Sunday, August 31, 2014

SweetLeaf Sweet Drops Cola - Review

I have never been a big soda drinker. Yes, I do enjoy the occasional chilled Pepsi or a Coke with a piping hot pizza or a spicy dish. The tart, almost bitter taste of the cola somehow complements a hot, spicy meal and I might indulge myself with one. The key word being indulge, because in my humble opinion, a soda - it doesn't matter what brand is it, doesn't qualify as an everyday consumable item. Other than the fact that soda has absolutely no nutritional value, some brands have about 40 grams of sugar in each serving, that's almost 8 teaspoons of sugar !! Add in the caffeine content and you have an addictive drink that replaces real nutrition with empty calories. Even if you go in for the diet varieties, they almost always use sugar substitutes which are no nutrition powerhouses themselves!


That is just for adults, I shudder every time I see kids guzzling these sodas down. Just think about childhood obesity, nutrition deficiency, dental decay and you will understand why! That's why, when I got the opportunity to review SweetLeaf Cola flavored sweet drops through Moms Meet, I was a little intrigued and a little curious as well. I had of course heard of stevia sugar substitute, I knew that it was plant based and was considered safer amongst all the sugar substitutes on the market, but I had never tried it myself. I always get a bitter aftertaste in my mouth, no matter the brand of the sugar substitute and I just end up using real sugar in lesser amounts.

A few facts about the SweetLeaf cola drops that I came across are:
  • SweetLeaf Liquid Stevia Sweet Drops Cola is a healthy alternative to traditional sodas.
  • All you need to do to enjoy a refreshing beverage is to add 2 - 3 drops of the Cola sweet drops to every ounce of sparkling water.
  • These drops are portable and very convenient.
  • SweetLeaf Sweet Drops contain no carbohydrates, sugar alcohols, calories, methanol, aspartame or sucralose. They are all-natural and gluten-free.
  • They are made with USDA certified organic stevia.


I bought a bottle of sparkling water from my local grocery store and immediately refrigerated it so that I could have a cool base for my cola drops. You could also use ice cubes, if you preferred that.
I then added about 8 - 10 drops of the liquid cola drops, stirred it well. I was pleasantly surprised when I could not detect the metallic aftertaste that I usually experience with all sugar substitutes. The taste was refreshing and the drink was fizzy due to the sparkling water. I could see how it could be used as a substitute for traditional sodas, especially by those who consume caffeinated beverages throughout the day, instead of water. I wouldnt say that using these cola drops would give you a beverage that would taste exactly like traditional soda. It doesnt. But, given that it contains 0 calories, no chemicals and is all natural, it would be worth it to just try and see for yourself.

The retail price is $4.39 for 37 servings and $14.99 for 100 servings. You could also visit SweetLeaf online and use the coupon code ColaMD at checkout to take 30% off your online order. You would also get free shipping with this deal.

Please visit the following links for more information about SweetLeaf.
www.SweetLeaf.com
www.ShopSweetLeaf.com
www.facebook.com/sweetleafstevia
www.twitter.com/SweetLeafStevia
www.pinterest.com/sweetleafstevia


Disclaimer: I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms MeetSM program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms MeetsSM blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Swedish Tea Ring - Eggless Baking Challenge

Do you ever feel that time is slipping like sand through your fingers ?? I get that feeling now and again, when I look at my kids, expecting to see my little babies, but actually seeing little persons, growing and maturing too quickly, right in front of my eyes ! Ever since I started working, I have had less time to spend with them during weekdays, but the job was my choice and so there is nothing for me to complain about :) I have to shift and slide my tasks and schedules around, so that I get to maximize the time and fun that I can have with my little darlings.
For July, the Baking Eggless challenge was to make a Swedish Tea Ring. It is very similar to cinnamon rolls, a rich yeast bread with a filling of cinnamon sugar, nuts and raisins, except it is baked in a circular form, usually in an intriguing design. This delicious bread originated in the Scandinavian region, which can now be separated into the countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. Most recipes seem to have been handed down by sweet grandmothers and continue to be relished in all parts of the world !

There are several recipes and creative designs floating merrily on the internet. Take your pick, but definitely give it a try !
The recipe we adapted is here.

Ingredients:
For the dough:
1/2 C milk
1/4 C ricotta cheese(substituting for 1 egg)
1/2 Tbs butter at room temperature
11/2 Tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
11/2 C + 2 Tbs bread flour
3/4 tsp active dry yeast

For the Filling: 
1 Tbsp softened butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 C packed light brown sugar
4 Tbsp almond slivers (optional)



IMAG1648

Method:
1. Put the milk, ricotta cheese, butter, sugar, salt and bread flour in a bowl.
2. Proof the yeast with a tablespoon of warm water and add to the bowl as well.
3. Mix all the ingredients well, until a smooth and slightly sticky dough is formed.
4. Knead well for about 5 - 6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
5. If you find that the dough is too sticky, then add a tablespoon of dough at a time, until desired texture is obtained.

IMAG1649

6. Oil a bowl and place the kneaded dough in it. You can use the same bowl in which you mixed the dough.
7. Cover loosely with a clean cloth and place in a warm area to let the dough rise.
8. After about 1.5 - 2 hours, the dough should have risen to double its original volume.
9. In the meantime, prepare the filling by combining the cinnamon, cardamom and sugar.
10. Punch the dough slightly to deflate the air. Roll it out into a 12 X 16 rectangle (approximately)
11. Brush the softened butter over the rolled dough. Leave about half an inch all around so that you can seal the ring properly.
12. Sprinkle the sugar and spice mixture evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the slivered almonds over the sugar and press slightly into the dough. You could use raisins instead of the nuts or you could use both !
13. Starting at the longer edge, roll the dough tightly into a log. Place the log, seam side down, stretching it with a gentle hand and then joining the two edges together to form a circle.
14. Place the circle on a greased baking tray. I lined a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
15. Using sharp kitchen scissors, cut 2/3 of the way through the loaf , at 1 inch intervals. Spread the cut pieces lightly.
16. At this point, I covered the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerated it. It was late in the evening and I didnt want to bake it at that time.
17. I couldnt bake it until the evening of the next day. The sugar and butter had combined to make a syrup of sorts which had oozed out of the dough. I was hoping that my bread wouldnt turn out to be a soggy mess !
18. If your dough is refrigerated, warm it up on the counter top for about 40 minutes. Do the same even if you intend to bake the bread on the same day. The second rise will yield a nice texture to the bread.
19. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Brush the tea ring with milk.
20. Bake the tea ring for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden and the filling seems bubbly.
21. Drizzle lightly with icing when the tea ring is still warm and serve immediately to all the family members who would have trickled into the kitchen following the delicious aromas emanating from there !

Notes :
1. The tea ring was delicious. The covering was flaky and rich and buttery and the filling was sweet and spicy and crunchy.
2. Kids and hubby both loved it and polished it off in a day !
3. The dough came together very easily and I had no difficulty with it at all.










Friday, July 25, 2014

Review : good2grow juices and veggie blends !

The days when juices were an occasional treat are long gone. Nowadays, parents all over have an inordinate number of choices when it comes to these ubiquitous treats. Picnics, birthday parties, casual gatherings, school lunches, summer camps...there is just no end to where juice boxes will make an appearance. For all their omnipresence and choice, the challenge lies in choosing a product that is not laden with artificial flavors, colors and added sweeteners. When you eliminate these culprits from the ingredient list, then there isn't too much of a choice.
When I got the opportunity to try fruit juices from the good2grow line of healthy beverages, I was curious. Since I am always on the lookout for food and drink items that I can serve my kids without any qualms, I was intrigued by the information that I had about good2grow.



The packaging was pretty unique in that a single serve bottle came with a character top which utilizes a patented spill proof design. These tops could then be reused if you purchased a refill pack of juice bottles. The 'SippaTops' come in dozens of character options such as Disney, Pixar, Nickelodeon, Marvel, etc.
I purchased a single serve bottle with a character from 'Cars' and also a refill pack. My kids were as intrigued and thrilled as I was to see this product and couldn't wait to try it out ! They loved the flavor and I loved that it was spill proof ! This way, as long as the top was tightened properly, I didnt have to worry about my kids taking their juice bottles into the living areas and inadvertently spilling the juice all over the carpet !



The good points of this juice are :
  • These juices are made from 100% fruit juice, as well as fruit and veggie blends. They do not contain added sugar, HFCS or any artificial additives or preservatives.
  • The juices come in 6 delicious varieties to suit all palettes.
  • They are sold in 3 different sizes ( 4 oz., 6 oz., and 8 oz.). Choosing the right size for your child becomes much easier.
  • As I mentioned above, the various 'SippaTop' character tops give a uniqueness to the juice bottles. The caps are also reusable and dishwasher safe.
  • All the bottles are BPA-free, non-GMO and recyclable.
  • The veggie blends contain less sugar than traditional juices and also contain one combined serving of fruits and vegetables.
  • These products are easily available at grocery stores, mass retailers and drug stores including Kroger, Safeway, H-E-B, Walmart, Kmart, Walgreens, CVS, Toys"R"Us, etc.
  • It would be convenient to send these single serve bottles as part of a school lunch, occasionally.
The aspects of this product that I didn't like so much:
  • Although I get that the character tops are attractive to kids, I think its a lot of unnecessary packaging. I have never had to bribe my kids to drink juice and in an age where people are trying to be more conscious about their carbon footprint, single serve juice bottles create a lot of landfill.
  • As a parent of two school going boys, I have come to realize that even the best fruit juices, without any additional sugars and artificial additives, are not the best drinks to offer to our kids on a daily basis. Juices have almost no fiber, a lot of sugar(even if its natural) and just add calories without providing the best nutrients. 
But I believe that all treats are permissible in moderation and I make no exception when it comes to juices. So in that regard, I would feel pretty good about offering the good2grow line of juices to my kids when it is accompanied by healthy food choices which include protein and healthy fats.
Other notes:
  • The retail price for a single serve is $2.49 to $2.99. Refill packs range from $2.99 to $3.49. As a conscientious food shopper, I would not pay for single serve juice boxes on a regular basis because buying a big bottle of natural fruit juice is much more economical and "green" ! 
  • Refrigeration of the products is not required but is recommended for better taste.
For more information, please visit the following resources: 
If you would like to receive a free refill pack with the purchase of a single serve beverage, visit win.good2grow.com/mmblogger and enter to win a themed birthday party for your children.
Also be sure to check out the social media experience StoryStictcher at good2grow.com/storystitcher and enter to win a $5000 scholarship and free coupons.

Disclaimer : I received free vouchers for this product from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agreed to review this product and post my opinions on my blog. My opinions are completely my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Hungarian Kipfels - Baking Eggless Challenge

For the Baking Eggless Challenge for the month of June, the recipe chosen was Hungarian Kipfels. These are traditional eastern European delicacies and are always made for special occasions such as weddings or birthday celebrations. Basically, for any occasion where family members could gather, create memories and share delicious food ! Sounds familiar ?
In any case, these sweet morsels are made with a rich dough and the filling could be prune or apricot butter, poppy seeds or even cream cheese and walnuts. I definitely wanted to make these because they looked delectable. The original recipe would definitely feed a crowd, but since I was only making it for 4, I had to scale the recipe down.

Original Recipe can be found here - June Meyer's Hungarian Kiffles
Ingredients:
2 C unbleached all purpose flour
1 stick / 8 tbsp butter , room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C + 2 Tbsp warm sour cream
1/4 C granulated sugar
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp grated orange zest

4 Tbsp walnuts , chopped finely
4 Tbsp granulated sugar

IMAG1612

Method:
1. Add the yeast to 2 Tbsp of warm water and set aside for 5 minutes to proof.
2. Meanwhile, mix the softened butter into the flour mixture until it resembles bread crumbs.
3. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Knead well until everything is incorporated and the dough turns smooth and soft. If required, add a little lemon juice to bring the dough together. I didnt need to add any extra liquid.
4. Let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume. (about 2 hours). In a separate bowl, mix the ground walnuts and sugar and keep aside.
5. Once the dough has risen, pinch off lemon sized balls and using your palms and fingers, pat the dough into a circle. You can use a cutting board, or a flat plate to help you enlarge the dough circle.
6. Place a teaspoon of your filling mixture in the middle of the circle. I used homemade apricot butter.
7. Staring from one edge, roll the dough such that the filling is covered.
8. Roll the pastry in the walnut sugar mixture and place seam side down on a greased cookie sheet.
9. Form similar dough packets and place on the prepared sheets.
10. Keep aside in a warm place for about 45 minutes to let the dough rise again.
11. Preheat the oven to 350.
12. Bake the rolls for about 30 minutes until lightly brown.
13. Remove from the oven, cool on a wire rack and then store in an airtight container when completely cooled. Remember to let the pastries cool completely before storing, else the pastry will sweat and make the rolls soggy. Not good eats.

Result:
1.  These little rolled up dumplings were seriously delicious. The buttery, flaky crust, the nutty and slightly sweet topping and the sweet and tart apricot butter filling provided a plethora of tastes and textures.
2. It is a very rich sweet, even without using eggs, so I would recommend that they be consumed in moderation!
3. Kids and hubby liked them, so it does appeal to quite a broad palette !
4. For the apricot butter, I essentially followed this recipe , but also added some freshly ground cardamom to lend an Indian touch. The apricot butter can also be used instead of regular jam. It was pretty easy to make and was quite good.

Notes:
1. I could have used a combination of whole wheat pastry flour and all purpose flour to increase the whole grains in the recipe.
2. Also, I think my active dry yeast was past its prime. The dough didnt rise as much as I expected. Please check the expiration date on your yeasts because more often than not, recipes using yeast depend largely on the yeast for the texture and taste of the end product !


Friday, June 27, 2014

36 random things about me and my experiences :)

1. I feel the same today as I felt exactly a year ago on my last birthday :)
2. Children will surprise you with their perception, reasoning skills and sense of humor.
Laughing uproriously along with your children will give you a sense of wonder and hope like nothing else.
3. If you smile at somebody, they will smile back at you.....mostly. I have had people look blankly at and through me when
I smile at them,
which used to leave me feeling very foolish indeed, but I dont let it bother me now !
4. Read and teach to children to read. It would also be wondeful if they enjoyed it :)
5. Learning to cook and bake from scratch and then serving it to friends and family gives me joy and a sense of accomplishment. I think its a very important skill to learn..I dont have to be a gourmet chef or know hundreds of recipes to enjoy my kitchen !
6. I was never a collector - I didnt buy hoards of clothes or own 20 different purses and 20 pairs of shoes (!!!?!). The only thing I did buy was books and even that has reduced after I subscribed to the excellent libraries in the US. But in recent years I have noticed that I have absolutely no interest in starting up that hobby after all. Doesnt mean I plan on living like a hermit, but I find that I am very easily satisfied with minimal purchases !
7. I speak 4 languages, one dialect. I can also read and write in all those 4 languages. Mind you, three of those are languages spoken in the Indian sub continent, but they still count ! I would love to learn more languages, because however beautiful and melodious a language is, its basic function is to help us to communicate with another human being. I think we should not forget that.
8. The sound of water, the presence of lakes and ponds calms and soothes me. The best memory I have of Jackson, Mississippi is sipping hot coffee on the shores of the Barnett Reservoir on a cool evening ! 
9. I love the smell of the earth after a rainy day and after the lawn is mowed. There is just something so earthy and elemental about it..I wish I could bottle those smells and use them as room fresheners or mood enhancers !
10. Being across the proverbial seven seas from my family makes me realize how much I miss them and would enjoy having them nearby. American holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, centered as they are around family, make me feel very homesick.
11. Having close friends nearby is the next best thing to having family around.
12. I have found that books provide me with an inexpensive and exhilarating way of reenergising myself. I can lose myself in a good book and emerge feeling refreshed and happy.
13. As a mother of two active boys under the age of 10, I have found that taking a little time for myself everyday, be it with a book, or a cup of tea or even gardening, gives me the patience and enthusiasm to listen to everything that my little ones have to share, irrespective of how tiring my day has been.
14. On the same note, gardening gives me a lot of pleasure. There is something life-affirming in seeing new buds,leaves and flowers sprout on the branches of a shrub or a tree after the long dormancy of winter. That in itself is a metaphor for life - alternate periods of bounty and scarcity, life following death and happiness always following despair.
15. The best relationship that you can work on ( and it is one that you will always need to work on) is the one with your spouse. Your spouse is literally your life partner, another human being with thoughts, values, feelings, emotions and opinions with whom you will hopefully live out your entire life. It is in the best interest of everybody involved to make this relationship the most important in your life.
16. Playing with my children and being silly with them is good for me, and for them :)
17. Planting a vegetable garden and visiting it everyday with my kids is worth all the time and effort that I put in it, even if all I ever harvest is a few bunches of greens and a few tomatoes. Thankfully I always have more than that, but I feel good about growing veggies myself. It connects me in a small way to my ancestors who lived off the land and it shows my children where food comes from.
18. I like grocery shopping (my husband doesnt). I like looking at all the fresh produce, all the raw ingredients that could be used to put a healthy and delicious meal on my table.
19. I have become very careful about avoiding processed food. I try to avoid packaged food with mile long ingredient lists because I have come to firmly believe that you are what you eat. I think most of the health problems that people are facing world wide are due to lack of nutritious food.
20. I try to avoid going to the doctor's office. I believe and I have experienced that small ailments like a cold or a cough or even slight fever can be easily treated at home with ingredients found in your kitchen.
 
IMAG1588
My Daily drive to and from work - the quality of the picture is not very good, plus it was slightly drizzling when I took it !

21. I love driving on empty tree lined roads with my favorite music playing on the radio. The only hindrance to this is finding that empty, tree lined road and err...gas prices and the fact that unnecessary usgae of the car is not very environmentally friendly (ahem).
22. Music is a balm to my soul. Whatever my mood, I know I can improve it and enhance it with music !
23. I have realized that if you love what you do - whether its a job or tasks at home, it never seems like a burden or a compulsion !
24. A deep breath and a moment of holding my tongue have helped diffuse many a tense situations !
25. Over the past few years, I have realized that I was pretty naive about a lot of things..I wouldnt say that I am necessarily wiser, but I have learnt to think from another perspective which has opened my mind quite a bit :)
26. Talking to my mother and father always puts a smile on my face. Always.
27. I adore long and thick hair. Alas, mine doesnt come close to this description. I usually dont bother too much about appearance and the like, but if there was one beauty wish that I could have been granted, I would have wished for thick , black and long hair :)
28. I am creatively challenged - I am extremely left brained and when it comes to come up with creative ideas or do some craft, I am all thumbs. I admire those people who whip up amazing scarves, shawls and jewelry in a jiffy !
29. For as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a doctor. Many people who grew up in India will say the same thing because parents in India are slightly obsessed with having their children become doctors and engineers. I couldnt become one and hence I now compensate by trying out natural remedies at home !
30. I am slightly obsessive about spellings. It irks me no end to see words spelt incorrectly. I mean, how difficult is it for editors of news print, books and ads to run copy through a spell checker ???
31. I didnt have a mobile / cell phone for a very long time even though everybody around me at that time (in 2000 - 2003) proudly sported the latest. It was only after I got married in 2003 and my husband wanted to be able to get ahold of me from the US that I got one. I was working in India at the time.
32. I love a good murder mystery. Be it books or movies or series, anything that can keep you guessing till the end satisfies me immensely. Agatha Christie, any one ?
33. When I was of school going age, I loved the freedom that riding my bicycle gave me. I rode it to school, to my friend's house, to nearby grocery stores :) Then when I turned 16, my dad bought a Scooty for me. Its a lightweight scooter that could easily manage on the busy streets of the city !! I was thrilled ! I rode it everywhere !! I miss it now !
34. I am a software developer by profession. I took breaks when my children were born, 2 years the first time and then a longer gap of three years the second time. Although I realize that the breaks affected my career, I do not regret my decisions and I would do the same thing again if I had a do-over !
35. I was very introverted as a child. Books were my friends. I am still quiet as a rule now, but I am better at reaching out to people and making conversation. I think the major reason for this were the first few years after I started working when I was a part of a boisterous and wonderful group of trainees in a software company. I had no option but to come out of my shell :)
36. And last but not the least, I love to write. Not that you would know by the sporadic amount of writing that I do on the blog. But I dream of writing more and hopefully can motivate myself to do just that soon :)

I know this was a long, rambling post. Hope it wasn't too boring to go through, but it did give me a good insight into
myself ! Maybe you ought to do it too !