August 31, 2012

Tibetan Style Momos (Dumplings) In A Gingery Broth & A Photography Exercise

I
have been talking about how India is home to some small traditionally non-Indian communities who are today very much a part of India today. Apart from the Parsis, Iranis, Jews, Chinese, India is also home to a small population of Tibetans including their leader His Holiness The Dalai Lama. The other communities I have mentioned have are very Indian today though they have retained a lot of their original customs and traditions, but the Tibetans are here through political asylum, and most of them dream of going back to a free Tibet.
Tibetans have lived in India since 1960 and being a refugee in any part of the world is not easy. Not only do you not have a home country anymore, but it is very difficult staying and making a living in another place where the language, traditions and way of life are very different.
One thing they have given India is Tibetan food. Tibetan food has not taken over India like Chinese food but wherever there are settlements of Tibetans in India, they run very popular eateries and restaurants. Momos are probably the most popular Tibetan food and there are many people who earn a living from just selling Momos from food carts or small stalls. Its not an easy life but it is an honest living.
I have lived in and visited a few places in India but I have only a faint memory of my one acquaintance with Tibetan food in the form of Momos. I’ve never seen Tibetan restaurants/ eateries in the places I’ve lived and unfortunately never got around to eating in one whenever we’ve travelled.
 
 
 
 There is now a restaurant in my neighbourhood that serves South East Asian food but the last time we went there we didn’t have the time to wait for the Momos, so that’s for next time. Now, what that all boils down to is that if I want Momos, I have to make them. I’ll go into Momos in detail further down in the post.
Simone’s monthly photograph exercise where this month’s recipe features Asian dstyle dumplings was the prompt I needed to get me going. I’ll talk about the photography exercise first and the recipe after that.
This month she chose Mushroom Dumplings With A Ginger And Shiitake Broth from the April/ May issue (# 62) of the Donna Hay magazine. The photograph that we had to re-create/ re-interpret is styled by Steve Pearce and photographed by Chris Court.
 
 
Chris Court's photograph from the magazine (Courtesy: Simone of Junglefrog Cooking)
 
As you can see, the photograph features a bowl of dumplings and mushroom in a brown broth garnished with micro greens. A small bowl of sliced red chillies and a bottle of chilli oil provide the red colour in the background which is matched by the red pattern on the soup spoons. The background seems to be a metal sheet which provides a bluish-grey hue. Most of the light is coming in from the 12 – 2 pm direction (see the shadow at the bottom of the bowl) and some at right at the 5 pm position.
Working with what I had meant no metal background but a white one, and that meant I couldn’t get that lovely blue-grey. I had a lovely grey background paper, but it’s gone AWOL and I couldn’t find it.
I did have a deep soup bowl but I felt my dumplings weren’t showing to advantage in that so I used another one. And my soup spoons had a pretty blue flower in them!
Well, I did the best I could. It’s been pouring outside the past 3 days and I haven’t even seen a hint of the sun, so I worked with whatever natural light there was. I wasn’t able to get the shadow at the bottom of the bowl which would have lent a slightly “moody” nature, because I have two windows in my living/ dining area (one on the left and one on the right).



 
I took a couple of differently composed shots keeping with the same theme more or less also. One was with the dumplings served separately with the broth and another was vertical shot.
I shot the first photograph in this post with a 50mm f/1.8mm lens at aperture f/ 3.2, shutterspeed 2.5s (it was very overcast) and ISO 100.
 Now for the Momos(Dumplings and the Gingery Broth. Donna Hay’s dumplings are filled with mushroom and galangal and served in a ginger and shiitake broth. A good thing but we don’t like mushrooms. And even if we did all we get here are fresh ones, mostly button mushrooms.
So that meant that I was going to make mushroom free dumplings, and I thought that Momos were a perfect fit. Momos are Tibetan/ Nepali dumplings made with a decoratively outer skin made from flour, and stuffed with meat or vegetables. They’re mostly steam cooked but can be pan fried after steam cooking or just deep-fried.

 

Momos in Tibet and similar dumplings from other parts of South Eastern and Eastern Asia probably have their origins in the Chinese Jiaozi. The word “Momo” itself means steamed bread. In Tibetan cuisine, meat Momos (Sha Momo) are traditionally filled with minced Yak meat but with minced beef these days. They are usually shaped into round pleated pouches whereas the vegetarian versions (Shamey Momo) are usually pleated half-moon shaped dumplings.  
The dumplings put into soup are usually pleated and shaped to look somewhat like little mice. But there is no hard and fast rule about the shapes when you make them at home since one makes whichever one is easier (usually the half-moon shaped ones) to shape.

 


We don’t get readymade Momo wrappers here so I made mine from scratch which is not a bad thing because home-made is always the best! It is a bit time consuming, but like most Indians, I’m used to rolling out dough for flatbreads regularly so it wasn’t too much of an effort for me.
Shaping the Momos takes a little practise and watching some videos is one way to learn this as I found. The first couple of Momos I made were disasters but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I made mine filled with a mixture of minced cabbage, tofu and ginger seasoned with soya sauce and pepper.

 
 
 My broth was a sweet, sour and gingery one garnished with coriander leaves and spring onions. The recipe for the broth is more of a guide, so please adjust the seasoning/ ingredients to suit your taste. You can also add some grated vegetable like carrot and Daikon radish for a more flavoursome broth.
This sort of a Momo soup is called Shamey Mothuk by the Tibetans, meaning “meatless Momo soup”. If this soup was served in Tibet or anywhere where temperatures tend to be on the lower side, I can see how the hot gingery broth could turn your insides toasty warm. I personally found the broth a bit of an acquired taste. I’d rather have my Momos steaming hot but with dipping sauces on the side. 

Tibetan Style Momos (Dumplings) In A Gingery Broth
 
Ingredients:
 
For the Momos (Dumplings):
 
For The Wrapper Dough:
 
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 to 1 cup water
 
For The Filling:
 
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp crushed cumin seeds
2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp garlic paste
3 cups cabbage, minced
2 big or 3 small onions, minced
75 gm tofu, crumbled fine
1 to 2 tsp dark soya sauce
Salt and freshly crushed black pepper to taste
 
 
For The Gingery Broth:
 
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp minced ginger
3/4 tsp garlic paste
1 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 tbsp rice wine or plain vinegar
1 tbsp powdered jaggery (or brown sugar)
2 tbsp chopped spring onions for garnishing
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander for garnishing
 
Some thinly sliced red chilli and chilli oil to serve
 
Method:
 
Make the wrapper dough first. Put the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and lightly whick together to mix. Make hole in the centre and pour in 3/4 cup water. Mix it in and knead into a stiff-ish dough using your fingers, adding a little more water if required. You can do this in the food processor to make it easier on your hands.
Your dough should be stiffer than bread dough but pliable when kneading. Cover and leave the dough to rest for about 30 to 45 minutes.
While the dough is resting, make the filling. Heat the oil in a wok, and stir fry the cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, onions and cabbage on high for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the soya sauce, salt and tofu. Mix well and allow to cool.
Now take the dough and make the wrapper circles. There are two ways of doing this. One is to pinch off little bits of dough and roll out each one into a 4” round. This is a good way to go if you’re a dough rolling whizz and can make evenly shaped and sized rounds very quickly.
The other way is to divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces and then roll it out quite thin, not phyllo thin or transparent, but still thin. Then use a sharp edged glass or a 4” round cutter to cut out your circles. The advantage is that you get evenly thin and round wrappers.
Whichever way you go, dust your work surface with flour and start rolling. Once you’ve got your wrapper rounds, put a generous amount of filling in the centre of each round and shape them in to Momos. Do not skimp on the filling because the joy of eating a Momo is to bite into one and eat the warm juicy filling. On the other hand if you’re too generous, you might find it difficult to shape you Momos!
Place the momos on a flour dusted surface or plate, and cover with a towel so they do nt dry out. Now make the broth.
Place all the ingredients for the broth except the coriander leaves and the spring onions in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium and the Momos (dumplings) to the broth. Also add grated vegetables if using. Let them cook for a few minutes until the Momos start becoming transparent and are done.
Ladle out into serving bowls, and top with coriander leaves and spring onions. Serve hot with sliced chillies or chilli oil or other condiments/ sauces of choice.
This served 4 to 6 people.

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August 27, 2012

Hakka Noodles With Sesame Seeds - Indian Chinese Style

I
ndia is a country that has, through the ages, accepted and whole-heartedly embraced a lot of influences from outside the sub-continent, especially in its cuisines. Many communities in India today have their origins outside the country but are as Indian as the original “natives”. These communities have preserved many of their customs and culinary traditions while borrowing from those of their adopted country, and have acquired a cultural character that is richer yet unique .



 
One such classic example of this can be seen in what we in India call Chinese food. India has a sizeable Chinese community, largely of Hakka ancestry, that migrated to Calcutta in the early 1900s. As is wont among immigrant communities across the world, they moved and became skilled in work which was not popular among the locals like leather tanning and shoe making, hair-dressing, carpentry and running eateries/ restaurants serving Chinese food.  Much has changed in the Indian Chinese community but one legacy that we owe to them is the much loved Indian Chinese cuisine.
While no true Chinese person would probably even recognise this style of cooking as Chinese, we Indians love our version of Chinese food! So much so that, even most of the small eateries that dot the country would have at least a couple of noodle dishes, some form of Chinese fried rice and the very popular Gobi Manchurian or its non-vegetarian brethren.
I’m not an expert on the matter, but I’m convinced that the version of Hakka Noodles that we find in India probably does not exist within the Hakka community in China, and if it does, it must bear little or no resemblance to its Indian cousin. In my book, that doesn’t matter because, though authenticity counts at times, at the end of the day it is about eating what you like.




Unfortunately, many of the restaurants where you can order this dish, just don’t get it right. The noodles are either over cooked/ under cooked, sometimes very oily, come overloaded with soya sauce or else don’t have enough of it or vegetables.
Given that all the ingredients, seasonings and sauces are available in most stores, it’s not very difficult to cook Hakka noodles and other Indian Chinese dishes at home in very little time. Hakka Noodles with stir-fried vegetables makes a healthy and filling dish which is a meal on its own and needs no accompaniment. When you make this at home, you can go a bit further and experiment with spices, sauces and flavours to come up with whatever suits your palate. This is some fusion cooking at its best.




 
This recipe is my version. If I have the All-In-One stir-fry sauce, then that’s what I prefer to use instead of soya sauce. Just keep in mind that most of these sauces are salty so be careful while adjusting for salt.
While it is not usually dome with Hakka Noodles, you can add some protein in the form of tofu (or paneer if you prefer that). Just cut the tofu into small cubes and add it with the vegetables. And if you eat eggs, you can make a plain thin three egg omelette, cut it into thin strips and add it to the individual servings just before garnishing with spring onions.

 Noodles With Sesame Seeds - Indian Chinese Style
 

  Ingredients:
 

1 packet plain or egg noodles (I use Ching’s Secret Egg Noodles)

2 tbsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp  garlic paste

3/4 cup shredded cabbage

1/2 cup thinly sliced (diagonally) green beans

1/2 cup thinly sliced carrot

1/2 cup green bell pepper (capsicum) , finely sliced

1 tsp green chilli sauce

1 tsp sweet chilli sauce

2 to 3 tsp dark soya sauce

1/4 cup chopped spring onions

salt to taste

2 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted

 

Method:
 

Cook the noodles in boiling water with some salt, till the noodles are cooked but still firm (al dente). Drain the water, add a tsp of oil, toss well and keep aside.
Heat the sesame oil in wok, and add the garlic paste and stir fry a couple of times.  Add the cabbage, carrot, beans and bell pepper and stir fry on high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the sauces and salt as needed. Continue to cook for another minute or two, stirring frequently. Turn off the heat. Add half the spring onions and mix.
Transfer to serving bowls, garnish with remaining spring onions and toasted sesame seeds before serving.This recipe should serve 3 to 4.
 
 
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August 22, 2012

Pears Poached In Apple Juice With Cardamom Spiced Ricotta Cream

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I have been sitting on this post (well, some part of it) for the past 3 days! I had put together my recipe, cooked and photographed it and we’ve finished eating the poached pears but they’re making it to the blog only today.
All because I just couldn’t come up with some matter for a post! I’ve been staring at the computer, with my fingers on the keys trying to get going but I wasn’t able to even put together one good sentence. I even complained on Facebook, which is a good place to find support from bloggers/ friends who know you’re saying, that perhaps I should just say, “"I made this and here's the recipe".
Then Nicole very helpfully chimed in saying if I added, “And now you can make it too", I would have 2 sentences for a post! Now you know what I mean about the support from like-minded friends. :D
Even though I now had two sentences, and there’s nothing wrong with that either, it’s just not the way I usually write my blog posts. This was a post meant to be about Poached Pears, so let’s leave this behind and get on with that.
I have mentioned, somewhere on another post, that July, August and September and the months of anniversary celebrations for us. Three birth anniversaries (birthdays are really anniversaries) and a wedding anniversary all happen at this time. Akshaya’s birthday, memorable in more ways than one, was last month and I shall eventually get around to blogging that cake.



 

August is the month when we celebrate our wedding anniversary and my husband’s birthday, within four days of each other. We’ve so far celebrated nineteen anniversaries (including this one), and I just don’t know where the years have gone. In the words of Gene Perret (my husband’s says the same but in different words, and I’m sure he’s not seen Gene Perret’s quote), “Our wedding was many years ago.  The celebration continues to this day”.
Somehow, when it comes to anniversaries, there’s a natural trend towards things chocolate, or rather rich and heavy desserts. I’ve been that way too in the past, especially as my husband has one of the sweetest tooths I know (should I say teeth even if it sounds piranha-esque?). In the past few years however, I find myself leaning towards lighter and less sugary desserts, and its not just because that would be what the doctor ordered. My taste buds seem to dislike an overload of anything.
After much thought and virtual discussions with friends, I finally decided on Poached Pears for dessert. It’s an easy enough thing to poach pears yet I’ve never done it before. For one thing, I’ve been seeing affordable pears at the local market only for the past 4 years or so. They’re still a bit expensive, especially the imported varieties we now get all the year around.



 

One needs slightly firm pears to poach, and the only firm ones available here right now is a local variety which are a bit grainy. The pears themselves are great, just not the best (but good enough) for poaching. We’re teetotallers so no alcohol in the house, so I poached my pears in a mixture of apple and orange juice. If you would like to replicate the red stain that comes from poaching in red wine, you could use pomegranate and red grape juices.
I had planned on poaching the pears whole, but then found a couple of the pears slightly bruised. So I went ahead and sliced them instead. I spiced my poaching liquid a bit with cinnamon and star anise, and after the poaching was done I reduced it to make a sauce/ syrup to serve on the side. I also decided to make the healthy dish a little rich with a ricotta cream spiced with cardamom to serve with the pears.



 

If you’re not too worried about the calories, then you can also explore alternatives like serving the poached pears with sweetened whipped cream, ice-cream, chocolate sauce, etc.
*About the ricotta for the spiced cream (below in the ingredient list) – I don’t get ricotta here so I substitute home-made paneer which has been well drained but hasn’t been pressed into shape. This is soft enough for me to beat/ blend into a cream. Other wise use store bought paneer cubes and blend it with a little warm milk to a smooth paste. And if you have ricotta, then you’ve got to use that of course!

 

Pears Poaced In Apple Juice With Cardamom Spiced Ricotta Cream
 

Ingredients:
 

For the poached pears:
 

4 firm pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4ths or 1/6ths

3 cups apple unsweetened apple juice

1 cup unsweetened orange juice

(the 4 cups juice should be enough to submerge the pear pieces)

 1/2 cup brown sugar (preferably dark)

 3 largish strips orange peel

1” piece of ginger, cut into pieces

 1 stick cinnamon

1 1/2 star anise

1/8 tsp salt
 

For the cardamom spiced ricotta cream: 

1/2 cup ricotta/ crumbled paneer* (see above and below)

2 tbsp milk, if using paneer

200ml cream (25% fat)

1/3 cup icing sugar

3 cardamom pods, powdered 
 

Toasted and sliced almonds and pistachios, and some mint for garnishing

 

Method: 

*If using fresh home-made paneer, run it in your blender until really smooth. If using store bought paneer, then add the milk and blend till really smooth.
Place the pear pieces in a pan and add the juices.  Use a deep pan rather than a flat one as the pear should be completely submerged in the juice. Add the sugar, orange peel, ginger, salt, cinnamon and star anise and mix well.
Cut out a piece of parchment paper or aluminium foil to the inner diameter of your pan and then place this in the pot touching the liquid in it. This will ensure that the pear pieces stay submerged while poaching and give them a uniform colour.
Bring the poaching liquid to boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the pears are cooked. When done, they should be firm but if you push a knife or the tines of a fork into the pears they should go in without resistance.
Discard the spices and let the pears and poaching liquid cool down. You can reduce about 2/3rds of the  poaching liquid till it becomes somewhat syrup-like and serve it on the side with the poached pears. Refrigerate the pear pieces with some of the poaching liquid till required.
To make the cardamom spiced ricotta cream, whisk together the ricotta/ blended paneer, icing sugar and powdered cardamom till smooth.
In another bowl beat the cream till quite stiff. Fold the ricotta/ paneer-cardamom mixture gently into the whipped cream. Spoon into a piping bag or container and refrigerate till required.
To serve, divide and arrange the pear slices equally between 4 serving dishes with some of the poaching liquid. Pipe or spoon the ricotta/ paneer cream on the side, and drizzle with the syrup/ or chocolate if you prefer. Garnish with sliced almonds and pistachios and mint.
This recipe serves 4.
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August 14, 2012

Celebrating 65 Years Of Indian Independence & Julia Child’s 100th Birth Anniversary - A Baked Yogurt Tart (Tarte Au Yaourt) With Fresh Orange & Pistachios, In An Oatmeal Crust

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omorrow, India celebrates 65 years of Independence from British occupation. On the eve of Independence all those years ago, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, ““Many years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”
And we did. Most of us may not have lived in the years before and around Independence but that should not prevent us from appreciating, remembering and celebrating what our freedom fighters fought for, and gave us. After all, it is so easy to take freedom for granted, when we have never had it taken from us.


Tomorrow also happens to be Julia Child’s 100th birth anniversary. To be very honest, I had never heard of Julia Child until a couple of years back when the Daring Bakers baked her French bread and mine was a colossal disaster!
Julia Child may have changed the way America saw French cooking, but she has had very little influence in the way I cook. However, having read and watched “Julie & Julia” I realised that she was responsible, in a big way, for introducing America to not just French cuisine but also taught a generation of home-cooks to look at cooking and food in an entirely different way.
 While both the book did not impress me much, Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child in the movie, did much to make me see her differently.  Having been a bit of a “late bloomer” myself in many things including blogging and photography I could identify with her discovery of French cooking and everything that followed later in her life. Her love of cooking and her never-say-die attitude in the kitchen and outside deserves to be celebrated.




There’s only one thing that’s better than baking by yourself and that’s baking with friends. My mates (you can see I’ve been watching a lot of Masterchef Australia) at the Baking Club (Arundati, Arundathi, Arundhati, Nandita and from this month Monika) decided we should bake this one together and it’s been a blast so far. We has stopped baking together in between for a few months since our lives took over but we’re back again. We’ve even been re-christened as the “Sisterhood Of The Travelling Cake Tins”! How’s that for an indication of how much fun we’re having?
So here I am, marking this day with a slight adaptation of one of Julia Child’s recipes. I know Julia said, “If you're afraid of butter, use cream”, but I thought if I used yogurt I could tell myself that I was baking a little healthier.
Of course, as she also said, “Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health. You need to enjoy the good things in life, but you need not overindulge.”



Now that I have a new oven, I have been indulging the baker in me so I decided to continue with the streak a little longer and make Julia’s Baked Yogurt Tart which is a simple yogurt and fresh fruit tart. I adapted her recipe by using her recipe for the filling but with an oatmeal tart base instead. 
The oatmeal crust is something I’ve wanted to try out for a while now. It uses a lot less butter for one thing and this must be the easiest tart/ pie crust there is. You don’t need chilled water, cold butter, be worried about the butter pieces melting or not overworking the dough. You use melted and cooled butter (yes, indeed!) for this crust and just put all the ingredients in a bowl, mix them together and press that into your pan. Yup, no rolling or worrying about tears in your pastry!
We don’t get the variety of berries here in India that everyone in Europe and the U.S seem to take for granted and as for stone fruit, the cherry season is over, while peaches and plums keep playing “Hide & Seek” at the market!



I should have planned baking this tart a little better but I didn’t and this morning realised all the fruit I had at home could be summed up into an apple, a pomegranate and 2 oranges! So after much thought, as I wanted the colours of the Indian flag (orange/ saffron, green and white) in my Yogurt Tart, I decided to use oranges and pistachios instead of almonds so that my tart wore the colours of the Indian flag.
I also reduced an egg in the original recipe and made some adjustments in the recipe to make up for this.
Since this tart of Julia’s was taking on a very Indian rebirth, I went a little further and flavoured my yogurt filling with cardamom! With a nice crunchy and reasonably healthy (don’t forget the oatmeal) crust and a somewhat tangy,  creamy and cardamom and orange flavoured filling that’s a lot like cheesecake but a lot lighter and much less richer, this Baked Yogurt Tart of Julia’s is a recipe worth keeping.
I know I changed quite a bit of the original recipe but I’m sure she would have approved. After all I have only been following her advice really – “Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”





By the way, PBSare celebrating Julia Child’s 100th birth anniversary with a “Cook For Julia” right through this week and you can join them by cooking any one of Julia Child’s recipes. The deadline to join the party is tomorrow, Julia’s birthday.

Baked Yogurt Tart (Tarte Au Yaourt) With Fresh Orange & Pistachios, In An Oatmeal Crust
(Adapted from Julia Child's recipe and Baking Obsession - Makes one 10” diameter tart, about 12 servings)

Ingredients:

For The Oatmeal Crust:

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats (powdered)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
100gm butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, beaten, for sealing the dough

For The Orange & Cardamom Yogurt Filling:

2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups thick plain yogurt , lightly whisked till smooth
2 to 3 pods cardamom, powdered
1/2 to 1 tsp orange extract
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp corn-starch + all-purpose flour to make up to 3/4 cup
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
Orange slices (from 1 orange)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted pistachios
Mint for garnishing

Method:

Make the crust: Lightly butter a 10” tart pan or cake tin with a removable bottom.
In a bowl stir the dry ingredients together and add the melted and cooled butter. Mix till combined and press this evenly into the pan. Chill this for about 20 to 30 minutes to settle dough.
 Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and blind bake at 170C (325F)for about 15 minutes, until it is set and pale golden. Brush the bottom of the crust with the beaten egg, and bake again for another 10 minutes until set and shiny to prevent the crust from becoming soggy. Cool to room temperature.
 Make the filling: In a largish bowl beat the eggs and sugar with a hand held mixer for 2 to 3 minutes, till it is a pale yellow and thickens slightly. Gently fold in the yogurt, orange zest and orange extract.
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, powdered cardamom, salt and baking powder and slowly add this, gently folding it into the batter. Pour this filling into the cooled tart crust, upto about 2/3rds full.
Bake the tart at 170C (325F).  After about 25 minutes in the oven, sprinkle the chopped pistachios along the edge of the tart and return to the oven. Bake for a further 10 minutes or so till the top is golden. Transfer to a rack and cool. Unmould the tart and serve chilled or at room temperature. Just before serving, decorate with fresh orange slices and mint.

This tart serves 10 to 12 people.


“Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed - else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Wishing all my Indian friends a happy holiday and a memorable Independence Day!

And the others baked -




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August 12, 2012

UrbanDazzle Glassware: A Review And Some Lemongrass, Basil & Mint Tea

H
ave you experienced the monsoons in South Western India, say in Kerala or along the Konkan Coast? If you haven’t, you definitely should and I would highly recommend you do it in Goa. I could be biased because I live in Goa but there’s something special about nature exulting in the rains. Everything is suddenly cleaner and more colourful after the rains have washed away the dust of the summer and breathed new life into everything around. Flowers bloom, and birds and butterflies flit and fly in and out of plants and trees.
It is the rice planting season and there miles and miles of bright green carpeted fields just half an hour’s drive out of the city. Swaying coconut palms, huge waves, a stormy sea and a overcast skies heavy with dark clouds can be an awesome sight.



And there’s something special, an almost childlike pleasue in curling up warm under the covers at night listening to the rain outside, going from a roaring downpour to a pitter-patter on the stones as the rain eases up. Not to mention that this season is the perfect excuse to indulge in crisp, deep fried fritters and sip many a cup of steaming hot cups of masala chai!
By now you must have gathered that I like the monsoon season. I can also see some of you thinking, “She’s in love with the monsoon because she doesn’t have to brave the rain and slush and get wet every day!”
That it true to some extent, but in my “younger” days, I have braved the heavy rains, the slush, and the strong winds that ensured every bit of you got wet. I remember leaving work and waiting at the bus stop, drenched, shivering and trying to hang onto an umbrella which was hell bent on turning inside out and taking off with the wind.





But the monsoons are not always about the better things in life. It can continue to pour for days together and general greyness outside can make even the most cheerful of people see the dull side of life.  And let’s not even go into the misery that a cold or an itchy nose and throat can create.

However, in my opinion, there’s very little that a hot cup of tea cannot cure during the rains (and at other times). I usually like my tea strong, really hot, a bit milky and preferably spiced with chai masala. I am so used to this type of tea that I’ve never been able to understand how my husband can have his with no milk and a squeeze of lemon.
But I am getting there slowly. I recently discovered the “yellow” tea from Kausani and have fallen in love with it. It has also opened my mind to the possibilities of perhaps finding other teas to like.





Well, I just found another one, a pale green coloured tea made with the herbs growing in my pots. This tea is very flavoursome and made with lemongrass, mint, Thai basil, and Indian basil/ Thulasi (the variety I used is not the Holy Basil, butsimilar to it with rounder leaves, hairless stems, and a sweeter aroma).
It’s simple to make and very refreshing to drink. Though there’s a recipe here for it please feel free to adjust quantities of the various ingredients to suit your taste. You can refrigerate this tea and drink it cold in summer too. Just use it up the very day you make it.




And if you feel like pampering yourself (and family and friends), just serve it up in some pretty glassware like I did. These pretty festive looking glasses were sent to me from UrbanDazzle for a review.

These scarlet and silver glasses decorated with stars, are made in Germany and perfect to dress up the table for dinner. While I wouldn’t choose this colour (just a personal thing as I tend to veer towards a more simple style in my table ware), I must say these glasses are quite pretty. They’re available in other colours too.  I wouldn’t mind using them as decorative containers for tea lights, though.





Those of you who live in India and bake, know how difficult it is to source good bake ware here. If you have someone wholives abroad and frequently comes down on then things are a bit better but there’s only so much you can ask them to bring you.  I have searched quite a bit online but haven’t found any good and affordable solutions so far.

I am doing a product review for UrbanDazzle, but I’m not recommending them only because of that. I went through their site and find they have a reasonably good selection of some decent bake ware, cookware and kitchen accessories that don’t necessarily cost a bomb. They also ship free.

I know that some of that stuff they offer would sit pretty in my home and kitchen, and as a bonus, would also make good food photography props. So guess where I might be shopping soon?

Lemongrass, Basil & Mint Tea


Ingredients:

900 ml water
6 to 8 blades of fresh lemongrass pieces, about 5” long
 Grated dry ginger, to taste
3 sprigs Indian basil (12 to 16 leaves)
2 sprigs Thai basil (8 to 10 leaves)
2 to 3 sprigs fresh mint (8 to 10 leaves)
Honey to taste (or jaggery or brown sugar)


Method:

Bring the water to boil in a pot. Chop the lemon grass into half and tear the herbs once. Put all this and the ginger in to the boiling water and turn down the heat to low. Let the teas simmer for 2 to 3 minutes and then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let the flavours infuse for another couple of minutes.
Strain the tea into four cups. Add honey to sweeten the tea according to taste and serve hot. You can also let it cool and then refrigerate it before serving but it is best drunk hot/ warm.
This recipe serves 4.

I’m sending my herb and spice infused tea to Susan at The Well Seasoned Cook who is hosting the 346th edition of Haalo’s Weekend Herb Blogging.
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August 9, 2012

Exercises In Food Photography #4 : Feature Just One Ingredient!

H
ere’s this month’s food photography assignment, though a week late. Since I usually close the assignment after three weeks, you’ll have till end of this month to do this if you would like to join in.
I actually had something else in mind for this month’s assignment but I didn’t have the time to do it myself and will post it for next month’s assignment. I can promise that it will involve a bit of work, lots of mess and cleaning up but will be fun.
But for this month, I thought it would be a good idea to shoot a photograph of a food ingredient. You know, the sort of photograph where an ingredient, whatever it may be, is not just the “hero” or focus of the composition but is also the only food item in the photograph. My photographs accompanying this post will give you an idea of what I mean.
We usually tend to post photographs on our blogs, of the finished and plated dish or even the detailed process of cooking.  However, I’m wondering how many times you might have shot one of the ingredients you’re using showing only that to advantage. If you haven’t (or even if you have), and would like to explore this further, here’s your chance. Join us this month and photograph and showcase an ingredient (or two or three if you choose…) of your choice.
An important part of trying to showcase an ingredient would be styling it to show it to advantage. So please do not just heap the ingredient of choice on a plate or cutting board or in a bowl and shoot.
Think about how you could arrange it (or not have your composition look arranged, as you choose), what colours/ textures in your background would work well. Get creative if you can and remember, simple compositions usually work the best as too much in your frame would take the focus away from your subject.
You might have to go close up to your subject but you do not need a macro lens for this. A 50mm lens or even a telephoto/ zoom lens, whatever you have on hand should work if you plan your shot. This may seem a little like the second exercise we did on the theme “Less Is More” but it really isn’t.



Button Mushrooms
(Taken with 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens at aperture – f/ 8.0, shutterspeed – 2.5s and ISO – 100)


It’s the season for fresh mushrooms here, though they are expensive but still get sold out very quickly – seems like they’re there one minute and gone the next. However if one has to have mushrooms, the cultivated variety of button mushroom are available almost the year round.
My husband and I don’t really like them but our daughter loves them stuffed and grilled. These lot I bought were looking particularly photo worthy to me, so after trying out various compositions which I wasn’t happy with I finally settled on this one.



Multi-coloured Sugar Sprinkles
(Taken with 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens at aperture – f/ 6.3, shutterspeed – 3.2s and ISO – 100)

I used these coloured sprinkles to make some cookies recently. They were made mainly as an after-school snack for my daughter but she chose to carry them to school instead to share with her friends. 



Fresh Dates
(Taken with an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens (92mm focal length) at aperture – f/ 6.3, shutterspeed – 1s and ISO – 100)

Now that it is the fasting season of Ramzan, one fruit that we get a lot of at the local market are dates. This year, I’ve been seeing a lot of fresh dates for the first time. Obviously, I had to buy some and photograph them and here they are!


What You Have To Do To Join In:

1.     Take one (or more if you would like to do so) of a food ingredient (not the finished dish) of your choice. You could photograph vegetables, fruit, spices, nuts, chocolate, sugar, salt, flour, etc. Please put some thought into your composition and angle of shooting. As always, do try and use Manual settings if you can. 
2.     Post the photograph(s) and details about them on you blog, with details about the shot.   I see some people posting, “this photograph is for the photography exercise at …………..” and that’s about it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but the purpose of this series is to also share how you composed and shot your photograph so thers could perhaps learn from you.    
3.     Please ensure that you link back to this post/ page in your blog post. Then add the link to your Photography Exercise post using the Simply Linked Widget that appears at the bottom of this post. This will direct readers to you blog and allow them to read your post.  Please make sure that the text in your link is correct otherwise no one would be able to reach your post.
Please note that if the link you leave here doesn not go the photography exrcise post in particular, I will delete your link.
 If you do not have a blog, then upload your photographs on Flickr or any other hosting site and then use the link of that photograph in the Widget.
Since I am late in posting this exercise (again!), and would like to maintain the 3 week time period for the exercise, the deadline for this exercise shall be the 31st of August, 2012. I’m looking forward to seeing all your photographs. Happy shooting!
May I also request you all to please, please visit fellow photographers involved in this exercise and give them your feedback and criticism (as you see it) because this is one more way of improving ones skills and craft. You are most welcome to critique my photographs as well. Thank you.


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