Monday, 4 May 2015

Cardamom Crumb Cake

It is universal. That need for a 'pick-me-up' that strikes every day, around late afternoon-early evening. The English have made a ceremony around afternoon tea.  And they say for the Swedes, the concept of 'fika' is a social institution. It means taking a break from work, most often coffee, with one's colleagues, friends or family. And I don't need to explain how sacred 'chai-time' is for most Indians. Although I do feel sometimes, we take more chai breaks than are necessary!
 
No matter where in the world you are, no matter what you are doing, it was always nice to take a few minutes off mid-afternoon for a cuppa. And you know what goes best with it.. cake, of course!! Not everyday though. Metabolism is not what it used to be. But yes, every once in a while you can't beat the charm of a good, homemade, no-frills cake! 

 
And that's exactly what I thought when I came across this neat recipe by Dorie Greenspan. What drew me initially to the recipe was the mention of cardamom. Cardamom is one of my favourite spices. We use it extensively in Indian cooking but I haven't used it that much in my baking.
 
On a closer look, this cake is also flavoured with orange and coffee. While I am partial to all three flavours, I did wonder if they would come together or would one of them, say cardamom, dominate and obscure the others.
 
 
Well, no worries on that count. Warm out of the oven, this incredibly moist cake does justice to all three flavours. You will be able to taste all three with none overpowering the others.
 
The winning component of this cake, is of course, the crumb on top. It not only gives the cake character but also helps accentuate all three flavours that are present, which complement each other beautifully.
 
Another interesting facet of this recipe is that you have to rub the orange zest into the sugar so as to infuse that vibrant, citrusy note into the sugar. And it is that citrus scent and flavour that lingers on in your mouth, long after you've had your piece of cake!


On a separate note, I used demerara sugar instead of regular white sugar, keeping my New year's decision in mind to use a healthier alternative for my everyday, home baking. but, feel free to use regular, white sugar.  

As you can see from the photographs, this cake is not much of a looker. But, it more than makes up in the taste department. This is a very flavourful cake that I can't see how you can not enjoy! And it will taste even better the next day!

 
Cakes like this one are the reason why I bake. Something to share with family and friends over a cup of tea!
 
Do you have a treasured tea-time ritual?? Tell me! Have a lovely week ahead!!
 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Mango And Banana Frozen Yoghurt

Oh dear dear, Summer's here! Normally I would have begun on my rant but that's so predictable that it's pointless. So, instead let's talk about things that I think will interest you.

Last week, Monica Bhide, food writer, storyteller and in the words of her book, 'culinary explorer, cultivator and teacher', asked on Facebook if anybody would like to read her soon to-be-released book, 'A Life of Spice'. Of course, I put up my hand and she very graciously sent me the Kindle link to her book. I started it on Saturday afternoon and read it pretty much uninterrupted till I finished it by Sunday afternoon.

The book is a collection of essays that Monica has written over the years. To say that it is about food or about Monica's love for food would be missing the point completely. Her stories are about how the memories we have and the memories we look to create are invariably and inextricably linked with food.


Of the family who will always remember their last meal as they leave their home forever, never to return. Of the adult who will always become a child when she returns to her parent's home, craving the dishes of her childhood. Of the experienced cook who will always remember all the disasters as a novice. Of the mother who feels her child is growing up too fast and holds on to those precious moments when they bond together over the kitchen counter. Of the immigrant who has adopted a new country but will never shake off the food and customs of the homeland. These and many more of Monica's stories bear testament to the fact as time passes and life moves on and change is inevitable, we are left with memories and more often than not, they have a connection with food. 

And while these stories are a peek into Monica's life, they are so evocative that they compel you to explore your own 'Memory's Kitchen'. Read the book and you will understand where I get the term from!

Monica confesses to a torrid romance with food and she proves it when she deftly brings it to life in her writing. "...coriander whimpers, cumin smolders, mustard sizzles, and cinnamon roars.." is just some of the magic she creates with her words!


And talking about food, I made some mango and banana frozen yoghurt. The weather is certainly calling for it. It takes just three ingredients and it's so fuss-free, I don't think you can even calling it cooking.

You can't fault the dessert but I would make two suggestions to make it better. We are right in the bang of mango season and I wonder if the banana was really necessary. Personally, I would stick solely with the mango.

And secondly, you know I don't like my desserts cloyingly sweet and yet I found this dessert lacking something. I won't recommend that you add sugar but rather you drizzle, a generous amount at that, of honey over the yoghurt. It instantly transforms it from the ordinary to the elegant. Perfect for lazy summer weekends!


Before I sign off, I'd like to draw your attention to a petition by Dastkar to protect the intellectual property rights of India's traditional handloom weavers from the powerful powerloom lobby. Please do take time to read this petition and sign up your support to protect India's rich textile legacy.

Over the weekend, a powerful earthquake hit Nepal and we've seen the devastating images all through the weekend. For those looking to donate/help/volunteer, this link might be of help. A prayer for the victims as they stand vulnerable and defenceless in the face of Nature's might!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Baileys Cheesecake / Homemade Irish Cream

While I like to flavour my food and desserts with a dash of alcohol, I am not much of a drinker. Despite that I tend to be partial to liqueurs.  I'm always ready to sample a new one. Maybe because I am intrigued by the flavours with which they are infused with. Whether they are infused with fruits, herbs, flowers, woods or spices, they all have a little story that speaks of the region they come from or I have a little story to go with it.
 
Like the first time I tried cherry liqueur was in Sikkim, in India's north-east corner. Having returned to civilization after a week of trekking in the mountains in the area, we were offered a glass of it as a welcome drink at the hotel we were staying. The luxury of the drink after a week of roughing it out was a memory that won't be forgotten easily! Or like the time, I had my first taste of ouzo, the Greek aniseed liqueur, in University, thanks to a bottle that a Greek flatmate had lugged all the way from home. And how he diluted it with water because he didn't trust that we would be able to handle its high alcohol content!
 
And then there's Baileys, for which I will always have a soft spot. I was allowed a taste of it, I think, while I was still in school and that taste of sweet cream tinged with alcohol has remained a favourite. 

 
I had in an earlier post talked of making my own vodka based fruit liqueurs. It's all very simple except that they all have a resting period of a few weeks to let the flavours infuse. Turns out, its even simpler to make your own homemade Baileys. And there's no resting time. Just whisk everything in a bowl and a bottle of Irish cream is at your command!!
 
My sister and I had made it a few years back and I thought I revisit making it over the long weekend. Try it for yourself and you won't get over how ridiculously easy it is. The recipe is from 'Farmette', Imen's charming blog as she chronicles her life on an Irish farm.
 
Because, it is a cream based liqueur, you are advised to finish it off in 2 weeks. So, either you give the gang of friends an invite to finish off the bottle or you hunt around the Internet for a recipe that will do the same. I zeroed in on a Baileys cheesecake.


I have gone with a no-bake cheesecake because I already have a recipe for a baked cheesecake that is gold. And baking it, would have taken away all taste of the Baileys as most of the alcohol would evaporate during baking. I also experimented with agar agar powder instead of gelatine and the results were extremely favourable.
 
I baked my base only because I couldn't find any digestive biscuits at home to make a no-bake biscuit base. But, you can always make a biscuit base. It will be easier and less fussy. Despite using a substantial amount of Irish cream, the taste of it is subtle in the finished product. The thin layer of coffee jelly not only helps with the presentation but helps to cut through all the creaminess that could get a bit too heavy, if left all by itself. 

 
This would be perfect as a grown-ups dessert for a weekend dinner. I think you'll enjoy it as much as we did.
 
And what about you .. have you tasted any interesting liqueurs that come with an even more interesting story?? I'd love to hear about it. Hope you enjoyed the long weekend!!
 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Aam Panna - Raw Mango Cooler

I don't think it's only me but across urban India, I see a lot of us wanting to rediscover traditional foods and ingredients. It's as if there is a realisation that in an increasingly synthetic world, we need to reconnect with our roots and in most cases, that starts with our food. Fed up with an incredible amount of noise with regards to fad and celebrity diets, we've turned to the wisdom of our grandmothers. 
 
Turns out this traditional advice, largely based on Ayurveda, is completely in tune with the seasonal calendar for local produce. It stresses balance and moderation and tells us that the answers we seek today were known all along. We just never knew where to look! That the produce of every season is specifically designed to cope with the demands of that season. And just as the produce at the local markets change, so must the cooking techniques and ingredients that accompany it.
 
 
I was reminded of this last week when Summer announced its presence unequivocally. I usually rely on a daily dose of coconut water to get through the worst part of the day but when the going gets tough, I know that I need to raise the ante.
 
Last year, I introduced you to chaas and bael ka sharbat, this year it is aam panna. Panna is raw mango pulp that has been sweetened and flavoured and then topped off with chilled water and mint leaves.
 
 
Till date, the panna that I have been served, has been flavoured with cumin powder and black salt. But, this recipe by Tarla Dalal, uses cardamom and saffron and I think I am more partial to this version.
 
Ayurveda recommends both saffron and cardamom as spices to cool the body during Summer. As does the mint leaf garnish.
 
Ahem, please do notice how I have flavoured and frozen the ice cubes with mint leaves to top off the drinks. Oh, don't roll your eyes... I can do pretty and creative things too!
 
 
I speak from experience when I say that the drink has an instantaneous cooling effect on the body. But, what I enjoyed the most was the saffron. It lent a subtle, sophisticated edge to the drink.
 
For your next Sunday brunch, I'd definitely recommend it on the drinks menu! It will match up to the Sangria more than beautifully!!
 
 
Cin Cin my lovelies! Here's to a kind Summer!!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Dahi Baingan - Aubergine Cooked in Yoghurt / Lemon Rice / Fried Spiced Bhindi (Okra)

Last weekend, Jamie Oliver threw his voice behind 'Meat Free Week', a campaign that is being launched in the UK, after its launch in Australia in 2013. Meat Free Week is an online campaign to not only make people think about the amount of meat they consume and the importance of a balanced diet. But, it also compels us to think about the origin of all the meat, including processed meat, we consume and its impact on the welfare of the animals and this planet. To cater to the enormous demand for meat around the world, a large part of the meat we consume is factory farmed and factory farming is the number one cause for animal cruelty in the world today.
 
So, this is not a debate about vegetarianism but a platform to educate ourselves and make ourselves aware and make informed choices about the origins of the meat we eat. Just as we should be informed and aware of where our vegetables, our fruits, our grain and our dairy products come from. That's something to think about!!

Coming back to today's post, if there is one cuisine that celebrates its vegetables, it has to be Indian cuisine. For the sheer variety of vegetables available in the market to the diversity of ways of cooking them, it is very easy to go without meat in India. Moreover, with Summer here, I, anyhow have a personal preference for less meat.
 
 
In this weather, I, like many other Indians, can't help but lean on yoghurt as a way to cool the system to take on the rising temps. So, I made 'dahi baingan', a dish from eastern India that cooks aubergine in a simple, yoghurt curry. The curry is light and creamy while being light on spice with a tinge of sweetness. As you can see, in this weather, I also prefer less spice.
 
I paired it with lemon rice where the rice is flavoured with curry leaves, some whole spices, lentils and lemon, of course. It does have some whole red chillies but more to add to the flavour profile, not so much for spice. It works well with creamy curries from down South. So, I saw no reason why it could not be paired with the 'dahi baingan' and I was right.
 
 
This is all about flavour that is subtle and light on the palate, perfect for the weather in mind. I added some okra fries in the mix and that is purely as an indulgence and to tease the palate with some crunch and spice.
 
Fried vegetables as an accompaniment is a weakness of mine that I have inherited from my mother's side of the family. The food from Odisha is light on spices and the emphasis is on the letting the taste of the produce shine through. Their one indulgence, amongst many, is to fry different vegetables as an irresistible accompaniment to the meal. Potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, pumpkin flowers and any other vegetable that can be fried usually makes it to the table and they are so addictive that they compel you to throw all caution when it comes to portion size. As for these, okra fries, make them once and you will know what a good thing you are onto!!
 
 
Each of these three components can be had together or made on their own and paired with different components. Pair the lemon rice with a coconut based curry or the dahi baingan with some plain rice and dal or even meat. As for the okra fries, I'll suggest that you can even serve them as a bar snack!!
 
I'll sign off saying that there is a great need for all of us to educate ourselves on where our food is being sourced from so that we can make informed choices that are kinder on the world we live in.
 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sacher Torte

If there is one movie I were to remember fondly from my childhood, it would have to be 'The Sound of Music'. I knew every scene, every dialogue and the best part of the movie, every song. Undeniably, the songs made this movie. As a little girl, I sang along with "Do Re Mi", yodelled unsuccessfully with "The Lonely Goatherd" and was completely captivated with Julie Andrews when she sang about her "Favourite Things". With an overly simplistic understanding of the world that is a child's prerogative, one was smitten by Maria, ambivalent towards the Colonel and absolutely detested the horrid Baroness.
 
And then one grew up. You observed the subtle nuances of the plot and appreciated what a good looking man Christopher Plummer was. Remember the scene at the Church where as a groom, he waits for his bride at the altar?! One would also understand the political milieu in which the movie was set and that would make the Colonel's soulful rendition of 'Edelweiss' towards the end, particularly poignant and memorable!
 

Lady Gaga's tribute to the movie at this year's Oscars would remind us that this month would mark fifty years since its release in 1965!!
 
Well, if lady Gaga can sing, I can bake! Never a better time to bake a Sacher Torte, Austria's most famous cake!
 
 
There are more than a couple of recipes on the Web. I relied on the ever dependable Mary Berry's version. There are three components to the Sacher Torte - the cake, the apricot jam that is used to glaze it and then the glossy chocolate glaze to finish it all of.
 
There is nothing complicated about any of it but do get your mise-en-place done. It just makes it all that much easier to get through all the steps.
 
 
As there is no baking powder used, this is a dense, chocolate cake, on the drier side. Despite being generous with the apricot jam and slathering it all over, the taste of it didn't really come through. Maybe, it would have helped to layer the cake in half and fill it with jam to accentuate the taste of the apricot jam.
 
But, if you ask me, the main component is that chocolate glaze. On its own, the cake layer does not impress out of the ordinary. It needs the chocolate glaze to correct all it lacks and make the Sacher Torte the delightful tea time treat it claims to be!! Although, the humidity did play a bit of a spoiler with the gloss, it was delightful all the same.
 
 
You might serve it with a dollop of whipped cream but for me, a cup of coffee was perfect to wash it down.
 
So, what do you remember most of the movie?? Have a great week ahead!!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Coq Au Vin

Just as I was getting ready to launch my annual rant on the Summers, the rain Gods obliged. Some unseasonal showers, the temperatures dipped and the world was set right again!
 
With my new found enthusiasm for savoury, dinner posts, I thought I make use of the good weather. I discovered this beautiful, rustic French stew, Coq au Vin, over the Winter. Made it on a particularly cold night and we were completely captivated with it and I rued the fact that I never managed any photos to make a post out of it. So, I thought I'd make it again and sneak a post because let's face it, we can't stave off Summer for much longer.
 
 
It is a stew where the chicken is braised in red wine with bacon, carrots, mushrooms and some herbs and garlic. They say every home in France has their own coq au vin recipe. I used this recipe by the 'Barefoot Contessa', Ina Garten. It is a very forgiving recipe and use the recipe as a broad guideline, varying the ingredients as per your preference.
 
 
Over the slow braise, all the flavours meld together to create a beautiful, hearty, rustic stew. The wine envelops the entire stew with a beautiful dark, sensuous hue although, you can't really discern the alcohol. Rather, it adds a certain complexity and richness to the stew.
 
I served it with some simple mashed potatoes, perfect to mop up all the gravy.  
 
 
Out here in India, these are the last few days of tolerable weather but for all those for whom Winter is not showing any signs of ending, I can't think of a better recipe for a cosy dinner!
 
Hope you had a lovely weekend!!

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