Friday, June 26, 2009

Cappuccino Cake, by an aunt in the making...


Indians have this obsessive compulsive urge to be related to everyone they see. From childhood we're encouraged to call everyone, and I mean complete strangers, as 'mom' or 'big brother' or 'big sister' or 'aunt' or 'uncle' or something appropriate based on their age and sex. The mailman, the greengrocer, the brother's friend, his mom, the neighbors, random person on the street, everyone- we're all just one big happy family, apparently.

This is not something we even think about; its second nature. But there are moments when it hits a person. Take me for example.

For years as I grew up, all these moms would bring their younger kids up to me and introduce me as the kid's big sister. These kids, being Indian, would of course, solemnly accept this new relationship and things sound all cute and rosy up to now, don't they? Then it happens. One day, some blind b...I mean, some nice lady will drag her kid over and say "Say HI to Aunty!"

I mean, what?

All I want to do at that point is say "Listen, you little punk. You call me aunty and you wont live to grow up." But no, I have to smile a sickly sweet 'aunty' smile and 'feel the love.'

So, that's where I stand on that....until now. Now I'm going to be a real aunt. I tried to pull one over my sister-in-law M by telling her that a paltry two or three or twenty six year old gap need not be unnecessarily solemnized with fancy titles and such- just introduce me as an overgrown playmate. But she's not buying it. As soon as that baby arrives, they're going to hypnotize it into calling me 'aunt'.....

...and well....I think I'm gonna kinda like that, you know. Heh heh. I made this Cappuccino cake and frosted it with Deeba's curd cheese frosting. I don't drink coffee; I have it rarely when I want something to soothe a headache, but I do love the smell and flavor in baked goods. And I made it since everyone is coming over.....

....this weekend, we're having the 'Valagapu'- the traditional Hindu function that is carried out to bless a pregnant woman in her 7th or 9th month. A simple event- just some fancy clothes, elders blessing M, slipping bangles onto her hands, a feast with five types of flavored rice.....and we'll be hosting this.....gonna disappear for a while. Work, work, work!

Cappuccino Cake

2 cups flour
1.25 cups fine white sugar
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs
2 tablespoons, heaped, instant coffee powder
200g butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 170 C.
Beat the sugar and butter in a bowl till pale. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Add the vanilla extract. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda and keep aside. Mix the coffee powder in the milk in a cup. Alternate between the flour mix and the milk+coffee and add to the batter, mixing just enough to incorporate it. Pour into a greased baking tin and bake for 50 to 55 mins. Allow to cool.

Frosting: (Deeba's with a few tweaks)

1/2 cup curd cheese (made from hanging yogurt for 24 hours)
1/4 cup cream
5 to 6 tablespoon white sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
1 tsp butter

In a medium bowl, whip all the ingredients until smooth and spread onto the cake.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sebadas


Oh the shame! I saw this dessert and read that it was from Sardinia and the only thought that came to my head was 'What? Those little tinned fish?' I didn't know about this little island! My geography teachers must be collectively rolling about in agony somewhere....

But I read that the fish was named after the island and that was some balm for my wounded pride. And, after I read up on it, the island itself is beautiful and interesting. It's another place to add to my list. I like small islands. They're 'real', in the sense that they don't have boundaries that humans have imagined for convenience (and fight over). Nature took care of that and threw in an unending stretch of beach into the bargain :) I think I'd like to visit isle after isle and see how different they are in terms of culture and cuisine for all that their geography has similar factors. A world isle trip! Sometime :)

Anyways, Sebadas or Seadas are deep-fried cheese-filled sweet ravioli that Sardinians make. (It's so weird, saying Sardinians- I can't help but imagine little fish people in tins, scroll down to see what I drew when watching tv ;) Plain old cheese filling sounded boring, so I made a couple of versions- with fresh mango+cheese, grated coconut+cashews, some of the Poli filling, melted chocolate+mint... I really liked the chocolate and mint. I love stuff like this where you can play around with the fillings. No recipe here coz everyone has their own pasta recipe and the fillings are just fun!



Monday, June 22, 2009

The Un-Kimchi

There's a Chinese restaurant in Chennai called Hotel Canton. It serves your typical Indo-Chinese food- the Schezwan is somewhat spicy and the Manchurian is always gooey. Nothing remarkable at all......except for this one thing they have on their menu- the Kimchi. Or as I call it, the Un-Kimchi.

Except for the negligible presence of cabbage, it is nothing remotely like Kimchi at all. But it's so so so delicious that I usually scrape out the last bits onto my plate. Fresh, spicy, crunchy, sweet- all at the same time. The waiters were very reluctant to give out the recipe, but with a couple of seemingly innocent yet nosy questions the few times I went, I managed to worm bits of it out of them and come up with a very close approximation.


The important thing is to never pre-mix the solid ingredients with the sauce. It should be done at the table, just before serving. Yum, yum.

Un-Kimchi

1) Cut the following into really thin strips or matchsticks (about 2 inch lengths)-
Cabbage, carrot, cucumber(peeled), green bell pepper, unripe mango(peeled), onion. More or less equal amounts of each, a bit less of the raw mango.

2) You could buy red chilly paste, but I like to make my own- the chef at the restaurant makes it too- Boil dried red chillies in water, cool, blend it into a paste and cook the paste in a little oil till it darkens slightly. (Cover your nose at all times to avoid sneezing your ribs apart)

3) In a bowl, add a generous amount of tomato puree, the chilly paste, a dash of lemon juice, sugar and salt (depending on the amount of veggies) The taste to go for is spicy and just sweet, with a hint of acid.

4) Heat up some oil and deep fry a handful of broken up chow mien noodles until they puff up and rise. Remove immediately and allow to rest on paper towels to soak up the oil.

5) Just before serving, add the veggies to the bowl of sauce and mix well. Add the fried noodles and toss lightly.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sweet Poli


Poli is a sweet Indian flat bread. In spite of the fact that I've lived in India for a decade now, I had my first taste of poli only recently, sometime early this year. Well, its not my fault. When you go to an Indian sweet shop, you'll find your head hopelessly spinning from luscious sweets floating in syrup to little bites oozing ghee- all of them just sitting there looking extremely delectable. A spotty looking tortilla like thingy isn't going to really grab my attention. It didn't, till recently.

One of mom's religious thingies required a shopping trip that kept us out in the markets for a whole day. By late afternoon, I was ready to eat her. She, in mortal fear for her life, wisely pointed me in the direction of a little sweet shop and pushed me off. As I stood there looking for something substantial and filling, the poli caught my eye. I polished off two in a heartbeat and I was quite surprised. Very mildly sweet, full of cooked lentils, it was barely a dessert- especially for me as I have a really strong sweet tooth.

I've been looking forward to making it myself and this is it. There are hundreds of poli recipes online that are virtually identical and this one is no exception. But it holds promise. Easy to tweak and come up with something else. Later :)

Sweet Poli

Dough

1 cup flour
1 pinch salt
1 tsp ghee/butter
1 tsp oil
water

Combine the flour, salt and ghee. Add water to make a smooth pliable dough and then add the oil as you knead it to make it very soft and almost slippery. Roll into lemon sized balls and keep aside.

Filling

1/2 cup yellow gram lentil
1/2 cup jaggery
1 cardamom pod or 1 pinch cardamom powder

Cook the lentils in water until they are just cooked- do not overcook. Add the jaggery and cardamom and cook till all the water is gone. Allow it to cool and then pulse it in a blender a couple of times till it resembles coarse meal. Gather into lemon sized balls and place aside.

Flatten a dough ball in your hands into a disc. Place the filling in it and bring up the sides of the dough to cover it. Very gently, roll out the dough so that the filling doesn't fall out. It should be fairly thick. Cook each poli in a pan just like a tortilla with a drizzle of ghee or oil until both sides are done.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sweet Potato Crostini with Fresh Cheese & Tapioca Caviar


My absolute favorite things to watch on television are sci-fi shows. I've placed shows like Babylon 5 and Star Trek on the highest altars I can conceive of. Give me a guy in weird make-up and I'll listen to anything he says. For years, I was enamored with Klingons and I even perfected a weird howl that I pretended was part of their language. Yup, I went around howling like a sick wolf. And I only have to hear the words 'warp speed' to get this rapturous look in my eyes and fall off my chair.

Comedies too. For me, 'Friends' is a real benchmark. I remember meeting someone who said he didn't like the show. I looked at him like he was a particularly offensive slug. For some reason, we never really got close.

But Reality TV is really not my thing....except for a dance show and one other show- Top Chef. I guess its because of all the food; always on the lookout for interesting food. One thing that caught my fancy was in the fourth season when Andrew constantly made his 'Tapioca Caviar'. It sounded fun, but this is the first time I got around to trying it.

It's been a while since I bit into something and went "Mmmmm..." This was it. The combination of flavors is really yummy with the sweet potato mash and cheese and subtle mint. The caviar is sorta lost and I guess its mostly decoration anyway. Looks real pretty though :)


Sweet Potato Crostini with Fresh Herbed Cheese and Tapioca Caviar

Fresh Herbed Cheese

1/2 liter milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice/1/2 tsp citric acid crystals dissolved in warm water
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp chopped fresh herbs- mint/ coriander/ parsley.

Boil the milk and remove from the stove. Pour in the lemon juice and wait for it to curdle. Pour into a white cloth to separate the milk solids from the whey. Squeeze out most of the water. To make the cheese creamy, you could put it in a blender. Either way, add the salt and the chopped herbs and mix well.

Tapioca Caviar

1 tbsp tapioca pearls
3 cups water
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp white vinegar
1 pinch salt
2 pinch sugar

Combine the last 4 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Cook the tapioca pearls in water for 15 to 20 mins. Drain partially and fish out the pearls. Add it to the sauce immediately. Allow it to rest for at least an hour as the pearls soak up the sauce. Refrigerate till further use.

Sweet Potato Mash

1 medium sized sweet potato
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp yogurt
1 tbsp buttermilk
2 tsp chilli flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

Pressure cook the sweet potato till is soft. Chop up the garlic clove and add it to the mash along with the rest of the ingredients.

Toast the bread and spread the sweet potato mash on it. Top with a spoonful of cheese and decorate with tapioca caviar.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Plantain Sandwich with Caramelized Shallots


Plantain Sandwich with Caramelized Shallots


Plantain Fry


2 plantains
1 cup water
3/4 tsp salt
1.5 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp ginger garlic paste (optional)
oil

Prep- Wash the plantains and cut off both ends. Peel by lightly scraping or cutting of a thin sliver of the peel. The idea is to retain the fiber which lies just below the peel- that's the best part! Cut crosswise into 3 or four pieces and chop each piece into a couple of slabs.

Place the pieces in a vessel. Add the chilli powder, salt, turmeric powder, ginger garlic paste and water. Toss so that all the pieces are coated well. Place it on the stove and allow to cook till all the water is gone and the plantains are firm but cooked through. This can be done ahead of time and refrigerated.

Drizzle oil onto a pan and place the plantain pieces on it. Fry till both sides are golden brown (some people like this well browned.)Remove and place on absorbent paper.

Caramelized Shallots

4 tsp cooking oil
1.5 cups shallots, peeled
3/4 tsp sugar
a dash of lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp chopped coriander leaves and curry leaves

Combine the shallots and sugar in a pan and cook. Stir often till the shallots become light brown throughout. Transfer to an oven plate, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss. Roast in an oven for 10 mins at 200 C.

Sandwich

Assemble the sandwich by placing a few slices of the plantains on toasted bread. Top with cucumber and tomato slices, freshly grated carrot and the caramelized shallots. You could also grill this instead of toasting the bread.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vintage Cupcakes


I call these so because they're a vintage recipe that I used to help celebrate a vintage relationship.

I've been intrigued with Omnomicon's Ice Cream Cake ever since I saw it. Adding ice cream to cake batter is not something that I would have thought of, but its all there in her century old recipe book. More on that later.



Today is my cousin Arun's birthday. He's the son of my tough cookie Aunt S and he's almost her opposite- a soft spoken fellow who can only be perfectly described as 'nice'. He, his sister and I grew up together and we had loads of fun. Jumping into water tanks, stealing stuff from the kitchen, spying, playing, pulling grandpa's hair...we did it all. We grew apart over the years and are as different as can be now but we do love visiting each other, talking about stuff, old and new. Today is his Birthday.

So, I used Omnomicon's idea and made lemon cupcakes with vanilla icecream in the batter. Honestly, I didn't really notice anything that different- it came out much as my lemon cupcakes usually do. Maybe I need to add more? Or maybe I'll try it with chocolate cake next time.

This was my very first attempt at frosting and I was appalled- my hands shake like a drunk chain smoker's! It's a wonder I managed to do some semblance of a pattern on them. Sheesh. Well, Arun will forgive me, I know. He's the first person who ate my very first cake- a slab that if I ever created now, I would quietly bury in the backyard in the middle of the night. He even said it was good and ate lots of it- that's how nice he is :)

Happy Birthday Arun.

Vintage Ice Cream Cake

1 egg
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp lemon juice approximately (juice of three very small lemons)
2 tbsp water
100 ml vanilla icecream
1 tsp lemon extract

Eggless Icing-
1 tbsp cold milk
1/2 to 3/4 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chilled butter

Thaw the icecream so that it is still creamy but not runny. In a bowl, beat the egg well and add the sugar bit by bit. Beat till the sugar dissolves. Mix in the lemon juice, oil, lemon extract and water. Sift in flour, baking soda and baking powder and mix till just incorporated. Do not overmix. Add the icecream and make sure there are no lumps. Pour the batter into a greased muffin tin almost to the brim of the moulds. Bake at 175 C for 25 to 30 mins.

Cool for atleast 30 mins before removing. For the icing, combine all the ingredients till you get a just sweet spreadable paste. Add color if desired and pipe onto cupcakes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cooking in the Great Outdoors, i.e, my balcony

Is it really safe to eat something coated in ash, wood chips and God knows what? I'm still alive, so apparently it is.

Unnatural circumstances led to this one. A meddling father, lost oven skewers and such. But I'd already marinated the cheese and veggies. So I set up this outdoor fire to cook. By now, I was quite excited with the little adventure. I managed to chop little bits of firewood without chopping off my hands. I managed to light a fire in a shallow clay pot I bought long ago cause it was cute. Everything went merrily along, until the winds kicked in. There was smoke, there was ash swirling around, my eyes were watering, I was cursing away.....in all this mayhem, I seriously doubted if what I was making would be edible.

But when things settled down, I was surprised to see clean cooked food still on the skewers. I liked the taste too- smoky and juicy. Maybe a tad bit too smoky but nothing a little lemon juice won't mask. I used my usual marinade- Olive oil+yogurt+chilli powder+salt+pepper+vinegar.

Interesting :) This kind of thing should be done around a campfire, with friends. Some interesting conversation, fresh hot food (don't forget dessert!), some gazing at the stars and camping out with the sound of the wind and the trees and the water....I remember that we once camped out next to a river in a Himalayan trek. There's nothing quite like settling down next to flowing water... :) ....

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Tropical Jackfruit


Its jackfruit time here in India! Juicy luscious jackfruit. There's nothing quite like it. And when mom walked in yesterday lugging a big fruit and two babies, I was thrilled. Especially with the small ones. The fleshy bits were so cute and tiny, they looked like perfect little bites. All of yesterday, I was chewing on how to stuff it and today, I whipped up a batch of these. Crunchy and sweet! And very little cooking!

Tropical Jackfruit bites

(I haven't added any measurements because its all up to individual tastes)

Jackfruit flesh- whole
Broken wheat
Sugar
Freshly grated coconut
Cashewnuts
Ghee or Butter
Mint leaves

Lightly fry or roast the cashewnuts in the ghee and set aside. Cook the broken wheat like you would rice. Spread it out on a plate and allow to cool. Sprinkle sugar onto the wheat and mix well. Stuff the jackfruit flesh with a bit of the cooked wheat. Place a generous amount of grated coconut on it. Top with a cashewnut and a mint leaf.

I found that this little bite is even better with a little more crunch- so next time around, I'd probably break up the cashews or maybe roasted peanuts into little bits and add it to the cooked wheat stuffing.















Not many people know that jackfruit seeds are edible- in fact, they're very very tasty. While I was busy with dessert, mom cooked up the big batch of seeds we've saved up over the last few days. Yum yum!


Jackfruit Seed Roast

20 Jackfruit seeds
Water
Salt
Chilli powder
Turmeric powder
Mustard seeds
Cooking oil

If your jackfruit seeds have been drying outside for a couple of days, they should peel easily. If they're fresh, don't try peeling them at this point.

Allow the water to boil in a vessel and add the jackfruit seeds. Cook for 15 mins or so. Let cool and slice the seeds into two. If you haven't peeled them, do so now. It should be relatively easy.
Pour a dash of oil into a pan, add the mustard seeds and allow to splutter. Throw in the split jackfruit seeds and pour enough water to cover the seeds completely. Add a pinch of turmeric powder. Season with salt and chilli powder.

Once all the water is gone, simmer and allow the seeds to cook till they're completely dry. They'll stick to the pan, so scrape them around frequently. Sprinkle chopped curry leaves or coriander leaves and serve hot!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ash-e-anar or Pomegranate Stew

My parents have green thumbs, so much so that after a lifetime of work, they took up farming at an age when others would have peacefully retired with books and rocking chairs. The farm is about an hour away, but even back home, no patch of earth around the house remains bare.

We have a lemon tree, plantains, bitter gourd, ivy gourd, tomatoes, various herbs....a not so short list. I'm glad I've inherited their love for the land. Before, it was an admiration for nature- the beauty, the complexity, but with farming, its all about the way you literally reap what you sow. With just a little coaxing, the earth is so ready to present us with beautiful bounties and that's something one can appreciate with every flower, fruit or vegetable.

In my day dreams (which is how I spend most of the day), I imagine my future home, or rather the land around my future home. Green and lush, I see myself clearing out a generous bit for my very own vegetable garden- the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be plucked, the fruit trees standing watch as I thank each plant for its gift to me- which is something I do even now, I should add. Everytime I pluck something from a plant,vine or tree, I thank it.

I had a whole lot of thanks to give to our two pomegranate trees this year- they outdid themselves and are literally laden with fruits.

















It brought to mind a recipe which has been in my file for quite a while now. A Iranian/Persian soup or stew called Ash-e-anar. I was quite curious to see how this would taste and I'm delighted to find out that this is a very hearty dish- quite delicious and satisfying. There was something familiar about the taste- I think the addition of the lentils brought it very close to our Indian Sambar.

Our pomegranates have pale pink flesh, which unfortunately did nothing for the color of the soup. Also, the original recipe calls for meatballs. Being vegetarian, I just threw in some soy chunks.

Ash-e-anar

1 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves, garlic
1 handful, fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup yellow split peas
3 cups pomegranate juice
3 cups water
1/2 cup rice
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1.5 tsp salt
1.2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
Meat balls/soy chunks

Cook the yellow split peas in a pressure cooker or pan till soft and keep aside. Soak the rice in water for 10 mins. Heat the oil and add the chopped onion. Cook till translucent and add the garlic and mint leaves. After a minute, add the rest of the ingredients including the lentils and rice. Simmer, close and cook for 35 to 40 minutes. Serve hot!