Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Flavors of Christmas



What do you look forward to on Christmas morning? I think of cinnamon and plump raisins soaked in rum and bright, cheerful colors. Looks like daring bakers had the same idea.

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration. All to make a bread that has all the colors and flavors of Christmas. We were even told to shape it like a wreath.

Lovely and festive, isn't it!

Merry Christmas, everyone and hope you have a great new year. I'd see you after the holidays.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pastry Wars : The Agenda

Pastry Wars : My quest to find the best version for every basic recipe that should be in a baker's repertoire. When I started, I didn't have a list in mind. But I've realized now that I need to start marking out recipes as I get to my favorites so here's the list I've put together.

Am I missing something? Do leave a comment and I'd add it to the list.
Pastry
Tart - work in progress.
Puff Pastry
Pate a choux

Fillings
Pastry Cream
Lemon Curd (or cream)

Cakes
Vanilla
Chocolate
Cheesecake

Frostings
Whipped Cream
Buttercream
Cream Cheese
Ganache

Comfort Food
Brownies
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Muffins

Everything Else
Souffle
Pouring Custard/Creme Anglaise
Crepes
Chocolate Sauce
Caramel Sauce
Tempered Chocolate Cutouts

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Kashmiri Dum Aloo



I am not a regular participant of Indian Cooking Challenge. Though now I wonder why. Every recipe I've cooked for this event has turned out to be a winner. This month's recipe - dum aloo cooked the kashmiri way with a unique combination of spices - was surely the best version of dum aloo I've tasted. An added bonus: it makes your whole house very, very fragrant.

I won't write up the whole recipe here because so many others have, so just go over to Srivalli's if you'd like to make some yourself.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My First Iced Cake



Vanilla Cake
Whipped Cream Frosting
Buttercream Flowers
Strawberries
Crooked Chocolate smiley

It may not be perfect, but it's the best cake I've ever made!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What would you do with leftover whipped cream



I had plenty left over from my pineapple pastry so I made a childhood favorite : fruit cream. Chopped up some canned pineapple finely. Also peeled and finely chopped an apple, then plonked it in lemony water for a minute.

I added both the fruits to the cream, then added someone syrup from the pineapple can to up the sugar quotient. Mixed it gently and put it in the freezer overnight. Next day, I left it in the fridge for 15 minutes then scooped it out in glasses. Although you can't see it up there, I also topped it with some blackcurrant syrup for a decadent dessert!

Now for some other news...

Bombay Foodie was featured in the Super Blogger Series at Simple Indian Food, so you might want to hop on there and read a bit more about me!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It Must've Been Something I Ate

I'd never heard of Jeffrey Steingarten until we picked his book as November's book of the month over at This Book Makes Me Cook. It Must've Been Something I Ate is a witty, very well written and immensely enjoyable collection of essays on food. Although I rarely read non-fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. And there are three reasons you should read it too.

1. Steingarten seeks to burst the myths and fads about food. He takes it upon himself to educate misguided folks against their fear of cheese or MSG. What he says may or may not be true but I am with him on one thing : diet fads change every day and nothing in moderation could be that bad for you!

2. He doesn't believe in letting go. Once he gets hold of the idea, be it about proving the difference between salts or making blood sausages, he will sashay around the world until he gets to the bottom of it. His accounts are often hilarious and I can imagine the sheer number of people he will be irritating trying to run his little experiments, but they make for a wonderful read.

3. His enthusiasm, whether he's looking for the best sushi tuna, the perfect pizza or that elusive baguette in Paris, is infectious. I couldn't imagine anyone else lining up 14 espresso machines on their dining tables, blowing up every fuse in the house, just so they could find the easiest way to get good coffee.

And there's a bonus reason too. Steingarten hob nobs with the best in the food industry. And if it wasn't impressive enough that he is buddies with Herve This, or on first name basis with Alain Ducasse, he then produces a hot chocolate recipe from Pierre Herme himself. This is the recipe I set to make for the book club this month.



To make a cup of most sinful hot chocolate ever, bring 150 ml milk, 2 tbsp water and a tbsp of caster sugar to a boil over medium heat. Add a tbsp of cocoa powder and 25 grams chopped (70%) dark chocolate. Reduce the heat to very low and whisk until the chocolate is well blended and the milk comes back to a boil. Whirl the chocolate in a blender until thick and foamy (or whisk with a hand blender).

Where he used Valrhona, I had to make do with Hershey's extra dark cocoa powder and Callebaut chocolate. The Chocolate Chaud was no less delicious though, so do give it a try.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pineapple Pastry



This is what makes me feel so glad to be a part of the food blogging community. You saw the cake yesterday. I baked it on the morning of my parents' anniversary, hoping to turn into a traditional pineapple pastry they like.

Then I panicked. I know that the bakeries use a whipped cream topping, but I also knew that the 25% cream we get in India won't whip. So I put in an SOS mail to Deeba. And she called me back within minutes with ideas to incorporate more fat in the cream. With all her tips and hints, I finally have a pineapple pastry I like.

So if you are struggling with 25% Amul cream like me, here's what you do.

Tip No. 1 : Get rid of the whey. When you pour out the cream from the carton, you will get thick cream and some whey. Just pour the whey out.

Tip No. 2 : Chill, chill, chill. Before you start whipping your cream, put the bowl of cream in the freezer for 10 minutes. I also left the whipping blades of my hand mixer in the freezer for the same time.

Tip No. 3 : You need more fat in your cream. Melt 2 tbsp of unsalted butter with 2 tbsp of cream - I used 10 second pulses in my microwave until it was just melted. Then let it cool. If you are wondering where to buy the unsalted butter, that's a whole new story altogether.

Once your melted butter has cooled to room temperature, bring the cream out of the freezer. To my 200 ml cream, I added 1 tbsp powdered sugar. Beat on high until the cream starts to increase in volume. Then, with the mixer on, pour in the melted butter. Whip on high until the cream holds soft peaks. Put it back in the fridge for 5 minutes or so.

I had my cake already cut into equal sized bars so I spread whipped cream on one of the bars. Then I added a layer of chopped pineapple, the second cake layer and topped it all with another layer of cream. The whipped cream even held enough for me to pipe a lopsided border around the pastry. Top with a pineapple slice and, if you like, a candied cherry or a dollop of jam.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vanilla Yogurt Cake



I've officially given up on sponge cakes.

Earlier this week, my parents celebrated their 35th anniversary. And anniversaries call for cake. Or, in case of my family, they call for the pineapple pastries. Of the sort sold at practically every bakery in India. It's essentially sponge cake sandwiched with whipped cream and pineapple, then topped with more whipped cream, pineapple slices and an optional cherry.

First step - sponge cake. Except it wasn't. The one I made didn't rise and was too eggy. This is approximately the tenth sponge cake disaster I've had so I think it's time for me to pick another cake as the de facto to-be-iced party cake. Dorie Greenspan doesn't bake sponge cakes, after all. I've tried several of Dorie's cakes and it seemed to me that her French yogurt cake was the perfect fit for the occasion.

After all, Dorie says that French women dress this cake up with cream for their children's birthday parties. And if it's good for the French, it's perfect for me. Plus, I've baked this cake successfully a few times now so this seemed like a safe pick. Except I like living on the edge so I added a twist.

A few days ago, Danone asked me if I would like to sample their newly launched flavored yogurts and give them some feedback. The yogurts come in Strawberry, Mango and Vanilla. Now I am not a fan of mango yogurts generally. And while their strawberry version was nice enough, it was too smooth and lacked the little bits that tell me "they must've put some fruit in there!". But vanilla, that's a clear winner. Health food it's not, packed as it is with sugar. But once you stop thinking about the health angle, you'd notice a beautiful vanilla flavor that would make this yogurt a nice dessert end to a meal.

So back to my twist - instead of the plain yogurt Dorie calls for, I used the Vanilla yogurt. The rest is easy. Zest a lime. Rub the lime zest with 2/3 cup sugar (minus 2 tbsp to account for the sugar that the yogurt will add) until it's moist and fragrant. Add 1/3 cup vanilla yogurt and 2 eggs. Beat untill well mixed. Sift together a cup of flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt and add to the liquid ingredients. Mix well until no streaks of flour remain. Then add 1/3 cup canola oil and stir until everything's well blended into a shiny batter.

Pour the batter in a parchment lined 6 inch square pan and bake in an oven preheated to 180C for 40-50 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no crumbs).

I let my cake cool, then cut it into bars to transform into pineapple pastries. So did I get close to the bakery version? Wait until tomorrow to find out.

Friday, November 26, 2010

American Pie



We don't really celebrate Thanksgiving. But then, any holiday that is created with the sole purpose of cooking and eating food has my wholehearted support. Which is why I baked myself a pie yesterday.

An open face, rustic, free form pie filled with the goodness of apples and cinnamon. I had half the dough left over from my fruit tart. Given how much it shrank in the tart pan, I thought of doing a more informal version of the pie called the galette.

I took out the cold dough from the fridge and rolled it out as thin as it would go, transferred it to a nonstick baking sheet and put in back in the fridge to chill. Next, I peeled and thinly sliced two apples.

If you work quickly and assemble your pie in the next two minutes, you don't need to worry about the apples browning. So as fast as you can, mix 2 tbsp brown sugar with 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Grab a handful of raisins.

Set the oven to preheat to 200C. Take the rolled dough out of the fridge and arrange a layer of apples in the center, leaving a 1 inch border all round. Sprinkle 1/3rd of your sugar and half the raisins. Create another layer of apples followed by sugar and raisins. Add a final layer of apples and fold up the dough to create your pie.

I covered the apples in the center with foil to avoid burning. This went into the oven for 25 minutes. Then I removed the foil, sprinkled the rest of the sugar on the apples and all over the top and put it back into the oven to brown. Took another 15 minutes in mine to get a flaky, buttery pie.

That was my sweet Thanksgiving. What was your thanksgiving like?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pastry Wars : Tart Dough



Or pie crust if you like. I know that the American pie crusts tend to be very different from the tender pate sablee that goes into the French tart, but all I am trying to do here is figure out one perfectly crispy, flaky dough. After all, there are too many things to sort out already without getting into the pie versus tart debate:

- Should you use all butter or butter + lard? Or butter + shortening
- Food processor? I don't have one so that debate is out - we are making the dough by hand
- Butter the size of peas? Large beans? Breadcrumbs? Or everything in between?
- Or should you just ditch cutting the butter and grate it instead.

Gosh! There is so much to pick from. Thankfully, some things are a given. No matter what you do, you are looking for a dough that isn't mishandled too much, and has specks of butter left to rise into flaky crust. And the dough likes cold, so prepare for several rounds of chilling.

I read books and blogs and recipes, then picked the most recent addition to pie crust recipes I'd spotted - Melissa Clark with a jazzy video on NY Times.

Since I don't have a food processor and I wasn't prepared to grate butter as Mr. Audax recommends, I took out 70 grams of butter out of the fridge and cut it into 1 cm squares. These went into the freezer for 15 minutes. I then mixed 3/4 cup flour with a tbsp of sugar and these went into the freezer too. Also in the freezer, 1/2 cup chilled water so it becomes ice cold.

15 minutes on, I brought out the flour and added the almost frozen butter to the bowl. I rubbed the butter in until most squares were half the size from where they started, but we still have fairly large butter chunks. Added iced water 1 tbsp at a time until the dough came together (I needed 3 tbsp).

I have a 3 inch tart pan so I only needed half the recipe. I split the dough in two parts, wrapped each in its own cling wrap and popped it in the fridge for an hour. Once the dough was chilled, I took it out and rolled it as thin as I could, flouring it along the way.

I lined my tart pan with the rolled dough, cutting off all the dough hanging at the edges with a knife. Back in the fridge for half an hour to chill. Then I covered the tart with foil and filled it up with dried beans. Baked in a 200C oven for 25 minutes, then took off the foil and baked for another 10-15 minutes until I got a golden crust.

It's flaky, it's crusty, it's delicious! Is it perfect? Not at all. I had a major problem with the crust - it shrank. The sides were less than half the height from where they started. I filled it with pastry cream and arranged some kiwi balls all around so it looks pretty but this one really won't do. The quest for our perfect tart dough continues!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pastry Wars

Some of you have asked what happened to the Indigo challenge. The thing is, I go through phases in cooking. I was in the exotic main dishes phase when Indigo challenge started, but for the last couple of months, I only seem to be thinking of making desserts.

I am possibly watching too many reality cooking shows, but as all the funky creations by contestants of Top Chef : Just Desserts went past, it had me thinking only one thought. There's so much I don't know. See, I only started baking a couple of years back so there never was much time. And I haven't tried some things, like creme anglaise, because I dislike desserts with an eggy smell. Others, like souffle, because I am plain scared. All of which is about to change with the PASTRY WARS.

It's the quest for the perfect version of every basic recipe that needs to be in a pastry chef's arsenal. And it's simple - we just keep at something until we find our perfect version. If I try the classic version and it tastes eggy, I'd look for a variation without eggs.

The first basic recipe coming your way is the cream patisserie or the pastry cream. Thick, rich, creamy - it's filled in tarts, piped into eclairs and zillions of other french desserts. There is, in short, no better place to start.



I've tried making pastry cream once when the daring bakers made tiramisu and I liked the recipe (it surprisingly didn't taste eggy). This one's also less scary than the classic recipes I read. There is no tempering of yolks with warm milk, so less chances of you ending up with scrambled eggs.

But the daring bakers version got a little too thick as it cooled so I figured a variation.

You grab:
1/4 cup sugar
a tbsp of cornstarch
a tsp of lime zest
another tsp of vanilla extract
an egg yolk
1/2 cup milk

Whisk it all together until smooth. Cook on very low heat, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling. Add another 1/3 cup milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After 6-7 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble.

Turn off the gas. Check to see any signs of scrambled yolks or lumps. Pass through a fine mesh sieve if there are any.

Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Press some cling film directly on to the surface and let chill in the fridge overnight. Don't taste while warm as it might taste eggy. The cold cream will be perfect.

This pastry cream will last 4-5 days in the fridge so next challenge : shortcrust pastry. Let the wars begin!

Friday, November 19, 2010

My favorite neighborhood bakery

When I first arrived in Malad, you couldn't buy edible bread anywhere in the vicinity. Fast forward six years and we are now spoilt for choices. I now have six bakeries within a five minute walking distance. And that's before counting the bread baking shops inside my next door supermarkets.

So why do I return to just one of these bakeries every single time...

French connection is for the days I want to eat healthy. Their USP is their 100% whole wheat breads. They also sell half loaves so I can buy one of those Atta Bread ones and finish it before it gets stale. There's also pure whole wheat cookies and the biggest winner of the lot - 100% whole wheat pizza base. It's so soft and delicious I don't bother to make any more pizza bases at home.

French Connection is also for the days I am feeling lazy. Or days I don't feel like eating home cooked food. I venture into the bakery on my way back from work and pick up their spinach paneer roll. Or Paneer Tikka Strudel. Or Veg Puff. All their savory snacks are delicious.

Finally, French Connection is for days I am feeling indulgent. I haven't tasted their cheesecakes or apple pie yet, but their seasonal fruit cake is de rigueur for all our office birthdays. It's the softest yellow cake sandwiched and topped with whipped cream and a lot of fresh fruit.

All of this baked right in front of you when you stop by. Who wouldn't like bakes so fresh!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quick Vegetable Lasagna

This one was an on-the-spur dish when a couple of friends decided to stop by for lunch. I've had some lasagna disasters before, so how was I to know this impromptu variation, done in under an hour, will have my guests looking longingly at the empty dishes and asking when they could come back for more. Hence, no pictures but I had to write the recipe down before I forgot what I did!

First off, I boiled a large pan of water, added a bit of salt and dropped in 8 sheets of lasagna. The dish I bake my lasagna in snugly fits two sheets at a time, so you should boil as many sheets as you need for 4 layers. The package said I should let it be for 12 minutes, so I used the time to clean a bunch of spinach and chop it finely to get around a cup of greens. I popped it in a bowl alongwith 2 tbsp of water. I took another bowl, in which went 1/2 cup of sweet corn and another 2 tbsp water. Both bowls then went into the microwave for 2 minutes of steaming.

My pasta was cooked to al dente now, so I drained it, ran it through cold water and then spread it out on a large tray so the sheets wont stick.

Next step : white sauce. I melted a tbsp of butter in a pan. Added 2 cloves of minced garlic and swirled it around for a minute. Squeezed the spinach dry and added it to the pan. Stirred it until the water the spinach had exuded all dried out, then added a tbsp of plain flour and tossed it for a minute on a low heat. Taking care all the while that it doesn't brown. I then added a cup of milk, salt and pepper. As the milk got to a scalding point, I added a tbsp of cream cheese. Mixed it all in, and let it cook until the sauce started to thicken.

At this stage, I realized I didn't have enough time for tomato sauce from scratch. So I took a shortcut. First off, I took a tbsp of olive oil and a clove of minced garlic in a bowl and microwaved it for a minute. As the oil started to sizzle, I added a whole pack (200 ml) of tomato puree, a tbsp of white wine vinegar, salt and a hearty pinch of herbs de provence. I used Kisan Tomato Puree, and I think tomato paste might work if you don't live in India. I mixed it all up, and put it back in the microwave for 2 minutes. And that's my sauce. And I'm sticking to it!

Time to assemble the lasagna. A smear of tomato sauce and another of white sauce first to start it off. Then the first layer of 2 lasagna sheets. Cover it with tomato sauce, add a layer of white sauce and half the steamed corn. Another layer of lasagna sheets, followed by white sauce, tomato sauce and a layer of thinly sliced paneer (or ricotta if thats what you have). Then the lasagna, tomato sauce, white sauce and the rest of the corn. Cover it all up with your last two lasagna sheets, pour over the rest of your tomato sauce and top with a layer of grated cheddar.

I baked this at 160C for 30 minutes, and I am never going back to any other kind of lasagna.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Of Diwali Traditions and Nankhatai

I told you we don't make diwali sweets or snacks at home. But other people I know have charming diwali traditions; and I bring you one of those from my friend A.



For as long as I remember, we've made nankhatai at diwali. Or rather, since we haven't owned an oven as long, we've made nankhatai dough that goes to the neighborhood bakery to turn into crisply baked cookies. This year, as my mother took out the ingredients to make this lovely diwali dish to serve all the guests who will visit during the four days of the festival, I decided to volunteer.

The ingredients, as I said, were already measured so let me quickly recount those for you. A kilo each of plain flour, powdered sugar and ghee (clarified butter) plus 100 grams of semolina. First I mixed the flour, sugar and semolina. Then I melted the ghee and started to add the dry ingredients, a little at a time, until it all came together. I kneaded it lightly with my palms until it was all a smooth dough (and if you only do it once a year, it is a lot of hard work!).

The dough then went into a large container that we then took over to the bakery. Over at the bakery, I was handed large aluminium baking trays and I set to work shaping the cookies. First, I pinched lemon sized balls of dough and shaped them into a smooth round. Gently flattened it and placed it on the baking sheet. I filled three of those huge sheets, so there would be some 150 cookies at least.

I pressed a chironji seeds in the center of each cookie, scattered a few black sesame seeds and dabbed the top of each one with saffron water. Then the trays went into the large wood fired oven and I started looking around. There were aunties doing beautiful, intricate work on their cookies - patterns of saffron, dual-toned cookies with cocoa powder, tons of ideas for me to pick for next year.

Ten minutes later, the cookies were puffy and crisp. They also had cracks all over, but I think those just add to their charm. I chatted some more with the other bakers while my cookies cooled, then headed back to a festive home. With a treat to match the mood!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Spaghetti Book



Guilia Melucci is a sad woman. A victim of the New York dating game, she runs through one man after the other, searching for her true love. When it is amply clear to any reader of "I loved, I lost, I made spaghetti" (or the spaghetti book, as the members of This Book Makes Me Cook have taken to call it) that the first and the only love of her life is the food she cooks.

The book is chock full of recipes, almost all a nod to Ms. Melucci's Italian past. And quite unlike the weak, average story the recipes are written in a witty and charming manner, reflecting the author's mood at the time. Like the Ineffectual Eggplant Parmigiana, cooked for two in a flailing relationship, "plus the three other people you wish were there to help keep the conversation going". Or the yorkshire puddings that deflate rapidly, like expectations!

I picked a dish from Guilia's happy times. The beginning of a relationship, when she's cooking bright, sunny dishes for two. This orzo salad, in fact, is from the sunniest relationship in the book. I made it with elbow macaroni instead of orzo but the flavors really work, no matter what pasta shape you choose.

Boil 1/2 cup pasta as per package directions until it is cooked but still have some bite. Drain and add a tbsp of olive oil. Once the pasta cools, mix in a cup of cherry tomatoes, 1/4 cup shredded basil, 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts, a tsp of white wine vinegar plus salt and pepper to your taste.

For November, we are reading "It must've been something I ate" by Jeffrey Steingarten. Do drop me a line if you would like to read with us.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Here's for a happy, fun filled diwali!



I love starting traditions. Take diwali sweets, we never make them at home but last year I went ahead and made some coconut barfi. Haven't tried it again all of last year but decided to make it again for diwali. After all, it's so simple - thanks to the recipe from Alka over at sindhi rasoi.

First I mixed 100 grams dessicated coconut with 2 tsp of milk powder. Then, I mixed 75 grams sugar with 1/2 cup water and cooked it until it was a thick syrup. Added the coconut, milk powder and stirred around for around 5 minutes, until the mixture started to stick to the pan.

Then I poured the mix into my 6 inch tart tin and spread it around. I had some macadamia praline lying around from last week's cupcakes so a layer of that went on top of the hot fudge. Cut it into square when cool for a lovely nutty flavored coconut barfi.

Hope your diwali's as sweet this year!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Easy-Peasy Theplas



I should technically call this a guest post, since I've never made theplas in my life. But they are currently my favorite breakfast, thanks to my maid who makes a killer version. And she's sitting here all flustered, trying to answer my questions on ingredients and quantities so allow for this recipe being a collection of guesses and estimates. But try it all the same. With plain yogurt or some pickle on the side, they are the best breakfast there is. It's also not as complicated as your regular theplas so the incentive to make them's even higher.

Tear the leaves off a bunch of fenugreek. You need about half a cup. Wash them well and chop finely. Add this fenugreek to a cup of whole wheat flour alongwith 1 tbsp yogurt, 1 tsp garam masala, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Also add salt to taste and a tbsp of oil. Mix everything well, then add just enough water to make a dough. Knead it for 5-7 minutes and keep aside for at least half an hour (she insists that resting the dough is critical to making theplas).

Pinch a lemon sized ball of dough and roll it out as thin as you can. Place on a heated tawa (gridle) and let cook for a minute. Flip, apply ghee on both sides and cook until crisp and brown.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lazy Weekend Rice



This one's for the sundays you don't really feel like cooking much. Also for days when you don't want to go out and shop for food. As long as you have rice and some tomato puree, you can design this recipe to use whatever you have languishing in your fridge.

For this week's version, I chopped an onion finely. Also found a yellow pepper I didn't know I'd bought and chopped it finely too, minus the seeds. While this was happening, I washed and soaked half a cup of rice and took out a cup of mushroom stock from the freezer.

Next, I heated a tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Added two cloves of garlic that I'd peeled and minced. As the garlic started to sizzle, I added the onion and the peppers. Stirred it around for a couple of minutes until the onion had started to turn brown. I then drained the rice and added it to the pan. Mixed it well with the veggies and let it cook for a minute or so. Next in, 2 tbsp of tomato puree. Waited another minute, then added the mushroom stock alongwith some salt, pepper and my current favorite seasoning : herbs de provence. I let the stock come to a boil, then reduced the heat to a simmer and covered the pan.

Five minutes later, I remembered the bowl of chickpeas I'd set aside for hummus that was never made so I went back and added them to the rice. I figured the time delay wont matter much since the chickpeas were already boiled and it didn't. As long as I was adding stuff, I also pitched in with a dash of smoked chipotle sauce (another recent craze; I add it to everything!).

Covered the pan back again and let it simmer until the rice was done, with the stock all absorbed. Some torn mint leaves added the final fresh touch, and then time to go back to lazy sunday nap!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Macadamia Praline Cupcakes



I first tasted macadamia nuts when a visiting cousin brought some back from Australia. The only plant native to the continent down under, macadamias have a subtle flavor unmatched by any other nut. When a friend got me another pack a few weeks back, the only way I could thank him was to bake something with macadamias.

I didn't want a cookie, I didn't want a whole cake (what will he do with so much cake!) so it was clear we were going the cupcake route. But then, I didn't want to just add ground or chopped macadamias to the batter. I wanted a cake where macadamias were the star.

And every time I thought of a cake, I visualized a vanilla cake topped with macadamia praline. I searched everywhere but couldn't find the exact cake I was looking for so I just created something of my own.

First off, I made praline. If you are scared of caramel, you are going to go away now. DON'T! It's simple and not as scary as it sounds. Line a baking sheet with parchment and spread 15 or so macadamia nuts on it. In a small saucepan, heat 3/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil on a slow heat, then turn up the gas and let the sugar boil undisturbed for 5 minutes. Watch it like a hawk, resisting all temptations to go out, answer the phone, do anything else at all! Once the sugar turns to an amber color, quickly pour on the nuts. Let it cool and harden, then grind to a crunchy powder in your food processor.

Next up, I made the cake I had a huge success with a few days back - Dorie's Simple Loaf Cake. I poured the batter into 6 parchment lined ramekins and set them to bake in an oven preheated to 180C. Ten minutes into the baking time, once the top had set a bit, I took out the cakes and sprinkled the praline all over. Back in the oven, they baked for another 15 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center came out with no crumbs.

The cupcakes tasted as pretty as they looked. So delicious in fact, that I almost dropped the idea of giving them away and was about to keep them all for myself. I did keep one for me in the end, and am I glad I did! While the loaf cake was delicious enough in itself, the praline topping added a depth of flavor the original lacked. Totally my best cake ever.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Masterclass Donuts



This post is pure coincidence; a confluence of two events. First, I saw this fabulous donut recipe on Masterchef Australia. I've been diligently following the show since it started but this was the first time a recipe really caught my attention. In a "make this right now" kind of manner.

Then the daring bakers came along and decided that we should do donuts this month. They even dispensed with their usual strict rules and said that anything goes, as long as it is broadly a donut. I've been missing challenges last few months, so this is just the perfect time to return to the club.

Made with a batter rather than a dough, the Mastechef donuts are misshapen and not exactly pretty. But they are light, crunchy and delicious. Following the recipe exactly as given, I rolled my hot, just fried donuts in lavender sugar, then used a pastry bag with a sharp tip to make a hole and fill the donuts with blackcurrant jam.

Unless you are catering to a crowd, reduce the recipe. I did 1/4th of the recipe and still got more than a dozen. Which, incidentally, were all gone within few seconds of my opening the box at work. So maybe you should make the full recipe anyway; it will make you incredibly popular.

PS : (The Mandatory Blog Checking Lines for Daring Bakers)
The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Japanese Street in Mumbai

Just back home after spending an exciting day with Harini. While I'm gonna let Harini tell you about the rest of the day, I thought we should talk about a certain Japanese food festival. Presented by the students of Institute of Hotel Management (or Dadar Catering College as its called by popular choice), the 4-day event was meant to recreate a Japanese street fair. So how would they do that? There was Japanese food, of course. And there was a lot more.

But first, the food. We were given five coupons each with our passes to spend on the food stalls. Between the two of us, we managed to sample everything on the rather elaborate spread:

Okonomiyaki : Savory pancakes made with cabbage and tons of other vegetables. They were nice and crisp but the overly tangy sauce on top destroyed the effect.

Vegetarian Appetizers : The best stall there was! In our vegetarian platter, we got yakitori skewered vegetables, a potato cutlet (who can dislike fried potato) and deep fried tofu in a crispy coating. The last one came topped with delicious wasabi mayonnaise, obviously courtesy Maido India, the sponsors of the event.

Sushi : A complete let down. The two maki rolls had under-seasoned rice and no fillings worth noticing. The nigiri roll came topped with tomato (gasp!). And the inari was filled with over-vinegared rice and nothing else. To top it all, the pickled ginger wasn't even pink.

Tempura : Crisp batter fried vegetables - do you think I'd have noticed even if it was horrible?

Curry : We went for tofu katsu curry. It was unmemorable except for the rice - the real sticky rice, instead of long grained variety every restaurant in Mumbai sends your way.

Soba Noodles : Soupy noodles in a vegetable stock. Nice, comfort food.

I didn't taste the miso soup, but Harini took one sip and declared it a failure. I did try two of the three desserts though. The green tea tiramisu started out fine, and the vanilla icecream with orange glaze was a nice enough end to the meal.

Now that we have covered everything on the food front, let's look at the rest of the street. There was an Ikebana stall, where both of us created our novice level "masterpieces". The origami stall was way too crowded, so didn't make it to that one. There was also a make-believe Japanese garden complete with cherry blossoms where you could get your picture in a kimono. And there was traditional tea ceremony - fun to watch even though I wasn't one of the volunteers to have tea.

All in all, a fun evening to end a fun sunday!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's in a Podi



I have a notebook full of recipes. It's tattered, falling out at the edges which tells me I started hoarding recipes early, pretty much before high school. There are recipes from magazines, from cookbooks I borrowed from library. I've even pasted recipes that come at the back of certain packages. Then there's a second notebook. This has to be somewhere from the end of my college years. I can't fathom how I got to be so organized, but I went back and added page numbers to both the notebooks and created an index, neatly split into recipe types and cuisines.

This second notebook has more "exotic" stuff from the first Jamie Oliver my library bought intertwined with Sanjeev Kapoor recipes. Then, because this notebook went travelling with me when I moved away from home, it has my first recipes copied from roommates and new friends.

One such recipe is podi, known affectionately as gunpowder. I am pretty sure podi means a generic chutney and comes in several forms, but my friend introduced it to me as this spicy version you mix with oil and eat with your idlis. Since then, no matter how many other recipes I've seen, this is the podi I make every single time I am in the risk of running out of my stock.

You heat a fry pan and roast a cup of chana dal in 1/2 tsp oil. Turn it out of the pan, then heat another 1/2 tsp oil and roast 3/4 cup split (white) urad dal. Mix a marble sized ball of tamarind (with no seeds or fibers), a tsp of hing, 4 tsp of chilli powder and salt to taste. Roast for a minute in just a hint of oil. You now have three plates of roasted stuff cooling away. Grind all three coarsely but separately, then mix to form your gunpowder.

Next time you make idlis, heap a tbsp of podi on your plate. Make a well in the center and add a couple of tsp of sesame oil. Mix to form a paste. Dip your idlis for the ultimate taste experience. But go easy on how much you eat in a go. After all, this isn't called gunpowder for no reason.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Have we talked about Cafe Britannia Yet

There are several reasons why Cafe Britannia doesn't automatically figure as my first pick of restaurants to talk about in Mumbai

1. They are tucked away in a corner of Ballard Estate, a rather long way from home.

2. They are open only for lunch; and they refuse to serve even that on sundays. Yes, on sundays they just stay at home!

3. They aren't big on service. As soon as you settle down in the ancient chairs set around checkered clothed, glass topped tables, they'd rather you order quickly from the small menu set below the glass. The food will show up quickly too, and then the menu clearly orders "Do not stay after you have paid the bill".

4. They don't believe in newfangled things like credit cards.

And yet, I knew we'd eventually get around to talking about this charming Parsi eatery. All for one reason : Berry Pulao. If you are a carnivore, you have parsi specialities like salli boti, patra fish and dhansak to pick from. But for a vegetarian, you only go to Britannia for one reason.

So what's berry pulao? It's rice cooked with vegatables, obviously. There's beans and peas and potatoes (and no carrots, thankfully!). But what makes is special is the tangy little Iranian berries that top the pulao and give it its name. Accompanying the berries are crisp, fried onions of the sort that you will find on the best of biryanis.

To go with your pulao, order the insanely sweet, dark pink raspberry soda. And finish off your meal with an impeccable caramel custard.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Found it!



It turns out my friend wasn't looking for pound cake at all. What finally met his approval as "THE CAKE" was this simplest loaf cake from Dorie Greenspan. At least, it started as Dorie's cake. Given the number of changes I made to the recipe, it's purely accidental it turned out to be as good as it did.

But there's no mistaking the fact it's incredibly simple. First off, I set my oven to preheat at 180C. Then, since I figured my silicone loaf pan could be a part of my previous cake problems, I lined the bottom and sides of a 7 inch metal cake pan with parchment.

My second problem, I reckoned, could have been the baking powder. If you are happy with the taste of commercial baking powder, by all means use that. I made my own by combining 2 parts cream of tartar with 1part baking soda. Sifted 2 tsp of this mix with 1 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 tsp salt.

In another bowl, I mixed 3 eggs, a cup of sugar, 1/2 cup yogurt and 2 tsp vanilla extract. Except I run out of caster sugar after I filled 2/3rd of the cup, and had to make up the quantity with confectioner's sugar. Who knows, the cornstarch in there might have helped the cake! And by the way, Dorie used sour cream not yogurt so switch to that if you like.

Whisk all these things until smooth, then add your sifted flour. Stir to combine and blend well with the liquid mix. Since this sounded way too plain to me, I also added a handful of candied citrus peel at this stage. Finally, pour in 1/2 cup canola oil. It will look like it will never mix with the batter but keep whisking and you will eventually have a glossy, well-blended mixture.

Pour in the cake tin and bake for around an hour. Start checking at 50 minutes and take it out when the toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no crumbs.

PS: If you are in Bombay and looking for canola oil, it's in one corner of the olive oil shelf at Hypercity.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pound Cake...FAIL



Or Not a fail exactly, but not perfect either. My friend is looking for a cake he used to eat and love many years ago. He says it was a plum cake, but when I showed him one of those, it turned out to be a different species. From what he describes his cake to be - brown at top, soft and buttery inside, no chocolate or nut or fruit in sight - it has to be a pound cake.

Now I've never made a pound cake before this. But in the past week, I've tried two recipes. The first one was New York Times' Citrus Almond Pound Cake. I don't quite know what happened but the batter was too thin when it went into the oven. It seemed wrong when I put it in, and an hour of cooking didn't make it any better.

The second one, that you see up there, is from smitten kitchen. It was soft, buttery and once I added the glaze that should have originally gone on the NY Times cake, parts of it were totally delicious. But only some parts. I baked it in a loaf tin, and while some parts of the cake got too dry, there were sections that were undercooked. I did check with the whole toothpick routine, but obviously I missed and had to throw away whole slices from the center of the cake.

What am I doing wrong? Do you have a fool proof recipe I can try? HELP!!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dormitory Days



My first home away from home. The company issue flat I shared my first years in Chandigarh with other singles not yet ready to set up a complete home. People transferred away from families. Transient couples who stayed a few days, or months.

It was the interlude between leaving home and starting a real life. My actual "growing up" years. My first brush with compassion, and conceit.

It was also the first time I realized that not everyone, everywhere eats paranthas for breakfast.

Tons of cultural nuances I picked up from other roomies stay with me even now. So do some recipes, new for me then, cherished ever since. This sambar is one of them. Made without any vegetables, even without curry leaves, this is a sambar of a bachelor kitchen. Of a house where everyone routinely forgot to shop for groceries, and the sad looking onion in the corner was the only concession to the sabziwala who stopped by last week.

First you boil 1/3 cup of arhar dal with 2 cups of water, salt and turmeric. You need it turned to a mush so be a bit generous with your cooking time. In the meantime, soak a golf ball sized piece of tamarind in a cup of warm water, and strain to get a thin pulp a few minutes later. Thinly slice the onion. Root into the cupboard for spices, manage to find some cumin seeds and black mustard seeds. Give up on everything else the recipe called for. Thank God that no one stole the MDH sambar powder sitting in that secret compartment in the fridge.

Heat a tbsp of oil. Add cumin and mustard seeds, about a tsp each, and let them splutter. Add onions and let them brown on a medium heat. Now add a tbsp of sambar powder, mix well and then add the tamarind water. Let it come to a boil and then simmer for 5-7 minutes. Add the dal, mashed into the water it was cooked in. Let everything simmer for a few minutes for the flavors to meld, then test for seasonings and add more salt if you need to.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Single Lady Pancake



I stole the title from Joy the Baker. For this title was what made me bookmark this recipe, then go back to look at it last few weeks and finally make a dinner of it tonight. Because even recipes with a single egg yield enough pancakes to feed crowds, Joy's recipe omits the egg and yet comes up with a fluffy pancake.

The best pancake I've ever eaten, in fact. I omitted bananas and chocolate chips in favor of the only fruit heaven made for pancakes - fresh blueberries. Then I topped my pancake with vanilla pastry cream and blackcurrant coulis. And now I am headed to a dream world. You head to Joy's for the recipe, and make this for breakfast tomorrow!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Green Vegetable Hakka



You know I love Indo-Chinese. But I have several complaints against the generic hakka noodles sold at all these places. I don't like cabbage, I can't stand capsicum and I wish they wouldn't put any carrots in my noodles. And while we are it, couldn't they cut the noodles a little shorter so I'm not twirling them on my fork forever.

I guess no one else's gonna make their noodles to suit my preference, so I ended up making my own. And for the first time, thanks to ecurry, I got noodles that are a pretty close approximation of the neighborhood Chinese joint. I, of course, skipped the vegetables in the original recipe and went for spinach, broccoli and asparagus. For everything else, look at the original version.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Bombay Grill



Bombay's street foods come in more shapes than one. In a hurry, buy a vada pao on your way out of the station. On the beach, stick to the pao bhaji or the icy gola. But when you need comfort food, something hot and buttery and filling, its the grilled sandwich.

Since all it takes is some bread and vegetables and a hand held grill, you will see grilled sandwich stalls at every corner. But I take you to the best there is : the sandwich wallah in Santacruz. This is college street, next to Mithibai and NM Colleges, the place where countless students come for succor.

Can't make it here and want to create your own Bombay Grill? Here's the lowdown on everyone's favorite sandwich. First, you need Wibs White Sandwich Bread. It can't be any other brand, they never ever use anything else. Unless you count that Britannia loaf, a concession to those health freaks looking for brown bread. But you want healthy, you should look elsewhere - this bread just got doused with a liberal layer of Amul butter.

The fillings are always the same. A generous dose of cilantro chutney, then layers of boiled potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and capsicum. Sprinkle of spicy, tangy chaat masala. Cheese is optional and carries an extra charge.

A small shack will then put everything in a small handheld toaster. This big swanky one has two actual grills to make you a perfect sandwich. A few minutes to get it browned, then your sandwich gets plonked on one of those paper plates up there. Finish it with a splash of ketchup on the side and a small pile of thin, greasy potato chips for the real Bombay experience.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Indigo Challenge : Gnocchi in Leek Cream

What's the deal : I am cooking my way through the dinner menu of Indigo restaurant. These are not Indigo recipes; I haven't eaten or even seen any of these dishes. This is my interpretation based only on the name of the dish.

Indigo menu says: Chive Gnocchi Leek Saffron Cream



Gnocchi, a name that terrifies most Italian cooks. Easy recipe that's extremely hard to get right, gnocchi has been the undoing of several good Italian restaurants for me. Traditionally made with potatoes, gnocchi should be light and flavorful. You wish! The ones I've had so far have been heavy and not worth it. But then, a few months back, the daring cooks did a ricotta gnocchi. Even first time gnocchi makers were all praises, so that's the one I decided to do.

If life was so easy...I've been unable to buy chives anywhere this past month. So, instead of going on looking, I decided to replace it with sage. Oh! and there's no saffron. Nor is there likely to be any saffron in any other dish calling for it. Call it blasphemy, but I just can't stand the smell of saffron.

I'm glad we got all these changes sorted so I can now tell you about one of the best dishes I've ever cooked.

First the gnocchi. You buy or make 110 grams of ricotta. I bought paneer and then wrapped it in cheesecloth overnight to drain away any excess moisture. A day later, I mashed this cheese until it was very smooth. Lightly beat a cold egg and add half of it to the cheese (that's the peril of doing 1/4th of a recipe; it invariably calls for half eggs!). Mix well. In a small saucepan, melt a tsp of butter. Finely chop 4-5 sage leaves, add to melted butter, then add the whole thing to the ricotta egg mixture. Now add 2 tbsp of grated parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt. Beat until everything's mixed together into a nice fluffy batter.

Make a bed of flour in a shallow bowl. Using a spoon, scoop out roughly 2 tsp of batter and drop it into the flour. Coat the gnocchi with flour, then gently roll it to make an oval. My batter gave me 10 gnocchi which went into the fridge for half an hour.

Right around this time, start making your leek cream sauce. First, wash and clean a leek. Chop the white and the light green parts finely. Heat a tbsp of butter, add the leeks and let them soften for a minute or two. Remove a tsp of these leeks for garnish and let others cook a little bit more. Add 1/4 cup wine and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, then let the leeks simmer until the wine and water are almost all absorbed.

At this stage, boil a pot of water and salt it. Once it is simmering, drop in the gnocchi. They will sink, then pop back up. From this point, you cook them for 4-5 minutes until they are just firm. They will also get to about double the size from where they started. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon.

Back to the sauce. Add 2 tbsp cream to the leeks. Once it is heated through and about to come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Add salt, pepper and herbs de provence. Mix well and pour your sauce in your serving dish. Arrange the gnocchi and garnish with the reserved leeks.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

A couple of years back, my friend sent me a mail. "This woman dumped the guy a day before their wedding because he wanted to get rid of her books. You HAVE to read this!". That evening, I went to my neighborhood bookstore and made my first acquaintance with the residents of Guernsey Islands. And not just any residents, these were the people who had just been through several years of German occupation and were now just getting used to living their lives again. It's 1946, and one of these people gets writing to our heroine, author of several books and living in London.

From then on, the lives of Juliet and the people of Guernsey intertwine. What the book manages to do, in a series of letters (for that's how it's written from start to end), is bring the war closer to our lives. It talks of soldiers and the people of the captured island not as enemies, but as humans who each have been given a role to play.

I don't say this often, but as I read this book the third time for this month's edition of This Book Makes Me Cook, I had to say this : if you only read 5 books in your life, make this one of them.

Because the book talks so much of food shortage and rationing in World War II, I went back and looked for those recipes. No eggs, no butter, no sugar and very little meat - indeed the people had to adapt to cook with what they had. And what they had plenty of at the time was root vegetables. There are recipes galore using carrots, onions and potatoes instead of whatever the dish called for. Of these clever adaptations, I picked the eggless mayonnaise, made with a cooked potato instead.



To make this mayonnaise, boil a small potato. Peel it and mash half of it. You can save the rest for something else. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tbsp vinegar. Beat well with a fork; then start to add olive oil in a drizzle, beating it as you go. You would probably need 1/3 cup of oil by the time it reaches the consistency and flavor of mayonnaise.

Is it as good as the real thing? Well, no but if I were stuck with no eggs, I think this will come pretty close!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The One Ingredient Icecream

Do you routinely buy bananas and then leave them to brown on the counter. Then, not knowing what to do, someone like me would throw them away. But one day I was reading a food blog and it insisted I could convert these bananas into icecream. I know, I didn't believe it either.

But I had them up for slaughter anyway and it didn't seem like any effort. So I peeled a couple of bananas and sliced them thinly. Off these went to the freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, I put them in the blender and they went from being frozen bananas to a soft creamy icecream. The transformation is so unbelievable you have to do it yourself or you will think it will never happen.

No dairy, no added sugar - if you are in the game for guilt free icecreams, this is for you!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mocha Mojo

At one time, I was a big fan of Mocha in Juhu. Then, a couple of years back, I stopped going there. There were a multitude of reasons I don't quite remember so let's say I had a couple of bad experiences and moved to some of other options in the area. But Mocha's back in my life. In a big way. This time, I've discovered another location they built while I was frequenting multitude of coffee shops : the Mocha Mojo on Bandra's Hill Road.

Mocha Mojo preserves all the niceties that are the hallmark of the chain - the mismatched furniture, eclectic music, huge selection of coffees and nibbles. Only Mojo takes it to another level altogether. The furniture's as unique as all their other outlets; every table different from the next. But here they make kitsch an art form with red velvet covered walls, bar with geometric patterns and those swing chairs outdoors I have my eye on for the next visit.

They have all the drinks that made Mocha popular. Remember those Lindt shakes, or the drink which was a liquid Toblerone. In addition to all those, Mocha has added single origin hot chocolates. Food and service both come with a flair here. Waiters pour water out of a bottle that sports mint leaves. Lemonades come in huge bottles. And the excellent wild mushroom pasta is served in an ancient iron skillet it was cooked in.

You can obviously eat this pasta. Or have one of their paninis. But here's what I recommend : the fluffy three egg white omelette from their all day breakfast menu. It comes with crisp ciabatta toasts, tons of fries and a chive butter to die for.

I've been to Mocha Mojo thrice in two weeks but I haven't had a chance to try any of their desserts yet. I'm impressed with what I've read in the menu though; it boasts of coffee air atop the tiramisu. Then there's also some new age raw vegan stuff that I have to try. How about those swing chairs next weekend!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Dessert for Taste & Create's Birthday


Taste and Create remains my favorite event in the whole blogging world. Every month, Nicole pairs you with another blog. You get to know your partner, then pick a recipe from their blog and recreate it. And this has been going on for three whole years. To celebrate the event's birthday, Nicole added a rider. She asked us to create a dessert from our partner's blog.

I've got to know some lovely bloggers through this event, none of which I would have discovered on my own. Like my partner this month - Glenda over at Busy at Home. This grandmother of three blogs about a lot more interesting things than just recipes. And her recipes are all a delight. At first glance, I shortlisted her chocolate cobbler and cheesecake stuffed strawberries.

But then I found another gem that you see up there : Oreo Balls. First you crush some oreos. You can do this in a food processor, but I found it equally easy (and more delightful) to bash them up with a rolling pin between two sheets of paper. You add cream cheese to these cookie crumbs to bind everything up. Roll them into balls, freeze for 15-20 minutes to set. Melt some chocolate, dip the balls and that's it!

This has to be the easiest dessert in the world. It might even look elegant if you can do the chocolate dipping neatly like Glenda. It's something I didn't manage even halfway, but they were delicious all the same.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blueberry Season

The first time blueberries made an appearance on Mumbai store shelves last October, I was fresh back from a trip to London. Having spent a week eating these berries for all breakfasts and most dinners, I kept away from the very small yet overpriced packs. Almost a year later, blueberries are back in Hypercity.

One of the very few naturally blue foods, blueberries are a little tart, a little sweet. I enjoy my dalliance with strawberries and an occasional date with raspberries, but these little nuggets remain my biggest love, my all-time favorite fruit. The first week, I cringed at the high prices in Hypercity. But it's been a whole year of no blueberries so this second week, I finally succumbed and brought a pack home. And let me confess I've been back to the store a few more times.

Do you think I'd be my baker self and post a blueberry tart or at least a muffin. No way folks; I don't mess with perfection. Instead, I'd just go grab another handful.

And will you all Bombayiites stop by Hypercity and make a dent in stocks. I'm in serious risk of a run on my bank accounts if the blueberries aren't gone soon!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wine Country



When I think of vineyard tours, I think of Peter Mayle. I also think of idle rambles through acres upon acres of land planted with grapes and olives, a seat by the countryside fireplace with a wineglass in hand. In that sense, last weekend's trip to Sula Vineyards in Nasik, some 5 hours drive from Mumbai, was a disappointment.

But for the camaraderie, the company of friends, the green ghats and impromptu waterfalls that spring up all over Maharashtra in monsoons, and also for a novel, enjoyable experience, it was worth a visit. It is, as I said, a good 5 hours drive. We were sensible enough to leave early in morning, reaching Sula around noon. The place to start with is a wine tour - a short spiel on how many acres they have spread all over (but very few where we were standing) and then a succint tour of the plant where they process the grapes and ferment the wine. This followed by a wine tasting - of six recent vintage, barely passable wines - took around an hour.

But Sula understands you traveled all the way and are not ready to leave yet. So they provide three options to linger and savor the view. Eat at Soma, the Indian restaurant. Or lunch at Little Italy, which is what we did. Rustic surroundings, excellent thin crust pizza, lovely tiramisu - in your wine induced haze, you could be excused for thinking you are in Italy.

And then you go linger some more at the balcony next to the wine tasting lounge. You glimpse the vineyard and the shimmering lake beyond as you reach for yet another glass of wine or a cappuccino. And then, too lazy to explore anything else Nasik has to offer, you get back in the car for your return journey.

Not the French Riviera this one but as I said, a lovely experience and with the right company, a day very well spent.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Visiting a friend today


This is a guest post for Nachiketa of The Variable, Crazy Over Desserts - Nachiketa. You can also Catch her on facebook @ Crazy Over Desserts Join her page and leave a comment to become eligible for her special Giveaway prize.

www.crazyoverdesserts.com<br />


No new post at Bombay Foodie, but I'm visiting Nachiketa's blog today to join the run-up to her 200th post. Hop over to crazy over desserts to know how I met this cute blogger from Delhi. And there's a recipe too, of course! I baked something that reminds me of her - Lime and Poppy Seed Muffins.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Indigo Challenge : Herbed Cheese and Grilled Apple Salad

What's the deal : I am cooking my way through the dinner menu of Indigo restaurant. These are not Indigo recipes; I haven't eaten or even seen any of these dishes. This is my interpretation based only on the name of the dish.

Indigo menu says:
Herbed Goat Cheese, Spinach, Grilled Green Apples Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette



Herbed Goat Cheese : It's not goat cheese, it's my homemade Neufchatel. I scooped out little balls of cheese with a melon baller. Finely minced fresh thyme and rosemary, added a pinch of salt and a bit of olive oil, then rolled the cheese balls in the herb mixture.

Spinach : Not happening. You don't get baby spinach here, and there's no way I was putting cooked full-sized spinach in my salad. So you get oak leaf lettuce instead.

Grilled Green Apples : Granny Smith apple, sliced then put on a grill until browned. As simple as that

Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette : This is the lightly creamy version from smitten kitchen. Only I didn’t have walnut oil so it’s made with the more humble olive oil. I sprinkled some toasted walnuts on my salad to make up for it though.

The verdict : A very interesting combination of flavors, all complementing each other. The easiest Indigo dish so far.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tales of A Female Nomad

This month, our book club goes on a nomadic tour. We traveled with Rita Golden Gelman, a writer who sold everything she owned after the shock of a divorce and became a nomad. Not a tourist, because Rita stays away from everything that a tourist does and instead, tries to live the lives of people she visits.

From Mexico to Israel to Galapago Islands, Rita goes the way least traveled, always preferring to stay as a boarder with natives. And sometimes, going to places not even locals will go, places so secluded yet beautiful that Rita's description takes your breath away, urges you to become a nomad yourself.

Yet even nomads sometimes find their roots. Rita found hers in Bali where she spent eight years. Starting as a boarder with a prince, she eventually became a part of the family. I instantly knew I wanted to cook something Indonesian. I picked Nasi Goreng, the Indonesian fried rice.



There are as many recipes for Nasi Goreng as there are cooks. Some use tomatoes, others tamarind. Almost all use shrimp paste and kecap manis, the sweet soy sauce from Indonesia. I had neither so I decided to go with the adapted recipe from BBC. I adapted it a bit further to go with what I had in my fridge. And to make nasi goreng, you should first have cooked rice in your fridge. The recipe is traditionally made with cold rice, so I cooked mine the night before for today's lunch.

First thing today, I made a spice paste by blending together 2 cloves of garlic, 2 peeled shallots, a tbsp of sunflower seeds, a tbsp of sesame seeds, 1 tsp salt, 2 bird's eye chillies that I deseeded, 2 tbsp soy sauce, a tbsp of brown sugar and a tbsp of vegetable oil.

Then, I finely chopped a handful of beans and 2-3 babycorns. Added a couple of tbsp of water and microwaved them for a minute. Separately, i chopped a spring onion.

In a pan, I heated a tbsp of vegetable oil. Added 2 tbsp of spice paste and the cooked rice, then stirred for a couple of minutes to mix well. The I added the steamed vegetables and stirred it all for 2-3 minutes. Finally stirred in the spring onions, mixed well and took the rice off the heat.

At the same time, I put the frying pan on to make my fried egg to serve with my nasi goreng. Topped the fried egg with a drizzle of spice paste and some chopped coriander.

Next month, This Book Makes Me Cook travels to the Channel Islands. We are reading one of my all time favorites - the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. If you would like to read with us, please leave a comment here and I will get back to you with details.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bombay's Wengers

I don't know why I put off a visit to Candies for so long. Six years in the city, so many people recommending the place and yet I never made a trip to eat at Bandra's legendary bakery/cafe. Then Kalyan gave me a little nudge and just by coincidence, that weekend I found myself in the neighborhood of Lilavati Hospital. That first trip to Candies was accidental. The two subsequent trips absolutely intentional.

For in Candies I have found the answer to Wengers, my favorite Delhi bakery. Let's recap Wengers for you - an ancient bakery with several separate counters all selling goodies you'd give an arm and a leg for. Lovely bits of deliciousness in cakes and puddings and pies. Candies is all of this and a lot of extras. When you first walk into the cafe near Lilavati (there are three Candies, but this is the only one I've been to), you spot outdoor tables and an outdoor counter. A counter set with salads, sandwiches, tea cakes, petit fours and brownies. And puffs - glorious vegetable puffs and lovely little mushroom and corn puff pastries. The guy will tear out a bill and tell you to pay before he hands over the goodies.

So you walk indoors to a crowded counter that has a lot more in store. This is the world of samosas, spring rolls and potato chops. Also the world of mini-meals - the lasagne verde, the macaroni. And finally, the world of danish pastries. Remember that none of it is exactly fine dining and everything is precooked and just reheated, but it tastes so good when you bring it outdoors to eat.

And then you turn to the most important part of the outdoor counter. After the irritating "go back inside and pay for this", you get a cinnamon laced cappuccino that comes with a trio of petit fours. A bite sized jam tart, a tiny little cream pie and a fluffy chocolate coated eclair. All for free with your coffee; all lovely enough to get you hooked to Candies forever.

What Candies misses versus my beloved Wengers is marshmallows, jujubes and peppermints. But there is still enough variety to make you go back several times; just to sample everything in store.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tomato and Basil Sauce



I'm keeping this short and sweet, for what's there to write about yet another tomato sauce. Except I just had to make sure you know about this one - first spotted on Shaheen's blog - and a strong contender to replace my favorite pizza and pasta sauce.

It's easy too. You plonk 5-6 tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for a minute, then put them in an ice bath. This should make the tomato skins easy to peel off and you can then cube them, minus the seeds. Also chop a small onion and peel & mince a couple of garlic cloves. Heat a tbsp of olive oil, add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the minced garlic, wait a few seconds then add the tomatoes and salt. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, mashing it a little as you go but leave your sauce chunky.

Chop a handful of basil leaves and add to the sauce towards the end. I've so far used this to make lasagne, and I'm going to blend what remains to give me a smoother sauce for pizza tonight.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Indigo Challenge : A flower, a fruit, a cheese

Indigo menu says:
Grilled Artichokes, Kafir Lime Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella Coriander Pesto




When I first read the dish's name, I saw these three distinct components. And try as I could, they didn't work for me as one salad. Each one brilliant on its own, yet flavors too sharp and strong to mingle. A delightful plate of mezze though!

To your left : petals off an artichoke heart. The artichokes came straight off a bottle. It was Jamie Oliver's artichokes in oil - I think I missed the "in oil" part when I bought it but it went against my ideas of the artichokes' flavor. So I washed the hearts in several changes of water, then left them to sizzle on a hot grill for a few seconds.

In the middle : a tomato chopped into cubes, then marinated with a couple of finely sliced kafir lime leaves, a tsp of lemon juice, another tsp of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.

And finally, to your right : fresh buffalo mozarella (yes, you can buy it here!) cubed and mixed with coriander pesto. To make the pesto, grind 1/2 cup of cilantro leaves torn from the stems with 2 tbsp walnuts, a tbsp of olive oil and a hearty pinch of salt.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Which Cinnamon Roll?



I have a guilty secret. Every saturday evening, I trek down to Bandra to buy Cinnamon Rolls at Theobroma. Soft, bready, filled with sugar and cinnamon and raisins, they are my gold standard of cinnamon rolls. But the problem is that Bandra is an hour's drive away and most of the time, Theobroma has sold all it's cinnamon rolls by the time I get there.

Then Cinnabon opened and I thought : great! these guys will never run out of cinnamon rolls. Except I tried it once and thought it was horrible - the center was cakey, and the frosting too thick and too sweet.

Finally, I decided to make my own cinnamon rolls. I turned to pioneer woman, and found rolls so easy to make and so good I never need to go to Theobroma again. Pioneer Woman's recipe makes a lot of rolls, so I divided it by a 6th. I stuck pretty close to whatever she suggests apart from this one change.

My frosting isn't as interesting though - its just a mix of sugar, vanilla and milk - I eyeballed the quantities to give me a runny yet thick paste and poured it on the rolls.

Now why are you still here. You probably have all the ingredients you need at home. Just go make these and give them out to friends - you just might become the most popular person in town tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Now this is cheating...

I've just barely managed to find ingredients for the next dish on the Indigo menu. And guess what, they have revamped their website and it now boasts an entirely different menu. With no mention of the artichoke and cherry tomato salad I was halfway in the process of making.

Indigo does change it's menu frequently so I knew this was coming sometime. And I like the new menu better - it's even got a listing of their desserts. So the challenge is back on.

This one has 27 vegetarian dishes and the speed at which I am going, collecting all those exotic ingredients Indigo dishes seem to require, it might be at least six months before we make them all. And who knows when Indigo changes the menu again.

So I am laying down new rules. No matter what menu Rahul and Malini Akerkar come up with next, this is the menu you are getting on Bombay Foodie. And since we did the old soups already, the soups on this one will have to wait....let's say a long, long time. First course coming up instead.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

300 Posts and Counting

Wow! Is it really the 300th post on Bombay Foodie. Already!

As is traditional on every 100 post interval, I present a new wishlist. First a report card : 31 things to do on my previous wishlist; 9 done. Which means that 22 make an appearance again and this one's got 9 brand new things to bring the total back to 31. So here goes, and I promise I will aim for a higher score next time round:

1. Eat at Alinea.

2. Delve into the alchemy of food. Create something, anything that qualifies as molecular gastronomy.

3. Make fresh pasta.

4. Taste blood oranges.

5. Cook with rhubarb.

6. Make mango pickle like mom.

7. Eat a Meyer lemon.

8. Make S'Mores.

9. Buy blue cornmeal.

10. Try Ethiopian cuisine.

11. Taste Gucchhi (morels).

12. Cook with Rice Paper.

13. Make Vienese Fingers.

14. Make souffle.

15. Taste Absinthe.

16. Make Blinis.

17. Make dolmas.

18. Taste fried halloumi.

19. Make a flambe dish.

20. Make fondue (cheese or chocolate?).

21. Taste fiddleheads.

22. Make khandvi.

23. Make madeleines.

24. Learn to temper chocolate.

25. Make caramel candies.

26. Make puff pastry cream rolls.

27. Perfect cinnamon buns.

28. Make crisp almond cookie I ate at global fusion.

29. Bake a Japanese light cheesecake.

30. Make a double crust pie and a lattice pie.

31. Make Irish cream lookalike at home.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Life of a Critic

This month, our book club reads Garlic and Sapphires. The story of Ruth Reichl, back when she was the food critic for New York Times, is funny yet poignant and touching. With the power to make or break a restaurant, the likes of Ruth, Frank Bruni and of course the currently reigning Sam Sifton have to deploy every method to remain anonymous when they go visit a target.


Ruth Reichl turned to elaborate makeup and disguises to make sure she got her readers an objective review. But her ability to get into the character also changed her, affecting her view of the world. The book offers a glimpse into the life of a food critic (and isn't that every foodie's dream) but it also takes you a little closer to understanding the very charming Ruth.

Another great thing about the book; there's a recipe after every chapter, something to go with every new avatar Ruth takes on. From the array of recipes, I picked Risotto Primavera, an adaptation of lobster risotto from Le Cirque.




It's basically rice sauteed in butter, cooked with some mushroom stock, peppers, asparagus and peas then topped with cheese. Or rather, this is the version from someone too lazy to write a recipe. Send me a mail if you need it and I promise I'd type it out.

In the meantime, let me tell you about next month's book. We are reading Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman. Do let me know if you would like to read it with us and I'd send you more details.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A seedy affair



A bit of flour
A handful of rye
Water, sugar, the magic of yeast
Mixed seeds to top it all

There's sunflowers in there
Some sesame, some hemp
A sprinkling of linseed
A sunny, crunchy bread!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The best coffee cake



Until very recently, I thought a coffee cake meant a coffee flavored cake. Go ahead, laugh all you want - I was quite confused when I saw all those nut and cinnamon cakes with not a drop of coffee in sight. So that's when I realized we were talking about cakes you eat with coffee. Cakes usually topped with a delicious buttery crumble mixture. This first coffee cake I baked also happens to be my best cake so far. I can't personally vouch for this being the best coffee cake in the world, but who am I to argue when the Pioneer Woman says so.

It's also pretty simple to put together. I halved the original recipe to fit my 7 inch round pan but remember that it calls for 3 eggs so it might be a bit tough to halve (I spilled half an egg white when separating eggs so you can say it was purely accidental in my case).

For the cake layer, you soften 75 grams salted butter and cream it with 2/3 cup sugar. Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour and 2 tsp baking powder. Measure out 1/2 cup milk. Add 1/3rd of flour+baking powder to the creamed butter, mix , then add 1/3rd the milk you have and mix to combine. Similarly add the rest of the flour and milk in stages until it is all mixed in. In another clean bowl, beat 1 1/2 egg whites until stiff. Drop the egg whites on top of the cake mixture and gently fold them in. Line a 7 inch round tin with parchment and spread the batter.

Now we make the crumble topping. This is different from what Ree did so pay a little attention. Soften 75 grams butter. Mix with 1/2 cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, a tbsp of cinnamon and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts. Now add 1/3 cup rock sugar - I don't really know what it's called but these are large brown chunks of sugar, almost like candy. And they are what made the cake topping so special by adding that butterscotch like crunch.

Sprinkle/spread the crumble topping on the cake batter and bake at 180C for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with no crumbs sticking to it. I let it cool a little before trying to take the cake out of the pan but it was still very very soft so be a little careful when cutting it into slices.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Indigo Challenge : Mushroom Coconut Lemongrass Soup

Indigo menu says:
Roasted Mushroom Soup with Coconut, Lemongrass & Almonds
Thai Chili Oil



There is a reason there wasn't a post here last six days. I was determined to cook the next recipe for my Indigo challenge (if you missed the script so far, I am cooking my way through dinner menu of the Indigo restaurant). But not only was this next dish a soup, it also involved Thai ingredients like coconut, lemongrass and chilli oil that I am not particularly fond of. A bowl of soup later, I am regretting I waited so long to make this. But also happy because it's raining tonight and I got a little wet coming home - just the perfect state to be in for eating some piping hot soup.


It took me my first google search to realize that Indigo couldn't possibly be putting shredded coconut in a soup and it's coconut milk we will be looking for. Plenty of recipes out there combining this coconut milk with mushrooms and lemongrass. Nothing in the way of thai chili oil, but I always knew it will be a topping. The only thing I could find no place for was almonds. Finally, I gave up thinking and ended up putting some flaked almonds as a garnish too - which was a nice crunchy touch, quite like croutons.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's make the soup first. The first step was thai chili oil that I made 2-3 days back. I crushed some dry thai chilies in a glass bowl. Heated 1/4 cup of a neutral vegetable oil and poured it on the top of the chilies. After a day, the oil had turned a nice red color so you could strain it at this point. I left the chilies in there.

Indigo says roasted mushrooms but I didn't have the heart to switch on the oven for just that. So I sliced 4-5 mushrooms and arranged them in a single layer on a non-stick pan. Cooked them for 4-5 minutes stirring every once in a while until they were golden.

In the meantime, I set 1 1/2 cups of water to boil with 4-5 kaffir lime leaves, a stalk of lemongrass and a little chopped galangal. Once the water started to boil vigorously, I turned off the heat and strained out the fresh, lemony stock. Mixed this with 1/2 cup coconut milk and a hearty pinch of salt. Heated it again until it started to boil, then added the mushroom and let it simmer for a minute.

To garnish this simple yet seriously addictive soup, I added a couple of stalks of lemongrass (but take care not to eat them). Then topped the soup with a few drops of chili oil and flaked almonds.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Art of Cheesemaking



If I lived in Europe, I would have never thought of making my own cheese. But as things stand in Mumbai, you can't do much in the way of eating cheese without rueing the lack of variety. Or more recently, feeling the pinch of high prices of imported cheeses.

I've made paneer all my life and I successfully made mascarpone once, so I thought that making the other kinds of cheese can't be all that hard. What I didn't reckon was the lack of one crucial cheesemaking component : rennet. Not just in India, I looked through all stores I could my last trip to London and no one stocked rennet. Then my friend went to US and looked through several stores until she hit one obscure one in Texas that parted with rennet tablets.

For my first use of rennet, I picked the very easy Neufchatel. Brush and spoon explains the process with some detailed pictures and it does take a while to make, but not even 10 minutes in terms of active effort. The rest of it is just patient waiting.

What I did was mix a litre of milk and 2 tbsp of cultured buttermilk in a stainless steel pan. Or at least, I hope it's cultured buttermilk - I used Amul's probiotic variety. Once it had gently heated to room temperature, I added 1/8th of a rennet tablet dissolved in 2 tbsp water (I know, it's hard to break a tablet in 1/8 but I did it anyway).

Let it rest overnight, then poured the now set curds into a cheescloth resting on a strainer. Tied it up and let it drain all day, and the result was the creamy block of cheese you see up there. I've mixed in a pinch of salt and it tastes great on toast but other ideas to use it up are totally welcome.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Roomful of Strangers

Last Thursday, I did something quite daring by my standards and went out for dinner with 20 strangers. The occasion was day one of a new restaurant at Grand Hyatt; the company eclectic and friendly. Amidst wine and conversations, the two brains behind Brown Paper Bag and the PR manager for Grand Hyatt made sure we met everyone in the lovely bunch of "what started as strangers and ended as friends".

And now, aren't you dying to hear about the newly opened Fifty Five East, the restaurant that replaces that Martini Bar called M they had for a few years. The short version is that it's pretty, it's good food and you should go there for dinner tomorrow (but don't wear heels; it's a long walk to a buffet spread over a huge space). And whatever you do, save space for dessert.

If you are still here, be warned that this was the first time I went to a restaurant where the PR guy took me on a tour and chefs came to talk to me, so I am probably gonna inundate you with information. First the space - there's a lot of it everywhere. It's beautifully decorated; one part with fancy light cutouts and the other with a colorful sari collage.

The food is a selection of Lebanese, Japanese, Thai and Indian. I know, I was shocked at first too at the strange mix. But once you get to know it better, it's a brilliant concept. Most of it is mezze and grills, cooked right inside the restaurant in open kitchens. The cold section features Lebanese - your standard measures of hummus and yogurt dips with pita. But there's also sushi right there at the same counter. An authentic Japanese chef turned out a fairly non-authentic spicy fried mushroom sushi, and I didn't dare try the bhindi version.

The hot section is Thai and grills. There was a green veg curry and pad thai but it was in the grills section that I met the star of the show. It was polenta and parmesan cakes with a creamy mushroom sauce. I went for seconds, I would have gone for thirds if I didn't notice the desserts section first.

Indian? I'm sure it was nice, but I didn't see anyone from our group turn in that direction. I know I didn't.

So we go on to a dessert buffet to die for. On one side are healthy fruits and some Indian sweets no one was paying any attention to. In the middle were some 20 odd pastries, cheesecakes and tarts. I noticed a custard, the chef claimed it's cream brulee, then sprinkled some sugar and out came a blow torch. You know I am all for drama at my table. So I went back and told him to torch a lemon tart for me.

Then I went back and told him to make a warm crepe with berry compote. I would have gone back to get a soft serve customized with fruit purees and almond clusters, but the nice chefs got it for me at the table. I would still rate the lemon tart the best. But I am obsessed with lemons so try everything else too when you go.

Then say goodbye to some lovely new friends and vow not to eat the next three days.