Savoury Vegetable & Cheese Muffins

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Posted by Aparna Balasubramanian

Once upon a time, when my daughter was younger, she would eat almost anything I served her. Life was pleasant and meal times were very relaxed. Then she started growing up and arguments over silly things became the norm. Some of our mealtimes were fraught with tension, just trying to get her to eat.

Picture our dining table as a sort of boxing ring with both of us in our respective corners, verbally trying to make our points about food while my husband was stuck in the middle trying to referee the whole thing amicably. You get the general idea, and I’m happy to say this phase didn’t last for too long.

To be fair to her, she now does eat most vegetables without too much of a fuss. She really does prefer to carry home-cooked food in her snack/ lunch box than eat what’s served in the school canteen. I usually try to use this preference of hers to my advantage.
Sometimes I smuggle, hide or disguise vegetables and fruit in food she enjoys. She is sharp and smart enough to know what I’m doing while understanding my almost OCD (obsessive compulsive desire) to get her to eat “healthy”.
I must admit that I’m not always successful, but that’s life.

“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie” according to Jim Davis. I would add these “vegetable muffins” to this quote.

My daughter likes muffins, preferably the sweet ones. These muffins have cheddar cheese and vegetables that she likes (and one that she doesn’t) in them. Yet she thinks these muffins are “okay”! “Okay” is her lingo for “it’s not bad, but frankly I don’t really like it”!
Actually, what she told me later was, “the texture is really great, and they’re very good for savoury muffins, but you know I don’t like savoury stuff". Then she gets up and gets herself some savoury banana crisps!!

In our home, these muffins are for evening time snacking, but they are pretty good for snack boxes to school. Add some milk and fruit and they make a filling meal too. They’re good on the side with tomato soup too.

I had some zucchini left over from another kitchen adventure of mine. I needed to use this up. So these muffins have zucchini, sweet red carrots and some very thinly sliced green beans in them.

Feel free to use whatever vegetable you would prefer, but I would suggest that using more than 2 or 3 vegetables in these muffins might be overkill as far as children are concerned. I find it helps if one or two of the vegetables used are those which your children like, as it makes it easier to sneak in the third “not-liked” vegetable!

You can use all purpose flour if you prefer, or only whole wheat flour. In my home I’m the only one who really likes breads and quick breads with whole wheat flour and I find that about half and half of both flours ensures a good texture.


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt (remember the cheese has salt)

2 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp brown sugar

freshly crushed black pepper to taste

1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup oil (I use a sunflower-rice bran oil blend)

1 cup milk

3/4 cup shredded/ thinly sliced vegetables of choice


Put the flours, salt, sugar and baking powder into a big bowl and whisk together to mix well. Add the grated cheese and whisk a couple of times more to ensure the cheese is well coated with flour and mixed well.

In another bowl, whisk the beaten egg, oil and milk together. Then add the shredded/ sliced vegetables and mix well.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Using a wooden spoon, fold the mixture together as little as possible, to blend well. If traces of flour are still visible that’s fine.
Over mixing the batter will result in tough muffins.

Scrape the batter into greased muffin tins and bake at 200C for about 30 minutes till the tops start browning. Remove from tins and cool on a rack.

This recipe makes about 10 very tasty and moist muffins, depending on the size of your muffin tins. Please make them at your own risk and be prepared to have your children declare these good, terrible or okay!

This post was written by Aparna

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Travelling with Kids

Friday, March 26, 2010

Posted by Dee

My Daughter and I landed in India early this month. It was indeed a learning experience even though we traveled quite a few times. Here are a few tips to remember while travelling with infants/toddlers.

1. Before you leave , ensure that you take your child to the doctor for a wellness check up. Make sure that all his/her vaccinations, booster shots are given.

2. Ensure that you take enough food for you and your baby. Keep in mind that you might get delayed or be unable to catch a connecting flight. The airlines have cut back drastically on the food size for all its travellers, Ask for more food if you need. Do not hesitate , they always keep a stash of bread and fruits, especially for pregnant women or for people who suffer from diabetes.

3. Keep ample bottles /sippy cups / straw cups for the entire journey as you may not be able to wash and reuse.

4. Keep at least more than 5-7 pairs of outfits that keep warm for your baby , they will come in handy if your child is not doing too well.

5. Make a list and keep a stash of all the baby's medication. Take extra stuff just in case.

6. Some pharmacies sell earplugs only for toddlers , in case , your child is above 2 years of age , do keep them with you , apart from cotton plugs.

7. Also you have lollipops for toddlers to suck during the takeoff . They are a good alternative to keep.

8. Always try to give the bottle first , and then go for the other alternatives , Make sure you don't overfeed the child. Feed moderately at regular intervals and dont force feed. Keep them well hydrated.

9. If you are travelling to a place which has mosquitos , these days you get organic mosquito repellents, keep a stock of them.

9. Most importantly don't panic , the more the parents panic , the less control we have over the situation, Its hard to think logically when your baby is not doing well or when its your first flight , but its very important for us to be in control. Try and be as cool as possible. They say your baby can sense your mood and it can affect them . Be cool and calm and don't hesitate to take help from the air hostess or your fellow passengers . If it works then go for it !

This post was written by Dee

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5 Reasons Why Pasta is Great for a Weeknight Dinner

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Posted by Mansi

pasta wine sauce roasted garlicWhen it comes to cooking something fast for dinner, Pasta is often on the top of the charts. And why should it not be? It is indeed a boon for the working women who have to dish out a decent dinner in less than 30 minutes, but you can even transform a lame pasta packet into something exotic if you have some time on your hands! Keeping this simple and short, here are the top 5 reasons according to me why Pasta is a preferred choice for weeknight dinners!

1. Availability & Storage
Evey supermarket store will carry pasta, even if it is in the most simplest Spaghetti form. In fact, even the mom-and-pop stores across the streets carry them at time. no matter where you live, and no matter what weather it is, you can always rely on a package of pasta to quickly whip up a Pasta Salad or some Baked Macaroni & Cheese!

2. Ease of Preparation
It is so simple, even a kid could do it (well, almost, if the kid is at least 8 years old!) Just boil a pot of water, add a teaspoon of salt and empty the pasta noodles into the crock pot. Cook for 10 minutes and you are done. When you are short on time, just add some ready-made Pasta sauce on the top, some Parmesan cheese, some fresh pepper, and you are good to go. Simple enough, right?

3. Budget-Friendly
This is perhaps the most important reason to choose Pasta for dinner. a 2 lb package of noodles can easily feed a family of 4 or 5. Add the cost of some sauce and cheese, and you'll still be looking at a family dinner under $10 - and that includes Garlic Toast too! That's even less than the cost of one person's meal if you go to a non-chain restaurant and order a single item from their menu! And homemade sauces are even cheaper, as you can make in bulk and store and keep for use later on in the month. Try making different kinds of Pesto Sauces, like this Cilantro Pesto, or the Walnut Arugula Pesto for affordable yet tasty variations.

4. Delicious to Eat
Pasta comes in so many shapes and sizes, that its easy to mix and match and create a meal that is delicious, yet different from last time. What I do is keep 5 basic sauce recipes on hand, and 5 different types of pasta packages at home. Then I keep alternating between the pairings. So one time its Ravioli with Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce, other time it is Fettuccine in Roasted Garlic Tomato & Wine Sauce, and yet another time it is the Vegetarian Spinach Lasagna!

5. Healthy & Kid-Friendly Too!
Homemade pasta can be quite healthy, contrary to what one might think, if you stick to a healthy Pasta Sauce recipe; using whole wheat pasta and adding nutritious ingredients like spinach, garlic and herbs that add to the vitamin, mineral and fiber content of the pasta, some cheese for protein, tomatoes for lycopene & nuts for omega-3 oils will actually give you a filling meal fit for your kids and your entire family. Plus, pasta comes in so many interesting shapes, tubes, tunnels, macaroni and more, that kids find it fun to indulge in the colorful meal laid out in front of them.

So, if you are wondering what to cook tonight, it might be a good idea to dish out some Noodles and look at one of the Pasta recipes above, then make your family a hit & healthy restaurant-style meal which will not cash out your pockets, and yet make for a tasty eating event.

Recipes & Photo Credit - Fun and Food Cafe

This post was written by Mansi

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Quick Indian - Nankhatai

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Posted by Bina

These rich, melt-in-your-mouth cookies are a delicious tea-time treat. Or for that matter, a perfect anytime treat. Commonly known as nankhatai (pronounced naan-kha-taai) biscuits, one would usually buy them in in bakeries just like this one or from kharibiscuitwallahs - guys going door to door carrying huge tin trunks on their heads, selling nankhatais, rusks and khari biscuits. The trunk would open to reveal all the wonderful goodies neatly arranged in different compartments - square, oval and round shaped biscuits topped with almonds or cashews or pistachios or tutti-frutti, begging to be picked up!
Sometimes, when there was a surplus of ghee at home, we would send the ingredients to the local bakery to be baked into nankhatais. Much later, we got our first home oven - a contraption that sat on the floor and looked like a mini spaceship with a glass window on top! The nankhatais made at home were so good that we never went back to store bought ones again.

Nankhatais are easy and quick to make. All you need is flour, powdered sugar, ghee, baking powder and some cardamom. That's it. No fancy equipment for mixing either. Just toss everything into a bowl, mix with your fingers, roll into balls, flatten and bake. Super easy. A quick note about making ghee. It is almost like making browned butter or beurre noisette. Simply melt some unsalted butter in a pan, first on med-high and then on med-low flame until you see the solids settle to the bottom and turn golden brown. I don't bother with straining either. Just pour the liquid into another container and stop pouring when you see the solids coming to the rim of the pan. The liquid solidifies when it cools completely to room temperature.


Makes 24 cookies

200 gms all-purpose flour (approx. 1 3/4 cups)
140 gms powdered sugar (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
110 gms ghee (solid) (approx. 3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp baking powder
cardamom – 8 (only the seeds –powdered)
Cashews/pistachios/almonds for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Put flour, sugar, cardamom and baking powder in a bowl and mix well.

Add the ghee and mix until it forms a smooth ball of dough (You may need to add an additional 1-2 tbsp of ghee if the dough looks too crumbly).

Roll dough into balls and using your palms, slightly flatten each into a disc and arrange on cookie sheet.

Press a piece of cashew, pistachio or almond on top.

Bake at 300 degrees F for 15 mins (until bottom of cookie turns golden brown).

Let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container.

* You can also make a saffron version by dissolving 1/4 tsp of saffron in a tsp of milk and adding it to the flour mixture along with the ghee and a few drops of yellow food coloring.

This post was written by Bina

When Popeye Doesn’t Quite Help Them Eat Spinach!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Posted by Aparna Balasubramanian

Getting one’s children to eat what’s good for them must be one of the most difficult exercises in life, perhaps. I think every person who has ever put in this kind of effort deserves a special star on a walk of fame!

Our daughter proved quite early on, that she had very strong ideas about what she would and would not do. Despite this, we didn’t really have too much of difficulty getting her to eat as a toddler. We just faced the usual “I don’t want this!” or “I’m not hungry!”
Akshaya never was a fussy eater, but as she grew older she started developing strong dislikes for certain foods. While this was perfectly understandable, we had to ensure that these dislikes became the exception rather than the norm.

She didn’t (and still doesn’t) like many fruits. She will eat most vegetables but will not eat most types of salads. When told vegetables in their raw form in salads are healthy, her stock answer always has been “……but I’m not a cow!”
When we were growing up, things were different. We didn’t have a wide variety of foods/ cuisines to choose from and mostly ate whatever was cooked and served without too many questions. Our parents didn’t really have the time or inclination to hold too many discussions on matters regarding our food likes and dislikes.

A lot of us would have grown up being told how Popeye was strong because he ate his spinach and lots of it. If I had told my daughter about Popeye, she would probably asked me “Pop-who???”
Then I would have had to contend with the following kind of questions:
hy did she need to eat spinach just because someone else (who she had never heard of) did so?
Did I honestly think she would want to do something that was done by someone who looked like Popeye? And what was the deal with Popeye and spinach anyways?

As it turns out, it seems stories of Popeye and spinach are attributed to the publication in 1870 of a study by Dr. E von Wolf which mistakenly attributed to spinach ten times its actual iron content.

Children need all the nutrition they can get during their growing years and in amounts much greater than an adult does. It seems a bit of a paradox that most of these nutrients seem to be in foods that children need to be persuaded to eat!
So how does one get children to eat what’s good for them, without too much of a fight on one’s hands?

There is no “one fits all” solution to this question but we have, over the years, found some ways to get our daughter to eat healthier. We’ve won some and lost some.
Children being the fickle creatures they are, will tell you they love some particular food one day and then tell you that they don’t like it anymore, a couple of weeks later!
What is important is to start laying the foundation to healthy eating choices as early in childhood as possible, so that it becomes a habit. Here are some things that worked for us.

It is important to lead by example, because children pick up all our habits (especially the undesirable ones!) very easily. So if we tell our kids to eat up their vegetables, we have to do it too!!

In our home, we have certain mealtime rules and they apply equally to adults and child. One is that everyone at the table has to have a portion of whatever is cooked for that meal, even if we don’t really like it very much. This rule is something I grew up with and even though I fought it as a child, it has held me in good stead as an adult.

I used to take my daughter along when I went shopping for groceries, vegetables and fruit. She would help me pick out things and has learnt much that way. She is now quite adept at reading the small print on packaged foods.
She would also help me when I used to bake or cook dinner. She was always very happy to eat whatever she had “cooked/ baked”. This I found, along with the innate curiosity in children, was a great way to introduce her to a lot of foods.

Introduce your child to whatever tastes your chosen diet includes or allows, as early as possible. Once a child’s taste patterns and habits are set, it is not easy to break them. At the same time, it is important to recognize they have some definite foods they don’t like.
Variety at the table also helps, since a lot of times I find my daughter complaining that the food I cook is boring! This is where my blogging has helped as there’s more variety in my cooking now, though she insists that I now am more interested in feeding my blog than her!!!

Keeping them away from “undesirable” foods is a sure way to ensure that they always choose junk food as the taste of this is addictive! When Akshaya discovered junk food, that’s what she liked (and still does a lot of the time) more than home-cooked food.

So we make allowances for this when we eat out and then she gets to choose what she wants to eat. It has now come to the point where she does like home-made versions of many of these too. However, more often than not, the lure of a Pizza Hut/ Dominoes Pizza or a McDonalds proves too much to resist.
I have finally arrived at two largely fool-proof strategies that work for me. What strategists do in boardrooms isn’t a patch on our strategizing, as they don’t have to contend with unpredictable teenagers!

The first one is deviousness.
My daughter does not like fruits very much. So what I do is hide them or dress them up in foods she likes. So I turn fruit into fruit milkshakes, gelatos and ice-creams. I bake them into cakes and muffins.
Cakes have butter and sugar, but I can control how much of it goes into them and younger children and teenagers do need this in adequate amounts for healthy growth. I put oats in her cookies and bread.

Akshaya will not eat tomatoes, but loves pizza and pastas with my home-made tomato sauce. She loves macaroni and cheese so I make a version that’s full of vegetables! She doesn’t like spinach (yeah, Popeye wouldn’t work with her!), so I add the puree to chapathi dough to make “green” chappathis.
And the list goes on………………..

The other one is that I let Akshaya make some of her food decisions. She prefers to carry home-made lunch rather than eat at the school canteen. So I let her decide what she wants for lunch and this ensures she eats what she takes to school.
On many weekends, she decides what we should have for Sunday lunch and I cook it up as “healthy” as I can without “spoiling” it for her. (Though she feels I haven’t been very successful on this count.)
Of course, it is a wise mother who doesn’t use the “H” word in front of her kids!

I think I’ve rambled on long enough for now. I would love to hear how you all handle your children’s food dislikes and maybe learn a thing or two or three. As far as I’m concerned, mothers can never have enough “weapons” in their armoury!

This post was written by Aparna

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Posted by Jamie


Aren’t we all? Work, school, family. Out of bed at 7, breakfast the usual cafĂ© au lait with 2 pains au lait with just a dollop of cherry preserves each, a few minutes more in bed reading and chatting with hubby, then walkies for Marts. Strictly the same routine, over and over again, endlessly repeated. Mornings followed by work all day, dinner then a bit of tv, Marty hopping insolently from lap to lap deciding on which one of us shall be graced with his warm, furry company for the evening or if he’ll simply snort his discontent and slink back to his own cushion. Weekends cozy at home. Maybe a morning saunter to the market, basket in one hand, husband’s hand in the other, watching rugby (in season) or a run for Marty in the vineyards (in the other, sunnier season). Dinner out once a week, vacations spent at home.

There is something so comforting about routine, that old expected pattern, accustomed to what we will find each day. It all becomes second nature, a natural reflex, and we can concentrate on other things secure in the familiarity of knowing what will happen next, as comforting and familiar as our favorite worn-in pair of jeans or that old woolen blanket we wrap ourselves up in on chilly winter afternoons, our hands wrapped around a mug of steaming cocoa. We are all creatures of habit and as much as we love change and adventure, the excitement of the unexpected, the thrills and chills of risk and chance, we still prefer the ease and well-being of our little, everyday habits. In this mad, mad, mad world, what feels better than that?

Our eating suffers from force of habit as much as our daily routine. Don’t we always want the same cake every birthday? Don’t our holiday tables groan under the weight of the same bounty of goodies, the turkey and stuffing, mom’s this and grandma’s that, the same pies for dessert, the same cookies baked year after year to hand round to friends at Christmas? Maybe we call it tradition rather than habit, but habit by any other name is still a habit. Remember when we were kids? A bowl of cereal drowned in cold milk every morning before we biked off for school; Fruit Loops were grabbed every morning for maybe 6 months, then Cap’n Crunch, then Lucky Charms, but the basic routine never changed, nor did the current fad. The same sandwich and cookies were wrapped up and dropped into the brown paper sack for lunch, the same Ding Dongs or Little Debbies, always cream-filled chocolate whatevers, for the after-school snack. The same games played every afternoon with the same friends knowing that at 6:30 each evening we’d find ourselves scooting our chair – and always at the same place – up to the table for dinner. On the nose. We knew that one day a week dad threw steaks on the grill to go with baked potatoes and he would make pancakes for dinner regularly. Like a parent’s love, these daily habits made us feel safe and protected.

Why should my own little family now be any different than my family all those years ago? Breakfast, lunch and snacks are like clockwork and hands grab for the usual. Husband is happy when there is a warm lunch on the table at 1 but is ever so content with bread and cheese followed by a piece of fruit. Every day. Clem expects to find the same foods in the refrigerator each time he pulls open that door and complains loud and long if they aren’t sitting and waiting for him when expected. Persnickety son is the worst of the lot and the most stuck on habit. Obsessively stuck. He regularly hands me over his list of the foods he likes, the main courses he will eat, the desserts he will deign accept to taste. And always at the same time of day. A little too early and eyebrows raise and one asks “Why? What’s wrong?” They grab the same thing every morning for breakfast, the same thing every afternoon for snack. And going out “en famille” means the same, familiar pizzeria. The same cereal, brands of dried pasta and cookies grace our pantries, my hands automatically reach for the same flavor jelly and same bag of coffee at the grocery store, we are partial to the same chocolate cake, same snack quick bread and the same coffee cake and they are requested – and baked – over and over again.

When one is a food blogger, eating habits can get in the way. I try and feed my blog yet my family claims that they should come first! Make the same chocolate chip cookies again? But they are already posted on my blog, I need something new, something different, something unique! Arms are thrown up, eyes rolled, groans escape from lips and one or the other stomps off in anger and disbelief. I try something new, a gorgeous charlotte or a panna cotta or fruit instead of chocolate chips and all hell breaks loose! “But you know what we like! You know we want to eat the same things all the time!

And dinnertime as well. No wonder it’s called comfort food: the couscous in winter, the Asian salad in summer, hamburgers on a bun with that side of fries once a week and homemade pizza every Friday night followed the day after by hot-from-the-oven focaccia made with the leftover dough. They feel comforted getting what they expect, are happy in the thought that it tastes just the same week after week. In a world gone mad, long, tiring, stressful days, being pushed this way and that by colleagues’ whims or teachers’ sudden demands, one a little too tired with the ways of the working world, the others just learning the ropes, living each day with the unexpected, the reckless and the impulsive, isn’t it nice to be able to step over that threshold, close the door – and the world – behind you and be greeted by the familiar, the warmth of a cozy livingroom, the comforting smells wafting from the kitchen, a mother’s smile or a spouse’s embrace, the warm, wet nose of a dog thrilled to see you no matter what and pull a chair up to the table and sit down to a meal you know and love so well.

Ever since the first time I made this traditional Country Captain, it has become a family favorite and a regular on our kitchen table. Warm, comforting, flavorful without being spicy so it fits everyone’s bill, easy and quick to put together, it is the perfect family meal simply served over rice, pasta or, as I have done here, creamy polenta. This dish, whose earliest reference was found in the 1857 Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book, has a somewhat long history, but it is thought to be an English dish brought originally to the table by Sepoys, the Indian officers serving Britain in East India, eventually making it’s way to the United States. But the East Indian influences are indeed there – the curry, the raisins and almonds. It is a soothing, warming chicken dish with a deep, rich tomato sauce spiked with curry powder and garlic and sweetened by tender golden raisins or currents, the almonds adding a nutty crunch into the bargain.

Slightly adapted from Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook

¼ cup (about 30 g) flour for dredging
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 broiler chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs/1 ½ to 2 kg) or equivalent weight in favorite pieces, well-rinsed and patted dry, excess fat and skin trimmed and cut into pieces
4 Tbs (60 g) butter or margarine
1 medium to large onion, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 red bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ tsps curry powder
½ tsp dried thyme leaves
1 can (16 oz/450 g) stewed or crushed tomatoes
3 Tbs golden raisins (or currents if you prefer)
1/3 cup blanched, slivered almonds

Place the flour and salt in a wide bowl and add a very generous grinding of black pepper, at least ¼ tsp and toss to combine. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour to coat completely, shake off the excess flour and place the pieces on a piece of waxed paper.

Melt the butter or margarine in a large, nonreactive, heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chicken, just a few pieces at a time so as not to crowd, and cook until the chicken is browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken as it is browned to a clean plate while you continue browning the rest of the chicken.

Once all of the chicken has bee browned and removed from the pot, slightly lower the heat and add the onion, the peppers, the garlic, the curry powder and the thyme and toss until blended. Add the stewed tomatoes and stir, scraping up the brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pot from the chicken.

Return the chicken to the pot and push it down under the sauce. Add a bit of water just until the chicken is barely, but not quite, covered. Bring to the boil, lower the heat to low and allow the Country Captain to simmer (you can put a lid on the top but I usually keep it just slightly ajar) until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to fall off the bone – about 35 to 40 minutes more or less. Stir the sauce occasionally and add a bit of water if the sauce evaporates too much. You do want a thick sauce at the end.

5 minutes or so before the end of cooking, stir the raisins into the sauce. Serve the Country Captain over rice, pasta or polenta sprinkled with the slivered almonds.

This post was written by JAMIE

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