Why I Choose to Cook at Home

I want to first start by clarifying that this not an article meant to judge or make anyone feel bad. This is an important issue to me and I wanted to share my perspective. can-stock-photo_csp15040789

As a kid I grew up on a farm and was surrounded by fresh produce. Huge varieties of fruits and vegetables. We had meat that we raised and butchered, and fish that my grandfather caught every weekend. We ate everything fresh in season and for the off season our freezers were full of produce and meat. Honestly I took for granted living in this environment. As an adult I did not think about my food sources, I assumed that it was produced in the same manor that my family had done it. I feel very naive admitting to this. It was not until college when I started doing researching and realized that mass produced food is really nothing like the food small farmers produce.

In factory farms the animals are often raised in such tight quarters that they can not even move. They live their life in filth and are given antibiotics to combat the diseases! When we consume those animals we take in those toxins. 

I learned that many of our fruits vegetables are genetically modified to resist insects. Mansantos the top producing company of the preside “round up” engineers seeds that have the pesticide right in the genetic code of the food! The seeds produced by the fruit and vegetables don’t even produce viable seeds for planting the next season!

I took a course in nutrition this semester and further educated myself on the science behind food. I learned the negative effects of certain types of engineered fats, known as trans fats. In our bodies these fats causes inflammation, increased “bad cholesterol” and decreased “good cholesterol” and contributes to heart disease and cancer. That Soy oil the top used “cheap” oil in restaurants and processed foods leads to obesity, infertility, and inflammation in the body.

I am a mother and wife and I am the shopper and cook in our house. I take this responsibility very seriously and I am always educating myself and attempting to implement good nutrition. 

I am not perfect! Yes we eat sugar. On occasion (rarely) I may fry foods in my awesome deep fryer. My motto is everything in moderation. To be honest I am overweight and working towards a healthy weight, while making sure my daughter never faces that issue in her life. I want my family to live a long healthy life and feel that food is an important aspect of that goal.

The number one thing that I do in my home is to cook at home and to eat as little processed food as possible! Here is why!

I have a bachelors degree in Political Science and the number one thing that we were taught was to question the motivations of each person/company/organization ! What is the goal of that person/organization/business to do what they are doing and does their underlying motivation fit with yours. 

A restaurant’s goal is to make money. It is not a crime or a bad thing, its just the truth. We all know that when we buy food from a restaurant it is a business transaction, not a personal one. 

My goal when feeding my family is health. I do care about the cost because I have a budget but my most important goal is providing food that will improve the health of my family and provide us with the energy, nutrition, and taste that we desire and need.

For our family we have decided that we will eat the majority of our meals made at our home with ingredients that we trust.

Organic non-GMO fruits and vegetables, Healthy oils, humane free range meats and eggs. Milk, cheese, and yogurt made from cow’s milk not treated with steroids. We eat out at restaurants very rarely, usually for special occasions so less then once a month. My nutrition class reinforced the idea that food is really the building blocks of our whole bodies and honestly I do not trust restaurants or factories to care as much as I do when it comes to the health of myself and my family. Their goal is profit, and using lowering the quality food is often a tool for increasing that profit. Using GMOs, preservatives, cheap oils, high levels of salt, and unhealthy flavor enhancements increases the taste of the food but at a cost to the consumers health. There are hundreds of example were GMO’s, too much salt, poor oils, and preservatives are used so I can not list them all but here are a few.  fast_food_kills

Subway is often hailed as the healthier option- One look at the ingredients for their egg for their breakfast sandwich tells us a different story. Their “eggs” are really a strange concoction that includes eggs and “premium egg blend.” Some things that are in this special blend include glycerin, a solvent found in soap and shaving cream, dimethylpolysiloxane, a silicone that can also be found in Silly Putty, and calcium silicate, a sealant used on roofs and concrete.

Resturant Salads-Unsurprisingly, most fast food restaurants don’t list the exact ingredients in their lettuce — you wouldn’t think they’d need to — but many places dust their salads with propylene glycol to keep the leaves crisp. While considered safe for consumption, propylene glycol can be found in antifreeze and sexual lubricants.screen-shot-2014-01-04-at-9-57-11-am

Gerber Babyfood-In the United States, all of the mainstream baby formulas that are not organic are made with GMOs. Families that are unable to afford organic baby formula have no choice but to feed their babies GMOs. Forcing toxic Roundup laced GMOs on infants is unacceptable.

Here are a list of common ingredients in processed and restaurant foods. 

INGREDIENT
WHY IT’S USED
WHY IT’S BAD
Artificial Colors
  • Chemical compounds made from coal-tar derivatives to enhance color
  • Linked to allergic reactions, fatigue,asthma, skin rashes, hyperactivity and headaches
Artificial Flavorings
  • Cheap chemical mixtures that mimic natural flavors
  • Linked to allergic reactions, dermatitis, eczema, hyperactivity and asthma
  • Can affect enzymes, RNA and thyroid
Artificial
Sweeteners

(Acesulfame-K, As-partame, Equal®, NutraSweet®, Sac-charin, Sweet’n Low®, Sucralose, Splenda® & Sorbitol)

  • Highly-processed, chemically-derived, zero-calorie sweeteners found in diet foods and diet products to reduce calories per serving
  • Can negatively impactmetabolism
  • Some have been linked to cancer, headaches, dizziness and hallucinations
Benzoate
Preservatives

(BHT, BHA, TBHQ)

  • Compounds that preserve fats and prevent them from becoming rancid
  • May result in hyperactivity, angiodema, asthma, rhinitis, dermatitis, tumors and urticaria
  • Can affect estrogen balance and levels
Brominated
Vegetable Oil

(BVO)

  • Chemical that boosts flavor in many citric-based fruit and soft drinks
  • Increases triglycerides and cholesterol
  • Can damage liver, testicles, thyroid, heart and kidneys
High Fructose Corn

(HFCS)

  • Cheap alternative to cane and beet sugar
  • Sustains freshness in baked goods
  • Blends easily in beverages to maintain sweetness
  • May predispose the body to turn fructose into fat
  • Increases risk for type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke andcancer
  • Isn’t easily metabolized by the liver
MSG

(Monosodium Glutamate)

  • Flavor enhancer in restaurant food, salad dressing, chips, frozen entrees, soups and more
  • May stimulate appetiteand cause headaches, nausea, weakness, wheezing, edema, change in heart rate, burning sensations and difficulty in breathing
Olestra
  • An indigestible fat substitute used primarily in foods that are fried and baked
  • Inhibits absorption of some nutrients
  • Linked to gastrointestinal disease, diarrhea, gas, cramps, bleeding and incontinence
Shortening,
Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Oils

(Palm, Soybean and others)

  • Industrially created fats used in more than 40,000 food products in the U.S.
  • Cheaper than most other oils
  • Contain high levels of trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, contributing to risk ofheart disease
Sodium Nitrite and Nitrate
  • Preserves, colors and flavors cured meats and fish
  • Prevents botulism
  • Can combine with chemicals in stomach to form nitrosamine a carcinogen

  We are what we eat! So I make sure that the food my family consumes is healthy, safe, and made from natural wholesome ingredients. Our health is worth the extra effort it takes to cook our meals at home. Nothing tastes better then homemade because it is always made with love and thought. No restaurant or company will ever care as much as I do for my family. download

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Making The Bird Nest Birthday Cake, and Reflections on Life’s Journey

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Monday was my husband’s birthday. It was the day after Easter so he had to work. As soon as he was out the door, I started baking the cake. My daughter had preschool at 9:30 and I had a whole list of things to do ! I only had a couple of hours to bake and decorate his birthday cake.

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Pinterest example

I had decided to make a bird nest cake that I found on Pinterest. I was scrolling through cakes ideas months ago, and my husband pointed at the bird nest cake and gushed how much he liked it!

I just want to say I am NOT a cake decorator. I have never taken a class or been taught. I like to be creative and I look at pinterest and youtube for inspiration. Please dont judge me too harshly, lol!

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horrible process of carving the cake!

Step 1: I baked two Devil’s food cakes layers. The pinterest example used a double recipe(4 layers), but there was no way I was making that much cake for our small family(2 1/2 people), so I had to adapt. Once I baked and cooled the cakes I frosted the center and stacked them. I had to carve a whole in the middle. I thought this was going to be so simple! How can I mess up a hole! The cakes were too light and fluffy, and I should have used a pound cake recipe that was more dense and solid. It became a disaster very fast! I was very close to crying when I saw the misshapen cake I had created!!

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gooey mess!

Step 2: The next step was to frost! I though I could save the cake with a nice even layer of frosting! As I tried to spread the frosting the cake started falling apart in chunks! This is when I actually started to cry! I was a gooey sticky mess and my dream cake was quickly turning into a Pinterest fail!

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Fondant my miracle!

Step 3: I had not planned to use fondant, but I happened to have some left over from my daughter’s Birthday cake. Fondant is like edible sugar play dough. You roll it out and drape it over the the cake. Once I put on the Fondant the cake took on a much better shape. The roughness was smoothed out, and I started to feel a bit better.

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Not too bad!

Step 4: I Frosted the cake over the layer of fondant. This process was alot easier and I was able to get the desired effect. The Pinterest example cake was covered in textured piping that gave the cake the look of being made of twings, I was running out of time so just textured mine with a butter knife to give it a softer look.

Step 5: Lastly I put on the birds I had gotten from the Dollar store and the Easter candy eggs! I was so happy to be done! I thought the cake looked good. Different from the example, but still cute!

In many ways this cake represents life’s journey.

This cake started as a disaster. I was ready to give up! I calmed myself down, took a breath, and just kept working it!

Thats life!

There are rough spots in life where nothing looks like it will work out but you can’t give up. Soon that mess will be shaped into something so much better. Nothing is as bad as it seems, it just needs more work. It may not go according to plan, but in the end it is something uniquely yours!

My husband had a beautiful birthday and loved his cake. A store bought cake would have been easier, but sometimes its more rewarding to take the harder route in life!

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Stuffed Karela!

Last week I wrote about our excitement about finding Indian vegetables at our local market! Today I finally get to post about using one of them in a recipe! Last night I made dear hubby stuffed Karela! He loves these tasty strong gourds but these are by far my mother-in- laws favorite food. I am so glad that I have learned to make them correctly. I can now make these for her when she comes to live with us here in the USA eventually. They take some work but they are very tasty and great in the summer!

Karela also called a bitter gourd is commonly known to have a positive effect on diabetes.

“The fruit contains at least three active substances with anti-diabetic properties, including charantin, which has been confirmed to have ablood glucose-lowering effect, vicine and an insulin-like compound known as polypeptide-p.These substances either work individually or together to help reduce blood sugar levels. It is also known that bitter melon contains a lectin that reduces blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and suppressing appetite – similar to the effects of insulin in the brain.” (i)

           Ingredients 

  • 6-7 small karela/bitter gourd
  • ¾ tsp turmeric powder
  • ¾ tsp red chili powder
  • ¼ tsp punjabi garam masala
  • 1 tsp amchur powder
  • 1 tsp fennel powder/saunf powder
  • 2 medium sized onions, finely sliced
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • salt as required
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Rinse and peel the karela. Do this gently, you do not want to peel off all of the skin, just the large bumps. I use a knife and rake it across rather than a peeler.
  2.  Make a long cut to open up the karela keeping the base intact.
  3. Remove the seeds and pith with your hands or scrape with a small spoon.
  4. Salt the Karela and place two tablespoons of lemon juice on them in a bowl. Let sit for an hour. You will then squeeze the juice from the Karela. This will cut some of the bitterness. Rinse the remaining salt water off the Karelas.
  5. Heat the oil and fry the karela in the oil till they are browned and cooked on all sides.Remove the Karela and place on a towel. 
  6. In the same oil, add the onions and fry them till they begin to brown add chilis and spices and cook until oil starts to release from the base and it is fully cooked.
  7. Use the cooked base and stuff the fried karela. Some people use thread to tie up the karela to keep the base in. Cook stuffed Karela until completely cooked and tender enough to eat. 
  8. Stuffed Karela are great with rotis, In our family we eat them with yellow daal and yogurt. They have a strong flavor that we all adore! I hope you enjoy!

Finally Found Indian Vegetables!

It has starting to get warm here in Sacramento, California. The first day of spring was this weekend and we are expected to be in the 80’s later this week. I feel like Sacramento skips spring and goes right into summer. The weather change initiates a change in our wardrobes as well as our meals.

Nasreen enjoying summer watermelon last year, she keeps asking when she gets to have watermelon again!

As a kid spring and summer in California meant watermelon, barbecued chicken, corn on the cob, potato salad and ice cream. My husband who grew up in India would look forward to mango shakes,coconut water, Tinda subzi, Kulfi and other summer/spring foods.

I have never had an issue finding Indian dried daals, beans, and spices in the United States. On the other hand Indian vegetables have been a challenge. Indians eat many of the same vegetables that Americans eat and grow locally. Foods like potatoes, peas, Okra, carrots and so on. There are a few fruits and vegetables that are unique to India, and are very quintessential to the summer palate.

GC, back in India passing out rose flavored milk drink to people on the street as part of a Seva project during the hot summer

When I visited India I went in the middle of the hottest part of the year! It was too hot to eat anything heavy. I enjoyed the light vegetable subzis (curries) that my mother in law made. After returning to the US I have been searching for these mystery vegetables ever since. Half the problem is the fact that my husband only knows the Indian name for these vegetables which puzzles the produce clerks at my local stores. I have searched at Indian markets but there is not alot of vegetable variety.

A few months ago I discovered this amazing grocery store called KP International Market! Its huge! Its right near where I live. Imagine a store catering to all the different types of ethnic foods. There is a huge section for Asian food, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese. There is a Middle Eastern section, Mexican, European.  It is an amazing market and the prices are so good! My daughter and I love going down the different aisles searching for new unique foods, different types of cookies. I looked through the vegetables but honestly I dont know which vegetables my Mother in Law used in the subzis. I just know they are tasty!

Karela, which is fried into a wonderful dish!

Every time I come home from grocery shopping I go on and on about how great the market is to my husband. This last weekend I finally got him to go with me! He was like a kid in a candy store! He found some of his most favorite vegetables that he had not eaten since India! Who knew we would get so excited for vegetables!

Fresh Methi!, so good with potatoes and rotis

Indian squash called Lauki, makes a yummy light subzi

Cardamon cookies

I then took him down the Indian section and he raved about their selection of Indian salty snacks and cookies! I had to remind him that we can always come back for more, as he loaded up the cart as if he was preparing a famine! I loved seeing him so happy and having the comforts of his home country! I am excited for using these vegetables. Yummy!

Salty snacks

My Fast and Easy Trick to Making Round Rotis in a Hurry

A Roti/ chapati/phulka is a pan cooked flat bread made of whole wheat stone ground flour, called Atta. It is the staple of many Indian’s diets, especially those in Northern India. Roti is eaten with curry, daal,and other foods. In many cases the Roti is used to scoop up food instead of a spoon.

My husband is Punjabi and Punjabis are known for eating alot of Roti. As a family we eat Roti about five times a week. I make a big batch of prepared dough (Atta) a couple times a week. The Atta is stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Traditional Rotis are rolled on a round board like this

Since starting school this month I have been trying to find ways to save time. I always make dinner before I leave for class because I want my husband and daughter to have a good nutritious meal. I make the curry or daal ahead of time and it is ready in the pot.  I also roll and cook the rotis which are then covered and ready for my husband to eat when he comes home.

Punching the roti out

Traditional Rotis are rolled out individually. It takes some time to get the perfect round shape, even thickness, and uniform size. I get so frustrated rolling Rotis. Its time consuming, my hands are covered in sticky atta and I never get the perfect shape. I have literally cried about my inability to make a perfect Roti!

One day I experimented with an idea. Instead of rolling out each Roti I decided to try “punching” them out. I rolled out a large section of prepared Atta on the cutting board. I then used a bowl and cut out perfect uniform circles in the dough.

Perfect round shape, no frustration

It made 4 rotis. I then rolled the leftover dough again and punched out 4 more. It only took a third of the time it usually took me to make roti. I cooked them in the pan and they turned out wonderful. Perfect uniform circles. The sealed edges made them puff up so nice.

I did not tell my husband my new trick at first, but when I gave him the Rotis he was wowed at how round and puffy they were on his plate. I told him my trick and he was pleasantly surprised that I had adapted an age old tradition and put a little personal touch that worked for me.

Yummy round Rotis! I love my new punching method

Many people have told me that I should just switch to the frozen rotis that are commonly sold in stores. This is something that I will never do. I love that I can give my husband and daughter fresh Rotis. Yes they are made differently than his mom and family makes them but they are still fresh and hand made with love. I feel that there are just some corners you should not cut.

Sneak Peak at the Cake

My daughter’s big Birthday party is coming on Saturday, and today I have finished making the cake. Two tiers of blue velvet cake decorated to match her frozen theme. It took me quite a bit of time. I could have bought one, but I love making my daughter’s birthday cakes. I have made every birthday cake since she was born. It makes me very proud to make cakes for my family. I thought I would share the process that I went through. The cake is not perfect. The fondant is not totally smooth and the white sprinkle beading is totally irregular, but I am happy with it. I think it looks fun and happy, and that is what I cared most about. Perfection is not my aim, happiness is 🙂

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baked, and than frozen for firmness

 

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crumb coating, layer of butter cream

 

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covered in fondant

 

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covering the larger cake tier in fondant

 

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The little sprinkle beading was the hardest part

 

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Walnut Crescent Cookies: My Favorite Holiday Cookie

Since I was a kid I have loved to bake, especially during the holidays! As a teenager I started to give baked goods as gifts to my friends and family. Walnut Crescent cookies are by far my favorite cookie to eat and bake! They are very simple to make, have a rich flavor, and look beautiful. As an added bonus they have no eggs, so my non egg eating veggie friends will love them too!

Buttery Walnut Crescent Cookies
Yield: 4 Dozen

Ingredients:
1 Cup Unsalted Butter, Softened
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Ground Walnuts
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
Powdered Sugar For Topping

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. F.
Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla and walnuts.
Add the 2 cups of flour and combine.
Refrigerate dough for 1 to 2 hours.
Break off 1 tablespoon sized pieces and shape into crescents.
Place on a baking sheet, and bake for about 13-15 minutes, or until the cookies are set, and have just begun to take on color.
Cool completely, and then roll into the powdered sugar until well coated.
Store in airtight containers.