back to this post. Tks.

This post has been shared with the linky party over at Spatulas on Parade and Merry, Merry Munchies at Dining with Debbie. Check them out.

Dining With Debbie

Halloween Party and Sweets Contest

Because of the cyclone, schools had to postpone special activites, so Lila only got around to her Halloween party on November 2nd. Halloween is not celebrated in India, but her school is American based and believes that celebrating certain foreign holidays is good education. The kids dressed in either orange or black, or a costume. Each of the children brought gifts or treats to share (but no candy) and they did some related art activites.

Lila decided (with my help since this was new to her) to be a dancer. Her dress says “Love to dance” and she does. Her hair seemed especially curly that morning, so instead of brushing it, I left the curls and just gathered some of it up to keep it controlled. I took a lot of photos so bear with me. (These aren’t even all of them.)

Her first bit of makeup. See the cute earrings we found? 

She loves to pose for photos. All of these were her own doing.

Daddy’s painted-on moustashe and gotee.

One for Logan, even though his school wasn’t celebrating.

Of course she had to have one too.

 I found out that morning that I had again been assigned the task of judging the sweets contest, so a short while later, Scarlett and I headed over to the school. I dressed Scarlett in the school uniform as her costume. Doesn’t she look cute in it? This is one we had first bought for Lila but it was too small. She sat for a while in Lila’s classroom with the kids, wanting to be next to Lila and join in the fun.

Lila’s class. See her there by the window?
Then she and Lila had some fun playing while I did my bit for the judging. 
We had two things to judge. There was a pumpkin carving contest …
and a pumkin halwa contest. Halwa is a sweet that can be made from a variety of fruits and veggies, or dhal, wheat, and other grains, and it is very popular here. There were 20 entries and we had to taste each one, then rate them one to ten for taste and presentation. These contests are meant to help the parents feel a part of the school and join in the celebrations. There is, of course, a prize for the winners.
Yes, that is my white arm there. 🙂 Probably the only one in the whole school. Ha.
 So after eating all those ghee-based sweets and rounding up my sand covered girls, I headed home to help Lila open gifts, make lunch, and get back to my normal life.

Microwave Idli Maker Experiment

Weekday mornings are hectic for us, especially now with getting two kids up, fed and ready to leave on time. Breakfast is often just a quick egg-and-toast kind of meal, maybe with some fruit thrown in if I don’t have to chop it. So on the weekends I try to put a little more into breakfast and make something fun like pancakes, french toast, and just last saturday, idlis.
Made from rice and dahl, idlis are probably the blandest Indian food you will find. They are a breakfast staple here in South India, though, and are eaten by most everyone. They are served with spicy sambars and chutneys so the blandness is balanced out with plenty of spice and flavor.
I was recently given a microwave idli maker and decided it was time to try it out. My kids like idlis but since they require a special pot that I wasn’t going to buy (since we rarely eat them), we only bought them (already cooked) on occasion. Most people make their idli batter at home since, according to Glad, it is a simple matter of soaking rice overnight and blending it in the morning. Well, when he decides to cook fulltime, he can do that. Since I am no expert, I chose to use this ready-to-cook batter that my local grocery store has all the time.
Here is what the maker looks like, minus the lid (which you can see in some of the pics below). It has two trays for 4 idlis, so I can make 8 at a time. It took about 6 minutes to cook in my microwave. I had no idea how to use the maker, so my great friend Google found a post on another blog by someone who used it regularly and I got the info I needed.

Idlis are steamed so they are quite a healthy food, so long as you don’t eat too many since they are mostly starch. The bottom of the dish holds a small amount of water, then the stand is placed in it and the molds are filled with the batter. The molds have tiny holes in them to let the steam cook them through from the bottom up. The lid goes on when it is in the microwave to contain the steam.

And here is how they looked on exiting the microwave.
Of course, I had to make a chutney to go with them, since alone they don’t have much taste. I also forgot to add salt to the batter which added to the blandness. I have never made any type of chutney before this but I didn’t think it would be too hard. I knew the basic ingredients were corriander, coconut, green chili, salt and a little water.
                          
I threw it all into the blender and out came …

…this. Of course I handed it to Glad for tasting and asked him to tell me what was missing since it just didn’t have the same flavor as the one his mom made.

His first thing was that I put too much salt. I thought I had put too little. Other than that, he said it was ok, though it did have a bitter taste to it that I couldn’t figure out. After breakfast though, he told me it would be better with an onion, some garlic and more chili. Why oh why did he wait until after we had eaten to tell me that???? I did go ahead and add those to the leftovers and it tasted much better.

My messy kitchen.
Grass found with the corriander. It has to be cleaned so well to use it fresh.

Afterwards we figured it must have been the packaged coconut that gave it the bitter taste. It would have been best with fresh coconut, but here, fresh means inside the shell and who has time to dig that out when you want a quick chutney?

And here is the end result. We did enjoy it, but now I know better for next time. Actually, I think I will make dosas with the leftover batter. They taste better.

Daddy and the girls enjoy their breakfast. They love spicy food so long as it comes from daddy’s plate. 🙂
So now a question for you regular chutney makers: do you have a recipe you can share with us here? I’d say e-mail it to me but I want my readers to be able to try it if they want to, so if you don’t mind, leave your tips for making the best chutney in the comments. I look forward to improving my recipe next time.

Quick and Easy Homemade Pizza

When it comes to cooking, I am all about shortcuts and easy-to-make meals. I especially dislike spending a lot of time on something that my kids end up hating, mainly because I hate cooking. I would gladly hire a chef if I could afford it. But since I can’t, I force myself to 1. find easy meals that my kids (and hubby, he can be pickier than them) will eat without complaint, and 2. find the shortest way to make them.
This pizza is quick to put together and cooks rapidly in the microwave. I begin by thawing the crusts. These are the only size I can find here, about 7″ across, but they are the perfect personal pizza size. I buy these in packs of two and freeze them ’till I plan to use them. For the 5 of us, 4 pizzas are just right. Oh, they are precooked.

Next I top each one with sauce. You can either buy a readymade sauce, or make your own like I do (only because pizza sauce is hard to find here and is super expensive when I do find it). To 200 ml. of tomato puree I add a heaping spoonful of garlic paste, a pinch of sugar, Italian seasoning (lots!!), and salt and pepper to taste. Mix it all together and spread generously on the crusts.

Next, top with salami or your choice of meat. I buy a roll of it that is sold frozen so it keeps. I just put it to thaw at the same time as the crusts. The beauty of making individual pizzas is that you can personalise the toppings to the palate. If you don’t like the ingredients I’m listing, simply use your personal favorites or what you know your children will eat. I don’t prechop the salami; I just slice it over the crusts.

Next comes the veggies. I use onion, spring onion, green peppers and mushrooms. I love it with pineapple, too. Often I’ll just put the meat and cheese for my kids since I know they will pick the veggies off anyway, and for hubby I add green chilies since he loves his food spicy.

The final topping is a generous covering of grated cheese. I love cheese so I like to combine different ones. Don’t bother grating the cheese in advance. Simply hold your grater over the pizza and grate until you have enough.

I use the microwave to cook them, but an oven could easily be used as well. You could get them all done at once on a cookie sheet. Since I don’t have an oven, I put them one at a time in the microwave. I use the bake setting and it cooks them at 350 degrees. I find that six minutes is enough. The cheese is melted, sauce cooked, veggies still slightly crunchy but done.

Remove and allow to cool for a minute before plating and slicing.

And here are two of my finished products. The are just the right size to fit on a plate and are quite filling as is, at least I can only eat one.

Slice and serve.

The total time it takes me to make these is about 30 min. from start to finish. I often serve them for dinner but they would make a great lunch too. This is also a recipe that is easy enough that your children could help you make it.

What is your favorite quick meal that your children will always eat? Share it with us.

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