No-Cook Oats & Dates Breakfast Bars

No-cook Oats & Dates Breakfast Bars

Have you spent enough already on snack / granola/ energy / breakfast bars? One – the $$ add up pretty quickly; two – have you turned to the ingredients list? Yes – they may be low in sugar & carbs, high in protein & fiber, and claim to be a good meal replacement. But most of them are chock full of additives & have dozens of ingredients that I would never put in my mouth if I saw it by itself. In my attempt to feed my family food that is tasty, nutritious, natural and most importantly,  can be made ahead, I have been experimenting with a few different recipes.

I found that over the last few months, the alternative to my 4pm sweet tooth / chocolate craving was only satiated by the texture and sweetness of dates and the crunch of a few walnuts or almonds. If that was not enough, I would eat an apple or a banana to tide me through till dinner. Some days, I needed a ‘portable’ breakfast & cereal bars seemed like a good thing to start the day with.

These bars are husband & kid approved, and I generally don’t flinch when my boys go back for a second piece. The recipe below is more of a guide  – feel free to swap out ingredients for what you have on hand and adjust sweetness to your preference.

No-Cook Oats & Dates Breakfast Bars

(Makes 16 – 2X2 inch squares)

  • 2 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc)
  • 2 cups oats ( I used rolled / old-fashioned oats; can probably try Instant / quick cook variety)
  • 1 cup dates
  • 1 cup dry figs (soak in 1/2 cup warm water for about 15 mins and drain well before using)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds (optional)
  • 2-3 tsp cinnamon OR cardamom powder
  • few Tbsp honey OR maple syrup OR agave syrup (optional)
  • 1-2 cups applesauce OR finely chopped apple OR banana

1) Heat a wide, heavy bottomed pan on medium-high flame and add the oats. Toast them for about 5-10 mins till they are nutty, stirring constantly and making sure they do not brown. Remove to another wide container to cool.

2) In the same pan, add the nuts in a single layer and toast for a few minutes, again stirring continuously and making sure they do not burn. Toast till they are fragrant and glossy with their own oil. Remove from hot pan to cool completely. Work in batches if necessary.

3) In a large food processor, add the oats, the nuts and the dates & figs separately. Process till coarsely (your preference) chopped, removing to another container as each one is done.

4) Add the cinnamon/cardamom powder and fruit and mix well. – If using applesauce, use only 1/2 – 1 cup to bind mixture, and add on as needed.

5) Alternately, add all the coarsely chopped ingredients and powder back to the food processor and pulse till it all comes together. (This is my preferred method as we don’t like chunks in our bars.) Drizzle in some honey/syrup if needed as everything is getting mixed.

6) Line an 8X8 inch pan with wax paper or foil, making sure it overhangs over the sides.

7) Press the mixture into the pan, and smooth out the top evenly.

8) At this point, the bars are ready to eat. I prefer to let the raw mixture stand overnight in the refrigerator to set and allow the flavors to meld. 

9) When the mixture is set, remove the bars by holding the foil. Slice into 2X2 inch squares and store in an airtight container. They will be fine for a week or more in the fridge.

10) Alternately, once you press the mixture into the pan, cook in a preheated 350* oven for 20 minutes and allow to cool completely. Remove with foil, slice and store in an airtight container.

NOTE: As mentioned above, add or reduce the quantity of the dates, fruits and syrup to suit your tastes. You can also experiment with different types of nuts, although I find that walnuts have the best texture here.

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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.

Eggless Mexican Rice Pudding – Arroz Con Leche

This rice pudding is decadent – creamy & sweet – both warm and chilled. It is similar to the Indian sweet Phirni (Firni) – the difference being that Phirni uses saffron and/or cardamon, while Arroz Con Leche uses cinnamon.

I remember my grandmother making her famous Phirni when I was a little girl, simmering it for what seemed like hours. The end result would be worth the wait. This recipe below, adapted from FOOD Network, is a quicker method, and tastes almost as good (I say almost, because, really, what can beat grandma’s cooking?!?!).

I served this as dessert at a Homemade Chipotle-Style Tortilla Salad buffet for family a few months back.

Eggless Mexican Rice Pudding – Arroz Con Leche

(Serves 15)

  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 12 cups water
  • 3 big cinnamon sticks
  • 2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk
  • 2 (14 oz) cans condensed milk
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup slivered almonds (toasted)
  • Ground cinnamon for dusting

1) Bring water, rice, and cinnamon sticks to boil, uncovered, in a large heavy saucepan.

2) On medium-high heat, cook the rice for about 15 minutes.

3) Strain the liquid and cinnamon sticks. Return rice to the saucepan.

4) Add the condensed milk, evaporated milk, and whole milk to the rice.

5) Bring to boil on medium-high heat, and the reduce to low. Cook uncovered for another 20 minutes, stirring often.

6) Check rice for doneness. Stir in the raisins and remove from heat.

7) Before serving, top with slivered and toasted almonds, and a sprinkle of cinnamon powder.

CAN BE SERVED WARM or COLD.

Natural Flu Season Tonic

Flu Season Tonic

We are at the start of flu season and holiday binge eating. Bugs & calories are everywhere, and most of us will succumb to at least one of the two. I have to be honest – I’m not a big follower of natural remedies, but I’ve had this tea a few times in the last few days, and the sniffles I had  seem to have vanished. I also like the fact that it is refreshing, low calorie, and comes with a ton of health benefits.

Lemon juice is high in Vitamin C, which protects the immune system. Lemon juice is also known to help in fighting ulcer causing bacteria, and in aiding with elimination. WebMD also states that Vitamin C helps with cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling.

Honey is a natural cough suppressant that soothes itchy throats. Plus, it tastes great!

Ginger is known as the powerhouse of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Used to treat gastro-intestinal problems, it is touted as a safe cure for stomach issues such as indigestion and nausea. Asian natural remedies consider ginger as a “heat” food, and this might alleviate cough, cold and flu symptoms.

Finally, Turmeric is famous for its anti-inflamatory, anti-septic qualities. I remember getting small cuts and scrapes as a kid, and running to the kitchen to pour some turmeric on the wound. Not sure if it helped, but it never hurt. (We kids loved that it stained everything yellow.)

The ‘tea’ recipe below is just a guide; you may add more or less of each ingredient, and steep as long as you like to suit your taste.

Natural Flu Season Tonic

(Makes 1 serving)

  • 1 tbsp grated ginger (or 1 inch ginger sliced into thin slices)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (preferably fresh squeezed)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 12 oz (1.5 cups) boiling water

1) Bring water to a boil in a non-reactive pan.

2) Add ginger and cover tightly to steep about 4-5 minutes.

3) Strain into a cup and add lemon juice, honey & turmeric. Mix well and sip, stirring as needed.

NOTE: I heard of and tried adding a pinch of cayenne powder to this tea to drink on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. It is supposed to provide all of the above benefits AND increase metabolism, enhance liver function, and assist elimination . It tastes pretty good, but I have stuck to my sweet, creamy chai for mornings. 

Flu Season Tonic

I’ve been reading  I Never Promised You  A Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg – a classic from the 1960s. It is the story of a 16-year old who voluntarily gets committed to a mental hospital to treat her schizophrenia. The child Deborah creates an imaginary kingdom whose characters she imagines dictate her every move, so that she can escape from the realities and harshness of her real life. It was difficult reading, but I was struck by the way the author was able to see perspectives of the patient(s), parents, sibling, and psychotherapist, given that it was a time that had so little insight into mental health, and the stigma was especially high for the mentally ill. Very insightful book, and I highly recommend reading it. I think I finally have some understanding – however little – of what it means when we hear on the news about people who heard voices telling them to do unspeakable things.

Spicy Cajun Pasta

Spicy Cajun Pasta

 

If there’s one thing I like almost as much as good food, it’s a good book. I didn’t get much reading in the past few months, and the list I keep on my phone kept growing and growing. Finally, I decided to put a few books on hold at the library, and as luck would have it, I got all five at the same time! Three of them kept me engrossed enough that I’ve neglected  chores around the house and emptied out the freezer come dinner time. The culprits for the big gap in posts on this blog are I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (more info below).

One of the books I just finished is a 2011 National Book Award winner titled Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Set in rural Mississippi in the days just before and right after Hurricane Katrina, motherless teens deal with a drunk dad, poverty, hunger, uncertainty, birth, death, and the fury of the Hurricane. Yet, love and tenderness is evident through the book – between siblings, parent, pet, and friends – in unconventional ways. Each and every character – from the protagonist Esch to the dog China – is powerfully, yet beautifully described by Jesmyn Ward. The novel culminates in a chapter where the family is caught in the storm surge from the Hurricane, and it gave me the chills. I highly recommend reading this book.

Thoughts of Hurricane Katrina led to thoughts of spicy Cajun food. Since my husband has been making Sunday night dinners for the last few years, my request this week was for his spicy Cajun pasta. He has looked up recipes online, but this is his own version. (Adapted from http://www.kevinandamanda.com)   Enjoy! It’s delicious!!

Spicy Cajun Pasta

 

Spicy Cajun Pasta

(Serves 6-7)

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 large onion (chopped)
  • 1 extra large tomato
  • 1 (12oz) packet Aidells Habenero & Green Chilli Chicken Sausage (OR) about 12-16 oz smoked sausage of choice (slice into rings) *
  • 3 cups chicken broth / water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tbsp cajun seasoning
  • salt to taste
  • 16oz penne pasta (cooked, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
  • sliced green onions to garnish

1) Heat oil in a wide, heavy bottomed pan with lid.

2) Add minced garlic and saute till golden and fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3) Add onions and saute till transparent.

4) Add tomato and saute for a few seconds. Cover lid and cook on medium -high till soft, and onion-tomato mixture blends together.

5) Add red pepper flakes and the sausage, cream & broth and bring to a boil.

6) Simmer 5 minutes till flavors meld. Add pasta and stir well. Season with salt to taste.

7) Heat thoroughly, and serve topped with some cheese and sliced green onion.

*NOTE : You may substitute the sausage with red, yellow, and green peppers to make a vegetarian version of the recipe.

Diwali Lighting Ideas

Diwali Lighting Ideas

I’ve shared some ideas for lighting up your home this Diwali.

The first two photos on the top show the easiest way to go; cover your table with a bright colored table cloth and top with a festive runner / dupatta /stole in complementary colors along the center. You can even use matching gift-wrap paper that is folded down to size as an easy & inexpensive alternative. Line the runner with clear votives and use tea lights in them. If you want to use decorative votives, use a plain runner. Consider using decorative chargers, mirrors, or silverware to hold your votives.

As with any source of fire, be careful and never leave it unattended, especially around children and pets.

The remaining four photos have been decorated to mimic henna / mehndi. Henna candles are all over Pinterest and I wanted to give it a try. Problem is, when henna dries, it shrinks and flakes off the smooth candle surface. The easier option was to use brown puffy paint (3D paint) instead. First, the paint adheres well to the candle surface; second, it does not need to be sealed when dry like actual henna. If you are experienced, make the designs freehand directly on the candles. If you are a novice like me, wrap the candle with a piece of blank paper and cut to size. Draw your pattern on it and trace onto the candle with graphite / transfer paper. Trace over the design and allow the paint to dry completely – about 24 hours. Burn the candle for a short while before your party so it forms a well by the wick. This allows the light to show through the candle and give a wonderful glow. (My candles are by no means perfect – I don’t have a steady hand – but the way to perfection is practice, isn’t it 🙂 ) The last candle with the peacock design is battery operated, making it the safest bet.

**UPDATE: – Verizon problems, and my Internet connection has been going haywire the past few days. The post that went up yesterday was just an incomplete draft!! Not sure how it got posted. Anyway, here’s the updated version, and I hope the post makes more sense now.

I’ve also included links for other interesting ideas on the web. Hope you enjoy them. So many ideas – so little time! Lesson learnt – start getting blog entries ready early! Way Early!!

Check out how DECOR IN A SNAP uses beaded cuffs to make pretty and interesting tealight holders.

ODE TO INSPIRATION  has a simple tutorial on making beautiful Moroccan lanterns in jewel colors. Definitely on my to-do list; hopefully for next Diwali 🙂

Morrocan Lanterns

http://odetoinspiration.com/2012/07/ramadan-countdown-to-eid/

Sharing some more beautiful photos of Moroccan lanterns for inspiration:

DIY-Project-Idea-Moroccan-Glass-Jar-Candle-Holder-Votive-Lantern-Light-Upcycle-Craft-Tutorial-Blog

cremedelacraft.com

Microwave Doodh Peda

Here is an easy and tasty recipe for Krishna Janmashtami – the festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna. Considering he was such a lover of milk & butter, it is customary to make sweets rich in dairy. My mother-in-law used to make odd-number (3 or 5 types each) variety of sweet and savory dishes the morning of the festival; no rice served the whole day. Dinner was a plate full of snacks, and the kids loved it.

The recipe for Microwave Doodh Peda & Microwave Besan Ladoo was given to me by my aunt  years ago, and I have made it many times. It is fail-proof, quick, and really tasty.

Microwave Doodh Peda

(30-35 pieces)

  • 3/4 stick butter – 6 Tbsp (melted)
  • 1 (15oz) can condensed milk – about 1 3/4 cup
  • 2 cups milk powder – (the better the quality of powder, the tastier the pedas)
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
  • pinch saffron (optional)

1) Mix the melted butter, condensed milk & milk powder well in a glass microwavable bowl.

2) Microwave for 2 minutes. Mixture will rise in container when heated. Remove from microwave and stir well.

3) Microwave for another 2 minutes.

4) Remove from microwave and stir in the cardamom powder and saffron strands. Stir mixture well again and let it cool slightly so it is easy to handle.

5) While mixture is still warm, grease palms lightly with ghee. Roll about 1 Tbsp mixture into balls, flattening slightly on top and bottom. Arrange on a wax paper lined tray to cool completely.

6) Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for a day or two. For longer storage, refrigerate.

NOTE: For a pretty presentation, you may press down nuts (sliced or chopped) on top of the peda before it cools. Another option is to leave out the saffron while cooking, and press a strand or two after rolling into balls. I have used a simple stamp (cleaned well, of course) to press a design on the top of the pedas too.