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 Originally made as a summer dessert, this is festive enough to bring in the new year.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.