March 30, 2010

Pesto-Pine Nut Bread & Chocolate-Coffee Bread Cupcakes!

The middle and end of the month are usually slated for my ABin5/ HBin5 posts. This month I didn’t do a middle of the month post because I just couldn’t find the time to bake the breads on the schedule. As it happens, I didn’t manage to bake the breads scheduled for the end of this month either.
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and lets just say that this means that I have my hands full at this point in time. It also means that I have so many things I want to do but unable to always do them according to plan.

So this month, this ABin5/ HBin5 post is going to be about a couple of breads most others in the group have already made over the last month, but I managed to get around to just now! Hopefully by the middle of next month, I will have caught up with the rest of my bread baking friends.
There were a couple of breads, one from this mid-month braid (the pine nut pesto bread) and one from last month (chocolate espresso bread) that I did want to make.

I did alter both the recipes a bit, mostly the type and quantity of flours used. HBin5 emphasizes healthier bread through the use of non-refined flours. The fact of the matter is that most healthy breads aren’t very popular in our home, so there isn’t much point in spending time, effort and ingredients on something no one wants to eat.

Pesto-Pine Nut Bread

You might have noticed the HBin5 bread is called Pine Nut-Pesto Bread while I called mine Pesto-Pine Nut Bread. This is not about semantics, but because I made my pesto with walnuts.
When I made my pesto a couple of weeks back, I didn’t have any pine nuts and so made it with walnuts. A few days later I found a shop in town that sells pine nuts and bought some. So my bread has walnut pesto and pine nuts in it.

I worked with half the original recipe, but used only whole wheat and all purpose flours. Spelt and wheat gluten aren’t available in stores here. I reduced the garlic in the recipe to 1/2 tsp (we prefer garlic to faintly hover in the background as a flavour) and did not mix in the pine nuts in the dough.

I had seen and bookmarked a pesto bread recipe that Chuck of Cooking Bread made sometime back. He had detailed a very interesting and unusual way of filling and shaping the pesto bread, and that’s what I did here.
Here’s my adapted version of the HBin5 bread and Chuck's bread shaping method.


For the dough:

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

3/4 tbsp active dry yeast

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 cup water

½ tsp garlic paste

For filling:

1/4 cup walnut pesto (recipe follows)

1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

About 2 to 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

To make walnut pesto (this recipe is from Ritu Dalmia’s Italian Khana; Keep a watch for my review of this book soon):
Put 150gm basil leaves, 2 cloves peeled garlic and 50 gm walnuts in a food processor and process till you get a smooth paste.With the processor running, add about 25 ml olive oil in a slow and steady stream. Stop the machine and add 75 gm freshly grated parmesan and process till the cheese is absorbed. Slowly add another 25 ml of olive oil and process till the pesto is creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the bread:

Mix all the ingredients for the dough together. Use a bit more (be judicious) flour if the dough looks very wet. The dough should be moist but should not stick to your hands. Put the dough in a container and cover with plastic wrap or lid, but not tightly. Allow dough to rise for about 2 hours.

After 2 hours of rising, put dough into the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours for easy handling. The dough can be kept refrigerated for up to a week. I refrigerated my dough overnight and baked the bread next morning.

When ready to bake, take the dough out and shape the dough into an oval. Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll the dough out into a rough rectangle about 1/4” thick.
Spread the pesto on the rectangle leaving a margin on the sides. Go a bit easy on the pesto or it can be over powering! Sprinkle the pesto nuts evenly over this and then the parmesan cheese.

Fold the sides of the rectangle inwards a bit and then roll the dough with the filling, in jelly roll style. Pinch the dough to make sure it has sealed well.

Now carefully, cut the rolled bread dough into 2 equal halves, lengthwise, with a sharp knife. Twist both halves together like a rope, ensuring the filled sides show on the outside. Place the twisted dough in a greased loaf tin and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours.

Bake the bread at 180C for about 30 to 35 minutes till done. Unmould and cool on a rack. Wait till the bread has cooled completely before slicing.

Chocolate-Coffee Bread Cupcakes

As I mentioned earlier, the “chocolate” part of the Chocolate Espresso Bread had been calling to me for a while. I stuck to the recipe in the book except for using only all purpose flour for this bread.

I also worked with a quarter of the recipe and used filter coffee instead of espresso. I also decided to make the bread in the form of cupcakes which was one variation suggested by Jeff and Zoe.


The pesto bread was good. If you like pesto, then you will definitely like this bread. And I personally liked the idea of layering the pesto in the bread rather than mixing it up in the dough.
Not only did it make for a very attractive looking bread, it was also nice to be able to taste the pesto in it.
You can find the recipe for the Pesto Pine Nut Bread here.

I was mentally prepared to dislike the chocolate espresso bread for some unexplainable reason. I just had this feeling and am glad to say I was so wrong!

Made as cupcakes, with sugar sprinkled on top, this bread looks so good. They’re not cupcakes, but when you bite into them you might be forgiven for thinking they are. They do have the texture of bread but are very soft, perhaps because I used only all purpose flour.
A quarter of the recipe gave me 10 cupcakes.

Be prepared for the fact that this cupcake style chocolate bread is not at all sweet but has a strong chocolate flavour and is perfect with a cup of coffee or tea.
Here's a suggestion on a good way to eat these cupcakes. Just cut a “V” shaped cone off the top of one cupcake and fill the depression with strawberry jam or Nutella, and then replace the top of the cupcake.
You can find the recipe for the Chocolate Espresso Bread here.

You can see what breads were scheduled for this month end by visiting the HBin5 group’s member blogs.

My Pesto-Pine Nut Bread and the Coffee-Chocolate Bread/ Cupcakes are being YeastSpotted!

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March 27, 2010

Oranges & Cream – Orange Tian: Daring Bakers Challenge March, 2010

Life seems quiet after the fun and excitement of hosting last month’s challenge . Still, it’s good to be back to the routine of wondering what this month’s host is going to challenge us with, and just how I would go about the business of substituting and executing it. And this month’s challenge lived up to my expectations by introducing me to something new, once again..

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

I had never ever heard of a Tian and the name doesn’t give away anything.
I did a little internet search and all I could see was layered savoury versions of the Tian, nothing sweet. It turns out that it’s a layered dessert. In this citrusy version it is made up of a pate sablée with orange marmalade, a flavoured (again with maramalade) and stabilized whipped cream, topped with fresh orange segments. The Tian is served with caramel and orange sauce.
One builds this dessert upside down in a mould and then unmoulds it upside down so the bottom layer is now the topmost layer!

We had to make the pate sablée, our own citrus marmalade, the caramel sauce and stabilize our whipped cream.
As usual, we were given creative freedom within the challenge. We could use either the given recipe or one of our choice for the pate sablée. Size and presentation was up to us. Chice of citrus for the marmalade as well as flavouring in the whipped cream was also left to us.

I didn’t have any problems with this challenge, and the whole thing was a breeze. I chose to stick with the recipe and not experiment with flavours as I wanted to know what the given recipe would taste like.

My Orange Tian Making Experience:

This Orange Tian is meant to serve 6; I needed to make 5 servings but had only 4 ring moulds. So I made 4 Tians (is the plural Tian or Tians?) using the mould and one free form Tian!

The orange marmalade:

I had planned to make this ahead of time, so went shopping for oranges and bought them. As it would happen, I couldn’t make the marmalade till a couple of days later, when I discovered that half my oranges had been eaten by my family who had no idea I was planning to turn them into marmalade.

I had to go shopping a second time for oranges and it was a lucky thing I did go then, because I haven’t seen those oranges at the market since. It seems I had managed to lay my hands on the last lot of the season!
I used only a little over half the sugar in the recipe as my oranges were so sweet in themselves. I also left out the gelatin, but the marmalade thickened up pretty well on its own.

The pate sablée:

This is a buttery, tender and rather crumbly sand-like tart dough (sablée means sandy). It's somewhat like shortbread and good to use for filling with fruit, custard or chocolate.

We were supposed to roll out the dough and cut out circles to fit into our moulds.
I had small ring moulds, so I just divided the dough into 8 and pressed each portion lightly and evenly into the ring moulds.
This meant that I didn’t have scraps from rolling out the dough.

Yes, I got 8 round perfectly almost crumbly “biscuits” from this dough. That wasn’t a problem as I used 5 of them for making the dessert and the other 3 were “tasted” rather efficiently by my husband and our daughter!

The orange segments and the orange caramel sauce:

The most painful (or should I say boringly time-consuming?) part of this challenge, for me, was cutting up the oranges into segments for the topmost layer of the Tian.

I also think I didn’t really wait to caramelize the sugar before I poured in the orange juice, as my sauce was sweet but I couldn’t get the caramel taste in it. That’s not to say the sauce wasn’t good.

Stabilizing the whipped cream:

I have never stabilized whipped cream before, so this was a first for me. Since we don’t use gelatin I used agar instead, and I must say the cream was really stable. It was stable enough for me to build a free form Orange Tian (the right way up) and the cream could take the weight of the orange slices without collapsing!

This is something that I’m so happy about because its tough enough to whip 25% fat cream (which is all we get here) stiff enough without the heat and humidity of our tropical climate melting it down!
Assembling the Tian was easy. No problems here. I put them into the freezer for a couple of hours before unmoulding. Then I froze them again for 3 days before serving.


An easy to make, unusual yet nice dessert with the oranges giving it a fruity and summery feel. Also a perfect dessert for warm summer evenings. Ther’s not much that is surprising or flamboyant about it, but we did enjoy the flavour and texture combinations of the various layers. Juicy and fruity on the top, creamy and soft in the middle and buttery shortbread-like base.

Would I make it again?
I probably would, provided someone else did the segmenting of those oranges! Or I would use some other fruit to save myself the effort.

Do please check out the rather interesting marmalades and beautiful Tians that many of my more Daring friends have made.
The detailed challenge recipe can be found on Jennifer’s blog.

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March 24, 2010

Verrine: Savoury Pumpkin Coconut Mousse With Herbed Mascarpone

Last month, four of us fellow food bloggers and tweeps happened to get together by chance, and decided to each explore how we could make a good Red Velvet Cake without artificial colour. We even called ourselves the Velveteers (since our mission was a Velvet Cake).

We enjoyed doing that so much that we decided we would make this a regular affair, exploring food and techniques that we were all interested in.
After a lot of brainstorming and a whole lot of e-mails going up and down, what came up to be explored this month was verrines!

So what is a verrine?
The word “verrine” comes from the French word for glass which is “verre”. A verrine can be sweet or savoury and is an attractively layered appetizer or dessert, which is served in very small glasses. The glasses are usually unstemmed and can range from shot glasses or miniature parfait glasses to small glass bowls.

So a verrine is not only about visual impact, but also about the textures, flavours, colours and even temperatures which all add up to a complete whole. There can be any number of layers to a verrine, but I should think fewer layers would mean no confusion between the various elements.
Verrines are very popular not just because they look good. They’re easy to make, can be made ahead and refrigerated if necessary. They’re excellent to serve at parties and even better when you realize verrines are perfect for portion control!

I knew all of this when we decided to make verrines but what had me stumped were the ingredients. The four of us decided to make the challenge a bit more exciting for ourselves by each of us suggesting an ingredient and then making our verrines with those 4 ingredients.
Alessio chose chocolate, Asha chose squash, Pamela chose salmon (and zucchini for me as I’m vegetarian!) and I chose cheese.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy coming up with a verrine with this combination. Now I know, this would be as familiar as the back of your hand for many of you, but for me this was like being asked to translate something from Greek or Latin.
First of all, we’re not really used to eating our savoury stuff layered in a glass! Chocolate is a wonderful ingredient but in a savoury dish with squash, zucchini and cheese?

The nearest thing to squash I can get here is pumpkin so a quick trip to the market and I got the pumpkin and some zucchini. I rarely out of chocolate or cocoa powder so that was taken care of.
I had some home-made mascarpone in the fridge that needed to be used up so it had to go into the verrine.

I just have to ask this question here. Have any of you ever cooked pumpkin and zucchini together, or have recipes to do so? I would appreciate suggestions or recipes. Thanks.

After much thought and research into the matter (about 3 weeks of it) I finally came up with a savoury pumpkin and coconut mousse topped with creamy herbed mascarpone, garnished with semi-sweet chocolate curls and a crisp zucchini chip.
I had no other brilliant ideas on how to use the chocolate in a savoury dish and pair zucchini with the other 3 ingredients!


about 6 to 8 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate curls

6 crisply fried zucchini chips

For the pumpkin coconut mousse:

1 1/2 cup fresh pumpkin purée

1 tbsp butter

1 small onion, minced

1/4 tsp garlic paste

1/2 tsp ginger paste

1 small carrot, chopped

1 tsp chopped celery

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1 tsp garam masala

1/2 cup cream (25% fat)

15 gm coconut milk powder

salt to taste

For the herbed mascarpone:

1 cup mascarpone (mine was home-made)

1 tbsp chopped celery

2 to 3 tbsp finely chopped spring onion greens

salt and black pepper to taste


For the pumpkin coconut mousse:

In a pan, melt the butter and sauté the onion, ginger, garlic, carrot and celery. Add the chilli flakes and the garam masala. Stir a couple of times and add the pumpkin puree. Cook for another minute and take off the heat. Allow to cool and then put the mixture into the blender and purée till smooth and creamy.

Whip the cream till almost stiff. Add the coconut milk powder and continue to beat till the coconut milk powder is well mixed and the cream is stiff.
Fold the coconut milk powder- whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture till well blended.

For the herbed mascarpone:

Beat together the mascarpone cheese and the other ingredients, with a spoon, till smooth and creamy. Refrigerate till ready to use.

Assembling the verrine:

Spoon or pipe the pumpkin coconut mousse equally into 6 small verrine glasses. Spoon the herbed mascarpone over this in a smooth layer. If not serving immediately, chill the verrines till required.

Just before serving, sprinkle the chocolate curls over the mascarpone and garnish with a crisp zucchini chip and some celery.


The flavours were interesting and I would say they did quite well together, and surprisingly, the chocolate was a nice contrast to the savoury taste of the other layers.

The words “pumpkin” and “zucchini” decided it for Akshaya that there was no way this verrine could taste good! Not even “chocolate” would make her change her mind. The word “mascarpone” made her take a second look at the verrine, but after a taste she decided that she most definitely liked her mascarpone in sweet stuff.
My husband and I felt that this savoury verrine wasn’t quite to our taste. This is a personal opinion and like I mentioned before, it’s probably because we’re not used it.

I would take the mousse layer and turn it into a pumpkin-coconut milk soup and it would be fantastic. The herbed mascarpone would make an excellent dip or a spread for bread/ toast.
Zucchini is really not a vegetable we like very much anyways, so I’d give it a miss, and I guess I don’t have to say anything about the chocolate!
I love the idea of a verrine, and shall definitely make them a lot but my verrines shall be of the sweet/ dessert kind.

Please visit my co-conspirators in this venture, to see how they used the same 4 ingredients in their verrines.
Alessio created some Fresh, Zingy Richness in a Clear Glass.
Asha came up with a Zucchini-Cocoa, Lime-Ginger and Smoked Salmon Mousse Verrine.
Pamela concocted a 4 Velveteers' Verrine.

The four of us will be exploring (velveteering, as we like to call our monthly kitchen adventures!)) a new dish/ style of cooking/ cuisine every month. Each of us will share our recipes, experiences and verdicts on our blogs.
Do visit our blogs and if you would like to join us, please leave a comment here and we will get back to you.

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March 22, 2010

500 Salads: A Review And A Fruit Salad With Coconut Milk

There are people who enjoy salads, and I’m really not one of them. This probably has to do with the fact that, though we are vegetarian and cook vegetables in hundreds of different combinations, our traditional cuisine has hardly any preparations that include raw vegetables.
My parents quite liked salads and I still have memories of my sister working her way steadily through a bowl of cucumber sticks as a child! I guess that makes me the odd one out.
When we were younger and whenever we were in a country outside India, being vegetarian meant our meal options were largely limited to bread, fresh fruit and salads.

One scenario which always comes to my mind (the country and the language differed) was our trying to order lunch at a restaurant, with the waiter in attendance wearing a totally puzzled look on his face. What did one serve a person who didn’t speak you language, and wouldn’t eat meat, fish or eggs (my mother doesn’t eat eggs)?

After much gesticulation and our murdering a lot of the local phrases in the guide book, a very happy smile would light up his face and he would exclaim “Salad!” or whatever the equivalent was in his language. He would then hurry and return with a plate of salted and peppered raw vegetables most of which consisted of lettuce!
Poor guy! He could never understand why we didn’t look as happy as he felt, when he had finally found an option for us to lunch on!!
Luckily for me, there is more to salads than raw vegetables.

Whatever your preference when it comes to salads, I’m sure you can find it in “500 Salads: The Only Salad Compendium You’ll Ever Need” by Susannah Blake. The publishers of this book, Sellers Publishers, had sent me a copy of this book along with Petite Sweets.

Susannah Blake has written over 10 books as well in various magazines and newspapers. She concentrates on healthy cooking and eating, especially with seasonal fruit and vegetables. Her other books are 500 Appetizers, 500 Cakes and 500 Soups.

500 Salads is a rather small and conveniently sized book of under 300 pages, and the latest in the “500” series of books from this publisher. The salads in this book range from warm and chilled salads to those which could be a light lunch, a complete meal or as a side to a main meal.

The recipes are divided into chapters titled classic salads, light & healthy salads, warm salads, grain and bean salads, pasta salads, slaws and shredded salads, main course salads, asian style salads and fruit salads. Each chapter ends with 4 or 5 possible ingredient variations for each of the main salad recipes therein.
The book also has an introductory chapter dealing with equipment, various ingredients, garnishes as well as dressings used in salads.

The recipes have reasonably short ingredient lists, and most of the ingredients are commonly and easily available. The recipes are very concise, well presented and accompanied by beautiful photographs. As a not-so-big-fan of salads, I must admit it is those photographs which caught my attention when I first thumbed through the book.
While some of the salads are non-vegetarian, a large part of the recipes are perfect for vegetarians and vegans.

Organic bean sprouts salad

Some of the recipes are pretty simple and I’m sure a lot of us would have invariably come up with variations of these in our kitchens at some time or the other. Yet there are some other interesting ingredient combinations that would have never thought of.

This book promises 500 salad recipes and there are 500 recipes in the book. However, in reality, there are about 90 recipes with variations of each which altogether do add up to 500 recipes.

If you this doesn’t bother you (and it really shouldn’t), I think this little book has a pretty good collection of salads whether it’s the all time favourites like a caesar or potato salad, a simple one like the chopped tomato salad with scallions, or a rather tropical fruit salad with coconut milk.

Fruit salad with coconut milk

I made a few and I think I could get used to some of them. Here’s the “Fruit salad with coconut milk”. What struck me as slightly different about this fruit salad was the use of coconut milk and the cilantro/ coriander.
This is a good dessert for the summer, light and very easy to put together.


2 blood oranges (I used regular oranges)

1 baby pineapple

1 apple

2 kiwifruit

1 banana

2/3 cup unsweetened thick coconut milk

1 tbsp honey

freshly squeezed lemon juice

seeds from 1 pomegranate

1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)


Peel, halve and slice the oranges. Peel, trim and dice the pineapple. Peel, quarter, core and dice apple. Peel and dice the kiwi fruit. Peel and slice the banana.

In a large serving bowl, mix all the fruit with the coconut milk, honey and lemon juice. Taste and add more honey or lemon juice as required. Mix in the pomegranate seeds and cilantro, chill and serve.

This recipe serves 4.

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March 19, 2010

Dark Grape Juice Tart (Tarte au Raisiné)

Four days back, I had no plans of baking a tart this week. In fact, I did not even know that such a tart existed! Yet, I baked this tart yesterday, took pictures this morning and am posting it this evening.

Meeta is celebrating her blog anniversary with a special edition of Monthly Mingle, her monthly event. This month she chose to celebrate with champagne. Now, alcohol doesn’t feature in any form in our scheme of things, so I wished Meeta a very happy blog anniversary and four days back made my apologies about not joining her party unless she was willing to let me arrive without any food in hand.

The rules at Meeta’s mingles is that guests bring the food and this time its offerings of champagne in some form or the other. She also insisted that I couldn’t stay away and was even willing to accept grape juice instead of champagne, as long as I made an appearance.
So how could I disappoint her?

Making something with grapes isn’t too difficult, but what on earth could I make with grape juice? I’ve never thought along this direction before and a lot of searching threw up a Purple Cow as an option! With a name like this, I wasn’t to sure that there would be any takers for it here, and it also seemed too tame to take to a party where everything else would be “champagne” class.
Then I came across a grape juice tart/ Tarte au Raisiné at La Prochaine Fois.

A “raisiné”, is a thick and dark brownish concentrate of fruit juices. An old Swiss recipe, this raisiné or sweet and sour concentrate is made by slowly reducing the juice of seasonal fruit like apples and pears.

The original recipe uses the juice of white grapes. If I had to do this, it would mean making my own grape juice. Our days are getting warmer and the temperatures right now are about 5C above the normal at this time of the year.
Reducing the fruit juice itself was going to take time, and the last thing I wanted to do was to stew in my kitchen along with some grapes. So I bought a litre of dark grape juice and set to work.

I have changed Cathy’s recipe somewhat, mainly to adjust for ingredients available here and to reduce 1 egg. She also doesn’t give a recipe for the crust, saying any sweet tart/ pie crust dough would be fine. I used a short crust pastry from Knead by Carol Tennant.
This tart is quite interesting in that it requires reduction/ concentration of fruit juice for the filling. We liked the tart for its sweet yet slightly tart filling which is well balanced out when served with whipped cream or home-made mascarpone cheese.


For the short crust pastry:

generous 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 tbsp sugar

a pinch of salt

45 gm cold butter, diced

2 to 3 tbsp cold water

For the filling:

1 liter dark (or white) grape juice

150 ml milk (3%)

180 ml cream (25% fat)

3 tbsp all purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp corn starch

1 tbsp butter

1 egg, whisked

2 tbsp sugar (adjust to requirement)

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Make the crust:

You can do this by hand or in the food processor. I find the food processor excellent for making pie/ tart dough.
Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the butter and rub with fingertips into the flour, till the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.

Add 2 tbsp water and using your hands, bring the dough together adding a little water if necessary. Too much water will result in a tough pastry.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly till dough is smooth.
Form into a neat ball, flatten into a round, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Remove pastry from the fridge and place on lightly floured surface and roll out into a circle about 12” in diameter, slightly larger than a 9” fluted pastry ring/ dish. Roll the pastry in a back and forth motion and do not stretch or pull the pastry.

Place the pastry circle in the ring/ dish and carefully press to the edges, removing excess pastry with a knife. Lightly prick the base with a fork. Chill for about 20 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and line the pastry with foil or waxed paper, and fill with baking beans.
Bake at 200C for 12 minutes. Remove the foil/ waxed paper and put the crust back in the oven for another 10 minutes till golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack.

Make the filling:

Pour the grape juice (one litre) into a pan and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat to low-medium and simmer, while stirring frequently, till it has reduced to 150 ml. Once the juice has reduced to roughly 1/3rd, watch the pan and its contents or you will end up with a burnt liquid! Let this cool to room temperature.
Put the milk, cream, cornstarch and flour into a pan. Mix well, and cook the mixture over medium heat till it becomes a smooth and thick paste. Add the butter and mix well. Let this cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg, sugar and vanilla extract. Add to the cooked and cooled mixture. Mix well. Now add the reduced grape juice and mix well. You might find your tart filling seems a little granular but that’s fine.

Assembling the tart:

Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake at 200C for about 40 minutes. The filling will have set well. Do not be tempted to cook for longer or the texture of the filling will change.
Cool the tart well before slicing. Serve with whipped cream or mascarpone cheese. This tart serves 8 to 10.

I'm sending this grape juice tart to Meeta for her blog anniversary mingle.

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March 16, 2010

An Eggless Fresh Strawberry Cake, Baked From Scratch!

There’s something almost irresistible about strawberries, I think. It’s not like they’re my favourite fruit by far yet, when I see those little boxes of strawberries at my fruit vendor’s shop I am unable to come away without buying at least a couple.

In India, winter is the season for a whole seasonal fruits including berries. So I have been making quite a few things with strawberries in them, but just haven’t posted them yet. I’ll start the strawberry season here on this blog (a bit late really, since strawberries are on their way out here) with a strawberry cake.

I came across the idea of a strawberry cake when I was experimenting with making Red Velvet cupcakes without artificial colour. Strawberries do stain the cake batter a pale pink. That seemed a very pretty colour to have in a cake.
So I went looking for a good recipe and all I kept seeing were recipes which in which the strawberries were layered in the cake! Then there were cakes which used cake mixes or gelatine. There were also cakes which asked for lots of eggs, probably to ensure a light cake texture.

I have made strawberry muffins with strawberry pieces in them. What I wanted was a baked-from-scratch strawberry cake with fresh strawberry purée in it, without the gelatin and preferably without the eggs.
That was a bit of a tall order but I wasn’t willing to settle for less; I also wanted my cake to be light and not dense because of the fruit!!
So I just decided to put together a sort of strawberry cake of my own on my own terms of no cake mix/ pudding, no gelatin and no eggs.

Most cakes that have fruit or vegetable in them tend to use oil as the fat of choice. I decided to use butter as I wasn’t using eggs and I wanted as light a cake as possible. It is important to beat the butter and sugar really well till creamy and fluffy. This will ensure a better texture in the cake.
Here’s my recipe.


100gm butter, soft at room temperature

1 to 1 ½ cups sugar (depends on how sweet the strawberries are)

1 1/4 cup thick puréed fresh strawberries

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt


Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and, using an electric hand mixer, beat on high speed till creamy and fluffy. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add this together with the vanilla extract to the creamed mixture and beat till just well mixed. Add the strawberry puree and fold lightly till well mixed.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8” round cake tin (that’s what I have) and bake at 180C for about 45 minutes or till a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in tin for about 10 minutes and loosen from the tin. Cool completely on a rack.

Dust cake with powdered sugar or frost with whipped cream. I chose to leave my cake plain as I don’t really like frosted cakes.
This cake serves about 8 to 10.

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March 10, 2010

Biryani: A Review And Qabooli (A Vegetarian Biryani)

I should think most of us love the concept of a one dish meal, especially if one is one the kitchen side of things. I know there many kinds of one dish meals across the world, but to me a one-dish meal usually has rice in it. This is probably because I’m from the south of India where rice invariably manages to pop in one form or the other at every meal!

A "Biryani" is one such Indian one-dish meal. I’m sure someone will point out that a biryani is usually served with accompaniments and so not really a one-dish meal. I would like to argue that these accompaniments are generally yogurt (or curds as we refer to it in India), pickles and pappads which are not really dishes which have to be cooked up along with the main dish.
And if you subscribe to the view that one-dish meals should be easy to make, then the biryani is not for you. A biryani is not something you can hurry along but something one cooks when there is enough time on hand to cook as well as savour its nuances.

Last month, Random House India was kind enough to send me a copy of Pratibha Karan’s latest book, very aptly named “Biryani”. The biryani is really a non-vegetarian food preparation, even though there are quite a few vegetarian variations if one looks for them. I’m a bit of biryani novice and the biryanis I can make wouldn’t take up all the fingers on my right hand!
So I was quite interested in going through this particular book.

A former IAS officer in the Indian Government, Pratibha Karan is passionate about food. Interestingly, she happens to be a vegetarian though she cooks and experiments with non-vegetarin cuisines.

In her introduction to the book, Ms. Karan discusses the possible origins of the biryani. She suggests it started out as meal cooked up by cooks for battle weary soldiers of yester years, easily cooked yet nutritious. She also explains how the biryani is cooked by layering it in a pot whereas in a pulao (another well-known Indian rice preparation), all the ingredients are cooked together.

Qabooli Biryani (recipe follows)

The book “Biryani” has 100 different biryani recipes from all across India, some very famous ones as well many lesser known but no less delicious. Pratibha Karan also provides suggestions and advice on which rice to use and also how to cook it for the perfect biryani. The author also includes a chapter on relishes and raitas that could be served with the biryanis.

The book is broadly divided into four chapters dealing with the four main geographic regions of India (the North, South, East and West), with each chapter featuring biryanis typical of that region. While most of the biryanis in the book are understandably non-vegetarian, there are a reasonable number of vegetarian recipes.
The author has also thoughtfully provided two separate listings of the biryanis in her book under “Order of appearance in the book” and “Biryanis by ingredients”.
While this makes it easier to access the particular biryani one would want, I think it would have been better of these “lists” had been put at the beginning of the book rather than tucking it at the back.

The recipes are well presented and very easy to follow. However, there doesn’t seem to be a uniform system for measuring ingredients in the book.
Most of the recipes have the main ingredients presented by weight yet when it comes to some ingredients like oil, one recipe requires “2/3 cup” and another “1/2 cup” while a third one asks for “60 gm” and a fourth recipe for “150 gm”!
Most people associate the biryani with Mughal cuisines of Hyderabad and Awadh. The biryani is more than that and is essentially a Muslim food preparation and so it is natural to find excellent biryanis in any part of India which is home to the Muslim community.
As the author herself points out, in the effort of equitably representing all regions of the country, she has left out some of the more well-known and unusual biryanis.
Perhaps this book should not have focused on being regionally representative but on the actual food it is about. Including those “left out” biryanis in this book could have made it a more complete biryani collection.

In spite of this, I found the book featuring quite a good variety of biryanis and presenting them in a very user friendly manner for the home cook. If you love biryanis and would prefer to savour them in the comfort of your home, then this book is for you.

Aloo Aur Tamatar Ka Pulao

I tried out the “Qabooli Biryani” and the “Aloo Aur Tamatar Ka Pulao" (Potato-Tomato Pulao) and both were very good. I present the Qabooli Biryani here and I quote Pratibha Karan as saying this is….

A delicious vegetarian biryani, this recipe has come down from the Mughals and is made with split gram lentils. In Hyderabad, it is a celebration dish.”

Qabooli Biryani

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 6 to 8


Grind these spices to a powder:

1/2” piece cinnamon

2-3 cardamoms

1/2 tsp caraway seeds

1/2 tsp peppercorns

Other ingredients:
500 gm long grain rice

250 gm yellow split gram lentils

a pinch of turmeric

3 onions, finely sliced

1 tsp ginger paste

1 tsp garlic paste

1/3 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp chilli powder

1 cup yogurt, whisked

1/2 cup fresh green coriander, chopped

1/4 cup mint leaves chopped

4 green chillies, chopped

juice of 2-3 limes

1/3 cup milk

2 tbsp ghee

2/3 cup oil



Prepare the rice:

Wash and soak the rice in water for 20 minutes, then drain. Boil about 2 1/2 litres of water with a salt. When the water starts to boil, add rice, and cook for about 6 minutes till two thirds done. Drain the water, and transfer the rice to a flat dish and set aside.

Prepare the lentils:

Wash and soak the yellow split lentils for 20 minutes. Boil in just enough water (2-3 cups) with a little salt and turmeric for about 15 minutes till 90% done. Drain any excess water and set aside.

Cook the lentils:

Heat the oil. Fry the onions till golden brown. Remove half and set aside. Add the ginger and garlic and fry till golden. Add the turmeric and red chilli powder followed by the yogurt. Stir briskly till the contents come to a boil and the oil starts to surface. Add the lentils, fry for about 2 minutes, and set aside.

Assemble and serve:

Take a heavy-bottomed pan and smear with oil. Place half the parboiled rice. Spread the lentils over the rice. Sprinkle half of the ground spices. Also spread half of the coriander, mint and green chillies, and the lime juice.
Cover with the balance rice. Sprinkle milk, ghee, the remaining powdered spices, fried onions and remaining coriander, mint and green chillies. Cover with a fitting lid and cook for the first 1-2 minutes on a high flame and then on slow flame for about 10 minutes till the rice starts to steam.
Serve steaming hot.

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March 7, 2010

Bread and Grapes Under A Tuscan Sun: Schiacciata Con L'Uva

There are a lot of great combinations in life, and books and food is definitely one of them for me. Think of being curled up in your favourite chair with a good book, something to munch on and a cup of tea, then that’s one idea of what my heaven could look like. Throw in some rain (with the rain outside and me inside) and that scene is almost perfect.

When I first joined this group of bloggers who continue to be inspired on a gastronomic level by the books they read, I was living in Cochin with a wonderful library which was almost in my backyard. I might miss my weekly shopping, but you could be sure I would be at the library every week no matter what. In fact, if they didn’t see us at the library, they would enquire after us!
This library is one of the things I really miss about leaving Cochin. Two places I visit without fail during our trips back home at this library and my baking supplies store!!

Unfortunately, reading is something that doesn’t happen much these days because, as I keep mentioning, good libraries aren’t what Goa is about but that’s another story. The long and short of it is that I haven’t been joining my fellow bloggers in their monthly book inspired cooking for sometime now, mostly because I haven’t been able to find the books.

This month’s choice was Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes and, you guessed it, I couldn’t find that title either. However, I have seen the movie which stars Diane Lane in the leading role. I know the movie is a lot different from the book, yet the basic story line of both book and movie are much the same.

Based on the life of the author, it is about a middle aged American woman who is recently divorced and decides to deal with her depression with a trip to Tuscany in Italy. Once there she comes upon Bramasole, an empty house, up for sale in the village. She makes an impulsive decision to buy it and there starts her story with fixing up the house starting with the plumbing right through to everything else.
The book (and the movie) deals with her discovery of herself through another culture, its food, its people and their way of life.
Frances Mayes also provides some recipe of typically Tuscan food in her book. Since I didn’t read the book or see the recipes, I decided to let myself be inspired by the region and make something typically Tuscan.

I chose to bake Schiacciata Con L'Uva. Quite a mouthful, but what that is, is a sweet focaccia (flatbread) stuffed and topped with grapes. Schiacciata, by the way, means flattened or squashed.
In autumn, “la vendemmia (the harvesting season of wine grapes) in Tuscany is celebrated with the preparation of this bread. I’m guessing that this also happens to be a way to use up some of those grapes that don’t make it to the crushing process.

This was something I had bookmarked quite a while ago, but didn’t make because there were no grapes to be had anywhere. While I don’t get the variety which is used for this bread, it is the season now for beautiful, juicy and sweet black seedless grapes. And so the perfect season to be inspired to bake something Tuscan.
This anise flavoured schiacciata is sweetened with sugar and redolent with the aroma of olive oil and rosemary. Shaheen (a.k.a The Purple Foodie) has sent me some fresh rosemary, oregano and sweet marjoram some time back. As I couldn’t use up all the herbs, Shaheen advised that I freeze them. And so I had fresh (well, frozen) rosemary to put in this flatbread.
I halved and slightly adapted this recipe from the Tuscan Recipes site. I had to make some adjustments for the amount of flour, as I needed more than specified in the original recipe. A detailed step-by-step tutorial on making this bread can be found here.


For the base:

2 1/2 to 3 cups all purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp dry active yeast

a pinch of salt

2 tbsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp anise seeds

1 to 1 1/2 cups warm water

1/2 cup milk

For the topping:

1/2 kg big black, juicy grapes (I used less; mine were seedless)

¼ cup powdered sugar

a few twigs of fresh rosemary (optional) plus some more

3 to 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Mix the milk and water and warm it slightly. Dissolve the yeast completely in this milk-water mixture.
Place the flour, salt and sugar on a clean surface and mix. Form into a small heap with a well in the center. Slowly pour the dissolved yeast into the centre, mixing with the flour until all of the yeast water is incorporated.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, like for bread, until it is smooth and elastic. Cover the dough and place in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

In a small saucepan warm the olive oil with some of the rosemary. As soon as the rosemary starts to sizzle, remove saucepan from the heat. Remove the rosemary (throw it away) and let the oil cool.

Grease a rectangular baking pan. Roll out the dough to about 1 cm thick (this thickness is important or your bread layers will be very thick), and wide enough to have the dough overlapping the edges of the pan by about 2-3 cm all around. Place the dough on the pan and cover it evenly with the grapes, leaving very little space.
I used a pie plate because I didn’t have the right sized rectangular pan.

Dust the grapes with the sugar and remaining rosemary, then drizzle the olive oil over all of this. Fold the edges of the dough over on top of the grapes around the border, pinching the corners to make the schiacciata rectangular in form.

Bake the schiacciata at 180C for 30 minutes. You might want to place another pan underneath, because the grapes' juice could drip out over the edges of the pan. Let cool and serve with a bit of honey on top.
This recipe serves 6


We found the schiacciata alright, nothing extraordinary. I think I expected to be something very special or unusual, which could have been unrealistic. The grapes I used were sweet and the texture of the bread was just great but together they just didn’t seem right.
Now, it might be that I didn’t use the right variety of grapes, or maybe this bread is right only with wine, which we don’t drink. I would however recommend you try this bread at least once because you just might like it.

The bread was excellent and I shall use this recipe (minus the sugar) to make other flatbreads, maybe even focaccia or a pizza.

This schiacciata is also getting YeastSpotted!
Please check here to see what my friends were inspired to cook this onth.

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March 4, 2010

Just What The Doctor Ordered ~ Baked Apple Chips!

I sometimes think I could subsist on snacks, but then sense kicks in and I know that thankfully it’s just a temporary phase. The fact still remains that I do get these cravings, usually at tea time for something crunchy to munch on.
Unfortunately for me, most crunchy munches are invariably the kind that either head straight for my hips or else gently coat my blood vessels.
Sure there are plenty of healthy alternatives like carrot sticks and cucumbers. I may be a vegetarian, but you wouldn’t find me looking very happy when faced with eating raw vegetables. And who ever heard of anyone having raw vegetables with their tea, anyway?
Then of course, I could make healthy chivda, oven baked fries and some of that stuff. Much as I enjoy these, there are sometimes when I have to honestly admit to myself that they’re not a patch on the original deep-fried versions.

And what about fruit then? Fruit? With tea? Really!
If you want to have fruit with tea, it usually needs to be propped up and padded with butter, flour, sugar and cream maybe. This is a wonderful way to eat fruit (think apple pie, for one) but I am looking at a healthy snacking option.
And I found it sometime back in baked apple chips. Funnily enough, at the time I came across it, the apple chips were decorating a calorie laden confection. I stuck the idea in some corner of my mind and then eventually forgot all about it till last week.

I have previously mentioned that I’ve joined a couple of photography groups on Flickr and one of the group assignments required us to shoot an apple. How we envisaged the apple and presented it was up to us, but it had to be apple.
So I was thinking about how to go about this in a different manner from the usual when the baked apple chips popped into my mind.

The result of the photography exercise was the proverbial “two birds with one stone” thing. I got a picture that I was reasonably pleased with and a healthy and crunchy snack as well. In fact, just what the doctor would have ordered, if he knew about these crisp apple chips!

They’re fruit, minimally sweet and satisfyingly crunchy. They don’t take too much effort to make. I spent more time trying to get a good shot than I spent slicing the apples.


2 apples (I used Red Delicious)

3 tbsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon powder


Mix the sugar and cinnamon powder in a small bowl and keep aside. Line your baking trays with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Now lightly sprinkle half of the cinnamom-sugar evenly on the prepared trays.

Wash and dry the apples. Cut off a thin slice off the top and the bottom of each apple. Slice them as thinly as you can, using a sharp knife or a mandoline. You may choose to core the apples before slicing them. I didn’t because I like the pretty flower-like pattern the seeds make in the baked chips.

You can use lemon juice here to prevent the slices from discoloring. I didn’t find the need to do so. And the chips turn brown with cinnamon and the baking anyways.

Lay the slices in a single layer, close to each other, on top of the sugar sprinkled trays. Sprinkle the remaining sugar evenly on the apple slices.

Bake them at 120C for about 2 hours till they’re dry and crisp. This recipe makes a big bowl full of apple chips.
If you can resist eating them all, store in an airtight container. Baked apple chips can also be used to decorate desserts.

If you would like something more substantial with your tea, then these Crunchy Peanut Hearts I made for Ria as a gift might be more to your liking. Enjoy!

On an aside, my monthly post at The Daily Tiffin is up. If getting your children to eat healthy food is something is always on your mind, then perhaps you would like to read about my experiences with this - "When Popeye Doesn’t Quite Help Them Eat Spinach!"

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March 1, 2010

Spicy Potato-Carrot-Pea Filled Buns And Fougasse: Baking From ABin5

The end of the month means another set of ABin5/ Hbin5 breads to be baked, if one chooses to do so. Going by our schedule we were to make some 100% Whole Wheat Bread With Olive Oil dough. Then we could bake one, all or any of the following:

A loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Bread w/Olive Oil

A loaf of Aloo Paratha and

A loaf of Southwestern Focaccia w Roasted Corn and Goat Cheese

I don’t have the HBin5 book and usually bake an equivalent sort of bread from my copy of Abin5. This time I happened to find the recipe for the 100% Whole Wheat Bread with Olive Oil at Kalyn’s blog.

So I thought I would bake bread, for once, from the HBin5 like most others in the group. I baked the 100% Whole Wheat Bread with Olive Oil and I must say it turned out quite good with a soft and somewhat spongy texture. It didn’t rise very much but spread itself out quite a bit and I was left with a bread that seemed to have been caught in between deciding whether to be a loaf or a flatbread!
I have a feeling this bread is best suited to make flatbreads or where the breads don’t need to rise much vertically.

Most whole wheat or “healthy” breads are not really very popular with my family though my husband will sometimes take pity on me and my “healthy” bread baking efforts, and to humour me will eat a little of it and tell me “it’s ok”.
Otherwise we are a bread loving family but unfortunately for this bread, no one here liked it very much. Even I, who normally like whole wheat breads, didn’t particularly find it very tasty.

When I am trying out something for the first time, I usually bake/ cook it in small portions to minimize wastage. Since there were no takers for this bread, I decided not to go further with this recipe. Instead, I decided to try and keep to the whole wheat theme of the Hbin5 group, and baked the Light Whole Wheat Bread (page 74-75) from my Abin5.

I have baked this bread many times before and have consistently got good bread which is not as dense as whole wheat bread yet has some of the goodness of whole wheat in it. I have previously posted a bread shaped like a bunch of grapes with this dough, which I had then adapted to include more whole wheat flour.

I would have made the Aloo Paratha loaf but for one thing. In India we make aloo parathas (flatbreads stuffed with spicy potato filling) with fresh whole wheat dough and not with sourdough style dough. I had this feeling that my family, being used to the traditional flatbreads, might not appreciate another “healthy” sourdough aloo paratha loaf.
So I used the light whole wheat dough to make small buns stuffed with Indian style spicy potato-carrot-peas filling.
I also made some Fougasse, which is a French flatbread typically slashed and sometimes shaped to resemble a leaf or a tree. You can also add onions or herbs to this bread for a variation.

I have continued to use my adapted version of the recipe from ABin5 as my version uses more whole wheat flour which I prefer.

To make the stuffed buns, I used the filling I usually make for my aloo parathas and just added some carrots (2 medium sized carrots should be okay) and about 1/3 cup peas while cooking the potatoes. I cooked the carrots and peas with the potatoes and mashed the carrots slightly. Otherwise I just made my filling as I did for the aloo parathas.
To make the stuffed buns, I first divided the filling into slightly largish lemon sized balls. I then pulled off pieces a wee bit larger than this from the dough. Taking each small piece of dough, I worked it into a small ball and flattened it slightly, a bit thinner at the edges.

I placed a ball of the filling in the centre of the dough circle, brought up the sides and pinched it together at the top to enclose the filling completely. I made 5 other stuffed buns similarly and placed them on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.

I then loosely covered them with a cotton kitchen towel and let them rise for 30 minutes. Then I brushed the tops of the buns with milk and sprinkled white sesame seeds on top.

I baked the buns at 230C for about 25 minutes till they were done.
They’re pretty good as a very filling snack with tea/ coffee, or even for lunch with a salad and fruit on the side.

The other members of the HBin5 baking group have had much greater success at this bread than I have, so this bread might just be the one for you.

My Fougasse and the Stuffed Buns are also being YeastSpotted!

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