October 31, 2010

Of Aves & Arachnids! Hoot Owl Cookies And Eggless Spider Cupcakes


Now you know I studied biology in college and still remember some of it. No, this post is not a lesson on classification of animals. I was looking for a “catchy” title for this post which wasn’t spooky or disgusting but reflected the mood of Halloween. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded with what I wanted title-wise, but I’m going to leave it this way for want of a better alternative!
We don’t celebrate Halloween in India, and this is another tradition that I learnt of from my story books as a child. Dressing up as spooky characters, carving pumpkins, tricking or treating, bobbing for apples all seemed a bit alien yet sort of exciting in my world then. I couldn’t understand though, why one would go out of the way to celebrate something so spooky and a bit scary.
Now I’m older, I do understand what Halloween is about and that it can be a lot of fun for everyone though still a bit too spooky for my tastes, but then I never grew up with it.




This is also the season when I enjoy seeing beautifully decorated cookies, cakes and pies that appear on many food blogs I visit. However, I’m at a loss when it comes to understanding why people also serve up food that looks like blood and gore! Well, I guess everyone has their preferences and this is what some people actually like.

Spiders are not on my list of favourite things but I have been fascinated by spider cupcakes for quite some time. Then this year I came upon these cute owl cookies, and on an impulse decided to make them some right away. With Halloween around the corner, it also seemed the perfect time to try my hand at making those spider cupcakes as well. My daughter was so happy at the thought of buttercream on her cupcakes that she decided to be a part of this project and made the cupcakes for me.




For the owl cookies I found Natalie Neal Whitfield’s recipe which claims to be the original of the one that caught my attention. I have used the same recipe but made a few changes, as usual.
These cookies are slightly crisp and buttery, delicious and absolute attention grabbers. They’re really not difficult to make and since they’re refrigerator cookies, you can make the dough, wrap it and refrigerate a few days ahead till you’re ready to bake them.



Hoot Owl Cookies
(Adapted from Natalie Neal Whitfield’s recipe)



Ingredients:


150 gm butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1 unbeaten egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate

1/4 tsp baking soda

white chocolate chips (or dark), for the eyes of the owls

whole cashewnuts (preferably unsalted and not roasted)



Method:


In a bowl, using a hand held mixer, cream the butter and sugar till soft and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla extract and beat well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and add to the bowl and mix well to form a softish dough.

Melt the semi-sweet chocolate over warm water and allow it to cool.

Take 2/3rd of the dough out of the bowl and keep it aside. Add the baking soda to the melted chocolate, stir well and add it to the 1/3rd portion dough which is in the bowl. Knead this well so that you have a brown coloured dough with no streaks visible.
Chill both doughs for about 1/2 an hour to make the dough easy to work with.

Take light coloured dough and divide into 2 equal portions. Also similarly divide the chocolate dough into 2 portions and roll each portion into a long cylinder/ rope shape about 10” long. Keep aside.
Cut out a piece of aluminum foil (approx. 12” by 6”). Place one piece of light coloured dough in the centre of the piece of foil and roll it out into 10” by 4” rectangle. Place one chocolate dough cylinder/ rope in the centre of this rectangle.
Using the foil, wrap the light coloured rectangle of dough around the chocolate one from both sides. Your dough should now look like long roll of light coloured dough with the chocolate dough in the centre. Wrap the aluminium foil aroung the roll.
Repeat this with the other half of both doughs, and chill both rolls of dough for at least 2 hours or even overnight.

When ready to bake the cookies, remove the foil and slice each roll of dough into 1/4” thick slices and place them on lined baking sheets.

For each owl, press two slices together to form a face.
Pinch, or shape the outer corners of each slice to form “ears” and push an upside down chocolate chip in to the centre of each slice to make “eyes”.
Press a whole cashewnut between the slices, with pointed side down to make a “beak”.
Repeat with all the slices.

Do leave some space on the cookie sheets between “owls” as the will swell up and become larger as they bake. Bake the owl cookies at 108C (350F) for about 10 to 15 minutes till the edges of the cookies start becoming brown.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then carefully remove them racks to cool completely
This recipe gave me about 2 dozen owl cookies.



Eggless Spider Cupcakes

As I mentioned, I have been wanting to make these for sometime. I decided to divide my cupcakes into 2 batches and frost/ decorate each batch differently. So I covered one batch with orange butter cream and the other with chocolate ganache and white glazing to make the webbed pattern.




My cupcakes are adapted from a vegan cupcake recipe. This one, like the original, uses oil but you will get a better texture with butter. They’re very easy to make, using a muffin like method, and my daughter had them done in no time at all.




These chocolate cupcakes are light and not very sweet which makes them just nice once topped with buttercream or chocolate ganache/ glaze.



Eggless Spider Cupcakes
(Adapted from Chow)



Ingredients:

1 cup milk

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup oil (I used soyabean oil)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dark cocoa powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt



Method:


Whisk together the milk and vinegar in a bowl and leave it for about 5 to 10 minutes to curdle to something like buttermilk. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract and whisk everything together till foamy.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add this to the wet ingredients and fold in until well incorporated and no flour streaks remain.

Pour the batter into paper lined cupcake/ muffin moulds or tins, till 3/4 full, and bake at 180C (350F) for about 20 minutes till done and a toothpick inserted into the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool them completely on a rack and frost/ decorate as desired.
This recipe makes 12 cupcakes.




Cover the cupcakes with orange buttercream or chocolate ganache/ glaze and decorate with chocolate spiders.
To make my webbed cupcakes I used leftover chocolate glazing/ ganache from the DB doughnut challenge. I added a little more icing sugar and some melted chocolate to the glaze and topped half of my cupcakes with this.




Then I used plain sugar glaze (icing sugar +lemon juice + milk) to draw concentric circles on the chocolate glaze and used a knife tip to draw lines out from the centre of the cupcakes to the outside while the icing was still wet.



Orange Buttercream Frosting
(Adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor)


Ingredients:


100gm butter, at room temperature

2 to 3 cups icing sugar, sifted

2 to 3 tbsp unsweetened orange juice

1 tsp orange extract

few drops of orange colouring



Method:


In a large mixing bowl, using a hand held mixer, beat the butter on low speed for about 30 seconds until it is fluffy. Add about 2 to 2 1/2 cups icing sugar, 2 tbsp orange juice, food colouring and extract.

Beat at low speed for about 1 minute, till well mixed. If the buttercream seem too soft, add as much icing sugar as required and beat well. Increase the speed and beat for another minute till the buttercream is light and fluffy. If the buttercream seems too thick, add a little orange juice and beat again.

This recipe makes about 2 1/2 cups of buttercream, enough to cover 24 cupcakes (2 1/2" size)



Chocolate spiders:


I saw a lot of ideas for making spiders to use on my cupcakes, but I couldn’t make most of them because we don’t get licorice and similar candy here. So I came up with the idea for these spiders.

Melt some semi-sweet chocolate with a little butter over warm water. Put this into a piping bag/ ziplock bag. Cut off the tip so you get a very small hole.

Pipe sets of 8 spider legs on a sheet of aluminium foil or thick plastic sheets. Press down round chocolate cereal balls (I used the “planets” from Kelloggs Planets & Stars cereal) in the middle to form the spiders’ body. Pipe two white or coloured glaze icing dots on the “body” for the eyes.

Place the “spiders” in the fridge till the chocolate sets. Peel off the spiders from the foil and store in a box till ready to use.


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October 27, 2010

Yeasted Doughnuts: Daring Bakers Challenge, October 2010


As Daring Bakers, our monthly challenges mostly involve quite a bit of baking. Occasionally though, we take a break do challenges that do not involve baking and this month was one such challenge.
This October, our hostess for the month challenged us to make ourselves some doughnuts. While many of us chose to fry our doughnuts, some others chose to bake them. We had the choice to fry them, bake them, glaze them, fill them, or make them any which way we wanted to, but we had to make some doughnuts.

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Lori wanted us to make doughnuts using one of the four given recipes, but beyond that we were free to experiment with shapes, flavours, glazes or anything else we could think of. Having made doughnuts before, this wasn’t a challenge for me but it was an opportunity to try a new recipe, and I'm always happy to make doughnuts.




I have rather nostalgic memories about doughnuts because they are a part of my student days at the university. Back then, there were many days of the week when my classes used to be back to back, and I had about 15 minutes of lunchtime out which I spent 10 minutes running from one department to the next for my classes. The remaining 5 minutes would be spent at this small store on the way, which sold jam filled doughnuts.

Now that I think back, I must say they weren’t the best doughnuts I have eaten but back then, they were just the thing. They were inexpensive (student’s budget, you know), made a great “lunch on the run”, and gave us the sugar boost-carbs-calories combination that we desperately needed to face the next class!




I initially made a half recipe of the Alton Brown doughnuts and though they were not bad, I found them too soft with a very strong flavour of yeast. It did seem to me that 4 1/2 tsp yeast for 4 2/3 cups of flour a bit on the higher side. A lot of my fellow DBs who made the same doughnuts don’t seem to have felt this, so maybe its really a matter of taste.
While I do like soft doughnuts, I also consider them comforting kind of food. I do not like them so light and spongy that they’re almost not there when you bite into them.

So I made some changes to the recipe by reducing the amount of yeast and increasing the rising time for the dough.
I also reduced the egg by one. I think you could leave the eggs out completely and still have pretty good doughnuts, if you’re looking for an eggless doughnut recipe.
I used 5 cups of flour and still had a some what sticky dough. Please resist the urge to add more flour, otherwise you will end up with tough chewy doughnuts.




I could have (and really should have) baked my doughnuts but I decided to fry them because let’s face it, deep-fried doughnuts are the best. The whole world thinks so too, if you stop to take a look at how many countries/ cuisines across the world make their own version of deep fried dough, whatever they call them!
So I shall bake doughnuts another day. For now, here are my adapted recipes for this month’s challenge. You can find the detailed challenge here.
This video of Alton Brown making his doughnuts is worth a watch.



Yeast Doughnuts
(Adapted from Alton Brown)



Ingredients:


1 1/2 cups milk

70 gm butter

3 tsp active dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

5 cups all purpose flour + extra for dusting

oil for deep frying



Method:


Warm the milk in a pan, over medium heat, just enough to melt the butter. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water and 1 tsp of sugar and wait for about 5 minutes till the mixture is foamy.
You can mix up and knead the dough in a mixer, but I did it with a wooden spoon.

In a large bowl, put the dissolved yeast, the butter-milk mixture, the egg, sugar, salt and about 2 1/2 cups of flour. Using a wooden spoon, mix well till the flour is incorporated.

Now add about 2 cups of flour and mix till a rather sticky dough forms. If your dough is very sticky add another 1/2 cup of flour, but no more. Do not give in to the temptation to add more flour.
Mix the dough again with the spoon until all the flour has been well incorporated into the dough and looks smooth. It will still be a bit sticky.

Lightly dust your palms with flour, and shape the dough into a ball, and place it in a well oiled bowl, turning it to coat it with oil. Loosely cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise for about 1 1/2 hours. Then place the risen dough in the fridge for another hour or so till it rises and is almost double in volume.




Dust your work surface with flour and place the dough on it. Using your hands (dust your palms if necessary), lightly press the dough out to flatten it a bit and the roll it out to 1/2" thickness. Flour your cutter and cut out the dough into desired shape/ size.

I made three different shapes – the traditional round ones with a hole in the middle, some square ones, and some flower shaped ones. I used my doughnut cutter to cut small round doughnuts. For the square ones, I used my pizza cutter to cut out squares and then punched out the holes in the middle with a small piece of metal piping.

For the flower shaped ones, I first cut out circles with a pastry ring and then used my dough scraper to make 6 equally spaced cuts from the edge towards the centre.




Place the doughnuts on a floured surface and cover them loosely with a clean kitchen towel and allow them to rise for about 30 minutes.

Then heat enough the oil in a pan (or fryer to 185C/ 365F), about 3” deep. I don’t have a fryer or thermometer, but because I have done a lot of deep-frying before, I can gauge the temperature of oil well enough.

Slide the doughnuts, about 3 or 4 at a time, and fry them on both sides till they’re a uniform golden brown. Remember the oil temperature needs to be right. If the temperature is low, the doughnuts will absorb a lot of oil and be greasy. If it is too hot, the doughnuts will turn dark quickly and be uncooked at the centre.

Drain them on paper towels and allow them to cool a bit. Drop them into a paper bag containing cinnamon sugar and shake well to coat the doughnuts with sugar.

Otherwise let them cool completely (about 15 to 20 minutes) before glazing them. This recipe makes about 20 to 25 doughnuts depending on the size and holes.


Freezing doughnuts:

If you would like to freeze some of your doughnuts, you can do it now before glazing them. Let them cool to room temperature.
Place the doughnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer. When they’re completely frozen, put them in a freezer bag and seal well.
Whenever you would like some, remove the doughnuts from the freezer, place them on a sheet and heat them in a 200C (400F) for about 10 minutes. Dust them with sugar, fill them or glaze them, and serve.



Tangy Saffron Cardamom Glaze
(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Doughnut Glaze)



Ingredients:


1/4 cup milk

a few threads of saffron

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

2 cups icing sugar

1/2 tsp powdered cardamom



Method:


Put the milk in a small pan and warm it over medium heat. Take the pan off the heat, add the saffron threads and let them steep in the milk for about 10 minutes, so that the saffron colours the milk.

Put the pan back on medium heat, and heat the milk till it is warm again. Add the icing sugar and whisk well. Add the lemon juice and whisk again till the glaze is smooth. If you feel the glaze is a bit on the thinner side, add a little more icing sugar and whisk it in. Take the pan off the heat and place over a bowl of warm water.

Working quickly with one at a time, dip one side of the doughnuts in the glaze. Place on a rack positioned over a cookie sheet, for about 10 mintes till the glaze sets.
This recipe should be enough to glaze about 20 doughnuts, depending on the size.



Chocolate Glaze:
(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Chocolate Glaze)


Ingredients:


1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup whole milk, warmed

1 tbsp honey

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¾ to 1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

1/2 tsp instant coffee powder

1 1/2 cups icing sugar


Method:


Put the butter, milk, honey and vanilla in a pan, over medium and stir until the butter has melted. Turn down the heat to low and add the chocolate and the coffee powder. Whisk until the chocolate has melted. Take the pan off the heat and add the icing sugar. Whisk until smooth. Place the pan over warm water and dip the doughnuts, one at a time in the chocolate glaze. Place the glazed doughnuts on a rack over a cookie sheet for about 30 minutes for the glaze to set.

This recipe makes enough chocolate glaze for about 20 doughnuts depending on the size. You can store this glaze in an airtight container for a few days and use it to drizzle over cookies or pancakes. Just warm it over warm water first.



Verdict:


The doughnuts I made using the original Alton Brown recipe (with 4.5 tsps of yeast) were a little too soft and they tasted and smelt very strongly of yeast.
Once I reduced the yeast, the doughnuts turned out light with great texture and taste. One other thing I liked about these doughnuts is that they’re not sweet at all, so they’re just right when glazed.
If you like yeasted doughnuts, I would recommend this recipe if you haven't tried it yet.

We like our doughnuts best, lightly dusted with sugar or cinnamon sugar but I decided to experiment with one sugar glaze and a chocolate glaze.
The combination of saffron, cardamom and the tang from the lemon made this sugar glaze out of this world, so much so that I’m quite pleased with this “experiment” of mine.

As for the chocolate glaze, I thought it was very good. I cut down on the sugar and increased the chocolate and the glaze was like chocolate ganache. I don’t like chocolate glazes where you can feel/ taste the icing sugar on your tongue so I really liked this particular glaze. Of course, it didn’t quite set like the sugar glaze but that wasn’t a problem for me.

And since I know you haven't had your fill of doughnuts yet, let's go get some more!



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October 22, 2010

A Vegetarian Curry Laksa (A Spicy South East Asian Noodle Soup)


This month, our little group (The 4-Velveteers) is continuing the journey of exploring each others cuisines. Last month Alessio got us cooking Sicilian Eggplant Caponata, and this time, Pamela introduces us to Laksa which is traditional to Singapore which is where she comes from.

When Pamela first suggested “Laksa” for this month’s challenge, I didn’t even know what it was! She told us that it was a dish popular in South East Asian countries, especially the Peranakan culture of Malaysia and Singapore.
Originally brought into Malaysia by the Chinese traders, Laksa has taken on so many variations in the multi-ethnic population of Malaysia and Singapore and also the rest of South East Asia.

Apparently, there are many different types of laksa, but what is common to all varieties of laksa is a broth, spice paste and noodles of some sort. The most well known varieties of laksa are the slightly sour tamarind based Assam Laksa and the Curry Laksa which has coconut milk.
Being a South East Asian preparation, it is not surprising that this soup would be non-vegetarian all its versions with the addition of some form of fish or seafood.




Laksa, essentially a spicy noodle soup, is a very popular street food in Singapore and eaten either as a midday snack or for dinner. It turns out that the Laksa could have an Indian connection because that name supposedly comes from the Indian word “laksha” which means “a hundred thousand (as in 100, 000)”, signifying that no two are the same since so many different ingredients are used in it!

Another explanation is that it is a corruption of the Cantonese “La sha (pronounced latsa), meaning “spicy sand” referring to the sandy texture the sauce gets from the presence of ground dried prawns.
One more story attributes the name to a similar sounding word in Hokkien which means “dirty” referring to the appearance of this noodle soup!

One of my favourite food and recipe reads is Yotam Ottolenghi’s weekly column, The New Vegetarian. I find it interesting when people, who are not vegetarian as a norm, interpret vegetarian cooking, especially in the Western world.
Most of his recipes are unusual, inventive and also very “doable”.
So when I found his vegetarian version of Laksa, I knew that that was what I was going to work with for this challenge.




I made some changes to his recipe, of course, as I didn’t have some of the ingredients. I used onion instead of shallots because they’re hard to come by in Goa. If you can find shallots, please use them as they have better flavour than onions.

No galangal here, so ginger it is for this Laksa. No lemongrass either, though I had a stash of some the dry stuff. While that’s good for tea, I think you need fresh lemongrass and I’m going to see if I can find some to grow in a pot. I added some Thai basil to the spice paste which I felt added to the Laksa.
I have seen Curry Laksa recipes using mint along with fresh coriander and basil. I decided to leave the mint out, because I have a feeling that Indian mint is stronger than Vietnamese mint (which is what seems to be used) and didn't think it would do well here.

I added carrots to give the laksa some body, and kept my moong sprouts raw as I felt it added texture/ crunch to the soup. Curry powder, which is considered an Indian spice, is so foreign to us it is available only outside India! So I went with my own mix of spices here.

We do use thin rice noodles in my traditional cuisine, but I wasn’t sure we would like it in this soup so I chose to use thick wheat noodles. My daughter isn’t very fond of eggs though she loves meringues and egg noodles, so the choice of noodles was obvious for this Laksa.

It seems tofu puffs are an integral part of Curry Laksa, but since I have no idea what those are, I went along with Yotam Ottolenghi's suggestion to use deep fried flour coated tofu cubes.




While Laksa is a bit spicy for a soup, but not perhaps for Asian palates used to spice and fire, I kept my version a bit low on the spice. Instead, I chose to serve my Laksa with a spicy chilli sambal so that anyone who wanted more spice could choose to have it.
Here are my recipes for both.



Vegetarian Curry Laksa
(Adpated from Ottolenghi’s The New Vegetarian)


Ingredients:


For the spice paste:


1 medium red onion or 5 baby shallots, sliced

1/2 tsp garlic paste or 2 to 3 garlic cloves

2” piece ginger, sliced

1 1/2 tsp dried lemongrass (or fresh, soft white stem only, sliced)

2 tsp coriander seeds

2 large dried red chillies

small handful fresh coriander (leaves and stems)

a few leaves of Thai basil



For the broth:


3 tbsp vegetable oil

the spice paste from above

4 cups vegetable stock

3 sprigs curry leaves (or laksa leaves, if you can find them)

2 tsp curry powder

(I used 1 tsp sambhar powder + 1 tsp garam masala + 1/4 tsp turmeric powder)

salt to taste

2 tbsp brown sugar

400ml thick coconut milk

200 gm thick wheat noodles

(I used egg noodles)

1 to 1 1/2 cups moong sprouts

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced french beans

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrot sticks



For the fried tofu:


250g slab of firm tofu, cut into cubes

1/8 cup all purpose flour

1/8 cup cornstarch

Oil for deep frying



3 or 4 limes, quartered and some chopped fresh coriander for serving



Method:


First make the spice paste. Grind the first eight ingredients in a small food processor bowl, adding a couple of tbsps water, into a reasonably smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a largish pan and fry the spice paste on medium heat, stirring all the time – ensuring it doesn’t burn, till the raw small of the onion and garlic is no more. Add the vegetablestock, curry leaves, curry powder, the salt and sugar and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the broth for about 20 minutes.

While the broth is simmering, cook the noodles in salted water till just done. Drain and keep aside.
Put the moong sprouts in salted boiling water for about 30 seconds, drain and refresh in cold water. Drain and keep aside. You can also use the moong sprouts raw like I did, if you prefer.
In the same boiling water, blanch the beans for about 3 minutes and then the carrots for about 30 seconds. Refresh both in cold water, drain and keep aside.

Now fry the tofu cubes. Heat the oil in a wok. Mix the all purpose flour and the cornstarch and toss the tofu cubes in the flour till they’re well coated.
Drop the cubes in the hot oil and fry them till they’re golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Once the broth is done, turn off the heat and remove the curry leaves and discard. Now add the thick coconut milk and mix well. Do not heat the broth once the coconut milk has been added or it might curdle. If you’re planning to serve the soup a little later, do not add the coconut milk. Add it just before you assemble the soup.
To serve the laksa, place the noodles in the serving bowls. Put half the sprouts over this and ladle the broth into the bowls. Now add the beans, carrots, remaining sprouts and fried tofu cubes. Garnish with chopped coriander.
Serve with lime wedges for squeezing into the laksa, and chilli sambal on the side.
This recipe serves 4 to 6.



Chilli Sambhal
(My version, adapted from too many sources to mention)


Ingredients:


4 tbsp red chilli flakes

2 heaped tsp ginger paste

1 tsp garlic paste

2 tbsp powdered vegetable stock cubes

2 tbsp sesame oil

2 tsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp coconut (or plain) vinegar

1 tsp jaggery

salt to taste (if necessary)



Method:


Heat the oil in a small pan and add the chilli flakes, ginger and garlic pastes. Over medium heat, fry this until the oil surfaces, taking care to see it doesn’t burn.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

This sambhal is quite spicy and will stay for a couple of weeks, if stored in an airtight container in the fridge.



Verdict:


We loved it, and my daughter came asking for seconds so that should say a lot in itself! Of course, there are a lot of very “Indian” elements in the Curry Laksa whether it is the spice, the herbs or the coconut milk, so a lot of the flavours were very familiar.

A very warming and filling soup with the creamy richness of coconut milk, and as usual the perfect balance of salty, mildly sweet and sour, and spicy that always makes for the perfect dish.


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 our group has been joined by one more member, Lindsay of Rosemarried. I will link to the other members' challenges as when they are posted.


This month's Velveteer recipes:


Alessio: Fragrant Almond Laksa

Asha: Laksa Lemak

Lindsay: Laksa - Curried Moules Frites

Veena: Vegetarian Laksa

Sarah: Light Chicken Laksa



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October 16, 2010

Yeasted Zucchini Chocolate Chip Bread


Last week I baked some cookies and cupcakes for a friend whom I was meeting for the first time in person. I had met her on Flickr where we both belong to the same photography group and keep meeting virtually, through our photography assignments there.
Other than that I haven’t baked these past few weeks since this brioche, which isn’t a big deal, but I usually bake about twice a week. A sore throat and fever also ensured that even my cooking was of the “bare minimum for survival” variety.

I have also not been keeping up with happenings on my favourite food blogs or events in the food blogdom either. It was only when Finla was talking about the bread she had baked for World Bread Day (WBD), that I realized I didn’t even know that WBD was on.
Bread Baking Day, and WBD by extension, used to be events I used to enjoy baking for as they pushed me to discover a world of breads I didn’t know existed.
It turns out that I am in time for WBD this year, and I have a bread for the event, even though I must admit that I did not bake this bread specially for it.




For a long time I used to keep seeing zucchini on so many blogs and wonder what it tasted like. Zucchini is not a vegetable native to India even though we have many different types of gourds here. So when I finally started seeing it at my local market I was quite thrilled, even though a bit on the expensive side.
I was disappointed by the vegetable as I found it looked a lot more promising than it actually was. I found it rather bland though it does take on flavours well, when cooked with other vegetables and spices.

Despite this, I tend to buy zucchini on and off as it does quite well when baked as bread or muffins. Most recipes for zucchini bread are chocolate versions of quickbreads using baking powder. I have made an eggless chocolate zucchini quickbread before and wanted to try making a yeasted bread with zucchini.




I found this yeasted zucchini bread recipe which seemed good and almost irresistible because the ingredient list included cardamom! I halved the recipe, and some subtractions and additions later, baked an absolutely delightful loaf of yeasted zucchini bread with chocolate chips.

If you would rather avoid the chocolate in this bread, do leave out the chocolate chips and you would still have an excellent bread on hand. The yeast makes a light and soft bread unlike the dense moist type of zucchini bread made with baking powder.



Yeasted Zucchini Chocolate Chip Bread
(Adapted from Taste of Home)


Ingredients:


1/2 tbsp dry active yeast

3/4 cup warm milk

2 tbsp sugar

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 to 2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp butter, softened

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup grated zucchini

3 pods cardamom, powdered

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips



Method:


Put about 1/4 cup of the warm milk in a large bowl. Add the sugar and dissolve the yeast in this. Add the soft butter to the remaining 1/2 cup of warm milk and whisk to mix. Add this, the salt, cardamom, grated zucchini and flours to the bowl and mix to form a soft dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic. This should take about about 6-8 minutes. If the dough feels sticky dust the dough with just enough flour to make kneading the dough manageable. Too much flour will alter the texture of the bread.

Place the dough in a well oiled bowl, turning to coat well with oil. Cover and allow it to rise in a warm place until doubled. Thi should take about about an hour or so.

Gently knead the dough and press it out (not very thin) into a rectangle. Sprinkle the surface evenly with the chocolate chips and roll up the rectangle from the short side. Tuck the ends neatly and smoothly under the shaped loaf of dough.

Place it in a greased loaf tin, cover loosely and allow it to rise for about 30 to 45 minutes.
Bake at 190C (375F) for 40 minutes or till golden brown and done.
Unmould and cool on a rack. Serve as you wish. This recipe makes a small loaf of zucchini bread.

This bread is my submission for the 5th World Bread Day, hosted by Zorra. It is also being YeastSpotted!


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October 9, 2010

Moroccan Style Chickpea Soup With K’sra (Moroccan Aniseed Flatbread)


Do you dream of traveling to beautiful and exotic destinations that books, movies or television describe to you? Do the stories, colours and smells of an almost different world or era excite the hidden adventurer in your heart? I would plead guilty to all of this. I know that it is impossible for me to travel and see all that I want, but books have always been a wonderful way to explore places, their people and their lives. Sometimes, this is even better than actually seeing it for yourself because your imagination can conjure up something that reality cannot match!

What would Morocco say to you?
I see souks (markets) with every nook ands cranny bursting at the seams with intricately worked carpets, metal and wooden artifacts and shop owners looking forward to a good bargain. I see noisy markets full of colour and aromas of exotic spices and street food. I see beautiful Islamic architecture and calligraphy in the mosques, homes and other buildings with beautifully carved and etched windows and doors. I see beautiful colours and patterns on the Moroccan zellige or decorated glazed tiles. I see sweetmeat vendors selling Morocco’s famed people enjoying mint tea and watching the world go by.

So when our  Book Club chose to read The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah this month, Ibought it. I love reading, but I am a bit picky about the books that I spend my money on and find a place for on my bookshelves.
How could I resist a book written by a man who is passionate (or crazy, you decide which) enough to uproot his wife, young daughter and a 3 week old baby from the dreary climes of England, so that they can “let his delusions of grandeur run wild” in a crumbling Caliph’s mansion in the middle of a shantytown in Casablanca?




A British travel writer of Afghan origin on his father’s side, Tahir Shah and his Indian wife find the thought of the warm sun in Morocco and “market stalls are a blaze of color, heaped with spices -- paprika and turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and fenugreek”, irresistible after their life in dreary and grey London.
Leaving the security of life at home and moving abroad, with a young family, wasn’t easy as family and friends thought he was “irresponsible, unfit to be a parent, a dreamer destined to be a failure.”

Memories of numerous family vacations in Morocco, the country’s rich culture and most specially the fact that his paternal grandfather spent his last years there was the motivation behind his almost impulsively buying a house in Casablanca. Not just any house but the Dar Khalifa, the Caliph’s house, with a vague idea of restoring it to its former glory.

There’s nothing romantic about Shah’s year in Casablanca. He finds the house he bought is almost uninhabitable by humans and completely taken over by Jinns. Jinns, central to the Moroccan way of life, are magical spirits who are mostly very devious, mischievous and especially love to live in empty houses and spaces.

So once the initial romance of living in Morocco wears off, we find Tahir Shah and his family having to deal with everyday problems of fixing the plumbing, unsuccessfully trying to renovate the Caliph’s house, desperately trying to get his employees to do their work, battle the devious ways of the Jinns who want to turn them out of the house and also managing his rather tenuous income!

Almost everything revolves around placating and pacifying the Jinns who are central to everything in Morocco. Many of the solutions that his advisors give him to manage his problems are strange and almost ludicrous, if one did not realize how seriously the advise was given.

The first night that he and his family spend in the house, they are warned against coming out of their room even to use the bathroom, because the Jinns would get them. He is advised to kill “some” sheep to placate the Jinns. On asking how many, he is told one sheep for each room. Given that Tahir Shah had bought a Caliph’s house, which would mean at least twenty rooms and a flock of sheep!

When he wonders if he should confront his neighbours who have paid to have his house deeds “disappear”, his first secretary warns him that his neighbour is Casablanca’s Godfather and would take away his children and send hiom their fingers by mail!

Another time he has just managed to unearth the papers/ deeds of the Caliph’s house, he finds he needs to local papers to prove residency. His second secretary suggests he gets married again, despite Shah’s protest that he is already very happily married!!

It would take living in Morocco, or even an African or Asian country, to understand or perhaps come to terms with the way of thinking and other idiosyncrasies that rule life in the Casablanca in Tahir Shah’s book. According to Shah’s unwelcome friends from England, the Caliph’s house and Casablanca were “Hell on earth and there’s shouting from the mosque all the time, the noise of dogs and donkeys, and the clang of hammers banging. There is no hot water either, and a garden filled with wild people. It certainly ensured they never visited again.

While his narrative style is quite entertaining, his frustrations with getting things to work along some semblance of a plan come through. All’s well that ends well, and Tahir Shah realizes his dream of living in Morocco with his family and bringing up his children there.
Should you be in Casablanca, and have the time and money to spend there, you might just want to spend some time at Tahir Shah's renovated Caliph's House.

Most of the food that is cooked and eaten in Morocco is meat based, since it is a Muslim country. Moroccan cuisine also uses a lot of local vegetables, lentils and spices that are very like those used in Indian cooking. Another thing that Morocco is famous for is its flatbreads which are used to mop up the gravies and soups. It is probably the same Arabic influence that is responsible for similar tandoori (earthern oven baked) flatbreads of north India.

I am new to Moroccan cooking and to me it is the tagine which always comes to mind first. The tagine is a special glazed earthernware cooking pot which lends its name to the mostly meat based preparation cooked in it.
I do not have a tagine and I’m vegetarian so I decided to make a Moroccan style chickpea soup and a yeasted flatbread called K’sra (pronounced K’shra) to serve with it.



Moroccan Style Chickpea Soup





This recipe for chickpea soup is from Rachel Allen, who’s “Bake!” I have enjoyed watching on television. A very simple recipe with ingredients which are available in the kitchen, this makes a hearty, comforting and very filling chickpea soup. I used dried chickpeas which I soaked overnight and pressure cooked the next day. I always cook more than I need, when I cook chickpeas, and then freeze the extra so that I have cooked chickpeas when I want it.



Moroccan Style Chickpea Soup
(Adapted from Good Food Channel)


Ingredients:


2 tbsp olive oil

2 stalks celery chopped

2 onions, finely chopped

½ tsp garlic paste

2 1/2 tsp freshly ground toasted cumin

1 tsp red chilli flakes

1 tsp sugar

3 cups cooked chickpeas (keep about 1/2 cup of this aside)

3 cups vegetable stock

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

salt to taste

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tbsp coriander leaves and stalks, chopped


Method:


Heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the chopped onion and celery. Sauté, on low heat, till the onions turn soft but not brown. Add the powdered cumin and the chilli flakes and cook for about a minute, stirring once or twice.

Now add the tomatoes, and sauté for another couple of minutes. Add the vegetable stock, all the chickpeas (keep 1/2 cup aside), the sugar and salt. Mix well, turn up the heat and bring the soup to a boil.

In the meanwhile, take the 1/2 cup of chickpeas which was kept aside and mash it using a masher or a hand blender till the chickpeas is mushy and a bit lumpy but not a purée.
Add this to the ingredients in the pan and mix till well blended.
Turn down the heat and allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes, till it is not so watery in consistency and the flavours have blended well.
Add the lemon juice and the chopped coriander and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
Serve hot with the K’sra (recipe below), or flatbread of your choice. This recipe serves about 4.



K’sra (Moroccan Aniseed Flatbread)




K'sra, ready to be served.


According to the authors of the book from which this recipe comes, there is an easy way to find the bakeries in Fez, Morocco. Sometime around eleven in the morning, just follow the children who carry cloth covered trays on their heads. They would be carrying dough rounds to be baked in the neighbourhood bakery ovens. These children would return around noon to pick up and take home the baked bread in time for lunch.



Flatbread dough, waiting for the oven.


This aniseed flavoured flatbread is soft and slightly chewy which pairs beautifully with spiced preparations. The texture makes it great for mopping up gravies and dunking into soup.
You can even slit it with a knife and fill it to make a slightly different flavoured sandwich. You can find the original recipe for this K'sra here.



K’sra (Moroccan Aniseed Flatbread)
(Adapted from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World)


Ingredients:


2 cups lukewarm water

1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 cup coarse semolina (rawa) plus extra for dusting

1 tbsp anise seeds

3/4 tbsp salt

2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour


Method:


Put the water in a large bowl dissolve the yeast in it. Stir in the whole wheat flour and semolina until a smooth batter is obtained. Cover this and set aside for about 30 minutes or up to 3 hours, according to your convenience. I left mine for 1 1/2 hours.

The batter would have fermented. Sprinkle the aniseed and the salt on it and add 2 cups of all purpose flour, a little at a time, mixing/ kneading after each addition.

Turn the sticky dough onto a floured work surface and add more flour, as required, and knead well for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft and elastic and just short of sticky. Resist the temptation to add too much flour or the bread will be tough.
Put the dough in a clean bowl, loosely cover and allow it to rise till almost double. This should take about 1 1/2 hours. Take the dough out and knead lightly for a minute or so. Then divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a smooth ball.

Take each ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Using your palm, evenly flatten the ball of dough into a 6” circle. Using your fingers, further press out the circle evenly till it is about 8” to 9” or about 1/2” thick.

Dust your baking tray with coarse semolina and put the breads on it. Cover them loosely, and allow them to rise for 30 to 45 minutes. Prick the breads with a fork in about 10 places evenly across the surface of each of the breads.

Bake the K’sra or flatbreads at 230C (450F) for about 15 to 20 minutes or till golden. You can either bake them all at once or in batches, without any problems. Tap the bottom of the bread after it is baked. If it sounds hollow it is done.
Slightly cool the K’sra on racks and then wrap them in towels so the crust softens.
To serve, cut each K’sra or flatbread into 4 quarters/ pieces. This recipe makes 3 approximately 8” to 9” flatbreads.

This Moroccan flatbread is being YeastSpotted!


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October 6, 2010

Sugar High Fridays: Bite Size Desserts - The Round-up


It has been a while since a blog event was hosted here, so I decided to make a comeback as a guest host with Sugar High Fridays with the theme of “Bite Size Desserts”, and was looking forward to all the lovely submissions that would fill my virtual mail box.
As days go by, I seem to have even less time to spend on blog related activities and I assume it must be like this with a lot of bloggers. Luckily for SHF, quite a few food bloggers (and one non-blogger) found the time to be a part of it.




I am very happy to put together a round-up featuring a wonderful variety of bite size desserts and sweets sent in from all across the world. This month there were 44 51 SHF submissions, including one from a non-blogger. My thanks to all of you who made this Sugar High Friday a resounding success.
Please also accept my apologies for the slight delay in posting this round-up.

May I present to you, in no particular order, these bite size desserts and sweets for your viewing pleasure?
Each submission, linked to the respective blog post, is also followed by a short description of the dessert/ sweet dish in the creator's own words. Enjoy!




Tosha from Nivedita (Hubli, Karnataka, India).
Tosha (Sweet Flour rolls) are perfect as bite size dessert. They're easy to make and perfect for every occasion.




 Almond Cottage Cheese Sweets from Akheela (Toronto, Ontario, Canada).
Indian sweets made with almonds and cottage cheese.




Nankhatai from Jagruthi (London, UK).
These melt-in-the-mouth are a tea time favourite for many Indians, including my son!




Milk Poli from Srividya (Tamilnadu, India).
Pal ( milk) poli, one of my favourite Deepavali sweet is easy to prepare. Its rich taste is almost divine. 




Lychee Konnyaku Jelly from Murni Rosli (Singapore).
Konnyaku jelly has a chewy texture unlike other jelly. Its also high in fiber and low in calories.




Nutty Fruity Oats Mittai from Roshan (Kochi, Kerala, India).
It was out a necessity that I prepared this sweet when my kids wanted an evening snack.I started making oats cookies but ended up with this caramel no bake version.





Ranginak from Vanessa aka Sweet Artichoke (Switzerland).
Ranginak is an Iranian sweet made of date and walnuts over a cardamom and cinnamon spiced crust. The crust reminds me of some laddoos. This is a no bake sweet.




Cake Pops from Nisha (London, UK).
These miniature cake pops are so easy to make and incredibly cute, not to mention a great picnic dessert idea.





Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies from Jackie (New Jersey, US).
Bite-size chocolate chip cookies. They're gooey and delicious and stuff.




Fruit, Nut & Seed Power Bars from Janet (Toronto, Canada).
These are a nice, small bar loaded with healthy ingredients - dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Perfect during and after exercise and a treat any other time of the day as well.




Gulab Jamuns from Lata (Accra, Ghana).
Milk and sugar based Indian dessert, better made in bite sizes. A treat for someone who craves for extra rich sweets!




Guilt-free Peanut Laddoos from Ria (Minneapolis, Minnesota, US).
The pairing of peanuts and jaggery is very common in India and as the name suggests, you can indulge in these laddoos absolutely guilt free, and satisfy your daily dessert craving.




Colourful Macarons from Magpie (San Jose, US).
I finally baked macarons and I am so proud of having mastered these tempestuous creatures! The macs in the picture are chocolate, green tea, raspberry and coffee.




Biscottini Alla Cannella e Dulce de Leche (Cinnamon Cookies with Dulce de Leche & Macadamia Nuts) from Alessandra (Ferrara, Italy).
A comfort recipe of buttery cookies filled with dulce de leche and topped with some crunchy macadamia nuts. Simplicity is their essence combined with a very crumbly texture.




Mini Tortuga Rum Cakes from Meredith (Monroe, New Jersey, US).
Buttery and delicious Mini Tortuga Rum Cakes in honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept 19th), from a modified cake mix!




Orange Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Soma (Plano, Texas, US).
A morish combination of these Orange and Chocolate mini bites were created for the kids but were loved by all. Wonderfully refreshing treat with the cuppa or to simply to satisfy a child's need.




Rocky Road Squares from Corina (London, England).
Squares of chewy marshmallow, crunchy biscuit topped with fruit and nuts all bound together in dark chocolate. Rich and delicious.




Macarons with White Chocolate from the Happy Cook (Knokke, Belgium).
Cute and yumm.




Chocolate Crackle Top Biscuits from Johanna (Melbourne, Australia).
Also known as Chocolate Crackle Cookies, these Chocolate Crackle Top Biscuits go from round snowy white balls to flat discs that look like cracked earth in the desert, after baking. They are soft inside with an intense chocolate flavour and the odd chunk of chocolate.




Sanrio Cookies from Cooking Gallery (Germany).
I made traditional butter cookies decorated with sugar fondant and painted with food colorings based on Sanrio cartoon characters from Japan.




Mini Raspberry Swirl Cheesecakes from Sheena (Sydney, Australia).
There's something very satisfying about digging into fluffy, sweet cream cheese with a biscuit crust and these raspberry swirl ones are even better the next day.




Kartoffelchen from Reshmi (Paderborn, Germany).
A successful marriage of biscuits and cocoa powder. An ideal party dessert treat to enjoy!




Gulab Jamuns from Sangeeta (California, US).
This is my husband's favorite dish which I love to make for most of the occasions.




Butterscotch Pedas also from Sangeeta (California, US).
This is a simple and quick to make sweet with a new flavor to it.




Coconut Burfi from Lata (Accra, Ghana).
When I have extra coconuts, I scrape and freeze them for use later. These coconur burfis were made with this coconut.



Hazelnut Gateau Breton from Heather (Paris, France).
A mini version of a hazelnut gâteau Breton, which is a traditional cake made with ground hazelnuts and salted butter and a criss-cross hatch pattern on top. I used browned butter for my bite-sized treats.




Milk Chocolate Fudge from Lata (Accra, Ghana).
The very mention of condensed milk made me want to try this recipe and I did it in the microwave. The addition to the original recipe was a few spoonsful of cocoa and I had a delicious tasting sweet.




Lemon Meringue Tartlets from Charlotte (Singapore).
Tangy, sweet, sour and rich all in one bite!




Microwave Badam Peda from Priya (Paris, France).
I celebrated this two years of blogging with microwave badam peda.




Microwave Pistachio Peda also from Priya (Paris, France).
Green pedas prepared with ground pistachios, ricotta cheese, milk powder,sugar and few pistachio chunks.This peda takes 10 minutes in microwave oven.




Black Forest Macarons from Nic (Kent, UK).
Chocolate macarons filled with cream and cherry jam, you could almost be eating a Black Forest gateaux!




Mini Pumpkin Pies from Anh (Melbourne, Australia).
Cute and delicious.




Oatmeal Date Raisin Peda from Shobana (Texas, US).
This ped is not very cloyingly sweet and is loaded with the goodness of almond, peanuts, oatmeal, dates and raisins.




Chocolate Chunk Ricotta Cake from Sarah (Oshawa, Ontario, Canada).
Sinfully rich, without seeming like you just ate a stick of butter. The ricotta and buttermilk make for a moist, tender cake that plays off the chunks of dark chocolate perfectly




New Years Party Bars also from Sarah (Oshawa, Ontario, Canada).
Perfectly sweet espresso "brownies" (no chocolate, but they are brown!) for those parties that run into the wee morning hours! I cut these into petit-four sized pieces and decorated them with vanilla icing rosettes and chocolate-covered espresso beans.




 Dessicated Coconut Laddoos from Veena (Chennai, India).
This is a no cook quick bite sized dessert,very easy to make and tasty too.




Mini Ricotta Triangles from Mihaela (Illinois, US).
Delicious ricotta filled puff pastry triangles.




White Chocolate Peppermint Truffle Cups from Susan (New York, US).
Delicate and dainty, these tiny candy cups of mint-infused chocolate taste and feel like sweet little comforts.




Mini Pear Crisps from Sweatha (Bangalore, India).
These are simple crisps which are low sugar and are prepared in small individual bowls or rather bake and serve bowls.




Tumr bel Nargine (Dates with Coconut) also from Sweatha (Bangalore, India).
These are nothing but simple dates cooked and stuffed with almonds and rolled in coconut and served.




Coconut Laddoos from Denny (Seattle, Washington, US).
Easy, elegant and quick bite sized balls...




Petite Meringue Pies from Madhuli (Nasik, India).
Refreshing tasty pies with a citrusy flavor.




Orange, Pumpkin and Spice Sweet Rolls from Melissa (Eindhoven, The Netherlands).
 I blog all about sweet yeasty bread desserts. These are one of my favorite combinations - pumpkin and orange - perfect for this first day of fall (sept 21).



Eggless Pink Birthday Cupcakes from me (Goa, India).
Eggless, deliciously soft, not too sweet and ever so pretty and pink birthday cupcakes.

The final dessert in this round-up of Sugar High Fridays is from Shwetha Jani (Jamnagar, India). She does not have a blog (yet) and so sent in her recipe for White Chocolate brownies with Strawberry Ice-cream with a picture.




This recipe can be ready within 15 minutes plus it indulges our senses with chocolate & strawberry. And this is a brownie with a soul.


Ingredients:-

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup milk

100 gm white chocolate

50 gm butter

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

75 gms powdered sugar

50 gms dark chocolate

few drops of vanilla essence

1/2 cup chopped walnuts and black currants

a pinch of salt

To serve: - 1 scoop strawberry ice-cream


Method:-

1. Sieve the flour, baking powder and soda in a bowl.

2. Take butter and melt in microwave (medium) for 20 seconds.

3. Mix melted butter, sugar and milk and vanilla essence in a separate bowl.

4. Melt white chocolate and put it in the dry ingredients bowl.

5. Add black currants and walnut in the flour bowl.

6. Take the butter, sugar and milk mixture and mix it well with the flour. Mix it till the ingredients are well blended.

Churn it for around 2 to 3 minutes. Now take a well greased glass tray and pour in the batter.

7. Melt the dark chocolate and put it on the batter, give it a light swirl forming wave patterns.

8. Microwave it high (900W) for 3 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes.

9. Cut the brownies into slices and serve it with a scoop of strawberry ice-cream.

Gayatri (U.S.), whose submission had landed in my Spam folder and got deleted, wrote to me and sent in not one, but six bite size desserts/ sweets!



















I have included all the submissions I received, and I do not think I have left anyone out. As I mentioned previously, there was one submission that landed in my Spam folder, which I deleted before I realized it was a SHF submission.

If you have sent me a “bite size dessert or sweet” for this SHF and I have by omission left it out, please leave a comment at this post. Please also resend me your submission with the details and I will include it in this round-up at the earliest.
Thank you.


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