Monday, December 28, 2009

Flop! Flop!

A double flop.

The recipe for the cupcakes was from a favourite blogger. Maybe there is nothing wrong with the recipe. Maybe it was a bad idea to substitute cake flour for all purpose flour (the box of cake flour said it was ok to do so).
The result were these cupcakes which looked good and smelt great but tasted horrible. Extremely pasty to taste and very doughy.

The recipe for the frosting was from a favourite magazine. For once I followed the recipe to the letter. The result, nonetheless, was terrible. The recipe was unusual. Sugar, milk, and flour (yes, flour) was cooked to create a goopy consistency. Butter was beaten into the cooled goop to create something nasty.

I have baked plenty of disastrous. But so far everything that I've tried from this blogger or the magazine have always turned out just right and so the disappointment is greatly magnified.

The cupcake was intentionally harmed while taking this picture.

What makes this mishap blogworthy is Malar's event, Kitchen Mishaps, that I can participate in!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Agreeable Afternoon

It is a truth universally known that an invigorating afternoon cup of tea is enjoyed much more in the company of gentle ladies than when one is solitary.
Thus read the invitation. Truer words were never spoken, depend upon it.
A cup of excellent tea and amiable company; the proposed afternoon seeked to unite the two with great promise.

Confirmations were made and plans put in place without any exertions on the concerned parties; and the anticipation began.

The day arrived accompanied by a bright sunshine. We met in high spirits and good humour; eager to be in the company of like minded individuals.

Who can be in doubt of what followed? A most agreeable afternoon, delightful conversation, and considerable food. All that was now needed was a turn in the shrubbery.

My character forbade me to join company empty handed. This recipe provided the inspiration. Minor alterations were made to suits our tastes. The results were entirely satisfying.

Rout Cake
Makes about 24 small cakes
1¼ cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
4 tbsp butter, softened
1/3 cup) sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp rose-water (not extract)
¼ cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease a baking sheet and set it aside.
Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.
Add the butter and make a crumbly mixture.
Mix together the egg, orange juice, and rose water.
Add in parts to the flour-butter mixture till combined. Do not overmix.
Add in the raisins.
Drop mounds of the mixture on the baking sheet. (I used my hands to form small balls of the dough).
Bake for about 15 mins or till the edges just start to brown.
Cook on a wire rack.
Enjoy with a dish of tea!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Loving Lentils

The lentil rice was described as 'Seasoned rice, whole lentils, macaroni.'
Macaroni? But this wasn't the kids' menu.
So I asked the owner of the cafe about it and was told that macaroni was a common addition to lentil rice in his native Egypt.
He went on to say that it adds an interesting texture to the rice.
And so it did!
I rarely muster courage to ask for the recipe. The one time I do, all I get is the most vague response "Oh nothing fancy, lots of sauteed onions, roasted cumin, salt, lentils, rice, and macaroni."

Back home I took a shot at making said rice.
So did the rice taste the way it did at the restaurant. Absolutely not!
But does it taste good? You betcha! Also, it is vegan and no, it is not a salad.

Masoor Rice with Pasta
1 cup masoor
1 cup rice, uncooked
½ cup elbow or any small macaroni
2 large onions, sliced
1 tbsp cumin (jeera), roasted
2 tbsp oil
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
salt, to taste
cilantro, for garnishing (optional)

Cook the macaroni the usual way; set aside.

Wash the masoor and add it to a pot of water (about 1 ½ cups).
Add a tsp of salt and mix well.
Cook till the masoor retains a bite. Add more water if necessary.
Drain and set aside.

Wash the rice and cook it the usual way in slightly salted water.
When almost done, drain the water and set aside the rice.

Heat oil and add the sliced onions.
Sauté over low to medium heat till brown. This takes a while but do not rush through it.
Add the red pepper flakes, cumin, and a pinch of salt. Stir well.

Assemble the rice
Grease the bottom of the serving dish with a bit of oil.
Spread half the rice, masoor, pasta, rest of the rice, and lastly the onions.
(Or you could do what I did: just mix it all together.)

The rice can be assembled ahead of time and warmed in the microwave just before serving.

The is my entry to My Legume Love Affair#17 hosted this month by Sra. This long running blog event was started by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Complicating Things

Whenever I prepare something for the first time, I often don't have the cookbook (or the laptop if the recipe came from a blog) with me in the kitchen; unless I'm baking. Once I get the general idea, I skip/ modify the ingredients as needed. The modifications are usually to simplify things. This takes the notion of making it my own to a whole new level.

But that is not what happened yesterday when I set out to make a spread. This spread required just four ingredients not counting the capers which where optional. The major ingredients were figs and olives. When I actually started making the spread I realised that the recipe called for fresh figs (I had dried) and Klamata olives (I had green and black). I was forced to make things work just as they where.
A pinch of this and a smidgen of that later I had more than doubled the number of ingredients!
The ends certainly justified the means!

Fig-Olive Spread
The proportions are a mere guideline.

6 dried figs, remove stems
½ cup green olives
½ cup black olives
1 tbsp olive oil
a pinch each of dried oregano, rosemary, and red pepper flakes
2 tbsp capers
4 cloves garlic
¼ cup roasted almonds (optional, but recommended)
1 little lemon zest (optional)

Mix the oil with ½ cup water and bring it to a boil.
Add the oregano, rosemary, and the lemon zest (if using).
Add the figs and turn off the heat.

Let the fig-spice mixture sit for a couple of hours.

With the motor of the food processor running drop in the garlic.
Add the almonds (if using), olives and the fig-spice mixture along with the liquid.
Pulse the food processor till you have a coarse-ish mixture.
Mix in the capers.
Add salt if necessary; the olives are usually briny enough.

The bread in the above picture is Vaishali's whole wheat french bread. This fail-proof recipe is my current favourite.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Economy of Instructions & Ingredients

Browse through the food and drink section of any book store in India and you'll come across stacks of cook booklets. These booklets cover a mind boggling range: Microwave Party Cooking, No Sugar/Oil/Salt recipes, Fast foods (that is, food that is allowed when observing a religious fast!), Blood Pressure Cooking (?) etc.
Most of these booklets are the size of a largish postcard and have one recipe per page. While one can't take short cuts when listing ingredients, brevity comes in when providing cooking instructions.
Take this one for example:
Grind the first 5 ingredients to make a paste. Prepare the tempering and pour over the paste. Cook the rice. Create layers of the rice and the paste. Serve hot.

Clearly these recipes are not for the novice cook as they seem to assume that the reader has some basic knowledge of cooking.
Come to think of it, these recipes are absolutely tweet-ready.

Ask my Aai for a recipe and you get a list of ingredients. She (correctly) assumes that I have the smarts to estimate the quantity of said ingredients. Since I have watched her cook for years she also assumes that I have learned something by osmosis. Correct, once again!

After sampling some of the late-summer sweet corn, she suggested we make corn pulao by 'adding corn to our usual party pulao'. Economy of instructions!

Do not let the pale appearance fool you. This flavourful pulao is fantastic on its own but is a simple and uncomplicated part of any party menu where everything else is vying for ones attention.

Corn Pulao
1 cup rice, wash and set aside
1 cup fresh corn kernels
5 cloves
2 leaves tamaalpatra (tej patta)
1 inch piece of cinnamon
1 tbsp oil
salt, to taste
2 cups (or more) hot water

Heat the oil and when hot add the spices.
Saute till they start to darken (about a minute).
Add the rice and corn and saute for another minute.
Stir in the water and cook uncovered still most of the water is absorbed.
Add the salt and give it a good stir.
Put the lid on and cover till the rice cooks through.

Five ingredients, not counting salt and oil. Economy of ingredients!
The pulao is making it way to Anita's party.

Monday, May 18, 2009


There is a certain someone at home who maintains that he needs something sweet with every meal.
How easy it is to confuse wants with needs.

These two from my quiver satisfy such needs.

Sudharas is quite simply a simple syrup perked up by lemon juice.
Other (optional) additions are keshar, elaichi, and almonds.
Sometimes a banana is added. She adds peaches to hers!

It used to be that sudharas was not often made from scratch. The paak (sugar syrup) leftover after the gulab-jaam or jilebi that floated in it was long gone was turned into sudharas.
Since I don't usually have either on hand I made sudharas from scratch. Here is how:

½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
2-3 (or more) tbsp lemon juice
(optional) pinch of saffron, soaked in a bit of water
(optional) pinch of elaichi

Combine the water and sugar and bring it to a boil.
Take off the heat and add the lemon juice.
Taste and add more lemon juice if required.
Add the optional ingredients.
Enjoy with poli/ puris.

Oat-Wheat Sheera

Sheera is an absolute family favourite and no matter how much I experiment with it, we still love it.
My latest version calls for cracked wheat (dalia), oats, and bananas. I was sure I was pushing the envelope a bit, but was I surprised! Even this one was polished off with great gusto. Or as we say it in Marathi, chatta-matta (literally polished off).

½ cup cracked wheat (dalia)
½ cup oats (not the fast cooking oats)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3 tbsp (or more) sugar
1 pinch cardamon powder
1 ½ cup milk,

Warm the milk and set aside.
Grind the cracked wheat till the coarse grains break up. A coffee grinder works best here.
Grind the oats till you get a fine powder.
Over medium heat, dry roast the wheat and oats.
When the mixture starts browning add the sugar and give it a good stir.
Gradually add the milk; keep stirring.
Cover and let it cook for about 5 minutes; periodically giving the mixture a good stir to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
Taste a bit to make sure it has cooked through.
Add the bananas and the cardamom and mix well.
Adjust the sweetness levels according to your taste.

Both these sweets go to Srivalli's Mithai Mela. Happy Blog-Birthday, Valli.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Meyer Lemon Curd

When a friend gives you several dozen freshly picked Meyer lemons, you make lemon curd.
Just the mention of lemon curd conjures visions of lemon tarts, scones, and all things Enid Blyton.

(The picture was taken using my cellphone as my camera is on the blink.)
The butter and eggs in the traditional lemon curd recipes always got in the way of me making it. I went hunting for a vegan version and found this. As is my wont, I made several changes.
Here is the recipe with my changes.

(Vegan) Meyer Lemon Curd
1 cup lemon juice
½ cup water
1 ¼ cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
a pinch of salt
zest of 2 lemons ( used 1 lemon and 1 orange just for the colour variation)
2 tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter

In a saucepan combine the corn starch and water.
Stir till there are no lumps.
Add the salt, lemon juice, and sugar.
Taste the mixture to get the sour-sweet balance that you are looking for.
Mix well.
Over medium heat bring the mixture to a boil, keep stirring.
In a couple of minutes it will start to thicken and eventually turn clear.
Remove from heat and add the Earth Balance.
Cool completely and store in the fridge.

Verdict: It was easier than I thought it would be.
The result was definitely inversely proportional to the effort.
Next time I might skip the Earth Balance as I don't think it added anything taste-wise.
I was concerned that the colour of this vegan version may not be as yellow as the traditionally made curd, but I was pleasantly surprised.

In addition to the usual ways lemon curd is used, it makes an excellent accompaniment to poli/ roti or in a sandwich.
Lemon curd-peanut butter sandwich anyone?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Persistence Pays

It may have been cool outside but the atmosphere was heating up in the school library.
The silent auction was going on and my daughter was furious. Some one kept outbidding her. She was bent on having the Guittard chocolate sampler kit! So she parked herself next to the bidding sheet making sure that hers remained the highest bid.
She literally did not move from there!
Her persistence paid off and we came home with this:

The sampler contained Super Cookie Chips, so chocolate chip cookies were in order. These cookie chips are similar to the usual chocolate chips; flatter but bigger in diameter.

Unlike the kids, I don't really like cookies that much and neither do I like baking them. The oven I use is not that wide, I can't fit in two baking sheets side-by-side. It is quite a bother to baking cookies in batches. Which is why I prefer bar cookies.

Our preference is for chewy, slightly under baked cookies. Nuts are optional; sometimes they just get in the way of the chocolate chunks.
Mixing in cocoa powder is also something I avoid because then you don't have the contrast of colours where the chocolate chunks stand out. I know this is a visual thing but then you do eat with your eyes first.

This New York Times article suggests chilling the dough before baking.
Patience was in short supply so I baked some cookies right away and stashed the rest of the dough in the fridge. The rested cookie dough did result in a better tasting cookie. A sprinkle of salt did wonders for the flavour.

I used to be very skeptical of the salt-chocolate combination. A bite of the Scharffen Berger Milk Almond bar which contains sea salted almonds changed everything. This chocolate bar is to die-for.

The cookie recipe calls for nut butter. The first time I made these cookies, I naturally opted for hazelnut butter. But one couldn't detect any hazelnut flavour at all. The next time I made the cookies, I used cashew butter. Again, one couldn't tell there was any cashew in the cookies. Maybe not flavour but the nut butter does seem to contribute immensely to the texture.
May be it is the copious amount of chocolate that hides the nut flavour.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(This recipe came from one of those recipe-exchange-chain emails. It sat the must-try folder for years before I actually gave it a shot.)

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt + more for sprinkling on top
14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into chunks
¼ cup nut butter (peanut, hazelnut, or cashew)

Don't preheat the oven just yet. The dough needs to chill in the fridge for a bit.

Sift together and keep aside the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Cream the unsalted butter and both the sugars for about 2-3 minutes.
Add the nut butter and continue beating for another ½ minute.
Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract.
Add the flour mixture and mix together till it all comes together. Do not overmix.
Mix in the chocolate.

Chill the dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes; makes it easy to handle.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375F.
Prepare the baking sheets. Either spray with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
Make the cookies as large or small as you want.
Just make sure you don't place them too close to each other on the baking sheet.
If you like, sprinkle a bit of salt on the cookies.
Bake them for about 9-12 minutes, just until slightly brown.
The baking time will depend on your oven and the size of the cookies.

The yield depends on the size of the cookie. We got about two dozen generously proportioned cookies!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good Day Sunshine

It was the perfect day to play with colours.
Driving back, listening to our favourite music, soaking wet and rendered unrecognizable by the colours, unmindful of the strange looks coming our way, it was liberating in a way.
All that fun made us hungry as well. Good thing I had taken along some sunshine cake. This is a new favourite, a whole-wheat orange cake.
Any baked goody that contains lemon or orange provides instant sunshine-ness, doesn't it?.

The first time I made it, it was for her.
She loved it enough to take the recipe from me. After tinkering with it a bit, she passed it back to me.
I'd say this is a work in progress, because when I made it again I tinkered with it some more.

Here is the current version:

1½ whole wheat flour (or 1 cup whole wheat flour + ½ cup all purpose flour)
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp + tiny pinch baking soda
½ salt
1 cup orange juice (see notes below)
zest of one medium size orange
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease the pan (8x8 sqaure or 8in round) or line it with parchment paper
(I tend to use parchment paper)
Mix the dry ingredients.
Mix the wet ingredients.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients and pour the batter in the pan.
Bake for about 30-35 mins or till a toothpick inserted in the middle of the pan comes out mostly clean.

Usually, I use fresh orange juice.
This time I used undiluted orange concentrate. The deep concentrated orange flavour did veer towards a slightly bitter taste, but we loved it anyway. The tanginess makes up for the bitterness.
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