September 27, 2010

Colour Me A Rainbow – Eggless Decorated Sugar Cookies! Daring Baker Challenge September, 2010


I’m going to be honest and say that I was very happy to find out that this month’s Daring Baker challenge was all about making and decorating sugar cookies. I’m not much of a cookie person, but my daughter is, and it is a nice change to be doing something other than cake and buttercream.

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” . Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.
You can find the detailed challenge for this month at the Daring Baker site or Mandy's blog.



Multicoloured "Tile" Cookies


I know that perhaps baking sugar cookies in not much of a challenge for many. Actually, the real challenge is to get creative with decorating the cookies around the theme of “September’, whatever September means to each one of us.

Say September, and the first thing that comes to my mind is “birthday”. My mother and I both celebrate our birthdays in September so that’s what my theme is for this challenge. On the south-western coast of India, September is also the month when the 3 month long monsoon season is almost over. The austerity of these months (no fishing, no agricultural activity, etc), once again, gives way to more plentiful and happy times.




"Mehendi" Hearts


I love the rains, but with the monsoon gone, suddenly there is more colour everywhere. It is once again time for warm days but cooler nights, and of course, the season for weddings.



"Birthday Cake" Cookies, Tile Cookies and "Mehendi" Cookies


I decorated my cookies with all this in mind. So you’ll find birthday cakes, as well as mehendi (an essential part of Indian weddings and other auspicious occasions) inspired designs on my cookies. You’ll also find many of the bright and beautiful colours of my September on my butterflies and other cookies. That’s not quite the rainbow I mentioned in my post title but close enough.



Butterfly Cookies


Most of you who follow my blog will know that I always try to attempt my Daring Baker challenges eggless or with as few eggs as possible. This month I was happy I could make both the sugar cookies and the icing without eggs.
I wonder why these are called sugar cookies when you consider that they contain as much or more butter than sugar, until they are decorated!



Flower Tile Cookies


I have made decorated eggless sugar cookies before, but decided I would get as creative as I could in the time I had on hand. I had every intention of doing this month’s challenge early and even made my cookies 10 days back.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the time to decorate them till a couple of days ago. When I finally opened the cookie box, more than half of them were gone! Apparently, no one was aware I had wanted to decorate them.
So I first baked another batch of cookies and then spent the better part of my afternoon the past two days sitting down to decorating the cookies.



"Star" Cookies


Making the sugar cookies in themselves are easy, and do not take much time. It is the decorating that takes time because for some designs each coat of icing has to dry completely, before you can do the next part.
The cookies also need to dry really well before they can be stored. Remember these cookies should be stored in airtight containers at room temperature, as storing them in the fridge will make them sticky and tacky.



"Doughnut" Cookies


I used Eleanor’s Sugar Cookies, reduced the butter a bit and substituted 2 cups of all purpose flour with whole wheat flour. The nice thing with this recipe is that the cookie dough does not need refrigeration, unlike most other sugar cookie recipes. You can mix up the dough, roll it out straightaway, cut out the shapes and bake them all at one go.
Eggless Sugar Cookies

(Adapted from Slashfood)



Ingredients:


1 cup sugar

200gm butter, softened at room temperature

3 to 5 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt



Method:


Beat the sugar and butter together in a bowl, with a hand mixer, till smooth and fluffy. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until combined. Set aside.

In another bowl bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and salt. Add this to the wet ingredients in batches, and mix well by hand till combined. If the dough isn’t quite coming together, add a tsp or so of milk and knead. Do not be tempted to add too much milk or knead more than necessary to bring the dough into a ball which can be rolled out, as you cookies will become tough.

Roll the dough out uniformly till just about 1/4" thick. Cut out cookies and place them on ungreased cookie sheets. You can place them quite close to each other as the cookies will not spread out or puff up much.

Bake them at 180C (350F) for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of your cookies. When done the cookies must still be pale and just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Let them cool on the tray for about 5 minutes and then cool completely on a rack.




Store them in an airtight container till ready to decorate. I stored mine for 10 days before I decorated them. Humidity can soften these cookies, and you can just warm them in the oven or microwave to crisp them before decorating. Make sure they are cool.
This recipe makes quite a few cookies, depending on size and shape.



Eggless Royal Icing

(Adapted from Veglicious)



Ingredients:


1/2 cup icing sugar

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp lemon juice

a few drops food coloring (colour and amount as desired)

2-3 tsp milk (or water)



Method:


You can double this quantity if you need more icing.
Sift the sugar and cornstarch together and put it into a bowl. Add the the lemon juice and the milk, 1 tsp at a time, until the mixture becomes a smooth, but thick paste.

Divide the icing into different bowls according to the colours you need. Add a few drops of required colour to each bowl and mix till you get the shade you want.
Keep for about 10 minutes till all the air bubbles come to the top.

You can adjust the consistency of this icing according to your requirement. If you need to thin the icing add a bit of milk/ water and mix till you get the desired consistency. If you need it thicker, add more icing sugar as required.

The icing will harden if left open so put it into your piping bags and keep ready for use. Using couplers with your icing bags is good as it is easy to change the tips. If you do not have icing tips or couplers, you can still using a piping bag or a ziplock bag and just make sure you cut very little off the tip so you can get fine lines for decorating.



Decorating The Sugar Cookies:


Keep all your icing, tips, cookies, toothpicks/ wooden skewers and whatever else you need at your work table. Spread your work table with some old newspaper or something similar to make cleaning up after easier. I know this is basic stuff, but just thought I’d mention it.




You can either start decorating you cookie directly like I did my orange flowers on the square cookies. Otherwise you can pipe a base layer on your cookie.
There are many different ways of piping and working the icing depending on what pattern or design you are aiming for.

You can also have two sets of icing (a thicker one for outlining and a thinner one for flooding) of the same colour. Otherwise you can use the same to do both like I did.

First outline the area that needs to be filled with colour. If you want the outline to show up distinctly, then wait till it is completely dry. Then fill the space with the colour.
If you are working with different colours, you would need to let each one dry before using the next colour to prevent the colours bleeding into each other.

For detailed instructions on decorating using icing, please see the challenge (link at the beginning of this post) where Mandy has explained everything very well with accompanying pictures.
Verdict:


These particular eggless sugar cookies are quite buttery and taste more like shortbread than sugar cookies. Of course, that is probably a good thing if you love shortbread like my daughter does.

I do like this particular icing, not just because it doesn’t have egg in it, but because of the lemon juice. The lemon juice lends a lovely tang to the cookie and it also cuts down on the cloying sweetness of the icing sugar.
The general consensus here is that these cookies are not just pretty, but very good to eat too.

This eggless icing needs to be made really thick for outlining and piping as it tends to spread out a little bit. This is probably because of the absence of egg whites.

I used dark cocoa to colour some icing brown, and this particular icing did not spread as much as the other colours did. Perhaps next time, a little more cornstarch in the icing might help.
The icing dries well, but is not as hard as royal icing made with egg whites.




Some of the cookies in my pictures have been decorated by my daughter. It brought back memories of when she was 5 or 6 and we used to sit down with lots of paper, scissors, glue, all her paints and do craft projects together.
On the whole, this challenge was fun, more so as I was getting creative with colours after a rather long time.

You also have to see the riot of colours my Daring Baker friends have been celebrating September with.


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September 24, 2010

Pretty Pink Eggless Birthday Cupcakes


This year the September equinox happened yesterday, on the 23rd September. While it is the vernal equinox (in March) that is celebrated traditionally by communities across the world, the September equinox signifies the arrival of autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere.

This year, after 19 years, there was a full moon in the early hours of the 23rd and the next time this happens will be in 2029. Many countries traditionally celebrate harvest festivals during the period of the September equinox.

We don't really celebrate the September equinox, but the 23rd day of September is special in our home because that’s the day I was born many, many years ago. This year, we had double celebrations as my mother’s birthday is on the 22nd.




I had baked an eggless zebra cake for her birthday and also made a traditional broken wheat payasam (with jaggery and coconut milk), which is a favourite of hers. So I wasn’t planning on baking anything for my birthday. My husband couldn’t be with us to celebrate and it was in the middle of Akshaya’s school week, so I was planning on enjoying myself thoroughly by taking it easy.

That’s when family and friends started calling or leaving birthday messages and one question I kept getting asked repeatedly was what I was going to bake for my birthday. My uncle even sent me a message saying that though they were too far away to taste it, he would love to know what I was baking and enjoy it with me in the spirit of celebration!

How then, could I get through my birthday without baking something? I had nothing planned and knew I didn’t want to spend half the day in the kitchen. I also wanted to make something didn’t involve heavy stuff like cream, chocolate (yes, indeed!) or buttercream.




These simple yet very pretty pink cupcakes caught my eye. Funnily enough, I’m not a pink colour sort of person, but I was excited with the idea of pink cupcakes for my birthday. I also love the idea of cupcakes over cakes laden with frosting, especially as these were covered with glace icing.

I changed things a bit by cutting down on the butter and leaving out the eggs. I also added a bit of lemon juice to the icing as I find the tang takes the edge off the sweetness of icing sugar.
These cupcakes are absolutely soft, not too sweet and perfect for celebrating. They are a lot like chocolate chip covered cupcakes of mine, but the ratio of butter is a bit higher in this recipe.

Before I share my recipe, I would like to thank all of you who called, mailed me or sent me messages wishing me a wonderful day. Your wishes truly made my day even more special and I dedicate these cupcakes to you all. I only wish I could send them across for real.


Pretty Pink Eggless Birthday Cupcakes
(Adapted from Taste)


Ingredients:


For the cupcakes:


100gm butter, soft at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup milk (plus 1 to 2 tbsp more)

1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)


For the pink glace icing:


2 cups icing sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

1 to 2 tsp milk (or water)

2-3 drops red liquid food colouring


Silver cachous (silver coated sugar balls) to decorate



Method:


Beat the soft butter and sugar, with a hand held electric beater, till pale and creamy.
Sieve together the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and flour. Add this, the extract (if using), and the milk and beat into the creamed mixture, on lowest speed, till just combined.

Spoon the batter evenly between 12 cupcake/ muffin tins (for largish cupcakes) or 20 cupcake/ muffin tins (for smaller cupcakes) lined with paper cases.

Bake at 180C (350F) for about 20 minutes, till done. Completely cool the cupcakes on a rack.

When ready to ice the cupcakes, mix the icing sugar, lemon juice and food colouring in a bowl. Slowly add the milk (or water) a little at a time, and mix into a thick and smooth paste. The icing should be thick enough to spread without running down the sides. If the icing is a little runny, add a little icing sugar to adjust consistency.

Pour about 1/2 a teaspoon or so of the icing on top of esch cupcake and allow to spread. Decorate with the silver decorations. Allow the icing about 15 to 20 minutes to set.


These cupcakes are also joining Sugar High Fridays, being hosted here this month, as they are small enough to be eaten in 2 to 3 bites.



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September 22, 2010

Eggplant And Fig Caponata


Caponata is something I’ve been seeing on so many blogs over the past year or so but I’ve never attempted to even looking too deeply into a recipe, let alone try making it. The reason for this is that I really do not like eggplant/ aubergine.
As a child it was one of the many vegetables that just could not bring myself to eat, though now I do like it cooked in a couple of ways but its one vegetable I would never consciously order if I ate out. My husband, on the other hand, quite likes eggplant and he’s quite an expert at cooking it up into a tasty stir-fry.
Our daughter seems to have taken after me for now, and will not touch an eggplant with the proverbial 10-foot pole!

So why am I suddenly cooking a vegetable I don’t like too much?
The caponata was Alessio’s suggestion for this month's Velveteer challenge. We decided it would be fun to explore each others’ traditions by trying out dishes which are typical of our respective cuisines.

We started with Alessio and he suggested caponata, which is typical of Sicily, where he comes from. Put it down to Mario Puzo’s Godfather and movies of that genre, but for a long time (these are my school/ early college days I’m talking about) if someone played a word association game with me and said “Sicily”, I would have said “Mafia”!
Luckily that was way back, and now Sicily means much more including Italian style food which we enjoy.




So back to the “Caponata”.
I had a vague memory of reading somewhere that a caponata was a Sicilian eggplant salad. Since I knew next to nothing about it, I had to do a bit of reading to figure out exactly what it was.

Where better to start from than Alessio himself? His advice was, and I quote him on some of it,

“For the caponata, the key ingredient is more the celery along with capers and olives. The sweet and sour flavour is at its base too. Considering that the dish is of arabic origins, including eggplants will keep it in its traditional cuisine comfort zone.”

Fresh celery is not always available here and it wasn’t surprising I couldn’t find it at the market the day I wanted it! I did have some dried celery which I used, but I suspect the frsh stuff would make all the difference.
We find olives a bit of an acquired taste, and unfortunately haven’t acquired the taste for them so far!! I have also never seen a caper before!!!
I understand green peppercorns in brine are the closest substitute, but wouldn’t you know that my stock of this just got finished a couple of months back.
So I shall be making my caponata without those key ingredients. Luckily, we do get eggplant/ aubergine all the year round, though different varieties in different seasons.

After much reading, I understand the caponata is considered to be Sicilian in origin, though many variations of it can be found right across Italy. Caponata is primarily made of fried/ sautéed (or baked) and chopped eggplant cooked with onion, tomato, garlic, vinegar, celery, sugar and pine nuts. Essentially a vegetarian dish, other ingredients are also sometimes added including seafood.

Caponata is most popularly served as antipasto or appetizers on crostini or twice baked rusks. It can also be served as a side or main dish and either warm or cold.




Much thought later and a bit restricted by the ingredients I had on hand, I found two recipes which looked like they might work for me. I think the best variety of eggpant to use would be the large purple kind which has very little seeds in it, the kind we use to make baingan bhartha in India.

It will be another month or two before this variety appears in the markets here, so I used the small variety of purple eggplant (they type we stuff with spices and cook) that’s available right now. I have seen many recipes mentioning slating the eggplants and pressing out the juice to remove the “bitterness”. I have never found any of the eggplant varieties in India to be bitter, so I didn’t do this.

I also noticed that the eggplant was treated differently in various recipes. Some pan-fried the eggplant, others used just as it was while some either roasted or baked it before making the caponata.
Roasting eggplant is something we do in many Indian dishes and that lends a wonderfully smoky flavour but I thought I would try baking the eggplant here. It also meant I could cut down on the oil.




My less than authentic “Eggplant And Fig Caponata” which is an adaptation of those recipes and a little lighter on the oil, is given below. The recipe I used involves making a tomato sauce first, which is then used to make the caponata.
This may seem a more involved procedure, but I thought the caponata was worth it. There are easier and less time consuming recipes for caponata, which you might prefer.

I would take the amounts of most of the ingredients listed for this recipe as indicative rather than absolute. What I mean by that is that feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your taste, because there’s not much point in making something no one will eat!



Eggplant And Fig Caponata
(Adapted from Mario Batalli's recipe and CookingLight)


Ingredients:

For the tomato sauce:


1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 tsp garlic paste

1 medium size onion, diced

3 medium size red tomatoes, diced

1/2 medium size carrot, grated finely

salt to taste


For the caponata:


2 tbsp olive oil

1 big purple eggplant (the large variety)

or 6 small to medium purple eggplant

1 medium onion, diced into 1/2" pieces

2 to 3 tbsp pine nuts

3 dried figs, chopped

3/4 to 1 tbsp chilli flakes

1 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp dried celery (use fresh celery if you have it)

1/3 cup tomato sauce (recipe follows)

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

½ tsp dried mixed Italian herbs

salt to taste

To serve:


Garlic bread or baguette for the crostini

Olive oil



Method:


First make the tomato sauce.
Run the chopped onion and tomato in the blender to a chunky consistency. Do not purée the mixture, but blend till very small chunks are visible. This will give the caponata a better texture.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic paste and sauté for a minute. Add the chunky onion-tomato mixture, grated carrot and salt. Cook till the raw smell of onion disappears and everything is well cooked and the consistency of a very thick sauce. This should take about 8 to10 minutes.

Keep aside. You will not need all the tomato sauce for the caponata. You can refrigerate the rest for upto a week and it’ll stay longer in the freezer.


Now make the caponata.
First pre-heat your oven to 230C (450F). Cut off the stalk on the eggplant and cut each one into half lengthwise. Place them, cut side down on a greased baking tray and lightly coat the eggplant halves with oil.

Bake them for about 20 to 25 minutes till the skins turn brown (not burnt) in colour. Take them out and let them cool. Peel the skins off and chop the eggplant into 1/2" cubes.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a pan. Add the onions and sauté for a couple of minutes, till they become a little soft. Add the pine nuts, figs, chilli flakes and cook for about 5 minutes, on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Now add the chopped eggplant, brown sugar, the tomato sauce (from above), balsamic vinegar and salt. Cook this for another 5 minutes or so on medium heat till done. Add the dried celery and the other herbs. Mix well and take it off the heat.

Lightly drizzle baguette or garlic bread slices with olive oil and toast or grill them till golden brown. Top with the caponata and serve.
This recipe serves 4.



Verdict:


I have to thank Al for picking a vegetarian dish this time because it meant I didn’t have to spend too much time on looking for substitutes. I also have to thank him for introducing me to this delightful way of cooking eggplant.

This eggplant caponata is really a nice balance of flavours and textures. I found Mario Batalli’s tomato sauce interesting where the carrot lends a slight sweetness. The figs and balsamic vinegar are probably not traditional ingredients but add to the sweet and sour balance of the caponata.

I see some resemblance here, in the taste, to a north Indian style baingan subzi (or eggplant curry) and this probably because of the Arabic influence in this dish is somewhat similar to the Mughal/ Persian influences on north Indian cooking.

I can even see this eggplant caponata as a wonderful topping for pizza. I know eggplant is used by many as topping on pizza, but I have never gone that way so far.

Add the crunch of the crostini to the meltingly soft, slightly spicy, sweet and sour caponata and you have a wonderful appetizer. My daughter who is a confirmed eggplant hater actually told me, “I don’t mind eating eggplant if it is cooked like this”! I rest my case.


The four of us (Alessio, Asha, Pamela and I) go velveteering, as we like to call our kitchen adventures, with 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.

This month Sarah who blogs Simply Cooked joins us this month. I will be linking up to the other members as and when they publish their posts.

 
This month's Velveteer recipes:

Asha: Sicilian Caponata Over Z'atared Lavash Crackers

Alessio: Sicily, Sweet And Sour

Sarah: Caponata - A Sicilian Aubergine Relish

Veena: Sicilian Caponata

Ken: Caponata Jam N Olive Oil Financier

Madhuli: Yotam Ottolenghi's Caponata


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September 15, 2010

Roasted Tomato And Carrot Soup With Basil Cream


I’m always telling everybody whenever the opportunity presents itself that I’m not a salad or soup lover. Though I am a vegetarian, eating raw vegetables is not something I enjoy. I don’t know what it is about soups I don’t like, but they’re not my favourite food.
Just the other day, a friend and I were just discussing that growing older seems to be doing something to the part of the brain that works the taste buds! She agreed that we seemed to be more willing to give some foods on the “don’t like” list, a second chance.

I still do not like aubergine/ eggplant very much but can take in small doses if cooked in a certain way. Cooked salads, pasta salads and raw salads with fruit and nuts are acceptable. And a couple of weeks back, I actually felt like having soup!

Of course, it could have been because I wasn’t feeling to well but I think I am slowly developing a taste for certain soups. This time I had caught a bad respiratory infection and all I wanted to something warm to drink, at regular intervals, to sooth my irritated throat.
Now there is only so much tea that one can drink in a day so I needed something else. A cousin suggested rum (and coke) but I don’t drink alcohol. So the other option that came to mind was soup.




The vegetables in my fridge were down to a minimum, and vegetable bin yielded some tomatoes, carrots and red bell pepper. So that decided what was going into my soup.
A search on the ever resourceful net led me to this recipe which I adapted to my taste. This isn’t really a soup which one can throw together at one’s whim as the vegetables need to oven roasted, but it is one which cooks up without too much effort.

I made it in slightly larger quantities, refrigerated it and then warmed it up whenever I wanted some hot soup. If you plan to do this, it would be better to leave out the milk and substitute it with more stock (or water).

This thick soup is a nice balance of very slightly sweet and spicy flavours with a faint tang from the orange juice.



Roasted Tomato And Carrot Soup
(Adapted from Epicurious)


Ingredients:


2 medium onions

8 to 10 medium tomatoes

5 big carrots

1 big red bell pepper (capsicum)

1 cup orange juice, sweetened

1cup milk

11/2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp garlic paste

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp chilli flakes (adjust to taste)

1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable stock (or water)

salt to taste



Method:


First prepare the vegetables for roasting.
Quarter the onions, cut the carrots into 1/2” rounds, the bell pepper into large pieces and put them all together. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds and pulp. This ensures that there isn’t too much liquid when the tomatoes are roasting.

Lightly oil two baking sheets. Add about 1/2 tbsp oil (out of the 1 tbsp) each to both the chopped tomatoes and to the other vegetables. Toss them so they are well coated with the oil.

Now spread the tomatoes out on one baking sheet and the other vegetables on the other, ensuring they are in a single layer.
Bake them at 200C (400F) for about 45 to 50 minutes or till the vegetables are well roasted.

Let them cool and then purée the roasted vegetables in the blender, adding the orange juice, till smooth. Then add the milk and blend till well mixed.

In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 1/2 tbsp oil and sauté the garlic paste in it. Turn down the heat and then add the cumin powder and garam masala. Do not allow it to burn.
Now add the puréed vegetables. Mix well and add as much of the vegetable stock as needed to thin the soup to required consistency.

Add salt and chili flakes to taste, bring the soup to a boil and then turn down the heat. Allow the soup to simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Take the soup off the heat and serve warm with the basil cream (recipe below). This recipe serves 3 to 4.


Basil Cream


I made the above soup to sooth an irritated throat but should you want to serve it as part of a regular meal, you can also make a Basil Cream to serve with it. All this cream needs is some fresh basil and some cream.
The Basil Cream really does add that “special” something to the soup. You can refrigerate the extra cream for a couple of days and it does make an excellent dip as well.




There used to be a time, when I used to have not just green thumbs but green fingers too. In the past couple of years though, I have had a tough time just trying to get a few pots filled with growing herbs.
I plant the seeds or cuttings, and they would sprout a few leaves only to invariably die on me and leave me feeling miserable.




It looks like the green is creeping back into my thumbs again, as I have for the first time in ages, managed to have some semblance of an herb garden growing in my pots. Right now, my herb garden consists of only 3 types of basil, some mint and curry leaves but it’s a beginning.

Some of my home grown basil went into this Basil Cream, so as far as I’m concerned, it had the sweet taste of success! Seriously though, I never knew basil and cream could taste this good.



Basil Cream
(Adapted from Epicurious)


Ingredients:

200ml cream (I used 25% fat)

15 to 20 fresh basil leaves

1/4 tsp salt


Method:


Put the cream in a small pan and slowly bring to a boil. Add the salt and basil leaves, keep stirring and cook till the basil leaves wilt. This should take under 10 seconds.

Allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes and then purée it in a blender till smooth.
Pour the cream back into the pan and warm slightly just before serving.


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September 12, 2010

Mango Cardamom Crumb Cake


I’m sure we all have some crazy streak in us somewhere and when it pops up we do the weirdest things on impulse. I like to believe I’m a reasonably level headed person not given to too many crazy impulses (do I sound boring?), but ever since I have started blogging about food I have developed some minor eccentricities.

For one thing, I look at food very differently now, as I’m sure most of you do. It is no longer something to be just cooked and just enjoyed. It is about colour, texture, wondering if and how it would photograph well, amongst a lot of other considerations. Oh yes, it still has to be good to taste, above all.

Even my routine vegetable and fruit shopping isn’t the same anymore. I’m always running my eye around the market stalls to see if there’s something new, or different fruits or vegetables-wise. Many days, how and what I shop for is decided by what I want to blog about in the next couple of weeks!

My regular vegetable/ fruit vendors recognize this streak in me, and are always helpful with their suggestions with what more I could add to my already over stuffed and heavy shopping bags. They’re even nice enough to help me carry them to the car, on days when the bags are a bit too heavy for me.




So it isn’t surprising that I was overjoyed to see ripe mangoes being sold by a lady at the market. I have a lot of difficulty resisting mangoes, but how could I just walk by them without a second glance in September?
In India, summer (April – June) is the season for mangoes. Then come the monsoons and by end of September, the rains have also disappeared. But mangoes in September, is something I’ve never seem before.

So I came back from the market clutching half a dozen mangoes, looking like I had just won a lottery! And knew I was going to make a Mango Crumb Cake I had bookmarked quite some time back.
I like crumb cakes for the nice contrast of textures from the soft cake and the crunchy and crumbly topping.




If you are Indian, you would know that mango and cardamom make a fantastic pairing and if any nuts had to be used here, it would have to be cashewnuts or almonds.
So I adapted the original recipe, by reducing the butter a bit (for obvious reasons, but also because my butter comes in convenient 100gm slabs), eggs and sugar. I also made some other changes, including adding oats to the crumb topping.

This is a really good cake to serve with coffee/ tea time, especially when you have company. The mango, cashewnuts and the cardamom make it special.




Mango Cardamom Crumb Cake
(Adapted from the Vegetarian Times: March 1, 2003)


Ingredients:


For the cake:


100gm butter, softened at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 tbsp milk

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 mango, cubed (about 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup broken (or chopped) cashewnuts

1 tsp ghee (browned butter or butter)


Crumb/ streusel topping:


1/2 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup brown sugar

30 gm chilled butter

3 to 4 cardamom pods, powdered



Method:


Heat the ghee/ butter in a pan. Add the broken cashewnuts and pan fry them, stirring frequently, till they turn golden. Remove the cashewnuts and keep aside. Add the remaining bit of ghee to the butter and sugar while making the cake.

You can do the mixing in a food processor, but I used my hand held mixer.
Put the butter, sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Beat, on low speed, till everything is blended.
Add the egg, milk, flours, salt and baking powder and beat again on low speed till well blended.

Scrape the batter into a greased and floured 8” (or 9”) cake tin and lightly smooth the top. Uniformly scatter the cubed mango pieces and then the cashewnuts over the top.
Bake the cake at 190C (375F) for 15 minutes.

In the meanwhile, make the streusel/ crumb topping.
Powder the oats to a coarse powder. Put this and all the ingredients for the topping, except the butter, in a bowl and stir together. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and, using your fingers, rub them into the flour till the mixture forms small clumps.
After 15 minutes of baking, take the cake out and sprinkle the topping evenly on the cake. Put the cake back in the oven and continue to bake at 190C (375F) for about 30 to 40 minutes, till the crumb topping/ streusel is brown and the cake is cooked.

Cool the cake completely and then slice. Serve with coffee or tea, or perhaps for dessert with sorbet or ice-cream.
This cake serves 8 to 10.


I’m taking this cake to Anita’s Mad Tea Party where she’s celebrating 4 years of blogging, and I’ve just managed to get my foot in her front door before she closes it!

May I also remind you all that Sugar High Fridays is being hosted here this month, and if you haven’t sent me your submission you have till the 24th September to do so.

Also do check this giveaway and put your name down, if you haven’t already done so.



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September 10, 2010

Garlic-Rosemary Whole Wheat Yogurt Crescent Rolls And A Giveaway


Everyone loves a giveaway and I am happy to offer one so let’s get to that before anything else. I’m sure most of you have seen and some have hosted giveaways sponsored by CSN Stores. Well, it’s my turn today to join the CSN giveaway club.  (This giveaway is closed)

They had written to me quite sometime back asking if I would like to host a giveaway for my readers from the US and Canada, and it took us (I should say me, as I was being a bit fussy about it) a while to come up with something which was agreeable to both of us.

CSN has generously offered one lucky reader of this blog an $80.00 gift card (not including shipping) that can be used on ANY product on ANY one of their sites! CSN has loads of branded cookware and bakeware, including Le Creuset, on their site but you don’t have to restrict yourself to buying kitchen stuff if you win.

To enter this giveaway, all you have to do is to leave a comment at this post. While you’re about it maybe you could tell me what is the one (or two) smaller appliance/ gadget that you could not do without in your kitchen?
The two things I use the most in my kitchen are probably my mixer/grinder and pressure cooker, but the one small gadget that is precious to me is my lemon squeezer. It makes short work of squeezing lemons/ limes, which is something I hate doing!

Please let me know in your comment if you do not wish to be included in the giveaway. This giveaway is not restricted to bloggers, so take a chance and leave a comment. It might be your lucky day.
Please leave your e-mail ids (or link to your blogs in the comment form) in your comments so I can contact you if you win!

The giveaway shall be open till the midnight of the 17th September, 2010. On the 19th September, I shall randomly pick one and announce the the name of one lucky person who will get to shop at CSN, so please watch this space.

This giveaway, is only open to residents of the US and Canada due to shipping restrictions. If you have family/ friends in the US / Canada whom you would like to gift this to, then do a chance and enter your name. Lady Luck might have you on her list!
Please note that Canadian residents would have to pay international shipping charges.
Good Luck!


If you would still like to read my post for today, here it is. Otherwise, scroll right down and leave your comment.
I made these garlic rosemary crescent rolls sometime last month, when I realized that I hadn’t baked any bread in a while. You all know I enjoy baking, but baking bread is something extra special for me. Maybe it is that I really like bread, or its just the magic of seeing dough rise up in the oven and fill the kitchen with that fantastic aroma of freshly baking bread.




Whatever the reason, I just got the feeling that I had to bake some crescent rolls bread then and there. I love pulling apart a crescent roll, and see the soft rolled up bread unravel. So I put together a recipe, got out the yeast, milk, yogurt, and the other ingredients only to find out I had run out of all purpose flour. All I had was whole wheat flour but I don’t usually make all whole wheat bread because no one in my home really likes it, except me.

This time, I didn’t have much choice as I had already made the rosemary garlic oil and dissolved the yeast. So I made the rolls with whole wheat flour and these are the best whole wheat crescent rolls I’ve eaten to date. They’re really soft and even my daughter who isn’t a fan of “healthy” bread, agreed they were very good.



This post is long enough without my going on some more, so here’s the recipe for my crescent rolls, and don’t forget to enter your name for the giveaway.



Garlic-Rosemary Whole Wheat Yogurt Crescent Rolls



Ingredients:


2 3/4 cups to 3 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup milk, warm

1 tbsp honey

2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp garlic paste

few sprigs fresh rosemary (or dried)



Method:


In a pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic paste to it. Sauté, over medium heat, until the raw smell of garlic disappears. Chop the rosemary and add it to the pan. Stir a couple of times and then take the pan off the heat. Keep aside to allow the oil to cool and allow the flavours to leech into the oil.

Put the warm milk and honey in a bowl. Dissolve the yeast in this and keep for five minutes till it bubbles up.

Put the 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour in the food processor bowl (or a mixing bowl). Add the salt, the flavoured olive oil, the yeast mixture and the yogurt. Process/ knead until a soft and elastic dough forms, adding more flour as necessary. The dough should be soft and just short of being sticky.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, ensuring the dough ball is coated with the oil. Cover and allow the dough to rise and double in volume. This took me about 2 hours.

Now take the dough and press it down slightly without totally deflating it. Divide the dough into two halves and shape each one into a smooth round.
Roll out the ball of dough into a circle about 11” to 12” in diameter. Using a pizza cutter cut the circle into 12 pieces.
Roll up each piece from the broad end and place on a greased tray with the tip of the roll tucked underneath. Repeat with the other ball of dough.

Loosely cover the rolls with a towel and allow to rise till almost double, for about 45 minutes. If you want to brush them with egg you can. I left mine plain.

Bake them at 200C (400F) for about 20 minutes or till they’re golden brown. Cool on a rack.
You may serve them with soup, eat them as they are or have them for breakfast.
This recipe makes 24 small crescent rolls.


Let me also take this opportunity to wish all who are celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi and Eid, a very happy festive weekend filled with fun and food with family and friends.


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September 7, 2010

Pommes Anna (Potatoes Anna) - French Baked Potatoes


This month’s book choice for our “This Book Makes Me Cook” club was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaeffer and Annie Barrows. I haven’t been very regular in this club for a while now, even though I cook and I read. Of course, I have a valid excuse as most of the chosen books are not on the shelves of the apology of a library (rather two libraries) that we have where I live.
This time I managed to lay my hands on a copy and am posting my effort, though a bit late.




The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set in the post World War II period and is about the people who live on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel.
The book starts with Juliet Ashton, an author, who is not decided on what she wants to write about next.
Then she gets an unexpected letter from a Dawsley Adams of Guernsey, saying he has an old book of hers from which he got her address. He also tells her he loves reading Charles Lamb and is a member of the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society!

He reveals that the Society got its start and name when Elizabeth (another islander) invented it to explain to the Germans (or rather hide the fact) why she and her friends were secretly feasting on a roast pig.
Apparently, during wartime occupation of the Island, life was very difficult and food was so scarce that Germans would risk being executed to steal food from the islanders who themselves lived off turnips and potatoes.

In a nutshell, the story of the Literary and Potato Peel Society unfolds as a regular correspondence develops between Juliet and Dawsley. One sees how the Literary Society takes shape as its members begin to read and discuss books and this becomes the one bright part of their otherwise rather grim existence.

The book is mostly written in the form of letters to and from Juliet Ashton. This is quite confusing initially, as there are about 20 characters in the book, and it takes a little time to establish some pattern in the story and figure where the book is going. Juliet learns more about Guernsey and slowly builds up a relationship with its people, visits the island and remains there.
This book is entertaining, yet moving when touching upon the war stories. It is definitely worth reading.

As far as food mentions in the book go there are many. Given that the people in Guernsey suffered from the ravages and scarcity of food during the war, their meals were made up of making the best of the meager rations they could lay their hands on with things like a Potato Peel Pie, except when they had the rare luck to meet something like the roast pig which resulted in the Literary Society.

Much as I enjoyed the book, I wasn’t quite inspired to cook wartime fare. We don’t like beets and being vegetarian some of the other options in the book weren’t very attractive to me!
So I decided to use the “potato” part of the pie in the title (no peels for me, please) and cook a pie of a sort. I thought I would be austere in the number of ingredients in my recipe rather than in the ingredients themselves.
I found my potato recipe in the French “Pommes Anna”, which translates in English as a rather insipid sounding “Potatoes Anna”! This very classic French casserole is made by layering thinly sliced potatoes and then baking or cooking it on the stove top, with salt and loads of butter, till the potatoes become pie/ cake-like, crisp and golden on the outside.




Pommes Anna is said to have been created by a French chef named Adolph Dugléré who worked at the Café Anglais, one of the best restaurants in Paris during the 19th century. He is supposed to have named the dish in honour of the actress Anna Deslions, though some feel it could have been Dame Judic who’s real name was Anna Damiens.

I remember first coming across a beautifully photographed Pommes Anna in some magazine about 15 years back and marveling at how potatoes could look so delicate. At some point, once I had taken sole charge of the kitchen, the amount of butter that went into this creation held me back from trying it out for myself. This was before the World Wide Web became such a big part of our lives.

This month’s book choice brought back the idea of making Pommes Anna and searching for a comparatively guilt-free recipe, if one existed. After some searching I found two such recipes, one using much less butter and the other using olive oil.

Now apparently one secret to really good Pommes Anna is to cook it in a cast iron frying pan. This makes sense as a steady, high temperature is needed to cook and crisp the potatoes.
I do not have a cast iron frying pan, and the ones I do have wouldn’t fit into my tiny oven anyways. So I was thinking my best option would have been to cook my potatoes on the stovetop, when I came across a version cooked in smaller ceramic dishes at One Hungry Chef.

Apparently the more classic Pommes Anna shouldn’t have any seasoning beyond salt while the less classic version adds a bit of crushed black pepper, and depends on most of it flavour to come from the butter and potatoes.
If like me, you have been born and bred in a home where the warmth and aroma of spices in the kitchen is the norm, then this is rather bland fare and somewhat unacceptable.

So I went the guilt-free way but used half of butter with half olive oil. While olive oil may be healthier than butter, and the jury is still out on this, both are fats and more or less the same calorie-wise. However, olive oil can never be butter as far as taste goes and it isn’t everyday that I bake Pommes Anna so a little butter is fine.




Here is my version of Pommes Anna (or Potatoes Anna, if you prefer) spiced up just a little bit. You will need to use roughly 1 1/2 to 2 largish potatoes per person.

This is always served a side to a main dish, but this will be one side dish where you will have no leftovers.
The crisp and slightly crunchy edges and the meltingly soft middle is so delicious, that it’s a pity the one cannot eat it more often. The slicing and layering the potatoes is a bit laborious, but its well worth the effort.



Pommes Anna (Potatoes Anna)
(Adapted from Cooking Light and One Hungry Chef)


Ingredients:


5 to 6 largish potatoes (peeled, washed and dried)

1 tbsp olive oil

3/4 tsp garlic paste

some rosemary (I used frozen, use fresh if you have it)

1 tbsp butter

crushed black pepper to taste

salt to taste



Method:


If you are using a cast iron frying pan to cook your Pommes Anna please follow the method described in the recipe from CookingLight (links above).
I made my version as single serves, in ceramic ramekins. You can also follow this method if you are planning to make it like a casserole using a larger round ceramic dish.

Lightly oil (or butter) your dish or ramekins. In a small pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic, but do not let it brown. Add the butter and rosemary, stir a couple of times till the butter melts and take the pan off the heat.

Make sure your washed potatoes are really dry. Slice them thinly.
Now place a layer of potato slices in an overlapping manner to cover the bottom of your dish or ramekins. Brush the oil-butter mixture over the layer. Don’t worry if a bit of the garlic or rosemary comes along.
If you are very generous with the oil-butter while brushing, the oil will come out while baking and your Pommes Anna will have a slightly greasy feel to it.

Lightly and evenly sprinkle some salt and crushed pepper. Now lay another layer of potato slices as before, brush with the oil-butter and season with salt and pepper. Make sure to press down the layers with your fingers, as well as you can.
Repeat this till the ramekins are filled to the top. Cover the ramekins with foil. If you are using a large dish, layer the slices upto the rim, cover with foil and then place another somewhat heavy dish on top. This will help press down the layers while baking.

Bake the Pommes Anna at 180C (350F) for 25 to 30 minutes till a knife pushed through the middle goes through without resistance. This means the potatoes are cooked thoroughly.

Take the ramekins/ dish out of the oven and run a knife along the edges to loosen the potato pie. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes and then carefully invert the ramekins/ dish onto an oven proof plate.
If you are baking it in a dish, it would be a good idea to invert it onto your serving plate.

Now bake the Pommes Anna again, this time at 200C (400F), till the edges are golden and crisp. The original recipe says about 5 minutes, but my individual serves took almost 25 minutes to turn crisp and golden.

Serve warm as it is, as a side to your main dish. If you do not want your Pommes Anna to be served plain, you can up the calories some more by serving it with some Basil Cream. I shall post the recipe for that some time next week.
This recipe serves 4.

Some thoughts to keep in mind when planning for Pommes Anna:

1. The experts advise the use of waxy potatoes rather than floury potatoes. I wouldn’t know as I get only one kind of potatoes here, and that’s the kind that’s piled in a mound at the market, from which I pick out the good ones!
I guess they were the right kind, as my Pommes Anna turned out very well.

2. As I mentioned above, use a cast iron frying pan. The next best choice would be a shallow and wide heavy ceramic dish or smaller ones like I used. I believe there are also specially designed dishes available for cooking Pommes Anna.

3. If you have them, use a mandoline or food processor to slice the potatoes thinly and of uniform thickness to ensure even cooking and crispness. This can also be done by hand, it just takes more time and effort. After all, Adolph Dugléré didn’t have either though he probably had assistants he could order around.
If you want your potato slice cook and crisp well, they need to be sliced quite thin.

4. Do not rinse the potato slices in water as this gets rid of the starch which is needed to bind the layers together while cooking. If the starch is not there, your cooked slices will slide off into a mess when you try to plate your dish.
I peeled my potatoes, washed them, dried them well and then sliced them. Work quickly while layering, else the salt will cause the potato slices to “weep” and not bind while cooking. Also, the potatoes have less time to discolour.

5. Try to layer not more than about 5 to 6 layers of sliced potatoes or the outer layers might crisp (and burn) before the inner layers have cooked.

6. If you’re counting calories or on some sort of diet, Pommes Anna is not for you unless you have the self control to make it and actually stand by and watch the others enjoy themselves!

Of course, you could always give in to temptation and “taste” it, just once. And if you make the less “buttery” version like I did, you can feel happy about it.


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September 1, 2010

Announcing Sugar High Friday # 69: Bite Size Desserts


It has been quite a while since I hosted an event here. Call me crazy or whatever, but I’m just about finding the time to post regularly on my blog, and perhaps the last thing I need right now is to take on blog related responsibilities. But how can anyone refuse an opportunity to host a blog event? It’s a bit of work, but I really enjoy checking my mail to see the wonderful creations that bloggers come up with for a foodie event.




So I am happy to announce that this month I am hosting Sugar High Fridays (aka SHF), Jennifer’s brainchild and probably one of the longest running events (since October 2004) in food blogdom.
To quote Jennifer, SHF is “your best excuse to make something sweet and different, at least once a month, with tons of other people from around the world”.

Finding a “sugary” theme wasn’t easy considering 68 hosts before me have already freely exercised their choices, and very creatively at that.

I don’t really have a sweet tooth, thought there a few sugar laden treats which I find difficult to resist. As I grow older (September also happens to be my birthday month), I find it very practical to go with the saying “good things come in small packages”, when it comes to desserts. It is also a good way to occasionally indulge oneself without feeling guilty about it.

So this month’s theme for Sugar High Fridays shall be “Bite Size Desserts”. For the purpose of this event, bite size desserts include any sweet dish or dessert made as small individual serves which can be eaten in 2 to 3 bites. This does not include single slice servings from a bigger dessert like cake or pie!

I must request that all SHF submissions be vegetarian (eggs and diary allowed), as I write a vegetarian blog.

To be a part of this sugar high ride all you have to do is………….

Make a bite size sweet or dessert and blog about it between today and the 24th of September which is a Friday (It is Sugar High Friday, after all).
If you do not have a blog, you can still join in. All you have to do is send me your post with recipe and picture (if possible) and I’ll include it in the round-up.


Please make sure you link your SHF post to Jennifer’s SHF page and this announcement. If you do not blog in English, please send me a summary of your SHF post in English so that I can understand what I’m adding to the round-up.

Archived posts are welcome, provided you republish the post within the period of this event, with required link backs.
Please note that you may enter your SHF submission for only one more food blog event, if you so wish.

Updated (6th September, 2010): If you are sending your submission to another event also, I would appreciate a separate mail with your submission for SHF.
I have got a couple of submissions so far which are a bit confusing, as the same mail seems to have been sent to me and another event host.

Then send me an e-mail at aprna00[at]gmail[dot]com (please read this as aprna (zero)(zero)[at]gmail[dot]com) with SHF as the subject line and the following details:

    Your name:
    The name of your blog:
    The name of your recipe and the url of your SHF post:
     2 sentences describing your bite size sweet/ dessert:   
    Where you live (town/ city and country):
    A 300px wide picture of your dessert, if possible:

If you have any questions or suggestions please leave a comment at this post.

I haven’t been very visible at most blog events for a while now and it really has been due to a lack of time to spare. I hope you will not hold this against me, and look forward to seeing your bite size sweets and desserts here.

Please note the deadline for submissions is the 24th of September, 2010 and the round-up will be posted on the 27th.
I usually respond within 3 to 4 days of receiving a submission. If you haven't got a response in this time, please write to me or leave a comment at this post.


Last month’s edition of SHF was hosted by Elise (17 And Baking) with the theme “Buerre Noisette/ Browned Butter”. She will be posting the round-up on the 10th of this month.


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