Saturday, February 28, 2009

A fast forward year (maybe!)

I've decided to take the plunge. After months of admiring the trio of bakers from A Year in Bread and reading their blog from start to finish, I thought it might be fun to try and do what they did.

A bit of a background first - in March 2007, three bakers - Kevin, Beth and Susan - decided to start baking bread together. The idea was that they will come up with a theme for the month, and all three will do a different recipe matching the theme. Twelve months, twelve kinds of breads - kind of cool, isn't it! For a novice baker like me, it's a crash course in bread baking. And I even get to choose from three different recipes, get three perspectives for every kind of bread there is.

They started in March, I start this last day of February. And I might not wait a whole month to try each bread - who knows how many times I fail, and I might have to try two or all three to get where I want to be. So you might see at Bombay Foodie a fast forward of the year that was. Or maybe not; depends on how it goes.



Let's start at the start. The first bread they baked was pizza. I don't know who said it, maybe one of them, that baking pizzas before baking a loaf of bread is like baking cookies before you dare try a cake. And for this first dare, I picked Beth. I could have picked Kevin (of the bready pizza recipe, the kind I like) or Susan (of the uncomplicated 3 hour pizza recipe), but Beth's recipe read like a challenge. It's a very wet dough, and it needs to proof for 8 hours and you need to have faith, said Beth. So I put faith in Beth, followed her recipe exactly as I made my pizza dough last night for tonight's dinner. It was wet, and it made me wonder a few times today if I am leaving it in the fridge too long.

But the dough seemed perfect when I took it out 30 minutes before I was to bake it. A few minutes later, I also turned my oven to the highest it would go and because I don't own a baking stone, put a heavy baking sheet inside to heat. Beth stretched the dough by hand, but I floured it and rolled it out using a rolling pin. Also kept my pizza sauce (I'd give you the recipe one day, promise!), toppings (sliced onions, sliced mushrooms and cubed paneer) and grated cheese on the ready.

When the rolled out dough had reached room temperature, I brought out the baking sheet and carefully put my pizza base on it. In the next ten seconds, before it had a chance to cool, I spread the sauce, added the toppings, sprinkled grated mozzarella and some salt & pepper to finish my pizza and put it in the oven. I left my oven at very, very hot and the pizza took around 10 minutes to brown.

And it was perfect! So hear you all, I finally made pizza and it wasn't hard and it wasn't chewy and I loved it. I have the other half of dough still in the freezer. Pizza for breakfast, maybe.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spinach and Cheese Sandwich

I've had a falling out with sweet corn. We aren't fighting or anything, but we don't hang around much together nowadays. You know how when you cook or eat something twice a week, and suddenly realize that you aren't such a big fan. Or maybe just bored for a bit, which I am sure is pretty much the case and I will get back to putting corn in everything soon. But in the meantime, there's this small issue of my favorite sandwich.

Every time I go to Cafe Coffee Day, I order their spinach corn cheese sandwich and a cappucinno. Some days, when they are out of this particular sandwich, I just drink my coffee. Now, CCD is not going to change their sandwich at my whim. So I made the sandwich myself instead, replacing corn with paneer. And it tastes better than theirs, I am proud to say.



To make spinach and cheese sandwich, you need 1/2 cup finely chopped spinach, 1/4 cup finely chopped spring onions (just the green bits, not the onion), roughly 2 tbsp crumbled paneer and a similar quantity of grated cheese. And white bread - this is not the place for whole wheat or healthy rye.

First the filling. Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Add spinach and spring onions and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture dries. Your spinach should be cooked by this time. Add salt and black pepper, turn off the heat and mix in the crumled paneer. Spread on a white bread slice. Sprinkle grated cheese, top with another slice and grill/toast until browned on both sides.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Puddings

Life has come a full circle for "This Book Makes Me Cook" in more ways than one. This is the ninth edition of our book club, a number significant because we are nine members around here and all of us have picked our favorites for the group to read at least once in the past months. And for me, there's another reason - my very first entry, before we set up the club, was for the event Bhags ran with the same name. And the big Agatha Christie fan that I am, I chose Hercule Poirot as an inspiration to cook.

We are again reading a Christie this month. The group picked "Adventures of a Christmas Pudding", her collection of six short stories. This is one of Christie's non-murder books. Well, murders do happen, but not in every story. Yet, each of the six stories is totally gripping. Five of six feature the quirky Hercule Poirot, whose passion for order and neatness borders on obsession. And for the final entree, we have Miss Marple, the entirely adorable old lady who is an equally great detective.

I decided to go literally by the book's title this month and make a pudding. Two puddings, actually - Chocolate Pecan Pudding in a square pan for Papa Poirot (God forbid you ever make something round for this man!). And a small round pudding for Aunt Marple. There's another reason for the second one, but we'd get to that.



Puddings usually have sauces to go with them. But this one, from a book called "Everyday Chocolate" is self-saucing so you only got to make one easy recipe. Leave 85 grams butter out of the fridge until it softens. Mix 55 grams flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 3 tbsp cocoa powder and a tsp of ground cinammon. Lightly beat butter with 85 grams caster sugar and one egg. Add the flour mixture and beat till the mixture is well blended. Turn into a square dish, keeping aside 3 tbsp of the mix. Sprinkle with 50 grams chopped pecan nuts (again, keep aside a small handful).

Mix 300 grams hot water and a tsp of instant coffee powder to make strong coffee. Stir in 30 grams caster sugar until dissolved. Pour this (except for the last 1/4 cup) over the pudding. This is the step that had me scared. I should have guessed that the coffee is a bigger quantity than all of my ingredients put together, and my pudding will literally drown but I was somehow not prepared for it when it happened. I stuck to the recipe, and put the pudding in an oven heated to 160C and baked it for an hour. And yes, it surfaced again - the cofee, or what was left of it, forming a delicious sauce at the bottom.

Now the pudding for Miss Marple. Use the reserved pudding mix, pecans and coffee to create exactly the same pudding in a small glass bowl. But instead of putting it in the oven, we are going to try and take a shortcut route via a microwave. For the theme for MEC is also Puddings this month, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I first put the pudding in for a minute. It rose quickly but started to bubble and boil over. So I reduced the power to 80%, and cooked it for another 2 minutes in 30 seconds bursts - 30 seconds, pause, 30 seconds and so on. By the end of 3 minute cooking time, the pudding was firm and seemed almost ready. But I gave it another minute in the microwave, this time on 100% power, and it was perfectly done. Was it as good as the one done in the oven? Almost, but not entirely. But then, given the tradeoff between 4 minutes and an hour of cooking time, I think this is the version you are going to see me make more often.

Now to the recipes coming in from the rest of the club:
Sweatha made a Quick Blackberry Tart.
Aparna made a cute Polka Dot Pudding.
And Sunshinemom made a real Christmas Pudding.

For next month, it was my turn to pick the book again. And we are reading Blackberry Wine, my second Joanne Harris for the club (I picked Chocolat the first time round). If you would like to join us, leave a comment here and I will get back to you with details.

Friday, February 20, 2009

An Orange Medley

Are you one of those who don't like Baskin & Robbins icecreams? Or do you always go there and order the chocolate chip flavor? Next time you pass by a B&R counter, I suggest you look for something called Orange Tango. There's a good chance you won't find it, but buy a scoop instantly if you do. Make that a double scoop; for you are looking at the only sorbet in this icecream store. It's light, it's fresh and it has a flavor that can make you an instant fan. Specially if orange was on your mind because it is the color of the month at FIC.

Aparna and Harini, are you beginning to fear I am shortchanging you and sending in a Baskin & Robbins icecream as my FIC entry. Banish the thoughts, for this is just a prelude to two symphonies coming your way.



There's a healthy option and an unhealthy option. Let's pick the healthy one first. It's called London Dreams and I have no idea why. I noted this recipe many eons ago, I guess from a magazine. But here I have it in a notebook and it says London Dream. So dream on....blend 1/2 glass each of chilled orange juice and sweet lime juice with 2 tbsp orange sorbet. Sprinkle a pinch of black (rock) salt and your drink is ready.

Now the glamorous, unhealthy one is just one of my icecream sodas. Place a large scoop of orange sorbet at the bottom of a glass. Pour plain soda (sparkling water) on top of the sorbet very carefully - this will fizz and can easily spill over. Don't you think it looks cute.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Eureka! Moments

Some life long loves, some one-meal stands, the milestones on the life’s culinary journey; these are times when you want to grab the nearest person and say “Here! Have you tasted this”!

Presenting, the profoundest food moments of my life.

1. The uncle from Westend bakery around the corner pulled the loaf of bread (white – the only one I knew existed then) out of the old fashioned clay oven, sliced it right in front of me and handed it over wrapped in a brown paper bag. I was all of 8 years old and I could feel the warmth, the anticipation all the way home. Bread never tasted quite the same after he started making it the night before.

2. The first time I had pasta (macaroni with baked beans) made by a school friend’s mother, I didn’t finish it. In fact, I hated it. And I didn’t touch pasta again until my cook came up with the Indian version many years later. Made with beans, onions and potatoes, the pasta very closely resembles a pulao. I’ve lost count of the times I made a meal of it.

3. My next pasta revelation was spinach and cheese ravioli. Love it with the tomato and capers sauce in Little Italy. The ravioli in butter sage sauce at Olive was even better, but I just had it once and then they took it off the menu.

4. I never liked the way a custard apple looks. But my friend in Nasik coaxed – “You don’t get good ones up North. Try at least half”. It was fresh, soft and very subtly sweet. I went on to eat another one. And it went on to become my favorite fruit.

5. The treacle tart was warm, gooey and just so sweet. Made all the more flavorful with the accompanying Hagen Daaz vanilla ice-cream. But it wasn’t just the tart; you just like things like these better on a flight. Maybe because good food is the last thing you expect on board an airplane.

6. The Bread Talk around the corner has lots of fancy stuff. But what catches my fancy is simple – Butter Sugar Loaf, plain loaf sprinkled with sugar. As long as you have this bread straight out of the oven, nothing much can go wrong with life!

7. Stardust Diner, the very touristy place in New York’s Broadway. Where it’s never about the food. It’s about the singer's charm, the whole ambience. And their spiked milkshakes are so potent so never know if you imagined it all!

8. Tomato Garlic Risotto in Goa’s Italie. It was late, I was hungry and I was just coming out of a disco where I felt totally out of place. Maybe the risotto was the best I had ever, maybe it's just the way I remember it.

9. Fried mozarella for starters; flambed strawberries with icecream for dessert and a view of London skyline - do you care what the meeting was about?

10. A bottle of litchi juice, 5 am and sun rising in the Himalayas. Some things are best shared with friends.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Is that gobhi in my bread?



When my friend first suggested the humble cauliflower as a sandwich filling, I was skeptical. But she persisted, knowing I won't resist tasting a new flavor for long. Specially when she was cooking dinner. And I liked it. So much so that I made it again for dinner tonight, just for myself.

To make one sandwich, tear a chunk from a cauliflower head and grate the florets finely. We need roughly 2 tbsp of grated cauliflower. To this, add 1/2 tbsp cream, a tbsp of grated cheddar, 2-3 finely chopped mint leaves and a hearty pinch each of salt and crushed black pepper. Mix well, then spread on a white bread slice. Top with another slice of bread, apply butter on both sides and grill or toast until lightly browned.

This unusual sandwich goes to Mythreyee, who is hosting JFI: Cauliflower; this month's edition of the event started by Mahanadi

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where there was Rain...

A few years ago, Bombay had a stylish watering hole called Rain. Set in the winding bylanes of Juhu, purposely obscure with no signboard in sight, this restaurant was a place where you would go not just to eat but to mingle, gawk and have a fabulous evening. Every time I spent an evening at Rain, I left with a special feeling that comes from perfect food, perfect ambience and perfect service (that grey haired uncle who would find you just the right table and the right drink).

Then, some two years back, Rain closed down, and someone replaced it with Café Penne. Gone were the brilliant frozen Red Eyes; my standard order of Cottage Cheese Tortillas & Mexican Corn Rice and the complimentary bread basket that had more appeal than anything I ever ordered on their menu. Instead, there was this slightly casual restaurant claiming to serve Italian food.

Penne took time getting it's act together. My first couple of visits were not disastrous but mediocre. So it was after a year and a half that I found myself at Penne again last week on a friend's insistence.

The restaurant has a large martini selection that turned out to be moderate to good – friend’s appletini was great and my esspressotini okay-ish. The appetizer (deep fried stuffed mushroom) had a delicate herb flavoring and came with an equally good dip. Breads could have been better; but they won me over with their Neapolitan Pizza. Thin, crisp and just perfect for folding over and eating like you would do in Italy.

And yet, Penne misses the buzz of Rain. Where there used to be a jostle to get to the bar, there is a mass of empty tables at prime dinner time. And I think I know why : good it may be, but fabulous it is not. Penne's biggest shortcoming is that it isn't Rain, and can never be!

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Fudge Factor



What do you do with leftover khoya (mawa)? It's not a question I am faced with often as I rarely buy this rich condensed milk, the base for countless Indian sweets. But with bright red carrots now in season, I got myself a pack to make gajar halwa. That was last week, and once gajar halwa was over and done with, I still had half a cup of khoya fast approaching it's expiry date. As I said, there are countless ways to use this khoya. Almond fudge was my quick and easy way.

I thought of this one on the spur of the moment and it took less than a minute to make, so it's a bit hard to write down the recipe. But let me try. Crumble 1/2 cup khoya in a microwave safe bowl. Mix 2 tbsp ground almonds and a tbsp of castor sugar. Sprinkle on the khoya. Microwave at 50% power for 20 seconds, mix to blend all the ingredients and return to the microwave for another 20-30 seconds until the khoya is really soft. Pat into a rough square on a greased dish, let cool a bit then cut into squares. Your almond fudge is ready.

You can do fancy stuff before the fudge sets - like sprinkle nuts or garnish with silver warq. But as I said, this wasn't even a recipe - just the pretence of using up khoya and a guilty snack on a sunday afternoon.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A sushi from a long time ago

Flash back two years. I was passing by Nobu on London's Berkeley Street. Not a place, I knew, you entered without a reservation. But it wouldn't hurt to ask, and they actually had a place for one. Not a table, but a seat on the sushi bar. Just perfect, for I only really wanted to eat sushi (and watch the chefs as an added bonus). I ordered a drink, then told the elderly sushi chef I am a vegetarian, and the rest of my dinner was in his hands. Two rolls? I nodded yes, thinking we both meant the standard maki.

But he had other plans. He carefully cut a square off a red bell pepper. Then he brought out a torch and charred the little bell pepper. The effect was dramatic, but very carefully orchestrated. Then came out the little ball of rice, the now peeled grilled pepper was put on top and the whole bundle was tied up with what I knew to be some sort of seaweed but it was surely not nori. He carefully pondered on his choice of flavors, then picked one little bottle and sprinkled something on top.

The second roll was topped with two mushrooms, differently colored to a lovely effect. He also made, at my request, a california roll with asparagus tempura and avocado. But I always recall that first, dramatically made nigiri sushi fondly. This is that sushi.



I never knew what he tied the roll with so I used strips of nori. And the flavor on top, that's missing too but peppers and sushi rice made a thoroughly lovely combination.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Peppermint Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows



The hot chocolate is the easy bit. I just followed my now-standard recipe but used Hershey's mint chocolate chips instead of the regular dark chocolate. The real excitement was when i decided to make my own marshmallows. This recipe comes straight from Nicole over at bakingbites. I halved it, as I am apt to do with everything. But apart from that, it was just a straightforward recipe. At least at first.

I found a large bowl and soaked 10 gms gelatine in 1/4 cup water for 10 minutes. In the meantime, I mixed 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup corn syrup and 2 tbsp water in a pan and boiled it for a minute, then poured it on the soaked gelatine and added a pinch of salt and a tsp of vanilla essence.

Next you are supposed to switch on the hand mixer to high and whip the gelatine/sugar mix. This is where the fun begins. Not a single recipe I've read warned me that sparks will fly. And does hot liquid sugar fly! After 3-4 minutes, I swapped into a deeper, much larger bowl. And by the time I finished the suggested 12-minute whipping, every visible surface in my kitchen (including myself) was coated in sticky sugar. But I had a fluffy mixture that I scraped into a clingfilm lined shallow, square dish and covered with more clingfilm to seal.

Because marshmallows are to be left alone to set overnight, I left kitchen in its mess for my maid to clean the next day and ordered myself a pizza.

Once a few gallons of hot water and lot of tedious hard work cleaned my kitchen the next morning, I went in and carefully removed the cover from the marshmallow bowl. I mixed 1/4 cup each of icing sugar and cornflour and sprinkled some of it on a plate. I inverted my marsmallow block on this plate and cut it into square pieces. It's a bit tricky because the sugar sticks but I followed Nicole's tip and dipped my very sharp bread knife in hot water after every cut. Then I picked each marshmallow and dipped it in the sugar and cornflour mix.

Did I tell you already that I halved the recipe? I still have enough marshmallows to drink hot chocolate every day for at least a month. And eat some on the side too!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's been a great one year!

Life is...

- A buttery cookie

- Books and conversations

- Strawberries in season

- Tea and pakoras on a rainy day

- The perfect pasta

- Sandwiches on a weary afternoon

- Celebrations with friends old and new

- Paneer Butter Masala and Paranthas..anytime, anywhere

- Hot Chocolate with marshmallows on a winter evening

- Whims, fancies and fantasies

Life is memories...

Happy Birthday, Bombay Foodie