April 30, 2010

ABin5/ HBin5 Breads Galore! Brioche à Tête, Cinnamon Crescent Rolls, Milk & Honey Raisin Bread And Carrot Buttermilk Bread


That’s a lot of bread in one post, I know, but I have a very valid excuse. (Not that I need an excuse to bake bread.) Once again, its time to post my efforts at baking from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes (a.k.a. ABin5).

For the past two ABin5/ HBin5 posts, I have been woefully behind most of the members in baking according to schedule. There’s nothing new about this where I am concerned, and it was the freedom to bake whenever one could was one of the reasons that I joined this group.
On the flip side it means that I could end up never really baking my way through the book!

So I decided it was about time I did something to catch up with the others and ended up baking a lot more bread than I normally would. Of course, I always bake in small batches and since the bread was good, no one was complaining.
This time we were to make Milk &Honey Raisin Bread and Cinnamon Crescent Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing. We were also to make Chocolate Espresso Whole Wheat Brioche but I decided not to do this as I had already made the Chocolate Coffee Bread Cupcakes earlier.

The Cinnamon Crescent Rolls were to be made using the Pumpkin Pie Brioche (pg 284 of HBin5), but I have never made anything sweet or baked with pumpkin before and was sure I wanted to test the waters with this one. So I made the Brioche from ABin5 (pg 189) and used that for the crescent rolls.
You can find the Pumpkin Pie Brioche recipe here.


Brioche à Tête and Cinnamon Crescent Rolls:

First I shall show you the brioche I baked. This brioche is so good, it is worth making again and again. I have made it a few times and it has never failed me yet. The last time I used that dough to make a wonderful Brioche With Chocolate Ganache.




I made half the recipe and made some Brioche à Tête (pg 191) with half the dough and some Mini Cinnamon Crescent Rolls with the other half. I decided to leave my crescent rolls as they were, without the cream cheese icing. Let me say that they were gone so quickly, I just about managed to get some pictures.
There's a post on shaping Brioche à Tête on the ABin5 site.




Milk & Honey Raisin Bread:

I made the Milk & Honey Raisin Bread from the HBin5 book (pg 270- 271) using my usual 1: 3 whole wheat to all purpose flour ratios, but left out the gluten. Yet another good bread from Jeff and Zoe. This bread was soft with a nice crumb, very pretty dotted with raisins and the crunch from the sugar sprinkled on the bread was a nice contrast.




Eat this bread warm from the oven or toast it to slight crispness. Either way it is good with a cup of coffee or tea.
There’s a recipe for this bread here.


And now for the bread I was supposed to bake previously but never quite managed to. The last time I posted the Pine Nut Pesto Bread, I was still behind schedule. I should have made Carrot Bread and Olive Spelt Bread. The Olive Spelt Bread was out of question for me as we don’t get spelt here and after one not very good experience with olive oil in bread, I’ve decided not to bake bread where olive oil figures in a big way.

I should have also made some Gluten-free Breads but didn’t as I didn’t have the time not the are gluten-free flours for baking, available here.


Carrot Buttermilk Bread:

I did want to make the Carrot Bread but as ABin5 does not have a recipe for it, Renée of Flamingo Musings came to my rescue again. She mailed me the additions to the basic bread and I decided to work with that.

I used half the buttermilk bread recipe (pg 207 of ABin5) and added fresh coconut, grated carrots, brown sugar, raisins and some garam masala (instead of cinnamon) to the other ingredients and mixed them up. I followed the buttermilk bread recipe for baking instructions.
As is my usual practice, I used whole wheat flour and all purpose flour in 1: 3 ratios.




If you haven’t made the Buttermilk Bread from Abin5 (pg 207) yet, then you really must. I find that it is also just perfect for the carrot bread. I think the coconut normally used in this bread is desiccated (dehydrated) but I live in a place where fresh coconuts are plentiful and it didn’t seem right to use anything else.
I found this bread to be moist and very slightly sweet, just the way we like it. It makes good toast and even better French toast.
You can see the Buttermilk Bread recipe here.

So that’s it for my 5 minute breads this time. Please do not forget to see what my bread baking friends have been baking this time. Catch you again in a couple of weeks with some more bread.

My Brioche à Tête is being YeastSpotted!

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April 27, 2010

The Proof Is In The Pudding – Steamed Sticky Date Pudding And Marbled Vanilla & Chocolate Pudding! Daring Baker’s Challenge April, 2010


When this month’s challenge was revealed at the Daring Bakers forum, to say I wasn’t exactly thrilled would be an understatement. The reason being, as you would all know by now, that the nature of the main ingredient was not exactly palatable given my vegetarian diet or my sensibilities.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

Of course, this being a personal opinion, I was planning to sit out this challenge till Esther clarified that we could use butter. The main challenge this month was to make a steam cooked British style “pud”, sweet or savoury, using any recipe of our choice.
That made things a whole lot better.

Steam cooking is something I’m very familiar with. As a south Indian, a lot of our traditional cooking involves steaming, especially quite a few of our breakfast dishes which are cooked this way.
So the method of cooking this involved in this month’s pudding wasn’t a challenge for me, and I’m sure for most of the DB members of Asian origin.


Sticky Date Pudding With Butterscotch Sauce:


Yet I have never made a steamed British style pudding even though I have always wanted to try my hand at a sticky date pudding. Well, this was the perfect opportunity. We love dates and I always have some in stock.




I adapted this recipe and adjusted it to ingredient, taste and serving preferences. Here’s my recipe and I used dariole moulds to make single serves rather than one big pudding. This recipe serves 5 or 6, depending on the size of your moulds.



Ingredients:


For the pudding:

1 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup boiling water

50 gm butter, softened (at room temperature)

3/4 cup loosely packed demerara (or brown) sugar

1 egg

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

For the butterscotch sauce:

3/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar

1 cup light cream (25%)

60 gm butter



Method:


To make the butterscotch sauce, put all three ingredients in a saucepan and whisk together till combined. Over low heat, keep stirring the sauce till the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and keep aside.


To make the pudding:

Put the dates in a bowl and add the boiling water. Now add the baking soda, mix and allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes.
Blend the mixture till smooth. I prefer to blend till the mixture is smooth with some small date pieces in it.

Put the date mixture into a bowl and add the butter, egg, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well with a wooden spoon till combined. Divide the mixture equally between 5 or 6 well greased moulds.

Cover the moulds with aluminium foil squares making a fold in the center. This will allow the pudding to rise well. Tie the foil down using string or with rubber bands. If you’re using rubber bands, ensure they’re not the kind that melts!
Place the moulds on a steamer plate ensuring there is enough water in it but the level is not too high to get into the moulds.
Steam cook the puddings for about 30 to 45 minutes. If you poke a skewer through the pudding it should come out clean when done.

Remove the puddings from the steamer and remove the foil caps. Allow to cool in the moulds for about 10 minutes and then unmould the puddings. They should slip out easily.

These puddings are normally served warm during winter, but given the heat of the summer right now, I served the puddings at room temperature with chilled butterscotch sauce.


Marbled Chocolate & Vanilla Pudding:


I did initially experiment with a steamed jam sponge from one of my cookbooks - Traditional Puddings and Desserts by Mary Berry. This book has a wonderful variety of desserts which are quite easy to make.




While that pudding turned out well, I wasn’t particularly excited by the jam in it. This is probably because I’m not overly found of jam and find it too sweet.

So I decided to use that Jam Pudding recipe and adapt it to make a marbled chocolate and vanilla pudding. The recipe I used to make my pudding is given below. This recipe serves 4.




Ingredients:


For the pudding:

100 gm butter, softened (at room temperature)

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

about 1 tbsp milk

2 tsp cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract


For the eggless custard sauce:

500 ml cold milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 tbsp vanilla flavoured custard powder



Method:


To make the custard sauce, keep aside about 1/4 cup milk aside. Boil the remaining with sugar. Dissolve the custard powder in the 1/4 cup milk and add it to the boiling milk, stirring constantly to ensure no lumps form.
Keep stirring the mixture till the custard thickens a bit into a sauce.


To make the pudding:

Sieve the baking powder, salt and flour together and keep aside.
Beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg and beat well. Add the flour and fold it into the mixture with a spoon. Add just enough milk to give the batter a dropping consistency.

Divide the mixture into two equal portions. To one add the vanilla extract and mix well. Blend the cocoa powder with a little water to a thick paste and add to the other portion. Mix well.

Grease individual four dariole moulds with butter or oil and put alternate spoons full of batter equally into the moulds.

Cover the moulds with aluminium foil squares making a fold in the center. This will allow the pudding to rise well. Tie the foil down using string or with rubber bands. If you’re using rubber bands, ensure they’re not the kind that melts!

Place the moulds on a steamer plate ensuring there is enough water in it but the level is not too high to get into the moulds.
Steam cook the puddings for about 30 to 45 minutes. If you poke a skewer through the pudding it should come out clean when done.

Remove the puddings from the steamer and remove the foil caps. Allow to cool in the moulds for about 10 minutes and then unmould the puddings. They should slip out easily.
Serve the puddings with the custard sauce.


Verdict:


As a Daring Baker challenge, there was very little that challenged me this month. I'm not complaining as it is nice, once in a while, to be within my kitchen comfort zone and not get myself worked up over a DB challenge!
We liked both the puddings. In fact, I should say we like steamed sponge puddings. I think what I really liked was the spongy texture of the puddings with its moist and melt-in-the-mouth quality.

While these puddings might not be unusual or very pretty to look at, they are very easy to make and are an excellent choice when the demand is for a dessert with a light feel.

The sticky date pudding was definitely the star of this show.
In fact, the first time I made it I wasn’t able to get pictures of it. Our daughter actually suggested, with my husband agreeing very enthusiastically, that I could make it again so that I could get my pictures and they could have it for dessert again.
Akshaya doesn’t make this sort of statements very often!


Oh, and do not forget to take a peek at what the other Daring Bakers have been doing this month.

P.S. :
It seems that some of the comments are not appearing on my previous couple of posts. I have no idea why this is happening and have complained.
So it is possible that you might find your comment not appearing as soon as you push "Publish" button. I don't know where it is going either.
I am hoping the problem will be solved soon. Thanks for bearing with me.

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April 23, 2010

Brown Sugar Cardamom Shortbread Bars


This is a short post and there’s no history, story or interesting anecdotes to these shortbread bars. My daughter loves short bread and frequently demands that I bake some for her. My husband and I find shortbread too buttery and rich (the coffee and chocolate chunk shortbread squares mentined below are the exception), but there’s something about them that my daughter finds irresistible.

In fact, you can see how much she likes them when you realize this is my fifth shortbread post on this blog. The others are Ghorayebah (Arabic shortbread cookies), Shortbread Cookies, Scottish Shortbread, and Coffee And Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Squares!




This recipe is from one of my favourite and much thumbed cookie book, Cookies: Step-By-Step Techniques. The original recipe calls for vanilla, which I substituted with cardamom. If you do not have the cardamom, use vanilla extract.
This recipe requires just four ingredients, all of which should be easily available in most kitchens. It is loaded with butter, but then what is shortbread if not buttery?

I have it on authority (I consider my daughter one on shortbread, since she’s eaten so much of it!), that these shortbread bars are “really good”, so do give them a chance.


Ingredients:


200 gm butter, softened at room temperature

1 1/4 cups brown sugar + 2 tbsps extra

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp powdered cardamom



Method:


Beat together the butter and brown sugar till light and creamy. Add the cardamom and the flour and blend very well.

Gather the dough into a ball and press it out into a lightly greased rectangular baking tray (the type one uses for sheet cakes; mine is about 2” high on the sides) so that it is 1/4” thick. Sprinkle the extra 2 tbsps brown sugar evenly on the top and lightly press it into the dough.

Cover the tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate till firm (for about an hour). Mark the dough into bars by cutting through to the bottom, with a sharp knife. If you wish to bake this later, the dough will keep in the fridge upto 3 days.
If you would rather have regular round cookies, then gather the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate till firm (for about an hour) or for upto 3 days.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough till it is 1/4" thick.
Cut out into 2 1/2” cookies with cutters and sprinkle the extra 2 tbsps brown sugar evenly on the top. Lightly press the sugar into the dough with the rolling pin. Place the cookies, slightly apart, on lightly greased sheets.

Bake the bars/ cookies at 150C for about 35 to 40 minutes until firm to touch. Press very lightly to check if they’re done.
Cool on racks and store in airtight containers.

This recipe should make about 36 bars/ cookies.


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April 20, 2010

Fresh Fig And Cardamom Scented Frangipane Tart


The summer is here once again and it just seems to get hotter every year. It almost feels unbelievable that just one month back it was so pleasant and I could still find fruit like strawberries, figs and other winter produce at the market.

As I child, I don’t think I even knew what figs were. At some point, when I was much older, I came across dried figs. I first discovered them at my cousin’s house, in the gift boxes containing dried fruit and nuts which were normally exchanged during Diwali.
This was in north India where figs are commonplace enough but still a rarity in south India, where I am from.





Then I found dried figs were being sold by my spice vendor in Kochi. They’re very attractive and quaint (many people don’t think so, but I do), sold as little bracelet sized circles or longer garlands made of flattened discs of fig strung through the centre with natural twine.
On an aside, did you know that the fig is not really a fruit, but the flower of the fig tree?





Then last year, I saw fresh figs for the first time at my local market. I think I caught them at the end of the season because when I went back the figs were gone! Then last month I saw them again.
I have always liked eating dried figs and really love the chewy taste of the dried fruit with the slight crunch from the seeds. So it is not surprising I would like fresh figs and brought some home.
Surprisingly, no one seemed to want this fresh fruit other than myself! So much the better, I thought, since I didn’t have to share. However, I did have more fresh figs on hand than I could eat by myself and fresh figs aren’t famous for their ability to keep.

There was only one thing to be done. Make something with figs! But what?
Given that I had been making a lot of jam and chutney, I wasn’t very thrilled by the idea of making some more jam or preserve. After a lot of recipe searching and thought, I made small fig tarts with cardamom scented frangipane.




I used the pate sable recipe from last month’s Daring Baker challenge for the crust, and I used Pim’s frangipane recipe for which she uses to make her “best ever fig tart”! Instead of making one big tart, I made small individual tarts, finally putting to use the tart tins Deeba had sent me some time back. I also decided to flavour the frangipane with my favourite spice, cardamom.





You can use blanched almonds, and your frangipane will be a nice whitish colour, but I use almonds with the skin on. I like the flecked brown in the frangipane, which is a good thing because I’m too lazy to blanch and skin the almonds.
You can also make these tarts with other fresh fruit like pears, mangoes, sweet plums, etc.



Ingredients:


8 to 9 figs, depending on their size


For the crust (pate sablee):

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

100 gm butter, chilled and cubed

½ tsp vanilla extract

6 tbsp granulated sugar

1 egg yolk at room temperature

2 tbsp chilled water


Frangipane:

3/4 cup toasted almonds

1/4 cup granulated sugar

4 cardamom pods

75 gm butter at room temperature

1 egg

2 tbsp cold milk (optional to thin the frangipane)



Method:


Making the crust:

Put the flour, chilled butter, and baking powder into your processor bowl and run with “on” and “off” spurts till the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Whisk the egg yolk and vanilla extract and add to the mixture along with the sugar.
Run the processor only till the mixture starts clumping together. Add the chilled water one tbsp at a time, and run the processor again only till the dough just comes together.

Take the dough out, gather into a ball and then flatten it into dics. Wrap this and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Lightly butter six 4” tart moulds with removable bottoms. Take the dough out and place on a lightly floured work surface.
Roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness and cut out 6 circles about 6” diameter each. You should be able to line six 4” tart moulds.

Gather the scraps, roll again and cut out the required circles. Do not work the dough more than absolutely necessary even though this particular pastry is rather forgiving.
Prick the pastry all over with a fork and then bake at 180C for 20 minutes or till a faint golden brown. Remove the tart cases from the moulds and cool on a rack.


Making the frangipane:

Run the toasted almonds, sugar and cardamom seeds (remove them from the pods) in your grinder/ processor till finely ground (sandy texture) but not pasty. If you grind the almonds too much, the oil gets released making the mixture pasty.
Add the butter and process again till mixed. Now add the egg and process till the frangipane is smooth.

This recipe makes more frangipane than is needed in this recipe. You will need about half of it. You can refrigerate the remainder (will keep for about 2 to 3 days) or freeze it (should keep for about a month) and use it in something else.


Making the fig tarts:

Wash the figs and trim both ends. Cut the figs into slices or eights lengthwise, according to your preference.
If your frangipane is too thick, you can add a little milk (do not add too much) to the amount of frangipane you’re using for these tarts. Mix very well.

Put the tarts back in their moulds, and spoon the frangipane equally into the 6 tarts. Arrange the fig pieces/ slices decoratively on the frangipane.

Bake the tarts at 180C for about 30 minutes, till the frangipane is cooked and starts browning.
Cool on racks and serve slightly warm or cold. You can serve them as they are or with a bit of whipped cream or thick yogurt.
This recipe makes six 4” fig tarts.


So did these make the best ever fig tarts?
Frankly, I don’t know as I’ve never eaten figs in a tart before. I can tell you that these tarts were quite good, though my daughter preferred to eat hers without the figs in them. She very carefully picked out the figs and then told me that her tart tasted good now. It definitely should have, since all that was left on her plate was some shortbread-like pate sablee and almond frangipane!

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April 18, 2010

Pear And Raisin Chutney


As I mentioned in my previous post, I almost missed my yearly winter jam and chutney making session. Once I had made my strawberry jam, my attention turned to what other fruit and vegetables I had which could be converted into jam or chutney. (Yes, I still have another two jam recipes from that session to post).




The first candidates for this were the pears in my fruit basket. There were a few and I knew they were going to rot before they got eaten.
I don’t know what it is but, in my home, it seems to me that when the fruit basket is full no one seems to be particularly interested in fruit. And when that basket is close to empty and I’m due for a visit to the market, everyone is wondering why there is no fruit to eat!




So there were these pears and no one seemed to want to eat them. I searched through a few recipes to make some jam but none of those that I saw really excited me. Pear chutney seemed a better idea, so I made up my own recipe for chutney using whatever I had on hand.
In favour of this pear chutney, let me just say the chutney was gone faster than those pears languishing in my kitchen!!



Ingredients:


5 pears, cored and diced (peel if you prefer)

¼ cup golden raisins

1 medium white onion, miced

1/2 cup packed demerara sugar (adjust to taste)

1 cup apple unsweetened apple juice

2 tbsp vinegar

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds

2 tbsp chilli flakes

1 1/2 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp salt



Method:

Steam cook or microwave the diced pear till well cooked. Using a masher or wooden spoon, break the cooked pears till mushy but not a purée.

Put the minced onion, demerara sugar, apple juice, vingar, fresh ginger, mustard seeds, chiil flakes and salt in a pan. Cook this mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.

Add the mashed pear and raisins and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently until all the liquid has almost evaporated. Add the garam masala, stir and cook till all the liquid had evaporated.
The chutney must still be very moist.

Ladle the hot chutney into hot sterilized jars and seal. This recipe gave me enough chutney to fill two 250 gm jars.


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April 15, 2010

Very Yummy Strawberry Jam


Making jam at home is something I’ve been doing for a while, and it is something I seem to do whenever the mood gets me. In variably the jam making bug infects me when there’s a particular fruit is in season and I know it is not going to be around for too long. At that point I start looking around and then start figuring out what else I could make a jam out of and that’s how I have ended up making some rather unusual but very tasty jams, preserves and chuneys!




In India, the season from November through February is when a lot of fruits find their way to the market. Yes, winter (well, a large part of India does not have a true winter) is the time for things like strawberries, figs and the like.
This year, and I have no idea why, I just forgot about making jams or preserves. That is, until the end of last month when I was doing my routine clearing out of my kitchen.

Now I am a bit of a recycler of stuff, so I do tend to collect good glass bottle and jars with airtight lids for future use. I have many of them which are the same size and shape and I use these to store my spices and other stuff in the kitchen.




So, I was clearing out my kitchen shelves and came across a whole lot of empty bottles in one corner! There were too many for me to keep and some needed to be given away. It was while wondering how many to keep, that it struck me that I hadn’t “jammed” yet for this season. Close behind also came the realization that I had about 2 weeks of good strawberry season left.
So I got into a “jamming” spree and made a few jams and put those empty bottles and jars to good use.

The easiest way to make jam out of most fruit is to cook it with sugar and whatever else you might like to add to it for taste and to preserve it for as long as you would like.
I wanted to see if there was a different way of making strawberry jam. Some searching for recipes threw up a lot of options but 2 recipes stood out.




The first one has just strawberries and sugar but uses loads of vanilla beans! Great idea, in my opinion, but it would using up my stash of jealously gaurded vanilla beans.
The other one was a detailed recipe (with video) and what caught my attention here, was the addition of a bit of butter to the jam! This adds a shine to the jam. This jam also requires allowing the strawberries to sit in the sugar overnight before proceeding to make jam.
So I made my strawberry jam taking a little bit from both recipes (vanilla beans from the first, and the butter and overnight resting technique from the second), and then adding some stuff of my own. The result was a truly yummy strawberry jam.

I think I have found my “keeper” strawberry jam recipe!
Very Yummy Strawberry Jam


Ingredients:


5 cups strawberries

1 apple, cored and grated (not peeled)

2 cups granulated sugar (or more if needed)

3 vanilla beans

3/4 tsp salt

zest and juice of 2 lemons



Method:


Wash and hull the strawberries. Cut each into 2 and put into a deep bowl. Slit the vanilla beans into 2 and add to the strawberries. Add the sugar to the strawberries and mix very well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Next day, take the strawberries out of the fridge. The sugar would have drawn the juice out of the strawberries.
Put this into a large and deep heavy walled pot. Add more sugar at this point, if your strawberries need it.

Add the salt, grated apple, the lemon juice and zest and mix. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil. The sugar will froth up and this is why a large pot is necessary. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring well in between.
Turn down the heat a bit and allow the strawberries to cook till very soft. Using a potato masher, break down the strawberries a bit so the jam is smoother but with small pieces of fruit.

Cook till the jam is done and passes the “plate” test. Ladle the hot jam into hot sterilized jars and cover tightly.
I had enough jam to fill three 500gm jars.

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April 12, 2010

Italian Khana: A Review And Spaghetti With Peppers


Every Indian knows how much we love Chinese food (well, our version of it), but another cuisine that has come in from across the shores and become firmly entrenched in our hearts (I should say stomach) is Italian, with its pastas and pizza.
Even small restaurants with no pretensions to serving anything but Indian food will invariably have some “pizza” on their menu! It is an entirely different matter that no self respecting pizza would even look at this rather sad street version smothered in tomato ketchup topped with melty cheese!

It is probably to remedy this situation that Ritu Dalmia decided to write a book on authentic Italian food.
Ritu Dalmia, chef and restaurateur, owns and runs Delhi’s well known Italian restaurant – Diva. She also runs the café at the Italian Cultural Centre and Latitude at Good Earth. Even though she doesn’t have a culinary school background, her passion for food has made her an authority on Italian food and wines.

The word “khana” in Hindi means food, so Italian khana is nothing but Italian food. It’s also the name of Ritu Dalmia’s cookbook which features purely Italian recipes. The original cookbook was published in 2008, but a version of that book has been recently published as a set of 4 mini cookbooks.
The publishers, Random House India, sent me this series of 4 books along with their Biryani book.




These very affordable books are titled Pasta, Vegetarian, Dinner Party and Desserts and each book contains recipes specified by the title. All the recipes in each book also come with a Hindi translation.
Since the books in these series can be bought as individual copies and not necessarily as a set, it gives the person buying it the freedom to choose exactly what would suit her/ him.


Spaghetti/ Linguine With Peppers


The recipes are simple with quite short ingredient lists, well presented and quite easy to follow, though some of the techniques like “cooking al-dente” and “saucing the pasta” could have been better explained.
The recipes are for easily cooked food and perfect as an introduction to Italian cooking. Each recipe comes with a short introduction from the author with her sharing some information about it.
Ritu Dalmia also offers suggestions for variations on some recipes, as well as helpful tips on almost every page in her books.


Banana Semifreddo


On the negative side, I couldn’t understand why all the pictures in each of the books were bound together right in the middle. I would have preferred it if the pictures had been placed along with the respective recipes as this would have made a more visual impact on the cook.
While all the recipes in English have been printed with black text on a white background, the Hindi version of these recipes have been printed in white on green (or purple/ orange/ red depending on the book) backgrounds. This makes the English recipes easy to read while the Hindi recipes are more difficult to see!

I would also like to point out to the Ritu Dalmia or whoever it was that decided to add the Avocado Mousse to the “Vegetarian” book, that one of the ingredients for making the mousse is gelatin which is most definitely non-vegetarian!

Going through the books, a couple of things would have added to these books.
Since these books are meant to introduce Italian cooking, it would have been nice if the author would have included a small chapter at the beginning on the various types of Italian pasta and their shapes with small pictures/ thumbnails of each type.

The other thing that I felt would have been welcome was a list of alternative ingredients to substitute for some of those which are either expensive or difficult to source.

The author says that ingredients like Philadelphia cream cheese, ricotta or mascarpone, fresh mozzarella, double cream, ready-made filo pastry, zucchini, asparagus, etc are easily available in the shops. While this might be true in the bigger cities (metros), they can be quite expensive. I’m not sure these ingredients are even available in the smaller cities.
While I appreciate that substitution of ingredients means that the recipes are no longer authentic, that list would have been welcomed by home cooks eager to try some of the recipes.

If you are like me, cook without kitchen scales and use cups to measure ingredients when you have to, it will take you a little more time to convert all the weight measures into cups! I’m not sure how many Indians use kitchen scales to weigh their ingredients.


Bruschetta With Tomato And Basil


I did try some of the recipes from the books (one from each of the four books). I made the Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil (Vegetarian), Pesto (Dinner Party), Linguine with Peppers (Pasta) and Banana Semifreddo (dessert).
I have to say that all the dishes were easy to put together and absolutely delicious. Based on this, I would say these books are not at all a bad a buy if you wanted to try your hand at Italian cooking in your kitchen with minimal fuss.

Here is Ritu Dalmia’s recipe for Linguine with Peppers. I didn’t have linguine and used spaghetti instead. I also left out the breadcrumbs and the tomato sauce.



Ingredients:


200 gm linguine

100 gm fresh mozzarella

2 yellow and/ or red peppers

30 ml extra virgin olive oil

400 gm basic tomato sauce

250 gm fresh tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped

50 gm bread crumbs

a handful of fresh basil leaves

1 clove garlic, crushed

salt and pepper for seasoning



Method:


Roast the peppers in the oven or over the fire till they’re well cooked. Peel the skin, remove the seeds and cut the peppers into bit sized pieces.

In a small pan heat the oil and cook the garlic till brown. The idea is to infuse the oil the aroma of the garlic. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the basil leaves. Add the peppers and cook for another 7 to 8 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, boil the pasta in a lot of water and cook till al-dente. Drain.

Sauce the pasta and for every pasta recipe, add a little bit of the water in which the pasta was cooked.

Remove from the fire, add the mozzarella cubes and serve. Make sure the mozzarella is added after the pasta is off the fire. The idea is that it should melt slightly with the heat of the pasta.

This recipe serves 3 to 4.


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April 9, 2010

Maangai Araitchukalakki (Brined Mangoes In A Spicy Coconut-Yogurt Gravy)


I was just looking through my posts here this past month and realized that it is happening again. My blog is in grave danger of losing its identity and becoming a baking blog! Everything in my virtual and diverse kitchen is becoming less diverse and more “oven-centric”.
This isn’t because I have been baking more than usual or cooking any less. Its just that the food that I have taken pictures of (and so can blog about), recently, all seems to be stuff from my oven.
You will probably continue to see more goodies from my oven this month and the next, as I have to clear my drafts.




But for now, I present the “maangai araitchukalakki”. Given that it’s a mouthful to pronounce, you would have deduced that this is part of my traditional Palakkad Iyer fare. “Maangai” means mango and “araitchukalakki” means to grind and mix well and that really is all there is to this dish.

Most of our traditional everyday cooking is very simple and this dish is perhaps, one of the easiest to make. It doesn’t involve any cooking, just grinding and mixing.
Of course, you need the one magic ingredient which is the “kanni maanagai” (baby mangoes in brine).
The mangoes are ground to a fine paste with coconut and green chillies and mixed up with thick curd (yogurt) to make a sort of coconut chutney-like gravy. Tempering with spices is all that’s needed to finish the preparation.

An araitchukalakki can be made without the brined baby mangoes and does taste very good, but the mango takes this dish to another level entirely. Yet another version of this preparation uses “chenai” (elephant yam), but requires the vegetable to be cooked before it is ground with the other slightly different set of ingredients.
“Nellikkai” (Indian gooseberry) preserved in brine is also used to make yet another type of araitchukalakki.

The summer has just arrived here, but it is so hot with the average temperatures about 5C above what it should be at this time of the year! The last thing anyone would want is to spend too much time in an even hotter kitchen.

This araitchukalakki is just the thing for these kinds of days, or when you’re feeling a little lazy but the cooking needs to be done. Yogurt is the main ingredient in this dish which makes it light and cooling in nature, just right for the heat of summer.



Ingredients:


2 to 3 brined baby mangoes

1 cup freshly grated coconut

2 to 3 green chillies (adjust as required)

3 cups thick fresh yogurt

salt to taste

2 tsp oil

1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds

3/4 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 tsp black gram lentils (urad dal)

1/4 tsp asafetida powder

1 or dried red chillies

a sprig of curry leaves



Method:


Remove the mangoes from the brine and cut them each in half (including the soft seed) and grind them with the green chillies and coconut, adding just enough water, into a fine paste.

Add this paste and salt to the yogurt and mix well. Remember the mangoes have been preserved in brine and add the salt accordingly.

The coconut-yogurt paste should be the consistency of a thickish gravy and will resemble a coconut chutney. Taste-wise, it should be slightly spicy with a slight tang from the mangoes.
If you are not serving this immediately, you may refrigerate it.

Just before serving, heat the oil in a small pan and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter add the lentils and and stir a couple of times till they start becoming golden. Break the red chillies into 2 or 3 and add them to the oil. Now add the fenugreek seeds and the asafetida powder and stir a couple of times. Do not let the fenugreek seeds brown too much.

Take the oil and spices off the heat, add the curry leaves, mix once again, and pour this oil-spice mixture into the araitchukalakki.

Serve with warm rice, a vegetable side dish and pappads/ sun-dried fritters (appalam or karuvadam). Araitchukalakki is also served as a side dish along with this or this molagootal and rice.

This recipe serves 3 to 4.


And onto another matter related to food, food bloggers and foodblogs.
Srivalli of Cooking 4 All Seasons is organising a Food Blogger Meet at Chennai, for Indian food bloggers.

Details of the event :


Where: Chennai, India

When: 9th May (Sunday), 2010 at 3:00 pm

Who can attend: Any Food blogger

If you would be interested in being a part of this meet and for further details, please contact her or leave a comment on her blog at this post, so that she would have an idea of how many bloggers are likely to be there.
The last date to confirm attendance is April 20th 2010.


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April 7, 2010

Yesterday was the 6th of April...........


Yesterday was the 6th of April. It would have been my father’s 72nd birthday if he was still with us. My sister, Veena, had written this piece on her Facebook page remembering him on this day. I couldn’t have written this any better, perhaps not even this well, and would like to share this with all of you.



Today is my father’s birthday.
Today marks 4 months and 3 days since my father passed away.

For a few days now, I have been trying to face up to the fact that for the first time in memory, I will not be talking to my dad on his birthday. Strangely enough, the accompanying thought has been - wherever he is now, he must be so mad that he is missing the day!

My father always took an almost childlike pleasure in celebrating his birthdays – he would remind us days ahead of the event, just to make sure that we could plan for it! As kids, my sister - who even back then, was the artist in our tiny family of four, would make very intricate cards that my mom and I would solemnly sign and on the morning of his birthday, it would be given to him with much pomp and ceremony with whatever little gift we could afford on the pocket money we got.
For some strange reason, this gift almost always was either cologne (this is how we got him to use what WE thought smelt good!) or books. Pens were also a favorite – he had exquisite handwriting that he insisted could only be achieved through the use of a ‘Parker’ ink pen! I do have to say though - my father never saw a pen he didn’t like!

Ah, books!
If you know me, you know that I am happiest when I have a book in my hands and the ‘blame’ for that must rest squarely on my father’s shoulders. At times, I think we learnt to read, probably before we even learned to talk or walk.
One of my earliest memories is of my dad scooping me up in one arm from the dinner table every night, while he held a book in the other hand. He would read silently in bed, while I slowly fell asleep next to him. Everything was right in my young world, as I watched him turn the pages one by one, to the background murmurs of my mom talking to my sister as she got her ready for bed.

My father loved to read and was of the firm opinion that there was no ill in the world that could not be cured by a book. Whenever we fell prey to sundry childhood ailments, a visit to the local library on the way back from the doctor’s was a must! There was no fever, no ache and no pain that could not be forgotten in the magical world that existed between the pages of a book.
He was not a literary ‘snob’, though the classics, newspapers and political writings were definitely a favorite. He would read anything from the label on a ketchup bottle to ‘Das Kapital’, and encouraged us to do the same!

As we grew older and became more interested in the kind of literature that he perhaps did not approve of, he was not above using ‘monetary incentives’ to get us to focus on the more serious kind. Yes, I was ‘persuaded’ at the tender age of 10 to put down my Enid Blyton to read "Letters from a Father to his Daughter" by Jawaharlal Nehru and provide my dad with a written critique!


The keys on our Dad's typewriter. This typewriter is now one of my daughter's prized posessions!


A writer in his own right, he had his first book (a translation of Munshi Premachand’s Hindi short stories to Malayalam) published at the age of 17. His typewriter was his most prized possession and the last one that he got almost three decades ago, now belongs to my niece. She knew she was on to a good thing as soon as she was old enough to understand what it was and she spent many an hour at my dad’s knee tapping away at those keys!

Though he kept writing pretty much to the last days of his life, his pride and joy were a set of school textbooks that he published in the Eighties - for you see, my father was a teacher, too. He came from a family of teachers and it was what he did the best. The word ‘impossible’ not being in his vocabulary, though, it was no surprise that the subjects he taught over the years varied from English Literature and Economics, to Physics and Chemistry.

As children, we learnt very early to frame sentences correctly, not to ask ‘Dad, can I do that?’, as invariably the answer would be ‘yes, you can, but you may not’! Questions were welcomed and in fact, a must.
We spent countless hours arguing with him and he had the knack of turning the tables on us, so that we would end up agreeing with him, even though we had started out with a pretty good counter argument. He showed us how easy it was to be misled if one didn’t learn to think for oneself. Punctuality ruled our lives and we were never too young to learn the consequences of our decisions.


Our Dad with one of his students in class, Tanzania.


He taught us to laugh at ourselves and at the world with the gentle art of sarcasm. He was in his element as a teacher and was never happier than before a class full of students, encouraging them to strive for the best. It amazes me when I still get notes from his students after all these years, telling me how much they learnt from him.

Driven by a sense of adventure and an even stronger wanderlust, in his twenties and accompanied by a wife just as young, he embarked on a journey to discover for himself the world that he had read so much about.
A chance conversation in a local library (where else!) with a stranger, had him on a plane to rural East Africa, eager to conquer new frontiers. For over 25 years, he travelled the world – living in, working in and visiting cities and towns in over 15 countries, capturing images and memories in time along the way.
He taught us by example, how to adapt to the moment, how to appreciate the diversity and richness of the different cultures of the world and most of all, how to become a world citizen – boundaries only existed in the mind.

So today, when someone tells me that my sister and I are strong, independent people, I have to say, "All thanks to my dad". He might not have consciously set out to make us that way, but he certainly succeeded in doing so.

Today, when I debate the merits of the latest best seller with my 13 year old niece and argue her teen perspective on life, I know that there is a smile of pride on my dad’s face.
And today, as I read my sister’s blog, enjoy her photography and watch the precise way she packs a bag, all is right in my world again – my father’s spirit is alive and well.

So I will close my eyes tonight, with a feeling of peace, saying – “Happy Birthday, Dad. I am sure that you are flying free once again and having a grand adventure every minute of the way".
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April 3, 2010

The 5 Minute Microwave Chocolate Cake In A Mug!


The title of this post says it all. Really! This is a chocolate cake that you can mix and cook in a mug with less than five minutes in the microwave. You can also eat it right out of the mug if you choose to, which means only a mug (and a whisk) and a spoon to wash up after eating.
I would like to forewarn you if you’re a bit of a chocolate snob (I am, a lot of the time), that if you are looking for a soft and spongy sort of chocolate cake that usually comes out of an oven, then this post is not for you. Surely you do not expect something of that sort within 5 minutes and with so little effort?

As you can see from the pictures, this cake is not all that great on the eyes either. I really tried to get a better picture of it, but this was the best I could do. Anyone have any ideas on how to make this brown mass of fudgy cake look appealing?
Baking a cake in an oven and in a microwave are really two very different things and it is too much to expect a cake made in a microwave oven to be like that baked in a conventional oven.

Yet think of a situation when you’re overcome with a craving for the comfort of a fudgy chocolate cake and you cannot be bothered to make one. There’s no one else to make one for you either. Or perhaps, you have unexpected guests and you want a quick chocolatey dessert.

Or just by chance you landed on the sets of Hell’s Kitchen and all you have is 5 minutes to make dessert! Just be prepared for Gordon Ramsay to take one look at your offering and chuck it into the bin! And if he’s feeling particularly nastier than usual, you could be out of his kitchen!!

I came across this cake when I was trawling the net for something else. I had never heard of a cake in a mug before. Apparently, some time back, a recipe for this cake was doing the rounds by e-mail. Whatever the reason, this is one mail which never reached my inbox.

This cake discovery brought back a conversation I had with one of my cousins the other day. She was telling me she didn’t see too many recipes on my blog, for cooking in the microwave. This happens to be true.
I use my microwave extensively but do not cook exclusively in it. I tend to do part of my everyday cooking in it but finish off the cooking on the stove, so those recipes don’t qualify for a “cooked in the microwave” tag.
I had promised my cousin I would remedy the lack of microwaved recipes on my blog and thought I would further investigate this cake in a mug.

I saw plenty of sites/ blogs with this cake which were all more or less using the same recipe. I also read a lot of opinions about the awfulness of this cake which made me think I ought to forget all about it. Then I saw this recipe and also this discussion thread.




Taking some of those opinions into consideration, I used a slightly adapted version of the original recipe. You can mix the ingredients in the individual mugs, but I prefer to mix them in bowls even though it means washing up an extra bowl or two. Mixing in the bowl makes it easier to whip up the batter well.

I would suggest using large microwave safe coffee mugs to make these cakes. The cake batter tends to bubble up while cooking, and could leave a mess on the mugs and in your microwave. Since the idea of making these cakes is expending minimum effort, I think a lot of cleaning up defeat the intended purpose.




The mugs I used here can contain about 250 ml of liquid. This size mugs are useful also because there’s room for some ice-cream if you want it with your cake.
Also do place the mug on a plate as insurance against a mess in the microwave.

This cake is not very sweet and so is good if served with ice-cream or sweetened whipped cream. If you would prefer a sweeter cake, please increase the sugar to your taste.


Ingredients:


8 tbsp cake flour (not all purpose flour)*

4 tbsp granulated sugar

5 tbsp demerara (or brown) sugar

3 tbsp dark cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp pinch of salt

1 egg

2 tbsp strong coffee decoction

7 tbsp milk

6 tbsp oil

6 tbsp grated dark chocolate

1 tsp vanilla extract

About 2 tbsp more of grated dark chocolate



You will also need 4 microwave safe mugs.

* If you do not have cake flour you can make your own by adding 2 tbsp corn starch to 3/4 cup sifted all purpose flour.



Method:

As I mentioned before, when I have to make more servings I find it easier to mix up the batter in a bowl.
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk well to mix. Add the grated chocolate to this and whisk again to mix well.
Put all the wet ingredients in another bowl and whisk very well to incorporate a bit of air. Now add to the dry ingredients and whisk well some more.

Divide the batter equally between four microwave safe mugs. Sprinkle the extra grated chocolate on the batter, equally among the four mugs. Cook the cakes, one mug at a time, for 2 minutes 20 seconds at 60% power. When done, the cakes should look slightly dry on the top.

This is the time it took for the cakes in my microwave. How long the cakes take to cook would depend upon the wattage of your oven. It should take anything from about 1 1/2 minutes. Check the time with the first cake and adjust as required.
It is important to cook the cakes longer at a lower power; otherwise the cakes will become rubbery in texture. Also remember the cakes will continue to cook after the microwave oven has switched off.

Serve these cakes warm with vanilla, strawberry, coffee or any other flavour of ice-cream which would pair well with chocolate. This recipe serves 4.


This chocolate cake in a mug is also my contribution to this month’s “This Book Makes Me Cook” club. The book chosen for this month was “Can You Keep A Secret?” by Sophie Kinsella.

A light hearted fiction about Emma Corrigan, who is scared of flying and is convinced that air turbulence means she is about to die. She spills out her innermost secrets to the stranger in the seat next to her in her moments of anxiety, only to have the stranger unexpectedly become a permanent fixture in her life.

I wasn’t really inspired by this book to cook anything, but there is a part in the book which mentions that Emma drops into juice bar every morning on the way to work to pick up her daily dose of a mango smoothie. She also tends to pick up a brownie from there, ever so often.

Since this cake in a mug has a rather brownie-like texture of fudginess, I thought it perfect for the book club submission.
A special thank you to Simran who made it possible for me to read that book. You can see what the other book club members have been inspired to cook this month, on her blog.


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