Long before she was born, I have been into anything and everything related to cooking …from gawking at mouthwatering pictures on food blogs, experimenting in the kitchen every chance I got and watching television shows on the Food Network or Cooking Channel. As a baby, my daughter would be sleeping on my while I watched cooking shows on TV, crawling around the kitchen while I cooked and even playing with the pots and pans, cooking up all kinds of toys in them. I guess it’s but natural that cooking is one thing that bonds us together very strongly.
When we are not catching up on “Giada at Home”, Nia and I love spending time baking together on the weekends and holidays. During the week, when we get back home in the evening, she joins me in the kitchen for a little cooking therapy. We spend a couple of hours cooking together, talking about her day at school as we prepare and finally feast on our “concoction of the day”.
When she was younger, I would just pop her on the counter and have her wash off fruits or vegetables, press the button on the food processor or stick M&Ms on to cookies and watch her giggle and laugh. It was precious!
As she grew up, I started giving her tasks like measuring ingredients, whisking eggs, mixing the pancake batter or stirring up her favorite chocolate sauce for dipping strawberries and she would get immense pleasure out of helping me. It was also a great sense of achievement for her to be a part of the process that was going on the kitchen and then getting to taste the fruits of her hard work.
Now, at 5, she is able to cut veggies on her own! This is a huge accomplishment for her and I am so proud of her!
So for Mother’s day this year, I thought of sharing concoctions that I whip up together with my lil Top Chef!
Egg Fried Rice
No, it’s not mac & cheese but Nia’s go-to comfort food is a simple fried rice with eggs, a few veggies and lot’sa black pepper! It was something my mom made for us as kids and then I carried the tradition on by making it for Nia, since she was about 15 months old. Now Nia & I make it together and we love it!
Now, with her advanced knife skills, she does all the prep work for me. Neatly sliced green onions, diced green peppers, minced garlic and chopped cilantro…she does it all! ” Mommy, I want to do it!”, she says with great excitement as I put the frying pan on the flame …and so I let her do it. She is very confident about taking charge in the kitchen. I tell her what to do next and she follows the steps, one after the other. As she finishes sautéing the veggies, I help her stir the rice and the egg in before she puts the finishing touches with the chopped cilantro and serves it for all of us. “It’s the yummiest fried rice you’ll get, especially since Nia has made it!”, I tell my husband
We often make this rice …at least once in 2 weeks and now have come up with several versions …adding different veggies like green beans, mushrooms, even shrimp or thinly sliced chicken. Quick and super easy to make, this is not just Nia’s but the entire family’s favorite!
For about 1 cup fried rice
1 cup cooked steamed basmati rice or any long grain rice, like Jasmine rice
2 stems of scallions or green/spring onions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
1/4 green or red pepper, diced (optional)
1/4 cup of frozen peas and carrots, thawed (optional or any other veggies like sliced green beans, mushrooms, etc. )
4-5 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
1 egg, cracked and beaten
1-2 tbsp oil, canola or vegetable
1 tbsp soy sauce, preferably low sodium (so that you can control the amount of salt)
1 tsp fine ground black pepper
a few cilantro sprigs, leaves minced
In a frying or sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat and sauté the green onions, peppers, garlic and any other vegetable, chicken or shrimp if using, for a couple of mins till the veggies soften up and the meat/seafood cooks. With the cooking spoon, move the veggies towards the edges of the pan and pour the soy sauce in the middle of the pan.
Within a few seconds, the soy sauce will start boiling up and you can add the rice to the pan and mix well to incorporate everything.
Then pour the beaten egg over the rice and veggies and continuing stirring, making sure the egg coats the rice and the veggies and also cooks without sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.
Season with salt and fine ground black pepper.
Mini Uttapam Pizzas
All kids love pizzas and so does Nia! She can never get bored of eating it, but I try to keep her away from pulling out the frozen “Elmo” pizza from the freezer (After all, it’s just a back up for those rainy nights when I may not be able to cook). So I came up with an idea of using something I always handy in my refrigerator, the store-bought uttapam batter and turned a savory pancake into a fun and exciting base for yummy uttapam pizzas!
Topped with sweet and tangy tomato ketchup and loaded with a big mound of grated Amul cheese, these “pancake” pizzas are Nia’s all-time favorite. I also sneak in some veggies in the batter – peas, chopped spinach, grated broccoli, carrots, whatever I find. More than eating, Nia is excited as she gets to grate her own cheese!
She loves stirring in the veggies in the batter and is excited to eat them in her pizzas. When I put hot pancakes on her plate, Nia squeezes the ketchup out and spoons it over them. Then she takes a good handful of the cheese she grated earlier and makes an “extra-cheese” pizza for herself.
And finally, after all the stirring, grating and making her own pizzas, she loves to eat them all up!
Uttapam pizzas are so easy and fun to make for kids or even as appetizers for grown-ups. I have made these for the kids at some of the parties I’ve hosted and they love them. Even moms and dads ask if they could have a bite or two!
For 4 mini (silver dollar sized) uttapam pancakes
1 cup store-bought (available in any Indian store) or home-made uttapam batter
4-5 broccoli florets, grated
1 small carrot, grated
1/8th cup frozen green peas, thawed (optional)
a handful of baby spinach leaves, chopped (optional)
salt, if needed to adjust seasonings
oil or melted butter, for cooking
about 1 cup, grated mild cheddar cheese
In about a cup of uttapam batter, mix in veggies and adjust seasonings with salt.
Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet or a flat pan over medium-low heat. Ladle 1/4 cup of the prepared uttapam batter into the pan to make 4 silver dollar-sized pancakes. Drizzle oil or melted butter around each.
Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes and then cook for a couple mins until browned. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel and make more pancakes if you want.
Transfer the cooked ones on to a serving plate, spread a little ketchup and sprinkle grated cheese.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Mini Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
When it comes to baking, Nia’s enthusiasm has no limits! From holiday baking to birthday cupcakes, she loves it all. Out of all the baking we do together, baking cupcakes is definitely her ultimate favorite. I see a sparkle in her eyes when I say “You know, we have to bake cupcakes today!”
As I pull my classic cupcake recipe out, she is literally jumping with joy. She giggles and laughs as she stirs the flour, whips the batter, lines the cupcake tray with baking cups and watches the oven window with great excitement as the cupcakes puff up!
It’s very hard to contain her excitement when I pull the hot cupcakes out of the oven. After tasting one, she is all charged up to make her favorite strawberry frosting.
And as I frost each cupcake, she decorates them with colorful sprinkles and proudly claims to be the best cupcake baker ever