Wednesday, December 31, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Festive Jelly



Now that Christmas is over, we are out of the season for hearty fruitcakes. Instead, the new year's eve calls for dainty canapes and elegant desserts. Which is why I am calling Jamie Oliver's elderflower jelly into action. Originally made as a summer dessert, this is festive enough to bring in the new year. I scaled down the recipe considerably to make only one bowl of dessert but look up Jamie's recipe if you are cooking a full batch.

This jelly is typically made with mixed berries but since we only get strawberries here, I added black grapes and bright orange cape gooseberries to the mix. Washed and halved enough fruit to fill 2/3 of a bowl (about the size of a standard cup). Next, I took one sheet of gelatin and soaked it in cold water. 5 minutes later, I lifted the gelatin sheet out of water and put it in a heavy bottom saucepan. Added 2 tbsp elderflower cordial and set the pan on very low heat, stirring constantly until the gelatin melted completely. Added 1/2 tbsp caster sugar to the mix and stirred until it blended in fully. I gave the mix 5-10 minutes to cool, then poured in 1 cup of club soda. Gave it a stir then poured it over the fruit bowl. Jamie uses prosecco and you can use any bubbly drink. If you are using club soda like me, make sure you open a fresh bottle or can. You want as many bubbles as possible to get trapped in the fruit as they will pop when you eat the set jelly later.

Cover the bowl with cling and let set in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours. Dip the bowl in hot water for a minute and invert on a plate.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Milk Cream



Of the Goan Christmas sweets I spoke about the other day, the one that intrigued me the most was milk cream. It was also the easiest to make so here is my own take on it. Milk cream is a fudge made with milk, sugar and cashews. A simple recipe, though it does require a bit of work.

First off, grind 50 grams cashewnuts to a rough powder and keep it aside. Make sure you don't over process them in the grinder and they would release oil and turn into cashew butter which we don't want. Now get hold of a heavy duty saucepan and pour 1/2 litre of milk in it. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the milk cook until halved in quantity. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir until it's all mixed in. Bring the milk to a boil again, reduce the heat and cook until the milk and sugar syrup is thickened to a condensed milk kind of consistency. Add the cashews and a tbsp of butter, then cook on a medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid the fudge burning. Test every few minutes by dropping a tiny amount of fudge in a bowl of water. At first, it will simply disintegrate but over time you will get a soft ball. At this point, the fudge is ready.

Remove the fudge to a plate and let it cool. Now the standard process it to press the fudge into marzipan moulds but I didn't have any so instead, I poured the fudge into a bowl, let it cool completely and then pinched out about a tsp at a time to roll into tiny truffles. The 'milk cream' is somewhere between a condensed milk and cashew barfi in flavour. I used less sugar than most recipes call for but still thought it was too sweet so next time I might reduce it to even less - say 1/2 cup of sugar.

Monday, December 29, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Pancake Muffins



One of the biggest problems with making pancakes for one person is that you always have too much batter. Even the smallest batch, made with one egg, makes enough batter to make pancakes for two. So what's a person to do when you are by yourself and want pancakes. One, you can have crepes because crepe batter lasts for a couple of days in the fridge and is even batter the second day. But if it's pancakes that you want, here's what you do. Make pancakes with half the batter, then pour the remaining batter into muffin tins and bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffin comes out clean.

I did this with the eggnog pancakes I made yesterday. Now, because pancake batter is not as sweet as your cake batter, you need to up the sugar level in your muffins once they come out of the oven. You have several options to do that:

1. Add another tbsp of sugar to your batter before you bake.

2. Brush your muffin tops with butter as they come out of the oven and dip in sugar. Regular caster sugar works but I had some Swedish pearl sugar lying around and that's what I went with.

3. Add a thick layer of sweet frosting.

Either ways, make some pancakes so you can make pancake muffins later. They are really better than any regular muffins.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Eggnog Pancakes


I really liked the eggnog flavour yesterday so decided to continue the eggnog flowing in the form of these eggnog pancakes from Joy the Baker. These pancakes contain no real eggnog but replicate the flavour with nutty brown butter, some brown sugar and Christmas spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

Put 40 grams of butter in a small saucepan and heat gently until much of the water has evaporated and small brown flecks appear at the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and add a pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of grated nutmeg to the butter. Let it cool while you ready everything else.

In a bowl, mix in 1 cup plain flour, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp baking soda. In another small bowl, beat 1 cup buttermilk with 1 egg. Add the melted butter (it should be cool, if not wait a few minutes). Also add 1 tbsp rum and whisk it all together. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the flour and stir to mix. Do not overmix, it's okay to have a few lumps.

Let the batter rest for 5-10 minutes, Heat a griddle, add a tbsp of butter and drop a heaped tbsp of batter. Let brown on one side, then flip and cook the other side. Serve your pancakes topped with butter and honey or maple syrup.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Vegan Eggnog


Let me start by saying that I've never had eggnog. The idea of Christmas having its own trademark drink intrigues me but I usually stay away from drinks or desserts that have raw eggs, and I definitely don't like the eggy smell that is the hallmark of an eggnog. So then, when huffington post offered an egg free version of the creamy drink that still has the signature nutmeg and creamy flavours, I immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

To make the vegan eggnog, soak 3/4 cups of cashews overnight. The next morning, drain the cashews and put them in a blender alongwith 400 ml coconut milk, 2 cups water, 1/3 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp each of ground cinnamon and nutmeg, 1/3 cup date syrup and if you like, 1/3 cup rum. Now blitz away until it is all blended. Because of the cashews, the drink will start out grainy but be patient and give it a few minutes to become smooth.

Pour in a glass bottle or a flask, then chill thoroughly before drinking. It is rich enough to be served in shot glasses as I did, but most of my guests came back for seconds and thirds. If you don't have a crowd, the eggnog will last in the fridge for about a week so feel free to whip up a batch just for yourself. Make sure to give it a good shake to mix things up before you pour.

Friday, December 26, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Kuswar


In a country as culturally diverse as India, it is easy to miss on all the good things that go on in different parts of the country. Or even in your own city. Take Christmas treats - I've always associated Christmas in India with plum cake. A cross between fruit cake and the British plum pudding, the cake is rich with dried fruits and nuts, boozy enough to make you drunk and deliciously dark brown because of the added caramel. Plum cake is something that springs up all over Mumbai, possibly all over India mid-December and I've always thought that this is the only Christmas goodie making the rounds every year.

For the first time this year, I've spent Christmas surrounded by East Indians and Goan Catholics and imagine my surprise on discovering a whole world of Christmas goodies I've never heard about. So if you are as unaware as me, let me introduce you to the concept of kuswar. A Goan Catholic tradition, kuswar refers to the collection of treats that are made at home before Christmas. They are then packed in pretty boxes and handed over to visiting friends and family. Three packages of kuswar have made their way to my home this year and you bet there are at least ten things there I've never seen, eaten or even heard of before. Like most things Indian, kuswar derives inspiration from the British as well as from Konkani desserts and Hindu diwali sweets, leading to a mishmash of 20-odd recipes. Fortunately, the treat boxes I got all had a different selection so I seem to have tasted all the usual suspects this year. Plum cake will always remain a favourite, but I now bring to you a list of my new favourites from the Christmas treats I received:

1. Guava Cheese: Ripe guavas cooked with sugar until they are firm and pureed to form jelly squares. Either from the guava's natural color or because of added coloring, the guava cheese is bright red. Because of the high pectin in guavas, it naturally sets into solid squares, something akin to a quince jelly. The flavour, all tart and sweet and fresh at once, is a great contrast to any salty crackers or sharp cheeses you can find.

2. Milk Cream: This sweet will remind you of cashew barfi, condensed milk and mawa cake all at once. Made by reducing whole milk, sugar and ground cashews to a thick fudge, milk cream is always too sweet but nonetheless delicious.

3. Kulkul: Sweet and crisp fried dough that reminds you of shakarpara, shaped like a fusilli. What's not to like!

4. Coconut Ice: This one's pretty much like your coconut barfi but is firmer and has a smoother texture.

There are a few other things that will make an appearance in your kuswar boxes but I can't say I love them. Karanji - fried dough filled with cocount, as well as marzipan is almost always there. You will also get some form of Christmas cake - another variation on the fruit cake covered with marzipan and fondant - but it's either too rich or two sweet for me. I'd take another slice of that plum cake instead.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Cake


Chock full of dried fruits and nuts, this is the classic fruit cake. The recipe is courtesy Nigel Slater but I haven't cut into the cake yet and I will be back with an update if the recipe works.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Mince Pies



So here we are at the day before Christmas and there are still two major orders of business left to post - Christmas cake and mince pies. So let's do mince pies today and we will save the cake for the big day. Puff pastry makes a much lighter contrast to the sweet mince so I prefer it to the traditional pie crust. And if you can get hold of frozen puff pastry, its no work at all.

Thaw the puff pastry in the fridge. When it is soft, dredge it in plain flour so it is easy to work with. Roll the puff pastry block into a large rectangle. Split the rectangle into two. Cut the first half into smaller rectangles that will form the base of your pie. Spread mincemeat on the base to cover, leaving a 2 cm border all round. Cut the second rectangle into thin strips and use those to make lattice pattern to cover the base and the mincemeat. You can use a pastry brush dipped in cold water to make the strips stick. Arrange the pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, sprinkle with some pearl sugar and bake in an oven preheated to 200C until they are golden brown and crisp.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Grain Salad



I thought long and hard about the vegetarian main course for the Christmas meal. The best option that I've found is this millet salad made with a lot of different flavours and textures. The salad take a while to make but it's completely gorgeous and festive.

24 hours before, take a bunch of rainbow swiss chard. Cut off the stems and set the leaves aside for later. Wash the stems and pat them dry, then cut them into 2-3 inch long pieces. Mix 1/2 cup water with 1/4 cup white vinegar. Add 1/2 tbsp. salt and stir until the salt dissolves. Pack the swiss chard stems into a glass jar, pour over the liquid to cover and pop into the fridge to pickle.

12 hours before, soak 1/2 cup millet in plenty of water. You can also use other grains like quinoa or barley - they may not need soaking so follow the package directions on how to cook them.

To put together the salad, boil a saucepan of water. Add the soaked millet, bring to a boil and let cook on a simmer until the grains are soft. This can take upto an hour so you can speed up the process by using a pressure cooker. Next, chop up your reserved swiss chard leaves into thin strips. Also, finely chop a small red onion. Heat 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a pan and saute the onion and the swiss chard leaves until the onion starts to brown. Add the cooked millet, salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and mix in 1-2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar (or juice of lemon if you don't like balsamic).

Finally mix in all the other things that make this salad special. I added the pickled chard stems chopped into small pieces, walnuts, raisins and pomegranate seeds. If you don't like any of these, whatever combination of dried fruits, nuts and seeds you prefer.

Monday, December 22, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Roast Potatoes



Potatoes are my favourite food group. And when Christmas rolls around, along come all the sinful ways to eat potatoes like mash and gratins. My absolute favourite though are the roast potatoes. Usually served as a side to turkey or ham, I actually enjoy a bowl of these just on their own. A good roast potato needs to have a balance between crisp edges and fluffy, soft centres but obviously the most crisp, brown edges you have the better it is.

After reading through a host of recipes, I decided that par-boiling followed by a long stint in the oven was the best bet for these potatoes. I also cut them as thick discs to maximise the surface area that will get brown and crisp. So wash 2-3 medium sized potatoes and slice them. Pop them in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes until they begin to soften. Drain the potatoes and put them in a bowl alongwith 3 cloves of garlic, 1/2 tbsp olive oil, salt and fresh ground pepper. Mix to coat the slices lightly with oil and seasoning.

Heat the oven to 220C. Pour 2 tbsp olive oil on the baking sheet you will use to roast potatoes and spread as evenly as you can. Heat the oil in the oven for 10 minutes until it starts to smoke. Very carefully, bring the tray out and arrange the potatoes on the oil in a single layer. Because you start with hot oil, it will instantly seal the surface of the potatoes and give you crisper roast. Put the potatoes back in the oven and let bake for 20-30 minutes. Check to see if the potatoes have browned, then turn them once and bake for another 15-20 minutes to brown the other side as well. Check for seasoning and sprinkle more salt or pepper if you need it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Ischler Cookies



Today was secret Santa day. Christmas is still a few days away but the food bloggers exchanged gifts today through the secret Santa elfs who zipped around town. In anticipation of the elf visit, I baked these Ischler cookies.

This Austrian cookie tastes quite similar to a buttery shortbread. Rose Levy grinds her own almonds but I used ground almonds I already had. Additionally, her recipe is adapted so it's eggless and the dough is made by made rather than a food processor.

About half an hour before you start baking, cube 110 grams of salted butter and set it aside to soften. Now to the actual dough. Mix 100 grams ground almonds wih 60 grams caster sugar. Add the softened butter and mix until everything is well blended. All 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tbsp milk. Finally add 110 grams of plain flour and mix/knead lightly until it comes together as a dough. Divide into two halves and wrap each in cling wrap, then let chill in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness (or as thin as you can) and cut out round cookies. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake until the cookies start to brown at the edges. Rose says this will take 10 minutes but I had thicker cookies so it took a bit longer. Let cool, then sandwich with apricot spread.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Apricot Lekvar



This time of the year, a lot of websites and blogs come up with recipe series like '12 days of cookies'. Given the number of food websites and books I read, it is getting quite rare for me to get excited over a new cookie. No excitement really, in a new flavour of shortbread or yet another variation on the snowballs. But one cookie caught my eye this year. The Ischler, from a book by Rose Levy Beranbaum, is an almond cookie filled with chocolate and a thick apricot spread called lekvar. We will get to the cookie in due time but the lekvar deserves a post of its own.

Lekvar is like a fruit butter but made with dried apricots. When buying apricots, you will have the choice between bright orange and the brown variety. I chose the brown ones because they have no sulphur and are healthier. I halved the apricots to remove the seeds. You are looking for 230 grams of deseeded apricots. Combine these with 1 cup water in a saucepan and let soak for 2 hours to soften the apricots. After two hours, cover the saucepan with a lid and look on the lowest heat possible for 20-30 minutes. Keep a watch towards the end of the cooking time - mine had started to stick a little at the bottom of the pan so add a little water if the mixture gets too thick. Cook until the apricots are quite soft.

Let cool, then put the whole apricot/water mix in a blender alongwith 1/2 cup sugar, zest and juice of one lime and if you can find it, 1 tsp apricot brandy (I used normal brandy instead). Blend until smooth, then pop it back into the saucepan and simmer on a low heat for 10-15 minutes until the mixture is very thick. Remove from heat and put in a glass bowl/bottle. Cool completely, then put in the fridge where it should last almost indefinitely. I am going to make the cookie filling out of lekvar but I can also think of several other uses. Think crepe filling, or a bright sunshine orange spread for your morning toast.

Friday, December 19, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Pomegranate Bark


NY Times' food section is responsible for some of the most popular food innovations of our time. Remember the No Knead bread that started a huge revolution in bread making. This pomegranate bark might be another one of those memorable inventions. Melissa Clark calls the chocolate bark the workhorse of holiday recipes. This one certainly is, with a recipe that's almost impossible to mess up.

You melt 140 grams of dark chocolate, add 20 grams of finely minced candied ginger and 1/2 cups of fresh pomegranate seeds. Spread this on a baking sheet lined with parchment and top with another 1/2 cup of pomegranate and a tsp of sea salt, pressing lightly to make sure the seeds and salt stick to the chocolate. Let cool until set.

Because of the juicy pomegranate burst you get when you bite into it, the bark has a fresh flavour, quite unlike the rich chocolates you will be used to eating. And that flavour combination of bitter dark chocolate tangy sweet pomegranate and spicy ginger truly works. Just be sure to use pomegranate seeds at room temperature (I tried first with cold seeds from the fridge and the chocolate seized) and eat this the day the bark is made to avoid condensation. Not that the eating part is ever going to be a problem around here!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Fruit Cookies


I liked the ginger cookies I baked day before yesterday but the other tasters thought they were not sweet enough. I still had half a batch of dough left and I wasn't going to let it go so I decided to fix it. To half of the dough from the previous recipe, I added 1/3 cup of mincemeat. Mixed it well and scooped out balls of dough. I arranged the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment, flattening them a little. Baked in an oven preheated to 180C for 15 minutes. The mincemeat add not just the fruit flavours but also more butter and sugar to the mix, resulting in sweeter and chewier cookies.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Roasted Vegetables


Vegetarians have to set priorities a little differently when considering the Christmas meal. While everyone else is focused on Turkey or ham, the vegetarian options like nut roast or tofurkey are usually a let down. But take the main dish out and focus instead on the sides, the salads and the breads and you have a fantastic meal on hand.

This tray of roasted vegetables ranks among my all time favourite sides. Pick 3-4 vegetables that you like. This time, I have a mix of broccoli, zucchini, baby corn and onions. Other options include cauliflower, mushrooms, leeks, spring onions and most root vegetables. One word of warning - while we are mixing up everything here, if you pick something very watery like mushrooms, keep it separate from the rest of the gang.

Cut vegetables in approximately equal bite size pieces. In a bowl, mix chopped vegetables with 1 tbsp olive oil for each cup of veggies, salt and pepper. Also add a tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Mix well and spread on a baking tray in a single layer. Pop into an oven preheated to 200C and roast until the vegetables brown, about 15-20 minutes.

A batch of these vegetables is great to have in the fridge at this time, when you are running around to shop and buy presents and do a thousand things. Apart from eating them on their own, you can add them to pasta or make a quick fried rice. I'm even known to spread pasta sauce on bread, add these veggies, grate some cheese and grill it into a 'bread pizza'.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Lebkuchen



If you think of the most iconic Christmas foods, ginger people will be up tops alongwith gingerbread houses. Now gingerbread houses require more effort than I am willing to put in but I managed to find a gingerman cutter. I also wanted to try the German version of gingerbread cookies called lebkuchen so I combined the two to make some lebkuchen gingermen. In my last three weeks of research on Christmas recipes, I've found BBC Good Food to be one of the best sources out there. So this one comes from BBC as well. In all the cookies I've baked in the past, I've never encountered a recipe like this. There is absolutely no sugar in the cookie, and all the sweetness comes from honey (which I replaced with date syrup hence the dark color).

It's quite an easy cookie to put together too. In a bowl, mix together 125 grams plain flour, 40 grams ground almonds, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp baking powder. In a small saucepan, mix 40 grams butter with 100 ml honey (or date syrup). Heat over a low heat until the butter melts, then pour into the dry ingredients. Add zest of a lemon and a pinch of black pepper, then mix well to form a dough. Chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Now you can roll out the dough and cut out your cookies but here's an easy shortcut. Pinch a golf ball size ball of dough and put it on a greased cutting board. Flatten with your palm to a disc slightly bigger than your cookie cutter, and cut into shape. Transfer all cut gingermen to a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes. Because of their color, it is difficult to tell when the cookies are done but look for them to set and harden around the edges. Cool on a wire rack.

For icing, I used one of those ready to use 'writing icing' tubes - it's one shortcut that comes in real handy for little accents on gingermen or for writing Happy Birthday on cakes so make sure you have one in the fridge on all times. If not, the slightly longer method will be to melt white chocolate and use it to pipe details.

Monday, December 15, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Latkes



Among all the hoopla on Christmas, I want to take a minute to take about the other festival that comes around the same time - hanukkah. I honestly don't know much about Jewish culture but hanukkah first caught my attention when I spotted all the posts for potato pancakes called latkes.

Now I am a big fan of fried potato, be it fries or hasbrowns or the Indian aloo tikki. Which is why I've wanted to make latkes for a long time. I looked at a lot of recipes but I still had two concerns. One, most latke recipes use egg and I wanted something with no eggy taste. Two, have made the Indian potato cakes with boiled potatoes all my life, I wasn't sure if the raw potatoes will cook through. So I looked some more for vegan and eggless latke recipes. Everyone agreed that the potatoes will stick together even without eggs but some starch was recommended. So I adapted the recipe with some cornflour.

I made latkes with one medium sized potato and that gave me 4 cakes. So take one potato per person as the basis and scale up the recipe as you like. The first step is to grate the potatoes. I grated my lone potato on a box grater but food processor is a good idea if you are cooking for a crowd. Peel and chop a shallot finely (you are looking for a medium sized onion for 4 potatoes so I scaled down). Add to the potato. Either in a sieve or by tying the potatoes in a cheescloth, squeeze as much liquid out as you can. To the now dry potato-onion, add 1/2 tbsp cornflour, salt and pepper and mix well.

Heat a nonstick pan and add a tsp of oil. Scoop up a handful of the potato, shape into an approximate round and pop in the hot oil. Let the latke crisp on the bottom (about 3-4 minutes), then spread another tsp of oil on top of the pancake and flip. Press down with a spatula to flatter so you have a thinner and crisper latke. Cook the other side to a golden brown as well.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Peppermint Mocha




I eagerly await the Starbucks red cups and special christmas flavours every year. My first brush with these Christmas specials was in New York, maybe ten years back. At the time, and ever since, my favourite Christmas drink is peppermint mocha. Alas, starbucks took it off their Christmas menu a few years back. What's more - they don't even stock mint syrup in India so you can't even order it a la carte as you can in New York.

Which is why I am telling you how to make your own. First step, make a chocolate syrup. In a small saucepan, mix 1 tbsp each of cocoa powder and brown sugar. Add 1/4 cup water and cook on a low heat, stirring constantly, until you have a thick syrup. Remove from heat and add 1/4 tsp peppermint extract. If you want to skip syrup making, get a tbsp of Hershey's syrup and add mint extract.

Next, make a shot of espresso in your coffee machine or moka pot. Drip coffee will do in a pinch, but avoid instant if you can. In a separate saucepan, heat 1/3 cup milk to a boil, then foam it whatever way you prefer. I use this milk foaming stick but stick blenders or fancy coffee machine foamers all work.

In a tall cup, pour your syrup. Swirl a bit to coat the sides of the cup. Add the shot of espresso and finally the foamed milk. Top with crushed peppermint candies and/or fairy dust (red and green sparkles).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Coconut Fudge


Today's recipe isn't from your traditional Christmas repertoire but it's deliciously sweet and makes a great gift. I first met this coconut fudge or kopra pak at the Upper Crust Food Festival last weekend. Perzen aka Bawi Bride had this on her menu at the festival stall and I took an instant liking to the dessert.

As Perzen said, this is a simple recipe but takes a bit of effort. I buy grated fresh coconut so I took a cup of that. In a wide saucepan, I added the coconut, 2 cups of milk and 4 tbsp sugar. Also popped in two whole cardamoms. Put it on a low heat and simmered it for a really long time. That's really it - you stir the coconut/milk every few minutes until the whole thing is reduced to a thick fudge. The coconut will be soft by the time it's cooked and the milk will be reduced to thick solids. Perzen colors her fudge a lovely pale pink, so towards the end of the cooking time, i sprinkled a pinch of beetroot powder and mixed it in. You can also use liquid or gel colors or leave it white. Once cooked, take out the cardamom, spread the fudge in a shallow dish (I used a pie dish), top with nuts and let cool before cutting into squares or wedges.

Friday, December 12, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Roast Chestnuts



About an hour's train ride from London is a small town called Rochester. As far as I can tell, there isn't much that happens out there throughout the year. Except for this one weekend in December when they host a Victorian Christmas parade. On my train from London to Rochester, I could already see folks dressed as Dickens characters. The whole town gets into the party mode right from puppet shows in the library to fake snow coming down the only high street in town.

Of course, the reality also includes too many people showing up in a sleepy town, leading to overbooked restaurants and crowds all round. So while the day itself turned out to be the mixed experience, what I clearly remember is the roast chestnuts. Holding the warm bag is hugely comforting as fake snow and real winds pelt you, while waiting for the Victorian parade to start.

Then last week, I spotted chestnuts on bigbasket.com and instantly added them to my grocery order. The next day, I set about the task of preparing the chestnuts. Since I don't have a barbeque, roasting the chestnuts was out. Instead, I tried both other methods available to the home cook. But whatever cooking method, the first step is to wash the chestnuts and score them. Take a sharp knife and cut an X on the chestnut. This is to stop the nut from exploding with steam later.

For the first method, heat the oven to 200C. Spread the chestnuts on a baking try and let cook for 20 minutes, until the skin has softened. Let cool a little and as soon as you are able to handle them, peel off the hard outer skin as well as the inner skin (which can be a little difficult to remove once the chestnuts are cold). The oven roasted chestnuts are ideal if you have a fresh batch. However, my bigbasket chestnuts seemed a little dated and so I found it much better to boil the other half instead. Prepare them the same way as the first time but this time, pop them in boiling water and let cook on a simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Granola



When I am not eating all the Christmas goodies I am baking, I've been balancing out my diet with salads and roasted vegetables. Also high on my healthy eating list is granola, which has to be the healthiest way to eat something sweet and nutty and delicious. In keeping with the festival spirit, I made a new batch this morning that's red and green and white - all the colors of Christmas.

First off, heat up the largest nonstick pan you have. Reduce the heat to low and evenly spread out 1/2 cup flaxseeds to cover the base of the pan. Keep stirring often, until the seeds begin to pop, then take them off the heat and put in a bowl. Return the pan to heat and this time, add 2 cups of rolled oats. Roast on a low heat until the oats are turning brown. Stir often to make sure the oats brown evenly or you might end up with a partly burnt, partly raw batch.

Add the roasted oats to the flax seeds and pour 1/4 cup of honey into the bowl. Mix well so the honey coats the oats and seeds and forms little sweet clusters as your granola cools. If you are feeling particularly Christmassy, you can also add in 1/2 tsp of cinnamon powder. Now add about 1/2 cup of whatever nuts and dried fruit you like. For this version, I added cranberries, raisins and pumpkin seeds. Let cool for a couple of hours, then add white chocolate chips or anything else that could have melted in the warm granola (like butterscotch or peanut butter chips).

This granola keeps in an airtight container for at least a month. You can eat it with yogurt or warm milk (where the chocolate will melt and make it so much nicer). Or, if you are me, just dip into the bowl and eat it as is whenever you feel like a snack.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Gingerbread


Let's take a moment to talk about snacking cakes, the unfussy, girl next door version of the cake world. These are cakes that last at least a few days so you have them around when sudden appetite for cake shows up (like when you have to wait 24 hours for cinnamon rolls but want something sweet NOW). By definition, you are looking for a cake that's easy to put together. Which means that anything that requires softened butter or whipped egg whites is out. Frosting is out too - instead, you are looking for something that can be simply dusted with icing sugar (or not) and has enough flavour on its own.

My favourite snacking cake to have around at this time of the year is something akin to a gingerbread. Instead of the hardy gingerbread houses or gingermen cookies, you are looking for a soft cake that's sweet and spicy and super quick to bake. I picked the recipe from smitten kitchen, and made a few adjustments like omitting the fresh ginger. I also replaced molasses with date syrup because molasses is so hard to get here but also because date syrup gives the right color and adds another depth to the flavour.

To start off, leave the oven to preheat at 180C and line a 8 inch square pan with foil (See Note at the end). This cake rises quite a bit so pick a deep pan if you can find one. In any case, don't fill more than half the pan depth with batter, leaving enough room for it to rise.

In a saucepan large enough to hold the entire batter, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil.  Turn off the heat and add 3/4 tsp of baking soda. The water will foam up and bubble and it will be good fun for a while. After 5 minutes, add 50 grams butter and stir until the butter melts completely. Whisk in 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup date syrup. The mixture will still be warm to touch so put it aside while you get the other ingredients ready.

Beat one egg lightly in a small bowl. In another bowl, mix the following dry ingredients:
(a) 1 1/4 cup of plain flour
(b) 1 tsp baking powder
(c) 1 tsp ginger powder
(d) 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
(e) 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
(f) 1/4 tsp ground cloves

The liquid mix should be cool by now so whisk in the egg. Add the dry ingredients to the saucepan and whisk until everything is combined into a smooth batter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. This can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on your oven. Let cool a little, then pick it up (foil and all) and put on a wire rack to cool down completely.

Cut into squares, sift over some icing sugar and put in an airtight container. This should last at least 4-5 days.

Note: David Lebovitz shows a fantastic way to line pans with foil. It is the best way to line pans I've found so far. You should try it too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Mincemeat



For the longest time, I thought mince pies must be savoury pies filled with some kind of meat. Then, when I was living in London, my British flatmate explained that mincemeat referred to a rich, sweet mix of apples and dried fruits, with suet being the 'meat' in the recipe. She immediately added that mince pies are stodgy and too sweet and most people don't like them. But living in London anytime from mid-November, you can't really avoid mince pies. From my college cafetaria to grocery stores to coffee shops, mince pies take over London during Christmas even more than eggnog and christmas cakes.

My first mince pie was somewhat unconventional. Heston Bluementhal does a range of goodies for Waitrose every year and that year, Heston did a mince pie in puff pastry, not the standard pie crust. Alongside the pies came a sachet of pine sugar, that made my house smell like forest and snow and Christmas trees. Much to my British friends' surprise, I loved not just the Heston pie but most other mince pies. I also use jars of mincemeat in cookies and other random desserts. So while we are building up to our Christmas desserts, I thought we should first make mincemeat.

The recipe for the mince comes from British baking icon Mary Berry. It's quite simple too. All you need to do is collect a bunch of things, pop them in a pan and cook for 10 minutes. So first off, start measuring off your ingredients. The easiest way to do this will be to put a big saucepan on your weighing scale and keep resetting to zero every time you add something new. You would need:

(a) 150 grams of raisins, sultanas and currants. You can use only one type or all three or a mix.
(b) 50 grams of dried cranberries
(c) 50 grams of chopped dried apricots
(d) 25 grams of citrus peel. You can use orange or mixed peel. I spotted this vibrant green pomelo peel in a store yesterday so that's what I used.
(e) 15 grams almonds, chopped
(f) 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
(g) 30 grams butter
(h) 30 grams brown sugar (Mary uses more but I thought everything else was too sweet anyway)
(i) Spices of your choice. I used 1/4 tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground cloves and grated nutmeg.
(j) Juice of a lime

Once you have everything in the pan, that's pretty much it. Put the pan on a low heat, stir occasionally until the butter and sugar are all melted and the apples have cooked through, so maybe 10-15 minutes. Let cool, then stir in 50 ml of brandy or rum. I've packed this in an airtight jar and put it in the fridge where it should last for at least a month.

Monday, December 8, 2014

30 Days of Christmas

I have always been a big fan of Christmas. Now remember that when I was growing up, Christmas did not even register as a festival on social calendars as it does now. There were no trees, no overly decorated shopping malls filled with Christmas music and certainly no gifts. But for our family, there was a difference. Up until high school, my family lived on the first floor of this two storey house. Our ground floor neighbours were Catholics and when you live in the same house for as long as we did, you practically think of them as family. As a kid, I wondered at the Chistmas tree when they invited us to visit and marvelled at the wreaths and holly and their traditions of midnight mass. And on Christmas day, I looked forward to cake. Every year, like clockwork, they would show up on the morning of 25th December with a plum cake. In 1990s Amritsar, this was both rare and fascinating.

I loved Christmas then and I've never stopped loving it since. I love the Christmas markets, even the ones that happen inside crowded shopping malls. And I watch every Christmas movie ever made. Some, like the Santa Clause or the Elf, I watch at least once a year. Ever since I got into baking, I also bring in that little bit of Christmas magic home with pies and cakes and cookies.

This year, I've decided to share Christmas magic with you with a 30 day Christmas recipe marathon. We start today, because then, the 30 days will end on January 6, the last of day of Christmas. And in the course of next month, there will be all the flavours that define Christmas for Bombay Foodie. So be on the lookout for ginger and cinnamon and mincemeat. But first, let's make some candied oranges.

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The recipe for these candied oranges comes from David Lebovitz. First off, wash an orange (I used this variety called Valencia) and lop off both edges. Slice the orange into round slices about 1 cm thick. Put the orange slices in a saucepan and cover with room temperature water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let boil slowly for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with fresh water, and repeat the whole 'boil for 10 minutes' process.

Drain and pop the slices back in the saucepan. This time around, add 3/4 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar (David used 1/2 cup sugar so use more if you like, I thought the lesser quantity was enough). Also add a cinnamon stick and if you want, some cloves or a couple of star anise. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until most of the liquid evaporates and you are only left with a very thick syrup. Turn the oranges a few times while they are cooking so they get coated with sugar evenly. You might want to stir them a bit more towards the end of the cooking time so they don't burn. Once almost all the liquid is gone, take the oranges off the heat and tip them into a colander. Let cool, then store in an airtight jar in the fridge until you are ready to bake that fruit cake or mince pie.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Breakfast Muffins



I was looking through my blog archives yesterday and figured there isn't a recipe here for lemon poppyseed cake, one of my all time favourites. And I just happened to remember this again when I woke this morning, a bit earlier than usual. Now normally I would just roll over and go back to sleep but today, I thought I'd use that extra time to bake some lime and poppyseed cakes. Or because I just ate these for breakfast, let's call them muffins instead. Makes you feel better about eating cake in the morning.

The recipe is from my baking guru, Dorie Greenspan and is quite a breeze to put together. First off, line 6-8 muffin tins with paper liners (Dorie says 6, but I got 8 because I have smaller tins). Set the oven to preheat at 200C.

Now put 60 grams of butter in a small saucepan and heat gently until it's melted. Let it cool a little while you collect all other ingredients. Zest a lime and add it to 1/3 cup caster sugar. Mix it in until the sugar smells all lemony. To this bowl, add a cup of plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of baking soda.

Now go back to your bowl with the butter and in that one, add 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence, 2 tbsp lime juice and an egg. Whisk it up to mix everything, then add to the dry ingredients. Mix/whisk just until everything's blended but do not over mix. Finally stir in a tbsp of poppyseeds. Fill your muffin tins 2/3 full and bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out clean.

Give the muffins 5 minutes in the tin, then pop them over to a cooling rack. While the muffins cool, make this glaze to make your muffins more lemony. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp icing sugar will enough lime juice to make a thin, pourable solution. Either pour the glaze on the muffins with a spoon or brush the top of the muffins with this glaze to get a more even flavour.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Carrot and Manchego Salad


A couple of months back, I was watching Masterchef Australia. It was an immunity pin challenge, where a contestant fights off a big name chef. The theme was cheese and while this contestant was busy fiddling with soufflés and what not, the chef announced he was making a salad. Rarely am I so impressed with a dish but the complexity of his carrot and manchego salad totally zapped me. So much so that I have been going back to the masterchef website and hoping they will put up a recipe. Which they didn't so I decided to recreate the salad all on my own.

Matt Stone's version was beautifully plated with carrot coins poached in whey, sweet carrot syrup, manchego cheese and burnt leeks. I got hold of some baby carrots so I created a slightly different spin on it. Here is a layer by layer description of my 'shot glass' salad.

A day before: To poach carrots in whey, you need to get some whey. So the night before or the morning of the day you are going to make this salad, take a carton of plain yogurt and stir a tsp of salt in. Take a strainer large enough to hold the yogurt, pop it on a glass or bowl and fill it with curd. Leave it in the fridge where the whey will drain into the glass, leaving creamy thick yogurt in the strainer.

Carrot Puree: Trim and peel a carrot. I only had baby carrots so I used 4 of those. In a saucepan, cover carrots with water and cook for 15-20 minutes until soft. Pop the carrots in a blender with 1/4 cup carrot juice, salt and fresh ground pepper. Whiz to a smooth puree and pour into a shot glass.

Yogurt: Take the thick, salty yogurt off the strainer and add a layer on top of the carrot puree. Be careful to not mix the two layers. I found it a bit hard to manage as the yogurt was heavier and kept sinking in the carrots. You might want to reverse the layers (yogurt first, then carrot) if you want cleaner layers.

Cheese and Herbs: Cover the yogurt with a layer of chopped basil and add some sliced manchego cheese, torn into small pieces to fit the shot glass.

Leeks: This is an interesting one. Apparently, when you burn leeks, they get bitter but still retain the onion flavour and are quite delicious. To make the leek soil, thinly slice a leek (just the green part) and spread on a dry baking sheet. Put it in an oven heated to 200C and let cook until completely charred and black. Let cook a bit, then crumble into a coarse powder. Sprinkle on the cheese.

Whey poached carrots: Pour your reserved whey into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Wash the baby carrots and trim the leaves and the ends. Add to the whey, reduce the heat and cook the carrots for 15-20 minutes until soft. Because of the whey, the carrots will get a bit tangy and be a great compliment to the sweet puree and the salty cheese.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Diwali Cheer


This year, for the very first time in my life, I decided to make homemade gifts for Diwali. I've baked cakes for friends' birthdays and stuff but never before have I made pretty looking packages of sweet goodies. And it truly made a difference, seeing how happy it made my friends to get something that wasn't store bought. I hope you are having a happy Diwali too and just in case I couldn't get one of these over to you, here are the recipes to help you make your Diwali a little bit sweeter.

Because it was my first time making a gift, I chose something super simple. Two bottles of sweet sauces - one salted caramel, one chocolate. I also used this as an excuse to make a trip to South Bombay's Crawford Market. What a place that is! Full of stores that sell all kinds of beautiful packaging and boxes. I asked for a place to buy glass jars and got guided down to another market, just opposite the bustling Crawford building, and into a store that had pretty much everything you could look for as a cook. A few doors down, I found another store selling only glass jars. I thought it was a quick trip but the place was so surreal and the winded streets so exciting, I ended up spending a couple of hours there.

Now on to the actual food in those jars. For chocolate, I considered and rejected all sorts of hot fudge sauces. I figured the simplest of all chocolate sauces - a ganache - will be ideal for my friends to dip fruits in or just eat straight out of the jar. To make the ganache, chop 400 grams dark chocolate into small pieces. If you are in India, make sure you buy real/coverture chocolate and not chocolate compound. In a saucepan, mix 1 cup of cream (I used Amul which has 25% fat) with 1/4 cup sugar and a tsp of vanilla extract. Set to heat on a low flame. When the cream has warmed up, add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate all melts and forms a shiny sauce.

Now for the slightly scary one - the salted caramel sauce. I have actually gone from being totally scared of caramel a few years ago to the other extreme - I completely enjoy making caramel now. To start off this sauce, I measured out a cup of cream (the same Amul 25%) and put it in small saucepan. Added 50 grams of butter, a tsp of vanilla extract and 1 tsp salt, then heated everything slowly until the butter melted. Took the cream off the heat and put it aside.

Next, I put two cups of caster sugar in a large pan. To this, I added 1/2 tbsp. vinegar (essential to keep sugar from crystallising) and 1/3 cup water. Mixed everything so the sugar looked like wet mortar. At this point, put your spoon away because there will be no more stirring. I put the sugar to heat and waited. That's it, simply wait while the sugar melts and bubbles. Swirl it occasionally if you like but otherwise, just stand there and stare at the pan until the sugar turns amber. It will take several minutes so be patient. Don't go anywhere, don't answer the phone and don't be tempted by a quick peek at what's going on in the next room.

Once the sugar has turned an amber colour, turn off the heat and pour the cream in. Step back and watch while the caramel bubbles like crazy and it's all fun for a few minutes. You will also see the caramel get much darker on account of some scientific phenomenon that I don't fully understand. When the bubbling looks under control, stir the sauce and put the caramel back on the heat to cook for 2-3 minutes until everything is mixed in. Pour both sauces in jars, wait for them to cool, then close the lids and put them in the sparkliest, prettiest bags and boxes you can find. After all, Diwali isn't a time for restraint!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Baba Ghanoush


I have an almost automatic reaction to the word eggplant. Blame it on mushy baingan curries I saw growing up, but ask me if I want to eat a dish with eggplant and I won't even think a minute before I say no. The only exception to this rule, thus far, is the baingan bhartha. The smoky mashed eggplant curry filled with fried onions and tomatoes and garam masala has always been the solitary eggplant favourite of mine.

Now, it is time to add a second. I think it has got to do with smoking the eggplant but I instantly fell in love with baba ghanoush. Well, not maybe not instantly - I can remember many a middle eastern mezze platters where I inhaled all the hummus and tzatziki and let my friends finish the baba ghanoush. But I tried making it at home for the first time last week and I totally loved it. I think it helps that the recipe, texture and flavours are so close to my other favourite dip: hummus.

So whether you are an old baba ghanoush fan or have never tried it before, here's the super easy recipe for you to make. Take a medium sized eggplant, wash it and stab it a few times with a knife. Then pop the eggplant directly on the open flame on the gas stove. Keep the flame medium to low and turn every few minutes until the eggplant is charred and black all over. Let it cool, then peel the eggplant. Cut off the top (the crown) of the eggplant, separate the quarters and remove any large chunks of seeds that you spot. I must tell you that this 'removing the seeds' step is completely optional and only comes from my years of making baingan bhartha. Stack a strainer over a bowl. Put the now peeled and deseeded eggplant on the strainer and let it stay there for an hour or so until all the moisture drains off.

Put the eggplant in a blender alongwith the following ingredients for the dip:
- Tahini: opinions differ on whether tahini belongs in a baba ghanoush but I like the hummus like quality it gives the dip. Use 2 tbsp. for each eggplant
- Garlic: 1-2 cloves per eggplant. Peel and mince the garlic before adding it to the blender
- Lime: Juice of one lime (about a tbsp.) per eggplant
- Salt: Add 1/4-1/2 tsp to begin with. You can always adjust this later.
- Olive Oil: I used about 1/2 tbsp. but even upto a tbsp. is fine,

You need the run the blender for just a few seconds until everything gets mixed in and becomes a smooth, fluffy paste. Check the flavour and add more tahini/lemon/salt if you need to. Move the dip to a bowl and top with a swirl of olive oil. If you want to add a dash of colour, you can sprinkle some chilli powder or sumac on top of the bowl too. Serve alongside toasted bread. I know pita is traditional but I don't have it always and I eat baba ghanoush (as well as hummus) with everything from baguettes to multigrain toasts.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Healthy Couscous Salad



For the past month, I have been forced to take a hard look at my lifestyle choices. It's not that I haven't been keeping an eye on my sugar and fat intake all these years. But being the foodie that I am, it is easy to get distracted by a new restaurant, or yet another fabulous dessert. Alas, those options are starting to look like a distant pipedream.

But instead of giving up on eating out and exciting foods, here's what I am doing - being sensible! Yes, I order fewer milkshakes and lots more glasses of sparkling water with lime. But I am also creating some exciting new salads and soups and healthy dishes. This is one of those new experiments that make me almost excited about eating healthy.

The base of this salad is pearl couscous (also called Israeli couscous). Now that I am counting calories, I measured out 2 tbsp. of dried pasta and cooked it as per package directions. To the cooked, drained and now fluffy couscous grains, I added a handful of cooked chickpeas. I usually have cooked chickpeas hanging out in the fridge because I make hummus so often but this is a flexible salad, so you can add any canned or cooked beans you have handy.

This is also a season when all kinds of heirloom tomato varieties show up and one of them - the black tomatoes - were perfect additions to this salad. For flavour pickup, I added leaves of thai basil. Then instead of an oil heavy dressing, I sprinkled sea salt, pepper and sumac on the salad, then doused the whole thing with balsamic vinegar.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Making of a Caramel Macchiato



Now that I have perfected the art of making an espresso at home, I've been dabbling in fancier drinks. Starting with the one drink I always order at Starbucks - a caramel macchiato. At Starbucks, this is a layered drink that starts with a shot of vanilla syrup. They then fill the mug with hot steamed milk, add a shot of espresso and top with a drizzle of caramel.

The starting point of making this drink at home is the caramel drizzle. I used to be scared of making caramel but with this super easy sauce, I can make caramel in my sleep, with no thermometer whatsoever. You can make the drizzle as much as a week in advance but if you are anything like me, you will go back and eat it all by the spoonful so make it the same day or the day before at the earliest. If you want a professional drizzle, put the caramel sauce in a squeeze bottle while it's still warm. You can also forget all of the above and buy a bottle of caramel if burning sugar at home scares you.

Next step is to make an espresso. At the same time as my espresso was brewing on the stove, I put a cup of milk in a saucepan and put it on the stove to warm. When the milk started to simmer, I turned off the heat and used my milk foamer to make foamy steamed milk (its like a stick blender and works like magic with warm milk). Finally, since I was lacking in vanilla syrup, I took a tsp of vanilla essence and added it to the milk.

First went the vanilla milk in the cup. Then I poured a shot of espresso into the cup, trying to keep as much of the foam intact as I could. You need this foam of course to hold the caramel drizzle. As you can see, I did not have the presence of mind to use a squeeze bottle and drizzled the sauce with a spoon. So not as pretty as a Starbucks drink but it tasted pretty much the same. Much better in fact, because I used my favourite coffee beans.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stuffed Garlic Bread


A few years back, I successfully recreated Domino's garlic bread at home. Since then, several people have written to me saying they tried baking the bread and loved it. So when Domino's launched a new version that has become my favourite, I felt it's about time to recreate that one too.

The stuffed garlic bread at Domino's comes filled with cheese, corn and jalapenos (and that's why I made these pickled jalapenos). But the basic bread recipes remains the same. So first off, heat 1/2 cup water until it's warm but not hot. You can do it on the stovetop or microwave it for 15-20 seconds. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of active dry yeast and let proof for 5 minutes. By this time, the yeast will be bubbling. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and a cup of plain flour. Stir everything together until the flour is all blended in, then cover and let rise until doubled.

Once the dough has doubled in volume, add another 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp garlic powder. Knead for around 5 minutes until you have a smooth dough. Resist the temptation to add more flour as you knead it, you want the dough to be quite wet. Move the dough to a new container and let it rise again until doubled.

After about 40 minutes, preheat your oven to as high as it goes. Lightly flour your counter and roll out the dough into a circle as thin as you can. Grate cheddar cheese (or what commonly sells as pizza cheese) and spread about 1/2 cup evenly over one half of the rolled dough, leaving at least 1/2 inch border cheese-free. Sprinkle 1/4 cup boiled corn kernels over the cheese and add 5-6 jalapeno rings. Fold the other half over the cheese stuffing and press the ends to create a closed pocket.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush the paper with olive oil. Transfer the garlic bread to this parchment lined baking sheet. Brush olive oil on top and cut into strips with a pizza cutter. Bake until browned on top, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with dried oregano just as it comes out of the oven. Wait a few minutes before eating as the cheese filling will be very hot.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Quick Pickled Jalapeños


Even though I am not a big fan of chilli, I like the mildly spicy, tangy flavour of pickled jalapeños. But have you ever tried buying a jar of those. The last couple of jars I bought, the jalapeños were several months old and kinda mushy. Plus every commercial pickle out there has some added sugar and I was looking for something with just salt and vinegar so I decided to make my own.

Most recipes I found on the net had sugar, but I finally settled on this quick and easy recipe by Valerie. As this happens to be my first pickling experiment, I started with only 3 jalapenos. The first step is to cut these chillis. Wash and wipe the jalapenos. Then chop the stem off and slice into thin rings. Make sure to wash the knife and your hands right after. And whatever you do, don't touch your face or eyes while you are chopping.

Put the jalapenos aside and mix up your pickling liquid. Mix 1/2 cup water with 1/4 cup vinegar. I used normal white vinegar but you can use rice vinegar or white wine vinegar as Valerie suggests. To this, add 1/2 tbsp. salt, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds and a peeled clove of garlic. Stir until the salt dissolves. Pack the jalapenos into a glass jar (and wash your hands again! with soap!). Pour over the liquid to cover the jalapeno rings and pop into the fridge.

I made this 3-4 days back. The jalapenos were ready to eat after 24 hours but the flavours are much better after a couple of days. These aren't your traditional canned goods so I am not sure how long they will last in the fridge. My batch is small enough that I expect them to be gone in a couple of weeks.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Espresso



Fifteen years back, when the first chain of coffee shops opened in India, customers were understandably puzzled by the espresso that showed up on the menus. Until then, expresso (notice the different spelling) referred to a small, drum like machine that spewed out foamy, milky Nescafe coffees. Expresso stalls were de rigueur at weddings and in winters in Northern India, you could pick a styrofoam cup of steaming coffee in neighbourhood markets.

Espresso on the other hand is everything that's good with Italian coffee. By forcing a small amount of water with a lot of pressure through ground coffee beans, you get deep, dark coffee flavours crowned with a lighter foam called crema. Making good espresso requires a combination of sophisticated equipment and barista skills, which means that it remains a drink more suited for cafes than home brewing.

I am firmly in the sweet, milky coffee camp so while I don't relish espresso per se, I am a big fan of cappuccinos and lattes that are based on a good espresso. Now home espresso machines abound but they are never going to match the café quality. Instead, the way to get good espresso at home is something much simpler - a stovetop moka pot. The process is no harder than making a filter coffee. The moka pot comes in three parts. You fill the bottom container with water, fix the little perforated disc and fill it with coffee and finally, fix the top container and put the pot back together. This goes on the stove on a medium flame and five minutes later, the top container is filled with coffee.

My moka pot was crafted by Bialetti and it made the trek all the way from Italy to US and then through a friend visiting India, to all the way home. Before I could get that coffee though, and before you make your first cup of espresso with a moka pot, there is seasoning to do. To take the edge off fresh metal that will make the espresso bitter, you make 4-5 fake cups of coffee. I mean, they are real cups of coffee, except you don't drink them. Make, throw, rinse, repeat for the first four times and the fifth cup of espresso is all yours. You don't get much of a crema but the espresso compares with the best out there.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Memories of a Risotto




Goa is a funny place. With so many beaches and resorts, you would think it would be all calm and serene. But every time I head out there, I find myself in the middle of one big party. Now I'm usually the one to tag along with the group to whichever nightlife spot they are headed to, but I find it much harder to find food I can enjoy. After all, all the beach shacks are equipped to cook and sell seafood and a vegetarian dish is a rarity in Goan cuisine. So on one of the trips to Goa, I found myself in an Italian restaurant called Italie, just down the road from Baga Beach (it's now closed and has been replaced with a Russian restaurant). The hour was late, I was hungry and a tomato risotto seemed like a logical choice. It was the kind of comfort food that lingers in your memory long after you are back from the trip and finally, last night, I decided to recreate it.


The starting point was the tomato sauce I made a few days back. In addition to measuring out half a cup of tomato sauce, I defrosted a cup and a half of mushroom stock (but water will do if you don't have any stock at hand). I also roughly chopped 7-8 pitted olives and cut about 50 grams of mozzarella into cubes.


First step, heat the stock or water in a saucepan until it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and leave it to simmer. In another pan, heat a tbsp. of  olive oil. Add 1/2 cup Arborio rice and stir until the oil coats the rice. Now add the tomato sauce and mix well with the rice. Next, add enough stock to cover the rice. In a few minutes, once some of the stock has evaporated and you can see the rice again, add more stock. Keep adding the stock gradually until the rice is cooked though but still has a bite to it. Add the olives and the cubed cheese and let cook for another couple of minutes. Top with parmesan cheese when serving.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pao Bhaji Toasties



There is a new trend in Mumbai restaurants. Everyone is reinventing street food, putting their own twists and turns on age old favourites. "The Spare Kitchen" serves a Chowpatty platter that has some beautifully presented vada pao, bhelpuri and pani puri shots. "Masala Library" is putting a molecular twist on sev puri. My favourite reinventions so far are in the Juhu open air pub - Copa. Their ragda pattice redux is delicious and I have become a big fan of their pao bhaji toasties. But delicious as they are, these toasties come slathered with a huge quantity of butter so I tried making a healthier, yet equally delicious version at home.

First, you make pao bhaji. Next, you take two slices of whole wheat or multi grain bread. I am using a ciabatta here. Apply ghee or butter on one side of both slices of bread, as sparsely as you can. Spread a layer of pao bhaji on the unbuttered side of one of the bread slices. Next, grab a handful of arugula and cut it into thin strips with scissors. Arrange on the pao bhaji. Also take a small onion and dice it into small pieces. Sprinkle the onion all over the pao bhaji/arugula. Now if it was a real pao bhaji, you will add some lime juice before you eat it. In this case, grab a tsp of balsamic vinegar and sprinkle it over your sandwich. Top with the second slice of bread, buttered side up.

You can toast this in a Panini grill if you have one. If you don't (like me), what you do is heat up a flat griddle - a tawa - and reduce the heat to very low. Put your sandwich on the griddle and cover with a plate or a lid, pressing down a bit. A couple of minutes later, flip and cook the other side. Repeat until both sides are crisp and browned.

I serve this with some more arugula, parmesan and even more balsamic poured on the salad.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Holy Grail Tomato Sauce


A good tomato sauce is really handy to have around. It's obviously great for mixing in pastas and topping pizzas but once you have a batch in the fridge, you will be surprised at how many other uses come up. Like sandwiches, or eggs, or even a quick sauté of vegetables. I have come across many tomato sauce recipes in my life. And on at least three occasions, I have proclaimed a particular recipe to be the best so far. But this particular tomato sauce beats all of those hands down. In fact, this is so good that you should make it right now.

Start off with 4-6 tomatoes. Wash them and cut them into quarters. With a paring knife, take out the seeds - try and get as many as you can but don't kill yourself trying to get to every last seed. Also grab 3-4 cloves of garlic and peel them. Heat a non stick pan that is large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the pan and swirl it around so it coats the base. Arrange the tomatoes on the pan and also throw in the peeled garlic. When the tomatoes start to char, turn them around one at a time and cook the other side as well until you see black roast marks on all your tomato pieces.

Let the tomatoes cool a bit, then take the skins off - at this stage, you don't really need to peel them. Just grab one end and the skin will skip right off. Pop the tomatoes and the garlic in a blender. To add to the tomato flavour, add 2 tbsp. of tomato paste/puree. Also add in a tsp of dried oregano and another tsp of dried basil, a swig (possibly a tbsp. but I didn't measure) of rice wine vinegar and salt to taste. Blend everything until it is of a consistency you like.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cute as a Button




I am not a big fan of peppers. But walking down the vegetable market last week, I saw this guy with a basket full of small chilli peppers. On second glance, they turned out to be not chillies but miniature versions of bell peppers. And they looked too cute to pass up so I bought myself a mixed bag of red and yellow peppers. Without any idea whatsoever on what to make of them.


Since the peppers were really tiny, I thought I'd keep them whole and bake them. So first off, I washed the peppers and cut the tops off. Using a small knife, I removed the seeds and hollowed out the peppers. I then brushed the outside of the peppers with olive oil. Next up - the stuffing. It's made by mixing up 1/4 cup paneer (you can also use ricotta) and 1/4 cup grated cheddar. To the cheese mix, I added fresh ground pepper and a generous helping of dry oregano. You should check the mix at this stage to see if it needs any salt. You will need only a tiny amount of filling for each pepper - use a small spoon to press it in to make sure if reaches all the little nooks and cranies.


I arranged the stuffed peppers on a non-stick baking sheet and let bake at 200C until the peppers were soft and the cheese was all melted and gooey. They make a great appetizer but be careful when eating them straight off the oven - best to let them cool off a bit first!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Peaches and Cream



June is my favourite month to live in Bombay. That's when all the stone fruits show up at the same time. So whether you like eating fruits as is or baking them into pies and crumbles, you are spoilt for choice with plums, peaches, cherries, litchis and apricots. This year, with the monsoons getting delayed, we are getting all the goodies right into July. And the weather's just perfect to turn them into warm crumbles.

One trouble I've had with baking crumbles in the past has been all the liquid in the fruit that seeps up and makes the crust soggy. So I decided to try this new experiment. I baked the fruit and the crumble layers separately.

For the peach layer, select 2 ripe peaches. Heat half a saucepan of water until it is boiling. Pop the peaches in water for about 15-20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and use a knife to peel the skin. It should slip off nicely. Cut the peeled peaches into half, remove the stone and dice into small cubes. Put the peaches in an ovenproof dish and add 2 tbsp sugar, 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon.

In another bowl, mix 1/2 cup oats, 1/3 cup plain flour, 1/3 cup sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Cut 40 grams butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the crumble topping on the tray in a thin, even layer.

Heat the oven to 180C. Bake both the peaches and the crumble topping in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the crumble topping is a golden brown in colour. You may have to stir the crumble topping once midway to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

To serve, fill 1/3rd a glass or ramekin with peaches. Sprinkle crumble topping to come upto 2/3rd of the glass. You can then top off with whipped cream but I was in a healthy mood and went with a dollop of greek yogurt instead.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Beetroot Risotto


I often take cooking inspiration from restaurant dishes. Sometimes I eat a great dish and instantly find a way to recreate it at home. Other times, the memory stays at the back of my head for months until I find the right way to cook that meal again. One such memory was a beetroot risotto I ate at Heston's The Fat Duck. In true mad science way, Heston's risotto is covered with a radish carpaccio and topped with beet chips and frozen sour cream pellets. I knew I would never replicate that, but I wanted to bring the deep pink of a beet to my risotto.

For my take on the beet risotto, I first peeled a small beet and roughly chopped it in cubes. Boiled it until it was cooked through. This cooked beet went into a blender alongwith a cup of water, a hearty pinch of salt and a handful of fresh thyme leaves. Once everything was combined into a thick puree, I added another 1 1/2 cups of water to create a thin beet stock. Since the stock needs to be warm while you are cooking risotto, I poured the stock into a saucepan and set it to simmer.

In another pan, I heated a tbsp. of olive oil. In went half a cup of Arborio rice, which I stirred around until the rice was coated with oil. A couple of minutes later, I added a glug of red wine and when this evaporated, enough beet stock to cover the rice. From here on, you add stock gradually whenever the earlier addition looks like it's about to evaporate. Keep adding more stock until the rice is cooked but still has a bite to it. At this point, take the risotto off the heat and stir in a tbsp. of butter and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese.

I topped the risotto with some crumbled goat's cheese. At this point, I felt that my dish needed some crunch. Roasted walnuts would have been great but I didn't have any on hand. What I did have were some roasted fava beans and I crushed and sprinkled them on for effect. Which turned out to be a brilliant move, the crisp beans forming a perfect pairing with the creamy risotto and cheese.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Food Challenge from Home




One of the most fun things about the blogging world is all the contests and challenges that only blogging insiders know about and participate in. Back when I was a more enthusiastic blogger, I’ve participated in everything from microwave cooking challenges to the very scary daring bakers. For a while, I even ran a challenge of my own. But somewhere along the line, I got lazy and it’s been more than a few months that I have cooked for a challenge, let alone hosted one.

One of my favourites, back when I used to do these events, was the Indian Cooking Challenge run by my oldest friend in the blogging world – Srivalli. I’ve contributed my mum’s recipes for a couple of challenges in the past. Then, last month, Srivalli decided to throw a challenge of her own that comes all the way from home. It was Amritsari Kulcha and lazy or not, this is one challenge I was determined to participate in. So even though it’s a month late, I did create the Amritsari Kulchas.

Kulchas are stuffed flatbreads made with plain flour rather than the whole wheat flour that goes into other Indian breads. They come stuffed with potatoes and loaded with tons of butter, and are cooked in our version of the oven – the tandoor – rather than on a flat griddle. In Amritsar, kulchas are both a mealtime favourite and a much loved tradition so I was quite curious to try out Srivalli’s version of the recipe.

Srivalli’s recipe for the dough, with both baking powder and baking soda, felt unfamiliar but she said this gives a really soft dough so I went along with it. For the filling though, I stuck to my mom’s potato stuffing as that’s the one recipe I’ve seen her make all my life and that's the only one that works for me. I cooked the kulcha, just like Srivalli did, in a pan rather than a tandoor. And just as promised, the kulchas were real soft and puffed beautifully.

So were they as good as the kulchas sold in Amritsar. Hard to say – they were softer and the ones I am used to are crisp and crackly. And I find myself favoring the tastes and textures I grew up with in such instances. They made for a wonderful lunch though!



Thursday, April 3, 2014

Greek Goddess Dip



One of my favourite pastimes is walking down supermarket aisles, just exploring the foods and flavours you can cook with. A special favourite of mine is recently opened Foodhall in Lower Parel's Pheonix Mills. The name is clearly borrowed from Harrods and just like its London counterpart, Foodhall boasts of hard to find, delicious goodies from around the world.

They also have in house chefs who bake and cook stuff you can take away. I always try the new things they have out to taste. On last trip, I encountered something called the greek goddess dip. I instantly liked the tangy, salty blend of flavours. The chef, who was standing right there with his creations, listed out some of the ingredients that went into the dip. It's taken me a couple of weeks and a few tries but I finally have something fairly close to what they make at Foodhall.

You need Greek yogurt for this (hence the name) but since you can't find it easily in India, put a cup of normal curd in a cheescloth and hang over a bowl until the water drains off. Scrape out the thick yogurt into a bowl. Add 100 grams of feta cheese and with a fork, mix the two together until you have a smooth mix. Add juice of half a lime to up the tanginess. Take a large handful of cilantro leaves and chop finely, then mix those in as well. There is no need to add any salt since feta has enough of it already but some freshly ground pepper will be a nice addition.

I love this with crunchy lavash but you can also go for healthier options and serve this alongside carrots and cucumber sticks.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Perfect Hummus




One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was on how to make hummus. Six years on, nothing much has changed. Hummus paired with pita bread or with crispy lavash remains my favourite snack. Add a salad or a couple of falafels and we're talking about a regular dinnertime occurence.

One thing has changed though. Tahini, the sesame seed paste essential to hummus recipes, was impossible to find in India then so I wrote of a makeshift recipe. Middle Eastern foods have since become much easier to source so it's high time we talked about a proper hummus recipe.

At least 12 hours before you make hummus (usually the night before), soak 1/3 cup chickpeas in 2 cups of water. The next morning, boil chickpeas in a pressure cooker until they are very soft. You should have around a cup of cooked chickpeas. Put them in a blender alongwith 3 cloves of peeled and minced garlic, 2 tbsp tahini paste, 1 tsp lime juice (half a lime should do), 2 tbsp olive oil and a hearty pinch of salt. Blend into a smooth paste. Taste and add more olive oil or lemon or salt until you get a perfect tasting hummus.

Scrape into a bowl, pour some more olive oil on top and if you like, sprinkle with sumac.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chips and Dips




The other day, I was making a list of my favourite comfort foods. It surprised me to see how many of those involved a crunchy carb paired with something soft and gooey. In short, a chip and a dip. So in this brand new series, let's talk about my favourite chip and dip pairings.

The top of this list will always be guacamole. In London, I made many a meal of nachos and guacamole, on other days it was potato chips and guac. I even had this farmer in borough market who would sell a whole basket of avocados for a pound, thus ensuring a whole week of guacamole meals.

Good avocados are harder to find in mumbai but I never pass one by. So whether you are an old fan or someone who is yet to be converted, go look for ripe avocados and make yourself a batch.

The only secret to good guacamole is good avocados. When shopping, look for the ones that are soft when pressed. The hard ones take weeks to ripen and some never do.
Before you cut open your avocado, get all your ingredients ready. For each avocado, finely chop a small onion. Tear leafs off 4-5 sprigs of cilantro and chop those too. Juice half a lemon. I don't eat chilli but it's traditional to add finely minced jalepeno chilli to guacamole and you should probably do that.

Now back to the avocado. Split it in half, remove the seed and scoop out the flesh. Pour lemon juice immediately to prevent any darkening. Mash the avocado roughly, then add all the other ingredients plus a pinch of salt and mix well. I prefer to leave it chunky but you can mash it even finer if that's your preference.

All done now, so grab that bag of nachos. A word of warning - guacamole will get dark if you leave it lying around so only make as much as you are likely to eat in the next hour or so.