January 26, 2014

Focaccia Caprese

We Knead to Bake! I joined this group last year and dropped out after a couple of months. Did I not enjoy baking bread? Actually, I did enjoy it very much. And I enjoyed baking with a group. There is so much inspiration and motivation that it becomes tough to resist. I dropped out because I knew I would be traveling, had guests at home and at the end of it all, I was so far out that it was tough to come back. I didn't want anyone in the group to think I was dragging my feet.

This year, I thought I could learn to manage my time better. And I definitely wanted to keep trying new breads. So, I signed up again. With encouragement from all of you and the group, I am certain I can keep up. Or at least I know I will try very hard.

This month's bread is the Focaccia Capreseadapted from The Kitchen Whisperer. It only took me a few minutes to put this together and it was gone equally quickly. The only waiting was the time that the yeast took to get to work.

For the Dough:

2 tsp Instant Yeast
1 1/2 tbsp Sugar
3 1/2 cups Bread Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/4 cup Olive oil
1 1/2 cups Warm water
A little more olive oil for brushing the dough

For the Topping:

2 Tomatoes, sliced thin
1 6” round piece of Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, cut into1/4” slices
1/2 cup Fresh Basil Leaves, chiffonaded

For the Herbed Oil:

1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 tsp dried Oregano
1 tsp dried Basil
1/2 tsp Red Chilli flakes 
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
Salt to taste 

In a bottle, add all the ingredients for the herbed oil and shake well.
Oil a baking tin. Heat the oven to 210C/410F.
In a bowl, add the sugar, salt, and olive oil and mix well. Add the warm water and mix until the sugar dissolves. Add the yeast and mix well. Add the bread flour and mix until everything comes together. Knead for a few minutes. The dough will be a bit sticky at this point. Make it into a ball and cover it with oil.
Cover with cling film or a damp cloth and allow it to rise. This will take about 45 minutes to an hour. Divide the dough into 4 parts.
Take one part and stretch it into the prepared baking tin by patting it down. Stretch the dough as it will tend to spring back. Allow it to rise for another 20 minutes.
Make a few depressions all over the dough with a well oiled finger and brush the entire surface with oil.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until the bread is golden brown. 
Lightly drizzle some of the herbed oil over the bread and then evenly arrange some slices of mozzarella over the bread, leaving very little space between them. Arrange the tomato slices over this and a little sprinkle the chiffonaded basil over this. The topping should cover most of the surface of the bread.
Turn the heat of the oven up to 230C/450F. Drizzle more herbed oil over the bread and place it back in the oven for 5-7 minutes.

Cut it into slices while still warm and enjoy it fresh out of the oven. This bread was gone in no time. Given how easy this recipe is, I know I will make it more often.

January 19, 2014

Melange of Coloured Bell Peppers

There is something very appealing about a riot of colours. I try, as often as possible, to eat in colour. Most times, the colour is in our fruit boxes and not as much in our main meals. My pulaos tend to have almost the colours of the rainbow in them. But I don't seem to cook mixed vegetable dishes as often as I used to.

In 2012, we visited the US to attend my graduation ceremony. After the ceremony, we spent a couple of days with my uncle and aunt in New Jersey. One of the things I enjoyed about that stay was their fridge that was always full of food. My uncle says he likes to eat a variety of food everyday and so he just cooks whenever he has the inclination or time or both. And then, every meal is a feast.

One of the dishes that I enjoyed during that stay was a dish made of red bell peppers. I tried it the day we landed in Singapore. Then I forgot about it. More recently, I was at the supermarket with A. He picked out one green, one yellow and one red pepper. I decided I had to make the dish again. However, I had forgotten how. A quick text to my uncle and I had the recipe again. I've made this a couple of times since and while we love it, everyone we have served it to also seems to like it.

1 Red Capsicum
1 Yellow Capsicum
1 Green Capsicum
1/4 cup Red Gram Dal (Chana Dal)
1 tsp Chilli Powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1-2 tsp Oil
1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/4 tsp Asafoetida
7-8 Curry Leaves
Salt to taste

Dry roast the red gram dal for 5-7 minutes or until nicely browned, but not burnt. Grind to a coarse powder with some salt. (Any extra powder can be frozen for use later.)

Chop the capsicum into small pieces.

Heat the oil in a kadhai. Add the mustard seeds. When they crackle, add the asafoetida and curry leaves. Add the capsicum pieces and fry for a minute. Add the chilli powder, turmeric and a little salt. When. the capsicum is half done, add the powdered red gram dal, a little by little (2 tablespoons or so). Stir from time to time, until the capsicum is cooked.

This dish goes very well with rice and dal/sambar and I think of it as a cheater's paruppu usli. I am quite sure it will make a nice side for rotis too. I love it just by itself as a quick snack and it could even be a carb free meal. I find this dish to be the easiest way to eat in colour.

January 12, 2014

Milk Chocolate Cake

A new year! A time for resolutions. A time for new beginnings. Many people say new year's are overrated, as are resolutions. Personally, I think there is no harm in trying. A few weeks ago, I resumed posting on this blog. At the same time, my namesake and I were chatting. I told her that I would probably not resume the project 365 this year, but would probably think of writing once a week on this blog. Almost two weeks have gone by and I have not yet started. So, maybe this project needs a bit of tweaking. Just to keep things simple and to add a bit of variety, I'm going to go with 10 sweet baked goodies/Indian sweets, 10 savoury baked goodies/Indian snacks, 10 South Indian dishes and 10 North Indian dishes. So, that's 40 for 2014. Whatever else I post here will either be part of something bigger, or quite simply, a bonus.

The one big cooking related thing I started doing in 2013 was baking with A. It really all started with a book we brought from the library: Spot Bakes a Cake. We read and reread the book so many times that one day I just bought him a copy. It remains a favourite. In the story, Spot bakes a chocolate cake for his father's birthday. Usually, whenever A wants to bake a cake, it is chocolate. So far he has asked for a different cake just once.

On weekends, we build Lego sets or play with blocks, go out, play hide and seek or simply bake together. A likes the concept of baking. He loves the concept of sprinkles. And as is probably standard for children his age, he has almost no concept of patience. After I've put the cake in the oven, he'd come by every few minutes and ask, "Is the cake ready yet, Amma?", but when I finally bring the cake out for him to cut, if I ask him, "Would you like a piece?", the answer would most immediately be a "No". To him, cake is food. He feels he can ask for it in place of any meal. It is also his comfort food. Scraped knees causing many tears? Fear not. As long as one can quickly be given a piece of cake, there is no cause for worry.

This morning, we decided to bake. He wanted a chocolate cake. But I've run out of cocoa. We made do with what we had. 

1 cup Flour
1/4 cup Butter
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Milk
1 Egg
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
A pinch of Salt
10 Cadbury's Dairy Milk miniatures (or 50 g milk chocolate)
Sprinkles and Chocolate Chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Prepare an 8" round cake tin.

Melt the milk chocolate miniatures in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds. Beat well. Repeat this twice until the chocolate is melted and the texture is creamy.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.

Beat the butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the egg and beat again. Add the milk and vanilla and beat for 30 seconds. Add the sifted dry ingredients and beat until well incorporated. Add the melted chocolate and mix well.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin. Decorate with the sprinkles and chocolate chips (this is the part that children seem to enjoy the most). Bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and then cut into pieces.

The result, today, was the softest, yet firmest, chocolate cake I've baked in a long long time. A had two pieces fresh out of the oven. I suppose having an able assistant makes all the difference in the world.

Happy New Year, everyone. My heart is filled with gratitude for the love you continue to show.