Sunday, November 30, 2008

Alice in Wonderland

It's hard to say if Alice in Wonderland is a very popular fairytale written by Lewis Carroll, or the biggest piece of literally nonsense ever written. What's easy to say is that the book has the power to mesmerize all readers, irrespective of their age. I've read it many times over the years, and I enjoyed it all over again as this month's pick for "This Book Makes Me Cook".

Funnily enough, I rarely remember Alice at first when I think of Alice in Wonderland. I always recall Cheshire cat's grin and mad hatter's tea party. And I think of the caterpillar on the mushroom. And the queen saying "Off with their head". It's bizarre, but unforgettably so.

It was the memory of the playing card gardeners painting the roses red, and the image of playing cards parading with the king and queen of hearts that prompted me to make my playing cards cake.



The base for the playing cards is the basic madeira cake. I set oven to preheat at 180C. Beat 120 gms butter and 120 gms caster sugar until it was fluffy. In a separate bowl, I broke two eggs and beat them lightly. Also mixed 160 gms flour with a tsp of baking powder. Then I beat in a tbsp of egg at a time, alternating with a tbsp of flour. Added the rest of the flour and mixed well to form the batter. Added a tsp of vanilla essense and then, I poured the whole mixture into a baking sheet lined with paper and baked for 30 minutes so ended up with a sheet cake.

Once the cake had cooled, I cut it into rectangles roughly the size of playing cards. Next, I made buttercream by creaming 50 gms butter with 100 gms icing sugar and adding a tbsp of warm milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla essence to bring it to a spreadable consistency. Spread the buttercream on the playing card slices, then piped in the numbers and heart/spades designs to make playing cards. It's my first time icing a cake, and it shows but at least it tasted great!

Here are the "Alice in Wonderland" recipes from other members of This Book Makes Me Cook:
Sunshinemom made Vegan Cheesecake Brownies complete with "Eat Me" tags
Aparna made Orange Marmalade Cake
Rachel made Sandwiches for Mad Hatter's Tea Party
Curry Leaf made Chocolate Pudding Cake
Siri made Veggie Finger Sandwiches

For December, We are reading Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Laud Montgomery. If you would like to come join us, leave a comment here and I will get back with more details.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The show must go on

I haven't had any access to internet and emails for the past three days, but I know some of you have been concerned about my safety. So just wanted to quickly stop here and tell you I am fine.

Fine, but scared at the extent of terror in my city. Shocked at the death toll. Sad that the "palace" that symbolized Bombay to me and countless others for the past hundred years is damaged.

Mumbai has responded in the only way it can. The markets are open. People are back in offices. We refuse to acknowledge terror. The show, as they say, goes on...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Cherry a Month

Cherries are the fruit of choice for November's A Fruit A Month being hosted by Rachel. Where will I find cherries in November, I asked? And Rachel assured me that she would let me use them in any form - canned, preserved or dried. So when my friend turned up for lunch on sunday afternoon and I needed a dessert in a hurry, I converted my trusted berry muffin recipe to incorporate dried cherries I had in my fridge.



To make four cherry muffins, mix 100 gms flour with 1 tsp baking powder and 40 gms caster sugar. Set oven to preheat at 200C. Melt 30 gms butter and pour into the flour mixture. Add 1 egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and 50 gms yogurt. Mix well to form a batter, then add a handful of dried cherries. Mix and spoon into four paper lined muffin cases. Top with some more dried cherries and bake for 15 minutes.

I could have browned them a bit more, but I like the contrasting colors and the flavor was just perfect. Yummy lunch dessert ready in a jiffy - who said muffins are only for breakfast!

Monday, November 24, 2008

From boring lunch to Gourmet feast

Scene I. Sunday 9 am
Cook: What do I make for lunch?
Me (sleepy and bleary eyed): Anything. Isn't there spinach in the fridge? Make aloo palak. And leave some dough for me. I'd make rotis.
Cook: Okay. I also cut some cucumber for salad.
Me (just wanting to go back to sleep): Yeah, whatever!

Scene II. Sunday 12.30 pm
Friend: I'm shopping in the neighborhood. Will pop by in half an hour.
Me: Great! Stay for lunch
Friend: Wow! I'm sure you made something interesting. Bye
Me (To Myself): Is Aloo Palak interesting. NO WAY!!!!!!

Which is why I converted aloo palak and cucumber salad to an interesting gourmet lunch. We had my signature mocktail and green salad for starters. Burritos (or something similar) for mains. And while my main course was in the oven, I quickly mixed up the batter for muffins. Ready by the time we finished eating our main course.



When I say green salad, I mean really green. Cucumber, green olives, capers and mint leaves with salt, pepper and a dash of lemon juice.

For the main course, I simply reinvented my vegetable and roti in a new avatar. Rolled out the dough really thin, and cooked it on the griddle to make 3 rotis. On each roti, I spread a layer of pizza sauce. Added some chopped tomatoes and finely chopped jalepeno slices. Next added 2 tbsp of the cooked vegetable and rolled everything to form a burrito. Placed all three burritos seam side down on a nonstick baking sheet; drizzled some more pizza sauce then roughly tore a couple of low fat chesse slices and put them on top of the rolls. Baked everything in the oven preheated to 220C until the cheese melted, about 10 minutes.

My friend loved it. And she loved the muffins, recipe for which is coming up in the next post.

Before I sign off, I need to say a big Thank You to Dibs for passing on a zillion awards to me. So much so that I have created a display window at the bottom of this page to showoff all the awards I have received since I started this blog. Thanks a ton, Dibs!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sushi for Beginners

I am incredibly nervous. Sushi is one of the things I never thought I could make at home. But the closest sushi restaurant that passes muster (in fact, the only one in Mumbai) is a couple of hours drive away which means I have to go without sushi for rather a lot of days. So slowly, steadily, I've put all the ingredients together. I have a tube of wasabi, a pack of nori sheets and sushi rice in my pantry. A bottle of dark soy sauce in the fridge. All of which became spring onion and tofu maki rolls for dinner last night.

Wash half cup sushi rice in plenty of water at least 3-4 times until the starch gets washed away. Add 3/4 cup water (or as much as your package say), bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat but let the rice remain covered for another 10 minutes. In a small pan, heat 2 tbsp vinegar with 3/4 tbsp sugar and a pinch of salt until well blended. Sushi needs rice vinegar but I didn't have any so I used 1 1/2 tbsp white vinegar mixed with 1/2 tbsp water. Pour the warm vinegar on the warm rice and mix well.

My nori sheets were pre-toasted, but toast yours if they aren't. Place on a mat (okay, a thick napkin since I didn't have the mat) shiny side down. Spread rice all over the nori sheet leaving 1/2 inch at top and bottom free. Arrange spring onions and tofu slices on top of rice at one end of nori sheet. Dot with wasabi and carefully make a roll. Since the rice is warm, the roll will seal automatically.

Cut in 6 slices and serve with dark soy sauce and wasabi for dipping. Pickled ginger is the other typical accompainment, but I am not a big fan so I left it out.

The verdict : I used way too much rice, which gave me plump rolls and had my nori sheets close to tearing. But I loved it. For isn't rice the best part of sushi (in fact, vinegared rice IS sushi. Not raw fish, that's sashimi). But still, the rolls were not perfect. Which means I need to work on it; make this more often. Never heard a better excuse to eat sushi!

And with all this rice, I think sushi makes an apt entry for Srivalli's Rice Mela as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I've cracked it!

I dig hot chocolate. So much that I find reasons to have a couple of hours between connecting flights in Delhi. Just so I can hop into Choko La and have a cup of Papua Hot Chocolate. And sometimes I feel that I only go to London so I can go to the Chocolate Bar at Harrods. All because I can never get the right flavor when I make hot chocolate at home. Or didn't, until yesterday. This morning, I finally got it right.

I started with 20 gms of pure dark chocolate. Not milk, not semi-sweet; just plain 70% dark (I use Lindt). I don't have a double boiler so I heated water in a saucepan until it came to a boil, then reduced the heat to let the water simmer. Next I found another pan that fitted in the rim of the saucepan and added chocolate pieces to this one. After a few seconds, when the chocolate started melting, I just swirled it a bit with a fork to break the pieces. Once all the chocolate had melted, in went half a teaspoon of sugar. Mixed for a few seconds, then poured in a cup of warm milk. I mixed the chocolate and milk with a fork at first. Then, after a few seconds, I brought out a wire whisk and whisked the mixture for maybe a minute until it was frothy and slightly thickened.

Deep, dark, mysterious; the flavor was a cross between Choko La and Harrods, and as chocolatey as it gets.

PS: I don't have any pictures; for how was I to know it will turn out so good.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Celebration Shortbread



I always get excited about birthdays. And now in the blogging world, I have another birthday to look forward to apart from my own : blog birthday. My first blog birthday is still a few months away, but birthday celebrations are on at Aparna's diverse kitchen. She's asked for a special sweet something to bring to her party.

With her lovely breads, Aparna's my inspiration to dig into baking. So I knew I wanted to bake something for her. And the sinful goodie I immediately thought of was the shortbread I made for our book club last month. In a chocolate version (doesn't that make anything very special!)

To make chocolate-y shortbread, soften 100 gms butter. Mix 130 gms plain flour, 30 gms cornflour and 55 gms caster sugar. Add butter and slowly rub it in. Press with your hands until the dough comes together. Make lemon sized balls of the dough. Arrange on a baking sheet and press lightly to flatten. Sprinkle with chocolate bits. I got mine pre-shaped from my favorite baking supplies store, but you can use grated chocolate if you like. Heat oven to 180C and bake for 35 minutes. Let harden for a few minutes on the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.

Happy Birthday Aparna! Look forward to many more birthday celebrations on your blog.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Keeping it simple



Srivalli is back with another of her melas. After roti and curries, it's the turn of rice dishes! For her mela, I have the simplest rice dish in my repertoire. Chana Dal Khichdi, the easiest of comfort foods but also ceremonial. For this is the khichdi we make on bhai dooj, the first thing my brother eats after I put a tilak on his forhead to mark the occasion.

To make chana dal khichdi, boil 1/4 cup chana dal with 1 cup water until it's al dente. I've noticed that 4-5 whistles in the pressure cooker usually does it. While the dal is cooking, wash and soak 1/4 cup rice. Open the pressure cooker and add rice (without any more water, the original one cup is sufficient), 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, a generous pinch of salt and another generous pinch of garam masala. Add a tsp of ghee, close the pressure cooker and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes. By this time, you khichdi will be fairly dry and both the rice and dal will be well done. We serve it with plain yogurt, but by all means serve the other traditional accompainments (papad, pickle and chutney) alongside if you like.

Valli, I hope you like this much-loved khichdi as well. Oh! and this is just the first entry. There's more coming your way.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fighting Diabetes

When Sangeeth announced her Fight Diabetes event, I am sure she had in mind special foods for diabetics. I agree that special foods they have to be, with all the restrictions on what you can and can't eat. But having watched diabetes up close, I also know that anything that's too out of ordinary isn't going to cut any ice here. After all, diabetics have to follow a special diet the rest of their life. And if I grew up eating paranthas for breakfast, a fruit salad, no matter how nice, just isn't satisfying enough.

When I think of food for diabetes, I think of things like besan parantha. While I have no medical facts to prove this, family lore has always told me that chickpeas - the small brown variety - help combat diabetes. So does besan or chickpea flour made from these. And this parantha in a version where it isn't fried and has minimal fats is a breakfast that would make my father happy. Without making him feel guilty!



Mix half cup besan with a small finely chopped onion, salt, 1/2 tsp garam masala and 1/2 tsp ajwain. Add enough water to make a thick paste. Also mix 1/2 cup whole wheat flour with enough water to knead it to a smooth dough.

Take a lemon sized ball of wheat flour dough and roll out to a thick disc. Place a tbsp of chickpea paste in the center and gather up the rest of the disc to form a dough ball and seal in the paste. Roll out this ball as thinly as possible. Heat a gridle and place the rolled out parantha on it. Cook on a low heat until it starts to brown evenly. Flip and cook the other side. When the parantha is almost done, apply very little olive oil on one of sides, flip once to sizzle the oil and give the parantha a shine. The finished parantha will have a texture somewhere between a roti and a real fried parantha, and is delicious with low-fat yogurt.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bhathure



Here's the bhathura recipe I promised a couple of days back. Mix one cup plain flour with a tsp of cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp of ajwain (carom seeds) and a hearty pinch of salt. Add 1/2 cup yogurt and knead to a soft dough. You might need to add some water as well. Leave the dough in a warm place for 5-6 hours to ferment. If you live somewhere with a terrace, leave it out in the winter sun. If not, find the warmest place in the house for the dough to live till it swells.

The dough will be very sticky by now, so put in the fridge for half an hour for the dough to firm up a bit. Take a lemon sized ball of dough and roll out thin. You can do this for the entire dough and keep the bhathuras covered while you heat oil to fry them in.

Heat at least half a pan full of oil to smoking point. Reduce the heat and slide a bhathura in. Press lightly and (hopefully!) the bhathura will puff up. Turn and cook until the bhathura is browned on both sides. You just made the perfect partner to chickpeas. Also serve some sliced onions and mango pickle along with the pair; they make delicious additions to the flavor.

Monday, November 10, 2008

You aren't a Punjabi if...

...you can't make great chhole. I am still a work in progress because mine never turn out half as good as mom's. This is her version. My contribution to the entire post was just standing there with a camera.



There are two ways to make chhole. The traditional way is to figure out the right proportion of some twenty odd spices, grind them, etc. The easy way is to buy chhole masala. To make Punjabi chhole the easy way, soak a cup of chickpeas overnight. Boil them in plenty of water until soft with 1/2 tsp of salt and a tea bag thrown in to give chickpeas a brown color. Throw away the teabag and drain the chickpeas but retain the water they were boiled in.

Chop one large onion finely. Also chop a 1 inch piece of ginger and a tbsp of coriander leaves. Puree two tomatoes. Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a pan. Saute onion and ginger until brown. Add tomato puree. Also add coriander now - we're using it for flavor not color in this recipe. Saute until the masala is very dry. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsp of chhole masala. Add the chickpeas and stir for a minute. Add enough water left over from boiling chickpeas to cover them entirely. Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 15-20 minutes for the flavors to sink in and gravy to thicken.

The chickpea curry is good enough to eat with paranthas, rice or poori. Bhathuras are obviously a great choice, so that's what mom made. For her recipe to make perfect bhaturas every time, stay tuned!

In the meantime, Punjabi Chhole go over to Simona for 5th helping of the Legume Affair

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Versatile Peas



Greeen peas have to be the most versatile vegetable after potatoes. I eat them year round now that you can get them fresh not frozen. But late autumn and early winter is truly their season, when you get them at their freshest. Back at our home, you would notice peas pulao and matar paneer with increasing regularity around now. And by the time December rolls in, mom would be pairing peas with everything under the winter sun : carrots, cauliflower and if all else fails, potatoes to make aloo matar. This is our fail proof lunch : a tangy curry with two of the most favored vegetables that you can eat with either roti or rice.

And what's the best part about making anything with peas? You can eat them raw while you were shelling them, they are that fresh right now! So start by shelling peas and if you have some left to make the vegetable, read on.

Chop a large onion finely. Also chop a tomato into small cubes. Heat 2 tsp ghee in a pan, add onions and saute until lightly browned. Now add the tomato and saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the stove and let cool. Grind the sauteed onions and tomatoes to a fine paste to make your masala. Return to the pan with a tsp of ghee, saute for a minute then add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and roughly the same quantity of salt. Let cook until the raw turmeric smell goes away (a minute or so), then add a few tablespoons of water and stir to mix well. Simmer for a minute, then add 1/2 cup shelled peas and a potato cut into cubes. Add a cup of water, bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is it soup? No, Saar



We are having a Maharashtrian food festival at my home right now. It all starts every few months when my cook, who's a Maharashtrian herself, hands me a list of ingredients to buy because she's had an inspiration to cook something special. And ever since I tasted her sabudana khichdi and usal, it doesn't take a lot of motivation for me to go get coconut, kokam or whatever else she needs. The biggest motivation of all is her tomato saar.

Saar has a soup like consistency and can be eaten on its own. But my cook insists that its a curry to be eaten with plain rice and it's my favorite way too.

To make saar, drop 2 tomatoes in boiling water. Wait for a few minutes and remove. The skin should come off easily by now. Puree the peeled tomatoes. Mix 2-3 tbsp chopped or shredded coconut, a few cloves of garlic, 2 green chillies and 2 tbsp coriander leaves. Grind to a fine paste.

Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan. Add a tsp of cumin seeds and let splutter. Add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder and after a few seconds, the coconut paste. Stir fry on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes and a cup of water. Bring to a boil, the reduce the heat and let simmer until the saar has a thickened and cooked through (about 5-7 minutes).

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Resolutions...

No, it's not new year yet. But this is Bombay Foodie's 100th post. I've come a long way in the past months, made a few starts. More importantly, I've made so many friends...lovely people who have stopped by with beautiful, encouraging comments and mails.

And yet, with the last 100 posts, my wishlist of foodie flavors yet to explore hasn't diminished, rather it's grown. This is a wishlist of things I would like to do, but it's a list I fully expect to get longer for my 200th post. So here goes:

1. Bake a whole loaf of bread

2. Eat at one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. And no, Bukhara doesn't count, even if it ever makes to top 50

3. Make sushi

4. Delve into the alchemy of food. Create something, anything that qualifies as molecular gastronomy.

5. Bake and decorate a cake

6. Make fresh mozarella cheese

7. Make macarons

8. Make fresh pasta

9. Taste blood oranges

10. Cook with rhubarb

11. Make mango pickle like mom

12. Make appams

13. Eat a Meyer lemon

14. Make S'Mores

15. Make a cream puffs tower (who knows what it's called; can't pronounce it anyway)

16. Make a perfect cup of hot chocolate

17. Taste wild rice

18. Learn to pare and cook globe artichokes

19. Buy blue cornmeal

20. Try Ethiopian cuisine

21. Taste Gucchhi (morels)

22. Cook with 20 different kinds of beans and/or lentils (11 so far and counting!)

23. Bircher Muesli - make it or find it

24. Recreate the egg korma I once ate in Hyderabad

25. Grow my own herbs