August 16, 2014

7 cups to Heaven - 7-cup Barfi for Janmashtami

For the longest time, I stayed away from even attempting to make Indian sweets. I even stayed away from thinking about making them. When it came to celebrating festivals, I always made my own rules. Why might Krishna only want uppu seedai and vella seedai for Janmashtami. Why not chocolate cookies? Or buns? Why make Indian sweets and savouries for Deepavali. Why not cookies and cakes again? You get the drift, don't you? I simply didn't want to move out of my comfort zone. So, I found every excuse not to.

A few years ago, I was a visiting with a friend and she had made a snack with beaten rice and a sweet. I asked her if she'd brought the sweet from India or if one of her family members had visited. She told me that she'd made it herself. I immediately asked her for the recipe and made it soon after. Three years later, it remains the only Indian elbow greasy sweet I can make confidently. 

1 cup Ghee
1 cup Besan
1 cup Milk
1 cup Almond Meal/ Dessicated Coconut (or a combination of the two)
3 cups Sugar
Cardamom and Saffron to taste
1 tbsp Ghee for greasing the plate/cake tin

Grease a large thali or plate and keep aside. (I've even used cake tins when I didn't own a thali.)

Heat 1/2 cup ghee in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the besan and fry it until the raw smell of besan goes and you are left with the wonderful aroma. To this, add the milk carefully. Add all the other ingredients, including the remaining 1/2 cup ghee. Keep stirring until the mixture comes together and begins to leave the sides of the pan.

Transfer to the greased thali/plate and smooth the mixture down carefully. Cool it a little. Cut it into diamond shapes with a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. When fully cool, store the pieces in an air tight container.

Be sure to share this with your friends and family. You may want to hand out recipe cards with this as people are bound to ask you for the recipe. Especially if you're like me and no one associates any traditional sweets with you, they're probably thinking - if she can make it, why not I?

On that happy note, let me sign off while wishing all of you a Happy Janmashtami.

Check out some other not so traditional Janmashtami recipes on the blog here.

August 3, 2014

Apple Cinnamon Cake

Mindless TV viewing for me has to be food related. I'll admit it - being a food blogger, the shows can't make for too much mindless viewing for me. One of the things that surprise me is that, often, people in contests forget basic recipes. It must be the intense pressure of getting it all done in that short amount of time. How else can one forget how to bake a basic sponge cake?

I haven't been in a pressure situation like that when it comes to cooking gourmet food. But for the most part of our stay in Gurgaon, my everyday cooking was done under pressure. Will the vegetable be done in time, will the dal be cooked, will the rice be done, etc. Fortunately, I didn't have to refer to recipes for my everyday meals. 

I also could make one basic cake from memory. Over the years, I have modified the same recipe to yield a variety of cakes. And not one has disappointed. I'm not a big fan of apples, except in apple pie/crumble. I have taken the essence of an apple pie and made it into a cake. The cake was gone in no time at all. And I think it is simply because this has the best of both worlds: You can have your cake and eat your pie too!

1 cup Flour
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Butter
1/2 cup Milk
1 Egg
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
A pinch of Salt
1 Apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp Cinnamon Powder
2 tbsp Brown Sugar
1 tsp Icing Sugar

Heat the oven to 180C/350F.

Grease an 8" cake tin with butter. Arrange the apple slices on the base to form a pattern. 

Mix the cinnamon powder with the brown sugar. Sprinkle this mixture over the apples.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and the sugar. Add the egg and beat well. Add the milk and vanilla and beat again.

Sift the flour with the salt and baking powder. Add this to the sugar-egg mixture and mix until incorporated. Pour this over the apple slices. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. 

Transfer the cake to a cooling rack. Sprinkle the icing sugar over the cake.

I do hope you try this and I'll look forward to hearing from you when you do. After all, that is what makes a blogger happy. I started on this journey 7 years ago. My cooking has improved a great deal since. I've also made some amazing friends along the way. 4 years ago, my namesake started talking to me about this idea of holding a food bloggers' meet. There were lots of ideas, a lot of discussions between her, Aparna, and me, and a seed had been planted.

As I type this, the very first Indian Food Blogger's Meet is underway in Bangalore. While I am sitting rather far away and cannot claim to have anything at all to do with it, in many ways it feels like my baby. I've had so many whatsapp chats with Arundati over the past few months that I feel I'm a part of it. I came so close to attending the event myself and am feeling terrible at having missed it. But, nonetheless, I'm on cloud nine myself - to see a dream that I was once a part of, come true. Proud of you! This is a cake to celebrate the IFBM2014 organizers.

But, come August, we also start the celebrations in this household. With the exception of last year, I've always come with a cake to this blog in August. And this year should be no different. The beloved CTO (Chief Tasting Officer) of this blog turns a year older. Our celebrations are postponed to until he returns from this business trip. But let that not stop me from saying, Happy Birthday, Sachin!

May 11, 2014

Oat and Fruit Bars

My little one is obsessed with sticky and chewy sweets. It all started with the Vitamin C supplement that I started to give him. Sometime ago, I handed him a dried apricot and told him it was just like a "sticky sweet". He loved it and asked for more. I then introduced him to raisins, which he enjoyed as well. Then, I got quite excited and bought a whole array of stuff from the dried fruit section. And he soon lost interest.
I wanted to put the stuff to good use. I thought I'd make the jewel blondies again. But since cookies keep better, I decided to look up recipes for dried fruit cookies. I came across this Pillsbury site and decided to try this recipe. I modified the recipe a little and made fruit bars instead of cookies. The next time around I will reduce the sugar in the recipe to maybe 3/4 cup in all.
The end result: bars full of the chewy goodness of oats and dried fruit. This is a keeper recipe and I am sure adding nuts or chocolate/butterscotch chips will work well too.
¾ cup Sugar
¼ cup Brown Sugar
½ cup Butter, softened
½ tsp Vanilla
1 Egg
¾ cup Flour
½ tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Cinnamon Powder
¼ tsp Salt
1 ½ cups Rolled Oats
1 cup Dried Fruit (I used Apricots, Raisins, Cranberries, Blueberries and Cherries)

Heat the oven to 375 F/190 C. 
Line two cake tins with parchment/baking paper. (I used 9" square tins)
Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until  fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla beat some more. Add the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and mix well.
Add the oats and the dried fruit. Mix together until well blended.
Divide the mixture equally into the two cake tins. Bake for 8-9 minutes.
Remove from the cake tins and allow to cool a little on a rack. Cut into squares while still warm using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter.
Store in an airtight container when completely cool.
These will go into A's snack box next week and maybe I can now safely say goodbye to the store bought cookies/bars.

May 9, 2014

Instant Mango Pickle

When you're a food blogger, people expect certain things from and of you. They expect you to know recipes for many/most dishes. They expect you to tell them what they can substitute and sometimes also what they need to do to fix something that has gone horribly wrong. I have to admit I don't always have answers. I usually follow a recipe that I have. Often enough, I tweak it. If it works, it comes on to the blog. If it doesn't, it is simply forgotten.

Two summers ago, a friend wrote to me saying she was craving a certain type of mango pickle. Would I happen to know how to make it? Or could I ask my mother who would be bound to know about this? Amma and Appa were visiting me then and I decided I should ask Amma for the recipe.

Considering how I almost never eat pickles, Amma was a tad bit shocked that I was asking her for a recipe. However, she gave me the recipe and this pickle is now an annual feature in my kitchen.

1 cup Raw Mango, diced into 1/2" cubes
3 tsp Chilli Powder (I use Kashmiri Chilli Powder)
2-3 tsp Salt (according to taste)
2 tsp Oil (I use Gingelly/Sesame/Til Oil)
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/4 tsp Asafoetida
1/2 tsp Fenugreek Seeds
1/2 tsp Turmeric Powder

Add salt, turmeric and chilli powder to the mango pieces and mix well. 

Heat the oil in a tempering ladle. Add the mustard seeds and asafoetida. When the mustard splutters, let the oil cool. Then add the tempering to the pickle.

On a dry griddle/tawa,  heat the fenugreek seeds and toast for a few minutes. Grind to a powder when cool with some turmeric powder. Add this to the pickle.

Enjoy in a variety of ways: With Tayir Saadam or Narlya Kheeri.

This is a fresh pickle which does not keep for very long. I store it in the fridge and use it up within a week or so. I hope you enjoy some of my simple pleasure this summer.

May 7, 2014

Apple Cheese Tarts and an itch to celebrate

And I'm back. After what feels like aeons. These past few months have been crazy. I wanted to throw A a homestyle party for his third birthday. For the longest time, I wondered how Amma managed to do everything at home for our birthday parties. Only our birthday cakes came from Adyar Bakey House. Everything else was home made. I also wanted to make his birthday cake from scratch. So, I signed up for a couple of Wilton Method cake decoration classes. 

Many of the things I made for his party warrant individual posts on this blog. We had a jungle themed rainbow cake, lemon ricotta cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, coriander buns, cheese, jam and chutney sandwiches, potato cheese buns, semia upma, samosas and potato smiles. We had games such as pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs. In short, I tried to recreate one of my childhood birthday parties for A. We all had a great time.

But all this kept me very busy. And kept me away from the blog. Since I posted the last post on this blog, I've cooked and baked a great deal. I've tried some new recipes, I've tweaked some old ones. I've sometimes fallen into a cooking rut - cooking similar food everyday simply because it doesn't require much thinking. 

However, I had to make the time today. I'm already a good five days late. The Singing Chef turned 7 on May 2nd this year. We hit a milestone barely 5 posts ago when I reached the magic number of 600 posts. And now it is time for another. I will stick to my usual way of celebrating with something sweet. I present to you - Apple Cheese Tarts.

For the pastry:

1 cup Flour
1/3 cup Butter (cold and diced)
2-3 tbsp Ice Cold Water
1/2 tsp Salt

Place the flour, butter and salt in a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Gradually add the water and knead into a soft dough. Do not knead too much. Roll out the dough 1/4" thick and stamp out circles slightly bigger than the diameter of a muffin mould.

For the filling:

2 Apples, peeled and diced (I used Granny Smith)
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Cinnamon Powder
1/4 cup Cream Cheese

Place the apples and sugar along with the cinnamon powder in a pan. Add 1/4 cup of water and cook over a low flame until the apples are cooked. Stir in the cream cheese. Allow to cool.

To proceed:

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.

Lightly grease the muffin pan. Place one circle of pastry in each of the moulds. Fill the cups with the filling. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

This recipe yielded 12 tarts.

Allow the tarts to cool a little before savouring them. This is the stuff desserts should be made of: a little sweet, a little salty, and a tad bit tart. 

Thank you all for coming along on this wonderful journey. Seven years is a major milestone in any relationship. This one is no different. My cup overflows with joy and gratitude for the friends I've made, the support I've received and the love I've felt. Happy birthday, Singing Chef. I say this a lot and still mean it every time I do: I never expected you to become what you have. But I am so glad you have.

February 23, 2014

Oats and Moong Dosa

Every once in a while, I like to try new things. Sometimes, it is an experiment driven by curiosity. At others, it is driven by need. This one was purely the former. I wanted to keep my standard dosa recipe proportions, but wanted to switch the ingredients. However, while it started off that way, the end result was driven by need. 

I wanted to use moong dal and oats. So I soaked dal and rolled oats. However, I think I used a little extra water to grind the batter. I added my secret ingredient to help bring the texture of my batter back to normal.

The result was a light, yet filling breakfast idea, with the flax seeds giving the dosa a nice texture.

1/2 cup Green Gram Dal (Moong Dal)
1 cup Rolled Oats
1 tbsp Flax Seeds, ground
Salt to taste

Soak the Green Gram Dal and rolled oats for at least 4 hours. Grind to a batter using water. Add the flax seeds towards the end. Add salt.

Heat a tawa and smear a little oil on it. Pour a ladleful of the batter on the tawa and quickly spread it around in a circular motion.

Add a few drops of oil around the dosa. Carefully remove the dosa from the pan after a couple of minutes and flip it around so the other side is cooked too.

Repeat with the remaining batter. I got 12 dosas from this batter.

Serve with any chutney or chutney podi of your choice.

This is the first time I'm trying to blog from my phone. Let's hope it works. If it does, I may just be able to blog more often.

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.