About Me

Hello. I started this blog to write about what I do in my chosen profession : a housewife. Some day I might cook or bake something interesting and enlist my 2 year old to help, on another day I make something from scratch instead of buying it from the store and sometimes I craft with my daughter. Once in a while, we travel or have a fun day outside. I am also doing what I can to recycle and reduce waste. I am still learning all of this and documenting my journey through this blog

Recreating Turtle Empanadas : Empanadas filled with chocolate, caramel and walnuts

I have been wanting to recreate Turtle empanadas ever since I tasted them at a popular Mexican eatery called "On the Border", back in Charlotte. That was over 3 years ago. They had, apparently, discontinued the dessert when we went there again. That made us pretty sad.

It was just last month, for our 10th wedding anniversary, that I finally made up my mind to try it out. It was pretty close tastewise, as far as our memory serves. Mine were just somewhat smaller than the ones at On the Border.

Empanadas plated up to look pretty!
I made all the components before hand, then assembled and baked the empanadas the day of our anniversary. Instead of regular caramel, I made dulche de leche one day. I really wanted to try making it for its unique preparation method. I made chocolate sauce the next day and the dough on the third day. Finally every thing came together to make a beautiful dessert.

Dulche de leche
recipe source : CakesAndMore.in
Dulche de leche in a tin
I really loved the taste. It reminded me a little bit of brown pedha. Quite delicious in itself!

400 gm tin sweetned condensed milk *
  • Remove any plastic lids from the condensed milk tin. Place the tin lying down (not standing up) in a pressure cooker filled with enough water to cover the tin.
  • Pressure cook for about 25 minutes. Let the pressure cooker cool down on its own.
  • Remove the tin from the cooled pressure cooker and leave it to cool down overnight. The dulche de leche in a tin will be ready when the tin is completely cool.
I used Amul Mithai Mate

Chocolate sauce
recipe source : averiecooks.com
Chocolate sauce
It is intensly chocolatey, silky smooth and lusciously creamy.

200 ml Cream *
3/4 cup corn syrup substitute *
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp salted butter
2 tsp vanilla
  • Combine cream, corn syrup substitute, brown sugar and cocoa powder in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a light boil while stirring frequently.
  • Add half of the cocolate chips to the cream mixture. Boil on low flame for about 8 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in the rest of the chocolate chips, butter and vanilla.
  • Let it cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools. It thickens quite a bit, when stored in the fridge.
  • I used Amul fresh cream tetrapack
  • I used this recipe to make corn syrup substitute, but I used lemon juice instead of cream of tartar.
  • The sauce can be microwaved to thin it out a bit before using, if required, for example on icecream.

Empanada dough
recipe source : mycolombianrecipes.com

2 1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
100 gm amul butter
1 egg
1/4 cup cold water
  • Mix flour and salt in the food processor.
  • Add small cubes of cold, hard butter and process till the cubes break up a bit.
  • Add the egg and process briefly to incorporate.
  • Slowly add cold water and process to mix everything together.
  • Take the dough out of the food processor and squish together into a ball.
  • Refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours before rolling out the empanadas.

Turtle Empanada

Turtle Empanada
1/4 portion chocolate sauce from recipe above
about 1/2 tin dulche de leche
1/4 cup toasted walnut, chopped into small pieces
1 portion empanada douch from the recipe above
  • Roll out the cold empanada dough on a floured surface (eg. a big plate). The dough needs to be rolled out thin (about 1/2 cm).
  • Cut out circles from the rolled dough using a glass or a bowl.
  • Place about 1/2 spoonful each of chocolate sauce and dulche de leche in the center, depending on how big the circle is. Sprinkle a few walnut pieces on top. Do not fill a lot in the empanada otherwise it will be difficult to seal.
  • Fold the circles over to make semi circles. Press down the edges to seal the filling.
  • Place the empanadas in the refrigerator for 30 mins or freezer for 15 minutes. Once they are cold again. Seal properly with a fork.
  • Bake in a preheated oven at 200 C for 15 minutes.
  • Roll in cinnamon sugar when still warm.
Notes :
  • Traditionally pecans are used instead of walnuts. It is difficult to find pecans here, so I used walnuts instead.
  • Instead of chocolate sauce, plain chocolate chips can be used. It might work even better since the chocolate sauce thins out when hot.

Food for life

In this short article, I present my take on what "Food for life" means to me.

You might have heard that there are two types of people in this world : those who live to eat and those who eat to live. These two types are not as mutually exclusive as they seem. Infact, I consider myself as both of those types. I love to eat and food is a big part of my life but at the same time, I believe it is important to eat food which supports life; food that helps the body to function at its best. I look at it as thanking the body for all it does for me.
We and our children see food all around us. The children are bombarded with cola blasts and soupy noodles everytime they turn on their favourite cartoon, which usually is Chota Bheem :) This constant food imagery makes it hard, even for adults, to cue in on their hunger.
If we can learn to listen to your body, it can really tell us what, when and how much food it wants. Yesterday, my body was ravenous. I needed bits of food all through the day. I wanted rice for dinner and something sweet. I listened to my body and made kadhi chawal. Then I ate a small scoop of mango icecream. No guilt, please. On normal days, I love to eat rotis. I hardly ever snack except for some fruit in the evening. Although, this is easier said than done, just tune into your body. It definitely takes work to listen to the body and break the old habits. I am still working on it everyday.
We need to go back to loving and respecting our food, not being afraid of it; looking at food as the supporter of life; enjoying food and giving our body what it needs.

My 2 cents on the topic of weight-loss

I am trying my hand at writing articles on specific topics. These posts are going to be a little different from my earlier posts which are recipe or craft based. Feel free to skip if they do not interest you.

It seems like the whole world is looking for that “perfect” weight loss formula. If you were to ask any random person on the street whether they would like to lose weight, odds are that almost everyone would be willing to change their weight. Although for some people it is in their mind, a greater percentage of people really are overweight.

There is a whole weight loss industry, valued at around $60 million, built around this need for losing weight. People, eager for weight loss, are faced with a wide variety of choices : from pills, supplements, shakes, powders, belts to small machines which work on vibration. Most of these products have little to no evidence supporting their claim to weight loss, leave alone their potential side effects. Surgeons have also done their bit to help people lose weight by promoting bariatric surgery on obese people. These surgical procedures of gastric bypass and gastric banding are on the rise in recent years.

There are several reasons why people are overweight in the first place. Sometimes the reasons can be medical like under-active thyroid, PCOS, among others. In most cases, however, the reasons are much simpler and easily avoidable.

  1. The food you eat
Diet is the most important factor to consider when thinking about weight. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is key for a healthy body. It doesn't mean “going on a diet”, which might possibly be the worst thing to do for weight loss. These fad diets might make you lose weight temporarily, but it all comes back, with interest, when you slip from your diet or stop the diet.
A balanced diet, with proper proportions of all food groups – protein, carbohydrate, fats, vitamins and minerals, is the best for your body and for your weight. Think about the way your grandmother fed you. Chances are, you will find it was a perfectly balanced meal.
Along with what to eat, you also need to focus on how much of it to eat, aka, portion size. If you find yourself getting up from your meals feeling overstuffed, this tip might be most helpful for you. To figure out the portion size for your body, start with a smaller portion than what you would normally eat on your plate. Eat slowly, savor the taste. Pause and think if you need a second portion. Also remember to leave a little space in your stomach for better digestion.
You might also need to forget your parents advice of cleaning the plate. It is okay to leave the last two bites on the plate if your stomach tells you it is full. Practice listening to your stomach and eat only how much it takes to be a little less than full. You can always eat a small snack later if you feel hungry.
The topic of food and weight loss cannot be complete without mentioning low fat food and junk food. Even if the food might be labeled low fat, it can still have a high number of calories. The food manufacturers need to replace the missing fat with something else, usually sugar and salt, to make up for the lack in taste. It is easy to be fooled by the label and eat the food thinking it is not going to make me fat. A general rule of thumb to remember is : If it was made in a factory, it is probably not the best food for your body. Eat real food not processed junk food. It is called junk food for a reason. It has zero nutrition and more calories. Shift your thinking from a calorie view point to a nutrition view point. Before eating something, ask “Does this food provide me with enough nutrition to justify the amount of calories in it? Can I replace it with something more nutritious?”

If you get used to eating clean, real, unprocessed food, you are already on track for a healthy weight and a healthy body.

  1. Inactive lifestyle
Exercise is the second important factor for weight loss. People think they are too busy to find time to exercise and look for other ways to achieve weight loss. But there really is no substitute for exercise. Schedule time in your day for being active. Exercise doesn't have to be intimidating or boring. Anything which makes you active is exercise. Find something that you like and that you can look forward to doing everyday. Going for a walk with a friend, a dance class, yoga and swimming are all fun to do, if you are the type who hates gym. Just 30 minutes of being active per day will have a tremendous effect on your well being. Apart from the obvious weight loss benefit, you will feel more fresh and energized.
Think whether you really need to watch TV for the amount of time that you do?; do you really need to surf that long? These activities add to the inactive time in your day. Converting some of this inactive time into active time will let you reap the benefits of exercise.
  1. Stress
Stress has become an intrinsic part of today’s lifestyle. Stress at work, stress at home and stress due to work-life balance. It all comes a full circle. Stress releases hormones in our body which can make us very hungry. Even worse, foods high in sugar, salt and fat make us feel better in these times. This becomes an addictive response to everyday stress.
We can take control of our body's response to stress and stop weight gain due to stress. Moving your body, going for a walk, when you feel stress building up, will diffuse it without the need for junk food. If you still feel a craving, give in but watch the portion size. A small piece of chocolate might do the trick.
Practicing yoga and meditation is an age old way of calming your mind and relieving stress. Over time, your mind will become generally calmer and less stressful if you practice meditation everyday.
  1. Lack of sleep
Getting a good 7-8 hours of restful sleep is vital for an energized body and brain. Not getting enough sleep releases hormones which interfere with our ability to judge our hunger and make us eat more. Moreover, a tired brain looks for rewards which are easy to get from junk food. We cannot make the best choices when we are tired and give into the junk food and caffeine craving. Lack of sleep also makes us more susceptible to stress which is a weight gain factor in itself.
Make getting sleep a priority just like exercise. Do not surf, watch TV or read an interesting book right before bedtime. It is better to do some deep breathing or breathing exercises along with a round of meditation to calm the mind and get restful sleep.
Eating a big, heavy meal at dinner or drinking tea/coffee in the evening or drinking alcohol close to bed time also interferes with sleep. Try to create a good wind down routine and keep bed times regular.
  1. Medication
There are some medications you might be taking which cause weight gain. Steroids used to treat conditions like asthma, eczema, arthritis among others cause weight gain. Other medications like anti-depressants and insulin for diabetes also cause weight gain. Sometimes, oral contraceptives can cause weight gain. It is best to consult your doctor if you think your medication might be causing weight gain. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly is always a good way to counteract the effects of weight gain due to medication.
  1. Aging and Menopause
After the age of 30, your body starts the aging process. The muscles start depleting while the body fat increases. Particularly after 40, this causes your weight to creep up. Muscles burn energy while fat cells do not.
Menopause causes estrogen levels to drop in the body. Lack of estrogen is shown to increase body fat. It can also reduce the body's ability to use starch and sugars effectively resulting in increased body fat. The changing ratio of fat to muscle and the effect of drop in estrogen levels makes it even harder to lose weight as we age.
Even so, this does not mean we have to resign to our fate and accept the weight gain. Proactively making lifestyle changes before hitting 40 would help stave off the weight gain. However, all is not lost after 40. Anytime you start exercising, your body will respond positively. Strength training helps build muscles, which counter the depleting muscles due to aging and the resulting weight gain. Eating more consciously as you age will also help counter weight gain. You cannot keep eating the same amount as you did a decade ago.

You might have heard some people blaming their excess weight on their slow metabolism. Metabolism is the rate at which your body uses energy. Energy is used by all our bodily functions like breathing, digestion etc. That is our basal metabolic rate. People with a higher metabolic rate burn more energy (calories) than people with a lower metabolic rate.
Healthy muscles use up more energy since they have more mitochondria which provide energy to the muscle. The more mitochondria our muscles have, the more energy they burn. Aerobic exercise is said to increase the number of mitochondria in our muscles. It works on the same principle as demand and supply. The more we use our muscles through aerobic exercise, the more energy they need and hence they create more mitochondria. Doing interval training, where a short burst (eg. 30 sec) of high intensity alternates with a longer period (eg. 2 minutes) of lower intensity, makes the muscle work even harder, thereby increasing metabolism.
Building more muscle is another way to rev up metabolism. Strength training at least 2 days a week helps build muscles. This is particularly helpful as we age. Muscles tend to deplete as we age, like discussed before, resulting in lower metabolic rates in older people. But if they include strength training in their routine, they can preserve their muscle mass and reap the benefits of increased metabolism.
Some other ways to power up your metabolism are :
  • Do not diet to the point of starving by taking in too little calories. It will trick your body to go into famine mode and your metabolism will drop.
  • Do not skip breakfast. It wakes up your metabolism and keeps it going through the day.
  • Eat 5-6 small meals a day because it keeps the blood sugars steady throughout the day and is said to increase metabolism.
  • Some foods like green tea and fish oil supplements are also said to increase metabolism.

There are hundreds of weight loss products and techniques out there, but if you really get down to the basics, it is all about nutrition and exercise. Committing to a lifestyle of real, clean food and regular exercise is best for a healthy body.



Recipes tried

I am currently in pantry cleaning mode. So, I have tried out a lot of recipes this past two weeks. I had bookmarked some of them for maybe a year now and I finally tried them out.

Gingerbread Cookies

The daughter saw an episode of Care Bears making gingerbread cookies and since that day, she had been insisting I make them. She even told me the recipe : ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger, molasses and flour. Thats a good enough recipe for a 3 year old. I followed the King Arthur flour recipe This recipe makes real tasty cookies! A great balance of spice and sweet and a good crisp to soft ratio. The dough needs to be kept cold at all times otherwise it will turn into a sticky mess real fast. I made the dough the previous night and stuck it in the fridge in a covered container and pulled it out of the fridge about half an hour before rolling to make it manageable to roll. The dough still has to be cold to touch. I rolled it out on parchment paper with a piece of plastic wrap on top.
The daughter loved cutting out shapes with the cookie cutter. After arranging the cookie shapes on the parchment lined baking sheet, I stuck it in the freezer for 5 minutes to firm them up.
I needed to bake them about 10 minutes. Cooled on the sheet for a couple of minutes and then onto the wire rack to finish cooling.

Milk Peda

I had some milk powder to use up, possibly bought for the purpose of trying this Peda recipe. It had been sitting around for so long, I can hardly remember.
I cannot really say I followed the recipe because I did not have the right quantities of ingredients. I first mixed about a tablespoon of butter, 1 1/2 cups of milk powder and half a container (about a cup) of condensed milk. The mix did make pedas which some people did like but I was not happy about the dryness.
So I crumbled all the pedas leftover from the test batch and added regular milk enough to make a paste consistency and microwaved again (about 5 minutes) till I got a rollable consistency. This time, the pedas were exactly like store-bought pedas. So, to cut the long story short, follow the recipe and make a nice paste with enough condensed milk to get great pedas in the first try. I also added some cardamom powder and some good quality milk masala to the milk paste for a great flavor. The milk powder is a bit smelly while cooking so these aromatics are really key to a great taste.

Mango Icecream

I had half a container of whipping cream leftover from the Strawberry cream cake. I froze the cream to use later. I finally decided to use it in this icecream recipe. It is such an easy recipe and whipping the cream seemed like a good idea to avoid crystallization that is common in homemade icecream. But defrosted cream doesnt whip up well. So I just whipped it as much as it would, without turning into butter and then mixed in an equal amount of condensed milk and some vanilla. I froze it for a few hours. It tasted quite good and much like kulfi. But the lack of air (due to unwhipped cream) to break up all the fat, made the icecream too heavy and rich. So I blended the icecream with about a cup of frozen alphonso mango pulp that was lying in the freezer. What I ended up with was the most addictive mango icecream. It was completely devoid of crystals and very smooth and creamy.

Date Cake

It was our friend's wedding anniversary. I wanted to make a quick cake at the last minute. Going with the pantry chow down theme happening, I had some dates to use up. I made this eggless date cake recipe with a few changes. I increased the quantity of dates to 25 instead of 18 and used brown sugar instead of white. I also used only 1/2 cup of sugar instead of 3/4. Also, used 1/4 cup of walnuts instead of a tablespoon. I am pretty sure the cake would work well with whole wheat flour. I would have tried it but since it was for a special occassion, I went with all purpose flour. Maybe next time. The other important thing about this cake is that it is really delicate. I learnt the hard way to let the cake cool down in the pan before attempting to remove it.

Snack time - Date ladoo with nuts and seeds, Oven roasted Chivda

Recently our snack stock ran out. I decided to restock it with some healthy snacks. One for the sweet tooth and the other for the savory.

No Sugar Date ladoo with chia seeds
Dates provide all the sweetness for this ladoo. They are sweet and full of fiber and nutrition. The nuts and seeds provide crunch and substance while providing good fats.

1 cup dates
1 1/2 cup mixed nuts and seeds *
4 cardamom pods
  • Soak nuts like almonds and walnuts in water for about 2 hours. This makes them easier to digest.
  • Peel and chop. This is a time consuming process. This step can be done a day ahead. Using a nut chopper or food processor will make it a whole lot easier.
  • Boil some water. Barely cover the dates with the boiling water in a container. Cover and leave aside for 15 minutes. This softens the dates. This step is optional if you have a food processor. Since I used the blender, I took this extra step.
  • Blend a little bit of dates at a time in the blender till coarsely blended.
  • Mix together the dates, chopped nuts and powdered cardamom seeds and roll the mixture into tiny balls. These need to be stored in the refrigerator due to the water used for dates. They easily last atleast a month in the fridge.
  • Any nuts or seeds that you have on hand can be used. Here are the seeds and nuts I used:
    • 1/2 cup almonds
    • 1/2 cup walnuts
    • 1/4 cup cashews
    • 1/4 cup pistachios
    • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
    • 1/4 cup chia seeds
    • 1 tbsp poppy seeds
    Chia seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition and full of omega-3, fiber and protein.
  • If you have a food processor, it greatly speeds up the process. Just chop the nuts in the food processor first. Remove. Chop dates. Add back the nuts and cardamom powder and process till it comes together. Roll into balls.

Oven roasted Chivda
Instead of frying or roasting on stove top which requires active effort of mixing, I prefer to roast the chivda ingredients in the oven. It practically makes itself without much effort.

3 cups puffed rice + puffed wheat
2 cups cereal (wheat flakes, corn flakes etc)
1/8 cup oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp chopped curry leaves
1/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup pistachios
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup peanuts
1/4 cup daliya (roasted chana dal)
1/4 cup raisins and dried berries
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chivda masala
1/2 tsp amchoor powder
1 tsp sugar
  • Combine puffed rice, puffed wheat and cereal in a large baking tray. Roast for 10 minutes in a 350F oven. Stir once midway.
  • Heat oil and add the mustard seeds, asafoetida, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, coriander seeds, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, turmeric and curry leaves.
  • Add the nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, daliya and sunflower seeds). Let them roast for about 4 minutes. They need to be crunchy.
  • Add the raisins and dried berries. Add the salt, sugar, chivda masala and amchoor powder.
  • Switch off the flame and mix everything.
  • Add the flavorings in the oil to the baking tray with roasted cereals and mix together with your hands so everything is evenly distributed.
  • Puffed wheat is optional. I just used it as I had some on hand.
  • I have also used a combination of cereals like corn flakes, wheat flakes and alphabet cereal.
  • You do not have to use all the seeds (coriander, sesame etc) in the seasoning. Use what you like or have on hand. The same goes for the nuts. I just use them for the added nutrition and taste. Use what you like and have.
  • I had some chivda masala lying around. If you do not have it, just add a little bit of chili powder if you like a little spice in the chivda.
  • I chop curry leaves so that they are eaten and not removed from the dish while eating. Why waste nutrition when you can get it. :)