May 29, 2010

Dal Tadka (Indian Style Tempered Lentils)


The Indian kitchen without some lentils or beans must be a rarity. Whichever part of India you are in and whatever the type of cuisine prevails there, lentils and beans will definitely find their way into the daily menu in one form or the other.
This is not surprising considering that lentils and beans are our primary source of protein, especially for the vegetarians amongst us.

While there are at least a hundred different ways of cooking them in India, not all of them are very complicated. Many of them are very easy to conjure up and take very little time too, if you do not count the time needed for soaking and cooking.
I get around this by pressure cooking a slightly larger amount of lentils when I have to, and then freeze them in single use portions.

The simplest way (and one of the best ways) of eating lentils that I know of is mixing well cooked and mashed cooked red gram lentils (tuvar dal), some salt and home-made ghee with hot rice. While this doesn’t sound particularly exciting, those who have grown up eating lentils this way will agree that there’s something very special about this.
Very small children are usually fed lentils this way as there’s no spice in it and this mix has the right combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Even the traditional festive feasts (or sadhyas) in our Palakkad Iyer community begin with this rice-lentil combination.




Dal tadka is a North Indian style of preparing lentils where the cooked lentils, usually red gram lentils (tuvar dal) or split moong lentils, are tempered with spices. This lentil preparation has the warmth of the spices added to it, but not the fire.

In Indian cooking, tempering involves heating a little oil to which small amounts of various spices such as mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black gram lentils (urad dal), curry leaves, asafoetida or others are added. The result is an undeniably Indian flavour and aroma.
The spices used in tempering can be different for different dishes.

There are probably as many versions of this dal as there are people who prepare it. Some add ginger and garlic as well. I do to occasionally, but haven’t here.
This recipe uses amchur, which is dried and powdered mango, to give the dal a very slight tang. You could substitute this with a little tamarind paste or add a finely chopped tomato instead. The taste would be a bit different but just as good.

This particular version is probably the most basic one of dal tadka. I have adapted it from the Sept-Oct 2005 issue of Tarla Dalal’s Cooking And More magazine.



Ingredients:


1 1/2 cups cooked red gram lentils (tuvar dal)*

1 1/2 tsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp amchur (dried mango) powder

1/4 tsp red chilli powder

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

2 to 3 dried red chillies, each torn into 3 or 4

5 or 6 curry leaves

salt to taste



Method:


* Cook the red gram lentils (tuvar dal) in enough water till soft and well cooked but still retaining their shape. If there is a lot of water with the cooked lentils, decant the liquid and save it for use in this dal.
Lightly break the lentils with a wooden spoon such that they are not puréed but still retain a lot of their texture.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, turn down the heat to minimum and add the coriander powder, cumin powder, amchur powder, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, the red chillies and the curry leaves.
Stir quickly a couple of times taking care that the spices do not burn.

Now add the lentils and about a cup of the liquid saved from cooking the lentils. If this liquid proves insufficient add some water. Add the salt, stir well and bring the lentils to a boil.

Turn down the heat to medium and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes till the dal has come together. Add a little water, if necessary to thin the dal if required.
The tadka dal, when done, should be the consistency of a thick pouring sauce, neither too thick nor too thin.

Serve hot as main side dish, with chappathis or parathas. This lentil preparation can also be thinned odwn a bit and served as soup with bread.
This recipe should serve 4 to 6 people.

These tempered lentils make their way to Susan for the 23rd edition of My Legume Love Affair, one of my favourite food events which I'm attending after a long gap.
They're also being sent to Suma to be a part of Delicious Dals From India.


Read full post.....

May 27, 2010

My Almond Muffins And Someone Wins The Cookbook!


Perhaps some of you are here to see what I have done with this month’s Daring Baker challenge? Unfortunately, I do not have a Daring Baker post for you this month.
May has been very busy for me and I just haven’t had the time to do much beyond regular everyday cooking and even less time to take pictures.

The fact that it has been unbearably hot has also meant that I haven’t been feeling disposed towards spending much time in the kitchen. As a result, many of my posts here this month have been of food I have cooked/ baked in the last couple of months.
While I do not have a beautiful croquembouche creation to offer you, I do have some simple yet perfect almond muffins for you all.




My daughter loves muffins, but the plain sweet kind. Whenever I make a muffin of any sort, she always wonders why I don’t make “plain and simple” muffins which are the best according to her.
I made these almond muffins for her by adapting a recipe from the Joy of Muffins by Genevieve Farrow and Diane Dreher. This little book has a delightful collection of muffins inspired by cuisines across the world and includes muffins to be had for breakfast, a main meal, dessert and in-between meals!

Muffins are so easy to make as all they require is mixing the wet ingredients with the dry ones in a few strokes. Of course, the real secret to a good muffin is to mix the ingredients quickly and without stirring the batter too much.

Unlike a lot of muffins I have seen, these contain butter rather than oil. If you prefer to, douse oil in your muffins but I find the butter gives these muffins a much better flavour.
If you like the crunch of almonds in your muffins, chop them up into slightly larger pieces. Otherwise, just grind them into large crumb sized bits.
Using toasted almonds makes these muffins even better. And if you use almonds in their skins, they show up as lovely brown flecks in the muffin.



Ingredients:


1/2 cup milk

1 egg

50 gm butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 tsp sweet almond extract

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup chopped almonds



Method:


Beat together the milk, egg, butter and almond extract in a bowl. Mix together all the dry ingredients in another bowl and add to the wet ingredient mixture. Stir only just till they’re mixed.
Remember over-mixing the batter will produce heavy and dense muffins.

Spoon the batter into greased muffin tins and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes till done and golden brown on the top. Remove from tins and cool on a rack.

Serve with tea/ coffee or as a simple dessert. This recipe makes 8 to 10 muffins depending on the size of your muffin tins.


And it is time to announce the winner of my cookbook giveaway!
I had previously mentioned that Random House India, the publishers of the Indian edition of Monica Bhide's’s Modern Spice had sent me a copy of the book to giveaway to one lucky reader of my blog.

I’m very happy to announce that luck favoured Simran of Bombay Foodie and she can look forward to seeing her copy of Modern Spice some time next week.
Congratulations Simran!


Read full post.....

May 21, 2010

Mango Fool With Chocolate Chip And Nut Meringue Cookies


This month, the four Velveteers (Alessio, Asha, Pamela and I) set ourselves a task which I thought would be easier than the previous one. We had to come up with something sweet using 2 different types of nuts and a fruit (fresh, dry or both) of our choice.

However, I’ve been so busy this month that this slipped my mind till last week. Given that it’s been so hot here this summer, the last thing I wanted to do was spend some more time sweating it out in the kitchen. The only saving grace about the Indian summer is the sheer abundance of absolutely delicious golden mangoes. We have some of the best mangoes in the world and I’m not talking about the over-rated Alphonso variety.
I could live on them and as far as I’m concerned, if you haven’t eaten an Asian mango then you haven’t eaten a good mango at all!

My husband is of the opinion that a mango is best eaten as fruit and I agree with him. Yet, it doesn’t hurt to make the most of the mango season and enjoy mangoes in as many ways as one can!
So I decided to use mangoes as my fruit for this challenge. As for the nuts, I chose to use cashewnuts which are grown right here in Goa and some almonds. Now all I needed was an idea or a recipe to make something with them.

I wanted to make something that was easy to put together, cool and light and just the right dessert for summer and I wanted to have an Indian flavour to it. After much thought I decided upon a mango fool with nut meringue.
One other good thing about this dessert is that it can be made ahead of serving.




I really have no idea why something as divine as this is called a fool, though I understand it was originally spelt as “foole” and goes back to 16th century Britain in origin. It seems the original fooles were made mostly with gooseberries.

A fool is made with puréed fruit, whipped cream, sugar and some flavouring and chilled before serving. I gave my fool an Indian twist by not just using mangoes, but also adding some cardamom and chai masala to it.

You might need to increase the amount of sugar in the recipe if your mangoes aren’t sweet and reduce the sugar if using sweetened mango pulp.



Ingredients:


4 medium sized mangoes

about 3 tbsp granulated sugar

4 pods cardamom

1 tbsp lemon juice

200ml cream (25%)

1/2 tsp chai masala (optional)



Method:

I used fresh mangoes and that’s really the best way to go. If your mangoes are fibrous, you can strain the purée before folding in the cream. The fibre does lend the fool some texture, though.
If you cannot find mangoes, you may use canned purée.

Powder the sugar with the cardamom seeds. Peel the mangoes and cut into pieces. Purée the mango, along with the powdered sugar and lime juice till smooth.

Whip the cream and chai masala, with an electric mixer, till stiff. Fold in the puréed mango carefully till well mixed.

Divide the mango fool equally into 4 or 6 glasses. Chill for at least 5 to 6 hours or till ready to serve.

This recipe makes 4 large or 6 medium servings.



Chocolate Chip And Nut Meringue Cookies

Serve the above mango fool with these chocolate chip and nut meringue cookies. Perhaps some of you might be wondering what’s Indian about meringues! This source tells me Tuticorin (a port town in the south Indian state of Tamilnadu) has its own version of meringues made with egg whites and cashewnuts.

I’ve never been to Tuticorin (a.k.a Thoothukudi) but I have memories of eating the lightest most melt in the mouth meringues with the crunch of cashewnuts in every bite. I must have been about 14 or 15 and my maternal grandmother and I had gone to visit her younger sister. My uncle, who isn’t all that much older than me, brought home this confection and I almost ate all of it by myself!

I loved them so much I insisted he find out what was in it, so he went back to the bakery and got me the recipe. It was only then that I discovered egg whites could create this kind of magic. Of course, it was many, many years later that I made my first batch of meringue cookies for my daughter who loves them.




Those confections were the inspiration behind these meringues of mine. While they didn’t quite match the ones in my memory, they came pretty close. The texture was just right with that melt-in-the-mouth quality but the next time I shall make these meringues with only cashewnuts ( and more of it), just for old time’s sake.

This version of mine has the “two kinds of nuts” requirement and some chocolate chips for good measure.
Making meringues is quite easy to do, just that some precautions need to be taken to get them right.



Ingredients:


2 egg whites, at room temperature

1 tsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp white vinegar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup chopped almonds

1/4 cup chopped cashewnuts

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips



Method:


Toast the chopped almonds and csahewnuts, separately, in an oven or on the stove top till golden brown. Allow them to cool to room temperature.

Beat the egg whites, with an electric beater, until they’re foamy. Add the cornstarch, vanilla and vinegar and beat till the egg whites hold soft peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time and beat well after each addition till the meringue forms stiff peaks.

Add the nuts and chocolate chips and fold till mixed taking care not to deflate the meringue. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag and pipe out into 1 1/2” blobs on cookie sheets which lightly greased OR lined with parchment paper. You can also drop the meringue in spoonfuls.

Bake the meringue cookies at 110C for about 1 1/2 hours or till they’re completely dry and start turning light golden brown. Switch off the oven, open the door slightly and leave the meringue cookies to cool down inside the oven.

Remove and store in an airtight container till ready to use. This recipe makes a little over 5 dozen 1 1/2” meringues.

Serve the cardamom flavoured mango fool with these “nutty” chocolate chip meringue cookies for a perfect summertime dessert.

Please visit Alessio, Asha and Pamela to see what they have created this month.

The four of us go 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. 
If you would like to join us, please leave a comment at this post or send me a mail and we’ll get back to you.


Read full post.....

May 16, 2010

Cinnamon Brown Sugar Cupcakes With Vanilla Frosting


I like people, and my friends and family will tell you I love talking so much so that I occasionally forget that I need to listen too. Yet one thing I’m terrible at, and do not enjoy, is networking of any sort. I would rather keep quite than say things I do not mean and find it very difficult to make empty talk for the sake of socializing. So it’s not surprising that I’m not very active on social networking sites.

I only signed up for Facebook because a large part of my family are on it and they all said that being there meant it would be easier to stay connected. Frankly speaking, I still don’t get it. If I wanted to say anything to any one of them, I would rather talk to them on the phone or send them a mail!
Maybe there are some new tricks that are difficult for an old dog to learn!!

I joined Twitter at Shaheen’s suggestion, and have finally got the hang of it. Funnily enough, despite my misgivings about joining such a site, I have to say I thoroughly enjoy it now. It is surprising how much one can say in 140 characters! Of course, I don’t consider “tweeting” to be “networking” but if it is, then I’m guilty of it now.
Twitter has ensured that I have made lots of good friends and I’ve found conversations there can be the beginning of many things, small and big.




So it happened that last week, I mentioned to Shellyfish (that’s not her real name) that I had baked some chocolate cupcakes. That made her want to bake some too, and before long, we had decided to celebrate a “Cupcake Wednesday” by baking some cupcakes this week. So this past Wednesday she baked some yummy Buttery Vanilla Cupcakes With Speculoos Icing for her daughter’s friends while I baked some for us at home here.




It was just a couple of weeks back that I saw these “Churros cupcakes filled with dulche de leche and topped with vanilla frosting" in Dessertsmag. Churros are a sort of Spanish doughnut, deep fried dough coated with cinnamon sugar, and who doesn’t like doughnuts?
I had been planning to make them and decided to do them this last Wednesday. I halved the original recipe, reduced the butter a bit, used only 1 egg, and also reduced the butter a bit in the frosting.

The other thing I did was to leave out the dulche leche altogether. Both the frosting and the cake seem to have been adjusted sugar-wise to make allowances for the sweet dulche de leche in the original recipe. This meant that my frosted cupcakes turned out to be just the right amount of sweet and not too much butter, either.
While this frosting recipe uses egg whites, they’re cooked so this recipe is safe.




Here’s my adapted non-dulche de leche version.



Ingredients:


1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted and then measured

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp powdered cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

100 gm butter, softened

3/4 cup demerara (or light brown) sugar, packed

1 egg, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cups milk, at room temperature



Method:


Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cinnamon and sugar till light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well.

Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions of milk. Beat after each addition, just enough to combine the ingredients and do not overmix. After all the additions, beat for just one minute.

Divide the batter equally between 8 to 10 paper lined cupcake tins (depending on the size of your tins) so that each one is 2/3rds full.

Bake the cupcakes at 180C for 20 to 25 minutes till done or a skewer inserted in them comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and then turn out and cool completely. Frost the cupcakes with the vanilla frosting given below.

This recipe makes 8 to 10 cupcakes.



Vanilla Frosting


Ingredients:


2 egg whites

1/4 cup fine granulated sugar

pinch of salt

75 gm butter, cut into cubes, softened

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract



Method:

Put the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heat-proof bowl. Place this bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Constantly, whisk the mixture by hand till the sugar has dissolved and the temperature on an instant thermometer reads 70C (160F).
I don’t have a thermometer, and dipped my finger into the mixture to gauge how hot it was!

Remove the bowl from the heat, and using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed till they’re glossy and fluffy and the bottom of the bowl feels cool to touch.

Turn down the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tbsps at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add all the butter this way and the vanilla and beat on high speed till smooth. This frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 days if necessary. Just beat it again till smooth.
The minute these cupcakes were baking, my daughter wanted to know what “that heavenly” smell was! And they were so good that the last cupcake was fought over!!

These cinnamon cupcakes are very soft and light in texture, and I’m making them again, for sure. If you’re looking for cupcakes and frosting that’s not too sweet, give these cupcakes a chance.

As for the wonderful chocolate cupcakes I baked the week before, I shall post them soon.


P.S. My cookbook giveaway is open till the 20th of this month. Have you entered yet?


Read full post.....

May 13, 2010

Koeksisters (South African Deep Fried And Sugar Coated Pastry Braids)


Koeksisters are a South African pastry that’s deep-fried and then dipped in spiced sugar syrup. Somewhat reminiscent of doughnuts, koeksisters are made by twisting/ braiding either 2 or 3 small strips of dough, deep frying them and dipping them in a ginger and cinnamon spiced sugar syrup.
It seems of the two versions of the koeksister, the Afrikaner version is crisper, syrupy and usually braided while the Cape Malay version is softer and cake-like, spicier and rolled in coconut.

According to Jeanne (she’s South African and her blog is called Cook Sister), the name koeksister or koeksuster (pronounced cook sister) comes from the Dutch “koek” or cake and “sissen” or sizzle. She says the sizzle part of the name might be from it being a deep fried pastry, but I think it could also be from the slight sizzling sound that comes when you dip the hot pastry in the chilled sugar syrup.




I first came across koeksisters in an article which mentions Nelson Mandela eating Mrs Verwoerd's koeksisters. This new and interestingly twisted preparation caught my attention as much as the mention of Nelson Mandela.

I spent my senior school and university years in Nigeria, so hearing and reading about the apartheid in South Africa was a daily affair. I have always admired Nelson Mandela more especially because he showed us, at much personal cost, that in today’s world peace and perseverance can achieve freedom.

Getting back to koeksisters, I found a lot of different recipes online and as is the case with many traditional recipes I’m not sure there is an “authentic” recipe for these. If anyone does know of one, please point me to it.




Many of the recipes used eggs, though I found a couple that didn’t. Many of them seemed to use a lot of baking powder, up to 2 tbsps! I couldn’t find the cream of tartar used for the sugar syrup, so left that out.
So I made some adjustments to the quantities of some ingredients, but otherwise stayed true to the spirit of the recipes.

I made the Afrikaner version which is the crispy variety of koeksisters. The trick to this is to move the hot koeksisters to the chilled sugar syrup as soon as possible. It is very important to keep the sugar syrup chilled. Once the sugar syrup warms up, the koeksisters will not become crunchy, but become softer which is more like the Cape Malay variety.


Ingredients:


For the dough:

2 cups cake flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

25 gm butter, chilled and cut into pieces

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup water

1 tsp lemon juice


For the sugar syrup:

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

2 pieces (3/4” each) fresh ginger

a pinch of salt

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 stick cinnamon


Oil for deep frying koeksisters



Method:


First make the syrup.
Break the cinnamon stick into 2 and out it into a pan. Crush the ginger pieces and add to the pan. Now add the remaining ingredients for the sugar syrup in a pan. Place it on medium heat, and keep stirring till all the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then cover with the lid and let it boil for a minute.

Uncover, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes and take it off the heat. Cool the syrup and chill in the fridge for at least 6 to 8 hours, preferably overnight. The sugar syrup must be ice cold when ready to use. Remove the cinnamon and ginger pieces before using syrup.

Now make the dough.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and rub the butter into the mixture, till it resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the milk, water and lemon juice to this and knead till the dough is very soft and elastic but not sticky. You should be able to roll it out easily.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for about 2 to 3 hours, or even overnight in the refrigerator.

I would suggest watching this video on making koeksisters before proceeding further.

To make the koeksisters, roll out the dough to about a little less than 1/4” thickness. Cut out strips about 5” long and a little under 1/2” wide. You can decide how long or short you want the strips to be depending on what length you want to make your koeksisters.
Braid 3 strips together pinching both ends together very well, or they will unravel while being fried. Repeat with all the strips of dough.

Heat the oil over medium heat until quite warm but not too hot. If the oil is too hot, the koeksisters will be brown on the outside, but raw on the inside. When the oil is at the correct temperature, it will take 10 seconds for a piece of dough to pop to the surface after it has been dropped into the oil.

Keep the chilled sugar syrup ready. To ensure that the syrup doesn’t get warm, you may place it in a bowl of ice, or take out only half the syrup out of the refrigerator. When this gets warm, use the other half.

Drop the braided dough, about 4 at a time into the oil and fry them till they’re brown on both sides and done. Remove 2 at a time, with a slotted spoon and drop them straight into the sugar syrup keeping them submerged in the syrup. Keep them in the syrup till they’ve soaked through.

Remove them from the syrup and place on a wire rack allowing the excess syrup to drip onto a plate below.

The koeksisters can be stored in the refrigerator is not serving immediately, to retain their crispness.
This recipe makes about 15 to 18 koeksisters.

These crunchy little sweet braids were an absolute hit here. The idea of a deep fried pastry dipped in spiced sugar syrup seems very Middle Eastern in origin to me. This dessert also seems remarkable like the north Indian sweet Balushahi, to me, in texture and the way in which it is made.


Meeta is taking us all to South Africa this May for her monthly mingle. I am being a bit fashionably late for her party and am hoping that being the gracious lady she is, she will let me in, especially when she sees these koeksisters.


P.S. My cookbook giveaway is open till the 20th of this month. Have you entered yet?


Read full post.....

May 9, 2010

PBJ (Peanut Butter And Jam) Peanut Macarons Plus A Cookbook Giveaway!


This is a slightly long post but if you are willing to read through it, I promise you some virtual PBJ Peanut Macarons and a chance at winning a cookbook. That's a pretty good offer, don't you think?
Of course, you could always scroll straight down to the end of this post to read about the giveaway.

It’s been a while since I fell of the French macaron making wagon. There was a time when I was fascinated by the pretty and colourful sandwiched almond cookies that were all rage in the world of food blogs and else where. I so wanted to make a few of my own but had heard how unpredictable these tooth tinglingly sweet cookies could be to make.

I was however convinced that I could make some without too much difficulty. After all what was there to powdering almonds and sugar, beating up some egg whites, folding everything together, piping out the batter and baking them?

A couple of failed attempts were a great leveller. Finally I used David Lebovitz's and I had my first successful batch of Coffee And Dark Chocolate-Nutella macarons.
And the truth is that I haven’t had one single successful macaron batch in a while, despite many grand failed attempts and I bid macaron making as graceful a goodbye as I could.
Then last month some macaron talk on Twitter got me back on the ole macaron bandwagon and I decided to try my hand at making some again.




Since I was trying to get back into Macmode, there’s nothing quite like a fresh start and peanuts instead of almonds in my macarons seemed a good place to begin. I had seen this peanut-chocolate macaron recipe a long time back and that’s what I used here.
One thing different about this recipe is that does not require egg whites to be “aged”. Fresh whites are warmed over warm water, so you can make them even if you don’t have aged egg whites on hand.
I followed the recipe, having learnt from bitter experience that macaron recipes do not respond well to tweaking. I halved the recipe using only 2 egg whites and added a bit of red gel colour to the macaronnage so may macaron shells are a pale pink.
And voila, I had French macarons, the kind with “feet”!

I had filled my earlier macarons with chocolate ganache, so I wanted something else for these.
Somehow, thinking about peanuts took me back to peanut butter and jelly/ jam (PBJ). For us here in India, the “J” in PBJ stands for jam because jelly is not jam but what is referred to as “jello” in the U.S.!

Something as ordinary as peanut butter and jam in something like macarons? Well, why not? It s all about what works together and what tastes good eventually that’s good food for me. So my peanut macarons were filled with creamy peanut butter and strawberry jam.




Here’s the recipe I used. This is the full recipe and I halved this. Please see my previous macaron post for some tips and advice that worked for me.



Ingredients:


2 1/3 cups powdered sugar

1 1/3 cups unsalted roasted peanuts

1/3 cup granulated sugar

4 large egg whites

creamy peanut butter and strawberry jam for filling macarons



Method:

Process the powdered sugar and peanuts until nuts are very finely ground. Take care not to over process the mixture as it will clump and become a paste if the oil from the peanuts get released.

Bring 2 to 3 inches of water to a boil in a medium sized deep pan. Turn down the heat to maintain a very low simmer. In a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk sugar into the egg whites by hand.

Set the bowl over simmering water in pan (bottom of bowl should not touch water) and stir constantly until sugar is dissolved and the mixture feels warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from water and, with an electric mixer on high speed (fitted with the whisk attachment if using standing mixer), whip the egg white mixture until thick, stiff peaks form. Gently fold in powdered sugar-peanut mixture into the egg whites.

Spoon mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and, with the tip almost touching the parchment, pipe into flat 2-inch circles about 1/8 inch thick, 1 inch apart, on two cooking parchment-lined sheets.

Tap the cookie sheets against table to get rid of air bubbles and allow the piped batter to rest at room temperature for about ½ an hour or so, till the tops of the circle do not stick to your finger when touched lightly.

Place the cookie sheet on another empty cookie sheet and bake the macarons at 130C for about 15 to 20 minutes, till tops are dry and edges have formed “feet”. Let cookies cool completely on sheets, and then remove by gently lifting them up and peeling the parchment away from the bottoms. Store them in an airtight container if not filling immediately.
Spread the flat side of each of half the cookies with a bit of peanut butter and then some strawberry jam. Top each with a second cookie, flat side toward filling.




I know for many people, especially in the U.S., PBJ is something ordinary, perhaps even comfort food, something that one grew up with and took for granted. But as a child, for me, this was the stuff that my story books were made of.

There was a time when books written by Enid Blyton ruled my world. Sure, I read other books and had favourites like Winnie the Pooh and many others. I even remember reading comic books/ annuals like The Beano and The Dandy (any one remember those?).
As an eight-nine year old many of Enid Blyton’s books opened up a world I naively thought could perhaps be real, and secretly envied. Who wouldn’t want to go to boarding schools where children played pranks on teachers, especially Mamzelles who taught French, and where midnight feasts happened?

Imagine having a cousin whose father owned an island and having summer holidays which were filled with thrilling adventures, one after another! And having friends with whom one formed gangs/ clubs and secret passwords which were the only way to get into the clubhouse?

But one thing which invariably kept popping up in all these books was the mention of PBJ sandwiches. These used to be part of many a picnic or carry along meal in those books.

An Enid Blyton is no longer my choice of a good book, though I did revisit that world with my daughter some years ago and her “Famous Five” series lines a part of our bookshelf. But peanut butter (without the jam) is still one of my favourites, and the PBJ combination seemed the perfect filling for my peanut macarons.

For the month of May, the ladies at Mac Tweets want us to create a macaron inspired by a beloved childhood book, an extract, a character, something from any book from your childhood. So these Peanut Butter And Jam macarons are just the perfect thing for this edition.


And now for the cookbook giveaway I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

You might have read the review I wrote, some time back, of Monica Bhide’s Modern Spice which she wrote to introduce Americans to modern Indian cooking. In her cookbook, Monica uses the spices found in most Indian kitchens to cook up dishes with a more modern and international flavour. Yet, every recipe in this book has a very unmistakable Indian flavour in it.

As Monica herself says, "As a new generation of modern Indians, we are changing everything. We love tradition, but embody change; we respect technique, but are playful; our style is refined, our tastes are global.”




Random House India has just published an Indian version of Modern Spice and the book will be available on bookstore shelves from the 15th of this month.
This edition of Modern Spice is very well presented, and attractively put together with each chapter colour coded differently.

The book is slightly different in its approach and in a few of its recipes, naturally, since the target audience are in India. There are also no pictures in this book, which in my opinion, doesn’t matter much as the few pictures in the American edition will not be really missed.
Guava bellini, Pomegranate shrimp, Crab tikkis, Spicy fig yogurt Curried carrot soup with paneer, Pista-mirch-dhaniya spread, and Pan-seared eggplant with ginger and honey are just a few of the recipes in this book.

The publishers sent me a copy of the new Modern Spice and have also been generous to send me an extra copy of the book to giveaway to one lucky reader of this blog.

So wouldn’t you like a chance to win this lovely book?
If you would, please leave a comment below this post telling me why you would like a copy of this book. That’s all it takes.
You don’t have to subscribe to this blog, follow me on social networking sites, link to this post, mention this giveaway (though you could if you wanted to) on Twitter or Facebook, or tell me how much you love my posts, recipes or pictures (though I wouldn’t mind hearing you say so!).

So please leave a comment here (only one comment per person, please) between today and the midnight of the 20th May. I’ll randomly choose one person to giveaway the book to.

This giveaway is open only to Indian residents. If you do live outside India, but have an address in India you would like the book to be sent to (in case you win) then please feel free to join in.
Good luck!

Read full post.....

May 7, 2010

Spicy Tomato Jam


It is not funny how the price of everything seems to be on the ascend these days. I’m not talking about things like the snazziest phone or the flattest television with the largest screen or other such gizmos that manufacturers keep trying to convince you that you cannot live without!
I’m taking about daily living essentials, mainly food. Every time I go shopping for groceries, vegetables or fruit these days,  it seems like I’m paying more but bringing home less.

Yesterday, we got the shock of my life when we heard the price of green beans. A month back, a kilo of these beans cost about Rs.24.00 (about 50 c), which isn’t exactly inexpensive here, in India. Last week, they were selling for Rs.60.00 a kilo (about $1.30) and yesterday for Rs.80.00 ($1.75)! Its not like green beans are an exotic variety of vegetable.




Luckily tomatoes are still quite affordable, though I have no idea for how much longer. Last month they were really cheap, and I had bought a whole lot of them to make into pickle and chutney. I also made some into jam when I got into “jamming” mode, along with strawberry jam and some pear and raisin chutney.

This recipe is one of my own and I made it up as I went along. Please feel free to adjust or make additions (or subtractions) to the recipe to suit your taste.



Ingredients:


7 cups tomato pulp

2 cups granulated sugar (or more if needed)

1 apple, cored and grated (not peeled)

2 tsp minced ginger/ ginger paste

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp chilli flakes

1/2 tsp powdered cloves

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder



Method:

Put the tomato pulp, grated apple, ginger, sugar, chilli flakes and salt into a large and deep heavy walled pot. Mix well and turn up the heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the powdered cloves and turn down the heat to medium and keep cooking till the jam has thickened enough to pass the “plate” test. Add the cumin powder and cook for another minute.

Take the jam off the heat and ladle into hot sterilized jars. Cover the jars with lids to make them airtight.
I got enough jam to fill two 500 gm jam jars.

This jam is just slightly sweet, and not overly spicy. The spices and the chilli flakes just lend it a pleasant warmth.
Serve with crackers, toast or with chappathis, parathas, dosas or as you prefer.


Read full post.....

May 4, 2010

David’s “Diet” Apple Tarte Tatin


You might have noticed that I’m part of a group of food bloggers who do a monthly “This Book Makes Me Cook”. We normally publish our posts on the first Saturday of every month, but didn’t realize that would be the 1st of May this time!
So I’m a little late with this post, but better late than never.

This month’s pick to read and cook from was “Julie and Julia”, which was also released in a movie version late last year. I won’t bore you with my usual whine about how I couldn’t lay my hands on the book. I did, however, watch the movie a few months back, and am going to use that as the basis for my inspiration to cook this month.

I know Julia Child is a big name in some parts of the world, but I’d never even heard of her until a Daring Bakers challenge where we baked French bread using her recipe. Of course, my bread was a disaster and that’s no reflection on Julia Child.

The title of the book “Julie And Julia – 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen” pretty much says it all. It is the real life situation of Julie Powell who wrote a blog mostly to chronicle her cooking all the 524 recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 365 days!

Depressed with temp jobs as a secretary, she finally secures a permanent job she dislikes and decides to bring some excitement in her life by cooking her way through her mother’s copy of Julia Child’s book in a year. She also keeps a blog diary of her disasters and triumphs in the kitchen and how the book affects her life on the whole.

The movie on the other hand, tries to marry Julie Powell’s blog posts/ story with a large part of Julia Child’s life, especially her book which she wrote to introduce and teach Americans to cook French food.

This is a personal opinion. I found the movie entertaining and could relate to a lot of Julie’s emotions as a food blogger being one myself. But she also comes across as a very stressed out and emotionally needy person for whom, the only meaningful thing in  life seems to be an almost single minded desperation in cooking from Julia Child’s book. That cookbook seemed to rule Julie’s life and while I don’t hold this against her, I do find it difficult to relate to.
Of course, Julia gets into learning to cook French food and writing a book about it because she needs “something to do”!
For me, it is ultimately Meryl Streep as Julia Child who saves the movie from being mediocre. It is easy sometimes, to almost believe that it is Julia Child herself in the movie.




Given that Julie Powell chose to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, I decided to pick out one recipe from that book. One recipe I have been wanting to try is the Apple Tarte Tatin. This seemed a good opportunity to do so. You may want to see Julia making her Tarte Tatin here.

An Apple Tarte Tatin is a French upside down apple tart, where the apples are caramelized in butter and sugar and then baked.
Most of the recipes for Tarte Tatin call for a lot of butter, and Julia Child’s love for butter is legendary. I am consciously trying to cut down on the fat in my baking and so searched for a “healthier” Tarte Tatin recipe.

I eventually found one by David Lebovitz, whose fan I am. I have found his recipes very doable and he also gives “cup” measurements for ingredients which are great for my scale-free kitchen!

This open faced tart of caramelized apples on a thin sheet of flaky pastry is what David Lebovitz calls his “diet” version of the classic Tarte Tatin. I didn’t change much in this recipe, other than using salted butter and sweeter apples. I also substituted 1/4 cup of the total flour with whole wheat flour.
This recipe (and most others) calls for a cast iron skillet in which the apples are caramelized, and the tarte tatin is also baked in this. The only cast iron thing I have in my kitchen is a “tava” which is not exactly shaped to make a tart.

So I used a 9” pie-dish which meant I also used 1 apple less than in David’s recipe.
I would suggest a couple of things to keep in mind while making this Tarte Tatin. The pastry is quite thin and so tends get soggy from the apple and caramel, if kept for long. So plan to serve it soon after you've made it.
If you need to keep it for till about an hour before serving, it might be a good idea to keep the Tatin as it is (upside down in the dish) and turn it out on the plate just before serving. This way the pastry crust will still be crisp.



Ingredients:


1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp sugar

2 tbsp chilled salted butter, cut into ½”cubes

(If you’re using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp salt to the flour)

3 tbsp ice-cold water

7 firm apples (I used Royal Gala)

juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp butter

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar



Method:


Combine flour, salt and sugar in food processor or standing mixer. Add the 2 tbsp butter and process till the butter is in pea-sized chunks. Stir in water and mix just until dough holds together. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.
(This dough can be made up to 3 days before using.)

Quarter, peel and core the apples. Add lemon juice and toss to coat the apple well. Keep aside.

Melt the 1 tbsp of butter in 10” cast-iron skillet. Stir in the brown sugar and take the skillet off the heat. Arrange the apple quarters in the pan rounded side down, tightly packing them in overlapping concentric circles. Cram them in as they'll cook down.

Cook this over medium heat for about 20-25 minutes. Do not move or stir apples while cooking, but gently press them down with a spatula as they soften.

While apples are cooking, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a 12” circle. If you live in a warm tropical climate, sometimes, rolling the dough can be difficult. The dough tends to get a little soft and sticky. Do not be tempted to add more flour as this makes the pastry tough.

Place the dough between two layers of parchment, plastic film or foil and roll it out. If the dough circle seems too soft to handle, refrigerate for about 1/2 an hour. The slowly peel of one layer of the papr/ foil and using the other layer place the dough cirsle on the apples and peel off the remaining layer of paper/ foil.

Tuck in the edges of the pastry. Bake tart on upper rack of oven, for about 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from oven and invert a baking sheet over tart. Carefully flip both skillet and baking sheet simultaneously. Lift off skillet, loosen any apples that may have stuck, and reunite them with the tart.
Serve warm with a scoop of ice-cream or frozen yogurt. This Tarte Tatin serves 6 to 8.

And bon appétit, as Julia Child would say!




If you like noodles (the 2 minute Maggi kind) you might like to check out these easy to make Noodles-Vegetable Cutlets of mine at The Daily Tiffin.


Read full post.....