December 31, 2013

Why I’m Not Writing A New Year’s Post!

T
hat’s right. I’m not writing a New Year’s post this year! I’m just writing it on New Year’s Eve, and it’s not the sort of post one finds on most food blogs at this time of the year. I didn’t write one last year either but put out a recipe for a “No- Egg Nog” as the end of that year had left me with a rather itchy and sore throat.
I’ve been a bit neglectful for some time now when it comes to a lot of blog related milestone counting or even celebrating blog anniversaries for a couple of years now. Most of the time, these things seem to pass me by before I know it and it seems a little silly to be celebrating my 500th post (or something similar) when I’m already sitting down to write my 543rd post, if you know what I mean.
So why did I decide to make a point with such a title for my post? Well, I was assured by some well-meaning articles out there that this was one of the ways I could definitely make sure my blog post caught my readers’ attention. I’m not sure it will, or that it won’t, or that it really matters at the end of it all, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to try it out and see.
Of course, unlike the milestones I was mentioning earlier, a New Year can never pass one by without realising it. So this is season when a lot of bloggers take the time and effort to compile recipes from their food blogs and others’ to create an easily accessible list of festive food. I just realised that this is something I should do for my blog after I received a couple of e-mails asking how they could find all the Christmas recipes on my blog! This shall be one of the things I’ll try and get done on my blog in 2014.
It’s also the time of the year when many bloggers like to look back at the year that was and get nostalgic about it and tell you all the good stuff that happened, or if it wasn’t too good tell you how they never wish to see another 2013 ever! Otherwise, they tell you want they hope for in the New Year and all their plans and resolutions for it.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and I’ve been reading some pretty good old year/ New Year write-ups. I guess in some ways such blog posts are like a “cleaning out and moving on” kind of exercise and we all know how good a thing that is.
Yet, it’s just not my thing to look back into the past year and write a post on a “Recap of the that Went by” or “My Favourite 10 Posts of 2013, or “The Top 25 Posts on My Blog (does anyone really want to know or care, other than me?). I have done the “Recap” thing posts some years ago but no more. I don’t make New Year resolutions, though I do always have some plans about what I ought to get done in the next 12 months it’s another thing that some of my plans never make it out of my head to see the light of day.



 
So what I’ll do, like I always do, is tell you all how much it means to me that all of you who follow my blog and read everything I write keep doing so year in and year out. My special thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment on my posts and written in to me how much they like my posts, recipe and photographs here and how my recipes have worked out so well for them.
And most of all my best wishes to all of you and hoping that your New year is peaceful, happy, fulfilling and everything you want it to be and more. I’ll see you all sometime in the first week of 2014 and until then I’ll leave you with “A Song for New Year’s Eve” by William Cullen Bryant. 

A Song for New Year’s Eve
 (William Cullen Bryant)

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay—
     Stay till the good old year,
So long companion of our way,
     Shakes hands, and leaves us here.
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One little hour, and then away. 

The year, whose hopes were high and strong,
     Has now no hopes to wake;
Yet one hour more of jest and song
     For his familiar sake.
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One mirthful hour, and then away.  

The kindly year, his liberal hands
     Have lavished all his store.
And shall we turn from where he stands,
     Because he gives no more?
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.  

Days brightly came and calmly went,
     While yet he was our guest;
How cheerfully the week was spent!
     How sweet the seventh day's rest!
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One golden hour, and then away. 

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep
     Beneath the coffin-lid:
What pleasant memories we keep
     Of all they said and did!
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One tender hour, and then away. 

Even while we sing, he smiles his last,
     And leaves our sphere behind.
The good old year is with the past;
     Oh be the new as kind!
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One parting strain, and then away.
 
 
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December 25, 2013

The Basics Of Food Photography Workshops in Bangalore & Chennai

I
t’s been a year since my last Food Photography Workshop, and I’ve had requests since then to do it again. So I’m happy to announce that I will be conducting a one-day “Basics of Food Photography Workshop” in Bangalore, followed by one in Chennai in January 2014.
 

The Workshop In Bangalore:
 
This workshop will be on the 17th of January from 9:30am to 5:00pm, at Under The Mango Tree Café,  Richmond Town, Bangalore- 500025
Please scroll down for more details about the workshop and how to register for it.
 

The Workshop In Chennai:



 
 This workshop will be on the 20th of January from 9:30am to 5:00pm, at the Kettle Tea Café, Anna Nagar, Chennai - 600040
Please scroll down for more details about the workshop and how to register for it. 
 
Who is this Workshop for and what is it about?
 
This Workshop is for amateurs who likes the idea of photographing food, whether a food blogger or a budding food photographer, and wants to do it well.
This Workshop deals with the basics of photographing food in natural light. We will discuss the basics of food photography including shooting modes and lenses used in food photography, composition, exposure, angles, quality of natural light, how best to photograph various kinds of food, understanding what goes into making a good food photograph, the basics of styling, etc.
The Workshop includes a session where participants will try their hands at styling and shooting food. Tea/ Coffee and lunch are included. 
 
Are there any pre-requisites to attend this Workshop?

I would expect that you have a DSLR and that you have a reasonably good working knowledge of your camera.  You are also welcome to register for the Workshop if you use a Point & Shoot camera but you may find that you are limited by your camera when it comes to certain aspects of shooting food during the practical session. 

What do I need to bring with me?

Just bring yourself and your camera. Do also bring your 50mm f/1.8 lens if you have one, or whatever other lens you normally use to shoot your food photographs. That’s it.  

I would love to join you for the Workshop. What do I need to do?

That’s great! To register for the Workshop, please e-mail me at aparna[DOT]bala[DOT]photography[AT]gmail[DOT]com with “Workshop” and either Bangalore or Chennai in the title field indicating which city you would like to attend the Workshop.  I will then send you further details regarding the workshop.  
Looking forward to hearing from you.
 

Please note that I am limiting each Workshop to 8 participants, so booking a place at the Workshop will be on a first-come basis. If there a large enough number of participants, I will be open to conducting one more Workshop in Bangalore on the following day, the 18th of January, 2014.


 
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December 24, 2013

We Knead To Bake #12 : Bienenstich Kuchen (German Bee Sting Cake)

T
his month marks 12 months of baking breads together and given that’s it’s also a season for a lot of festive baking done in parts of the country and the world, I thought it would be great if all of us at “We Knead To Bake” got together to bake something special this month.
My choice for this month is the Bienenstich Kuchen or what’s also known as the German Bee Sting Cake! Bienenstich is not really a bread but a traditional German sweet yeasted cake that has a baked on topping of crunchy almond toffee-like layer and filled with a vanilla pastry cream. Bienenstich is traditionally eaten as dessert but also served with tea or coffee.



 
Bienenstich means “bee sting” in German and probably got its name from the honey flavoured topping that is typical of this yeasted cake. There are however some interesting stories connected to it. One story is that the German baker who was creating this recipe came across a bee (possibly attracted by the honey) and was stung by it and decided to name the cake after the incident!

Another story is that a group of German bakers stopped invaders from entering a neighbouring village, sometime in the 15th century, by throwing beehives at them. In order to celebrate their victory, they created the original version of the Bienenstich. 
The Bienenstich is made with enriched brioche-like dough that’s typical for yeasted cakes which means that it contains a lot of butter, some milk and eggs. I have reduced the egg to one in this particular recipe. If you do use eggs, go ahead and use one more (total of 2 eggs) as it will certainly improve the texture of your Bienenstich. You might need to add one or two tbsps more of flour to the dough for the extra egg. On the other hand if you don’t use eggs, please leave out the eggs altogether. It will make a slight difference to the texture but not too much, and you will still have a good Bienenstich.





A Bienenstich is typically filled with pastry cream which is a mix of custard and whipped cream. This pastry cream must be stiff enough to take the weight of being sandwiched between two layers of yeasted cake. I have used an egg-free version that uses custard powder but feel free to use your preferred recipe for custard using eggs.
You may also like to use buttercream, Bavarian Cream or Diplomat Cream as filling if that is your preference. I emntion once again, that the cake is a bit heavy so your filling should not be runny or too soft or it will not be able to carry the weight of the upper cake layer. There’s nothing more disappointing to see your effort spoiled by the filling flowing out of the middle and turning everything into a soggy mess! You can also add fruit (strawberry, kiwi, mango, etc) to your “cream” layer even though this is not traditional.
I have baked my Bienenstich in a round cake tin and cut it into slices but you can also bake it in a square tin and cut it out into squares like we do with brownies.
One of the ways of getting over the problems the filling possibly flowing out of the middle is to make it strong enough to take the weight of the upper layer. This can be taken care of by using a filling that will hold up and in the event your filling is a bit on the softer side, then not using too much filling to sandwich the layers. You can always thin the remaining filling and serve it with the Bienestich as a sauce. The whipped cream can be stabilized with corn-starch (or agar or gelatine if you use it).



 
Another problem that can present itself with the Bienenstich is that the filling could squish out when you try to cut or slice it. Thisproblem can be solved by placing the lower layer of the cake on the serving plate and then making a collar around it with a double layer of parchment paper that should be a little taller than the height of your finished Bienenstich.  Now spread the filling over the lower layer evenly.

Then cut the upper almond toffee layer of your yeasted cake into slices or squares (depending on the shape of your Bienenstich) as you would cut your finished Bienenstich. Now place the slices/ squares on top of the filling so it looks like the top layer is whole. Refrigerate this for at least a couple of hours before serving. When ready to serve, remove the parchment collar, and use the slices/ squares as a guide and cut through the filling right to the bottom. 

Note: If you cannot find sliced almonds where you live (as in my case), you can make them at home. They will not be as thin as the store-bough version but I personally prefer my home made variety.
Blanch almonds by dropping them in just boiled hot water (not boiling water, but boiling water that has just been taken off the heat). If you boil them, they will cook and become soft. Let them sit in the water for about 5 minutes. Then drain the water off and rinse once in cold water. Strain well.
 


The skins of the almonds should feel a little loose and look wrinkled now. Pinch each almond at the broad end with thumb and forefinger and the skin should slip off easily.
Let the almonds dry out on a kitchen towel in an airy place for about half an hour. Then lay each almond down on its flat side and, using a sharp knife, slice as thinly as you can. There you have your sliced almonds.
Bienenstich Kuchen (German Bee Sting Cake)
 

Ingredients:

For the Pastry Cream Filling:

250ml milk (I used 2%)
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp vanilla flavoured custard powder
200ml cream (I used 25% fat)
1 tbsp corn-starch 

For the Dough:

1/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
100gm butter, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast 

For the Honey-Almond Topping:

50 gm butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup almonds, sliced* (see Note above)
 

Method:

Make the custard for the filling first. This can be made the previous day and refrigerated till required.
Keep aside 1/4 cup of milk, and put the remaining milk and the sugar in pan. Over medium heat, bring this to a boil while stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. In the meanwhile, dissolve the custard powder in the 1/4 cup of milk. Add this in a stream, to the boiling milk and keep whisking so that no lumps are formed.
Keep whisking until the custard becomes very thick. Take the pan off the heat and let the custard cool to room temperature. Whisk it on and off so it stays smooth. If it does become lumpy after cooling, use a hand blender to make it smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Once you are ready to fill the Bienenstich, whip 200ml of cream till soft peaks form. Then add the corn-starch and whip till it forms stiff peaks. Whisk the custard to make sure it is smooth. Gently fold the cream into the custard. If you feel it is too soft, refrigerate for a couple of hours and then use.
To make the dough, heat the milk until it is quite hot but not boiling. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the milk, stirring it until the better melts completely. Let it cool a little. 

 
In the meanwhile, put the flour, sugar, salt and the yeast in the bowl of your processor. Run a couple of times to mix well and then add the egg (leave the egg out if you don’t use it). Run again till the egg has also mixed well. Now add the butter-milk mixture (it should be warm, not hot) and the then knead till it forms a smooth and soft (loose) brioche-like dough that’s just short of sticky. It should come way from the sides of the bowl and be easy to handle.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl. Cover loosely and let it rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This dough will rise quite well but not to double or as much as your regular bread dough. 
Deflate the dough, and shape again to a smooth ball. Place it in a 8” spring form cake tin lined with parchment. It is important to do this otherwise the topping will make the bread/ cake sticky and difficult to unmould. Flatten the dough a little, pressing down lightly so that the dough fits the cake tin. It doesn’t matter if its not touching the sides like batter does. Let it rise for about 30 to 45 minutes. It will not rise very much and look a little puffy.
Prepare the topping while the dough rises. Melt the butter, sugar, honey and vanilla in a small pan, over medium heat. Keep stirring frequently and it will start bubbling up. Let it cook for about 3 minutes or so until it turns to a light beige colour. Add the sliced almonds, and stir well till the almonds are well coated. Take the pan off the heat and let it cool a bit. The mixture will become quite thick.
Now get ready to bake the bread/ cake. Once the dough has risen, use a spoon take bits if the topping (it will be quite thick, like a sticky fudge) and distribute it uniformly over the surface. If there are small gaps they will get covered once the bread/ cake is baking.
Bake at 180C (350F) for about 25 to 35 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbling. A cake tester through the centre should come out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Then gently loosen the sides with a spatula and unmould. Let it cool completely on a rack.
When it has cooled completely, slice the cake into two equal layers carefully, using a very sharp knife. Spread the pastry cream on the lower layer and top with the upper layer and refrigerate till ready to serve.
This recipe should serve 8 to 10. 

This yeasted cake is being YeastSpotted!


On an aside, over the past year since the “We Knead To Bake” group was formed, many of you have asked to join us. The group is now open to new members till the 30th of this month after which the group will be closed for a year.
If you would like to join us and would be committed to baking with us every month, please make a request to join the group on its page on Facebook.

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December 20, 2013

Stained Glass Cookies

S
tained Glass Cookies are incredibly pretty looking and many who make them, hang them on their Christmas trees. It’s a nice thought to have edible Christmas decorations, a sort of really fun tradition I’d say. We don’t celebrate Christmas or decorate a tree, but I have planning to make these cookies for years now ever since I saw a recipe for them in a Cookie book I have.
I finally decided to make them this year, but I couldn’t find that Cookie book nor could I find any decent boiled sweets at the 3 stores I looked in! So I settled for a sugar cookie recipe I had written down in one of my old note books.
 
 
 


 “What are those? They’re so pretty.” my daughter said, when she saw me looking through various recipes.
“Stained Glass Cookies”, I told her.
“They’re tree decorations, aren’t they? Are you sure they’re edible?” she asked eyeing me doubtfully.
“Of course, you can eat them. I wouldn’t be making them otherwise!” I said.
“How do you get those colourful centres?” she wanted to know. I explained one had to fill the cut out centres with crushed hard boiled sweets/ candy which would melt when baked.
“Great! I’ll help you fill the centres, but are you sure those Poppins will look nice in these cookies?” she echoed my thoughts.
“Maybe we can start with making our own boiled sweets/ candy……” she exclaimed her eyes lighting up at the thought.
I put paid to those dreams as there was no way I was turning what was supposed to be an easy hour of making cookies into a full-fledged half day experiment in the kitchen.





So I ended up using some Poppins (a local brand of fruit flavoured boiled sweets/ candy) which weren’t exactly great when it came to colour or taste! I wonder what ever happened to those delicious boiled sweets in orange, lemon, cherry and grapefruit flavours that we used to get in stores when we were children.
But one has to make do with one gets and so that’s what I did, and I wasn’t really happy about the colours of the “Stained Glass” part of my Cookies!



 
You can make them just as cookies and you can use any shape cookie cutter you have on hand, not necessarily Christmas themed ones. If you want to make them Christmassy and hang them on your tree, then make small holes to thread ribbon or cord by making a hole on the top of each cookie. You can do this using a cocktail skewer, or a straw or the tip of a plain icing nozzle before baking them.
Stained Glass Cookies
 

Ingredients:

100gm butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp date syrup (or molasses)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
20 to 30 boiled sweets/ hard candies in different colours and flavours
 

Method:

First crush the sweets/ candy. Separate the sweets/ candy by colour. Put the sweets/ candy into a ziplock bag and using a metal rolling pin (or hammer) crush them as fine as you can. If you use a wooden rolling pin, it can spoil the surface. Repeat will all the colours and keep aside.
Now cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl, using a hand held electric mixer. Then add the date syrup/ molasses and vanilla and beat till mixed. Now add the egg and beat for a minute or so until smooth.
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together and add to the bowl. Beat, on slow speed, until the flour is incorporated. Shape the dough into 2 equal disks, wrap well in cling film and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. This makes the dough easy to work with.
Working with one disk of dough at a time, place a disk between two large sheets of parchment and roll it out to between 1/4” to 1/8”thickness. This prevents using excess flour and also makes rolling out the dough easier.
Cut out shapes of choice with a cookie cutter about 1/2" apart, making sure you do not cut through the parchment.  If you use parchment cut to the size required to line your baking sheets, then transferring the cut-out cookies to the baking sheets becomes easier. Cut out the centres of each cookie with a smaller cutter. You can use any shape you want but a round shape is easier to fill with crushed sweets/ candy.
You can bake the cut-outs as small cookies or all them to the scraps, re-roll and cut out more cookies from it.
 
 
Now transfer the parchment with the cut-out cookies to your baking tray. Using a teaspoon, sprinkle a little of the crushed sweets/ candy into the centre of each cookie (enough to fill the centre but not too much tor it will bubble out and look messy). You can mix colours in a single cookie for a mottled/ marbled effect.
If you’re planning to use the cookies as decoration on your tree, poke a small hole at the top of each cookie for stringing ribbon or cord through.
Bake the cookies at  Bake at 180 C (350F) for 12 to 14 minutes till the candy melts and the cookies are firm to touch and a light golden brown.  Let the cookies cool on the sheets for about 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cookies off the parchment or the centres will still be soft and separate.
Then cool them completely and store in an airtight container or use to decorate. This recipe makes about 4 to 5 dozen medium sized Stained Glass Cookies.

This is a reminder, just in case you haven’t seen my previous post. I’m hosting a giveaway of a copy of Around The World With The Tadka Girls by Ruchira Ramanujam & Ranjini Rao. If you haven’t already done so, you might want to check that post for further details and try your luck by leaving a comment there.

 
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December 16, 2013

Around The World With The Tadka Girls : A Review, Some Apple And Fennel Fritters & A Giveaway!

W
ho/ What are the “Tadka Girls, and what’s with the world trip? According to their own description of themselves, they are R&R (Ruchira Ramanujam & Ranjini Rao), two Indian foodies steeped in kitchen poetry, and blog at Tadka Pasta.
Both the Tadka Girls, though Indian, have lived in (and visited) various parts of the world and the recipes on their blogs reflect this in the way they adapt world cuisine, giving it an Indian twist to suit their palates. This is the way I cook a lot of the non-Indian food just because we find that many such recipes need a little ”something” to pep them up to appeal to our Indian palates that have been brought up on a wide variety of spices.
 



I met Ruchira virtually on Facebook (where else, you might ask?) a little while back and our paths have been criss-crossing there regularly as we also share a love for good food. I was happy to hear Ruchira announce recently that the Tadka Girls had written a cookbook and it was due on the stands soon. A little later she wrote to me asking if I’d like to review their cookbook and quite naturally I said “yes”!
Knowing the style of the recipes, food and writing on their blog, I was looking forward to seeing the book too and it didn’t disappoint. As expected, the book is full of simple and easy to cook recipes that are influenced by their experience of cuisines they have been exposed to, but have the that typical Indian touch to them – truly living up to the trademark “Tadka Pasta” style.
So you’ll find recipes like Salsa Eggs which use coriander with pickled jalapenos, Apple Fritters with fennel seeds and cloves, Pasta Shells stuffed with Palak Panner, Eggs in a Peanut Sauce,  a mocktail called Masala Mary, Arancini made with left-over Khichdi, and even a recipe for “Tadka Pasta” that has a touch of cumin and Green Chutney Pesto!
 



The book itself is a slim volume of over 140 recipes presented in a vintage and attractive style. The book has recipes for breakfast/ brunch, snack time, soups and salads, breads, pasta/ rice, main dishes, and sweets/ desserts. The authors have also included a couple of pages on how to best use their book, measurement cheat sheets, an oven temperature chart, and a glossary which translates a lot of Indian words/ phrases into English.
Each recipe is accompanied by a well written  quirky introduction, with little stories to how they came about and run the gamut from a “Toast to Breakfast”, “A Salsa Eggsperiment”, getting “Mushy O’ver Morning Muffins”, and “Groovy Green Skewers on the Grill” right through to “Kicked-up Black Bean Soup”, “A Suitably Puffed Pasta”, “From Retro To Rollicking” and “Mommapalooza”!
Most of the recipes use commonly available ingredients in the Indian pantry, and are accompanies by helpful notes on alternative ingredient use, cooking tips, variations and make-ahead, freezing and serving suggestions, etc.
This book also has a bunch of photographs bunched together in the middle, and even though they point to the page on which the concerned recipe is featured, I personally feel they would have done more for the book they had accompanied the recipes they feature.



 
If you’re looking for a collection of very doable recipes for food that’s not quite like your mother’s cooking, then Around the World with the Tadka Girls is for you. If you want recipes that bring you flavours from various cuisines from around the world yet appeals to Indian taste buds, then this book is for you. There are recipes here for simple everyday cooking kind, to the kind that will satisfy your fussy kids and also help you put together something for guests at the dinner table without too much of a fuss.

December is here, and it’s the season for lower temperatures, misty mornings, Christmas lights, decorated trees in shop windows, Christmas carols and music from the neighbours in the mornings, and strawberries and cherries at the market. It doesn’t ever get cold here but it is definitely pleasant enough to beg deep fried crispness alongside one’s evening cuppa.
The Tadka Girls’ Apple and Fennel Fritters seemed to fit the bill. Apple Fritters are typical of Southern cuisine from the US and usually spiced with cinnamon but the Tadka Girls have added their own twist by using fennel seeds (saunf) and powdered cloves.
The choice of apple is the Granny Smith which is a green coloured, crisp and tart apple. Though it is available here, I chose to use the smaller green and red coloured crisp Kashmiri apples which are in season right now. Do use any crisp variety of apples for these fritters.



 
These crisp Apple Fritters have a soft cakey inside and are perfect eaten warm and dusted with icing sugar. They can mixed up in no time at all and its important to mix the batter just enough combine the wet and dry ingredients, much like for muffins, to achieve a light and airy texture.
 
Apple And Fennel Fritters



 
Ruchira and Ranjini have been very generous and offered to give away a copy of their book "Around the World with the Tadka Girls" to one randomly picked lucky reader of this blog. So accept the Tadka Girls’ invite when they ask you to take a peek into their world, and among other things to savour slices of their real-life stories ranging from visits to a school potluck, and to a drive down a wine trail in a Midwestern American town.

All you have to do to try your luck for this book, is a leave a comment at this post telling me about one “Tadka Pasta” style dish that you cook. By this I mean that one dish which is non-traditional to you, but which you cook with your own twist to it.
For example, I  cook a Curried Pasta that’s from my college days, and my twist is the onions, potatoes, peas, and curry powder that go into it.
Please leave an e-mail id or some link with your comment so I can contact you if you win the book.
All comments without this stand disqualified from the giveaway. Due to difficulty in shipping internationally, the giveaway is open only to Indian residents, or those with an Indian shipping address.
The giveaway is open till the 30th of December, 2013.
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December 13, 2013

Custard Apple & Strawberry Smoothie

O
ne of the things that surprised me when I first started blogging was that breakfast in the Western world (which is how I think of Europe and the US, from my home in India) was mostly sweet. Most of India, and definitely South India has a traditional of eating savoury breakfasts. I still find it difficult to stomach anything sweet for the first meal of the day.
Then I discovered a trend where people did not have the time to cook or sit down to a good breakfast but still wanted to start off the day with something healthy , filling and sweet like a breakfast parfait with yogurt, fresh fruit and granola or muesli, or maybe a Smoothie.  




I am very much a breakfast kind of person, as I tend to get really hungry in the mornings and believe in starting my day on a comfortably filled and fuelled mode. I grew up on traditional South Indian style savoury breakfasts and so even today, my breakfast has to be savoury. I’m not a great fan of cereal and milk and invariably resort to that on days when I’m unwell and don’t have much of an appetite for food but need to eat.
While I don’t mind having toast and an omelette on the odd day, you will find only butter (no jam) on my toast and my omelette will be cooked Indian style with chopped onions, tomatoes, bell peppers if I have them on hand, chopped green chillies and coriander leaves!
A Smoothie could never replace breakfast for me, though a smaller serving is welcome on the side or a good thing for me to have mid-morning, especially during hot summer days. Some people find Smoothies a healthy way to diet/ lose weight and it’s a great idea of controlling your meal portion but making sure you’re getting the nutrition you need. However, being the person I am, I would probably have that Smoothie and then spend the rest of the day craving my carbs!
 
 
Still, there’s something about Smoothies and I do enjoy them as a mid-morning filler especially during our hot Indian summers. They’re great even during our cooler months because where I live, the afternoons can be rather warm even in December/ January especially if you have to step out during the middle of the day. So it’s almost always the season here for long cold drink of any sort and even better if one can make use of seasonal fruit in it.
What defines a Smoothie? I don’t know if there’s a hard and fast rule about what makes a Smoothie, but it has to be “smooth” of course, in texture and quite thick in consistency. Traditionally, a Smoothie is made with fruit and fruit juices blended till smooth. Over time, Smoothies have come to include dairy products like milk, yogurt and even ice-cream. But to my mind, yogurt in a Smoothie is fine but if there’s milk or ice-cream in it, then it becomes a “Shake”!
 
 
It’s now the season here for Custard Apples and the ones at my local market are a variety that is very sweet with very few seeds. This makes scooping out and eating the chilled fruit, which is the best way to eat this fruit in my opinion, a delight. But it’s always nice to have a recipe or two (or three or more) to use up extra fruit that’s just sitting around.
A Smoothie or a Milk Shake is one of the easiest things to put together and I find its one food that everyone, even the fussiest of eaters, will almost never say no to. My daughter though not a fussy eater, was never (and still isn’t) the greatest fan of most fruits, but this is one way she will have them.
The Custard apple and the banana I had were both quite sweet but my strawberries were a bit tangy so I added a little sugar. You could add as much as you want or leave it out altogether. You could also use honey instead of sugar.
You can add granola or muesli to this and it becomes breakfast if you like Smoothies for breakfast, otherwise it’s a good mid-morning snack which is how I prefer it. You can use milk in it instead of yogurt and it makes a nice Milk Shake that’s great along with an after school/ evening snack. Add a little milk and scoop of ice-cream to it instead of the yogurt, and top it off with some grated chocolate or drizzle some chocolate syrup over the top and you can serve it for dessert!
Custard Apple & Strawberry Smoothie
 
Ingredients:
1 custard apple (about 250gm)
5 to 6 large strawberries
1 medium sized banana (optional)
3 tbsp old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups thick yogurt
Sugar (optional or to taste)
 
Method:
Spilt the custard apple open, and scoop out the flesh. If your fruit has seeds, just run it in a blender a couple of times on the slowest speed (not more or the seeds will break up!). The seeds would have separated and would be easy to pick out. You should have about 1/2 cup of pulp.
Put all the fruit and the oats in the blender and blend till smooth. Now add the yogurt and the vanilla and blend well to mix.
Pour into four glasses and garnish according to your preference. Serve immediately. Do not keep this refrigerated as it will change colour and change taste. 
This recipe makes 4 Smoothies.
 

Before I end this post, I wanted to mention one other thing. Quite a few readers of this blog and those who follow me on Facebook, have asked throughout this year that they would like to join my “We Knead To Bake” group where a group of like-minded bread loving bakers bake a bread every month through the year.
After a year of baking together, the group voted to bake along for another year so it is now open to new members. If you’re interested in joining us and serious about baking along with the group, please leave a request at the Facebook page of the group. Thw group will be open to new members through December, till the 30th of the month, after which it will be closed for the year.
 
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December 7, 2013

Baked Figs With Honey-Scented Yogurt And Granola (& The Winner Of The Giveaway)

I
t’s not too difficult to come up with a dessert for a special occasion, most times. You just need to figure out how special the occasion if for which you want to serve the dessert, how much time you have to spend on it, and then look for a recipe that is doable and that you have the ingredients for.
I find it’s much more difficult to find something to serve as a dessert for regular at-home meals. I generally tend to make dessert for us on weekends, usually on Saturday or Sundays. A lot of people in India, including older school children, have 6-day weeks though a lucky few need to go in only on 5 days a week. So weekdays mean a very hurried breakfast, carry-along lunches and dinner is the time for a freshly cooked and warm meal.
 



So in our home, it’s the weekends when we have lunch and dinner that’s a little more elaborate and definitely the time to serve dessert. I’m usually looking for a dessert that is a bit “healthier” than the average idea of a dessert which is all about sugar and fat which is definitely what the doctor did not order for us. The problem with “healthier” desserts is that not everyone always likes them.
And that’s why I find it often a challenge to make and serve a dessert that ticks all the boxes and finds that balance between taste and being good for the health! This dessert of  Baked Figs With Honey-Scented Yogurt And Granola does tick those boxes and is great on taste too.
It’s a fruit based dessert for one thing and baking the fresh figs improves the flavour. You can grill the figs if you prefer. There’s no added fat, just the goodness of yogurt and a little bit of sweet from the fruit itself, some honey and a little brown sugar. The home-made Granola is mostly oats and almonds with a little egg white to bind it together a bit.



 
The creaminess of the Honeyed Yogurt, the juicy Baked Figs, the crunch of the Granola and the spice combination make for a really light and satisfying dessert. You could even serve this for a weekend brunch. Me, I could make a whole meal out of this!
Baked Figs With Honey-Scented Yogurt And Granola 
(Adapted from Cooking Light)
 

Ingredients

For the granola:

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1 egg white
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp packed brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp salt divided
1/4 tsp finely grated nutmeg
2 tbsp honey  

For the baked figs:

8 or 9 fresh figs, cut into quarters
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder 

For the honey-yogurt:

3 cups plain thick yogurt (Greek style)
2 to 3 tbsp honey
 

Method:

Start with making the granola. You can do this ahead and store it till you need it.
Put the egg white and vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl. Whisk together until the egg becomes foamy. Fold the oats and sliced almonds into the egg white. Then sprinkle the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt over this, and fold in till mixed. Lastly fold in the honey.
 
 
Spread the granola mixture evenly into a thin layer on a greased foil lined baking tray. Bake it at 150C (300F) for about 25 minutes, stirring it once in between baking. Take the granola out when done, and let it cool for about 5 minutes in the tray. Then loosen it and let it cool completely. Store till required.
Bake the figs next. To do this, combine the honey, vanilla, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Pour this over the figs and lightly stir so the figs are coated properly. Place the figs cut sides face up, in a single layer on a baking tray. Bake them at 180C (350F) for about 10 minutes or till the fig juice starts to bubble. Take the tray out of the oven and let the figs cool down completely. At this point you can refrigerate the figs as they are for a day. Cover the baking tray with cling wrap before refrigerating.
To serve, combine the yogurt with the honey and spoon half a cup of this into each serving bowl. Divide the granola equally between the serving bowls, sprinkling it over the yogurt. Divide the figs between the bowls arranging it over the granola and serve.
This recipe makes 6 servings.

And now to find out who won my last giveaway! You might remember that I had previously announced that I was giving away a copy of Ricki Heller’s book "Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free" to one lucky person.

It turns out that the winner of the book is Kalyani. Congratulations!
Please check your mail and do get back to me within this week with your mailing address so that I can send you the book. If this winner does not get in touch with me within the week, I will pick another winner for the book.
Thanks to everyone who participated in this giveaway.
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