Monday, August 01, 2011

(Mis)Adventures in the Kitchen

Apparently, there is more to being a stay at home mom than just staying at home. You have to obsess about their friends, spend some quality time with them, personally drop and pick them up from school and when you get some time off from all that, you have to morph into a veritable Julia Child and serve up nutritious, delicious, home-cooked meals too. (I would have said  Nigella Lawson, but I am just not feeling that sexy these days)

Now for some history. I do not cook, never did, never felt the need to. My mom, who worked full time, was an infrequent cook and when she did enter the kitchen, it was usually to whip out one of her recipe books and carefully follow their instructions to bake us a cake or cook a Chinese meal. Cooking was not big in her scheme of things and I was not expected to learn to cook while I was growing up either. My paternal grandmother tried to get me to learn because it was unthinkable to her that a girl not know how to cook. I told her I'd be willing to learn if my brother learnt alongside... so nothing came of that.

Once I moved away from home and started working, I was lucky enough to always be in Mumbai and have very reliable maids. My contribution to the kitchen stopped at buying groceries and giving instructions on what was to be prepared. I cooked very occasionally and it was an 'event' that involved identifying recipes, shopping for exotic ingredients (which got tossed after one use because they rotted before they were so much as looked at again) and clearing all other plans for the evening. This didn't change with motherhood either - I saw my job as making sure my kids ate healthy, tasty food - being their personal chef was not in the job description, as far as I was concerned.

And then we moved to Hyderabad and my luck ran out. I have managed to find a part-time cook and her cooking is pretty decent but she thinks nothing of playing hooky without so much as a moment's notice. The first few times that she didn't show up I just packed the kids into the car and took them out for lunch. But after a point, it seemed a bit excessive. I mean, you can take pride in outsourcing food when you are a working mom and don't have the time or bandwith to take on kitchen duties. But as a stay at home mom, rushing to a restaurant or the take-out folder at the drop of a hat seems kind of erm... lazy.

So, I decided to pull up my proverbial socks and learn how to cook. And it's been an interesting journey so far. I have been trying my hand at simple stuff like dals and sabzis but also experimenting with somewhat more exotic stuff from cookbooks and various food blogs.

For starters, I have set myself really low benchmarks. If the kids eat it without a fuss, I count it as a success. And I have to say the kids have been real troopers - they have eaten everything from slimy bhindi (how was I supposed to know bhindi goes to hell when water is added to it), overdone dal and undercooked potatoes. Their unwavering unfussiness has kept me going, otherwise I would have thrown in the towel and run screaming towards the takeout menus weeks ago.

 My biggest saviour has been this book - The First Time Cookbook. I picked it up on a whim years ago and have hardly looked at it since. But it really is a fantastic book and I could not recommend it more for those looking to make their first forays into the world of Indian cooking. It teaches you things most cookbooks assume you already know like what vessels to buy, shopping for and storing vegetables, meat and spices and most importantly the authors do away with the most confusing of instructions 'Add salt to taste' and tell you exactly how much to add. Its first recipe is a foolproof method for making plain rice, it covers all dals, details a foolproof and easy method to set your own curds and even has instructions for boiling an egg. It is as if someone wrote a cookbook after looking into my head and knowing what I'd need if I ever decided to enter the kitchen. With its help, I can now at least put together a basic meal. I have even experimented with somewhat advanced stuff from the book like matar paneer and dum aloo with reasonable success (which, like I said, simply means that the kids ate it)

The other book I have really been enjoying cooking from has been chef Ritu Dalmia's The Italian Khana. This book is the polar opposite of the previous book in terms of ease of use. The ingredients can be hard to find, the instructions can assume a level of foreknowledge that a novice cook might not possess and the recipes are laid out in a confusing manner - instead of chapters on soups, starters, main courses and desserts, her book is divided into sections like 'Cooking with Friends', 'Showing off', and 'Cooking for the Beloved'. Not everything in the book is easy to cook and there have been some not-so-great meals as a result (the kids still ate them though - you see what I mean about them being troopers) but I have learnt some useful stuff. Her recipes for tomato sauce and pesto are very doable, so no more store-bought stuff for our pastas.

I have also been trying my hand at baking cakes. My target is to bake at least one cake or batch of cookies a week so Ayaan gets home-made goodies in his school tiffin. Until recently, all my baking was done in my microwave, which happens to have a convection cooking option as well but it does have its limitations - the cakes don't taste as good and you can basically only use round cake tins. So I went ahead and invested in the Morphy Richards OTG (Oven-Toaster-Grill). So far, the results have been mixed. The first two things (an applesauce cake and chocolate chip cookies) I attempted to bake in it were burnt even though I followed the instructions to a T. In fact, the recipe for the choco-chip cookies was from the cookbook that came with the oven! And when I baked a batch with the same batter in my microwave, those came out just fine. However, the chocolate cake I baked in the oven came out perfect. Very confusing.

Not including the baking, I try and cook at least twice a week irrespective of the maid's absenteeism. Since I want to master the process as a whole, I do everything required to put the dish on the table, including chopping the vegetables, which I could easily outsource to the cook or the full-timer. This takes me a-g-e-s and my fingers and nails are full of scrapes; it's a miracle I haven't done any serious injury to myself.

I am slow in many other ways as well. I can't multi-task for peanuts. I need to make one dish at a time and as a result, I need to spend at least two hours in the kitchen to put together a relatively simple meal. I also completely lack instinct when it comes to cooking so I look for recipes which tell me exactly how much of stuff to add and when to assume that the dish in question is done. I'd like to think I will one day get to a point when I can effortlessly thrown some random ingredients into a dish without looking at a recipe book or using my measuring cups and produce something delicious. I don't know if that day will ever come, though I do know it is not likely any time in the near future.

The fringe benefit of cooking regularly is that I am loving the way my kitchen looks. It has never been this clean or well-organsied. In Mumbai, my cook had a free run of the place and while she churned out yummy stuff, she tended to be messy and had her own way of putting stuff away. It was often impossible for me to locate stuff on my own and other than the occasional cleaning drives, I pretty much let her do her own thing. Now, everything is spic and span and I know down to the last container where everything is. It is strangely satisfying.

So that, in short, is the story of my initial forays into the kitchen. From being something that I detested, I now find the task of cooking fairly tolerable and depending on what I am making, even enjoyable. Let's see what the future brings.

45 comments:

  1. If the kids eat it without a fuss, I count it as a success

    - I would think that's a very high standard to meet! Congrats!

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  2. Anonymous10:38 pm

    I really like the honesty in any of your posts Rohini really...be it about your kids or your home or kids...all of us seem to relate to things in one way or the other....love your writing...

    Regarding cooking you will get there dont worry:)) And your kids love it so what more do you need?? What has been your hubby's reactions;))

    I enjoy and love cooking...but now with 2 small kids (4 and 1) and full time job living in the US it was very tough..more than the cooking the preps and the cleaning afterwards which used to take forever..So finally my hubby has convinced me to get help and have found a wonderful person who is doing a very good job...so I still cook a dish or 2 in the weekend..but overall I like this setup:)) where I get to spend more quality time with the kids after work rather than in the kitchen:))

    Phew..that was a long comment..

    Good luck with your cooking adventures!!

    -Bhavani

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  3. If you've come this far so soon, you'll love it one day for sure :) Cooking was one thing my mother and father insisted we know.. they've both been in situations where they had to run a household so this was one of the non-negotiables on their list for me and my brother too. As a result, I know what goes in what and have a decent "andaaz" of quantities too. But still, knowing how something is cooked and cooking something on a regular basis + running a kitchen is quite another. So it still took me many months after getting married, to not start panicking if the cook went on leave. One thing I'm yet to learn is the not letting ingredients go to waste after one use. So, now in case I follow the cookbook recipes with rare/expensive one-use ingredients, I google for a more commonly used alternative to the said ingredient or look for more recipes with that ingredient. Still cant always save stuff from rotting :(

    Happy cooking! Do post pictures next time

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  4. I too have an in-built resistance to cooking. Everyone else in my family likes it. I would much rather be doing something else. I shall follow your journey with interest.

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  5. I never got into a situation like this, I mean I was so fascinated with cooking at very young age, It is always good to know basic cooking in case of emergency and you are doing great. Well done Roh.

    I must agree I hate cooking these days as it is more like a must do as I have no other choice. I would love to outsource my cooking if I have an option.

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  6. phew...dt wz something...i am no good in terms of cooking..but after reading ur post..i think i can give it a try too..care abt putting sm of ur baking recipes for non strters like me..tk cr..gd luck for d many more yet to come yummy stuff frm ur kitchen ;)

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  7. And involve your kids in the cooking process as much as you can!

    I dont know when i learnt cooking. My mum worked and expected my dad and me to take on chores around the house and kitchen. Its the same in our house, though Sanah is yet to be put in charge of any chore. Another few years i guess.

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  8. ps. until when are you planning your break from work? Trust me, being in a domestic cocoon might get you edgy soon( great for the cooking and the craft but not sure you want to go down that road).

    Sorry, personal question in a public forum but knowing you i sort of wondered.

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  9. wow Ro the Martha!! i thought biscuits came out better in the OTG... really confusing for simple minds like mine.

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  10. And I cook because I need to eat...thankfully RD now a days is getting enthused about cooking so life is a bit simpler..but like Uma says..if the kids eat, then the cooking is a success...I started cooking pretty early in life because ma used to work and I wanted to help...but trust me even after years of practice I cant figure out the salt to taste wala portion..

    Kudos to you and here is to more cooking..learn to make the Hyderabadi biryani (egg version) will you and then post the recipe here :)

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  11. Oh! How i can relate to this! My mom tried to cajole and plead and when that didn't work push and shove me towards the kitchen. Nothing worked! I never had the inclination to cook. My younger sis was the one with the natural talent :) I managed to survive though - thanks to cooks and a no-fuss husband and kid! Zip to now 5 years after marriage - I can whip up some decent stuff even if the cook doesn't turn up. All the best for your experiments! Am sure practice will make you a decent cook ;)

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  12. Hey good for you! And you are really really lucky that you kids and not fussy. I hate cooking too but tried a hand in it during Karan's initial years and gave up cos he was so incredibly fussy. Now my cooking is limited to stuff I make with the kids.

    I am enjoying following your journey as a SAHM and beginning to again wonder whether I should go that route.

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  13. Way to go Rohini. Congrats for taking on somwthing you've never done before... must look up that book.. There's another one I used called Cooking for Brides, bachelors and those who hate cooking... the name says it all. The good part is the book talks of meals instead of dishes .. as in a complete lunch, a breakfast etc. Keep writing how it's going.

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  14. I am so in tune with your mom! I cooked when my kids were young, mostly the bakes and things which were not available here. But I never learnt to cook our traditional recipes ever, cos my husband never seemed happy with anything other than what his mother (or sisters) made. So I figured 'why bother' and concentrated on fun stuff.
    As to the first book you've mentioned, by Janet & Saeed Rizvi, I totally second your opinion, it's the best. Someone gifted it to my son & wife and they left it here and I just love it!

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  15. Awesome Ro! Such a lovely and honest blog!

    Keep it up, you are enjoying yourself, you will master this soon. Dont let go off the help though, then the necessity will bring in the lack of interest.

    I love cooking too, and I can see my 6 and 2.5 yr olds loving what I make, but I have a cook who makes all my meals. But I make something special for them one meal in the week and another in the weekend.

    It is satisfying indeed. Enjoy this phase, and keep us posted on the progress.

    Incidentally, I just felt like it today......so ended up making broccoli cream soup that took all of 12 mins....exactly to make.

    Also, cant stop myself from telling you that I was drooling through the read......

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  16. Anonymous7:06 pm

    Hello Rohini

    I am glad that you enjoyed cooking from my book. I am curious to know what was difficult to find in Hyderabad, so I am more careful next time round.

    wonderful Blog

    cheers

    Ritu Dalmia

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  17. i too learned cooking the hard way. after the kids.

    and i regret not having an easy facility in the kitchen.

    now, i think its a survival skill.
    should be taught in schools , along with economics and science.

    there should be a washing barthans 101. seriously.

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  18. I never learnt to cook when I was home! Now that I am staying away from my family, I am all set to participate in MASTERCHEF!

    I am not married. People say my husband would be one lucky man!

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  19. Am not a fan of cooking the regular daal-sabzi. In fact, I seem quite incapable of it too :-(

    But I do enjoy cooking for friends. Love it, in fact and always have :-)

    Have fun on your trip to becoming a culinary goddess! Then I'll take down recipes from you :-)

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  20. Wow Ro! "Incred" as I tell KB when he does something well! So like you to do this! It just spells Ro when I read this post! You just pick up a book, start from scratch, learn it and learn it well and do it all yourself! Super duper! When I visit Hyd, if ever that happens, I want a simple meal but cooked by you! That is my reward for not hiding or sending B to get KB and Ayaan to meet up! :)

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  21. *hugs the Ro*

    See? You can do anything. Anything at all. :)

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  22. Have you seen Julie & Julia Rohini? If you've not, then very briefly, it's about how this girl (Julie) blogs about her efforts to cook all the recipes of the legendary Julia Childs in a month (i think). This post is so awesome that I am sure a lot of people would also like to read about your daily forays into the world of cooking-something-healthy-for-the-kids. And at last I have found someone who knows as little (knew, I should say now) about cooking as me; though the strange part is I too have been toying with the idea of starting to bake - all part of the healthy lunch box crusade we have no choice but to join! All the best with your culinary endeavours - waiting to hear all about it :)

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  23. OMG! you are gonna turn into a kitchen goddess as well? soon i will have no company in the "cannot cook corner!" sigh!

    but good for ya Ro! an amazingly honest post as always!

    whenever i manage a trip to Hyderabad, will you cook for me?! :D

    cheers!

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  24. Very inspiring post Ro. I also learnt cooking only after my wedding. Initially it was tough, but in sometime, I got a hang of it. And you are one smart woman, I am sure you are doing great, else the kids won't have touched the food. Good luck!

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  25. Dear Rohini.. You amaze me with how you are entering a non-comfort zone and making it your own :).

    Completely agree with the first comment by Uma - if the kids are eating it, then that's the goal achieved!

    I used to Hate cooking when I was working (pre-kids) and ordering out was very common. But slowly as the kids were growing up and I had more time I started enjoying drawing on recipes from my mom(tam-brahm) and my mom-in-law(syrian christian) - love trying out the vastly different yet wonderfully tasty extremes :). Also love trying out something all my own and completely non-traditional sometimes ;) !!

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  26. The last bit on having a well-organised kitchen totally stuck a chord. Rarely do I interfere with the bai's method of organising stuff but last evening I finally spent a happy hour organising everything. It is a very satisfying feeling indeed. Though I suppose today the bai may not agree.

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  27. Whoa...Ritu Dalmia replied on your blog..:) 1) Did you try keeping your iphone in some mild sun? And does it work now?
    I'm working, 1 kid, have cook, but love cooking (doesn't always result in awesome results, though i dream of making awesome homemade snacks rather than the store bought ones)
    Some useful blogs for good indian food and baking as well
    http://www.mydiversekitchen.com/
    http://homecookreceipes.blogspot.com
    and follow the other blogs on these

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  28. oooooohhhh.Whenever I watch masterchef Australia or top chef I have this vision of myself whipping up delicacy after delicacy in a matter of seconds. But the reality of my sweltering delhi kitchen makes me hold the hand of Maggie Bhuna Masala quite often. Although I was a non-cook until my marriage, a foodie husband, a picky eater for a child and a perennial bad luck with maids has made me turn into a reasonable cook.GOOD LUCK for your sojourn in the pursuit of being a domestic goddess.

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  29. Wow..good luck in cooking. I really admire the way you write...Rohini

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  30. Congratulations girl! First Kiran and now you! I love cooking. It's the cleaning up and the laundry and the rest of the housework that get to me! I've been a pretty irregular cook- i mean i knew how to - my mom saw to that.. but i'd need to be inspired. Post motherhood, it became routine. Then I bought some Tarla dalal cook books to increase the variety and its been super easy. Check out her website and there are some very easy recipes for kids. All the best!!!

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  31. [Uma] Either my standards are high or my kids' standards are low. And I suspect it is the latter :p

    [Bhavani] Thanks :) The husband meekly eats it too - what choice does he have! I think it was wise of you to have outsourced the weekday cooking.

    [The Soul...] Andaaz is my Achilles Heel. Tried to put salt by andaaz this morning in my omelet and it did not turn out well. :|

    [u] Now you are giving me performance anxiety :p

    [weourlife] I think I would definitely detest it if I had to cook every day. At about twice a week, I am actually starting to enjoy my forays into the culinary world :)

    [Tintin] No recipes per se. Just stuff found off the Net. The Betty Crocker site is good.

    [Sur] I know you said I should delete the comment but I am going to keep it, since I don't mind (tell me if you do). I guess my break needs to continue at least until I find reliable child care and can trust them with my kids.

    [Itchy] So did I. I am not sure the OTG is working as it is supposed to. But some of the cakes have turned out fine. I am very confused too.

    [R's Mom] Hyderabadi biryani seems way beyond my skill levels. Plus Paradise takeaway is right around the corner :)

    [Simran] Hope to follow in your footsteps :)

    [Lawyeramma] Then you should know that I am considering going the reverse route once I find reliable childcare:)

    [OM] That sounds like a book I should invest in. Let me go see if Flipkart has it. Ooh, I just checked, it is available. And it is written by a Rohini. It's like it was meant to be :)

    [HGM] Isn't it the most awesome book? I have two copies just in case I misplace one of them :)

    [Sai] Have no plans of letting my help go anywhere. Cooking every day will be the death of me!!! And don't drool, it is very basic food that I am cooking!

    [Ritu] I am totally flattered that you stopped by and commented, thanks. I have been pleasantly surprised by the stuff available in Hyderabad. Porcini mushrooms (the dried ones) are the only things I have not found so far. There is a reasonable cheese selection too though stuff like Ricotta, one has to buy the packaged stuff.

    [MIM] Too true. But you seem to dish out some fairly evolved stuff now so maybe there is hope for me :)

    [Anon] Commendable! When I was single, I depended heavily on restaurants and their home-delivery menus.

    [M4] So says the culinary goddess incarnate. Don't forget I have eaten some of the delicacies you can churn out. No way you are ever going to need recipes from me :p

    [Noon/ Mama-Mia] Sure, I will cook for you. Bring a strong stomach and a tolerant palate :)

    [Sue] Awwww... thanks. Hugs back.

    [Zainab] Yes, I have seen that movie but Julia Child and her French cooking are way beyond my level right now :) Will post updates about my culinary adventures.

    [Violet] My kids are awesome. But yes, my food is edible.

    [Aparna] I would love to get some of the recipes from my family but they always seem to give more vague instructions while I need step-by-step directions and precise measurements :)

    [Anita] Every time I organised my kitchen in Mumbai, the maid managed to bring it back to her system in a few days. So I gave up.

    [i-me-myself] Yeah, I am pretty chuffed she replied too. Thanks for the links, will check them out. The iPhone has been repaired - cost a lot of money though :(

    [Swapna] I picked up the Maggi Bhuna Masala on my last shopping trip, for emergencies. Good to see you have tried and tested it.

    [Aryan] Thanks :)

    [Gypsy Girl] I have been picking up her bi-monthly cooking magazine and have found some reasonably easy yet interesting recipes.

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  32. You have to now put up a new blog on how you find the time and patience to respond to each and every one of our comments!

    You rock, girl!

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  33. I don't know if it is ok to congratulate you for this, but I will since this is one more art to learn (what I call survival skill). Trust me, when I started cooking some 10yrs ago I didn't know how to make anything. I didn't know the ratio of water to rice/dhal whatever...but now I can put together a great meal (not tooting my own trumpet...but just saying that you will get there too). Don't worry too much about it...the kitchen is actually a great place to be in...it is kind of like a meditation to cook! Keep up!

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  34. :) Doing Good Ro the Nigella !

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  35. Hey, I miss reading your blogs! Start writing!

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  36. There is absolutely nothing you can't do, Ro, when you put your mind to it. I love how organized and systematic you are in everything you do.

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  37. Hey I am so impressed with your profile and your courage to flirt with motherhood after 11 years of corporate life. I have just begun mine after 10. I love the confession of feeling Julia Child and not Nigella. If we could cook just like Julia our kids would be so happy. I kind of liked cooking but stayed away from it so long but now that I am at home and my daughter enjoys it as much we are whipping some stuff everyday. Just yesterday we baked some eggless whole wheat banana cake. Read it on www.kidsstoppress.com

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  38. (Commenting for the first time on your blog) Wow...it was like reading a blog about myself....i cant cook for peanuts...i can take the simplest recipe and turn it into a complete and utter disaster...most of the stuff i have tried my hand at turns out either undercooked or burnt..sometimes in the same dish!!
    But as a mom of a 3-year old i am forced into the kitchen when my maid doesnt show up....All the best for your forays into the kitchen....

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  39. Preeti10:50 am

    Hey, Am reading your blog after a few months so just catching up with all your news:) Wonderful write up on your cooking (mis)adventures:)... But we all started at some point, didn't we?

    I wanted to suggest that if you want to get a good idea of how to cook, you may want to surf youtube. They have some really good videos across cuisines, and I find them really helpful as they show you what to add when.

    The channel that I usually follow is one by a chappie called vahchef. His food usually turns out yum, is fairly easy (u'll be churning out rava dosa like a pro!!), and he's Hyderabadi, so u should find all the ingredients:) All the best,
    Preeti

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  40. This is a much delayed comment but I just have to tell you that reading this inspired me hugely to take some more interest in my kitchen and stop depending on my 'cook' who regularly rolls out rubber rotis and burns omelettes and then acts like an omelette that's pitch black on one side is nothing out of the ordinary. And its not like I can't or don't enjoy cooking, I was just being plain lazy. Your post acted like a much needed kick in the butt and life, and the food we eat, is much better now :)

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  41. Hi.. it is fun reading your blog. i for one, love cooking and cooking for my 15 months old is fun. I do have some easy recipes for babies and toddlers on my website http://www.shishuworld.com

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