Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rich Chocolate Mud Cake

She had been waiting to bake this cake since morning, since the minute she had seen the recipe. It was a cake that was calling out to her. She loved chocolates and she loved coffee and she loved whisky. A cake that had all three - now that was going to be absolute nirvana.




Now with the kids fast asleep and the husband not expected back home for at least another hour, she could finally start baking.



But just as took the whisky bottle out of the liquor cabinet, she heard the key turn in the lock. The husband was back earlier than expected. On any other day she would have been thrilled but today she felt a small pang of disappointment. "There goes my baking," she thought to herself.


"Having a drink all alone, are you? he smiled as he walked in. "Pour me one as well, I'll take a quick shower and join you."


"I wasn't drinking. You know I never have a drink alone! I was just about to bake a cake but you've put paid to all my plans now by coming back earlier," she smiled.

"Cake with whisky in it....now that sounds intriguing. Never heard of one before."


"I'm sure it is going to be yum. I can just feel it."


"Tell you what - let's have a quick drink and have dinner and then we can bake that cake together!" He had never quite understood her passion for baking - he wondered why she bothered putting in so much effort when there were very good gourmet cakes available all over the city. But over the years, he had learnt better than to dissuade he from baking and deprive her of the pleasure she derived from baking.


"Sounds like a great plan," she beamed.

An hour later, he was ready to bake.

"Now?, she said, looking at the clock. It was a quarter past ten. "Too late for that now. The cake takes an hour and a half to bake. I am just too sleepy - the whisky has made me way too drowsy, no way I can sit up and wait for it to bake! I'll bake in the morning. Clear the kitchen, will you please? I can barely keep my eyes open."



"Sure thing."



He started putting away the measuring cups and the cake pan and happened to glance at the recipe that she had printed out. Whisky in a cake? With chocolate and coffee? Somehow, it just didn't sound right to him. Rum and chocolate and coffee was a great combination, but whisky? It just didn't appeal to him!



As he put the whisky back into the liquor cabinet, his eyes fell on the bottle of Kahlua. That was it....Kahlua, and not whisky, was perfect for the cake.


Suddenly, he was in the grip of an overpowering urge to bake the cake right away, all by himself. Soon, he was in the kitchen, melting and mixing the ingredients, getting intoxicated by the combined aromas of coffee, chocolate and Kahlua.



Two and a half hours later, he had not just baked the cake but had also set in on a platter on the table and secured with a ribbon - as a surprise for her - his face radiating the pleasure of someone who had just discovered the urge, the joy and the satisfaction of baking from scratch.




This food fiction is off to Jaya of Spice and Curry who is hosting Of Chalks and Chopsticks - 6.







Rich Chocolate Mud Cake (adapted from from Australian Women's Weekly).


Ingredients:


(A)

Butter: 250 gms
Sugar: 1 and 3/4 cup
Dark Chocolate: 200 gms
Kahlua: 1/3 cup or 80 ml
Instant coffee granules: 1 tbsp
Warm water: 250 ml or 1 cup


(B)

Plain Flour: 1.5 cups or 225 gms
Self Raising Flour: 1/4 cup or 35 gms
Cocoa Powder: 1/4 cup or 25 gms


Eggs: 2



Method:

In a saucepan, mix together all the ingredients listed under (A). Stir on a low heat until the chocolate melts. Cool it to room temperature.



Whisk together all the dry ingredients listed under (B). Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until you get a smooth batter.

Lightly beat the eggs and add it to the batter.


Grease and line a (deep) 20 cm or 8" cake pan and transfer the batter into the pan. Bake at 160 deg C for 90 mins or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.




Notes:

1. I pre-heat the oven for this recipe for just about 15 minutes.
2. I halved the recipe and baked it in a 6" square tray; it took me just under an hour to bake my cake.

3. I thought that the water was a bit too much, so I plan to reduce it to 225 ml the next time.





This is a dense and intensely chocolatety cake with a whiff of coffee and Kahlua. I served this cake with some raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream - sinfully delicious!




Sending this cake off to Ria who is hosting Meeta's Monthly Mingle, the theme this time is Chocolate Extravaganza.





Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Baked Vegetables in White Sauce

Let me tell you a little of how we spend our weekends. Now we aren't the kind of family that plans a variety of activities to do over a weekend - we are much to lazy for that. In fact, we are the kind of family that spends its weekends lounging on the sofa, listening to music or reading some books and not moving a muscle for as long as we can help it.


Yes, we do our fair share of going out. But a lot of it is related to food and eating out. For eg. we go very often to the beach in the mornings because we love having breakfast at the South Indian restaurant there. Or we end up at the Botanical Gardens because having lunch at a restaurant there over a couple of beers on a hot, sunny afternoon seems almost magical. You get the drift right?



But much as we enjoy eating out, come Sunday evenings and we crave for a dinner that is very simple to make and very hearty. Most of the times, we settle for some piping hot aloo parathas or a hearty spanish omelette. Occasionally, I make kathi rolls from some leftovers.


Often, I dig up and pick out bits and bobs of vegetables buried in my crisper and throw them together into a low fat white sauce.





Now I know what you are thinking - that 'low fat' white sauce is an oxymoron. Well, not quite.

Based on an idea I saw on Raaga's blog, I make my white sauce with skimmed milk and low fat cheese slices. The resultant sauce is adequately thick and creamy and perfect for a light and satisfying Sunday evening vegetable casserole.






Ingredients:

Butter: 1 tbsp
All purpose flour: 2.5 tbsps
Skimmed milk: 2.5 cups (the milk should be at room temperature)
Low fat cheese slices: 3
Salt, pepper: to taste
Mustard paste: 1 tsp


Mixed vegetables: approximately 2 cups ( I used 1/2 cup each of green peas, broccoli and cauliflower; 1 carrot and 1 potato )


Grated cheddar cheese: 2 tbsps


Method:

Steam all the vegetables and set aside. You might need to cook them separately as the cooking time for every vegetable varies. I zap them in the microwave for a few minutes).


Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and mix it well. Cook on low heat for about 4-5 minutes, without allowing the flour to turn brown. I take my pan off the burner a few times when doing this in order to avoid browning of the flour.


Stirring constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin stream and in small batches. (Here's what I do to avoid lumps in my white sauce - transfer the flour from the pan into a mug and add a little milk and mix it thoroughly. Then transfer it back to the pan and add the rest of the milk. The result? Completely lump-free sauce)


Keep stirring and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add all the salt, pepper powder and the mustard paste. Finally add the cheese slices and mix well till the cheese melts. Simmer for a few more minutes till the sauce thickens.


Arrange the vegetables in a baking dish, I use my 9" pie dish. Pour the sauce over it, sprinkle the grated cheese over it and bake in the oven (pre-heat the oven first) at 200 deg C till the cheese starts to brown.


Serve with some brown bread.


Taking this vegetable casserole to Nupur's Blog Bites - 9, the theme this time is Holiday Buffet.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chocolate Chip Muffin

A few months ago, I woke up in the morning with a headache so severe that I couldn't even bear to move my head. A couple of hours and a couple of painkillers later, the headache was still just as bad. The only way was to sleep it off but with my (naughty) daughter at home and no one to babysit her - the husband was travelling too - sleep was a little hard to come by.



I put her in front of the telly telling her she could watch it for as long as she wanted to. I expected her to be glued to the telly but the moment she realised that she had a free rein to watch her favourite cartoons, she quickly lost interest in watching them.



"Play with me", she said to me.

"Why don't you fix some puzzles", I suggested. "And then you when you are done, you can have some chocolate". Yes, I was subtly bribing her to leave me alone for some more time. To her credit, she did manage to keep herself busy with the puzzles for a while and I gave her some chocolate as promised.

"But I don't want to have chocolate", she said. I was flummoxed - I mean I can't ever say 'no' to chocolate and here she was, a 5 year old, refusing to have any. But I hadn't heard the rest of it....



"......I want chocolate chip muffins. You make some muffins now", she demanded.



"Mama's head is aching", I explained to her. "Let me rest just a little while longer, then I'll have some tea and make you the muffins", I told her.



She nodded and went off to her room. I could hear toys being scattered and then the sound of a tap gushing and braced myself for a major clean up operation later in the day. Moments later, she was standing next to me, her toy teacup filled to the brim with water in one hand and a tube of Euky bearub in the other.


"Mama will drink the tea and put the balm and she will become alright and then we can make the muffins", she proclaimed confidently.


Anything for such an adorable caregiver! I headed straight to the kitchen and started to fix her some muffins right away.




Some days remain etched in memory forever. I don't think I can never ever forget the sight of my little girl helping me to make the muffins that day. I measured out the dry ingredients and she whisked them together. Then she poured out the wet ingredients and I mixed everything together to get the batter ready. I spooned it out into the muffin tray and she sprinkled the chocolate chips on top. In no time, the aroma of freshly baked muffins wafted through the house.






These muffins are very very quick and easy to make. I have stayed true to the original recipe from Joy of Baking except for a very minor change - instead of sprinkling the cinnamon on top, I mix it into the batter. A very small change but one that makes a significant improvement to the taste.



Ingredients:

All purpose flour: 3/4 cup
Whole wheat pastry flour: 1/4 cup
Baking Powder: 1.5 tsps
Salt: 1/4 tsp (omit if using salted butter)
Cinnamon Powder: 1/2 tsp
Sugar: 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp
Semi sweet/ bittersweet chocolate chips: 1/2 cup

Egg: 1
Milk: 1/2 cup
Butter OR Oil: 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp
Vanilla essence: 1 tsp


Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 190 deg C/ 375 deg F. Grease a muffin pan with butter or baking spray.


Whisk together all the dry ingredients. Reserve a tbsp of the chocolate chips and toss the the rest into the dry ingredients.


Melt the butter and let it cool completely but don't let it set again. Whisk together the cooled melted butter, milk, egg and the vanilla essence. Fold this mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring until the ingredients are just combined.


Spoon into the prepared muffin pan. Sprinkle the reserved chocolate chips on top and bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffin comes out clean.





Incredibly moist and with a delicate crumb, these muffins are best eaten on the day they are made and best served a little warm. I prefer them with bittersweet chocolate chips, but they are slightly bigger and don't look as nice as ones with the semi sweet chocolate chips.

You could also make them with oil, they are a little more denser when made with oil but are definitely more healthier and just as tasty.

Enjoy!



Sending this cake off to Ria who is hosting Meeta's Monthly Mingle, the theme this time is Chocolate Extravaganza

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Punjabi Chhole

In terms of cooking, this has been a quest like no other. The quest, an obsession even, for the perfect chhole recipe. Over the years, I have tried numerous recipes for making chhole. It was the first recipe I would look up in cook books and blogs. Some worked, some didn't. Then I came across this recipe and I thought that my quest had come to an end.

Until I tasted my friend M's chhole. The best that I had ever had.

And while I do have a couple of 'friends' who blatantly proclaim that recipes are not for sharing, I am fortunate to have many more like M who don't just share the recipes but also the specific brands they use and the small tips that make all the difference to the ultimate taste.

Take a look, looks absolutely lip-smacking doesn't it?



Pre-preparation:

1. Masala paste

Green cardamoms: 6
Black cardamom: 1
Cloves: 4
Cinnamon: 1" stick
Black pepper: 10
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Coriander seeds: 2 tsps
Garlic: 10 cloves
Ginger: 1.5" piece
Green chilli: 1




Lightly toast all the above except ginger, garlic and green chillies for 2 mins on a very low flame. The objective here is to not roast but simply warm the dry spices. Then grind all the ingedients to a smooth paste, using some water as required. This masala paste can be kept in the refrigerator for about 10 days.


2. Bouquet garni:

black cardamoms: 2
green cardamoms: 4
cinnamon: 1" stick
cloves: 8 nos
tea bag: 1, optional (I don't use one as I don't like my chhole to be black, I much prefer the vibrant orange)


Put all of the above into a small square cheesecloth or a net and secure with a kitchen twine.

Making the chhole:

Onions: 2, finely chopped
Bay leaf: 1
Tomato paste: 2.5 tbsps OR Tomato puree: 5 tbsps (brand - Leggo's or Heinz)
Masala paste: 2 tbsps
Chickpeas/garbanzo beans: 3/4 cup
Salt to taste
Chicken curry powder (MDH brand) OR Chhole masala (Everest brand): 1 tsp



for garnishing:

cumin seeds: 2 tsps, roasted and powdered
onion: 1 small, finely chopped
corainder leaves: 2 tbsps, chopped


Method:

Soak the chickpeas in plenty of water overnight or for about 8-10 hours. Drain and wash thoroughly.

Add 1.5 cups of water, slip in the bouquet garni and pressure cook for atleast 5-6 whistles. If you don't use a pressure cooker (really?), you could also cook them in a slow cooker or boil them in a thick bottomed vessel till soft.

Heat oil in a wok and add in the bay leaf. Let it sizzle for half a minute and then toss in the chopped onions alongwith a pinch of salt; fry till the onions turn limp.

Now add 2 tbsps of the masala paste and fry till the raw smell disappears, about 5 minutes. If the masala paste starts to stick to the pan, sprinkle a few drops of water.

Next put in the tomato paste, salt, turmeric powder and red chilli powder. Stir fry till the oil separates from the mixture.

Then add in the cooked chickpeas (discard the bouquet garni) and the chicken curry masala and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and let the chickpeas simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally and adjusting the amount of water as per your preference. It might seem way too long but trust me on this - the longer you cook chhole, better the taste. In fact, I transfer everything into my crockpot and let it simmer away for about 3 hours.

Just before serving, stir in the roasted cumin seed powder and garnish with some finely chopped onions and coriander leaves.

Puris, bhaturas, rotis or rice....enjoy them with just about anything!


Sharing this with Priya who is hosting MLLA # 30, event started by Susan.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Apple Pie

There are some words in the English language that I just love the sound of. Serendipity is one such word. I simply love the way the syllables roll off the tongue when saying 'serendipity'.


It is also the one word that I will always associate with my daughter's paediatrician. A phenomenal doctor, she has often gone beyond the call of duty in attending to my daughter. And to think, I met her when I had gone to buy some toys for the little one! A serendipitous meeting but one that I will forever look back on with fondness and gratitude.


She is a constant source of inspiration with her boundless energy and insatiable appetite to learn new things. Cooking is just one of her many passions and this apple pie recipe is adapted from the one she shared with me.






It is quite different from the normal apple pie recipes where the apples slices are simply tossed in sugar and spices and then baked. In this particular recipe the apples slices are coated in a sauce and then baked in the crust.


Yes, it takes longer than the traditional recipes but the resulting pie is totally worth the effort!






Ingredients

for the crust:
All purpose flour: 2 cups
Unsalted butter: 2/3 cups + 2 tbsps/ 175 gms (original uses shortening)
Ice cold water: 4-6 tbsps
Salt: 1/4 tsp
Sugar: 2 tbsps


Method:



Cut the cold butter into cubes and chill again for about 15-20 mins. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and the salt. Add in the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips till you get a grainy and crumbly mixture, with pea sized pices of butter.

Add in the water, a tablespoon at a time, till the mixture comes together and forms a dough.

I planned to make 2 five inch pies, and so I divided the dough into 4 equal balls, wrapped them individually in plastic wrap and refrigerated them for a couple of hours.

(The dough is otherwise sufficient for a single 9" pie)


for the filling:

Apples: 6 ( I used Granny Smith)
Brown Sugar: 1/2 cup
Rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon
Cinnamon powder: 1 tsp
Allspice/Nutmeg powder: 1/2 tsp
Orange juice: 1/2 cup
Juice of 1 lemon
Cornstarch: 1 tbsp
Butter: 1 tsp
Pecan nuts/walnuts: 1/3 cup

Method:

Peel and core the apples and cut them into thick slices.

Toss the slices in the sugar, the orange and lemon rinds, cinnamon and nutmeg powders and the lime juice and let them macerate for half an hour.


Then cook the apple slices till they just become limp. Once cooled, add the orange juice and the rum, if using, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.


After the refrigeration time has elapsed, transfer the mixture into a strainer placed over a larger vessel in order to separate the juice from the apple slices. Allow to strain for about 15-20 mins.


Place the strained juice in a small saucepan and let simmer till syrup. Add the butter, stir and then add in the cornstarch stirring continuously till the juice thickens. Mix the apple slices and the chopped nuts into the sauce and allow to cool.



Assembling the pie:


Take one ball of the dough and on a lightly floured surface, roll it to a 7 inch circle, about 1/8" thick. Gently transfer it to a greased pie pan. Press firmly on the bottom and the sides of the pan, trimming off the excess with a pastry knife. Cover with a cling wrap and refrigerate.


To make a lattice patterned top, first cut out a parchment paper circle the size of your pie pan.


Roll out the dough and cut it into strips as such:


Transfer two strips vertically and horizontally on the parchment circle as such:


Place the next strip vertically and going over the horizontal strip as such:



Then put the next strip horizontally, tucking it under the first vertical strip and over the next vertical strip as such:




Continue placing the strips in a similar manner, going alternately under and over the other strips. The distance between the strips is entirely a matter of personal choice. I love to eat pie crust and hence I chose to have a tightly knit top:



Cover with another parchment circle and chill. Repeat for the second pie pan.

Pre heat the oven to 200 deg C.

Then put the filling into the pie pans. To seal the pie, simply invert the lattice patterned top over the filling and peel off the parchment paper. Seal the strips over the rim of the pie pan, brush the top with some melted butter and sprinkle some caster sugar.



Bake for about 30 - 35 mins or until the top is lightly browned and the juices start bubbling over.
Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool for a couple of hours before cutting it.





Serve with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream; personally, I love to have just as it is without anything else coming in the way of the heavenly cinnamon and orange flavoured apple slices encrusted in a shortbread like flaky crust!


Rushing this pie off to Meeta's Monthly Mingle that Deeba is hosting this month.



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Baklava

Special occasions call for really special treats, don't they?

And this is a special occasion that warrants a really special treat. After all, this is the time of festival of lights Diwali, my favourite festival. But more importantly, this is my 150th post and in a neat coincidence, it is also the month my blog turns 2!


And as far as special treats go, there can be nothing more exotic or exquisite than baklava.









Believed to be of Turkish origin, baklava is an extremely popular sweet in Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. Layers of phyllo pastry stuffed with nuts and sweetened with some sugar syrup, baklava is one of my favourite sweets and was something that I had been craving for a long time now.


The recipes sounded easy enough but one thing held me back - the fear of working with phyllo dough.


As it turned out, my fears were completely misplaced. Phyllo dough is not quite the villain I had thought it was. In fact, I found it surprisingly easy to work with, making me wonder why I had been putting off making baklava for so long!


Don't let the long recipe put you off - making baklava is very, very easy. All that it needs is some pre-preparation and a single minded devotion to the task at hand.








Ingredients:


Phyllo dough: 24 sheets
Assorted nuts: 1.5 cups (I used pistachios, pecan nuts, hazelnuts and almonds)
Sugar: 1/4 cup
Cardamom powder: 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon powder: 1/2 tsp
Melted ghee (or butter): 1/3 cup


for the syrup:


Sugar: 3/4 cup
Honey: 1/4 cup
Water: 1 cup
Cinnamon stick: 2"long
Cardamom pods: 10 nos, slightly bruised
Lemon juice: 1.5 tbsp
Rose water: 2.5 tbsps



Method:


The one essential thing while making the baklava is to have all your pre-preparation completed in all respects before starting the assembly.


So, first thaw the phyllo dough as per the package instructions. Hastily and inadequately thawed sheets tend to stick to each other and tear. Once thawed, cover the sheets with a moist cheesecloth till you are ready to proceed with the assembly.


Next up, make the sugar syrup. In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients required for making the syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a further 10 - 15 mins or until thick and well....syrupy. Cool completely.


While the sugar syrup simmers, process the nuts in the mixie to get a coarse powder. (If using a mix of nuts, process them separately). Toss the nuts with sugar, the cinnamon and cardamom powders. Set aside.

Melt the ghee/butter.

Brush the sides and bottom of your baking dish with the melted ghee.


Finally, cut the thawed phyllo sheets to fit your baking tray. With a sharp knife, you can cut all sheets in one go. I cut my sheets to fit a 8"x10" pan.

Now you are ready to assemble the baklava:


Place a sheet of the phyllo dough into the baking dish and brush it with some melted ghee. Repeat 7 times, making sure you brush the top of each sheet with melted ghee before placing
another sheet on top.

Spread 1/2 cup of the nut mixture on top.


Then place 4 sheets of phyllo dough on top of the nut mixture, brushing each sheet with the melted ghee.
Again spread 1/2 cup of the nut mixture.
Repeat with 4 sheets of phyllo dough and 1/2 cup of nuts once again.


Finally, place 8 sheets of phyllo dough on top of the nuts.


So, once assembled, the baklava will have:


8 sheets of phyllo at the bottom
1/2 cup of nuts
4 sheets of phyllo
1/2 cup of nuts
4 sheets of phyllo
1/2 cup of nuts
8 sheets of phyllo


Cut into squares or diamonds, making sure that you cut all the way through to the last sheet of the phyllo dough.


Bake at 180 degC or 350 degF for about 30 - 35 mins or until the top is evenly browned and crisp.


Pour the cooled sugar syrup over the baklava as soon as you take it out of the oven. Allow the baklava to soak the syrup for a minimum of 6-8 hours and preferably overnight; in fact it tastes the best when left undisturbed for 24 hours - that is if it lasts that long.




Utterly decadent, baklava is a sinful treat that is absolutely irrestible. Take it from someone who is very careful about what she eats, the baklava is so very addictive that you will find it difficult to stop at just one. This recipe yielded 20 pieces but at the rate at which they were disappearing, I actually had to hide a couple of pieces for taking pictures - the rest were gone that very day!


So go ahead and indulge!




Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sooji ka Halwa

"Why don't you make something else instead?"


For all our love of sweets, sooji ka halwa as we call it (or rava kesari as the husband calls it or goda sheera as I call it) is something that I had made very, very rarely in the first few years of marriage. Yes, I know how ridiculous it must sound. After all, sooji ka halwa is so easy to make, it tastes divine and almost everybody loves it.


The problem with sooji ka halwa is that though it is easy to make, it is as easy to mess up.


And, well my first attempt at making it was quite a disaster. I think the husband must have been quite scared off by that attempt for whenever I would offer to make sooji ka halwa, he would always come up with some alternatives. "Why don't you make some fruit salad instead? Or, how about some payasam? Or, let us get some ice cream." You get the drift, right?


"Hmmm...now this is going to be interesting!"

I don't think he missed eating sooji ka halwa. I mean, if he did, wouldn't he have asked my MIL to make whenever we went visiting or when she came over?


Then, my daughter had sooji ka halwa on a playdate and took a liking for it. When she started demanding that I make it at for her, the husband very amused.


A long call to mom and some detailed instructions later, I was all ready to tackle sooji ka halwa. Turned out that making sooji ka halwa was after all really very, very easy.








Here's how I make it:

Ingredients:


Semolina: 1 cup
Milk: 2 cups
Water: 1/2 cup
Ghee/Clarified butter: 3 tbsps + 1 tbsp
Sugar: 3/4 cup (you could also increase it to 1 cup if you like it sweeter, I use 3/4 cup)
Cardamom powder made from crushing about 8-10 cardamom pods)
Salt: a pinch

optional:

some raisins, cashewnuts and almonds
Banana: 1 medium sized


Method:

In a small vessel, combine the milk and the water, toss in the raisins, if using, and bring it to a boil.


While the liquid boils, pour the semolina into a wok and start roasting it. Once it is warmed, say 2 minutes later, add 3 tbsps ghee to it. Continue to stir - and stir constantly (a little inattention and the semolina can burn) and roast till the semolina turns light brown in colour and emits a wonderful aroma.

(My mom says that when the aroma can be detected from a distance is when the semolina is roasted right).


Once the liquid comes to a boil, slowly pour it into the roasted semolina, stirring constantly. (Careful when pouring as a plume of steam rises up when the milk hits the semolina in the pan).


Stir well and flatten lumps, if any, with the back of the spoon. Then cover the pan and steam on a low heat for about 4-5 minutes.


Stir again, scrapping off any semolina stuck to the bottom of the pan. Then add the sugar, cardamom and nutmeg powders and a pinch of salt. Cover and steam again for another 5 minutes.


Then add in the mashed banana, if using, and give it a good stir. Finally, add a tbsp of ghee, mix well and serve hot.



"Don't feed me baby food!"


I tasted the halwa and did a little celebration dance in the kitchen. It was delicious! I expected him to similarly exult, but he had was a puzzled look on his face. He tasted it and then tasted it again. “Bananas?” he frowned. “Oh I get it. One of your 'make everything healthy – sneak in fruits and vegetables wherever possible' experiments!”


“Experiment? What are you saying....wait a minute....haven't you had sooji ka halwa with bananas before?"

Turned out that indeed he had never had it. Yeah, go figure that!


"Whaaaattttt.....you are not really serious, are you?"

Even with the bananas, he did relish the sooji ka halwa but halfway through his serving, there came on his face a look of complete disbelief and a mild disgust. He was looking at my bowl as if a cockroach had fallen into the bowl! But the only thing that was there in my bowl was some mango pickle. He simply couldn’t believe what he was seeing.....halwa with pickle? I was equally perplexed at his disbelief. I mean how can anyone not like sooji ka halwa with mango pickle?






It is without doubt the best way of enjoying the halwa – in a spoonful, there is a medley of flavours – the sweet halwa, the sour and spicy pickle and the gentle whiff of bananas – all coming together in a taste experience that is tongue tickling and unlike any other.

So, the next time you make sooji ka halwa, forget garnishing it with almonds and cashewnuts. Use some pickle instead. You’ll love it, I promise.




This is my entry to Sharmi's CFK - Festive Foods that Suma is hosting this month.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Methi Bhaat (Spiced Fenugreek Rice)

Sukanya sighed and looked at her watch for the umpteenth time, as if looking at the watch innumerable times would make the train miraculously roll into the platform.


Her day had begun badly enough; it seemed it would end no better.


She had been chasing time all day today - she had woken up late in the morning and was therefore late getting in to work. Consequently, she had had to leave later than she usually did. Now with the trains running late, there was no way she would get home before 8.30 tonight.


She had been feeling unusually exhausted all day making her wonder she had caught some bug. All she wanted to do was just curl up and sleep, but knew that was not to be. She was all too aware of the dinner that had to be made and some other sundry chores that had to be attended to at home.


She looked at her watch once again and sighed deeply as she looked at the swelling crowd on the platform; with every second more and more people seemed to be waiting on the platform. She sighed once again, mentally resigning herself to standing for a better part of her 75 minute journey back home.


A few more minutes of waiting and finally the train rolled in. As expected, she could not find a seat but managed to find a toehold beside the train doors. It was certainly a little unsafe but at least she would get some cool breeze on her face and some fresh air to breathe in – that was immeasurably better than being crushed between sweaty bodies or having someone’s smelly armpit shoved in her face!


Normally, she would chit-chat with her friends - she had made friends with several women who travelled on the same train as her every evening. However, today she simply rested her head on the door and closed her eyes reflecting, with a little despondency, on the rut her life seemed to be stuck in.


She was roused out of her thoughts by someone’s cheerful ‘hi Sukanya’. Opening her eyes, she saw a face that looked vaguely familiar but she couldn’t quite recollect the young girl’s name or where she had met her.


“Remember me? Naina….we met at the Diwali party a few months ago….”


Of course, now she remembered. Naina was married to someone….now what was his name……who worked in the same company as her husband. She now remembered being introduced to her.


She smiled, “You looked so different in all the finery that I couldn’t place you at all. How are you and your husband….umm…Sameer?”


“Can’t blame you….I’ve changed my hairstyle soon after. But I think we’ll meet often now that we’ve moved somewhere very close to your building. Do you always take the 6.13?”


“Yes,” said Sukanya, smiling at Naina’s exuberance. “So where do you….,” she wanted to ask her where she worked but was interrupted by the ringing of Naina’s cell phone.


‘Think another 50 minutes.’
‘Hmmm….’
‘Baingan bharta? Ok. But don’t roast the baingan on the gas, the whole house will get smoky. Use the oven. And listen…..’


“Shit....the network’s gone!” she said suddenly with a mild note of irritation as she tried to call back.


Sukanya hadn’t meant to eavesdrop but Naina was talking loudly enough for everyone in the compartment to listen. Probably giving instructions to her cook, she thought to herself. High time I employed one too. At 45, age is starting to creep up on me - I do tire easily these days. Maybe I should ask Naina for the number of her cook, no matter the resistance from the husband.


“Your cook?” she asked Naina who had given up dialing the number but was turning the phone this way and that over everybody’s heads in the cramped compartment in an attempt to get the signal back.


“Cook!” she exclaimed incredulously. “I don’t employ one – well I used to but that was over 4 years ago. Actually that was Sameer asking me what to prepare for dinner tonight.”


“Sameer cooks? That is great. Lucky you.”


“Well, he can’t really cook….neither can I, but we manage. And no, he is the one who is lucky. After all, I work too and I also have to travel to work every single day, unlike people like Sameer and your husband whose office is so close to their homes. They are the lucky ones, I say!”


Sukanya merely smiled but she couldn’t help but feel a just a teeny bit jealous of Naina. Mine can’t even make tea…..he wouldn’t even if he could, she thought a little bitterly. He was one of those who believed that cooking and other housework were solely a woman’s responsibility. If only he were a little sensitive to her travails. Like today for example. It was so easy for him to ask me to make methi bhaat at dinner. “It’s been so long since you last made it. You know how much I like it,” he had complained.


They all loved methi bhaat, but separating the leaves from their stalks was a lot of work and she would have much preferred to do it over the weekend while watching T.V. However, her protestations about how tiresome and time consuming it was to separate the leaves from the stalks was greeted with some whining of how he never demanded anything elaborate from her at dinner. “And I don’t understand why can’t you do that in the train on your way back?”


She glanced at the bundles of methi leaves in the bag that she had been unable to sort standing in the crowded train. She would have to do it all at home, she looked at her watch and estimated she would be home in another 20 minutes.


When she reached home, her husband was sprawled on the sofa watching cricket on the T.V., his feet on the coffee table. “You are late today….trains, huh? Just make the dinner quickly, I am really very hungry,” he said through a mouthful of chivda.


She shook her head in resignation and put the methi bundles in the kitchen. She was very quick in the kitchen and reckoned she would have the dinner ready in under an hour but she needed to take a shower before she began cooking.


She passed her son’s room on the way to her own. She peeped in; her son was glued to the computer playing some game. “Oh mom, you spoiled my game,” he said. Just at that instant, she heard her husband exult ‘great shot.’

Something in her snapped at that moment. Like father, like son, she thought. No one was bothered to even offer her a cup of tea or ask her how her day was.


“Aniket, I am going to take a shower. In the meantime, go to the kitchen and cook some rice and boil some potatoes too,” she said, much to her son’s horror.
“Mom, not me, I don’t even know how to…”
“You are 17 and old enough to learn. I’ll tell you what to do.”
“Mom….,” he stopped mid-sentence, realizing she would not accept any argument.


There was nothing she could do to change her husband’s attitude – it was too late for that, but it was high time she influenced the way her son turned out, she thought as she headed into the shower.







The suburban train network in Mumbai is its lifeline and is the quickest way to get from one end of the city to the other. There are some people who travel for as little as 15 minutes and there are others who travel almost 2 hours one way to get to their place of work. In the evenings, they are back in the train for the same length of time.

The trains are also very crowded; at peak hours, it is not unusual to find people hanging out of its doors, sometimes, you even find some perched on the roof of the compartments. In many ways, the suburban train travel in Mumbai is a great leveller - no matter what your occupation, no matter the money you earn, at the end of the day, you are

People have found many ways to keep themselves occupied - other than chatting and reading and sleeping, there are groups who sing bhajans or play cards to while away the time.

But it is in the ladies' compartments that you really get to witness glimpses of people's lives, their joys and their struggles. The chatter is endless; most of the times, there is laughter and occasionally, fierce arguments too. But beneath all the chatter is the anxiety and eagerness to get home as soon as possible to attend to the children and other chores. The women do much more than just chat or play cards or sing bhajans - they use their time in the train far more productively - it is not unusual to see women knitting, their needles going clicketty clack, or even cleaning some vegetables in preparation for dinner.

The story of just another day in Sukanya's life which is my (again very late) entry to Of Chalks and Chopsticks that PJ is hosting is based on the small nuggets of conversations gleaned from my train travels many moons ago.

Methi Bhaat/ Rice with Fenugreek leaves

Ingredients:

Onion: 1 large, finely chopped
Tomato: 2, chopped
Garlic: 7-8 cloves, choppped
Boiled potatoes/sweet potatoes: 1/2 cup
Methi/Fenugreek leaves: 2.5 cups, washed and chopped
Dry spices: Turmeric, red chilli powder, garam masala
Jaggery: 1 tbsp
Salt
Oil

Rice: 1.5 cups, cooked and cooled completely



Method:


Cut the boiled sweet potato into cubes. Grease a frying pan with some cooking spray and lightly fry the cubes till brown. Set aside.


Heat oil in a wok and add in the chopped garlic. Saute till the garlic turns brown.


Then toss in the onions and fry till they turn pink. Next, add in the tomatoes and cook till the tomatoes become soft and mushy. Add in the dry spices, the jaggery and the salt.

Add in the methi leaves and turn up the heat. Stir constantly till the leaves are cooked, about 4- 5 minutes. Then add the fried potatoes and mix well.

Add in the cold rice into the vegetable mixture and gently stir till all the grains are evenly coated with the vegetable mixture. Cover and steam on a very low heat, stirring occasionally till the rice is heated through.

Serve with some yogurt and papad.





Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tiramisu

This post was written almost as soon as we returned from our vacation, yet it has taken me 2 weeks just to upload the picture and finally publish the post. If this is not the absolute height of laziness and lethargy, I wonder what is!


Now, I would love to claim that this recipe was shared by an Italian chef or that it is the authentic recipe of making the tiramisu.


But having gone to the country where the tiramisu was invented and having eaten it almost every single day, I can definitely aver that this recipe results in a tiramisu that is as good as if not better (yes, I actually said that!) than the ones we ate in Italy.








I have tried numerous recipes for making tiramisu but the one I made from Cooking for Engineers makes the most fantastic tiramisu I've ever eaten. First of all, it doesn't use raw eggs, instead the egg yolks are cooked into a custard.


Light yet delectably creamy, it is has a perfect melt in your mouth feel. But most importantly, it is not cloyingly sweet and the balance of flavour between the coffee and the alcohol is just right.


I have made a few modifications to the original recipe; here's my version.


Ingredients:


for the zabaglione:
Egg yolks: 4
Sugar: 1/2 cup + 2 tbsps
Marsala wine: 1/2 cup

Mascarpone cheese: 500 gms

Heavy cream: 250 ml


for the dipping mixture
Espresso: 1 1/4 cup
Marsala wine: 3 tbsps




Ladyfinger/savoiardi cookies
Cocoa powder: 1/4 cup


Method:

Whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar till pale and lemony in colour. Add in the Marsala wine and whisk a few minutes more.




While you are whisking the yolks, bring some water to boil in a saucepan (this saucepan should be a size smaller than the one you are whisking the egg yolks in. I fill the saucepan halfway through with water).





Once the water comes to a boil, reduce the flame so that the water is barely simmering and then set the bowl containing the whisked yolks on top and stir continuously till the mixture starts to thicken and bubble around the edges. Set aside and let it cool completely.



(the first time I did this, I ended up with something that looked like crumbed paneer - which meant that my egg mixture had started to cook. So now, whenever I make the egg custard, I keep a deep plate filled with chilled water - the minute I think the mixture is starting to overheat, I plonk the bowl into the chilled water to prevent the eggs from cooking).



Next, whip the cream to get stiff peaks. Also, beat the mascarpone cheese till it is smooth. Then pour the zabaglione into the cheese and beat to get a homogenous mixture. Fold in the whipped cream into the cheese mixture in 3 quick additions.


Assembling the tiramisu:

Mix together the espresso and the marsala. (If you find the espresso too strong for your liking, dilute it with some warm water but don't use sugar to counter the bitterness. Sugar in the espresso is an absolute no - no).

I use my 9" springform pan for assembling the tiramisu.


Working quickly, dip the ladyfinger cookies in the espesso mixture and lay them in a single layer over the bottom of the pan. I dip only one side - the plain side - of the cookies in the espresso and place them sugar side up in the pan. These cookies are very delicate and so don't dip them for longer than a second in the espresso mixture.


Spoon half the cream mixture over the cookies. Prepare another layer in a similar fashion, cover the pan with a cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours (preferably, refrigerate overnight).


Just before unmolding and serving, dust the top with cocoa powder.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Back to Basics 2: The Round Up

I have been a very bad hostess for this event. Not only have I posted my entry very late, but some of your entries also went unacknowledged and my sincere apologies for that.


Here's the wealth of information that all the fellow bloggers have shared this time around:


There are a few basic spices that I am sure most kitchens have. Sure, they are easily available in most supermarkets all over the world, but making these at home is not too tough either. Moreover, the fragrance and freshness of homemade spices is incomparable. Don't just take my word for it, go on and take a look at these entries and I am sure you'll agree with me:


Jeera powder
Cumin coconut powder
Spiced chilli powder
Crushed peanuts
Sambhar powder
Rasam podi
Ghee
Roasted cumin seed powder, coriander seed powder, sesame seed powder, roasted coconut paste and raosted groundnut paste



Make these ahead of time, store in a jar and transform the simplest of foods to something absolutely delicious, as if by magic!


Coriander Lentil Spice Mix
Groundnut and sesame powder, lentil and sesame powder, tangy mint powder
Gun powder
Urad Dhal Powder
Milk Masala Powder


I'll admit it, there are certain things I've never made at home but I am now very inspired to make them from scratch:


Paneer
Khoa/Mawa
Yogurt


Have a blender at home? You seriously have no excuse not to make these at home:

Ginger garlic paste
Cilantro Mint chutney
Ginger garlic paste (no this is not a typo!)
Kurukku Kaalan


A blender for a large batch of tomatoes and a grater for a couple of them. Either way, making a silky, smooth tomato puree at home is so simple.


Love to make batata vadas but hate the icky fingers that result from dipping the potato balls in the batter? Use this simple tip and fry batata vadas without getting your hands dirty!


But you don't make batata vadas that often, you say. But I am pretty sure you would be making dal very often. And while there are many ways of making dal, this is one of the easier ways of making it.


And finally, did you ever think you could jazz up a simple glass of water? I was so excited when I read this tip that I promptly went and jazzed up my vodka. Water, vodka....the possibilities are immense!


So there you are tips and tricks to make cooking and eating simpler, easier, healthier and yes, cheaper.


I will be on a break starting Tuesday till the end of the month, but leave me a comment if I have missed your entry in the round up and I will add it in as soon as I can.


Milk Masala Powder

Even though I am on the wrong side of 30, there are certain times when I crave a glass of milk at night. The catch, however, is that I cannot stand the sight of white milk. So sometimes, I add a bit of rose syrup or drinking chocolate or even turmeric powder to the milk. Nowadays, I've started making a small batch of this milk masala. Not only is it tasty, it also means I consume nuts on a regular basis.







To make the milk masala, simply grind to a coarse powder 2 tbsps of pistachios, 1 tbsp of almonds, 1 tbsp of cashewnuts, 15 nos of cardamom and 2 tbsps of sugar. Add a pinch of saffron and store it in the refrigerator.


Not only can you use the milk masala in a glass of warm milk, you can also add it to enhance the taste of your payasams and kulfis and sooji ka halwa/sheera.

This is my very very late entry to Back To Basics -2, a brilliant event started by Jaya that I am hosting this month.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just a few extra chilies?

She was setting foot in this city after a decade. The city that held some of her best memories and all of her worst ones as well. The city where she had met the love of her life and then lost him. The city she had sworn she would never return to.


And yet, here she was. The lure of meeting her classmates had made her come back. After all, she had spent 2 amazing and fun-filled years with them studying for her MBA. True, she had not been in touch with any of them in the intervening years, but when she read about the upcoming reunion in the papers, she couldn’t resist coming over.


Did she imagine it or was there really that small moment when everyone stopped doing what they were doing as she entered the party hall? “Oh my God! Look who’s here?” shrieked Seema as she welcomed her with a tight hug. Soon, there were more hugs and hi –fives, some smiles and some tears too.


Of course, there were questions. Where was she all these years and what had she been doing? And there were the recriminations. Why had she left without even saying goodbye? Why hadn’t she kept in touch with anyone of them – not even her closest friends?


She had known that there would be questions and recriminations, she had known that she would have some explaining to do – especially to those few friends she had been close to but she hadn’t realized how overwhelmingly difficult it was to talk about herself and the emotional upheaval she had been through. Moreover, it was never going to be easy telling her friends that she had spent a better part of the last 10 years in psychiatric care. So she just hemmed and hawed about working in the family business before steering the conversation back to her friends and their lives.


That wasn’t easy either. For while everyone would animatedly discuss their spouses and children with each other, conversations would come to an awkward end the moment she was in the group. And moreover, the big questions that she was sure were on everyone’s mind – whether she was married or whether there was anyone in her life – were never voiced. They stayed suspended in the pity-filled glances that were occasionally cast her way.


Wanting to get away from it all, she found herself a quiet corner at the bar and sipped on a Margarita.


“Hey Ankita…..mind if I join you? asked Akash. One of Raj’s closest friends. The one who always used to hover around Raj and herself. Kebab mein haddi, she used to call him. It infuriated her then, now the memory merely brought a smile to her lips.


“You didn’t keep in touch with me either”, he chided. “And I thought I was your friend too. But you cut me off from your life, just as you did your other friends. I looked for you….but even your parents were tight-lipped. Look Anks…..”


“Don’t you dare call me that”, she said angrily.


“Okay, okay just cool it. But this I will say - you’ve got to get over him. Move on, for your own sake”.


“Stop sermonizing Akash. Just let’s have our drink peacefully”.


“Ankita, look I don’t know how to say this but can you make me a part of your life? You don’t know this but I ….umm….have always loved you”.


That was the last straw – Akash in love with her?! She hadn’t come here for this!


“Akash, just leave me alone. Just get out of here before I scream and embarrass both you and me”, she said tersely.


She was now starting to feel suffocated and decided that she had to get away. When everyone started dancing to music from the 80s, she slipped away, once again without saying goodbye to anyone.


The night was cool and a light breeze had picked up. The traffic had died down and the streets were starting to get quieter. She started walking, aimlessly at first but soon found her feet leading her to the University chowk, that place where Raj and she had spent many of their evenings together. That place where Raj had left her that balmy May night.


She almost didn’t recognize the place. Where was the several metres high fountain? Where was the University circle? And where were the hawkers selling food? She stared at the place in absolute disbelief. Cities transform with time but here one of the iconic places had been razed to the ground!


She squeezed her eyes shut picturing the place as it used to be, as it was that night. The fountain and the milky white water that was spouting from it, the cacophony of horns around the roundabout and the many vehicles and two wheelers parked on either side of the road. People of all shapes and sizes and ages in groups or alone wondering what to eat – dosas, egg bhurji, vada pavs, chaat or Chinese food – they were spoilt for choice. The hissing of the stoves and clanging of spoons on the huge woks. The air redolent with the smell of food and more food.


At the far end and outside a slightly quieter Chinese food stall, Raj was waiting for her. With him, as always, was Akash. That day, something inside her had snapped and she grew extremely irritated at Akash's presence. She liked spending time alone with Raj but Akash never seemed to care about that. Almost involuntarily, she gave him one nasty look which made him scamper away without even touching the spring rolls he had ordered or taking that cola bottle he always seemed to have with him.


“Anks, he is my friend….can’t you be a little accommodating?” Raj said with a bit of edge in his voice.


“But he is always hovering around us. I hardly get any time alone with you”, she complained.


And they had gotten into a tiff arguing about every little thing till Raj finally burst out saying, “Just don’t talk to me”.


“You either”, she said.


Soon, the hawker came with their order of two hakka noodles and as was often the case, he too put the extra –spicy one in front of Raj while she was served the mild one. Why did people always assume that being a woman, she would be the one eating the mildly spiced noodles, she wondered. In fact, it was Raj who could not take chillies at all.


“Raj…”, she began wanting to swap the plates with him.


“I told you, DON’T TALK TO ME”.


Very well, she thought to herself. One bite and you will be yelping and I will watch the fun!


“What the hell….why didn’t you tell me”, he growled after the first mouthful as he reached for the cola bottle Akash had left behind. She started giggling at his discomfort from eating the spicy noodles and it infuriated him further. “Even this cola is tasting weird”, he remarked as he finished the entire 750ml. He then picked up his bike keys and started to leave. A small fight had taken an ugly turn.



She tried to stop him but he didn’t want any of it. Well, she wasn’t going to grovel either. She nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders and started twirling the greasy and spicy noodles around the plastic fork.


She hadn’t even finished swallowing her first mouthful when there was a loud screech of brakes…funny how sometimes you knew certain things without being told. She just knew that it was Raj who was lying beneath the wheel of the bus.


Even after 10 years, she was unable to erase that picture from her mind. She sank to her feet and wept….she had never, in her wildest imagination, thought that a few extra chillies in a plate of noodles could change her life forever. Everyone kept telling her not to blame herself, but she had never stopped feeling responsible for Raj’s death.


Somewhere else in the city, Akash was sitting on a lonely bench calling out Ankita’s name. How he wished he could take her pain away! In his hand was a bottle of cola that he kept taking huge swigs from. It was spiked with a generous amount of rum.


Just as it was that night 10 years ago.


His plan was to get teetotaler Raj completely drunk and watch him make a fool of himself in front of Ankita. But seeing her displeasure at his presence, he had rushed off, forgetting to take that cola bottle with him..…….



This is my entry to Of Chalks and Chopsticks that Jaya is hosting this month. Very graciously, she has allowed this very late entry. Thanks!


However, I do not have a recipe this time. Well no, I do have the recipe but don't have a photo to go along. So I will post it some other time, but in the meantime, you can hop on over to Soma's fabulous blog from where I made the Hakka Noodles that I wanted to post alongwith this story.





Monday, August 23, 2010

Mango Salsa

Most of us travel in a set manner - visit a place, take in the sights and return back home. Our travels are for a fixed time duration at the end of which we have that desire to go back home and sleep in our own beds.


There are a few people, however, who travel for years together, moving from one place to another. With no fixed address and with no fixed travel route, they seem to live the life of a nomad. Meet one such nomad - Rita Golden Gelman.


A woman who has travelled the world over the past 15 odd years moving from one country to another with no possessions other than those that she can carry in her backpack. A woman for who the end of a 23 year old marriage marked the beginning of an entirely new way of life.

Yes, this is about the book the book club read this month - Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman, a collection of essays detailing her travel experiences from around the world.


From staying in a Zapotec village, to studying orangutans deep in the jungles in Borneo, to finding spiritual enlightenment in Bali, to trekking in Irian Jaya, to seeking her roots in Israel, to simply living in New Zealand, her travel experiences are phenomenal and often, not something that many of us would be able to or willing to imitate.



She goes from feeling vulnerable at having to travel and eat alone to being supremely confident in the seeking company of fellow travellers on the road. She never lets an opportunity to savour newer experiences slip by her; often times, she employs absolute ingenuity in creating opportunities for herself.


However, the sense of wonder and awe that one normally has when visiting new places (and especially those that are often not accessible to many travellers) is not there in the book. That is because this is not really a travelogue. So, don't read it if what you are looking for is a travelogue in the classic sense. She doesn't really describe or wax eloquent about the places she has been to.


Travels of a Female Nomad is more about how Gelman made her way into people's homes and then their hearts, her interactions with people and her response to the diverse cultures she encountered.


But more than anything else, it is a testament to the fact that it is never to late to live the life that you truly want to lead. As you flip the pages, you start to share her conviction that most of the times, if you only open your heart and mind to people, place your trust in them and simply go with the flow, life's experiences can be very enjoyable.


For that and that alone, this is a book that is a must read.





For some reason, from the time I started reading about her trip to Mexico, I was hoping there'd be some mango salsa somewhere in the book. There was none, but toward the end of the book, there was this salad that she made in Thailand.


So this is what I made: A mango salsa with a hint of Thai flavours.


Just cut some mangoes into cubes and slice some shallots and red chillies as well. Toss them in a dressing made with a few tbsps of pineapple juice, lime juice, sugar and salt. Garnish with some fresh coriander leaves and thinly shredded basil leaves and kaffir limes. Chill for about 30 mins, taste to check the balance of flavours and chill again for 30 mins before serving.


Serve this alongside some grilled chicken; I loved having it with some curd rice.


Edited to add: I recently re-made this salsa with 1.5 cups mango cubes + zest of 1 lemon + juice of 1/2 a lime + a tsp of sugar +2 small shallots, sliced + 1/2 tsp of freshly cracked pepper + salt to taste + 1.5 tbsps of chopped coriander leaves.


This is my entry to Yameen's Health Nut Challenge 7 : Tropical Fruits.





Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vegetable Biryani

Simply put, biryani is nothing but rice layered alternately with meat or fish or even vegetables. The taste, however, is anything but simple to describe. Aromatic from the use of saffron and rose water, subtly flavoured from the sprinkling of spices, biryani is a one pot meal that is extremlely satiating.

True, making biryani is time-consuming. There are spices to be ground and onions to be fried; there are many small steps that make their way to a delicious biryani and absolutely no room for any short cuts. But one whiff of the cooked biryani and all the effort taken and the time spent in making it seem totally worth it.





Biryani is a crowd pleaser and this vegetable biryani is something that gets made very often, especially when we are entertaining. It has taken me numerous attempts and many a charred vessels to get finally get it right, here's how I make it.


Ingredients:


Rice: 1 1/4 cup
Assorted Vegetables: 1 1/2 cups ( I use carrots, cauliflower, french beans and green peas)
Paneer: 1/2 cup

Tomato Puree: 2 tbsps

Yogurt: 1/3 cup
Cashewnut powder: 2 1/2 tbsps
Dry spices: Red chilli powder - 3/4 tsp, turmeric - 1/4 tsp, garam masala - 1 tbsp, salt to taste

Whole spices: bay leaf - 1, cloves - 6, cinnamon - 1" stick, black cardamom - 1


Raisins: 1 tbsp
Saffron: 1 pinch, soaked in 1 tsp rosewater and 1 tsp kewra water


Ghee: 2 - 3 tbsps
Oil: 2 tbsps + as required for deep frying

grind to a paste:

Onion: 2 medium sized
Mint leaves: 1/3 cup
Coriander leaves: 6 sprigs
Garlic: 6 cloves
Ginger: 1" piece


for garnishing:


Potato: 1 large
Onion: 1 large, sliced
a few mint leaves
green chillies


Method:


pre-preparation:


Peel and slice one onion. Toss the slices in a pinch of salt and 1/4 tsp sugar. Deep fry till golden brown.

Peel and cut the potato into 1/4" thick circles and fry till golden.


cook the rice:


Soak the rice in water for half an hour. Heat ghee in a vessel, add the black cardamom followed by the strained rice. Fry gently till the grains are all coated with the ghee. Add 2 cups boiling water and some salt and cook the rice.


Once cooked, fluff with a fork and spread it onto a plate to cool.


prepare the vegetable curry:


Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and steam till they are just cooked.


Grind the masala paste. Heat oil and add the whole garam masala. Let it sizzle for half a minute and then add the masala paste to the pan, fry till the raw smell disappears.


Add in the tomato puree and fry another 5 - 7 minutes. Sprinkle a few drops of water if the puree sticks to the pan. Whisk together the yogurt, cashewnut powder and the dry spices; fry till the oil separates.


Mix the steamed vegetables, the paneer cubes and the raisins into the fried masala paste and toss gently for about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle a little water if the curry sticks to the bottom of the pan.


assemble the biryani

In a heavy bottomed vessel, melt some ghee.


Spread half the rice. On top of the rice, sprinkle a pinch of the garam masala followed by 1/4 of the fried onions. A few mint leaves and whole green chillies go next.


Then spread the cooked vegetable curry followed by the remaining rice.


Pour the saffron water over the rice. Layer the fried potatoes on the rice, sprinkle the remaining fried onions, some mint leaves and whole green chillies.



Seal the vessel with 2-3 layers of aluminium foil and cover with a tight fitting lid.


Place a frying pan on the gas and put the vessel that you just layered the biryani in on top of the pan. On the lowest possible heat setting, cook the biryani for about 25- 30 minutes. (Putting the vessel atop a pan and then heating the biryani ensures that the rice won't stick to the bottom and get charred).



Alternately, you could also layer the biryani in a similar fashion in a microwave proof bowl and microwave on high for about 10 mins. But the aroma of the stove-top method is something the microwave method simply cannot replicate.


I serve with the biryani with this eggplant raita and some papad. Finger licking good.











Thursday, August 12, 2010

Announcing Back To Basics

There was a time when my kitchen was lined with bottles and jars containing fresh and homemade podis and masalas and pickles and yes, ghee.


But that was many years ago when we lived in Bombay and made monthly trips to Pune; with every trip, we'd return with the choicest of home-made goodies that my mother and MIL would gladly prepare for us.


Then, we moved overseas. And while I armed myself with all the recipes, I never used any of them. I have been purchasing most of my basic masalas and podis and the like for many years now.


I was, however, nudged to look up all those recipes when last month Jaya came up with an event called Back to Basics. One look at the round up and I realised that this was an event that could equip everyone (well, yes, I do have my own very selfish interest here) with many tips and tricks to make cooking and eating simpler, easier and healthier.


I was glad when Jaya decided to continue with the event and I am delighted to be hosting it this month.


Here's what this event encompasses (and this is from the original event announcement):

1. How to and tips on how you make your life easier in the kitchen, by grinding pastes or freezing seasonal fruits and vegetables.


2. Recipes for rubs, marinades and masalas: garam masala, goda masala, dhana jeera powder (corrainder cumin), etc.


3. Posts like Srivalli's 'cooking toor dal for the week and storing in the fridge'.


4. Recipes for concentrates like this lemon concentrate used to make lemonade.


5. A food recipe that goes with the above is totally optional but welcome.


6. All recipes need to be original; if yours is inspired by any other in the blogosphere, do provide a link for the same.



7. Link your post to Jaya's post and my event announcement and send me the URL of your post either by sending me a mail on aquadaze{at}rediffmail{dot}com or by leaving a comment at the end of this post.


8. Archived entries are welcome, please do update them with the links mentioned in point 7 above.


9. Don't have a blog but have lots of tips and tricks up your sleeve? Do mail them to me on the e-mail address mentioned above.


Last date for sending in your entries: Sept. 8.


Looking forward to your entries......





Saturday, August 7, 2010

Strawberry Mirror Cake

I am not one given to using superlatives like 'the best ever' about any recipe that I have blogged about. And I want to refrain from doing so even today.


However, when it comes to this Strawberry Mirror Cake, the superlative is difficult to avoid. But I don't want to hazard claiming that this is the best dessert ever and so I will just stop at saying that this is the best dessert that I can whip up. Not only is it gorgeous and elegant looking, it tastes better than it looks. Go on, drool over that slice.....







A few years ago, we were invited for dinner at a friend's place. Now, I am a dessert-first kind of person but I refused the dessert that day. Because for dessert was (a very delicious looking) strawberry mousse and mousse normally has raw eggs in it and I don't eat raw eggs.


"This doesn't have any eggs. In fact, it is made from - you won't believe it - ice cream and jelly!"


The mousse was fantastic and I just had to have the recipe. However, my recipe request was firmly turned down. "No sharing of recipes is going to happen," she said.


What friends don't share, Google happily does. I wasted no time in surfing the net, tried a few recipes; the one I stumbled upon at the OChef website tasted exactly like the one she had made.


A very easy dessert to make, the mock Strawberry Bavarian as it appears on OChef is very versatile too. I've made it in cherry and raspberry flavours with equally delicious results.


So, where does the Strawberry Mirror Cake fit into all this ramble, you might wonder. I am coming to it....

When I started blogging, I came across this group that calls itself 'the Daring Bakers'. One day, while browsing through one such intrepid blogger Sunita's blog, I came across the stunning Strawberry Mirror Cake and borrowed the basic presentation idea there to make mine.

My Strawberry Mirror Cake is a fusion of 3 different recipes. It might, by the look and sound of it, seem complicated but I can assure you that it is not so. And the end result is more than worth all the effort, both in terms of the way it looks and tastes.

I hope rather long recipe doesn't put you off - in any case, there are only 4 main steps; what you need to do is simply organise the steps.


Here's how I make it:



I start by baking the sponge cake.


Ingredients:


Eggs: 4
Sugar: 120 gms
Cake flour: 100 gms
Vanilla essence: 1 tsp
Butter: 65 gms, melted

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 175 deg C.

Cream together the eggs and sugar till they are pale, light and creamy and the mixture falls in ribbons, about 10 mins. Sprinkle the flour and fold it into the egg sugar mixture with the help of a spatula. I do this in 3 additions. Beat this egg-sugar-flour mixture till it falls in ribbons again, about 1o - 12 mins. Finally, fold in the melted butter.

Bake in a greased 8" round cake pan for about 30-35 minutes or till a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Leave on the wire rack till it cools completely. Once cool, slice into 2.


While the cake bakes, set about preparing the strawberry juice for the mirror and for moistening the cake.

Ingredients:

Strawberries: 680 gms
Sugar: 1 cup
Water: 1 cup
Lime juice: 1/2 tsp

Method:

Wash and hull the strawberries. Mash them with your hands or with the back of a spoon; sprinkle sugar over them and drizzle the lime juice. Set aside for about 15-20 mins so that the juices start to flow.

Place over low heat, add the water and simmer for about 10 mins. Strain through a fine sieve or preferably a cheesecloth and let drain for about 15-20 mins.


Reserve 1.5 cups for the mirror and use the rest for moistening the cake.


Now that the pre-preparation is through, move on to making the mock strawberry bavarian

Ingredients:

Strawberry-flavored gelatin: 7.5 ounces/225 gms
Boiling water: 2 1/2 cups
Sour cream: 1 1/4 cup
Vanilla ice cream : 600 ml (the original recipe uses strawberry ice cream)
Lemon juice: 1 1/4 tbsp
Strawberries: 250 gms, chopped


A large bowl of ice


Method:

Place the jelly in a bowl and add the boiling water to it. Stir till the crystals dissolve. To this, add the sour cream and whisk until smooth.


Next add in the ice cream and mix until the ice cream has melted. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the chopped strawberries.


Place the vessel over a bowl of ice and stir till the mixture just starts to thicken. Once that happens, take the bowl off the ice (don't throw away the ice, you are going to need it for the mirror) and start to assemble the gateau:


In a 10" springform pan, place one half of the cake. Drizzle some strawberry juice to moisten the cake. Layer half of the bavarian on top of the cake and refrigerate for 15 mins.

Repeat with the other layer of the cake and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.


This is the last step, making the strawberry mirror.


Ingredients:


Strawberry juice: 1.5 cups (yes, the one we set aside earlier)
Lemon juice: 1 tsp
Kirsh: 1 tbsp (I omit this)
Water: 1 tbsp (I use 2 tbsps)
Unflavoured gelatin: 1 tbsp
A few drops red food colouring (I omit this)


Method:

Place the lemon juice and water in a bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over the mixture and aside till the gelatin becomes soft and spongy.

Meanwhile, bring the juice to a simmer and pour it over the gelatin mixture. Stir to dissolve the gelatin. Add the colouring, if using.

Now place the mixture over a bowl of ice and stir till the mixture is syrupy and starts to thicken. As soon as it starts to thicken, remove the bowl from the ice. Scoop off any bubbles that may have formed while stirring and pour it over the top layer of the bavarian.

Refrigerate until the jelly sets.



To unmold, blow your hairdryer (YES! ) on its lowest setting all around the outside of the springform pan (you could even use a warm towel and run that on the outside of the pan) Then, run a spatula around the edge of the jelly to gently separate it from the sides of the pan - this step is most critical as the mirror could tear if it is stuck to the pan when you unlatch it.

The Strawberry Mirror Cake is a fitting end to a dinner party and so I am taking it along to Nupur's Potluck Party (the theme for this month's BB6).






Saturday, July 31, 2010

Laadi Pav

The following is my entry to our food fiction event Of Chalks and Chopsticks that Sra is hosting this month.



No one – not our parents, not our closest friends, not even ourselves – could have predicted this. After all, we had always been a ‘solid’ couple. And yet here we were, separating after 8 years of marriage, sorting through our things and deciding who would keep what.


Part of me didn’t want this to happen, but somewhere, I realised that Yash was right – there was no point in living together under the same roof as strangers.


Strangers? Yash and I? Even the mere suggestion seemed ridiculous! We weren’t ‘strangers’ to each other even when we met for the first time in catering college. Though it wasn’t ‘love at first sight’ kind of a thing, we had hit it off very well and so, it was only a matter of time before we became a couple.


I glanced at him as he sorted through our huge CD collection. “Tell you what, you keep all of them. I am just taking a few. In any case I have a huge collection of songs on my I-pod,” he smiles. I nodded and walked away, trying not to step on all the stuff scattered all over the floor – stuff that held our memories – memories of better times. We were so happy together, I remembered. What went wrong? Just when did we become ‘strangers’, I wondered.


Yash kept coming and asking what to do with some of the stuff, but mostly, I left him alone. I was not too interested in what he took and what he left. After all, I was hardly home and when I was, I was mostly sleeping. My job as a chef at a world renowned restaurant took up most of my time and all of my energy.


I’d had to work very hard to get to where I was. It is ironical that though women are the ones who cook at home all over the world, in restaurants, it is a completely different story. Most top chefs are men and it is quite difficult for a woman to break through the glass ceiling. I was very proud of what I had achieved; in fact I was very proud of what Yash had achieved as well – his food based travel program was immensely popular.


Success hadn’t come very easily for us and the early days had been excruciating but on hindsight, we survived them because we had each other. Whenever Yash would be back from his travels, I’d have some fancy ‘welcome back’ cake baked for him. And ever so often, he’d whisk me off for a short vacation when he was travelling. Every free minute and we'd be on the phone or on the chat with each other. Somewhere along the way though, cakes, spontaneous getaways and chats gave way small matter-of fact post-its – “there’s some soup in the fridge for you” or “will be back on the 18th and going away the next day.” Strangers? Worse, it seemed! Most days, we hardly had anything to say to each other.


My thoughts were interrupted when my eyes fell on Yash who was leafing through a book. The book. The one in which we had written about our dream of starting a restaurant. The book had everything – the concept of our restaurant : a meeting place for writers and artists, the look: wooden floors and cozy sofas that people could sink into with bookcases and paintings across the walls, the menu: complete with the recipes we had experimented on.


A dream that seemed destined to be confined to the pages of the book. Forever.


Chancing upon the book after ages seemed to break the silence between us and we smiled at each other as we started talking about the time that was. And soon, we were talking about everything under the sun. Ourselves, work, politics. We stopped talking only when we realised that the afternoon had turned to dusk.


“Let me make us some tea,” he said. “Is there anything to eat?” So while he made tea, I pulled out some cookies and buttered a couple of slices of bread.


He handed me my mug and as I bit into the bread that I had dipped into my tea, I said “No one can make bread the way you used to make it.”

“What do you mean ‘used to make’? No one can make bread the way I do. Period.”

“Don’t flatter yourself! It’s been ages since you made bread.”

“Making bread is like riding a cycle. You never forget it,” he proclaimed. “Wanna see? I will bake you a bread you’ll remember,” he continued.


And so, I mixed the yeast and the sugar in some warm water, I measured out the flour and Yash started kneading the dough. Suddenly, it felt like the old times when we used to cook together.


“There is not too much space on the counter to knead the dough,” he says. “Let’s quickly vacuum the floor. Then I can knead it on the floor.”

“Whaaaaaat? And make laadi pav in the true sense of the word?” I was horrified by his suggestion.

“Oh stop behaving like a posh chef at home,” he teased with a smile that went straight to my heart. I was almost tempted to tell him not to go, when his cell phone rang. He had dough sticking to his fingers and so I held the phone against his ears, almost unable to bear the closeness.

“Yes, yes. 11 is fine.” “No, no, there isn’t too much to move. Yes, a small tempo should be ok,” he spoke into the phone.


When the call was over, we looked at each other silently for a moment and then I slipped out of the kitchen. He continued to knead; occasionally, I could hear a thud as he dropped the dough on the platform. Job done, he joined me in the balcony.


“Care for some wine?” he asked, finally breaking the awkward silence between us. In the time it took for the dough to rise, we’d polished off one bottle. While he shaped the buns, I opened another; by the time he put them in the oven, we had drained the second one too.


I wondered if it was the wine or the music or whatever else. I didn’t even remember who made the first move, but suddenly, we were in each other’s arms, kissing.


The ‘ting’ of the oven brought us back to reality. I went and checked the bread. It had this lovely brown crust and it was so soft and spongy that when I pressed it between my fingers, it sprung right back. I brought it to my nose and inhaled; the aroma filled me up.






“Perfect. I will always remember this bread,” I said as I went into the bedroom and closed the door behind me.


When I woke up, it was almost 10 in the morning. The movers would be coming soon, I thought. There was no sign of Yash; when I went to the kitchen to make coffee, I saw the post-it on on the fridge: Off to finish a project I should have taken up years ago. Will arrange to move everything once I am done.


I had fallen in love with Yash all over again and I missed him terribly but work kept me from brooding too much. Then one day, to my shock, I found him waiting for me at home when I returned at night. Laid out on the table were some legal looking papers – our divorce papers, I thought with a pang.


He started talking the moment he saw me, “I got stuck at the name. Other than that, in the last 3 months, I’ve done all the work on our restaurant.”


Our restaurant? What was he saying? I looked at the ‘legal looking’ papers – they were about a restaurant – our restaurant!


“So choose a name….I thought of Canvas, Chalks and Chopsticks. The other one is Plumes, Palettes and Plates….which one do you like?


“Plumes, Palettes and Plates,” I said as I moved into his arms. He continued to fill me in with the details, but all I could hear was the beating of his heart.






So just what is 'laadi pav'? Pav is a marathi word, taken from the Portuguese word pao which simply means bread. It is called 'laadi pav' more because of the way it looks. When baked with all the buns stuck together, it ressembles slabs of the floor and hence the name.

This is one very easy bread to make, I've taken the recipe from Vaishali's blog and except for a few.....ummm.....cosmetic changes, I have followed her recipe to the tee.



Ingredients:

Bread flour: 3 cups
Salt: 1 tsp
Baking soda: 1/2 tsp
Sugar: 1+ 2tsps
Yeast: 1.5 tsps
Warm water: 1 - 1.5 cups
Butter/oil: 3 tbsps

for brushing the top of the buns:

warm milk: 2 tbsps
melted butter: 1 tbsp

Method:

Stir the yeast and the sugar in 1/4 cup of warm water and let it sit for about 15-20 mins or till it expands and froths

Sift the flour and baking soda together and transfer it to a large mixing bowl.

Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and mix it into the flour. Pour the water in thin trickle and begin kneading the dough.

When it clumps together, turn it onto the kitchen counter and knead for a further 10 - 12 mins, till you get a smooth and pliable ball of dough.


Then, sprinkle the salt over the dough and add the butter, a tbsp at a time and knead till all the butter has been absorbed by the dough.


Leave the dough for rising in a well oiled bowl; it takes me about 3 hours for the dough to double.

Then, punch it down and divide it into eight pieces. Shape them into rectangular buns and lay them close to each other on a jam roll pan. Let them rise for another 30 minutes, once this rising time has elapsed, you will see that the gap between the buns has closed out, making the buns stick to each other.


Brush the milk on the top of the buns and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 deg C for about 20 mins. Turn off the oven, leave the door slightly ajar and let the buns rest for a further 5 mins.


Take them off and brush the melted butter immediately on top of the buns; doing this ensures that crust remains soft and the buns get a lovely shine.





It is not just about the ingredients or the recipe, good food happens when it is served with love!!

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