August 31, 2008

Chocolate Éclairs With Eggless Orange Cardamom and Mocha Pastry Creams: Daring Bakers Challenge August 2008

Its another Daring Bakers challenge and this time its something French. Our hosts this month, Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? and Tony of Tony Tahhan set us to bake some chocolate éclairs from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé. Éclairs are made from baked choux pastry, filled with pastry cream and decorated on top with a chocolate glaze or ganache (I’m sure there are few of us who need this explanation). And for the first time since I joined the Daring Bakers, I really didn’t have any problems with the challenge. Everything turned out just right. I almost couldn’t believe it!
Another first for me. I know what chocolate éclairs are and have seen them decorating the shelves in many a bakery. But I have never eaten one before this challenge. As odd as this seems, I really don’t like cake or confectionery filled or decorated with cream or frosting/ icing and such sweet stuff. I have found the home-made versions of these quite nice, but even then I limit myself to small portions.




Before I proceed, I have to mention that my home computer succumbed to a viral infection and had to be taken to the doctor. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t backed up my pictures so they’re all on my machine and I am posting only the two pictures I had put up at the Daring Bakers forum. The good news is that my computer has recovered and will be coming back home tomorrow and I shall add other pictures to this post then. If there is anyone out there who hasn’t backed up their pictures (I have backed up my posts and have learnt my lesson well), then this is the time to do so.
Update (1st September, 2008): My computer is back and I have updated this post with more pictures.

A printable version of the recipe can be found here.




My French Éclair Experience:

Éclairs consist of three elements- the Pate a Choux or Choux/ Cream Puff pastry, the pastry cream and a chocolate glaze. For this challenge, we were to follow the Choux pastry recipe but were allowed to get creative with the pastry cream and glaze/ ganache as we retained one chocolate element in either.

Cream Puff Dough:

After hearing that many fellow DBs felt their Choux pastry had an “eggy” taste, I reduced 1 egg. This was partially also because of health reasons and partially due to the fact that the éclairs would have no takers. The Choux pastry was easy to make. The only problem was with piping them out.



I really did not have any idea as to how much they would puff up so I ended up piping out rather mini-sized éclairs and some profiteroles as well. I have a table top convection oven so I baked the éclairs and profiteroles at 190C for 25 minutes straight (they needed this long to brown) and then made small slits on the side as soon as they came out of the oven, to release the steam.



They did puff up really well with a huge empty pocket in each. I was quite thrilled to see that they came out well. Unfortunately, it was in the middle of the monsoons here and humidity is pretty high, so the profiteroles started becoming soft after a while. Looks the weather here is never appropriate for the month’s challenge. Usually I battle with weepy buttercreams because of the warm tropical temperatures!




Chocolate Pastry Cream:

Since we were allowed to experiment here (and given the number of eggs that went into the Choux), I decided to try making eggless pastry creams. Being new to this, I searched the net for a good recipe but found only vegan versions, most of which used alternative ingredients not available here. So I came up with a recipe of my own. Nothing extraordinary, I just used the recipe provided and added some cornstarch and left out the eggs. I made a mocha version and an orange version.




Eggless Mocha Pastry Cream:


Ingredients:

1 cup + 3 tbsp milk

3 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp cornstarch

½ cup chopped up bittersweet chocolate

1 ½ tbsp salted butter

3 tsp instant coffee powder dissolved in 2 tsp milk


Eggless Orange Cardamom Pastry Cream:


Ingredients:

1 cup + 3 tbsp milk

3 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp cornstarch

½ cup chopped up white chocolate

1 ½ tbsp salted butter

3 tsp orange rind

1tsp orange essence

½ tsp powdered cardamom


Method:

In the case of both the pastry creams, melt the chocolate and butter in a pan over hot water. In another pan, dissolve the sugar in the milk (and coffee for the mocha version) and bring to boil. Take the milk mixture off the heat. Add the melted chocolate and the corn starch dissolved in 3 tbsp of milk. Whisk well till everything is blended. Add the remaining ingredients and put back on the stove and keep whisking till the pastry cream thickens. Cool and refrigerate till needed. This pastry cream pipes well.

Chocolate Glaze:

I used the recipe given, with the chocolate sauce, but halved the quantity and used 25% fat cream instead of heavy cream which is not available here.

Assembling the éclairs:

No problems here, just followed the instructions. It was when I was piping the pastry cream into the éclairs that I realized that the cavities inside them can hold a whole lot of pastry cream!




I used a chocolate glaze for the orange cardamom pastry cream filled ones and a white chocolate glaze for those filled with mocha pastry cream. I just lightly dusted the filled profiteroles with powdered sugar. You can see my profiteroles have become a bit soft due to the humidity.

Verdict:

Ok, so I can make a good Choux pastry now, and without getting the “Choux on my shoes” as Alton Brown would say! I also have a recipe for Eggless Pastry cream now. Not bad, I guess.

Despite reducing one egg, we still got an “eggy” taste and smell from the éclairs, though the”eggy” taste did diminish a bit after filling the éclairs. So I don’t think I would make these, unless I can find an eggless recipe or one that uses maybe 1 egg, but I guess then it wouldn’t be quite a Choux pastry.

Personally, even then, I’m not sure I would be able to manage the amount of pastry cream that goes into each even with the temptation of the chocolate. But I’m sure my husband and daughter would definitely be ready to try the eggless version. I’m going to be checking the eggless versions that our alternative/ vegan Daring Bakers would have come up with.

I have to thank Meeta and Tony for expanding my baking repertoire with this challenge; after all, I am a Choux Pastry maker now! Do step across to my fellow Daring Bakers blogs to see some very creatively presented Eclairs and keep watching for what we’re going to be baking next month. See you all then.


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Multi-Wholegrain Flour Bread

I recently bought the Tassajara Bread Book and was going through it when I saw variations of their basic bread recipe using various flour combinations. So I got a little adventurous and decided to experiment with some wholegrain flours I had in my kitchen while following the basic recipe from the book. I was very pleasantly surprised with the results.




My bread was surprisingly soft and crumby with a soft crust. I say “surprisingly” because I thought the flours I used would give me a very dense bread. Here’s my recipe.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp active dry yeast

1 tbsp honey

1 ¼ cup warm water

2 ½ cup wholewheat flour

½ cup corn meal

½ cup oats

1 tbsp amaranth flour (rajgire atta)

1 tbsp soya flour

2 tbsp skim milk powder

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tbsp oil

sesame seeds or nigella seeds for topping (optional)


Method:

In a big vessel, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the honey and 1 cup (of the 2 ½ cups) of wholewheat flour and mix well to form a thick batter. Now beat the batter well, using a wooden spoon. The book says 100 strokes but I must have done about 40 or so. Cover this and allow it to rise for about 45 minutes.

Now add the salt, oil, remaining wholewheat flour (keep aside 2 tbsps for dusting when kneading the dough), the other flours and milk powder. Add enough water to make a dough that is firm. I did this part in my food processor. Then tip out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead by hand, adding a tsp of water at a time until the dough is smooth and just beginning to feel a little sticky.

Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to this, cover and allow to rise till double. I had to go out at this point, so I kept it in the fridge and took it out after about 5 hours, by which time it had risen perfectly. It should take about an hour or so, if kept outside at room temperature. Of course, I live in a warmer climate! The book recommends two rises, but I did it only once. Please keep it for the second rise if you prefer, I shall the next time I bake this bread. After the rise, lightly press down the dough and shape into loaves and/ or rolls. I divided the dough into two halves (approximately) and made one small loaf and 6 rolls.

Lightly oil your loaf tin and muffin tins (for the rolls). Put the shaped dough into these and allow to rise for about 25 minutes. You can brush the tops with egg wash. I used milk and sprinkled the top of my loaf with white sesame seeds and the rolls with nigella (kalonji) seeds .




Bake the loaf at 180C for about 50 minutes to an hour and the rolls for 30 to 35 minutes till they’re golden brown. Remove and cool on a rack. This bread is very nice when warm and best eaten the same day. It tends to dry out and become a bit hard the next day.

Even though I did not make this bread with BBD in mind, since it fits in with the theme of “100% Wholegrains”, I’m sending this over to Jude of Apple Pie, Patis and Pate.

I’m also sending this to Sia at Monsoon Spice who is hosting Indira’s JFI this month where the theme is “Soya”. I’m sure this is not quite what Sia had in mind when she announced the theme, but I’m hoping she will accept this bread because it does have a bit of soya flour in it.


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August 30, 2008

Vellayaappam (Lacy Yeasted Rice Pancakes) And A Mixed Vegetable Stew (In Coconut Milk)

Printable version here.


Vellayaappam and Stew (usually a Potato Stew which is locally referred to as “Ishtoo”) is a favourite combination for breakfast in Kerala. It is also one of our favourite Sunday breakfasts and occasionally makes it to our dinner table as well. While I usually make the potato stew to serve with the vellayaappam, I sometimes used a combination of mixed vegetables in the stew just for a change.




Vellayaappam is a leavened rice and coconut/ coconut milk pancake and the traditional leavening agent is toddy tapped from the coconut trees, which are plentiful in Kerala. Since any form of alcohol never makes an appearance in our homes, yeast is the choice of leavening in this recipe. The yeast (or coconut toddy) and the special pan, called an “Aappachatti”, in which the pancakes are cooked result in a spongy centred pancake with a beautiful lacy and crisp edge. By the way, the “vella” in the Vellayaappam means white while “aappam refers to any spongy steamed (and sometimes fried) preparation made from a batter where rice is the main ingredient.



The Aappachatti (meaning vessel for cooking the Aappam) is a small wok-like pan with a lid and non-stick versions are available today, so making these pancakes is easy with a bit of practice.




Ingredients:

For the Vellayaappam:


1 1/2 cups raw rice

1 1/2 tsp dry active yeast

2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup of coconut water (plain water)

1 1/2 tbsp cooked rice

1/2 tsp salt

About 1/2 cup thick coconut milk or 1/2 cup packed freshly grated coconut



Method:

If you are preparing these pancakes for breakfast, the preparation has to be done the previous night. Soak the raw rice in water for about 3 hours. Drain and keep aside. Then dissolve the yeast and sugar in the coconut water or plain water (at room temperature) and allow the mixture to froth (about 10 to 15 minutes). Now grind drained rice to a smooth batter using the yeast mixture. If you are using freshly grated coconut instead of coconut milk, then add to the batter and grind well. Add enough water to make grinding comfortable but ensure the batter is on the thicker side, consistency-wise. When the batter is almost done, add the cooked rice and grind well so everything is blended.

Pour the batter into a vessel, cover, and allow it to ferment overnight. Next morning, add the coconut milk (if using this, otherwise use water or a mixture of water and milk), salt and some water, if necessary, to dilute the batter to a somewhat thin batter (a little thicker than milk).

Heat the “aappachatti” (mine is non-stick), put a few drops of oil into it and wipe using paper towel so that a thin film of oil remains in the vessel. Turn the heat down to low and pour a small ladle of the batter (about 3 to 4 tbsp in quantity) in the middle of the pan. Now hold the pan by its ears/ handles, lift it off the stovetop and tilt the “aappachatti” in a cicular motion so that the batter is spread all over the pan, just short of the edges. Put the pan back on the stovetop. The excess batter will settle back in the centre of the pan creating a thick middle and thin lacy edges to the pancake. Now cover the pan and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. All this has to be done very quickly as the batter cooks very fast.

After a couple of minutes lift the lid. The centre should have cooked and puffed up a bit. If not, cover and cook for another minute taking care that the edges do not brown. Using a thin spatula, dislodge the pancake and remove. Repeat with the remaining batter and use it up.

Serve these Vellayaappams hot with the stew. They don’t taste too good cold. This batter should make about 15.


Mixed Vegetable Stew:

As I mentioned before, I’m using mixed vegetables here. If you wish to make the Potato Stew, just substitute the vegetables with potatoes and the rest of the recipe is the same.




Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups diced mixed vegetables (I used potatoes, green peas, French beans, carrots and sweet corn)

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 tsp oil

1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds

2 tsp minced ginger

2 or 3 green chillies, slit lengthwise

1 sprig curry leaves

4 cloves

3 pods cardamom

1 1/2” piece cinnamon

3/4 cup coconut

1 tsp rice flour

salt to taste


Method:

I usually cook the vegetables in the microwave. I MW them at 100% for about 8 minutes. Otherwise, cook them as below.

Heat the oil, and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter add the cardamom (split the pod open and add whole), cloves and cinnamon (broken smaller). Stir twice and then add the ginger, chillies and onions and sauté till the onions are translucent. Add the vegetables and curry leaves and a cup of water and the salt. Bring to boil. If using uncooked vegetables, turn down the heat and allow them to cook till soft but not mushy. Otherwise, simmer for about five minutes.

Mix the rice flour in the coconut milk and add to the vegetables mixing quickly. The rice flour thickens the gravy and ensures the coconut milk does not split. Turn down the heat and once it starts boiling, take it off the heat. The stew should now be a slightly thick coconut milk gravy with vegetables in it.

This serves three very comfortably.



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August 29, 2008

Jowar Roti (A Indian Sorghum Flatbread)

Printable version here.

The past week has been quite eventful for me. It all started on last Friday night. We were having guests for dinner on Saturday and it was my husband’s birthday on Sunday. I had planned to make a Black Forest cake (a favourite of his) but that story will keep for another post.

I was getting our dinner together on Friday night when a bee flew in through the kitchen window (yes, at night) and stung me on my upper eyelid. It took two visits to the doctor, an injection and some medication to get rid of the pain and swelling in my eye! The dinner guests were taken care of as my husband pitched in with the cooking and washing up.

That’s when our home computer succumbed to a viral infection and is now getting checked out by its doctor. Hope fully it shall recover by this weekend or else I’m in trouble. I might end up losing a lot of my pictures (don’t ask what I was doing by not backing them up) and am just hoping those guys looking into the computer will be able to recover everything for me. So I might not be making it to all your blogs very regularly till our machine comes home.

Today’s post is a Bread Baking Day post. This is one event I try not to miss and this month is no exception. This month’s BBD #13 is being hosted by Jude of Apple Pie, Patis and Pate and the theme is “100% Wholegrains”, so no refined flours but only whole grain flour to be used in baking bread. Other than whole wheat flour and oats, I’ve never tried using any other such flour in bread. A popular whole grain flour suggested in many bread books is rye, but this is not available here. I couldn’t really decide on what to bake when it struck me that a lot of our Indian flatbreads (such as rotis and bhakris) are made with whole grain flours like bajra (pearl millet), ragi (finger millet) and jowar (a type of sorghum) to mention a few.



Jowar Roti is an unleavened Indian flatbread which is made from Jowar, a grain similar to Sorghum. The flour is gluten-free and so making these rotis (chapattis) is not as easy as making whole wheat rotis/ chapattis. Despite not containing gluten, Jowar rotis are quite soft and have a somewhat nutty flavor. Traditionally, eaten for lunch or dinner with a dollop of unsalted home-made butter and garlic chutney, these rotis can be served with any vegetable “curry” or subzi.




Ingredients:

2 cups Jowar flour (atta)

3 cups of water

½ tsp salt


Method:

Pour the 3 cups of water into a pan, add the salt and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat. Add the flour to the water and mix well with a spoon till the flour absorbs all the water and comes together as a ball of dough. Allow this to cool enough to be handled comfortably. Tip the dough onto your worksurface or a large plate and knead the dough by hand till soft and smooth (about 3 to 5 minutes).

Divide the dough into 15 balls. If the dough is sticky, lightly wet your hands with water before forming the dough into balls. Traditionally, these balls are flattened using wet fingers into very thin rounds, but this is a practiced art.

Instead, cut a piece of aluminium foil about 9” by 9”. Lightly grease the surface of the foil with a few drops of oil. Place this on your work surface and roll a ball of dough on the greased foil, using a rolling pin, into a round approximately 6” in diameter. Dust very lightly with some Jowar flour, if needed, while rolling out the dough. Keep the other balls of dough covered during this time.

Heat an iron griddle or non-stick pan. When hot enough, turn the heat down to medium. Place the foil with the rolled out dough on your left palm with the dough side facing down. Using your right hand, slowly peel off the foil so that the roti is resting on your left palm. Now flip the roti onto the griddle or pan. Sprinkle or spray the top of the cooking roti (this is done only on one side of each roti) to just moisten it.

When the roti looks cooked and starts developing brownish spots, turn it over so the other side can cook. Fold a clean kitchen towel into a pad and using this press down on the roti in short intervals, along the circumference and the middle. This ensures that the roti puffs up and also cooks well. This can be uncomfortably hot work if you are not used to it. You may do this using a spatula with a long handle.

Once the other side is also cooked, remove and keep aside. Repeat with the balls of dough. You may brush the top of each roti with unsalted butter or ghee (clarified butter). If served very hot, the butter or ghee can be avoided.
I have served these rotis with Tomato Chutney and also Oil-free Kabuli Channa.

This recipe makes about 15 Jowar rotis.

Do check out what's been baking at The World In Our Oven.

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August 25, 2008

CLICK: August 2008 – Citrus, A Mixed Vegetable Xacuti and Some Spring Onion Pancakes.

This is a post with one picture post and two recipe posts. Since all three are related in some way to Jugalbandi, they’re all under one header in one post.
First the matter of CLICK, the monthly photography theme is event. This month’s “Citrus” and this picture is my submission for the event.


Unravelled?

I was peeling an orange to decorate my chocolate mousse when inspiration struck me! How great, I’m not sure. But if someone else would have taken a picture of me (in the middle of the chocolate mousse-making mess, half peeled orange and a camera in hand) trying very hard to take the perfect(?) orange picture, it would definitely have had everyone in splits.

Mixed Vegetable Xacuti:

Zlamushka’s Tried and Tasted event is featuring Bee and Jai’s blog this month. Their blog, Jugalbandi, showcases their unique style of writing (whether about food or in general), their exotic garden produce and beautiful photography. If you haven’t seen the blog, then please go over and take a look and you won’t be disappointed.

They have an interesting variety of recipes but what caught my eye was the Xacuti. Xacuti is essentially a non vegetarian dish that Goa is famous for. Bee’s vegetarian version was just right for me. After doing some research, on the net and otherwise, I made a few changes and cooked up this version of a vegetarian Xacuti.We had it with Basmati rice. Each household/ recipe has its own version of the combination and amounts of ingredients that go into making the spice paste for Xacuti.




Bee used cauliflower and potatoes while I used a mixture of vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, some frozen peas and potatoes). My version can be found here.

Verdict:

It was good and tasted a lot like the vegetarian versions served at some of the better restaurants here. To describe it, I would say it tastes a lot like a Vegetable Kurma with a greater variety of spices. We think it would taste best served with rice based preparations like Idiyappam or Vellayappam.


Spring Onion Pancakes:

Bee's Spring Onion Pancakes was another recipe I had bookmarked to try out from Jugalbandi, as the idea of savoury pancakes appeals to me. I made some changes to this one too (I find it difficult to resist tweaking recipes!:D), to suit our taste.
I added some cornmeal, a tbsp of wheat bran, some mustard, asafetida and curry leaves to the pancake mixture. My versioncan be found here.



Verdict:

These pancakes made a tasty and filling breakfast, served with a spicy coconut chutney or powdered jaggery. You could try it with honey too, if you feel a pancake needs a sweet element to be perfect.

These two recipes are going over to be a part of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen for this month's Tried and Tasted.

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August 23, 2008

Eggless Dark Chocolate and Orange Mousse

Printable version here.

The three of us love chocolate and I really cannot think of a better way to celebrate anything, food wise, than with chocolate. August is a month of celebrations in our home and Akshaya’s birthday in July starts off the festive season for us. From the 15th of August onwards, it’s the beginning of the end of the monsoons and time to celebrate traditional festivals, one after the other, and a couple of personal anniversaries too.
It was our wedding anniversary four days back. Wednesday was in the middle of the week and with my husband busy at work and daughter in the middle of reviews/ tests at school it wasn’t the best time for any kind of celebration. We shall celebrate it quietly, in our usual manner sometime this month. But I wasn’t going to let the day slip by without making an extra special dessert and the obvious choice was something “chocolate”. As a Scott Adams’ Dilbert says, “Life is unsure, eat dessert first”! We did have a good lunch first, though.



Most mousse recipes use eggs, or gelatin or agar. I wanted to avoid eggs, gelatin was out of question, and I didn’t have agar at home. So I came up with a recipe for a mousse without any of these. The mousse was absolutely delicious and creamy. The combination of a dense and very chocolatey mousse topped with a lighter orange mousse was really good. And the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate was balanced out by the sweetness of the orange mousse.

Ingredients:

For the dark chocolate mousse:
1 ½ cups chopped dark semi-sweet chocolate
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp butter (I used salted)
2 tbsp powdered sugar
5 tbsp water
200 ml cream (I used 25% fat)
1 tsp vanilla essence

For the orange mousse:
1 ½ cups chopped white chocolate
2 tbsp butter ( I used salted)
1 tbsp powdered sugar
5 tbsp orange juice
200 ml cream
zest/ rind from 1 orange
½ tsp orange essence

Method:

For the dark chocolate mousse:
Pour the cream into a bowl and beat with an electric beater till the cream fluffs up and forms soft peaks. Keep aside.
Put the chocolate pieces, butter and cocoa powder in a bowl and melt the chocolate over hot water. Once the chocolate has melted, whisk (by hand) the mixture so it is blended. Add the 5 tbsp water and continue whisking till the chocolate mixture is smooth. Take off the heat.
Adding water to the chocolate here will not cause it to seize. The butter added to the chocolate will ensure this. Normally, unsalted butter is used in most desserts. It is difficult for me to find this here. I also find that the salt in the butter balances out the extra sweetness in most desserts.
Now add the beaten cream and the vanilla essence and slowly fold in the cream into the chocolate mixture till well blended, trying to keep as much of the fluffiness in it as possible. Pour into 6 glasses and chill in the fridge.

Make the white chocolate mousse similarly, adding orange juice and orange zest.
White chocolate is usually sweeter, but the tang of the orange juice reduces the sweetness, so I added 1 tbsp of sugar here to adjust for that. You may choose to leave out the sugar.
Add the orange essence to the cream and make the mousse as above. Pour the orange mousse over the chocolate mousse in the glasses. Chill for at least 5 to 6 hours. Decorate as desired and serve.
This mousse serves 6.

Many people do not like white chocolate. You can make the chocolate orange mousse using the above ingredients for the dark chocolate mousse, substituting the water with orange juice and adding the orange zest and essence. Leave out the vanilla essence. You could also make this with milk chocolate instead of semi sweet chocolate but reduce the sugar to your taste.
Whichever way you choose to make it, orange and chocolate is an unbeatable combination.

Meeta’s latest edition of Monthly Mingle has a theme of Fruit and Chocolate and this mousse is perfect for it.

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August 21, 2008

Just 4 days to go!

This is just a final reminder that there are ony four days left for submissions to MBP: Fruit Fare. The deadline is midnight of the 25th August (whenever midnight is in your part of the world).
So all of you who planned to be a part of MBP and those who promised me those entries, I’m waiting for them or else the round-up for this edition of MBP might turn out to be a square-up!

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Tomato Rasam (A sort of Indian Tomato and Lentil Soup)


That English translation of Tomato Rasam as soup is the closest I can come to describing Rasam. Rasam can also loosely translate as “enjoyment” or as “the essence of” something. Whatever the meaning I am, once again, in that minority of south Indians who does not like rasam. I can only assume that this could be partially because, in my mind, food served when one was ill. A milder and non-spicy form of Rasam was usually considered the most suitable (with rice) form of nourishment when one was ill with fever. And I’m sure this is true because Rasam is very easy to digest and the pepper and cumin in it would bring down the temperature of a fever. The other reason I don’t like it is because it is very watery in consistency and I don’t like my rice to be very wet with whatever gravy I’m eating it with.




There are many types of Rasam. Of these, some are made to be taken will with a fever and/ or a cold while others are served with a regular meal or festive meals called “Sadhyas”. In the scheme of being served at a festive Palakkad Iyer meal, a Rasam is served with rice and papads after the sambhar and rice but before the payasam (a milk or coconut milk based sweet Indian pudding also called Kheer in Hindi).

But please do not go by my dislikes. All the other people I know, except someone I met recently, love Rasam. My sister and daughter will not only have it with rice, but also follow this up with a glass of Rasam occasionally!

Here is the recipe for Tomato Rasam which I make the way my grandmother and mother have always made.

Ingredients:

3 medium sized tomatoes

¼ cup cooked and mashed red gram (tuvar/ thuvaraparippu) dal

a marble sized ball of tamarind

2 tsps of sambhar powder/ rasam powder (see below)

¾ tsp coriander powder (don’t use if you are using rasam powder)

½ tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp powdered jaggery

salt to taste

1 ½ tsp ghee or oil

¼ tsp asafetida powder

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 big sprig curry leaves

1 ½ tbsp chopped coriander leaves


Method:

Blanch the tomatoes in 1 cup of boiling water for about 2 to 3 minutes. Don’t throw away this water but use it to soak the tamarind. Remove the tomatoes from the water and peel off the skin. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, saving the pulp but throwing out the seeds. If all this seems like too much work, you can just cut the raw tomatoes into quarters and proceed from here onwards, but longer way makes for a tastier Rasam.

Pour the tamarind extract into a pan/ vessel and place on the stove. Add the tomatoes, curry leaves, turmeric powder and the salt and allow the tamarind and tomatoes to come to boil. Simmer for a few minutes till the tomatoes are cooked.

Add about ¾ a cup of water to the dal and mix it so it that it becomes a watery dal-water mixture. Add this and the powdered jaggery to the above tamarind-tomato mixture. Once it boils, let it simmer for about 5 minutes. If the Rasam seems too thick in consistency add a little water to adjust to desired thickness. Rasam should have the consistency of a clear soup.

Now add the sambhar powder and coriander powder, after dissolving it about 2 tbsps of water. This will ensure that the powders mix well in the rasam. Just let it simmer for a minute. Do not allow the Rasam to boil too long after this point or the flavours of the spices will not come through. Take off the heat and add the coriander leaves.

Just before serving, heat the ghee or oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the asafetida, take off the heat and pour this into the Rasam. Serve the Rasam hot, with rice, a tsp of ghee, pappad/ appalam (sun and a dried and deep fried crisps) dry vegetable preparation on the side.

This recipe will very comfortably serve 4.


Note:

Rasam can be made with Rasam powder which has roughly the same spices as Sambhar powder, just a little more coriander powder. I usually do not make my own Sambhar powder but buy it readymade (surprisingly for someone who makes a lot of other things at home, I know). I get a brand I’m satisfied with and find this easier to use. But the flavour and aroma of a Rasam made with the home-made powder is wonderful.

If you would like to make the Rasam powder at home, here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp coriander seeds

½ tbsp red gram (chana/ kadala parippu) dal

½ tbsp yellow (tuvar/ thuvara parippu) dal

¼ tsp pepper

1 to 2 dry red chillies

½ tsp cumin seeds

Dry roast the above spices, till they give off an aroma. Take off the heat immediately, allow to cool a bit and grind into a powder.

The tomatoes in it lend this Rasam a lot of red colour so this goes to Harini, the Sunshinemom of Tongue Ticklers whose event Food In Colours is Red this month.


Donate For A Heart:

Anita Lakshmi is a 28 year old and suffers from Coronary Artery disease. She has two children, aged three and six, is financially dependent on her parents and is not getting any help from her husband. Surgery and other medical expenses are estimated to cost about Rs.5 to 6 lakhs (US$ 15, 000). Lakshmi's state of health requires her to undergo surgery as soon as possible.

Srivalli of Cooking 4 All Seasons is organizing a fund raiser with some raffle prizes to raise as much as possible to help Lakshmi. It would be nice if we could all help any little way we can. You can make donations using the ChipIn button on her blog or through cheques in Indian rupees.

Further details are available at Srivalli’s blog.

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August 19, 2008

Aloo Methi Bonda (Batter Fried Spicy Mashed Potatoes) With Coriander-Mint Chutney And Grilled Bonda Sandwiches


Printable version here.

Y eah, we’re going to Anita’s,
Yeah, we’re goin to have a party……….
Before I get on to talking about the party, I just wanted to mention the question I had asked in the previous post.
Yes, it was a dried out coconut, also called copra, without the shell. I knew most of you would recognize it. I had tried to crack a coconut and the shell split to reveal a whole coconut! This usually happen when the coconut has been kept for a long time and the water inside it dries out. Copra is what coconut oil is extracted from. Copra is also used in various Indian dishes and also to make a very tasty dry chutney powder, which I shall post at a later date.

So, Anita is having an “Aloo Bonda” Party to commemorate the anniversary of A Mad Tea Party. When she issued the invite at her blog, I was suddenly reminded that it had been ages since I had made this perennial Indian favourite at home. And what better time than right now, when a hot deep fried snack is perfect in the monsoons.




An Aloo (meaning potato in Hindi) Bonda is a spicy mashed potato ball which is dipped in a chickpea flour batter and deep fried. This is a snack that has crossed state and language boundaries across India and can be found everywhere, masquerading in one form or the other. One such version is the famous “vada pav” where the aloo bonda is placed inside a small bun, a sort of local burger if you will.

Frankly, I’m not sure how a party could to survive on a surfeit of batter fried mashed potatoes, no matter how differently they’re dressed. But going by the fact that her last year’s party was a huge success, this one is sure to be loads of fun, given the enthusiasm of the host and many of the invitees. So I’m going over there with these delicious round little balls of spiced mashed potatoes, coated in batter and deep fried to a crisp golden brown.


Ingredients:


For the mashed potatoes:

2 cups mashed potatoes

¾ cup fenugreek leaves (methi), cleaned and chopped

2 big onions, finely chopped

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 tsp ginger-garlic paste

2 tsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 ½ tsp black gram (urad) dal

¼ tsp asafetida

¼ tsp turmeric powder

1 ½ tsp cumin powder

¾ tsp chilli powder

1 tsp garam masala

salt to taste


For the batter:

1 cup chickpea (besan) flour

½ cup rice flour

½ tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp chilli powder

½ tsp baking powder

salt to taste


Oil for deep frying


Method:

Mix all the ingredients for the batter with enough water to make a batter thick enough to coat the mashed potato balls for deep frying. Keep aside.

Add the chopped coriander, salt, turmeric, cumin, chilli and garam masala powders to the mashed potatoes and knead so that everything is well mixed.

Heat the 2 tsp oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, mix once and add the asafetida and immediately add the chopped onions and the ginger-garlic paste. Sauté till the onions are soft. Now add the fenugreek leaves and sauté till they wilt. Add the mashed potato mixture and mix till everything is well blended.

Take off the heat and allow to cool. Divide into 12 portions and roll each into a ball.




Heat the oil for deep frying. When the oil is almost at smoking point, dip each mashed potato ball into the chickpea batter and deep fry till golden brown and crisp. Drain the “bondas” on paper towels and serve warm with date- tamarind chutney and coriander-mint chutney, or coconut chutney or even tomato ketchup. I like them best without any accompaniment, just plain crisp bondas with hot masala chai preferably watching the rain.

For the Coriander-Mint Chutney:

A big bunch of coriander leaves

A small bunch of mint leaves

The juice of a lemon

2 to 3 green chillies

A pinch of sugar

Salt to taste

Grind all these together with very little water to a fine paste. This chutney should be prepared fresh and doesn’t really keep in the fridge. It keeps in the freezer for a week. Or you can mix leftover chutney to make sandwiches or add it to some butter to make a lovely herb butter.

If you have any aloo bondas left over after everyone has had a go (this does occasionally happen), then you can convert them into another version of “vada pav” or grilled bonda sandwiches. I did. I refrigerated the bondas and made the sandwiches the next day.




For one sandwich, spread some coriander-mint chutney on one side of two slices of bread. Place the aloo bonda between them and grill in your sandwich maker/ press till lightly browned. The sandwiches are ready and make a great snack.

RC at Red Chillies is hosting this month’s Herb Mania, where Fenugreek is the chosen herb. As these bondas will fit in with that theme, they’re heading there as well.

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August 17, 2008

A Question, A Couple of Long Due Memes and Some More Awards!

H ere’s the question.
Any ideas on what this could be? I'm sure everyone has the answer. It is edible and not of animal origin. This is still a vegetarian blog.



Meme(s):


Now for the memes. Allergy Mom of the Allergic Kid and Lynn of Lynn’s Cooking Blog had tagged me for a “Random Things” meme some time back. I have already done a version of this meme.  Two other bloggers tagged me for memes, one way back and the other pretty recently.

Before I go on with this post, let me warn you that this is going to be boring. Now, you can exit this page at this point or continue to torture yourself. You may want to find yourself a cup of tea/ coffee or something stronger to keep you awake if you choose to read on. Remember, I did warn you.

Since I have sat down to a non recipe post today I shall do both the memes here. I really can’t imagine why anyone would want to know about my dislikes. But Harini, the Sunshinemom of Tongue Ticklers did ask for this, so here goes.

As Harini herself said, hate is a negative emotion. I’m also not given to really hating but I do dislike many things, though I’m not sure I can find 10 dislikes!

1. I dislike hypocrisy. And I find it difficult to understand why people have to pretend to be something they are not. There is a dignity in being oneself.

2. I dislike having to make small talk and I’m terrible at it. So you know I’m not very good party material.

3. I cannot stand cockroaches. That’s not to say I like other vermin. Its just that I’m extra paranoid about you know what (as they keep saying in the Potter books). So if you are passing by close to where I am and hear an unearthly shriek (this doesn't happen very often, thank God), you know what I’ve (it could have been my daughter too) just laid my eyes on!

4. I don’t like having to pick up after others as much as I hate untidiness. Having to search for things drives me mad.

5. I dislike messily presented food and will not eat it even if it is ambrosia. I might change my mind on this if I didn’t have anything else to eat, who knows.

6. I don’t particularly like (and will avoid them if I can do it without making a fuss) dishes cooked with chenai (yam), vazhaikkai (raw plantain), chakkai (jackfruit), to mention a few. Difficult to believe I belong to Kerala, isn’t it?

7. I used to dislike people asking me why I stayed at home doing nothing (?), when I could be going to work doing some thing worthwhile. I stopped being bothered a long time ago. If those people cannot figure out that I was lucky to make such a choice and am actually happy with it, it’s their loss.

This is tough. It’s almost like figuring out answers to exam questions! I did try very hard with this one.

And this is where I hand in my answer paper!


The request for this Book meme came from Nidhi of Sizzling Bites. For this meme, one picks up the nearest book and opens it to page 123, finds the 5th sentence and posts the next three sentences.

If I picked up the nearest book, we would all get a lesson in Human Resource management, which I can assure you we don’t want.
So I went to the bookshelf and picked out one at random. So here is what follows the 5th sentence on page 123 in it.


1. I had brought the story to Morrie this morning because I wondered if Turner ever found himself in my old professor’s position, his breath disappearing, his body turning to stone, his days being crossed off the calendar one by one – would he really be crying over owning a network?

2. “Its all part of the same problem, Mitch”, Morrie said.

3. “We put our values in the wrong things and it leads to very disillusioned lives.”


This is an excerpt from "Tuesdays with Morrie – an old man, a young man and life’s greatest lesson" by Mitch Albom.

I have read the book, of course, and seen the movie in which Jack Lemon was brilliant as Morrie, Mitch’s former professor. The movie had me in tears and I very rarely cry watching a movie. Do read it if you can.

I have seen both these memes on so many blogs, that I’m not going to tag anyone.


The Awards:


For some time now, many fellow bloggers have been conferring this little blog of mine with various awards. They seem to think my blog is worthy of them (I would like to believe, naively perhaps). As far as I can see, most of these awards come with conditions attached to them, such as please pass these on to “x” number of bloggers and further conditions of linking back and forth. Fair enough, I guess this is all about spreading a bit of “link love” in a statistics driven blogger world.

I do not understand this business of conditional award conferring as it seems, to me, to defeat the very purpose of giving out a token of appreciation. Bee of Jugalbandi has a very interesting and humourous take on this.

Having said this, I believe that all those bloggers who passed on these awards to my blog did so in good faith because something on this blog appealed to them. My thanks to them all. As a mark of my appreciation of the awards given to this blog by fellow bloggers, I shall feature them here, but please do not misunderstand me because I do not pass them along.

As I was writing this post, Bharathy of Spicy Chilli has passed a bouquet of the above 3 awards to me. Thank you Bharathy.
And Harini of Tongue Ticklers has just passed on a "Blogging Friends Forever" award too.
Truly appreciate the gesture, Harini.



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August 15, 2008

Savoury Herb and Pepper Cookies


Think of cookies and the first thing that generally comes to mind are sweet, round or shaped crunchy or crisp baked dough. I make different types of cookies quite often as my daughter loves home-made ones.
While I do enjoy the occasional cookie, I prefer savoury snacks to sweet as I have what I call a "savoury tooth" as opposed to the others here who have "sweet teeth"! So I'm always on the look out for something that’s salty (preferably a bit spicy too) as that perfect accompaniment to my tea.




This cookie is the result of some experimenting with some flavours we like. The butter and the pastry making sort of technique produce a flaky and and slightly crisp cookie.

Savoury Herb and Pepper Cookies


Ingredients:


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup salted butter, cold (cut into small pieces)

1/2 cup finely grated cheese

1 egg, beaten

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp freshly crushed pepper

1 tsp mixed herbs

1-2 tbsp chilled water



Method:


Rub the butter into the flour till the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Now add the cheese, egg, pepper, herbs, baking powder, and enough of the chilled water to bind the mixture into a dough that comes together and can be rolled out. Do not knead or handle the dough much.



Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface, roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 190C for about 15 minutes till golden brown.

Cool on a rack and the cookies will be flaky and crisp on the outside. Serve with coffee or tea.



Variations:


You can use herbs of your choice like oregano, rosemary, basil or a mix of two herbs instead. Chives are another good thing to add. You could lightly flavour these cookies with garlic.

Leave out the black pepper and use red chilli flakes instead. Leave out the herbs altogether and use coarsely crushed cumin. The possibilities for different flavours/ flavour combinations are endless.

 
(Picture courtesy of Mellisa Anthony Jones at Wikimedia)

Today, in India, we are celebrating our 61st Independence Day.

Happy Independence Day and festive wishes to all who are celebrating Raksha Bandhan and observing Avani Avittam (like we are).

Have a wonderful weekend.

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August 13, 2008

Apple Tartlets and Rough Puff Pastry Twists

Printable version here.

P uff pastry is another one of those things I’ve always thought I should love to make but hadn’t the courage to attempt. It always seemed like a very complicated thing to do and I was almost sure that it wouldn’t turn out right. But ever since I has reasonable success with Danish pastry, I have been thinking that maybe I could try my hands at puff pastry.




Now readymade frozen puff pastry or anything of that sort is not something that is available in stores here. As I was looking for an uncomplicated way of making puff pastry, I discovered that there was something called “rough puff pastry”. I don’t know what exactly is rough about this recipe, unless it is that the pastry is not treated too gently as seems the general case. Apparently, this is I a great recipe to use when you need to put together some pastry in very little time.

That’s when I came across Gordon Ramsay’s Rough Puff Pastry at the BBC Good Food site. We have been watching quite a bit of Gordon Ramsay on TV where he generally lords it around playing God (or should I say the Devil) in Hell’s Kitchen! I can understand that he has very exacting food standards but I cannot figure out why he needs to behave in such an ill mannered and inconsiderate way to achieve it. Maybe he’s really a nice guy just trying to find his own unique way of driving up the TRPs for his program!

Getting back to his puff pastry recipe. I thought I’d give it a go and see if it really would work for me. It did.
The pastry was flaky and crisp, very easy to make and didn’t take too much time either. Of course, considering the amount of butter in the dough, it would be a surprise if it wasn’t crisp!


For the Apple filling:

Ingredients:

2 medium sized apples (peeled, cored and thinly sliced)

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp honey

2 tbsp butter

a large pinch of salt

½ tsp cinnamon powder

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

¼ tsp powdered dry ginger (I used this ginger glaze)

Heat the butter and and add the sugar, honey and salt. When the sugar dissolves, add the sliced apple and allow to soften. Now add the cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger powder. Mix well. By now the filling should be almost dry and ready. Aloow to cool.

Assembling The Tarts:

Roll out the puff pastry into a long rectangle and cut it into smaller rectangles measuring 4” by 3 “. Cut each rectangle into half. In the picture below you can see three 4 by 3 rectangles cut into half.

From one of these, cut out and remove a smaller rectangle from the centre (see picture below).
Now place this rectangle with the hole exactly on the other half and press down on sides to ensure that it is stuck to it.
In the small hollow put a bit of the apple filling. Repeat this with all the other rectangles.
Bake at 220C for about 20 minutes or till golden brown. Serve while still slightly warm or cold.
(This is what the tarts look like if the two rectangles are not pressed together well enough. They look a bit weird but still taste great.)


Gordon Ramsay does say not scrunch up the scraps and reuse them as the pastry layers would be lost. I didn’t have the heart to throw them out and most of the scraps I had left were too small to do much else with them. So I just put them together (didn’t knead them), rolled the dough out again, cut it up into small strips and twisted each one once into a small bow. Then I baked them at 190C for 15 minutes till they turned a lovely brown.

The twists/ bows were nice, crisp and made a great snack at tea time. Mine were plain, but you may sprinkle herbs, flaked chillies, or pepper on them before baking to spice them up.

I made 10 tartlets with this recipe and the scraps were made into twists.

Instead of making these tarts, the puff pastry can be rolled out and you can cut out small rounds or squares using a cookie cutter and top them with cheese, pepper and herbs (or any topping of your choice) before baking them. Another idea is to cut the pastry into circles to fit your muffin pans and make mini quiches using whatever filling you want. The options are endless.
Dhanggit of Dhanggit’s Kitchen is celebrating her daughter’s first birthday and had written asking us to share some food ideas for her party. She has some pretty good ideas herself and do check them out at her blog, if you haven’t yet.
These tarts are bite sized an a great idea for dessert or a party and so are going to join some more celebratory food at Dhanggit’s Perfect Party Dishes.

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August 11, 2008

Skewered Grilled Fruit With A Spiced Ginger Glaze

Printable version (of my recipe) here.

When Sig announced that she was hosting Meeta’s Monthly Mingle this month and the theme was “Grill It”, I took it up as a challenge of sorts.
Why?
Because my oven has a grill and I hardly ever use it. I make my grilled sandwiches in the sandwich press. The first step to the challenge was finding a recipe. I wasn’t to keen on grilling vegetables this time only because I wanted to make something “different”.

I finally found what I wanted at Matt Bitman’s blog. His Skewered Grilled Fruit with Ginger Syrup sounded good. He suggests using bananas with the skin on and pineapples. With the monsoons here, this is not the best time for fruit and the variety of fruit available is somewhat limited. I had some nice ripe plantains and very sweet apples. I also used paneer. This idea was an inspiration from a recipe of Jude’s at Apple Pies, Patis & Pate.



I also made some changes to the ginger syrup, adding some cardamom (my favourite spice), cinnamon and nutmeg while using brown sugar instead of white sugar. I lightly crushed the ginger (rather than slicing it) so it would release more flavour.

Here’s my version. But please see the original recipe at Matt’s blog for a better idea of this recipe.


Ingredients:

(for 6 small skewers):

Fruit of your choice, cut ino uniform chunks (I used 1 ripe plantain and 1 big apple)

Paneer, cubed (about 20 cubes)

For the Spiced Ginger Glaze:

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup slightly crushed fresh tender ginger

4 pods cardamom, powdered (about ½ tsp)

¼ tsp cinnamon powder

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

a large pinch of salt

For the chocolate drizzle:

(optional)

¼ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

1 tsp oil

1 tbsp milk

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk, over a pan of boiling water, till the chocolate melts and is smooth.


Method:

In a pan, combine the ginger, brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil, and simmer for about 3 to 5 minutes till the glaze appears to be thickening. Add the salt, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir well and take off the heat. Allow to cool. Strain and refrigerate till needed. According to the original recipe, this keeps in the fridge for a week. I found this quantity just correct for about 10 fruit skewers.

Soak the wooden skewers in water for about 2 hours. This will ensure they don’t burn during grilling.

Arrange the cubed fruit and paneer alternately, on the skewers. I have a grill (in the top part) in my oven and this is how I grilled the fruit.

Place the skewers in a suitable pan and brush with the glaze. Grill for about 5 to 7 minutes, till the paneer just starts browning. If the paneer browns too much it will lose its softness and become chewy. Turn the skewers so that the other side is uppermost. Brush well with the glaze and grill for another 5 to 7 minutes or so.

Allow to cool a bit and serve warm.
If using chocolate, drizzle over the fruit and serve.

This makes a wonderful yet light dessert when one wants something sweet and simple. Lovely spiced ginger flavoured soft and juicy fruit with paneer and chocolate.
The ginger glaze/ sauce also pairs up wonderfully with vanilla or honey ice-cream.

This is my submission for the “Grill It” edition of Monthly Mingle hosted by Sig.
This also goes across to Sunita’s Think Spice, Think Favourite as the Ginger Glaze has cardamom which is my favourite spice along with cinnamon and nutmeg.
This is also my submission for MBP: Fruit Fare which is being hosted right here.

I’m once again reminding all of you who have plans to send in something for MBP: Fruit Fare, that the deadline is 25th August and that means another 2 weeks. That’s plenty of time.


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