A Hearty Start: Sukhe Kaale Chane

Recipe for Sukhe Kaale Chane, taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Hubby Dear and me have always believed that sleeping is a sport, and ever since we got married, we have tried to outdo the other on how long we can sleep in over the weekends. Well, that was, of course, until Baby Dear was born. What can I say, the kid HATES to sleep – always did, and continues to do so. So while our entire neighbourhood wakes up leisurely on a Saturday morning and slowly begins their day pouring a glass of cold orange juice from the fridge, the three of us would be in the midst of planning out our lunch.

Baby Dear wakes up beady eyed at the crack of dawn, jumps out of his bed and sprints to our room yelling, ‘It’s the weekend!’. And then THUD! He plops himself comfortably under our sheets, rubs his tummy and asks the dreaded question, ‘What’s for breakfast guys?’

Breakfast has never been my thing. I wake up each morning with the desire of only a freshly brewed warm cup of coffee, and I’m roaring to go. Weekends, on the other hand, are slightly different. The three of us love starting our Saturdays with a big breakfast. Almost every other week, we find ourselves at some quaint little café digging into buttered toasts and eggs or warm maple syrup poured over pancakes, with copious amounts of coffee for us and milk or fresh juice for Baby Dear. Treating ourselves to breakfast out is definitely something we look forward to and cherish.

But on days like this past weekend, where the slow pitter-patter of raindrops splashed on our window and the gloomy weather made us want to put on warm fuzzy socks and snuggle on the couch, I love digging into my repertoire of special hot Indian breakfasts. Breakfast in India is always a big deal – be it any day of the week, and there is no dearth of options when it comes to a plate of piping hot healthy meals to start the day with. One of our family favourites  is this spicy stir-fry of tiny brown chickpeas, quite different in taste and texture from their larger white counterpart.

This is a perfect dish to make ahead and keeps well in the fridge for about a week or the freezer for a month. When ready to eat, simply heat it up and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Add your favourite hot beverage of choice, surround yourself with your favourite people, and you have a wonderful start to the perfect weekend!

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Crunch for Time: Potato Masala Melts

Recipe for Potato Masala Melts taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

A grilled cheese sandwich was one of the first big people finger foods I introduced to Baby Dear when he started to show an interest in feeding himself. I figured that if I could stuff a bunch of veggies, protein and some healthy fat in the form of delicious cheese between two slices of whole grain bread, and have him eat it with gusto, then it was win-win for us both! Of course, it worked like a charm. Even today, these kinds of warm sandwiches are always my fall back option when I’m in a crunch for time and need to get something healthy and filling on table, pronto.

I personally love a grilled cheese sandwich for the fact that they can easily fit into any meal of the day – as Rachael Ray would say, they’re a perfect candidate for B-L-D. They’re also so versatile – fill in anything and everything you have, top it off with cheese and grill till warm and crisp. I always have a few different kinds of cheese and bread in my fridge/freezer, and you’ll find us enjoying sandwiches fresh from the griddle at least once a week.

It’s funny that now when I look back and think about it, I seem to have served some form of warm sandwiches every time I had a crowd to feed and a short notice to do so. We busted out the griddle when my bff decided to spend the night with us on a whim after her husband left on a business trip. We had to make a quick run to the corner store at midnight once when we all craved something warm during a movie marathon weekend. And I also remember making an insane number of them at Hubby Dear’s 30th Indian street food themed birthday bash.

A few days ago, as I did some cleanup on the site and started to organize my recipe list, it suddenly occurred to me that in all of these years of cooking and blogging about it, I had, not even once written about this humble and yet, amazingly satisfying dinner option. I made a mental note right there that I just had to get it done soon. This recipe is one of my personal favourites. It uses everything you might have in your fridge, freezer or kitchen pantry. To get more creative and introduce Baby Dear to new lunch ideas for when he starts school soon, I left them open-faced and shoved them into the toaster oven to melt and crisp. Do as  you please and add/omit ingredients as you like, keep it open-faced or slap another slice of bread on top. Afterall, a sandwich is nothing if not flexible. So here it is, as promised!

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Kids Lunchbox Idea: Chicken Croissants

Recipe for Chicken Croissants taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

A few weekends ago, I found myself alone at home with Baby Dear and a potluck invitation waiting for a response. Hubby Dear was away on a longer than usual business trip, and I was at my wits end trying to entertain an energizer-bunny of a toddler. I’ve always considered myself an introvert and going to a party without my better half to meet new people is not really my cup of tea. But I was desperate. And so was Baby Dear. We each needed to get out and about – and interacting with someone other than each other seemed like a welcome option. So I immediately texted a YES to the invite and started to prep my contribution to the party.

When given an option, I always like to volunteer bringing an appetizer. Its the perfect chance to get creative and think out of the box. Bite-sized finger foods are usually my preferred way to enjoy a meal and I love experimenting with different flavours and textures. I was short of time and needed to come up with something quick and easy. One long stare at the contents of my fridge and I knew just what I was ready to get to work on. I had half a rotisserie chicken from the previous night to work with. Armed with a can of store-bought croissant dough and some veggies and spices, this came together in a breeze. Its delicious fresh out of the oven or eaten at room temperature. I suggest taking this idea and running with it! Experiment with the filling. Change it up to what you and your family enjoy eating. It works great any which way.

As I was working on this recipe, it suddenly occurred to me that this would be perfect for a kids lunchbox. With September right around the corner and schools all set to open up their doors to eager parents and kids after a long summer, back to school sales and lunchbox recipes are hard to look past. My tiny tot is all excited to begin a new phase in life and can’t stop talking about going to a big boys school! Aside from picking out a new school bag, lunch box, clothes and shoes imprinted with his current favourite cartoon character, I’ve been keeping myself busy working on lunchbox recipes for him. Baby Dear has never been a fussy eater and cooking for him is always a pleasure. If the food is tasty, he’ll relish it. If it has chicken, he’ll dive right in. And if it has tons of garlic, then in his own esteemed words – its a party in his tummy!

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Cooking for Kids: Indian-style Spaghetti

Recipe for Indian-style Spaghetti taken from www.hookedonheat.com

A few days ago, I logged into my emails and was met by this request from a long time reader:

Hi Meena,

My son is turning 6 in a couple of weeks and all he wants for his birthday this year is to have a sleepover with 3 of his best friends. While I’ve already planned a trip to his favourite fast food joint with his friends for lunch on his special day, I’m so confused on what to cook for them for dinner. My son is quite adventurous when it comes to food and will generally eat pretty much whatever I offer him. I’m not quite sure about the others though. I’ve spoken to their moms and was promised that neither of them are fussy eaters, but I’m still a bit nervous about cooking for growing boys. I know that I can never go wrong with pizzas or burgers, but honestly, I’d like to serve them something more wholesome and healthy. Also, Indian flavours will be of high priority since two of them are not too fond of continental food. Please HELP!

Thanks in advance,

Shilpa

Well Shilpa, what can I say… I hear ya!

Since the last few months, we’ve had quite a few playdates at home for Baby Dear. It works splendidly for us since we get to entertain our friends and the kids get to create havoc (or play, as they like to believe) in the comforts of our home. Cooking for these kind of get-togethers started out as being a challenge for me, but I’ve learned to get quite creative with my menus. To begin with, I never wanted to have separate menus for the adults and kids; unless of course, I had planned something extra spicy. Baby Dear has always eaten the same food we do, sometimes, if needed, adapted to suit his taste and liking. When cooking for young kids, here’s one thing I like to keep in mind always: Anything and everything, even nuggets and burgers, can be made healthy for kids to enjoy. I make these Tandoori Chicken Pops in the form of nuggets and they’re always enjoyed by adults and kids alike.

Pasta is usually a hands down winner with kids and can easily be customized to suit anyone’s palate. I love to add a variety of veggies and forms of protein to up the nutritional value of the meal. You can easily experiment with different flavours and cooking styles and come up with a recipe that your friends and family will enjoy. I recently served this Indian-style Spaghetti at a recent casual  dinner I hosted. It went superbly well alongside a large mixed salad, some crusty cheesy garlic bread and a whole lot of wine. For your son’s dinner though, I’d advice skipping the wine altogether!

Here’s what I suggest you serve your tiny guests and the special birthday boy for dinner:

Tandoori Chicken Pops (made in the form of bite-sized nuggets)
Cheesy Garlic Bread
Indian-style Spaghetti (recipe follows)
Quick and Easy Chocolate Cake (a birthday calls for cake every day of the week!)

I’m sure your son and his friends will enjoy this recipe. Its packed with protein and veggies, and if you use high fiber whole grain pasta, then its as healthy as can be. Here’s wishing your little man a very happy birthday!

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Kids Lunchbox Idea: Minty Potato Samosas

Recipe for Minty Potato Samosas taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Come September, Baby Dear will be off to pre-school. I’ll finally be joining in the likes of moms who begin their day with packing a lunch for their wee ones. For the past few weeks, I’ve been filling my ‘recipe ideas‘ notebook with recipes that would fill his little tummy and keep Baby Dear alert and active for the remainder of the school day.

Since schools in India have just started to open up for the new term, I’ve been getting quite a few requests to share recipes that would work well for kids’ lunch boxes. While sandwiches often seem to be the go-to solution for a quick packed lunch, I’ve never been a fan of them. I used to pack myself simple sandwiches made with cheese and tomatoes, or cold cuts and lettuce, or sometimes even the good old PB&J, but come lunch-time, I always craved something else. But let’s be honest here – not many us have the time, energy or sometimes even the patience it takes to prep a fresh cooked, healthy meal early in the mornings. Our breakfasts itself are almost always rushed, so finding the time for cooking and packing a meal for later in the day seems almost ridiculous! Which is why I’m a big believer in leftovers.

I’ve been packing Hubby Dear’s lunches almost everyday since we got married, which is over 9 years ago! And almost always, it has been leftovers. And that’s exactly what I intend to do with Baby Dear’s lunches as well. While I do understand that packing meals for kids needs some amount of creativity and thought put into it, I don’t see why it can’t be done with minimum fuss and effort on the mom’s part. The recipe I have for you today, does exactly that. You can make these samosas in big batches on a weekend when you have the time and freeze them. Then, as and when required, fry them up and serve hot. They taste great at room temperature as well, so you can definitely fry them the previous evening and pack them up for lunch the next day.

Another idea to take this even a step further, is to make Bun Samosas, which are a popular street food outside many colleges and office buildings in most major cities in India. All you need to do is smush a samosa or two, depending on its size, between a bun or two slices of bread. You can also spread some chutney or plain ‘ol ketchup on the inside for that extra zing. Baby Dear absolutely loves it, and this is one sandwich I would never mind opening my lunchbox to!

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Pantry Cooking: Tawa Pulao

Recipe for Tawa Pulao taken from www.hookedonheat.com

It’s been hot and I think I’m melting! I could’ve sworn I was an inch taller just two weeks ago!! Thank goodness for the rain Gods, it’s been much cooler the past two days. I feel that I can now actually enter my beloved kitchen, without getting cooked myself. Although I enjoy making elaborate meals and spending precious time creating culinary art, there are times when I just want to come home and not take more than a few minutes to whip up a delicious yet wholesome meal.

It is often at such times when I find retreat in my always over-stocked pantry. I love my pantry, and I sincerely believe that if I happen to have an unexpected emergency at hand, I’ll most probably be very well prepared to cook up a meal for 10 people using just the contents from it. I always make sure my shelves are well stocked with a variety of pasta, flour, canned beans, sauces and quick eats.

I’ve always loved grocery shopping, which only added to my pantry stock. I love losing myself in the aisles with the variety of oils, sauces and international fares. Learning to grocery shop the right way is an acquired art. It takes brain power and perfect precision to buy things in just the right amount to stock a pantry. There were times when I would find myself staring at 5 cans of tuna, each with an expiry date well past.

It took time, and a lot of practice, but I learnt. I now have the perfect pantry to help me build my meals each day. And at times like tonight, when all I want is a quick fix and hours in front of the TV, my pantry is what I can count on!
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Food for Kids: “Revamped” Instant Ramen Noodles

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Since summer’s here, I’ve gotten quite a few requests to post recipes on food for kids. No doubt, for me it comes at the perfect time – right when I’m trying to increase my repertoire to include lunch box and snack ideas for my little one. Baby Dear has never been a picky or fussy eater and will happily down a hearty serving of Egg Sambal and Ginger-Chilli Shrimp anytime of day. But, ever since he turned 3 some months ago, I’ve been very excited to try out and experiment on new kid-friendly recipes. You see, the wee prince is all set to start preschool at the end of summer and I’m beside myself thinking up ideas on what I can pack for his lunch boxes.

When I think of kid-friendly recipes, what comes to my mind is anything but the usual nuggets & fries. To me personally, food catered to kids needs to be nutritious as well as tasty. I also believe in serving up a variety of foods and flavours and introducing them to different cuisines. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking and make you spend hours on end by a stove. You can easily make a tasty, healthy and quick meal for you child with anything you have on hand. All it takes is a little creativity and practice.

Instant noodles is a staple in probably every pantry that exists. As much as we all like to shun it for its’ lack of health benefits, we can’t deny that we’ve all spent at least some part of our lives going through packets of them. No doubt, they definitely are a quick and budget-friendly solution to dinner time. But just because we are in a time or money crunch, doesn’t mean that we can’t look out for our health and especially our kids’. I have to admit, a few packets of ramen often find their way into my shopping cart each month, but I’m happy to say that when I serve up a plate of these instant noodles, I know that no harm is being done to my family. I always throw out the sodium laden seasoning sachet that it comes with and add in a ton of fresh veggies to amp up the nutritional value of the meal.

Ask almost any kid, and they’ll agree that noodles of any form is one of their all time favourite foods. Baby Dear is no different. Which is why, this recipe is just perfect as a hearty snack when they walk in the door all tired and hungry after playing at the park, or to pack in their lunch once the school year begins.
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The Budding Foodie: Minty Paneer Pulao

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.
Looking back a couple of years from now, I can only smile when I think of how naive I was as a new mom. I had this crazy idea in my head that, being the ardent food lover and advocate of good eating that I am, my ‘lil guy would turn out to be a food connoisseur in the making. I had visions of us carrying huge baskets filled to the brim with fresh fruits and veggies while we discussed how they were organically and locally grown, all the while meeting and greeting the growers themselves at farmer’s markets throughout the summer. I dreamed of Sunday nights where we were all seated at the table enjoying a wholesome spread of slow cooked dishes with family and friends. I got giddy with excitement when I planned out what my weekly menus would look like – a three course meal laden with seasonal ingredients – all fresh, from scratch. And all this, with Baby Dear by my side nodding in agreement as I explained the benefits of everything we put into our mouths.

Baby Dear is growing, and fast. He is at that wonderful age where anything and everything piques his interest. He wants to know what, how and why; and won’t give up asking till he’s satisfied with your answers. Today, our life is anything but. Our summer flew by in a whirlwind, what with family visiting, impromptu weekend trips and lots of fun in between. We didn’t make it to even ONE farmer’s market this year, although, we did go strawberry picking where Baby Dear had a wonderful time filling his basket with biggest, juiciest and freshest strawberries he could find. We even stepped up our container gardening this year and added 4 kinds of chillies, red and green peppers and lettuce along with 2 kinds of cherry tomatoes. So while exchanging pleasantries with our local farmers was not something we could conjure up time for, Baby Dear happily went about his task of plucking fresh red tomatoes from our backyard for salads throughout the week.

When I think of it, it was quite silly of me to think that I could even manage a fresh cooked meal each night of the week let alone a 3-course one. Many days, I still haven’t got a clue of what dinner will look like while Hubby Dear is on his way driving home from work. It’s on days like these that I thank the freezer Gods, whip out that bag of multi-grain chicken nuggets, slice up some fresh veggies, toast some bread and call it a sandwich night! And in all this, Baby Dear still managed to grow into a healthy, adventurous eater, and for that I couldn’t be more thankful. So I guess I must be doing something right after all!

Let me tell you something about Baby Dear and his palate. This wee little guy is nothing if not bold with his flavour pairings. Like any toddler, he loves his burgers – but with tons of mustard and pepper, hold the pickles please! He prefers sharp cheddar cheese to the regular processed yellow stuff you get for snacking. He enjoys his macaroni laced with hefty spoonfuls of pesto and gorges on hummus by the ladle. And garlic? Well, the more the better in his books! So needless to say, it wasn’t a big surprise when he declared his love for Biryani – even braving the super spicy takeout version with copious sips of water in between spoonfuls. So much so, that we even celebrated his birthday recently with my Mom making a Gulliver-sized pot of lamb Biryani. Her plan was for there to be enough leftover for him to enjoy again. And boy did he, for the next two days, lunch and dinner!

Although I pride myself in cooking a meal Indian meal of any form, there are few dishes that I that simply shrug at. Mostly because they are either too time consuming or require ingredients that force me to drive around town for. Biryani, for me, is just one of those dishes that I’d rather get takeout. It’s laborious to begin with, and I simply can’t find the patience to cook up a pot. But I do love my Biryani as much as Baby Dear, and have been known to crave it for days on end. It’s for days like these that I came up with this recipe. Now, while this is nothing close to the real thang, it’s an amazing addition to your repertoire. Use it when you want that something rich and comforting, yet have less time on your hands. Try it out and let me know what you think.

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What to Cook: Quick, Healthy Weeknight Meal

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

So… in my last post I had asked you all to come clean and tell me what you’d like me to write/change/do on the blog; and I loved reading all the comments and personal emails that I received from you. A lot of you (almost everyone that wrote in, actually) said that you’d like to see more frequent posts from me. And boy did I hear ya! I had just received my new Erin Condren planner a few days prior, and immediately set to work on my blog editorial calendar. I mapped out posts I have stockpiled as drafts, and dedicated days to developing, cooking and testing new recipes. So keep those emails and comments coming in and let me know what kind of recipes you’d like me to dish out. One of the emails I received came from Supriya, who had this to say:

Hi Meena, I’ve been a long time reader of your blog and have enjoyed a ton of your recipes. Many of them appear on my dinner table on a weekly basis and have become family favourites. Although I’m proud that my kids enjoy and readily eat almost anything I put on their plates, they’ve recently started to get a bit fussy when it comes to dinner. They’ve been requesting pasta a lot lately, and while I do indulge them most times, I’m not too happy about serving them a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs each week. I’d like to try something more whole with a ton of veggies. They do enjoy eggplant and spinach lasagna, but frankly I need something that is quick, simple and delicious! Can you help? An over-worked mom, Supriya

Well Supriya, first off, let me congratulate you on having such good eaters as kids. If your kids will readily relish a helping of eggplant and spinach lasagna – that’s half the battle won! Personally, I love having pasta on my weekly meal rotation as well. Let’s face it – it’s fast, easy, and with a little creativity, can be made wholesome as well. I made this recipe sometime ago for a surprise b’day party I threw Hubby Dear. It was one of the sides with the main Eggplant Parmesan dish I made. The crowd loved it, and needless to say, Hubby and Baby Dear as well! It’s quite easy to prep and can be enjoyed either warm or cold. I’ve made with various pasta shapes (macaroni being Baby Dear’s favourite, and rotini or penne, ours), and whatever veggies I have on hand. Give it a try, and I’m sure you and your family will keep asking for more!

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A Day in the Life: Quick Fried Rice

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

As much as I’d like to show to the world what a Super Mom and Power Girl I am, having everything under control all of the time is far from it. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the days that Baby Dear is whisked off to daycare bright and early in the morning. These are the days where I can run errands, get most of my freelance work done and enjoy a cuppa ‘Joe with my feet up at 3PM. Tuesdays and Thursdays, we take it easy and have fun by going to the library for story time, watching a lot of Disney Jr., and just playing and doing mundane things around the house! Of course, no two days of mine are ever alike. Here is just a glimpse of what my Monday looked like:

7:45 – Drove Baby Dear off to daycare.
8:45-9:45 – Headed to the gym and worked out for an hour while watching CityLine.
10:00 – Took a shower, made the bed, started a load of laundry and prepared breakfast.
10:30-1:30 – Sat down to a working breakfast while catching up on emails and other blog related things on my to-do list.
1:30 – Made a quick bite to eat from last night’s leftovers and watched some Food TV.
2:00-3:00 – Quick clean up around the house, another load of laundry, checked on emails and a to-do list for tomorrow.
3:00-4:00 – Sat down to my afternoon cup of coffee with some delicious homemade chocolate-oatmeal cookies, while I worked on a few blog posts for the upcoming week.
4:00-4:30 – Prepped for dinner.
4:45 – Off to pick up Baby Dear while battling the crazy weather!
5:30 – Finally home, changed into jammies and settled Baby Dear with his toys while I prepped his dinner.
6:30 – Fed Baby Dear his dinner of Spinach Parathas, Dal and Baingan Bharta.
6:45-7:30 – Snuggled on the couch with Baby Dear; he watches some TV and I read a new cookbook I just received in the mail.
7:30 – Hubby Dear swoops in, Baby Dear jumps to greet his daddy and follows him upstairs to get changed while I heat up andset the table for dinner.
8:00 – We all sit down to a family dinner. Yes, Baby Dear is on dinner #2!
8:30-9:30 – Hubby Dear and Baby Dear are whisked away from the kitchen and spend some quality play time while I clean up the kitchen, pack Hubby Dear’s lunch and run the dishwasher. I almost never turn off the lights until my kitchen counters and sink are empty and clean; makes starting off the next morning so much more peacefully!
9:30 – We’re off upstairs to read Baby Dear his bed time story and tuck him in.
9:45 – We drag our feet to bed. Hubby Dear does a final check on his emails for the nightand I catch up on some TV or Youtube. We both then pick up our reading material of choice, he’s currently on a Sherlock Holmes kick and I go through my never-ending blog feeds. Within minutes, it’s lights off!

Wow! Just typing that out makes me want to take a nap. But it’s Wednesday today – Baby’s day out and Mommy’s day to attend her weekly cooking class. It’ll probably be mid-afternoon by the time I’m home and not much time left to prep a big dinner before I have to leave to pick up my ‘lil prince. Day like these are perfect for a quick one-dish meal that’s got a little of everything in it. This Fried Rice is what’s for our dinner tonight. This is another easy breezy recipe that hardly takes anytime at all and can be put together in minutes. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve cooked this up at the end of a long tiring day. And it never fails to please me!

So tell me, what do you feed your family on a busy day?

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