Mango Halwa

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Mango Halwa

I’m sharing an easy and popular recipe for your next holiday gathering. I found the original here, and tweaked it slightly to suit my family’s tastes. This halwa can be made using grated paneer or ricotta cheese. While the ricotta gives a creamier taste, it took longer to cook. Simmer the halwa mixture for about 20-30 minutes for regular texture, and around 45 minutes for a fudge  texture (which is what we love).

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Mango Halwa

Mango Halwa

(Serves 10-12)

  • 1 (30 oz) can mango pulp – about 3.5 cups
  • 12-14 oz block paneer [OR] 30 oz ricotta cheese (about 4 cups of one)
  • 2.5 cups sugar
  • 2 cups dry milk powder
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder [OR] 2 tsp rose water
  • ghee to grease your serving platter
  • chopped nuts, saffron, silver leaf, etc for topping & presentation
  1. Finely grate the paneer if you are using it.
  2. Using a wide heavy-bottom pan (preferably non-stick or anodized), bring the mango pulp, cheese and sugar to a boil on medium-high flame.
  3. Once it reaches a boil, reduce flame to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes till mixture thickens, stirring frequently and making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the cardamom powder or rose water and the milk powder for thickness. Mix well. Cook for another 5-10 minutes and pour into a flat greased platter to cool.
  5. Alternately, continue cooking an additional 15 – 20 minutes if you like a thicker, fudge-like consistency. Then add the milk powder and flavoring, and cook for another 5-10 minutes and pour into your platter to cool.
  6. Spoon into individual bowls and top with nuts and serve.

NOTE: Make sure the pan is atleast 4-5 inches deep as this mixture will splatter as it thickens and simmers. Also, DO NOT ADD sugar mid-way unless you plan on increasing the cooking time significantly (yes, I learnt this the hard way!). The sugar will dilute your mixture and you will have to cook it down again – it’s like starting from scratch. Paneer gives the halwa more texture while ricotta makes it more creamy.

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Mango Halwa

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Quinoa Breakfast Bars

Quinoa Breakfast Bars

How many of you spent the summer with kids who were constantly eating – because they were starving after hours at the pool, because their friends were over and wanted a snack, they wanted to try a new concoction, or they were just plain bored because you took away their electronics? My kids had more than their fill of junk food over the last few months, and there was not much I could do about it when extended family visiting for a few months and there was constant entertaining.

Quinoa Breakfast Bars

Fast forward to mid-August: the guests leave and my college bound child – who is suddenly on a gym routine – announces that he needs lots more protein than he gets at home! The 11-year old on a growth spurt eats like there’s no tomorrow. Husband says he’d like to take something from home to keep the 3p.m. vending machine run at bay. I just want something that can be eaten without utensils and feels like a treat but is also healthy for my family. These Quinoa Bars to the rescue! I made these the first time without any recipe, and you can do the same too. The amounts and ingredients below are just a guide (as are many of my other recipes). Feel free to substitute what you have on hand and adjust quantities to suit your taste. For example, add coconut flakes if you like the taste. Substitute almonds with walnuts (or mix a little of both!). Replace cranberries with cherries or even raisins if that’s what you have on hand. I’ve used a whole 15 oz bag of milk chocolate chips but you could reduce it or switch it up with dark / semi-sweet / white chocolate.

With school back in session and after school events looming around the corner, breakfast and grab-and-go snacks that are easy, tasty and good for you are a blessing. These bars keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

Quinoa Breakfast Bars

(Makes 16 bars 2-inch X 2-inch bars)

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup dates (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup figs (chopped)
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup almonds (or walnuts) – chopped
  • 1/2 cup cranberries (or cherries / tart raisins)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds)
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 cups chocolate chips of choice
  1. In a heavy bottom pan, lightly toast the quinoa over medium flame for few minutes. It will pop and lightly puff. Remove from heat & cool completely. (Do not brown.) – I feel this removes the slight bitter taste, but feel free to use raw if that’s what you prefer. 
  2. In a heavy duty food processor, add the dates, figs and coconut oil and pulse till it becomes finely processed.
  3. Add the cooled quinoa, flax, chia, almonds and half of the cranberries & pumpkin seeds. Pulse until all the ingredients are finely chopped and mixed well.
  4. Line an 8X8 pan with wax paper and press the mixture into the pan. Level the top using the back of a flat spoon or dish.
  5. Melt chocolate chips according to package directions and pour evenly over the mixture and spread.
  6. Set in the refrigerator for an hour or so to set and firm up. Cut into 16 pieces. The bars keep for atleast 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Click here for recipes for No-Cook Oats & Dates Breakfast Bars and No Bake Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars

Easy Ice-Cream Cake

Memorial Day is around the corner – a day for honoring American veterans and doing our patriotic duties. Started three years after the Civil war ended in 1868, it was the chosen day to place flowers at the graves of those who died in the war. Originally called Decoration Day, it is believed that May 30th was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. Only in 1971 did Congress  nominate the last Monday in May to be recognized as Memorial Day, and expand the honor to all soldiers who died in American wars.

Flags & wreaths at tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2011.  (Pic: military.gov)

Flags & wreaths at tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2011.
(Pic: military.gov)

The first Memorial Day ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery and small American flags were placed at each grave. This tradition continues to date and has been adopted elsewhere too.

You can read more information on the U.S. Department of Veterans website.

It is also the day for parades, picnics and barbecues with family and friends, shopping, and the opening of pool season. This week’s recipe can be used through the year. Easy and adaptable, it can be made on the cheap too. (Have you seen the price of Ice-Cream cakes at your local store?!?!) Birthday parties, graduations, family gatherings, sleepovers, play dates …… I must warn you that the never ending stream of kids through your door over the next few warm months will love visiting you. Plus the fact that you can make it a week ahead of your event and freeze it makes it even more divine.

Easy Ice-Cream Cake

Ice-Cream Cake

(Serves 8-12)

  • 2 (8-inch) round cakes of your choice (baked and cooled completely)
  • 1 gallon ice-cream of your choice (softened & stirred)
  • sliced fruit / coarsely crushed cookies (optional)
  • jelly / berry sauce / whipping cream / Magic Shell – for layering & frosting
  • cherries / sprinkles / candy – for decorating
  • 1 deep 9-inch springform (preferred) or regular round pan
  • large freezer-safe serving platter
  • plastic wrap

Ice-Cream Cake

1) Line the bottom and sides of your 9-inch pan with a double layer of plastic wrap so that the edges come over the sides of the pan.

2) Place one round cake in the center and poke holes over the top using a chopstick or fork.

3) Pour half the softened ice-cream on top and over the sides of the cake and smoothen to make it level. (If you like jam or berry sauce, pour on the cake first before adding ice cream).

4) Arrange a single layer of sliced fruit or crushed cookies on top (if using).

5) Gently drape the wrap over the ice cream (or cover with a freezer safe plate) and freeze for about 2 hours.

Ice-Cream Cake

6) Remove pan from freezer and unwrap. Place the other round cake over the first layer and poke holes again.

7) Pour the remaining ice-cream on top and around the sides and smoothen again. Make sure the top is flat.

8) Gently cover again and refreeze for another 2 hours. or overnight.

9) To plate & serve: remove pan from freezer and let it sit on the counter for a few minutes.

10) Release the latch on the springform pan and lift the cake out holding the edges of the plastic wrap. Unwrap from the bottom and place on your serving platter. (For a regular pan, run a knife under hot water and gently run it around the inside edge of the pan to release the cake.)

11) Decorate with Magic Shell or whipping cream and top with cherries / berries and sprinkles.

TIP: For smooth and easy cutting, run or dip a knife under warm water and slice.

If you have a larger crowd to serve, you can follow the same method with a rectangular 9X13 cake. Just bake the cake as per instructions and cool completely (or use store bought). Trim the edges by a 1/4 inch on all sides and gently slice across to make two 9X13 layers. Place one sheet cake back in the same pan that is lined with a double layer of plastic wrap. Follow the remaining instructions as above. When ready to serve, cut into squares.

Gotgamssam – Korean Dessert with Persimmon & Walnut

Gotgamssam

Waiting at the barber while my kids got their haircuts, I was skimming through the old magazines they had around. One of the Korean magazines had a few beautiful pictures of dry persimmons, and this orange roll with nuts in the middle. Of course, all instructions were in Korean. I asked the ladies who work there what it was, and after a few minutes of going back and forth, another nice customer stepped in to help translate for us. He found out from the women where to buy the ingredients and how to make this roll. Hope he got a great haircut for his good deed :)).

Gotgamssam

Gotgamssam is a traditional Korean desert or snack that is served with cinnamon or green tea, and it requires only 2 ingredients. I was told that it is common in Korean homes to have a few rolls tucked away in the refrigerator for company. Super easy to make, I was reminded of diabetic family members who stay away from dessert. A few slices of this might be a welcome treat for them. Give it a try.

Gotgamssam

You can buy dried persimmons in the frozen section of your International market. The box pictured here was around $6. If you cannot find dried persimmons, this same technique can be used for dried apricots which are more easily available. Looking online, I learnt that the apricot version is called Salgussam.

Gotgamssam

(About 18 slices)

  • 1 container (6 pcs) dried persimmon (if frozen, thaw)
  • big handful of whole walnuts

1) Preheat oven to 350*F, pour the walnuts on a rimmed cookie tray, and place on the center oven rack.

2) Bake for 6-8 minutes, stirring once in between, till golden and fragrant.

3) Remove from the cookie tray onto a plate and spread to cool completely.

4) With a sharp knife, trim the ends of the persimmon, and slit all the way down only on one side to form a flat, rectangular piece.

Gotgamssam

5) Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter, and line up the persimmon slices where the edges slightly overlap.

Gotgamssam

6) Place a double or triple layer of the toasted walnuts on top of the persimmon slices and gently press into the fruit to hold in place.

Gotgamssam

7) Gently, but tightly roll up the fruit over the walnuts and roll into a log. Cover with plastic wrap and reshape into a circular log if necessary.

8) Place the log in the freezer for about 30-45 minutes to firm up.

9) Unwrap, and cut each persimmon into 3 slices using a serrated knife.

Gotgamssam

10) Serve with green tea or cinnamon tea.

NOTE:

  1. If the slit fruit seems too ‘pulpy’, gently scrape out some of the soft stuff before filling with the walnuts.
  2. Toasting the walnuts was my idea – you may skip this step if you like.
  3. Consider substituting candied walnuts for a different taste.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

Last weekend, I attended a Cast Party for a dance I did at our local Indian association event. While the piece itself was small, it was so much fun going to practices, picking out outfits, and dressing up for the ‘big show’. The entire segment involved almost 70 people – men, women & kids. A lot of kids!!

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

For many years, I had planned on making candy-melt Monarch butterflies that I had seen in a cake decorating book, but never got around to it. I figured it might be a good technique to use for fall cupcake decorations. Considering that there would be dozens of kids at the party, my reasoning was that no matter how the end result would be, the kids would devour them. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly these decorations came together. I made the candy leaves one afternoon, and baked and decorated the cupcakes the day of the event. It’s easy enough that the kids can help – my 10 year old did. Suffice to say that the first of three boxes of cupcakes was emptied out even before dinner was served!

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

ITEMS NEEDED:

  • Candy Melts in colors of choice
  • Design printed on paper
  • Wax paper for piping candy
  • Cookie Sheets
  • Piping bag with fine tip [OR] sturdy ziplock bags
  • Toothpick (to fill in small spots)
  • Metal spatula [OR] wide knife to lift the candy leaves

STEPS:

1) Make copies or free-hand sketch the design you want onto white paper.

2) Place on a flat, moveable surface (like a cookie sheet or sturdy chopping board) and top with wax paper. Once in position, tape down into place.

3) In a small bowl, microwave a handful of Candy Melts according to package directions till completely melted and runny.

4) Pour into the piping bag / ziplock bag (make a tiny snip at the corner for the candy to flow) and using a slow and steady hand, pipe over the designs.

5) Allow to harden – about 10 minutes.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

As you can see in the picture above, I used a piping bag. The tray on top has the full outline piped in. The one on the bottom has only the ‘veins’ piped in. You will see below how these give two different effects.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

6) In another small bowl, melt a handful of leaf color candy melt chips and pour into another bag. Pipe over the leaf designs and make sure to fill in the entire design. Go over the back of the ‘veins’ and make sure that all areas are covered.

(While you do not want clumps of candy, don’t worry about being super neat. In the finished stage, this will be the bottom of the leaf and will not show. Of course, if you plan on making the leaves stand up where both front and back will be visible, then take the time to smooth out the candy. Work in small batches to keep it flowing easily.)

7) Set the finished cookie trays aside to harden – about 30 minutes (depending on how thick you spread the candy). Alternately, stick them in the fridge or freezer for about 10 minutes to harden up faster.

8) When set, gently slip a spatula under the candy leaf – it should slide right out – and place on top of your completely cooled and frosted cake.

Cupcakes with Candy LeavesCupcakes with Candy Leaves

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HERSHEY’S KISSES ACORNS:

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

ITEMS NEEDED:

  • Nutter Butter Bites (Peanut Butter Sandwich Mini Cookies)
  • Double number of Hershey’s Kisses (unwrapped)
  • Mini chocolate chips
  • Few Candy Melts to use like glue

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

1) Split the mini cookies and remove the filling (above). Lay them all in a plate, right side down. (Alternately, you can just use the cookies whole without splitting them up.)

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

2) Melt a few Candy Melts and pour into bag for piping (or use the leftover bag from the candy leaves). Place a small dot on a few cookies.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

3) Quickly place the Kisses on top of the cookie and press down gently. Work in small batches, and make sure the candy melts do not ooze out from under the Kisses. Do not disturb them for about 10-15 minutes, till firm.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

4) Now flip the cookies right side up and dab with another small dot of candy melt. Quickly top with a mini chocolate chip and press down gently. Set on plate to harden completely – another 10-15 minutes. (The chips might slide away from the center if the candy melt is too runny. Make sure to move it back to place as it cools.)

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

I used box cake mix & frosting – Yellow cake (my favorite!), Devil’s Food, Caramel Apple Frosting, Cinnamon Bun frosting, and plain chocolate frosting. I made a total of 4 boxes, and about 75 cupcakes.

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

Here’s a dessert that I’ve made dozens of times and it has always brought rave reviews. Thanks to my aunt Uma for the recipe. Super easy to whip together, Mango Pudding can be made a day or two ahead, and will keep refrigerated for a couple days if covered tightly. This is a great dish to take for pot-luck meals as it travels well; no sloshing and spilling on your party outfit :)).

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

(Makes 35 1/3-cup servings; approx 12 cups total)

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 packets unflavored gelatin
  • 8 oz plain cream cheese (softened)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (30 oz) mango pulp can – [available at most Indian grocers]
  • 8 oz Cool Whip (thawed)
  • saffron, cardamom powder, almonds/pistachio to garnish (optional)

Mango Pudding

1) Boil 3 cups water on the stove and stir well to completely dissolve 3 packets gelatin in it. Cool till luke warm – about 10 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, in a large round bowl (at least 4 quart/4 liter capacity), add the cream cheese and beat with a hand blender till smooth.

Mango Pudding

(Yes, I know the photo shows cream cheese & sugar together. You could do that too :).)

3) Add the sugar and blend with the cream cheese till light and fluffy, and well incorporated.

4) Add the mango pulp and CoolWhip – a little at a time – and beat well till no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides if necessary and mix well with the sugar-cheese mixture.

Mango Pudding Mango Pudding

5) Now slowly add the cooled gelatin in batches and make sure to thoroughly mix it with the rest of the ingredients. This step is important for the entire dish to set.

Mango Pudding

6) Pour into a 3-quart serving dish or into individual serving cups and chill till set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

7) Garnish with more Cool Whip, chopped nuts or saffron before serving.

TIPS: Do not use hot gelatin water as the rest of the ingredients will change consistency. Make sure to add a little pulp at a time while beating or else the cream cheese will ‘ball’ and leave lumps. Mix the gelatin well with the rest of the ingredients for consistent consistency. If bubbles form while transferring into a serving dish, they will set and look weird (in my opinion – but then, I’m finicky like that!) Pour gently or spoon the mixture into your serving dish and shake out the bubbles if you see them. Garnish only after the pudding has set.

While this looks like a lot of steps, it is surprisingly easy to make and is totally worth the effort. Hope you enjoy this pudding, and leave some feedback on how it turns out.

Guilt free Chia Seed – Pumpkin Pie Filling

Guilt Free Chia Seed - Pumpkin Pie Filling

Halloween seems to herald in the start of unhealthy eating. By the time we’re done sneaking our favorites from the kids candy stash, Thanksgiving comes around, and the holiday parties begin. If you like pie like I do, then this season is like walking in a land mine! I stumbled upon this recipe on Pinterest from Forks Over Knives and LOVE it. Surprisingly, my 10-year old has been enjoying it too as much as I do. You can have it for breakfast, snack or any time you get a craving for something sweet. Made with whole foods, and put together in minutes – what’s not to love about this Pumpkin Pie Filling?

Guilt Free Chia Seed - Pumpkin Pie Filling

Guilt Free Chia Seed – Pumpkin Pie Filling

(Serves 4-6)

(Adapted from Forks Over Knives)

  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1 cup water
  • 12-15 pitted dates
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 (15 oz) can pumpkin (NOT pie filling)
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds***
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

1) Add the chia seeds to your blender and make it into a powder. Pour into a large bowl and set aside.

2) Add the almonds, water & dates to the blender jar and puree. (Alternately, use 1 cup of almond milk & dates).

3) Add the banana, pumpkin, vanilla & spice, and blend well.

4) If your blender is powerful, add in the chia and give it a whirl till well mixed. Add a few more tablespoons of milk or water if necessary. Otherwise, pour the liquid from the blender over the chia powder and mix well.

5) Pour into 4-6 serving dishes and chill covered for a few hours (it’s fine to eat right away too). Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.

6) My teen loves his pie crust, so I poured some into individual ready crusts for portion control.

*** If you prefer the texture of whole chia seeds, skip step 1 and mix with the pumpkin filling. This method requires several hours to set – it will not be ready to eat as soon as it is assembled.