Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chocolate Fudge Cake

Every time I go to India, there is a family gathering featuring an assortment of aunts, uncles and some cousins. Oh, I really love these family get-togethers. It feels great to meet the extended family after long intervals and exchange notes on all that's been happening in our lives. The evening stretches long and the chatter is endless. Food and drink flow; starters, main courses and desserts happily inter-mingle. Photographs are passed around and gossip is shared.

The family get-together last December when I went to Pune was no different, except that at some point in the evening, the conversation suddenly veered to recollections of "what Aqua did when she was young".

I must have been some kind of a nut, for everyone had some incident or the other to share, every incident seemed more embarrassing than the previous one and all I wanted to do was burrow a hole somewhere and hibernate till the evening came to an end!

But what really ...er... took the cake was what my aunt had to say. About the time when I helped myself to spoonfuls of cake batter. Apparently, she was baking her famous chocolate fudge cake and left the kitchen after preparing the batter while waiting for the oven to heat up. It seems, unable to resist her greed, yours truly tiptoed into the kitchen and ate up some batter! And then denied it, in spite of remnants of the batter sound her lips.

She had brought along that very chocolate fudge cake for the evening; not only did she give me a large slice but also (finally!) parted with her fabulous recipe.

Very chocolately with just a hint of vanilla, this super moist cake can stand on its own without any frosting. You won't stop at just one slice, of that I am certain!




Ingredients:

Unsalted butter: 90 gms
Sugar: 200 gms
Vanilla essence: 1 tsp
Eggs: 2
Cocoa: 40 gms
All purpose flour: 200gms
Baking soda: 1/2 tsp
Salt: 1/4 tsp (omit if using salted butter)
Hot water: 90 ml
Buttermilk: 180 ml

Method:

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
Blend the cocoa into the hot water, stir well so that no lumps remain.

Cream together the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add the essence and beat a minute.


Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute after you add each egg.


Now add the buttermilk and the cocoa mixture alternately to the batter, starting and ending with the buttermilk. The mixture will be very watery at this point.


Finally, fold in the flour to get a smooth batter.


Pre-heat the oven for 10 mins and bake in a tube pan at 200 deg C for 40 mins or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Notes:

My aunt sometimes adds coffee to this cake. If you decide to add coffee, omit the vanilla essence and instead mix 1.5 tsps of coffee to the hot water along with the cocoa.
I feel that adding cinnamon would do wonders to the taste, the next time I plan to ditch both vanilla and coffee in favour of cinnamon. Will definitely keep you posted!

The recipe states a baking time of 40 mins, but it took me 50 mins to bake mine. So, I would recommend that you set the timer for 40 mins and bake in 10 min increments, if the cake is not done.

I don't have a tube pan and instead baked it in a bundt pan. Whilst my aunt's cake has scarcely any cracks, mine had a few. So I guess this cake is best baked in a tube pan.

Since chocolate is always associated with Valentine's Day, sending this chocolate fudge cake to Nina who is hosting a Bake-a-Cake event as part of Valentine's Day celebrations.



Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pithale (Spiced Gram Flour Gravy)

Sometime around the time when I was about 9 years, I had this major desire to visit all the forts in Maharashtra, my home state. The inspiration for this came from the history lessons at school where we were learning about Shivaji Maharaj, the valiant 17th century leader who successfully fought the Moghuls and established the Maratha empire.


Shivaji Maharaj is someone who is very popular Maharashtra, for that matter, all over India. In Bombay, his name is all pervasive - you land in an airport re-named after him, you travel on roads that bear his name and take trains out of the city from a railway station again, re-named after him. However, his legacy - the forts that he captured or built - is unfortunately in ruins. Crumbling walls, ugly graffiti, trash; the political parties who re-name public buildings in his memory don't see the need to allocate any funds or resources for the restoration of his true legacy - the forts - to the original glory.


Notwithstanding their poor state, the forts we saw (yes, my parents indulged me my fancy) - Raigad, Pratapgad, Panhalgad and Murud Janjira - are nothing short of spectacular. However, there was this one fort which was very much in our neck of woods, so to speak, but our trips there were forever jinxed.



So, by the time I actually went to Sinhagad, my interest in it as a historical place was long gone. I was in colloge then and Sinhagad to me was more a picnic spot, a place that was very easily accessible and yet far away from the buzz of the city.


In the cold Pune winter, groups of us friends from college would set off on our two wheelers, almost on the spur of the moment, singing tuneless songs, hair flying in the air, munching on hara chana (green chanas). Sinhagad in winters used to be beautiful - if you set off early enough, on some days, the fog would hang low and envelop the fort. Our fingers would be numb from the cold air and hot cups of masala chai and onion bhajis were just the perfect way to beat the chill! A short stroll around the fort, munching on some cucumber slices sprinkled with salt and we'd be hungry again (!), eager to devour the spicy chicken curry and of course, the very famous pithale bhakri.


Come to think of it, there is nothing special about the pithale in Sinhagad per se. I think my mom makes better pithale. However, I have never quite re-captured the magic of eating pithale bhakri as it was at Sinhagad - sitting on straw mats and cracking useless jokes with friends, digging in from each other's plates and eating till our guts would spill out!









Ingredients:


Bengal gram flour (Besan) : 3/4 cup

Buttermilk : 2.5 cups
Water: 1/2 cup


Onion: 1 large, finely chopped
Garlic: 2 cloves, finely minced

Red chilli powder: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp
Salt to taste
Sugar: 1 tsp
Oil


Coriander leaves: 2 tbsps, chopped
Ghee: 1 tbsp, optional


for the tempering:

Cinnamon: 1" stick
Cloves: 4 nos
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Mustard seeds: 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves: 8-10
Dried red chillies: 2, broken into a few pieces
Green chillies: 2, chopped
Asafoetida (hing): 1/4 tsp



Method:


Make a paste of the besan and buttermilk, ensuring that no lumps remain and leave it for about 30 minutes. The idea is to bring the buttermilk to room temperature before cooking.


Heat oil in a thick bottom pan or a kadhai and add the ingredients listed under tempering - in that order. Wait for each ingredient to splutter/change colour before adding in the next one.


Then add the gralic and the onions and saute till the onions turn translucent. Add the red chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt and sugar and mix them well.


Lower the heat and add the besan-buttermilk mixture, stirring as you pour it in.


Pithale requires constant stirring, so pull up your sleeves and get stirring! As it cooks, the pithale thickens and bubbles like molten lava - so be careful! The only way to know if the pithale is done is to taste it - if the flour still tastes raw, stir for some more time. Normally, it takes about 15 minutes for the besan to cook.


Add the coriander leaves and the ghee, if using and mix them in.


The ideal combination is to serve them with bhakris - a kind of flat bread made with bajra or ragi or rice flours. I cannot make bhakris and so I have pithale with phulkas/rotis.





Notes:


Pithale can made thicker or thinner as per your wish. I like mine thinner, if you want a thicker pithale, use only 2 cups of buttermilk.


My pithale is quite spicy, adjust and reduce the chillies and the chilli powder to your taste. However, spicier the pithale, the better it tastes.

A slightly drier version of pithale is called jhunka; it is made by adding water instead of buttermilk. Check out this lovely post for some more reminiscences of Pune and the way to make jhunka.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Penne Carbonara

I am at a dinner, ravenous, yet picking at my food. Because it is all oriental food. Now, don't get me wrong. I LOVE oriental food. It is just that this is one of those days when I am craving some pasta.


No worries, I tell myself. I will go home and fix myself some pasta. Penne carbonara. Quick to put together and very very satisfying.


I can almost hear the sizzle of bacon getting browned in the pan and can smell the finely minced cloves of garlic getting sauteed in the pan along with some finely minced onions. I see myself tossing the cooked pasta in the pan, I can almost feel my arms getting leaden from stirring the cream briskly into the pasta. That is it. Ready, in just around 15-20 mins.


I can feel the burst of flavours in on my tongue - the smoky flavour of bacon, the delightful pungency of the garlic and the silky texture of the cream sauce.


However, all of a sudden, I hear a "plop" and feel something wet on around my knee. And the husband saying "Watch how you eat! How can you be so clumsy?" Ah well, I was so lost in my culinary reverie that the noodles I was eating slipped out my chopsticks and promptly landed on my knee.


But then, you would be lost too - lost for words - once you've savoured the simple but highly satiating penne carbonara. Here's my way of making it.







Ingredients:


Bacon bits: 3 tbsps (You can substitute bacon with mushrooms, they are perfect for this recipe)
Garlic: 1 large clove, finely minced
Onion: 1 small, finely chopped
Egg yolk: 2
Fresh cream: 125 ml
Parmesan cheese: 2 tbsps
Seasonings: dried basil, chilli flakes, freshly ground pepper, salt
Olive oil

Penne pasta: 3/4 cup (I actually eye-ball the pasta)


Method:

Start to cook the pasta as per package instructions. The idea is to drain your cooked pasta just as you finish sautéing the garlic and onions.
Beat the egg yolk and the cheese into the cream and add all the seasonings as per your taste.

In a pan, add a tsp of oil, toss the bacon and fry till it is evenly browned. Set aside. In the same pan, add some more oil and throw in the garlic and finely minced onion. Saute till the onions turn pink, return the bacon to the pan and stir.

Drain the cooked pasta and add it into the pan and stir so as to mix it well with the onions and bacon.


You've got to work really fast now - take the pan away from the fire, add the cream, egg yolk and cheese mixture. Return the pan to a very low flame and stir and stir as fast as you can. Work those arms!! The idea is to heat the cream through and coat the pasta evenly with the sauce without ending up with a scrambled mess! I hold my pan away from the burner every once in a while as I stir the pasta.

Sprinkle some grated cheese on top and cover for a minute so as to let all the flavours to mingle together. Then, without any ado, eat your fill. Do transfer to a serving plate before digging in!


Bacon. Cream. Cheese. Egg yolks. Yes, this one has got it all. Very bad for the arteries, however, excellent for the palate. I make this very rarely and I savour each and every mouthful!


(And so, very reluctantly,) I am sharing this with Presto Pasta Nights # 150, event started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast, hosted this week by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook .


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bread Pudding

In response to my last post, Jaya left a lovely comment, calling me "an accomplished cook". If you must know, I was on cloud nine that day. After all, a comment like this makes blogging worth all the effort that goes into it.


Cooking, however, isn't something that has come easily to me. I have waded my way through several culinary disasters and terrible culinary innovations even as I would struggle to put a decent meal on the table. And the main reason for this, more than any other, was the disdain I had for cooking. No really, cooking to me was a chore, something that I really didn't enjoy. Baking was another story - I have always loved it, but then one can't eat cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner!


Somewhere down the road, I fell in love with the art of cooking and then there was no looking back. I wouldn't even need an excuse to cook! I was, however, a very wary cook. I'd stick to a handful of ingredients and a few tried and tested recipes.


The food blog came about one lonely night when the daughter was sleeping and the husband was travelling on work and I was surfing the net. Somehow, I landed on a food blog, one blog led to another and then some more. And I thought, well hey food blogging sounds so interesting, maybe I should give it a shot.


But what started "just for a lark" changed my entire approach to cooking. Slowly, I started pushing my own boundaries and making newer and newer things - things that I was always not very confident of making, like bread. And of course, I have to make newer things to feed the blog!


As a result of this quest for newer recipes, however, I realised that I hadn't made some of my perennial favourites in a long, long time.


Like this bread pudding, for example. I grew up watching my mom make it ever so often that when I made it for the first time, I didn't even need to look up the recipe. In fact, the bread pudding is very special to me - not because it is so easy to put together, but because it was the first thing I ever made all by myself - when I was all of 8 years.






Check it out - it is ridiculously easy to make. In fact, you can make it right after you've read this post, provided you have the following:

Ingredients

White bread: 5 slices
Milk: 500 ml
Eggs: 3
Sugar: 1/2 cup (that is the original amount, I reduce it by a couple of tbsps)
Vanilla essence: 1 tsp
Raisins: 2 tbsps
Salt: just a pinch and no more

unnecessary: 2 tbsps caramel syrup (find recipe here)


Method:

In an oven-proof dish, pour out the milk and add in the sugar, stir to melt the sugar.
(If you wish, you could zap this in the microwave and warm the milk just a bit - this will help the sugar to dissolve faster).

Soak the bread slices in the milk - sugar mixture for about 15 mins, then mash them up completely with your hands (or with the back of a flat spoon, if you find using your hands too disgusting!).

Lightly beat the eggs and stir them into the bread-sugar-milk mixture. Add the essence and the salt, stir; throw in raisins, give a quick stir so as to spread them out evenly.

Preheat the oven to 200 deg C and bake it for about 30 mins or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. If not, keep baking in 5 minute increments.


You could serve it immediately; but, personally, I like it cold so I leave it in the fridge for about 4 hours before serving. Make sure you cool it down to room temperature before putting it in the fridge.


Notes:


I used to bake this in an oven-proof dish, this was the first time I used a bundt pan. If using one, make sure you grease it well and then pour in the pudding mixture. Cool it completely before you unmold it.

This time, I added some caramel, just because I had some lying in a bottle and I wanted to clear the fridge. It gave the pudding a lovely golden hue, but other than that, it didn't make any substantial difference to the taste. And if you do add it, do reduce the sugar accordingly.

The texture of your pudding will depend on the bread - some breads are very dense and that will make your pudding denser. In no way does that affect the taste.



Incidentally, not only is the bread pudding the first thing I ever made, it is also the first recipe in this blog! Yes, (all my long ramble and) the pudding is going to Jaya's fabulous Repost Event.


Jaya, if you get the feeling that I am sending you this entry because of the praise you heaped on me, you are right. Flattery works for me ;)



Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tahiri (Rice with Peas)

This month, the book club read Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey.

What a lovely, powerful title it is! To me, it instantly conjured images of kids running amok in the hot summer months. And sure enough, the memoir is about Madhur Jaffrey's growing up years.

A fun filled childhood, one spent in a family bustling with relatives, of picnics and annual family migrations to the hills to escape the hot Delhi summers, of daily family dinners and festivals celebrated with aplomb; Madhur's description of her early years leaves the reader enthralled. By any measure, this was a very privileged life she led, spent in the lap of luxury. I mean, imagine staying in a sprawling house on a street that has been named after your grand-father!!

"During my childhood, it didn't occur to me that families came in sizes smaller than 30 people."


"What was becoming clearer to me as I was getting older was that there were two distinct types of Indians. There was my kind of Indian, a privileged product of British colonial India who spoke English fluently but also spoke Hindi. We ate at a table with napkins, knives and forks, but would eat with our hands when we wished. We were avid cinema-goers who watched both Western and Indian films, and we could talk about Tudor England just as easily as about Moghul India. One part of us was completely Indian but there was this sophisticated Western overlay, a familiarity and ease with the West that set us apart."

Neatly inter-laced with her own family's history, Jaffrey even shows the reader brief glimpses into India's history, starting with the Moghul rule right up to the partition of the country.


Jaffrey is recognised world over as an authority on Indian cooking and not surprisingly, food forms the leitmotif of her memoir. There is so much food in the book that it made me very very hungry! From kebabs and pakoras, to dahi baras and pooris and parathas, mangoes and litchis and guavas, she makes food sound very delectable. Reading about how the food in Delhi evolved to its present day form was eye-opening. But it was her description of daulat ki chaat that made me go absolutely weak in the knees!



"Yes, balanced there, on a round brass tray, were dozens of mutkainas, terra-cotta cups, filled with daulat ki chaat, which could be translated as “a snack of wealth.” Some cynic who assumed that all wealth was ephemeral must have named it. It was, indeed, the most ephemeral of fairy dishes, a frothy evanescence that disappeared as soon it touched the tongue, a winter specialty requiring dew as an ingredient. "



However, much as the memoir is evocative, the narrative does need some getting used to. At times, it is riveting, at other times, it seemed quite a haphazard. Somehow, it comes across as if pages and paragraphs were pulled in from here n there.

Her prose is rather matter-of-fact, bereft of too much emotion and I was very thankful for that. But on the flip side, at no point did I ever get a sense of what Madhur Jaffrey was feeling. Where that really comes across as strange is when she describes her sister's illness and the ensuing treatment. The sense of anguish that Jaffrey obviously must have felt does not reach the reader.
And I felt very frustrated at the way the memoir ended. Abrupt, to say the least. In fact, I didn't quite believe that the book had ended. Since I borrowed the book from the library, initially, I thought that some pages in between were probably missing - and so I looked up the page nos. The pages were in sequence and it was indeed the ending that was very abrupt!

But then, the inclusion of authentic family recipes- 32 of them - more than made up for any disappointment I had with the end!




There was a time when I couldn't make soft and fluffy rice - It would always end up sticky and lumpy. Try as I did, I never got it right. Then, a friend gave me this recipe. "It is a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, just follow the instructions and you'll be OK."

And this recipe worked like magic - no lumpy rice any longer!

When I checked out the recipes in the book, there was no doubt on what I'd be making! Over time, I've made a few itsy bitsy changes to the recipe, those are in italics.

Ingredients:

Basmati Rice - 400gms
Bay leaves - 3
Black cardamom - 2
Black pepper - 8
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Onion - 1, thinly sliced
Frozen green peas - 140 gms
Turmeric - 1/2 tsp (I omitted this)
Oil - 2 tbsps ( I used ghee)
Salt
Water - 650 ml

Sugar - 1.5 tsp
Saffron - a pinch
Fried onion - a fistful

Method:

Wash the rice and then soak it in water for about 30 mins. Drain the rice and leave it in a strainer for about 5 mins.
At the same time, soak the saffron in a tbsp of water.

Set the water to boil and at the same time, in another pan, heat the ghee and put in the bay leaves, black cardamom and peppercorns and cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds crackle, add the onions and a dash of sugar. Fry till the onions turn reddish.

Turn down the heat and add the drain rice. Ever so gently, stir it around so that the ghee coats the grains - about 2 minutes. (If you are using the turmeric, add it along with the rice).

Then add the boiling water and the salt to the rice. Let it come to a boil again, the cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, turn down the heat to the lowest setting and cook the rice - about 25 mins (it takes me a lot less time, so keep an eye on the rice).

Meanwhile, cook the peas - I boil mine with a tsp of sugar till the peas become soft in the centre and then drain the water.

Add the peas to the cooked rice and mix it up a bit.

Then add the saffron to the rice - do this a tsp at a time - and mix it with a fork as you add it in. Sprinkle the fried onions on top, cover the lid and let the rice rest for about 5 mins on very very low heat.

(Madhur adds the peas and covers the pan and lets the rice rest for 10 mins, but she turns the heat off).



Looks like this time we have a full meal from the book club....here's what the others have made:

Simran made Phirni, Curry Leaf made Roz Ki Gobi, Sheba made Cauliflower with cheese, Janaki made Palak Gosht and Jaya made Potatoes with Tomatoes.


Next month, we are reading Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances mayes. Want to join us? Write in to Simran - bombayfoodie (at) gmail (dot) com.

This is my entry to Silpa's event , APS - Rice.

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

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