May 27, 2014

Veggie Quesadilla

Hello Hello !! How are things going at your end? Here, Spring and summer has taken on in full swing with mild showers now and then, so we're trying to enjoy every bit of sunshine as much as possible. Our entire weekends are pre-planned and pre-booked with parties or outings and it's come to a point where I would like a weekend after the weekend :-) And I've also been busy making few more theme based cakes for my friend's kids b'days and other events...can't wait to share it all with you here.

With weekends being busy there's not much time left for cooking on certain days so quesadillas have become a quick fix meal of late. Quesadilla is a Mexican dish made using flour or corn tortilla filled with any savory filling and some cheese and cooked until the cheese melts and the tortilla turns crispy on the outside.
The filling can be anything of choice like chicken, beef, pork, fish,egg, black beans, all kinds of veggies etc along with some cheese. Taco seasonings or chilli paste can be used to flavor the quesadilla. It can be eaten with salsa, guacamole, sour cream or even with just plain ketchup!

Last year around this time, along with some of our close friends and my parents (who were here last summer) we had gone for a weekend trip to Wisconsin Dells. The occassion was mainly to celebrate Avyay, my lil'Appu's best pal's 2nd b'day....I had made this Funfetti Cake for the same.
Avyay's parents had rented a lovely wooden cabin near to a water park. The plan was to spend the weekend in the cabin and to enjoy the water-park for which we had a one-day pass. Some of our friends are pure vegetarians so we decided to keep the food vegetarian and had packed up all kinds of veggie food and boy was there a plethora of items. All of us being foodies in our own ways, we cooked up some gigantic breakfasts and had some awesome dinner meals. From grilled sandwiches, to scrambled eggs, veg biriyani to cream n veggie filled sandwiches, haldiram snacks to plenty of fruits, juice, tea/coffee, we ate n drank to our hearts content! Here are a few pics to show the variety and it was simply lip-smacking good. And my mom n dad were ever ready to taste everything :-)

Now on the day after having spent an entire day at the water park, everyone was too tired to even think of making dinner, when one of our friend, Nirmal, came with this quick fix veggie quesadilla. He made them using spinach Tortillas, a can of refried beans paste and some veggies and cheese and it was so good that everyone was too busy eating and yet too tired to think of taking a snap to remember the yummy meal ! So I told him that I'll make it again for sure and take snaps :)

So a few weeks later after coming home I decided to try the quesadilla at home myself. My dad was also there to help me with the making. He had also loved the veggie quesadilla that Nirmal made and wanted to try some more. Have I told you how much a foodie my dad is. He loves to cook and loves to eat and being diabetic he eats very moderately but never ceases to enjoy a good meal. I totally miss him and my mom this summer and I'm waiting for the next time they'll come to visit us :-) Oh! and along with the quesadilla we also had some grilled corn and grilled tandoori chicken....mmm, that was one yummy lunch from last summer.

This Veggie Quesadilla is totally worth making. I have made it several times, even when I've invited guests over for dinner. It's filling, healthy and so easy to make. It's best served hot when its still crispy on the outside and the cheese is soft and melted. The veggies are placed raw in the filling and they become ever so mildly soft yet still retaining their crunch after cooking the quesadilla. I'm forever thankful to our friend Nirmal for this awesome recipe and trust me, I just ate one for dinner today as I type this post.

Veggie Quesadilla
Serves 4 to 6 

You'll Need
Tortilla (flour or corn or spinach tortillas) - 6 or 8 **
Can of Refried beans (I used Old el paso brand)
Veggies: Red/Green bell pepper, Red Onions - thinly sliced , a cup each
Taco seasoning mix
Shredded Mozerella Cheese - 1 cup
Shredded Cheddar Cheese - 1 cup
Salt, Pepper - to taste
Maagi Hot n Sour Tomato ketchup (optional)

1. Prep all the ingredients and keep it ready. Place the tortilla on a clean and dry plate or board.
2. Spread out a generous tablespoon(s) of refried bean paste over the tortilla. On top of this place the sliced veggies as much as preferred.
3. Sprinkle on top with taco seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add the shredded mozerella and cheddar cheese over the veggies.
5. If you prefer some spice add a few drops of Maagi Hot n Sour tomato ketchup on top of the cheese. I sometimes even use Chilli-Garlic sauce. (this is optional, but even a little bit adds a burst of flavor)
6. Place another tortilla over the top. Heat a flat non-stick skillet or cast iron girdle and place the quesadilla on the pan. Cook until it browns on one side. Flip and cook until the other side also browns well and the cheese has melted.
7. Cut into quarter sized wedges, by cutting the quesadilla in half and then again in half using a pizza cutter or sharp knife and enjoy it warm with salsa, guacamole and sour cream or just ketchup.

** 6 Tortillas will make 3 full round Quesadillas which will give 12 quarter wedges
     8 Tortillas will make 4 full round Quesadillas which will give 16 quarter wedges 

1. It might be easier to make the quesadilla using one tortilla where all the filling is added to one half of the tortilla and folded over in half moon shape and cooked on skillet.
2. If you like, you can spread the refried beans paste on both tortillas and add more cheese.

Daddy enjoyed slicing the quesadilla into quarters on our kitchen counter (which was clean btw) and he happily enjoyed several slices of the quesadilla along with Manish and my mom. 

This post brought back so many good memories of last years summer with my parents here and of course the awesome trip we had with our friends. Food brings back memories, doesn't it...hehe!! Try this out and I hope you'll let me know too when you do.


May 14, 2014

Thomas the train and Friends Cake for a little boy's birthday!

I love making theme cakes. My friend 'S' had suggested that I make her son's 4th b'day cake almost a year before and it must be mentioned that she had never tasted any of my cakes when she gave me the opportunity! Just few glances at the cakes on my blog and that was enough for her.... :-)

Initially there was a slight confusion whether to keep a 'Cars' themed party or 'Thomas the Train' themed one, but Sanav is a huge fan of Thomas the Train and everytime we asked him for his choice he came back to his favorite finally that's what the theme was decided to be.

Sanav loves Chocolate Cake with Chocolate buttercream, so the cake flavor was set.
As the decorations were left to me I started thinking of suitable color combos...I basically wanted a spring-summery look, with the trains running over grassy lands with bright blue skies and hills and trees etc. And ofcourse a tunnel is a very cute and important addition for train themed cakes - all trains will pass through atleast one tunnel wherever they go right :-)

I baked the chocolate cakes and frosted them with homemade chocolate buttercream, then made my own marshmallow fondant and used Grass Green gel color for the bottom tier fondant and Royal blue gel color for the top tier fondant. The cakes were 10"x4" and 8"x4" each.

Some of the details on the cake included :
The pretty balloons in a cute little basket to symbolize the birthday me, the kids were just behind me to give them a slice with these balloons and finally I had to give each individual balloon to individual kids so that they don't fight...Lol!

The black tunnel with a red brick wall, the number 4 symbolizing the b'day boys age. The train tracks interlocking from both ends to merge into one track that goes into the tunnel

Railway crossing sign boards on both sides of the tunnel. I also included a tunnel with a stone wall that was shut-down on bottom tier.

Then there were bushes, trees with red fruit, small mountains and some black birds....

And our Thomas Train on top watching his friends speed away and the clouds and the handsome Sun smiling on him. I wrote Happy Birthday and Sanav's name on the clouds.

Thomas and his train friends are toys (I'm not good at modeling figurines), rest everything on the cake is edible. And this was the first time I painted some of the cut outs with gel colors for a more vibrant look.

May I humbly say, the cake was a super-hit. Everyone loved the cake and it was totally worth the sleepless nights I had to finish this cake despite not keeping too well that week.

Here's the happy and smiley b'day boy totally enjoying his cake cutting!!

And soon I was busy with cake slicing and serving...hehe! Actually I was surrounded by kids waiting for a slice with a tree or balloon or tunnel or train track ;-)

Making a cake is always fun and a lot of work....Lol! But it's so worth it in the end....
It was such a fun b'day party and I'm glad I could make this cake and the happy faces around me makes me do this more and more.

Lots more to share in upcoming posts, so keep coming back.

Until next time...take care and have fun!


May 9, 2014

Lauki Biriyani (BottleGourd Biriyani)

Lauki or Bottlegourd is a quite an under-used veggie in my household. We eat it not because we really like it, but just for the nutrition it might give our bodies and b'coz its just one of the few other indian veggies we get in the indian stores here. And I'm not at all a fan of buying frozen veggies when you can buy fresh ones unless they are not at all available fresh. 

I very clearly remember the time I first tasted lauki, it was after my dad was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. His blood sugar was just a little off the normal range but that was enough to shake up my mom who was a nurse btw. They both went and met with her hospital dietician and decided on menu plans etc and wanting to make sure his sugar level never goes beyond the normal range she put him and apparently the family included on a strict diet that included sprouted legumes, lots of bitter gourd, whole grains, very less rice, more salads and yes, lauki :-P 

Dal with Lauki was one of the dishes mummy started making where she cut down on salt and oil, even the spices so I must say it wasn't a very tasty first try with Lauki. It had a very mild almost cucumber like taste and did not really appeal to us much. Although daddy's diabetes improved a lot with the diet, our tastebuds never liked Lauki.
To be honest I don't think daddy enjoyed the dal curry much either so he named it 'Kooshmandam Curry'. I have no idea how the term kooshmanadam and lauki are related b'coz the malayalam term for lauki is Churakka, but me & my sis loved the term and used it to tease the veggie and the dish mummy made which was our least favorite! **naughty daddy n his girls** ;-)

It's very recently that I came to know that you can make so many different varieites of dishes with lauki like halwa, kofta, dry subji, paratha, pickles, even lauki juice etc etc. Lauki is very very nutritious and a filling veggie specially for people watching their diets. I have made few of these dishes and they were really good. 

Now last week I came home from work tempted to eat biriyani and had my mind stuck to it so I went ahead anyways. I had no time to defrost the chicken and there was no other veggie in my fridge other than lauki...So Lauki Biriyani was born :-P And until I made this biriyani, I never knew you could make Lauki Biriyani either, so it was a pure experiment and a tasty one at that!

I made it the same way I make my Chicken Biriyani but instead of cooking the masala and rice separately and layering them, I cooked it all together, almost like a Pulav, so mayb you can call this dish a Pulav Biriyani...hehe! 
A one pot meal in no time with no compromise on flavor. The whole dish was ready in perhaps an hour and in time to feed my hungry lil'Appu who really was hungry I must say, coz he ate up the whole plate I served him with some yogurt though he complained it was spicy, but ate it nevertheless :-)

LAUKI (Bottlegourd) BIRIYANI
Recipe Serves - 4 

You'll Need

Lauki (Bottlegourd) - 1 medium sized
Red Onion, chopped finely - 1 large
Ginger-Garlic paste - 1 Tblsp
Cinnamon sticks - 2
Green Cardamom - 3
Cloves - 3
Black Pepper - 5-6
Star Anise - 1
Bay leaves - 1
Canola Oil / Olive Oil - 2 Tblsp
Grind together:
Tomato - 1 large or 2 medium
Cilantro leaves - a handfull
Mint leaves - a handfull
Green chillies - 2 or 3
Yogurt - ½ cup
Masala powders:
Red chilli powder - 1 or 2 tsp
Turmeric powder - ½ tsp
Biriyani masala powder - 1 or 2 tsp (optional)
Corriander powder - 2 tsp
Garam masala - 1 tsp
For the rice:
Basmati Rice (soaked in water for ½ hour) - 2 cups
Water - 4 cups
Salt - to taste

1. Start by washing and then soaking 2 cups of Basmati rice in cold water for half an hour.
2. Wash the Lauki, remove any seeds and chop into bite sized cubes with skin on.
3. Grind together - tomato, mint,cilantro leaves, green chillies and yogurt into a fine paste.
4. In a large pan heat the oil and add the whole spices (Cinnamon sticks,Green Cardamom,Cloves,Black Pepper,Star Anise) and saute until you smell the lovely aroma.
5. Then add ginger-garlic paste and red onions. Add a pinch of salt and let the onions cook until soft.
6. Then add masala powders - Red chilli, turmeric, coriander powder, garam masala and biriyani masala and mix well on medium heat.
7. Add the Lauki, give it a stir and lower the heat and slowly add the tomato-yogurt paste and cook it on low heat until well combined.
8. Increase the heat to medium-high and keep cooking until the gravy thickens or reduces (almost 10-15 mins).
9. Drain the rice and add it to the lauki masala and stir gently.
10. Add 4 cups water, season with salt, stir well and cook it on high flame until the water starts bubbling. Then cover with a lid, reduce heat to medium and cook for 12-15 mins. The rice should be well cooked by this time.
11. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for few mins before serving.

** As the biriyani is spicy, its best served with some cool yogurt or raita!

1. You can also grate the lauki, squeeze out the water and use the water in the biriyani while cooking and add the grated lauki if you prefer.
2. Try to reduce/thicken the gravy as much as possible (in step 8) else when you add water to cook the rice the liquid quantity might be too much, or else reduce water to 3½ cups.
3. If you want to be elaborate, you can garnish the biriyani with fried onions and/or cashew nuts-raisins etc.

The biriyani was superb...spicy and flavorful and the chunky bites of lauki were seasoned with all the spices and it was quite a treat! The skin of the lauki also becomes soft after its cooked. Manish had never tasted lauki biriyani either and he was quite surprised how well it came out... 

It's a quick fix meal, so do try it out and don't forget to share your experience with me :-) 

Oh! and this Sunday is Mother's wishing all the lovely mom's out there a very Happy Mother's Day!!  If it wasn't for my mom I would have never eaten lauki and in turn would have never tried making a biriyani out of it...So this dish is for you Mummy...Muah!! Will make it for you when we come to India next time...hehe!


May 7, 2014

The making of a Full Sheet Cake at home

What a month April had been...phew! Crazy busy and my oven had been baking cakes and goodies non-stop :-) Thankfully all my projects turned out fine and now its time to share them here there'll be back-to-back cakes and treats being posted here. Not a bad thing is it?

A cake as big as a full sheet deserves a full length coverage right? ;-) So here goes...

Earlier last month the regional community that Manish and I are part of conducted a fun competition event just for kids of various age groups. While deciding upon the food, snacks and drinks options I was asked if I could make a Sheet cake for the kids. I have to be honest when I say I just jumped at the opportunity ;-) And another honest fact, I have never even seen how big a full sheet cake is in real life! 
The event named 'Varnolsavam' had a logo competition for the kids for which several kids submitted their entries and one was finally selected as the winning logo and since I couldn't come up with any other interesting ideas I decided to draw the winning logo on top of the cake to symbolize the event. It was a tough call considering how poor an artist I am, but I went ahead with it. 
So today I'll share how I went ahead making a whole sheet cake at home and my fun experience at drawing on a cake. Ready?? :-)

Let's start with some measurement knowledge on sheet cake sizes. I'm talking about the sheet cakes that are atleast 2" high in thickness (not the thin jelly roll sheet cakes)
Quarter sheet cake - 9" x 13" x 2"
One-third sheet cake - 11" x 15"x 2"
Half sheet Cake - 12" x 18" x 2"
Full Sheet Cake - 18" x 24" x 2"

Our regular home ovens are big enough to support upto a half sheet cake pan. So I had to make two half sheets to get my full sheet cake. 

I baked the cakes a day in advance and made around 4 batches of my favorite rich & moist Chocolate cake batter for 1 Half sheet cake, so in total made 8 batches of cake batter for both the half sheet cakes :-) Once baked and cooled, I placed them on their cooling racks itself , wrapped them in foil and refrigerated them. 

Then I made a sturdy Cake base: Used a 2ft x 2ft plywood board and covered it in aluminium foil. Over that I taped together two half sheet cake boards and stuck it on top of the foil-covered plywood board.
The cakes were then carefully placed on the cake board and tightly pressed together (I din't use any buttercream to stick them together)

Then I made my favorite American Vanilla Buttercream. For a cake this huge I needed lots of buttercream. I just did a blind math and decided to make 5 batches of this recipe (Thankfully I decided not to torte and fill the cake....imagine the amount of buttercream I would had to make then!!) 

Buttercream and Cake was ready, now its time to frost this baby....

The below pic is just to show you how big this cake was to frost! It took me a good 1 hr or more to get it quite smooth and straight. I used my offset spatula and later a bench scraper along with hot water for this.

Later piped a neat border with a hot orange shade (mixed orange and lemon yellow gel colors into my vanilla buttercream until I got desired color)

Everything good so far....Next was the daunting task in front of me, paint the logo on this vast cake canvas! 

First let's hear a short-story on my art-skills ;-P
I remember in my 8th grade, we had a very strict arts teacher who was also our PT teacher. It was sure that we would all get negative grades in his arts class as he was never happy with anything we drew. 
But when the final scores came, he gave me the highest marks...ME!! of all the artistic kids in class!  Obviously the kids in my class went scrambling over my arts book to see what extraordinary pictures I had drawn to bag such high grades, and there was nothing even close to extraordinary.....just some colors and some shapes that remotely looked like human beings or cars or trees :-P 
When the kids in my class asked him why I was given the highest grade (now pls imagine me sitting in my seat, looking very very pink, firstly 'coz I was the happiest girl in class and secondly due to a slight shame as some of my classmates din't think I deserved it), he gave the reason that I was the only girl in class who was always punctual with my arts assignments and always neat & tidy with my work. Hmmmmm....nothing to do with my art work I know, but well, that was his reason for giving me the highest grades. My classmates went off mumbling under their breath, totally wanting to disagree with him...but hey, here I am today sharing my only proud 'art' moment...hehe. Otherwise I'm no artist at all and cannot even draw a bird properly! Anyways...

The original logo was beautifully drawn by a talented 12 year old girl, Namitha. The event being a kid's competition event on various activities like dancing, singing, essay writing, painting, coloring, malayalam and english speech etc for kids of ages 3-16 yrs. Namitha beautifully captured the entire essence of the event on her logo and I knew I had to do justice to this gorgeous visualization of hers.

Varnolsavam Logo - drawn by Namitha
I kept pondering a bit as to the best option to draw on a butercream cake , then it struck me...Glitter Gel colors! I din't have all the needed colors so off I sent Manish to get me all the colors on the logo...and he did just as told...hehe!
I used a toothpick to make very mild markings on the cake where each part of the picture went and colored inside it with the gel colors. This was how it looked in the end. Phew! This took me about 2 hrs, considering my drawing skills and the fact that I couldn't risk much ;-)

And just when we thought everything was good we realised that the large box Manish got from Costco to fit the cake wasn't sturdy enough and was too big to fit in our car trunk! Then came our friends to the rescue, they sat down with Manish and re-sized the box and gave it enough padding, converting it to a sturdy cake box, that could bear the weight of the cake and also fit in our car trunk ;-) Thanks to all who helped!!

All things were finally sorted out. Other than a hairline crack in the buttercream that happened while placing the cake into the cake box and finally into the car, there were no other issues and it landed safely at the venue.

The kids were super excited as they crowded around the cake waiting for the cake cutting and ofcourse their slice....Namitha insisted that I also join in the cake cutting and we cut the cake together. Some wanted the slice with orange cream, some wanted a slice with the gel colors , while other's just wanted a big slice ;-) It was a lot of fun and both kids and adults enjoyed the cake, me too! And there was enough cake for more than one serving. And my lil'Appu couldn't have given a bigger smile while enjoying his slice :-)
(below pics are courtesy of my friend Anjana, who graciously took most of the pics at the event)

In all it was super fun event and this experience of making such a large cake and then sharing it with the kids is what's going to stay in my heart forever!

Hopefully you enjoyed reading this post and now you know its not too hard to make a full-sheet cake at home!!

More gorgeous treats to follow, so keep watching out this space or my Facebook Page for updates.