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A Working Mom Finds a Home on the Web

Published October, 2008

Grandparents.com

By Kate Sonders and Ramin Ganeshram

A food blog keeps grandparents in touch from an ocean away

Roopa Unnikrishnan, 36, wasn’t much of a cook when she first moved to New York City in 1999. Occasionally she dabbled in easy North Indian recipes, as that repertoire didn’t compete with her mother’s cooking. Her parents are from Kerala, in the south of India. "I didn’t want to try Malayali dishes because, really, my mother is a fantastic cook. So I thought, 'Let me try something she wasn’t doing,'" she says with a laugh.

However, here in the United States, Unnikrishnan, who was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, was exposed to conveniences from elsewhere in the world that she introduced into her cooking, transforming complicated recipes into easier undertakings.

In 2007, Unnikrishnan, a working mom of 5-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, began to log her recipe adaptations on her blog, rooparecipes.blogspot.com, which she describes as "a working mom's food adventures in and out of the kitchen," to catalog her cooking adventures with her children.

“When kids come along, you want to give them tradition, you want to give them a taste- memory and association to their native foods, so I started cooking more,” she says.

“I wanted to maintain some kind of diary for the kids,” says Unnikrishnan, who returned to work as a strategy consultant just four months after giving birth and is now an executive at Pfizer. "I realized that we tended to hang out a lot over breakfast, or weekend kitchen experiments. A blog felt like a good way to start."

She hopes her recipes will inspire her children. But she knows that her blog has also been a boon to keeping the kids close to their grandparents in India. Reading her blog allows her parents to feel as if they are right in the kitchen with their grandchildren.

"Sixty percent of the recipes or blog entries are associated with the kids — either with them helping cook, or with descriptions of how to make recipes child-friendly, or with observations about my kids or children in general and their interaction with food," she says. To her parents in India, this is 100 percent fascinating. It allows them not to miss a beat in the lives, adventures, and evolving tastes of their progeny.

Paneer
Get the grandkids involved in preparing this Indian cheese

"Paneer is a milk-protein preparation that reminds one of tofu and is a really nice additive to vegetarian curries," says Roopa Unnikrishnan. It takes a while to set but is worth the effort, especially for use in dishes like paneer curry with peas and carrots, a dish her children love. Get the kids involved in pouring the mix into this setup. They'll love the sight of the solids emerging as the liquid percolates out.

Ingredients:
1 gallon milk
1 lemon
Equipment:
Muslin or cheese cloth
Colander
Large pot or bowl big enough to accommodate the colander

1. Bring milk to a boil in large pot over high heat, stirring constantly to prevent milk from burning. As the milk starts to bubble, squeeze in the juice of a lemon and stir. The milk protein will start to separate out. Keep stirring so you don't get any inconsistent lumps. As the mix comes to a second boil and the milk completely curdles, separating into curds and whey, take it off the stove and let cool.
2. Wrap the muslin around the inside of the colander so you have an inner cloth "bowl" into which to ladle the mix. Place the colander into the large pot or bowl so the operation doesn't get too messy.
3. Once the liquid has been drained, twist the muslin or cheese cloth so that you have the paneer caught in the end as a nice lump. Place it under a weight (or between two plates with a heavy vase or bowl on top) and let as much of the liquid seep out as you can.
4. The paneer is now ready to be cut into chunks.

Yield: Makes 1/4 pound of cheese.

Paneer Curry With Peas, Carrots, and Ginger
A traditional dish of Indian homemade cottage cheese with a sprinkle of spice and colorful vegetables

Roopa Unnikrishnan uses paneer (Indian cottage cheese) with peas and carrots to make paneer curry, a dish that her children love. She arms her mini-chefs with blunt butter knives to try their hand at chopping, cutting sheets of paneer and very ripe tomatoes.

2 tomatoes
1 onion, cut in half and then into thin slivers
1/4 pound paneer (see link above)
1/2 pound peas and chopped carrots
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
4 cloves garlic
Handful of cilantro
2 teaspoons of garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Toss the tomatoes in a mixer, and blend finely with garlic, ginger, and 1 cup water.
2. Cut the paneer into cubes.
3. Fry onion in 1 teaspoon of oil and add the garam masala. Once the onion gets to be translucent, add the paneer and toss.
4. As the paneer starts to brown, add the peas, carrots, and salt. Give the vegetables time to get about half cooked, then pour in the tomato/garlic/ginger paste.
5. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the liquid reduces and soaks into the paneer a bit. Stir in the cilantro.
6. Serve with rice.

Yield: Makes 4 servings.