July 31, 2011

Ice Pop Joy : A Review, Some Peace Pops Granita And A Giveaway!


Summer is the perfect season for cold treats like frozen desserts or just simple but satisfying fare like ice-cream, slushes, granitas or popsicles. And what better way to beat the summer heat than with a combination of a delicious Popsicle with natural/ organic and healthy?
Does it seem almost an impossible thought that someone could have put together a book full of Popsicle recipes which are colourful, attractive, all natural, healthy and tasty? Anni Daulter seems to have done it with her book “Ice Pop Joy (Organic.Healthy.Fresh.Delicious)”.



(Image Courtesy Sellers Publishing)


When Sellers Publishing sent me a review copy, I was delighted with the photographs and colours in the book. The book is aimed at getting children to eat fresh, natural and healthy and it does it in an excellent manner since which child could ever resist a colourful Ice Pop? After looking through the book, forget about the child in me, even the adult in me cannot resist them!
You can see the book in some detail here.

Ice Pop Joy starts with a chapter that is titled “Help, I Can’t Get My Children To Eat Anything Healthy!” Some of her tips to handle this include “Don’t hide the ingredients from them” and “Ask for their suggestions”. The next chapter explains just what is needed to make Pops (very few and basic items actually), and is followed by a chapter on natural sweeteners that can be used and which ones are safe for what aged children. She also provides links to sites/ stores where one can source ice pop moulds, organic fruit and vegetables, and speciality ingredients like agave nectar, chocolate nibs, nuts, coconut sugar, herbs and teas.



(Image Courtesy Sellers Publishing)


The recipes are divided into chapters titled Pure Fruit Pops, Veggie Pops, Yogurt Pops, Tofu Pops, Herbal Tea Pops, Chocolate Pops and Speciality Pops. Almost every recipe in the book is accompanied by beautiful full page photographs of the ice pops, many of them featuring children.

The recipes include Pomalicious (fruit and cherry tomatoes), Rockstar (fruit, kale and agave nectar), Green Machine (with spinach, bananas and pineapple), Peach Party (with fruit and yogurt), Tropical Tofu (fruit, coconut water and tofu), Rooibos Red Tea Pops (rooibos tea and fruit), Heavenly (white chocolate coconut milk and nuts), Happiness (milk, cream and white chocolate) and Pina Colada Surprise (fruit and coconut milk).
As you can see, while a lot of them are meant for children, there are quite a few that would appeal to older children and adults too.

If you are looking for one more way to get children to eat healthy easily then this is a book for you. I can see many ways in which I could adapt many of the recipes by adding some flavours I like or even serving the Popsicle as a granita or even a slush/ shake.




So that’s what I did with the recipe for “Peace Pops” (don’t know why she calls that) in the book. I made it and served it as granita. No one who has one of these pops (or the granita), not even children who can usually figure out the “I don’t like that” ingredient will tell you this one has carrots in it! If I hadn’t made it, I wouldn’t have known it.

I have given the recipe as it is in the book, but I just let it freeze in a container till firm and then served it in glasses. I didn't have coconut sugar so I used jaggery and it isn't the season for strawberries now though mangoes are available in plenty, so I used frozen starwberries.
The temperatures here, where I live, are down quite a bit because of the rains. However, it’s never too cool in the tropics as you can see from my less than perfect photograph of the melting granita.
Peace Pops (Granita)




Ingredients:


3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

1 cup chopped strawberries

1 whole mango, peeled and chopped

3/4 cup coconut sugar

1 cup purified water



Method:


In a steamer, boil 4 cups of water. Steam the carrots for 12 minutes. Put the steamed carrots ina the blender and purée till smooth. Add the strawberries to the carrot purée and blend.

Add the mango, coconut sugar, and water to the blended mixture, and blend all the ingredients together into a smooth texture.

Pour the mixture into chosen pop moulds and put sticks in place. Freeze pops till solid.

This recipe makes 8 (4 ounce) pops.
So if you have a child (or children) who refuse to eat their veggies, fruit and other “healthy” food, or you’re just an adult who would like to go back to the child in you, Sellers Publishing has sent me a copy of Anni Daulter’s Ice Pop Joy to giveaway to one lucky reader of my blog.

If you would like to try your luck at winning this copy, please leave a comment telling me which vegetable or/ and fruit you dislike the most. I will randomly pick one person to send this book to once the giveaway period is over.

This giveaway is open till the midnight of the 7th of August, 2011 and is open to all, bloggers and non-bloggers, across the world.
Please ensure you also leave a link to your blog or a mail id or some way I can get in touch with you should you be the lucky winner.

I don’t like things like raw plantain, yams, jackfruit to mention a few and I’m glad they don’t feature in any of the popsicles in the book or I might have been tempted to make them!


THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED!
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July 27, 2011

Cardamom Flavoured Matcha And Mango Frasier: Daring Bakers Challenge July, 2011


I’ve discovered there are a lot of Western desserts that share names with (or seem to be named after) people. I always used to think that most of these desserts like the Charlotte, Madeleines, Crepes Suzette, Apple Brown Betty, Poire Belle Helene (after an opera of the same name), the Victoria sponge (after Queen Victoria) seem to be named after women. Further study into the matter threw up desserts named after men too. There is the Napolean (perhaps after the emperor) and the Battenburg cake (after 4 princes of that name), the Gâteau Saint-Honoré (French patron saint of bakers, confectioners, and pastry chefs, Saint Honoré / Bishop of Amiens), the Runeberg Cake (after Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg) and the list goes on.

When Jana announced she wanted us to make a Fraisier, that was the first I had heard of that dessert. That’s right, Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers host and she challenged us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.




So I thought, here’s another one of those cakes that’s named after someone. I was sure there was going to be an interesting story about some guy who had a lot of fruit, eggs and cream on his hands and decided to create some sweet magic with them. Turns out that “fraisier” is French for strawberries!
So the Gâteau Fraisier is a layered strawberry cake. The cake is made of two layers of sponge between which are sandwiched sliced strawberries and pastry cream, and then topped with a thin layer of almond paste/ marzipan. What distinguishes a fraisier cake visually is the beautifully arranged layer of sliced strawberries which forms a pattern on the outside of the cake.

I almost didn’t do this challenge but the words “whipped cream” in the recipe caught my daughter’s attention (she loves the stuff!) and the look on her face and the statement that “She was always ready to eat dessert that looked like that!” meant that I started reading the challenge yesterday morning.




I stuck to the given recipes but adapted them a bit. I couldn’t make a “true” fraisier because strawberry season, here, is still about 6 months away. It is still the season for mangoes so I decided to make what would technically be a Gateau Mangue (am I correct?).

I read somewhere that while making a sponge/ chiffon cake, I could use equal number of whites and yolks, if I didn’t want to waste the extra yolks from more egg whites, so I used 3 egg whites and yolks. I flavoured my pastry cream with cardamom and used agar to set the pastry cream.

My sister had brought me some matcha powder on her last visit, so I used some of that in my sponge cake and since Finla had sent me some readymade almond paste/ marzipan, this was the perfect chance to use that as well.



Matcha & Mangoes!


The challenge in itself wasn’t all that difficult as it entailed making a sponge cake and splitting into two, making pastry cream some sugar syrup, chopping up fruit and putting it all together. For me the difficult part was assembling the cake.

I realised I didn’t have a springform pan of required size and had to use my regular cake tin. I got around this by lining it with cling wrap which made the unmoulding a bit easier but somewhat messy. The rains here have brought down temperatures but it is still warm enough to make the pastry cream (with whipped cream) soften once it was outside the fridge! And the humidity was threatening to make my sponge cake sticky!

Still I triumphed even though I did not have a professionally finished cake, but then I consoled myself that I was a home baker and not running a patisserie (not that I wouldn’t like to)!!
You can find the original challenge recipe here, and what follows is the my adapted version.
Matcha Chiffon Cake




Ingredients:


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp matcha powder

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup oil

3 large egg yolks

1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon water

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

3/4 tsp grated lemon zest

3 large egg whites

1 tsp lemon juice



Method:


Line the bottom of an 8” (20 cm) spring form pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Keep aside 3 tbsps of sugar, and add the remaining sugar and the salt. Stir to combine.

In a small bowl combine the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Whisk thoroughly. Pour this into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly for about one minute, or until very smooth.

Beat the egg whites with a hand held mixer on medium speed until frothy. Add the lemon juice and beat on a medium speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining sugar and beat on a medium-high speed until the whites hold firm and form shiny peaks.

Using a grease free rubber spatula, scoop about 1/3rd of the whites into the yolk mixture and fold in gently. Gently fold in the remaining whites just until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 160C (325F) for 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack. To unmold, run a knife around the sides to loosen the cake from the pan and remove the spring form sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment paper. Refrigerate for up to four days.



Cardamom Flavoured Pastry Cream




Ingredients:


1 cup whole milk (I used 3% fat)

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tbsps cornstarch

4 pods cardamom, powdered

1/4 cup sugar 1 large egg

2 tbsps unsalted butter

2 tsp agar flakes

2 tbsps water

1 cup heavy cream (I used 25% fat)



Method:


Pour the milk, vanilla, and salt into a heavy sauce pan. Place over medium-high heat and bring it to a near boiling point, while stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, using a hand held mixer on slow speed, combine the cornstarch, cardamom and sugar in a bowl. Add the eggs to this and whisk until smooth.

When the milk is ready, gently and slowly, pour the heated milk down the side of the bowl into the egg mixture, with the hand held mixer running. Pour this mixture back into the warm pot and continue to cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick, just about to boil and coats the back of a spoon.

Remove it from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool for ten minutes stirring occasionally. Cut the butter into four pieces and whisk into the pastry cream, a piece at a time, until smooth.

Cover the cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for up to five days.

In a small pan, heat the 2 tbsps of water till almost boiling. Sprinkle the agar flakes, turn off the heat and keep stirring with a spoon till all the agar dissolves. Put back on the stove and heat if necessary to dissolve the agar completely.

Take a little water (about two inches) in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Measure 1/4 cup of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel bowl that will sit across the sauce pan with the simmering water, without touching the water. Heat the pastry cream until it is quite warm but not very hot. Add the dissolved agar and whisk until smooth. Remove from the water bath, and whisk the remaining cold pastry cream in to incorporate in two batches.

With a hand held mixer, whip the cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula.



Simple Sugar Syrup




Ingredients:


1/3 cup sugar,

1/3 cup water

1 tsp lime juice



Method:


Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let the sugar dissolve. Stirring is not necessary, but will not harm the syrup. Boil for about a minute, then add the lime juice. Remove the syrup from the heat and cool slightly.

Transfer syrup to a lidded container or jar that can be stored in the refrigerator. This syrup can be stored for up to one month.



Assembling The Cardamom Flavoured Matcha And Mango Frasier:



Components:


1 baked 8” (20 cm) matcha chiffon cake

1 recipe cardamom flavoured pastry cream filling

1/3 cup simple sugar syrup

3 large ripe mangoes

1/2 cup almond paste/ marzipan

A couple of drops of yellow colour

Some matcha powder and silver dragees for sprinkling



Method:


Line the sides of a 9”spring form pan with plastic wrap. Do not line the bottom of the pan. (I used a cake tin so I lined the whole thing with cling wrap.

Now cut the cake in half horizontally to form two layers of equal thickness. If you refrigerate the cake for about an hour, cutting it becomes easier. Fit the bottom layer into the prepared spring form pan. Moisten the layer evenly with the sugar syrup. When the cake has absorbed enough syrup to resemble a squishy sponge, you have enough.

Peel the mangoes and from two of them cut two thin slices from each side of each mango (a total of 4 slices from each mango = 8 slices). Cut out desired shapes from each slice using a sharp cookie cutter. Chop into pieces the remaining flesh from the 2 mangoes and the third mango and keep aside.

Arrange the mango shapes at eaqual distance from each other against the sides of the cake pan all the way around. Pipe cream in-between the mango shapes and a thin layer across the top of the cake. Now place the chopped mango pieces in a layer over the cake. Cover the mango pieces entirely with the all but 1 tbsp of the pastry cream. Place the second cake layer on top and moisten with the sugar syrup.

Knead the almond paste/ marzipan with the colour so it is uniformly yellow. Lightly dust a work surface with confectioners' sugar and roll out the almond paste to a 9”round about 1/16” thick. Spread the remaining 1 tbsp of pastry cream on the top of the cake and cover with the round of almond paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. To serve release the sides of the spring form pan and peel away the plastic wrap. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Just before serving lightly sprinkle the matcha powder on top and then the silver dragees.

This fraisier should serve 8 to 10 people.


Verdict:


I’m happy I managed to do this challenge because we found this to be a light and airy dessert, taste-wise, though my daughter didn’t quite like the taste of matcha. I personally liked the idea of incorporating fresh fruit into a dessert of this kind. My mangoes were sweet with a tang so my fraisier wasn’t too sweet.

It’s a great make-ahead that isn’t too difficult to make. One can use whatever fruit is in season and pair it up with complimentary flavours in the chiffon cake and the pastry cream to create a dessert that is pleasing to the eye and the tongue.

For really good ideas on making beautiful fraisiers do take a look at what my fellow bakers have done.

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Black And White Wednesday : Indian Pears!

I'm sure by now most of you must know that Susan posts a weekly collection of black and white photographs sent in by foodbloggers, in an attempt to see that black and white food photography gets its place under the sun. For more details please see her blog, if you would like to join in or just take a look at her weekly gallery of photographs.



(Canon EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens at aperture : f/ 3.5, shutter speed : 1/40s and ISO : 100)


Here is my contribution for this week, a study of Indian pears. Nowadays, we tend to get an almost confusing variety of pears from all across the world including the U.S., South Africa and China. I, however, eagerly await the arrival of these very small and almost rustic looking small Indian pears from Himachal Pradesh.
They are very juicy, fleshy and sweet leaving you with a faint hint of rose in your mouth after a bite.
I was lucky to find one with a dried leaf still attached to its stem, which gave me the idea for this photograph! This was shot in monochrome (black and white).
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July 24, 2011

Food Photography Basics # 6 : Shutter Speed


In the last post in this series we took a look at how aperture affects light coming into a camera, exposure and depth of field. So let’s look at shutter speed today.



What is shutter speed?


A simple way of explaining shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter stays open to allow light into the camera. Thus shutter speed controls how long the shutter in your camera stays open and how much light reaches the sensor.
With aperture, it is how big (or small) the aperture is that determines how much light comes into the camera.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds such as 1/8000, 1/4000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 4, etc. The actual range and intervals of shutter speed available to you would depend on your camera. The larger the denominator, the faster the shutter speed, so and the shutter speed is faster and the shutter will stay open for less time at 1 /1000 than 1/125.

Also when you move from one full shutter speed setting to the next full lower shutter speed setting (not half stops) you reduce the light coming into the camera by half. If you move from a slower shutter speed to the next faster shutter speed setting, you increase the amount of incident light by double. So when you move from a shutter speed of 1/60s to 1/30s (faster to slower), you are reducing the amount of light coming into the camera by half and vice versa.

So if there is a lot of ambient light and you need less light in your photograph, you need to use a faster shutter speed so less light comes into the camera. Using the same logic, if it not so bright and you need more light in your photograph, then you will need a slower shutter speed so that the shutter remains open for longer to let more light into your camera.

If this seems confusing, think of the shutter like a window with curtains. When the sun is shining and it is very bright, you would close the curtains partially or completely (faster shutter speed for less light) to prevent all the light from coming in. Similarly, if you wanted your room to be brighter, you would open the curtains (faster shutter speed for more light) to let in more light.

So what it comes down to is “Faster shutter speed = Shutter is open for less time = Less light” and “Slower shutter speed = Shutter is open for longer time = More light”.

Of course, the shutter speed setting has to work with corresponding aperture and ISO settings for the desired exposure, so you really cannot just think of only shutter speed when you’re setting your exposure.

Shutter speed does control the amount of light in a photograph but it does more than just that. You can use shutter speed to capture or freeze movement in a photograph. “Faster shutter speed = sharpness” while “Slower shutter speed = blur”.
Good examples of this can be found in non-food photography where you might have seen waterfalls looking smooth, almost like liquid silk.




aperture: f/ 2.8 and shutter speed: 1/60s



aperture: f/ 4.0 and shutter speed: 1/30s



aperture: f/ 25.6 and shutter speed: 1/15s



aperture: f/ 8.0 and shutter speed: 1/6s



aperture: f/ 11.0 and shutter speed: 1/4s


Since we do not have to shoot waterfalls and the like in food photography and our food is never going to move unless it’s going to take a spill which you want to photograph, this aspect of shutter speed has comparatively little use in food photography.
The closest I could get to a waterfall to show the relationship between different shutter speeds and freezing/ blurred motion was washing tomatoes under my kitchen tap!

In the above set of photographs, I have shot the same scene moving from a faster shutter speed (1/60s) to a slower shutter speed (1/4s) to show the difference in the movement of the water. Look at the point where the water is hitting the tomatoes and the bubbles below. As we move from a shutter speed of 1/60s towards 1/4s you can see that the water splashes and the bubbles lose their defined sharpness and become smooth and blurred.

The ISO setting in these set of photographs is 200. I started shooting with the aperture set at f/ 2.8 (the largest on my 100mm macro lens) and shutter speed at 1/60s. As I decreased the shutter speed progressively, I proportionately increased (smaller aperture, bigger f-stop) the aperture to maintain the same exposure.
As I mentioned in an earlier post on aperture in this series, there is a relationship between shutter speed and aperture and this is what you need to understand and learn very well if you want to use your dSLR on manual mode. The chart below explains it. If you follow any one number down you will see this inverse relationship between aperture and shutterspeed.


(Source: Flickr)


So let’s assume that you have a desired exposure at aperture f/ 4.0 and 1/60s shutter speed. You want to maintain this level of exposure but want to shoot at f/ 5.6 for a narrower DoF (depth of field). Understanding the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, it means if you move to f/ 5.6 it means you would have less light. So keeping the ISO constant you would need to increase the amount of light by going to the next full slower shutter speed setting of 1/30s to maintain the same exposure. (See this post on Exposure and the set of photographs of the pears, if you are confused about this).

In food photography, high shutter speeds can be used to freeze movement in “pours” or “splashes”. This includes capturing the movement (or freezing it) involved in pouring liquids like wine, juice, milk or water into a glass. You would also need it to if you would like to shoot syrup, honey or sauce being poured on pancakes or liquid splashes (like lemon wedges or strawberries splashing liquid).



(All at aperture: f/ 6.3, shutter speed: 1/1250s and ISO 800)




There are some things to keep in mind about shutter speed settings. Usually, in adequate ambient light situations, a shutter speed of about 1/60s or faster, would be good enough for most photography. If you are quite steady shooting holding your camera in your hands, then you should generally get sharp photographs without any blur at these shutter speeds.

However, at shutter speeds lower than 1/60s it is better to shoot using a tripod if you want photographs without blur. Of course, there are photographs which actually look better for the blur but that is a different topic.
The general consensus among food photographers is that it is best to shoot with a tripod and they are justified in saying so, as one tends to normally shoot at wide apertures. I am used to shooting hand-held as I find it more flexible, except in situations where I know I will not get sharp photographs without a tripod.
All the photographs in this post have been shot using a tripod.

You can control “camera shake” to some extent if your lens/ camera don’t have “image stabilisation” by choosing to shoot at a shutter speed that is higher than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens you are using. That means if you are using a 50mm f/ 1.8 lens then a shutter speed of 1/60s and above should be good, with a 100mm lens a shutter speed of 1/125s would be right and with a 200mm focal length, 1 250s should be right.



Shooting in Shutter Speed Priority (Tv) mode:


There is a semi-automatic mode called the Shutter Speed Priority Mode in dSLR cameras. If you are not too bothered about the aperture setting but want to set your shutter speed at a definite value at a fixed ISO, then you can use this mode.



"Splash" (aperture: f/ 2.8, shutterspeed: 1/1600s and ISO: 2000)


This is especially useful if you want to capture movement over which you have no control (like the flight of a bird – not food, I know) then this is useful because you do not have the time to change settings. In food photography, this mode is not very useful because it is impossible to control the aperture settings in this mode.

I shot the above "splash" in Shutter Priority mode. It was an overcast day and I had to use whatever available natural light to shoot this, which wasn't much. To freeze the splash, I used a fast shutter speed which meant there was less light coming into the camera. The camera compensated for this by opening up the aperture to f/ 2.8 (the minimum on my 100mm macro lens), which meant the splash wasn't sharp enough at this wide open aperture. I still had to increase my ISO to add light (we'll see this in the next post) upto 2000. This meant my photograph was  very "noisy" or grainy, which I edited out somewhat using software.



Note:


You might find there is some “noise” or a grainy effect in some of them.
This is because when you use a faster shutter speed (like 1/1000s or above) to freeze movement with a smaller aperture (like f/ 5.6 and above) to get a narrow depth of field (sharp picture throughout) you are reducing the light coming into your camera. You can do this with a flash or soft box or some artificial source of light.

I do not have any artificial sources of light suitable for photography so I had to increase my ISO which resulted in the “noise”. I’ll explain this in detail in my next post. So please excuse the “quality” of those photographs as I included them for illustrating the post.
If you have any questions please mail me or leave a comment at this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.



Useful Links:


Back To Basics – Shutter Speed

Photography 101: Shutter Speed Fun

Knowing Shutter Speed And How To Use It

Shutter Speed - Take Control

Shutter Speed For Creative Photography

Shutter Priority Mode: A Beginner’s Guide

Aperture And Shutter Priority Modes



So Far In This Series:


Food Photography Basics #1 : Do I Need A DSLR To Get Good Photographs?

Food Photography Basics #2 : Which Camera? What Lenses?

Food Photography Basics #3 : Getting Started

Food Photography Basics #4: It’s All About Light – Exposure

Food Photography Basics #5 : Aperture And Depth Of Field (DoF)




Read full post.....

July 21, 2011

Parikkai Mezhukkuvaratti (South Indian Style Stir Fried Bitter Gourd/ Melon)


Isn’t it sometimes funny that the things we tend to like the most are really not very good for us? Chips and crisps, buttery cookies and cakes, cheese, creamy confections are a few that come to mind.
On the other hand, a lot of things that are good for us are things are those that many of us would do our best to avoid. Foods like spinach, whole grain bread, whole wheat crackers and milk to mention a few.

One such vegetable that is supposed to be extremely good but which most people dislike is the bitter gourd (or bitter melon) which we call “Parikkai” in my mother tongue (Tamil),” Pavakka or Kaipakka”(Malayalam) and “Karela” (Hindi). Of course people have good reason to dislike it – it is awfully bitter in taste!

Just take a look at how much of a nutritional powerhouse this vegetable is! It is low in calories, can lower blood glucose levels (good for Type 2 diabetics), rich in folates, flavonoids, Vitamins A, B3, B5, B6 and C, Niacin (vitamin B-3), Pantothenic acid (vit.B-5), Pyridoxine (vit.B-6) and minerals like iron, zinc, potassium, manganese and magnesium.
The only downside is that it is very, very bitter. But in India, especially in the southern part, we like to so much we have so many different ways of cooking it. In my community, we even sun-dry to preserve it and then is deep-fried and served on the side, much like crisps, with the main meal of rice and other vegetables, lentils and yogurt.




I grew up in a home where bitter gourd was cooked regularly. I remember this vegetable regularly appearing on the menu at home on both sides of the family, probably because it was a vegetable that was invariably found growing in the kitchen gardens. My father, especially, had a fondness for what I used to then consider “strange” vegetables. So if some vegetable (or fruit) tasted bitter or strange in some other way, you could be sure he would like it. Apart from the bitter gourd, things like fresh “Chundakkai” (Turkey berries), strange varieties of greens and spinach, pumpkin leaves, were all favourites with him.

I don’t remember particularly liking bittergourd as a child but I do remember I used to try and avoid preparations which featured it as a main ingredient if I could. I say “try and avoid” because as children, my sister and I had a mealtime rule whereby we could not say “no” or “I don’t like/ want this” to any item of food that was served at the table. If our mother had cooked it we had to eat it. If we didn’t like something we could choose to take smaller portions of it.




While we hated this rule (I know I did and tried to get around it, but that’s another story) as children, it ensured that we grew up to become adults who weren’t fussy about our food. It also meant that I eventually developed a liking for bittergourd!

I learnt this particular way of cooking bitter gourd from my aunt-in-law (my husband’s “Athai”). In my community and most Indian families we have very definite titles by which grandparents, aunts, uncles cousins and other relatives are addressed so as to define whether they are relatives from the maternal or paternal side, whether they’re older than ones parents or oneself, etc. “Athai” is how we address our paternal aunts (father’s sisters, older and younger). My husband’s aunt is in her eighties now and is one of the most active women I have met to date, and an excellent cook.




This is a “mezhukkuvaratti/ mezhukkupuratti” which translates as “coated with oil” and is basically a stir fry. Athai’s original recipe does not contain onions (she doesn’t ever cook with onions or garlic as is the tradition), which I have added here because I like onions and I feel the caramelised taste adds to the dish while balancing out the bitterness a bit. Athai also belongs to the school of cooking where ingredients are never measured out but added through intuition and practise so to that extent I have adapted her original recipe a bit to put it down here.

I have seen many Indian recipes for cooking bitter gourd which involves salting the chopped vegetable, and keeping it aside for some time before draining off the liquid to reduce the bitterness of the vegetable. In our style of cooking we don’t do this because it means that a lot of the nutrients of the vegetable are lost.




Instead we usually cook it with other ingredients, especially tamarind, to tone down the bitterness. Here a little bit of jaggery is also added to offset the bitterness without lending any sweetness to the preparation.
I have also found that the light green and larger varieties of bitter gourd are less bitter than the dark green and smaller ones.

Parikkai Mezhukkuvaratti (South Indian Style Stir Fried Bitter Gourd/ Melon)



Ingredients:


3 big bitter gourds (or 4 smaller ones)

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp chilli powder (increase for more "fire"!)

1/4 tsp asafoetida powder

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tbsp powdered jaggery

Salt to taste

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 small onions (or 1 big one), finely chopped

2 sprigs curry leaves



Method:


Trim both ends of the bitter gourd and then slit it lengthwise in half. Remove the soft centre and the seeds and chop the bitter gourd into small pieces, approximately 1/2 “ size. Put this in a largish bowl and add the turmeric, chilli and asafoetida powders, the tamarind, jaggery and the salt. Mix well and let that marinate for about half an hour at least but not more than an hour.

Then pour the oil into a wok and heat it. Add onions and sauté till they turn golden brown. Add the curry leaves and the marinated bitter gourd, along with the liquid and keep cooking on high heat for about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn the heat down, cover loosely and let it cook till done (about 10 to 15 minutes) and all the liquid has eveaporated completely. Stir occasionally while cooking and check to see if it is done.

Serve hot as a side dish along with rice and vegetables in gravy. This recipe serves 4.

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July 17, 2011

Mango, Red Bell Pepper & Raisin Chutney/ Relish


I have a confession to make. The relish I’m posting today wasn’t such a hit with my family. So why am I posting it? Because I liked it and am sure there will be some people out there who also do.


I’m not sure why my family didn’t like it because it is a mango relish, and who doesn’t like mangoes? I’m yet to meet an Indian (the Asian kind) who doesn’t like mangoes!

I made this relish about 2 months back when I had a load of mangoes, at different stages of ripeness, on hand and needed to use them up before they went bad. Even though the best way to eat mangoes is as they are, we Indians love cooking with them too. We use them raw, half-ripe and fully ripe in a variety of dishes.




I decided to use the half-ripe mangoes in a non-Indian style relish/ chutney but couldn’t resist adding an Indian twist to it in terms of the spices I used. I also had this bag of beautiful raisins from Nashik (India's wine grape growing region) sent to me by friend and fellow blogger, Madhuli.
I have been trying to figure out why they didn’t like it. Even though my mother told me she liked and had it a few times, she hasn’t asked for it since then so I have about 1 1/2 small jam jars of the chutney still the fridge.

The only thing I can come up with is that it is either the vinegar in the relish or that it isn’t very sweet to taste, but a bit tangy and spicy. I personally do not like the taste of vinegar, especially when it used in preserves of any kind including pickles. In South Indian community we do not traditionally use vinegar at all, not even in pickles so vinegar is a bit of a foreign taste to us and one we haven’t really acquired.

Again, relishes and chutneys (as they’re known in the Western world) are something we have not been brought up with and is something that doesn’t really sit well with South Indian food. Bread and crackers are not usual fare in Indian homes. Bread is usually eaten with butter and jam and even with Indian curries sometimes while Indian flatbread is always accompanied by pickles, sometimes spicy and sometimes sweet and sour.




This relish is really more of tang than sweet, though you could always increase the “sweet” quotient to suit your tastes. You can serve it with crackers, pita chips, on toast or with Indian flatbreads like naans or parathas
Mango, Red Bell Pepper & Raisin Chutney/ Relish

(Adapted from Epicurious)



Ingredients:


3 cups grated or chopped half ripe mango (about 3 large mangoes)

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup jaggery (or brown sugar)

1/4 cup white vinegar

3/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

2 tsp mustard seeds

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 tbsp finely chopped ginger

1 1/2 tsp coriander powder

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red chilli flakes

1 tsp garam masala powder

1 big red bell pepper (capsicum), finely chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened orange juice

2 to 3 green chillies, chopped



Method:


I grated my mangoes so I had a less “lumpy” relish/ chutney in the end.
Put the grated mango in a bowl with vinegar, jaggery/ brown sugar, raisins and salt. Mix it all together very well.

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and let them splutter. Add the onions and sauté till they turn transparent. Add the ginger, coriander, cumin and turmeric powders, the chilli flakes and the garam masala. Stir fry for about a minute and add the chopped bell pepper. Stir fry for another minute and then add the Grated mango mixture. Mix well and add the green chillies and the orange juice.

Bring everything to a boil and then turn down the heat and allow it to simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring the relish/ chutney frequently. Once the mango is cooked and the relish/ chutney has thickened, turn the heat off and let it cool.

Transfer to clean and sterile glass jars and refrigerate. This recipe gave me two medium sized jam jars of relish/ chutney.

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July 13, 2011

Black And White Wednesday : An Apple For The Pie!


It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and I can certainly identify with that. So I thought for a change I would do a post without talking too much and letting my food photography do the talking instead. In the spirit of this idea, there is no recipe in this post. So here’s today’s offering – “An Apple For The Pie!”



(Canon EF50mm f/1.8 II Lens at aperture : f/ 5.0, shutter speed : 1/ 160s and ISO : 200)

Let me just introduce you to the photograph though.

It’s no secret for those of you that have been following my photography that I’m in love with the camera, even though “I have miles to go before I sleep”. Even though I take a lot of food photographs, I find I enjoy non-food photography more especially black and white. There is a beauty in black and white photography that is lost in colour. I’m especially fond of exploring food and black and white and have been working on it whenever I can.

Recently, when Susan (The Well-Seasoned Cook who is also an accomplished photographer) announced that she was going to start a Wordless Wednesday for Black& White food photography, I knew I would try to be a part of it as much as I could.

Of course, in my present circumstances, I find difficult enough to post regularly here even though I enjoy blogging so I cannot promise to share a photograph every Wednesday but I will definitely try to be there once a month if not more often.If you would like to join in, just check the above link for more details.
Oh, and constructive criticism (both negative and positive) are most welcome provided it isn't rude.

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July 10, 2011

Semiya Payasam (A South Indian Style Vermicelli And Milk Sweet/ Pudding)


I
think I must have mentioned in a couple of my posts somewhere that traditional Indian cuisine, particularly South Indian, does not have the concept of dessert as it is known in the West. Yet there is never a festive occasion where some sort of a sweet dish doesn’t feature, and many cases it is “sweets” in plural!
In my community, festive meals always start with a taste of the “payasam” (a milk or coconut milk based pudding like sweet). And the sweet/ dessert is typically served as the middle course of the meal. While traditional feast still continue to be served and eaten this way, informal or non-traditional Indian meals have evolved so that the sweet dish is served as dessert at the end of the meal.

For us Palakkad Iyers, the sweet/ dessert at all family celebrations and festivities is almost always “payasam”, even if there are other sweet dishes on the menu. The closest I can translate a “payasam” as, is a pudding. Given that rice is the mainstay of our cuisine, the basic payasam and the one made most often traditionally, features rice. This one is usually made with milk and is like the Western rice pudding except that it is not as thick but more of a “drinkable” sort of consistency.




Our payasams can be very broadly divided into “paal payasams (made with milk), “thengapaal payasams (made with coconut milk”). There is also the “ney payasam (made with jaggery and a higher proportion of ghee) which uses neither milk nor coconut milk and is very thick in consistency.

Birthdays are always traditionally celebrated with a “payasam”. The most recent birthday here was Akshaya’s and she doesn’t really like payasam very much except “ney payasam” or “chakkara pongal”. Since it was her birthday, I asked her what kind of payasam she would like, in the hope that she would at least taste some of her “birthday sweet”!




She wrinkled her nose, gave it some thought and asked for semiya (vermicelli) payasam. This payasam is not one traditional to our cuisine, as vermicelli was never an ingredient that featured in our traditional cooking. I have a feeling it must have come in as a variation of the “Sevaiyaan”, a similar but much thicker pudding-like dish made by the Muslim community especially to celebrate Id-Ul-Fitr.

This payasam is made by cooking the slightly thicker type of roasted vermicelli in milk and sugar intil it is a bit thick. The consistency of the milk in the finished payasam should somewhat like that of evaporated milk yet drinkable. Traditionally we always serve payasam a bit warm, but this one can be served chilled too and also makes a very easy to cook and serve dessert to finish an Indian meal.




Make sure you use the slightly thicker variety of vermicelli, otherwise you will not get the desired consistency. If you can find pre-roasted vermicelli, do use it as this prevents the vermicelli from becoming “sticky” and clumping in the milk. Otherwise you can always buy the unroasted variety and do it yourself at home.

You will find the ingredient measurements for the vermicelli and the sugar as a range (1/2 to 3/4 cups), in my recipe below. This because some people like their payasam to be a bit more liquid in consistency. If that’s how you would like yours use only 1/2 cup. Similarly some people likeit really sweet whereas I personally prefer it a little less. So please use as much sugar as you would like.
Semiya Payasam (A South Indian Style Vermicelli And Milk Sweet/ Pudding)


Ingredients:


1 1/2 to 2 tbsp ghee

A small handful of golden raisins

A small handful of broken cashewnuts (unroasted, unsalted)

1 litre milk (I used 3% fat)

1/2 to 3/4 cup vermicelli

1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar

3 to 4 cardamom pods, powdered




Method:


If you are using unroasted vermicelli, heat 1 tbsp of ghee and roast the vermicelli, over medium heat, till it firsts turns white and then golden brown. Do not let it brown too much. Remove from the pan and keep aside.

Heat the remaining ghee in the same pan and, over low heat, fry the raisins till they plump up. Remove and keep aside. In the same ghee, fry the broken cashewnuts till they turn uniformly golden brown. Do not let them become dark brown. Remove them from the pan and keep aside.

In another heavy bottomed pan, pour the milk and bring it to boil. Add the roasted vermicelli and stir well. Allow the vermicelli-milk mixture to come to a boil, stirring frequently and then let it simmer until the vermicelli has cooked well. Stir frequently so that the vermicelli does not settle to the bottom of the pan, clump and burn.

Once the vermicelli has cooked and the milk has thickened a bit (this should take about 20 minutes or so), add the sugar and stir. Let it cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes. The consistency of the payasam should be a bit thick but still reasonably liquid when you stir it. It will thicken a little more once it cools. Add the cardamom, cashewnuts and raisins, stir a couple of times and take it off the heat.

Let it cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on the top. Serve warm or let it chill before serving if you prefer.

This recipe serves 6 to 8 people.

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July 5, 2011

Mini Apple Pies With Pine Nuts For A Pie Party!


I’m not an expert on pies nor am an authority on it but I do know that, for me, no pie comes close to the apple pie, not even one with mangoes in it even though mangoes are my most favourite fruit. I still remember eating and if I can find an excuse to bake apple pie, I will.
Now you are probably thinking I make apple pie every other week or month, and you might be forgiven for thinking it if you saw me. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as I last made apple pie about a year back! I guess I can only plead that I didn’t find an excuse to bake one till now and that too at the last minute!
But I did spend about half my day on it, photographs and all, as you can see.

The world of food blogging opened up a world where it seemed every day of the year was dedicated to something food or the other. I was quite stunned to discover that the US actually had some food related celebration dedicated to every single day of the year!

Now one food celebration that I always wanted to join in was “Pi Day” (or was it “Pie Day”?). Pi Day is celebrated on the 14th of March to commemorate the mathematical constant “π” (3/14 which is close in representation to the value 3.1415926535897932384626433832795!) that describes the ratio of the cicumfrence of a circle to it's diameter. Pi Day i celebrated in many ways but one thing to do is to bake and/ or eat pie!
There is a section of mathematicians who now feel that "Tau (τ)" is a better representation of the ratio than "Pi" and so they just might stop baking pie to celebrate or find something new to make!




On the other hand there is actually an official day dedicated to the “pie” (food this time, not math). The US celebrates National Pie Day on the 23rd of January so of course, you have to eat pie on that day even if didn’t actually make one.

Its not surprising that I always miss these celebrations and get to know of them much later. I am not American, I do not live in the US and these dates do not figure on my calendar. Still, it seemed like a nice idea to bake pie with company.




Then someone on Facebook sent me an invite to an event (you know what FB can be like), to bake for Pie Day. Usually, I tend to delete such invites as I don’t have time to take part. This time however the word “pie” caught my attention. Turns out Shauna Ahern and some friends on Twitter and FB got discussing how they loved baking pies and the Pie Party of July 5th was the result. For once, I actually discovered the event in time to join the party and the perfect occasion for apple pie.




Turns out, through sheer coincidence that the US celebrates today as National Apple Turnover Day! So, is that a sign or what? Apple Pie Day is on the 13th of May so I’m about 1 1/2 months too late for that. Turnover or pie, it’s about apples and buttery crust. So I’m going ahead and celebrating apple pie, perhaps a little less buttery but delicious all the same.




I got talking to Renée on FB and told her that I was going to bring a pie that was lower in calories than usual to the party, she did quip, and I quote her, “"Oh, for pity's sake, Aparna! It's PIE!”

She’s definitely got a point and I could do with a little less butter in my diet and on the ole hips so I remembered an interesting pie crust recipe in one of my favourite books, Beatrice Ojakangas’ Light And Easy Baking.
Flipping through the book I found the recipe I was looking for and decided to try it out. But let me say that a lighter pie (in terms of calories and fat) does not mean there’s very little or no fat in it. It is only a relative term and means it isn’t chock full of the butter that goes into traditional pies.




Her recipe for the crust uses a little less butter and calls for low-fat cream cheese and baking powder. We do get cream cheese here now but it’s too expensive to justify buying it, so I used fresh home-made paneer which I blended into a smooth creamy texture. I also decided to make mini-pies rather than 1 big pie because it’s easier to serve and giveaway but most importantly, everyone gets more crust out of a slice!




The pie crust recipe is enough to make one 11” pie bottom. So if you want to cover the top you need to double the recipe. Thie dough was enough for me to line 4 mini pie tins (4” diameter and and 1” deep) and decorate them.

I usually blind-bake my pie crusts unless there is a specific reason not to do so, or if your filling is comparatively dry. This prevents what someone referred to as the “Soggy Bottom Syndrome”! There is nothing that quite spoils an otherwise excellent pie, as a soggy crust.




Beatrice Ojakangas recipe says to just pile the filling into the unbaked dough lined pie dish but I decided to go my usual way and pre-bake the crust. I also brush the pre-baked pie crust with jam or melted chocolate to seal it so there’s definitely no risk of SBS. You may use egg white if you prefer.




I didn’t peel my apples and didn’t cook the filling. I also remember seeing an apple pie filling with toasted pine nuts so I added some to my filling for a twist on tradition. I make an apple cake to which I add a touch of garam masala, so I was tempted to add some to this filling too. My apples were very sweet so I used only a 1/4 cup of sugar but feel free to use more if you like you pie really sweet.
Mini Apple Pies With Pine Nuts




Ingredients:


For the pie crust:


1 1/2 cups cake flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

30 gm chilled butter, cut into pieces

2 tbsp chilled fresh home-made paneer, blended till creamy

1 tbsp lemon juice

4 to 5 tbsp ice cold water

2 tbsp apricot jam/ orange marmalade (or melted chocolate or eggwhite)

A little milk for brushing over the dough



For the filling:


2 big apples (I used Golden Delicious), cored and sliced

2 tbsp corn starch

3/4 tsp powdered cinnamon

1/8 tsp powdered nutmeg

3/4 tsp garam masala

1/4 cup brown sugar (or regular)



Method:


First toss the sliced apple with the lemon juice so to coat well. This prevents discolouration.

You can do this by hand, but I prefer using the food processor. It’s quicker and the dough stays cold. Put the flour, baking powder and salt in the processor bowl. Pulse a couple of times to blend. Add the chilled butter and paneer and pulse a few times until it looks like very coarse breadcrumbs in texture.

Empty this mixture into a mixing bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice and the 4 tbsps of water over it. Using a fork, stir it until it is no longer dry and crumbly, adding more water if necessary.

When you pinch a small about with your fingers it should hold together. Gather the dough into a ball and shape into a disc. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface till it is about less than 1/4” thick. If you are making a single pie then this should be about 11” in diameter.

Divide the rolled dough equally between four pie tins with removable bottoms, removing the overhang. Prick the bottom of each with the tines of a fork, line with foil and then fill with beans. Blind bake them at 220C (425F) for about 15 minutes till the crust is dry.

Take the pie crusts out of the oven, cool for 5 minutes and then remove the beans and foil. Keep the pie crusts in the pie tins. Brush the base of the baked pie crusts with jam.

Mix all the ingredients for the filling, except the pine nuts. Divide the filling equally between the four pie crusts. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the filling and use the dough scraps to cut out decorations with cutters to top the mini pies. Use water (or milk) to attach them to the pie crust.

Brush the top of the mini pies with milk. Bake them at 220C (425F) for about 20 to 25 minutes until the pies are golden brown and puffy.

Let them cool for about 5 minutes and then remove from the tins and coo slightly on racks. Serve them warm as they are or with vanilla ice-cream.
This recipe makes 4 mini apple pies.

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July 2, 2011

Some Chocolate Cake, Cookies, Cheesecake, Etc., And The Winner Of My Giveaway!


I haven’t exactly been very regular with my posts in sometime but I didn’t quite plan this short break from my blog. Things have been extra busy on the home front, add inertia on my part to that and the result was a 2 week break from blogging.
According to Don Marquis, “Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.” Looks like I'm doing an excellent job of procrastinating because I haven’t even been able to keep up with a week ago!

I've found that one of the best ways to deal with something is to take it head on,so I’ve jumped back on the food blogging wagon. It’s a different thing that I have been trying to write this post for the past 5 days, but I did get it done in the end.

I’ve been away for only 2 weeks but I thought it apt to stage my “comeback” with an account of a celebration. It is Akshaya’s birthday next week but we decided to celebrate it 10 days earlier for various reasons, one of which was that her birthday is on a school day this year. She wanted to have a few friends over for tea, and since their parents happen to be good friends of ours we had a full house that day.




Whenever we have one of these “dos” I tend to go overboard a bit. I plan the menu well ahead of time and list a schedule for shopping and making everything so that I have everything under control. Unfortunately, every single time, circumstances seem to arrange themselves such that I’m running around at the last minute tiring myself out just getting things done. This time was pretty much the same except that I had an extra pair of hands to help me out as my sister was down for a short visit.

I could have made things easier for myself by ordering for some of the food, but I have this thing about making everything at home (except the Coke and crisps)! It’s a kind of tradition I’ve set for myself through the years whether for birthdays or other festive occasions.
I must also mention here, that I didn't have too much time to style the food before taking photographs so I'm afraid these aren't the best but they're good enough to tell you what was at the table.

Choosing a cake wasn’t too difficult since Akshaya always asks for vanilla and/ or chocolate with buttercream! As she tells me, she’s happy with a simple cake/ simple flavours and I’m the one who complicates things for myself by wanting to do something different or new. She’s got a point (I think) but then that’s how I am!

Keeping the chocolate/ vanilla options in mind I finally settled on this cake to make. I ran into trouble right at the beginning. The recipe outlined an easy way of making a checkerboard cake (no cutting up three different coloured/ flavoured cakes and putting them back together) which appealed to me. Turned out that the batter which was for three 9” cakes was not even comfortably enough for two! So I didn’t have enough coloured cake batter for the different layers. I ended up having to make two batches of cakes for three layers and then had to “marble” the batter to make do. So I ended up with three marbled cakes which were slightly taller than desired and after frosting, ultimately one very tall cake!




A little while back, I was admiring the lovely cake my good friend Bina (she was the inspiration behind these cakes posted by Helen), made for her son’s birthday. Bina recently sent me a package through my sister filled with just the kind of stuff that makes me happy. Her package also included a packet of readymade gum paste.

So I decided to try my hand at making some daisies using that gum paste. Now these daisies are probably the easiest flowers one can make. But after a few attempts which left me with torn and wonky looking specimens, I improvised and made some white flowers of an unknown species!
Some chocolate buttercream and some rather sad looking (my daughter could draw prettier flowers as a five year old!) pseudo gumpaste daisies later, my rather tall and ungainly looking checkerboard-turned-marbled cake turned into something worthy enough to display in public!

I did cut very thin slices to serve, but even those slices were filling enough to give some of the adults a slightly glazed look after they had ploughed their way through their portions of cake. It was a good thing that the cake tasted quite nice or I might have been a couple of friends less.




Luckily, everything else turned out right. We had these ribbon sandwiches which are almost a fixture at our teatime affairs as they never fail to please. I just couldn’t find the time to take some “nicer” pictures of them as there was no time between making them and getting ready before the guests arrived.
I had plans to make some cupcakes as well but never got around to making them as I ran out of time! In retrospect, this was probably a good thing given that there was plenty of birthday cake to go around.

This year, Akshaya also wanted cheesecake. A year back she wouldn’t come anywhere near it but now not only does she like cheesecake but lemon (or lime in my case) cheesecake is her favourite. Since it is mango season here and I had half a dozen Apoos (or Alphonso mangoes which I staunchly maintain are nowhere near the best Indian mangoes!) mangoes, I decided to make Eggless Mango Cheesecake Bars adapted from this recipe of mine. I added some agar to the mango puree to make it set better as I wanted to cut the cheesecake into bars.




I also baked these Lime & Cardamom Cookies from this recipe but decided to leave them plain. The lime is a perfect complement to the cardamom in these buttery shortbread-like cookies. If you have eaten Indian “Nankhatais”, these come really close to them in texture and taste except that the flavour of ghee is missing.

I wanted to balance out the sweet so I made some tartelettes (using some lovely readymade mini-tart shells I get here) filled with a cheese and herb flavoured mixed vegetable filling. Unfortunately I have no pictures of them as I didn’t have the time to take any.




My sister brought me a box of Za’atar which I put to good use by making these Fatayer of Yotam Ottolenghi’s. I am an absolute fan of Ottolenghi’s vegetarian fare and I knew these would be good. Fatayer, Lebanese/ Palestinian snack food, are small triangles of stuffed bread dough that are baked till brown. They are traditionally filled with meat or feta and spinach and served at room temperature which makes them perfect to serve as snacks, at teatime or for picnics.

I wasn’t too sure that Akshaya and her friends would think spinach very celebratory fare, so I used caramelised onions, crumbled paneer, pine nuts that Harini brought me and raisins and seasoned with salt, chilli flakes and za’tar. If you don’t have za’tar, you could make your own za’tar if you have sumac or else use spices like cumin, thyme, oregano, basil or whatever suits your palate.

The birthday tea was well appreciated except that I slightly over estimated the quantity of food required. My mother and grandmother would tell me that was a good thing as there’s nothing worse than having a guest ask for an extra helping of something and having to tell them you don’t have anymore!



And The Winner Of The Giveaway Is…….


My apologies to all who entered their names in this giveaway, for taking so long to announce the winner. The randomly picked winner of 500 Breakfasts & Brunch Dishes by Carol Beckerman (Sellers Publishing) is Sylvie of Gourmande In The Kitchen.

Congratulations Sylvie! Please e-mail me with your mailing address so I can send you the book.
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