Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paniyaram and Ebleskiver- when cousins meet

Today two cousins met in my kitchen- Mr.Paniyaram from India and Mr.Ebleskiver from Denmark. I really enjoyed the meeting- the Indian I knew well; we've met often before. The Dane I got to know intimately and he will always be welcome in my home...


When I first came across the Ebleskiver online, I was struck by how similiar it looked to the savory South Indian paniyaram and how, if there ever were food cousins, these two would fit the bill so well. Both of them are cooked in a special pan with round wells. This cooking experience was particularly enjoyable- how often does one get to cook both the main course as well as the dessert in the same utensil at the same time?! Almost never I imagine.

So that was the plan- cook both the paniyaram as well as the ebleskiver simultaneously. Since I'm home alone, I needed to make only a few of each for myself. I chopped the recipes down to miniature amounts to achieve this.


I learnt two things-
1) How to reduce a recipe to 1/14th of its original measurements- Sheesh, all that math!
2) Don't be naive. Sure, in theory, 11 round pancakes sound filling. But in the real world, they disappear, even when its just you lurking around them. Make more. Much more.

Paniyaram

1 cup Idli/Dosa batter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 inch green chilli, chopped fine
1 tbsp bengal gram/channa dal (which is not channa, i.e, garbanzo)
1 tbsp black gram/urad dal
2 pinches mustard seeds
2 pinches cumin seeds
2 tbsp oil
curry leaves, chopped
coriander leaves, chopped
salt, to taste

Idli/Dosa batter is a combination of wet ground rice and black gram. You can buy it readymade or make your own. Add the chopped onion and coriander leaves directly to the batter. In a small pan, heat the oil and add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they begin to splutter, add the bengal and black gram. Stir constantly till the grams start to change color (Do not allow it to burn). Remove from the stove and add the curry leaves. Stir this into the batter. If the batter is already salted, add just a bit. Otherwise include salt for the batter as well.

Some people like to add baking soda to the batter, but its not really neccessary.

Ebleskiver

(makes 5)

2 tbsp buttermilk
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp beaten egg
1 pinch baking powder
1 pinch salt
1/2 pinch baking soda
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp melted butter

Mix all the ingredients together. Ebleskivers are not very sweet by themselves- they are usually served with jam or dusted with sugar. So if you want to eat them as such, double the sugar.

Once both the batters are ready, gently heat the pan for a few minutes. Add oil to half the wells(paniyaram) and butter to the other half(ebleskiver). Scoop the batter into the wells till they just fill them. They cook fast, so with a skewer, gently flip the pancakes over. Some people follow a quarter turn technique where they turn the pancakes little by litttle to get perfect globes. If a skewer inserted into the center of the pancakes comes out clean, scoop them out and serve hot.

Simple Noodle Soup

Kung Fu Panda is one my all time unbeatable favorite movies of all time. I enjoy every frame of the movie, the story, the characters, the voices, and most of all the amazing message thats so true- that all it takes, is belief, and the Universe is open to you.

I've stored this movie on my computer and I go back to it almost every other day; a scene here, a scene there, just to laugh or feel or enjoy myself for a moment. And as I was watching it today, in the back of my mind I was chewing on what to make for dinner.....and Po lifted this steaming dish of noodle soup.......it really didn't take long for me to decide! Noodle Soup it would be!














I'm also a sucker for fancy names and techniques, when it comes to cooking. Ever since I googled Mirepoix, I've been wanting to make something with it. Mirepoix, as Wikipedia says, is a 2:1:1 combination of onion, carrots and celery, finely diced and cooked in butter to create a classic flavor base in French cooking. So I tried it out with this soup. Maybe because it was inspired by so many of the things that I love, this soup, that I scarcely added anything to, turned out so delicious; it was the only thing I needed for a good dinner.

Noodle Soup

1 100g packet of unflavored noodles
1 medium sized onion
carrot and celery, roughly half the amount of onion
2 tbsp butter
1 cube veg broth
100g firm cottage cheese (Indian Paneer)
1 inch green chilly
Salt to taste

Chop the onion, carrot and celery as finely as humanly possible. Heat the butter and add the mirepoix(la di da). Stir gently till they become soft. Add 3 to 4 cups of water, the veg broth cube and the salt. Cut the cottage cheese into bite sized cubes and add to the soup. Chop the green chilly finely and add it in as well. Allow the soup to reduce to roughly 3/4th its original volume. In a separate wok, cook the noodles in slightly salted water, drain and add to the soup. Or you can dish out the soup into individual bowls and then add the noodles into each. Garnish with coriander leaves or parsley.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eggless Moist Chocolate Cake

Whenever my aunt visits us, she never has my cake. She'll break off the tiniest bit humanly possible and pop it into her mouth to spare my feelings. She dislikes eggs, especially in baked stuff.

Eggs are not a frequent part of my diet either, so all in all, its high time I tried my hand at an eggless cake. Since I had a craving for chocolate today....I lifted this recipe straight out of Chowtimes. I reduced the quantities to two thirds however.

I'm pleasantly surprised. So eggless cake can be moist and tasty too. Great! The cake really hit the spot. It has a slightly chewy texture on top but thats ok, I liked that part too. With it, I had some musk melon-watermelon combo juice thats such a rage in my house. Seriously, I take hours over it- removing all those watermelon seeds and making the juice. I put in the refrigerator and within hours, a gallon is gone. I think people at home 'sample' some everytime they walk past the fridge.....I certainly do. Heh heh.

Eggless Moist Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
1.25 tsp baking soda
1 pinch salt
4 tsp cocoa powder
1.25 cups water
1.25 cups sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
1.25 tbsp vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Mix all the dry ingredients except sugar together. Add the wet ingredients to the sugar and mix till it dissolves. Pour in the wet mix into the dry and mix till incorporated. The batter is slightly more watery than the conventional egg version. Pour into a greased pan and bake for 45 to 50 mins at 170 C.


Melon Juice

2 parts musk melon, peeled, cut into pieces
1 part watermelon, seeds removed, cut into pieces
sugar, to taste

You can water down this juice too, but add only a dash of water, since watermelon releases quite a bit of water on its own. The musk melon I use is the one with the soft breaking apart kind of sweet flesh and the cream colored net like peel. Its not honey dew or other stuff with the firm juicy flesh.

The Fajita Combo


When I visit the city, I occasionally have dinner at a good Mexican restaurant. The Fajitas at TexMex are really good...so much so that I decided to re-create it at home.

I made the tortillas, a cottage cheese veggie filling, potato wedges, coriander flavored rice and some salsa. The only thing missing was the sour cream. I wanted that sour cream. Badly. It preyed on my mind and I suspect it'll haunt me tonight.

The tastes were good, not exactly the same as the restaurants version, but then I don't really know their recipe. Just did some guesswork. Looked good on a banana leaf- the traditional South Indian way of serving food.

Cottage Cheese Fajita Combo

Tortilla
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups wheat four
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Hot water
Knead the dough into a ball and allow it to rest for more than half an hour. Split into lemon sized balls, roll out, cut into circles and cook on a skillet. The tortillas need to be turned just once- simply allow each side to puff up.

Cottage Cheese Filling-
Cut the following into matchsticks sizes-
Cottage Cheese
Carrots
Bell peppers
Baby corn
Onions
For the paste-
1 onion
3 tomatoes
3 garlic cloves

In a pan, heat some oil, add the onions and garlic and cook till it turns light brown. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 mins. Cool and make a paste all together.

In another pan, heat some oil, add the chopped onion. Cook for a minute, then add the babycorn, bell peppers and carrots. Stir frequently. Then add 3/4th of the paste and cover and cook for 2 mins. Add the cottage cheese, sprinkle some water, add salt and chilli powder. Cover and cook till done.

Coriander rice-
1 cup Basmati Rice
Two handfuls of coriander, washed
The paste leftover from the filling recipe
3/4 tsp Salt
Chilli flakes

Slightly braise the coriander in a pan till it wilts, cool and grind to a paste. Heat some oil and fry the rice till translucent and glassy. Add the coriander paste, onion-tomato paste, 2 cups of water, salt and chilli flakes. Cover, simmer and cook till rice is done. Stir only once or twice in between.

The potato wedges and salsa are simple, common recipes, nothing unique there.

So, this is quite some work, especially if you're doing it all alone. All the little things add up. I feel like I've been cooking all day. Time to rest :)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Papaya Pudding/Custard Cake



Ok, I admit it, I don't really know the difference. Custard, pudding- its all the same at this point and its just too hot to google the difference. Indian Summers! The heat waves have started to hit and I'm quaking in my shoes imagining April and May. I googled for solutions this morning and one interesting technique I found was to cover windows with sheer white fabric that's been liberally moistened with water- wet, but not dripping. I think I'll try that one.

Anyways, I wandered into the kitchen thinking vaguely 'I want to make something different', but just like in the nursery rhyme the cupboards were all bare and so was the refrigerator.....except for this sorry looking papaya.

I took a dislike to papayas when I was a child- I hated the way the seeds looked in it, so much so that I refused to even look at them. I'd just leave the room if anyone started cutting up the fruit. I don't mind so much now, especially since I discovered how wonderful papaya is for the skin- I regularly make a puree and refrigerate it. Its part of my daily regime to dab some onto my face, mixed with honey or lemon juice. Really helps keep pimples away.

So anyway, I decided to make a dessert with it and an old recipe I'd never tried came to mind.

Papaya Pudding

4 Tbsp (heaping) self-raising flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup papaya puree
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
Orange/Red food coloring (optional)

Beat the sugar and egg yolks till light. Separately beat the egg whites till stiff and add to the yolk mixture. Add the papaya puree and the milk and mix well. Next, add the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour into a large greased baking tin or several small ones. Bake for 30 to 35 mins at 180 C.

The verdict- It rose beautifully, even though I made the classic rookie mistake of filling the bowl almost to the top. (Blame the heat, not me!) I couldn't really taste the papaya. Maybe chunks of papaya instead of puree would lend itself better. Or maybe this would go better with a stronger flavor like orange or lemon. (Yum) The taste was delicious, especially when I had it piping hot from the oven. I love that light brown cooked layer on top. I'll be trying this again with a different flavor.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Secret- All Purpose Paste


Earlier this month, I was away in Kerala, visiting an old friend. Su and I caught up with each other after a gap of 10 years and we decided to celebrate with some heavy backpacking through God's Own Country. The trip took on an added edge when the summer heat began to hit us hard and I was just about ready to pack up and go home when we landed in the quaint hill station of Munnar. This is hilly land thats covered with tea plantations as far as the eye can see.


And in this green landscape, we visited a tiny home where the lady of the house offered us lunch. And what a lunch it was! There were three different vegetable dishes, two curries, rice and dessert! I noticed that two of the vegetables had been prepared in almost the same fashion but they were really tasty. I got the recipe- a ridiculously simple one which can be used with just about any vegetable. I tried it on some fresh Chinese Cabbage and its just as good.

The only thing the recipe requires is this Spicy Paste-

All Purpose Spicy Paste


1/2 cup of shallots
1 big dried red chilly
2 pinches of salt
2 tbsp oil

Grind the shallots and chilly together in a mortar,pestle or in a food processor to get a slightly coarse paste. Heat the oil and add the paste to it. Season with salt and cook till the paste begins to darken.

Thats it! This paste can be used with fresh vegetables like you would a salad dressing. Or like the lady in Munnar did, just steam vegetables like peas or beans or carrots and mix in some of this spicy paste just before serving. It's as simple as that! This paste can also be used a base for curries. Its easy to pre-make and refrigerate, just like pasta sauce. Just add a tbsp of oil on top before putting it in the fridge.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spicy Tomato Cake


This one is a gift, for Uncle N. To sorta appease him for my no-show at his house today. I'm sending the Spicy Tomato cake as my stand-in.

Uncle N is an old family friend. He and my father have a funny 'thing' of calling each other 'Sami', which in Tamil means God. They've been friends since childhood. I remember when we were in Kuwait, Uncle N drove me to drawing class once. Until then I'd never encountered anyone who drove so slowly on Kuwait's pristine roads. He was doing something like 20 to 25 kms/hr. And when a Kuwaiti overtook him too fast, he rolled down the window and shouted 'Pannikku Poranthavane!', which means "Born to a pig!" I was laughing so hard, ducking in the back seat. :D So anyway, he has diabetics and a heart problem, and I had to come up with something tasty to send him that didn't have sugar and was too rich. And I came up with this.

The cake tastes absolutely delicious, but it didn't really rise. It was a bit dense. Maybe because its eggless? Anyhow, I think I'll experiment with different water and baking powder levels the next time.

Spicy Tomato Cake

1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp vegetable oil
1.5 cups tomato paste
4 to 5 cloves garlic
1/2 inch piece ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 handful curry leaves
2 dried red chillies

(I made the tomato paste- I reduced home made tomato puree with vegetable stock and some salt to make it more flavorful.) Place the flour+salt+baking powder in a bowl. Add the tomato paste. Mince the garlic and ginger and fry it on a little oil. Add the curry leaves to the oil right at the end and stir. Add this to the flour mix. Finely chop the dried red chillies and add this to the dough along with the oil. Mix well with a spoon and pour into a greased cake or loaf tin. Bake for 40 mins at 180 C.

Like I said, I'll have to work on getting the proportions right to get the cake to rise better. I'll update this at some point.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Beet Cake

The beets have begun to haunt us. I had disturbing dreams last night and I'm not completely sure, but I think there were red-tinted people in it. Anyways, I managed to do away with one big beety fellow. I grated him to oblivion, or rather, to the cake tin.

The aroma floated through the house in almost cartoon like fashion, bringing everyone to the kitchen. The cake was absolutely delish!

The batter was so gorgeous, I wanted to eat it all. What color! I anticipated losing all the color once the cake was done but it is sorta reddish, especially on the inside. Yum Yum.

Beet Cake

1.5 cups grated beets
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch cinnamon powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts (walnuts, cashews)

Beat eggs till frothy and add sugar. Beat well, till the batter is thick. Add oil and the extract. Then add the sifted flour+baking powder+salt+cinnamon powder. Mix till just incorporated. Fold in the grated beets and chopped nuts. Bake for 35 mins at 180 C.

I'd recommend doubling the recipe for one big cake or two nice layers that can be frosted together. Cream cheese frosting works well with this cake- a natural way to color it would be to swish some chopped cubes of beet in the beaten cheese till you get the rich color. Remove the beets once you're done. Alternatively, you could just add a dollop of beet puree.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Beet Soup and Baby corn Surprise!


We have a farm out here that's just chock full of vegetables- and that's something I simply love. This week, the beets outdid themselves and overflowed into our home.

Most chefs profess a love for this radiant vegetable- the color, the ease and versatility. I'm no exception. It's a wonderful healthy way to add color to any dish. My mom and I sometimes add a few of them into our Biriyani. We enjoy eating pink spicy rice, for some reason.

Today I decided to make beet soup. Some people just puree the boiled vegetable and add their seasonings. But one thing that I don't like about beets is their raw smell. So I also cooked the soup for a bit in between pureeing and chilling it.

Chilled Beet Soup

1 large onion
4 medium sized beets
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1 sweet orange-pulp and juice/ 1/4 cup orange juice
Beaten Yogurt, to taste.
Salt
Pepper

Chop each beet into eight and boil them or pressure cook them till soft. Cool and add to that the orange pulp, garlic cloves and some salt. Grind into a smooth paste.

Heat some oil and add the chopped onion. Cook till nicely brown- this imparts more flavor than lightly cooked onion. Add the puree, salt and pepper, cover and cook till nicely thick and the raw smell has gone.

Cool and add the beaten yogurt. How much you add is a matter of taste and color. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.


This soup is actually tasty at any stage from when it leaves the stove. Hot soup with no yogurt in it is delicious too! Another possibility is to make this a dip or a spread. Instead of pureeing the boiled beets, simple mash them with a pestle, add sour cream or yogurt and season well. A dash of lime will round it off nicely. For a slightly different flavor, roast the beets instead of boiling them. There are many options :)

Another dish that I personally loved was the Baby corn Surprise. The reason I'm calling it so is because it was just an experiment and came as a complete surprise that it turned out so well! Now, I cannot reveal the recipe as the marinade is my mom's secret- one she uses regularly for fish. Being a vegetarian, I've always wanted to try it on some vegetable and the baby corn looked just right.


And how! The baby corn was perfect- the texture was great and it really went well with the cooked marinade. A perfect bite. I'd encourage anyone to try this with their own fish or meat marinade.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Baked Spring Rolls

Hmmm, third recipe. But third time not so lucky. These baked spring rolls were not a raving success. The problem was with the spring roll wrappers.

Since I live in the woods, .....ok, I don't live in the woods, but I might as well. There's just so much stuff that you don't get in small town India. Spring roll wrappers are one of them. I had to make them myself and I did that yesterday and froze them. I don't think the recipe I used was exactly right. Combine that with the whole 'baking instead of frying' process and you get a sort of weird, brittle chewiness.

Which is a shame, because I took time with the filling and made it just right-
Grated carrots, finely chopped cabbage, green bell pepper and celery, lightly cooked with some salt and pepper. I also made matchsticks of firm cottage cheese (Indian Paneer) and lightly fried those. But I left them out because I didnt like thier contribution. I think I'll simple marinate them and add them to the filling the next time around. Ho hum.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Savory Vegetable Tart


I like one pot dishes. You just throw everything in together and wait for the outcome. I'm trying to think of a brilliant analogy about life and all that, but it eludes me. Anyway, today's menu had just one lip-smacking item on it- the mega savory tart.

I've always loved tarts- the sweet versions, that is. The crumbly pastry, the luscious cream, those divine fruits....It's been years since my sister and I went to Shimla together. I remember the trip only in bits and pieces. But one of those memories, complete with a photoshop glow and nostalgic tint around it, is of a bakery there where I got these amazing bite sized tarts. I inhaled them instantly and looked around in suprise. I remember my sister asking me where they were too.

So when I came upon recipes of savory tarts, I didn't really hesitate. And I'm glad I didn't. It was delicious and fulfilling. But is this going to be oft repeated?.....I don't think so. I think the next batch of tarts I make would be sweet, and the next and the next.....

Savory Vegetable tart

Tart Crust:
1.25 cups flour
80 gr cold butter
3 Tbsp cold water
A pinch of salt

Filling:
A handful each of every vegetable you have at home.
2 eggs
1 cup milk
Salt, to taste
Red chilli flakes, to taste

Instructions:
Mix in the butter with the flour and salt with the tips of your fingers or a fork. Add the water and bring the dough together till just mixed in. Pat into a ball, wrap and refrigerate for 40 mins to an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the vegetables in broth, and salt, till tender. Roll out the tart dough into a thin circle and line the baking tin (9") with it. Add the cooked vegetables to the tart. Beat the eggs, milk, salt and chilli flakes together and pour into the tart. Bake for 30 to 40 mins at 180 C.


One thing I feel about tarts is that its definitely better to make a number of small individual tarts rather than one big one. The beautiful crust loses its place in the spotlight when the tart is big and you really cant bite into the dish, which is all the fun. So that's what I think- pies should be big, tarts should be small.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chocolate Sable cookies



There are some truly inspirational food blogs out there- the kind that make you want to attack your screen in a frenzy of mindless craving. Tartlette pretty much inspires that kind of violence in me. So its fitting that my first entry be her recipe for Chocolate Sable cookies, that I tried out a couple of days ago.

The cookies were perfect- I loved the texture. But I might just a bit more sugar the next time I make them- my sweet tooth doesnt really appreciate subtlety! She actually made sandwiches out of them with cake filling- a combination that boggles my mind- I'll try it out soon!

This is her recipe, reproduced verbatim. The only difference I made was to add banana essence instead of the vanilla. Its something I appreciated two days after I made them- the flavor really came out nicely.
1 stick butter (113 grams) butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (50 grams) sugar
½ vanilla bean, seeded or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
2 egg yolks
1 ½ cups (190 grams) all purpose flour, minus 3 tablespoons
3 tablespoons (16gr) cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add vanilla, then the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl in between each addition. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and beat until the dough just starts to come together. Add some heavy cream if the dough still looks very crumbly and dry.
Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it a little to a small disk and wrap it well in plastic wrap. Refrigerate two hours before using.Lightly flour your work area well and start rolling the dough from the center out, lifting it from the work area every 2-3 times you roll over it. With a 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter, cut out 48 rounds in the dough, gathering scraps and rerolling as you go (you might need to refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes if it becomes too soft to roll out easily).
Place the cookies on 2 parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate 20 minutes. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool.

And so it begins.

I've been cooking for quite a while now- it all started when I went on a major weight loss plan and I had to find ways to cook food that was light and healthy. We have traditional Indian food here at home, day in and day out. So not only was I focused on losing weight, I also wanted to experience different flavor combinations. I guess I was getting bored.

My plans worked and I have lost weight- I'm fit and healthy now. The unexpected bonus was discovering my interest in cooking and baking. I can safely say I'm hooked!

Since then my recipe file has been growing in leaps and bounds. I wanted to stick to the old fashioned way of having a recipe collection on paper. I love my recipe file- its one of those things I'd grab if my house was on fire. (There seem to be too many things on that list!) But I've been toying with the idea of a food blog of late. With a new camera and the daily dose of inspiration I receive from the truly sensational food blogs out there, I've decided to jump in! So here it is- When Mia Cooks!  
*Update, 2/12/2013: To reflect my personality transplant, my blog is now called 'Plop the Slop!' ;)