Cars – A Birthday Party!

Needless to say, we had to have a cars themed birthday party for our baby, who on his own accord learnt to say khaa (car) at around 11 months of age. After going back and forth between having the party at home versus a children’s play place, we finally decided to have it at the apartment clubhouse. I had about a week and a weekend to come up with the decorations, food, cake, favors and games. I had the most fun with decorations which included raiding party cities and dollar stores for car or road related items. I got some cheap colored chart board, made some free-hand car designs, cut a couple out and traced the remaining fifty or so for the husband to cut. A friend cut out wheels from some black chart for these cars, on which I wrote ‘happy birthday’ messages. The colored chart board cars looked very festive when attached to the end of black and white checkered crepe paper and hung on glass panels. I taped some to the doors and to the walls as well.

Hand-drawn car cutouts
Disney Cars theme party – Handmade wall hangings

The Disney cars scene setter covered the fire place and really highlighted the theme of the  party. I was thrilled with the orange cones and the disney cars swimming rings which we hung from the ceiling, they were a steal for a dollar per piece from the dollar store. We arranged black and white balloons alternately on the glass panels on either side of the door way. We used the same black and white checkered pattern pennant banner over the food counter.

Disney Cars Scene Setter
Black & White ballons to mimic the checkered flag look

Food Counter

If car shaped cookies,crackers, bars or cakes were sold at stores, I would’ve really got some but since they don’t, and I was determined to have something that resembled a car on my food counter, I decided to do car shaped cookies. Disney cars cookie cutters sell for about $17 and my local arts and crafts store sells a set of 3 cookie cutters – a race car, an air plane and a ship for $4. I didn’t want air plane or ship shaped cookies now or later, also I was highly inspired by this blog. She made a camel shaped cookie cutter from an aluminum foil pan, sheer genius! I don’t know if I would recommend this as a home project unless you have the proper tools and a pair of rubber gloves. I tried to use oven mitts and since they don’t quite let you use your fingers well, ended up using and cutting my bare hands. I didn’t follow all her steps, just cut out the edges of a used aluminum foil pan and folded and refolded the base to make it look like a metal ruler. I bent this ruler into a car shape to the best of my ability.

Hand-made car cookie cutter

For the cookies, I used the most basic recipe there is, for plain eggless sugar cookies. My husband helped mix two batches of cookie dough before he left for work and I baked and baked till I had about  fifty cookies. Most of the cookies were baked when baby took his big afternoon nap. It took me about 20 minutes to ice them and 60 minutes to dry them before packing them in an airtight container. I owe the success of these cookies entirely to my husband, cause the first few batches that I baked two days before the party were quite a disaster – uneven colored, distorted shapes which resembled clouds more than cars and were so hard, they could break your teeth. I was stressed out and ready to give up but I had my husband and another day before the party to readjust the baking time (bake for exactly 11 minutes), the number of cookies that went into each batch and the space on the baking sheet around each cookie so they didn’t collide with each other. Second time around they were perfect little beauties.

Before popping the cars into the oven
Car cookies 🙂

My biggest accomplishment of the party has got to be the cake. We enquired at several cake shops, ice cream shops and local grocery stores and everyone carried the same catalogue with the same Disney cars cake model – a rectangular cake with grass and road icing with a toy car on top. We really wanted a car shaped cake and after much persuasion from the husband I decided to give it a shot. Baking a car shaped cake was not the tough part since we got the Wilton cars cake pan but the real challenge for me was the icing. I have never even as much as iced a ‘happy birthday’ message on a cake before. Since I had enough time ( a weekend) to indulge my husband before we decided to go with the store-bought cake, I baked a car shaped cake and tried to ice it. This was possibly one of my brightest ideas cause it gave me an understanding of how thick my icing was supposed to be, to hold the shape rather than run out of the icing bag in the shape of big globs like it did during my trial run and also how much red color I needed to add to the icing before it looked the lightning McQueen red. I felt pretty adventurous after this experiment, and armed with several YouTube videos, I actually decided to bake and ice the birthday cakes myself. Yes cakes, 2 Lightning McQueen car cakes. Seen through a novice cake decorator’s eyes, I thought my cakes were pretty good looking.

Home-made chocolate cake – Icing stage 1
Disney Cars Cake – Icing stage 2
Lightning McQueen Car cake
Lightning McQueen Car Cake – Up close

Lightning McQueen Vanilla and Lightning McQueen Chocolate

For the appetizers, I just stacked about 4 wheat thins with cream cheese in between and topped with some cream cheese and fresh diced strawberry. I thought the red strawberry would go well with the red of our lightning McQueen. Trying to cut strawberry halves into car shapes would’ve been overkill right? So we just used Disney cars cupcake liners to hold each wheat thin pillar. These appetizers were a big hit at the party.

Appetizers – Wheat thins and Cream cheese topped with strawberry

 I also grilled some spiced paneer ( Indian cottage cheese) cubes and stuck Disney cars picks in them. My husband cut the cheese and marinated it the previous night, while baby was asleep and I was icing the cakes. I used a simple marinade that I normally use for chicken kebabs. We popped them in the oven an hour before the party. They were really really delicious.

Spicy Cheese cubes with Disney Cars Picks

We had pizza, and chocolate milk for kids and sodas for adults. We got some pull back cars for the kids to race with and a Garanimals count and learn bowling set that my son now loves to play with. The kids had a lot of fun with the balloons, cars and with each other, they especially loved the cakes. They gathered around the center table and kept marveling at the cakes waiting to devour them. Our little guy had a grand time. He cut the cake, ate some and smeared some more across his face and posed wickedly for our family pictures. Contrary to all our concerns that he’d be intimidated by such large a crowd, he did pretty well, amusing himself and being a happy birthday boy in general. I am so glad that after so much debate on whether to throw a party, or just go away and celebrate it by ourselves, we decided to have this party, making so many wonderful memories for our new family.

Ready to attack the cake
I love you too!

Family Photo - 1st Birthday Party

Kids and Cakes

 

Moroccan Inspired Mango Chicken & Quinoa

Moroccan Inspired Mango Chicken and Quinoa

I have for sometime now been quite fascinated with middle-eastern food, especially the use of spices and herbs. In my head, herbs and spices are synonymous with magical herbs, the sort that grow in enchanted forests, have healing powers, have exotic fragrance and often bloom only once every full moon night or once every hundred years. This mental image of mine has been reinforced by mythical tales and alternative medicine both of which attribute mystical properties to spices and herbs.

This is exactly how I see 'em in my head 🙂

I think that, the fact that they are mostly available in dried, powdered, or preserved form and few of us have actually seen them in their raw natural state gives them an aura of elusiveness. Did you know our everyday staple seasoning pepper grew on a vine, like miniature grape clusters? Or that nutmeg is the seed of a fruit that looks just like an apricot? I learnt about them only a few years back, when I visited my in-laws’ family, these spices grow in their backyard. I also find that I am quite willing usually, to consider herbal remedies especially teas for sore throats and even lactating purposes. An annoying trait of mine, according to my husband is that I can never pass by a tea store without tasting their free sample herbal teas, but they have such fancy names! Chamomile and cinnamon tea, hibiscus tea with lemongrass or rose petal tea with mint leaves.

Pepper still on the vine.

Nutmeg Tree

This weekend, as I added ripe mangoes to my shopping cart, I decided to try something interesting rather than serve and eat diced fruit which is what we usually do. Since the word ‘moroccan cuisine’ has been hanging in my head for quite a while now, I made up this recipe after looking up the spices, herbs, dry fruit and nuts that are characteristic of Moroccan cuisine from Wikipedia.

Disclaimer: I do not vouch for the authenticity of this dish.

Ingredients:
2 ripe mangoes peeled, pitted and diced
2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breast cut into cubes
1 cup raw organic quinoa
3 tbsp Olive oil
Spice rub for chicken: 1 tsp Paprika + tsp Cumin + 1 tsp Coriander + 1 tsp Cinnamon + 1 tsp Pepper + 1 tsp Turmeric + 1 tsp ground Ginger and salt to taste
A pinch of Saffron
1 tbsp chopped Parsley
1 diced Zucchini
1 chopped Red bell pepper
1 chopped Red onion
1/2 cup Chopped Cilantro
2 tbsp Raisins
1/4 cup Toasted Almonds
1 freshly squeezed lemon
A dash of red pepper powder (optional)
1 cup Greek yogurt

Method:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To the chicken, add 1 tbsp olive oil and all the spices listed under spice rub, then add the mango pieces and bake for about 20-25 minutes ( in a baking tray or casserole).
Sprinkle with cilantro and keep aside.
In a saucepan, add 2 tbsp olive oil followed by onions, bell pepper and zucchini. Add a pinch of saffron.
Sauté for a few minutes before adding rinsed quinoa and 2 cups of water and salt. Quinoa takes about 15 minutes to cook.
Once it’s done, seeds start to look transparent.
Add parsley, 2 tbsp lemon juice, pepper and raisins, mix and cover with a heavy lid and let stand for a few minutes.
For yogurt sauce, add to yogurt, 2 tbsp lemon juice, salt and pepper and freshly chopped mint leaves ( I didn’t have any so I added parsley) and a dash of red pepper powder.
Garnish the quinoa pilaf with toasted almonds right before serving ( keeps them from becoming soft), and serve with mango chicken and yogurt sauce.

Moroccan Inspired Mango Chicken and Quinoa with Yogurt Sauce

Moroccan Inspired Mango Chicken and Quinoa with Yogurt Sauce

Healthy Oatmeal Flax seed Cookies

Oatmeal Flaxseed Cookies

These days, my husband’s on a weight loss body building spree, so he asked if I could make some healthy afternoon snack that he could eat at work. Oatmeal and dry fruits came to mind first, so I decided to try these cookies yesterday. This is more a mix of his favorite ingredients from the kitchen rather than a cookie recipe, but the result was yum all the same. These cookies were more soft and chewy than crispy crunchy.

Healthy ingredients:
1 and 1/3 cups Quaker rolled oats
1 egg
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup flax seed
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp honey

Not so healthy ingredients:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup butter at room temperature
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder

Method:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F
Beat together the egg, butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, honey and vanilla essence.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and powdered cinnamon.
Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix well.
Then add the oats followed by the almonds, apricots and flax seed.
On a baking tray sprayed with non stick cooking spray, spoon small dollops of the cookie mixture and flatten them a little.
Bake till golden brown, about 15 minutes. Take them out, let them cool and store in an airtight container.

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

This has got to be one of the easiest cakes ever made. It took me about 20 minutes to make this mocha chocolate icebox cake. I had watched Ina Garten make this on barefoot contessa the other day on food network and decided to try it. I didn’t have all the ingredients so substituted for some and scaled down the recipe. The original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients

1 cup + 1/3 cold heavy cream
4 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tsp instant coffee powder mixed in 2 tbsp water
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (nestle)
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) packages chocolate chip cookies
Semisweet chocolate chips for garnish

Method:
In a mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream, cream cheese, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, vanilla, chocolate syrup and instant coffee powder mixed in water. Combine and mix until firm peaks are formed.

In a round deep dish, arrange chocolate chip cookies covering the bottom as much as possible. Spread a fifth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies. Place another layer of cookies on top, followed by another layer of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 4 layers of each, ending with a layer of cookies. Save the remaining portion of the mocha cream in an air tight container. Cover the cake with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Run a knife around the outside of the cake and invert the dish. Spread the remaining mocha cream on top of the cake and decorate with the chocolate chips and serve cold.

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake - up close

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

Mommy’s blueberry plum parfait

He walked! He walked! He walked!

My baby doll took his first few steps yesterday. My brave li’l munchkin was standing leaning against an ottoman while I was sitting on a rocking chair across the room from him. One moment he was standing there playing with his sketch pen and the next he started taking one two three four five six little steps towards me just like that. I was so startled to see him walk so suddenly and unexpectedly that I didn’t even react on time to catch his video. I very well should have, considering how my phone was within reach and how I was so ideally positioned to at least click a picture or two. Maybe another time when I am a little less dazzled by my champ. Pfft like that’s ever gonna happen! I’ll always be in awe of this little bundle that gives me so much joy. I love you my son!

What he had for breakfast today – Mommy’s blueberry plum parfait
2 organic plums – Cut in half, remove the seed and place them with the open side down in a baking tray filled with 1 inch water and bake for about 20 min at 400 degree F and gently peel the skin off with your fingers
1/4 cup organic blueberries – raw or lightly stewed in water for 10 min
3 tbsp multigrain cereal
2 tbsp greek yogurt (I used fage)

Blend all the ingredients together and serve!

Blueberry plum parfait - before blending

Blueberry plum parfait

We like kiwifruit!

Why a whole post on kiwifruit? Because I got a kick out of serving this exotic tropical fruit to my son even though I have personally hated this fruit until now.
I have usually preferred dessert over fruit. So with our baby, we decided we’d expose him to a variety of fruit and vegetables right from the beginning. He’s been a good eater so far. He hasn’t expressed a firm dislike towards any particular food. At 10 months old, he’s pretty much had all kinds of fruits and vegetables that are out there, or so I thought until daddy got him kiwifruit last night. I don’t particularly care for tart taste in fruit or pies except during pregnancy when I had strange cravings for berries especially strawberries. kiwifruit have never even featured in my grocery lists. Needless to say, I had no idea how to prepare them for baby. From a quick google search, I learnt that they didn’t need to be baked or boiled. So for baby’s breakfast this morning I puréed:

2 kiwifruit peeled and cut
1/2 ripe banana
2-3 tbsp baby oatmeal cereal

He loved it! He really did! Even before I added the banana and cereal, I gave him a few spoonfuls of kiwifruit purée and he happily gobbled it up and that makes me a very happy mommy! Kiwifruit will hopefully be a regular on our fruit platter hereafter.

Chicken and Vegetable Casserole

I am a big fan of casserole dishes of any kind mainly due to their ease of preparation and also the flexibility they provide in terms of adding all ingredients of a balanced diet (carbohydrate, protein, fat and fibre). I love how you can dump a few things in the casserole, throw it in the oven and in less than an hour have a fancy wholesome meal.
So this is what i did:
Ingredients
2 skinless boneless chicken breasts cut into big chunks
1 cup Frozen stir fry veggies
Salt and pepper
Garlic powder 1tbsp
1 can Cream of mushroom soup
1 large egg
Milk 1/3 cup
Corn muffin mix 1/2 packet ( i used jiffy muffin
Mix)
1-2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp bread crumbs
1/3 c shredded cheddar cheese

Method
Preheat the oven to 350.
Slightly butter a baking tray, pan or casserole.
Coat the chicken pieces with salt, pepper and garlic powder and arrange at the bottom of the casserole. Spread the washed veggies on top of the chicken pieces.
In a separate bowl, mix the soup, egg, milk, salt, pepper and muffin mix. Add this mixture to the casserole.
Sprinkle the bread crumbs and dot the corners with butter and cover the top with the shredded cheese.
Bake for about 50 minutes and we’re done!

Next time I’ll make sure I get some pictures.