Sunday, August 30, 2009

This Book Makes Me Cook : Pomegranate Soup

I had a sense of deja vu reading our book club's pick for August. Marsha Mehran's Pomegrante Soup is a story of three Iranian sisters who escape the revolution, flee to London, then land up in an Irish village where they set up a cafe. The book is replete with references to food, and has plenty of drama thrown in both as a clash of cultures and the memories haunting from the past.

Now where have I read this before? You're right; the plot, down to the minutest detail, is from Chocolat. The village bully, the friendly folks who reluctantly get drawn to the exotic cafe never seen in these parts before - you've read everything from this story before in a French setting. Yet Pomegranate Soup is a pleasant way to pass a weekend afternoon. Certainly, everyone on the book club loved it.


The best part of the book is that each chapter starts with a recipe, and that dish is then folded into the story being told. There are plenty of great ideas to pick from. What I picked was a bread/cracker I'd been planning to bake for a while anyway. The thin, crisp, lavash.

To make lavash, mix 1/2 tbsp yeast with 1/4 cup warm water. After 10-15 minutes, add 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 tbsp sugar and a tsp of salt. Slowly mix in a cup of whole wheat flour. Knead into the dough, adding more plain flour as necessary. You will probably need another cup, which makes it half whole wheat, half all purpose flour bread. Knead until the dough feels smooth. Roll into a ball, put in a covered container and let rise until doubled.

Knead the dough for a few seconds to flatten the big bubbles. Now pinch a ball of dough as big as you can handle and roll until it's what Marsha calls paper thin. Cut into long strips as I did, or into smaller crackers and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or anything else you fancy. Heat the oven to as high as it would go; mine's highest is 270C. Bake for 5-7 minutes until they get brown and crisp.

That's my flavor of Iran. What's other members?

Jaya makes this gorgeous lentil soup.
Sweatha makes the Pomegranate Soup itself.
Aqua makes the refreshing dugh.

Next month, we are reading Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray. If you would like to join us, please leave a comment here and I will get back with details.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Be careful what you wish for...


For didn't I say last month that the daring bakers challenges were getting to be too simple. And just a few days later, Angela and Lorraine, this month's hosts, responded with a Dobos Torte. I haven't heard of this Hungarian torte before and I read the eight page pdf of the recipe with growing apprehension.

You'd know when I explain what a Dobos Torte is. It's a five layer sponge cake with chocolate buttercream, topped with caramel. Now I've never made a sponge cake before. I've made buttercream once but I wouldn't know how to apply it neatly on a cake. And caramel! Isn't it that scary thing that goes from just done to burnt in a second.

To make it easier, I decided to make a mini cake with just 1/6th the original recipe. That's where Audax comes in. You don't know Audax? He's got to be the most helpful daring baker. And because he usually completes the challenge the day it's announced, we rely on him to clarify techniques and occasional bugs in the recipes. I know I do.

So Audax came with this fabulous way to make even layers of sponge cake just as thick as a matchstick. I took his advice and baked a sheet of cake, then used my round cookie cutter to cut out five circles of thin cake. And a sixth smaller circle for the caramel layer. So far so good.

Making the buttercream was easy too. I am not a fan of lightly cooked eggs in buttercream, so I took Aparna's advice and replaced the eggs with a paste made of milk and corn starch. Lovely, shiny, silky cream. If only I could apply it in an even layer. That so didn't happen as you can see but it was delicious.

And finally, the caramel. To me, that was the bit that brought this cake together. A lot of members thought they found the caramel with lemon juice too lemony so I made one important change to the recipe. Instead of the lemon juice, I added 1/2 a tsp of lemon essence. Yes, it was hard to judge when it was done. But it didn't burn, and it was so delicious. Of course I got more than just that little disk that you see there, so I dropped chunks of it on a parchment that I then picked and ate. Just like that. It was like toffee, but better.

The final cake was too sweet for me, so maybe I'd make my buttercream with bitter chocolate if I do this a second time.

Before I sign-off, the mandatory blog checking lines:
The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caff├ęs of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

And a quick look at the half eaten cake, just before it all vanished.



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's arrived!



It's good that flipkart sends you a mail the day they ship the books you have ordered. Or I might have fainted, or something. As it is, my heart skipped a few beats as I opened the brown packaging and came face to face with this most beautiful of cookbooks.

Or rather, it's so not a cookbook. It's a chronicle of Alinea, the restaurant and the dining experience it's vastly talented yet whimsical chef Grant Achatz has created. I don't think I will have the courage to cook a single recipe in this book even if I can find the ingredients (right now I cant!). But at least in the meantime, or at least until I get to Chicago and eat at Alinea, I can gawk at this beautiful work of art.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Healthy Spinach Rice for Microwave Potluck Party



Is it really two years that Srivalli has been running her innovative microwave cooking event. She's prompted me to try my microwave for more than just heating several times. Just like last year, Srivalli celebrates the event anniversary with a potluck party. I took a dessert to the party last time around, but this time I was rooting for something healthier. I turned to last year's roundup, and there was this spinach rice. Valli, hope you don't mind getting the same dish on the menu again.

To make spinach rice, wash and soak 1/2 cup rice. In a microwave safe dish, heat a tsp of ghee for 30 seconds. Add 5-6 peppercorns and heat for another 10 seconds. Now add a small onion, chopped finely and microwave for another 30 seconds. Add a cup of finely chopped spinach, 1/2 a tsp of garam masala and another 1/2 tsp of salt. Mix and cook for 2-3 minutes until the spinach wilts. Add rice to the bowl, and a cup of water then pop it back in the microwave for 5 minutes. Bring it out and check how far you are from the rice getting cooked (the amount of water left in the rice is a good guide). I had to cook the rice for another 5 minutes and let it rest for another 5 to finish cooking in the steam.

And now for some award time. Faiza Ali and Mrignayani, two new found friends, have passed on the Scrumptious Blog award to me:



Thanks a lot, both of you. It feels great to know you enjoy the blog.

In turn, I would like to pass on the award to seven other scrumptious blogs:

- Alka, the Sindhi foodie, who's taking a blog break but continues to show up with some yummy words of wisdom at Beyond Curries.
- Aqua, whose many easy recipes I've tried and loved.
- Jaya, the multifaceted cook, potter and booklover.
- Prathibha, cooking to glory in my own city of Mumbai.
- Priya for her easy, tasty and healthy recipes.
- Rush, the Ex-Bombayiite with a passion for life. I love her thoughts, her rants, her experiences.
- Siri, whose lovely blog just completed a scrumptious two years.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Go Nuts!


This recipe is pure coincidence. I was baking shortbread last week, and ran out of chocolate chips to top the cookies. So, instead, I pressed an almond in the center of each one. One of these almonds was less than stuck so it popped out, and I just ate it right out of the oven. Bliss! I first thought I will pull out the almonds and eat them, each one of them. But then, I just decided to be nice and make the roasted almonds by themselves.

This time around, I mixed half a cup of almonds with a tsp of olive oil, 1/2 a tsp of sea salt and a generous pinch of herbs de Provence. Then lined a baking tray with parchment and arranged the almonds in a single layer. Mimicking the baking time for my cookies, I baked these on the top shelf at 170C for 30 minutes, rotating once in between. The savory version was even lovlier, so much that you should make them right away. Really. I insist.

On a side note, if you aren't familiar with herbs de Provence, that's a lovely combination of dried herbs. Mine's got thyme, basil, marjoram, oregano and rosemary. Substitute with any of these herbs individually if you like, or omit it entirely - the plain salted ones are in the oven now and they seem mightily good too.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bombay Foodie is changing...


I have always been a proponent of healthy eating. But somewhere along the line, with my new found love of baking, I've veered towards the devilish treats a bit too much. It's been fun baking those buttery cookies and chocolate-y cakes, but now I'm taking a pause and setting my diet straight.

No, this does not mean you will only see salads over here from now on. And I am surely gonna bake whatever sinful decadence daring bakers come up with. But do expect more whole wheat treats rather than white bread; and some olive oil instead of butter.

I make a start with this month's taste and create.

Laura is my partner the second time round. Even the first time, I was impressed by the range of her cooking; from lovely breads to tons of chocolate cookies to vegetarian dishes from around the world. This time, I picked her chickpea salad.

First, you boil the chickpeas. Then, you mix roughly a cup of boiled chickpeas with a tbsp of chopped cilantro and a small sliced onion. Then you mix a tbsp each of lemon juice and olive oil and whisk it with ground cumin, salt and black pepper. All of this goes into the chickpeas that you arrange on a bed of seasonal greens.

In a separate bowl, you whisk together 3 tbsp yogurt, a tbsp of orange juice, a tsp of honey, a tbsp of chopped mint and just a pinch of salt. Pour this on top of the chickpeas. Individually, the chickpeas and the yogurt sauce would have been delicious. Together, they just explode with taste.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Christmas in August


Cinnamon, sugar, raisins and a house full of sweet baking fragrance. That's the bread I picked from the seasonal breads the three bakers from A Year in Bread baked in December. This was Kevin's recipe, and although I made one major change (replaced the eggs with an equal quantity of milk), the rolls came out real nice.

Can't write more as my mom's here and we are off to the beach as soon as we finish eating the rolls. She goes back tomorrow, and once I'm over the paranthas and kadhi-chawal she's been feeding me this past week, I'd be back with some new stuff.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A curry, an award and seven top secrets


Once, at a dinner in Hyderabad, I ate an egg curry. It was actually called an Egg Korma and had a brown curry very different from the red tomato based curries of North India. Nor was this curry tangy with tamarind. And it had a peculiar fragrant spicy flavor. I've looked to replicate this recipe for a few years now. And finally, it worked. I spotted this recipe over at Prasukitchen a few days back. Followed it just as she made it, and it was simply perfect. That spice I mentioned, that was kasuri methi - the missing link in all my previous attempts.

And I have more things to be thankful for today. Aquadaze and Jaya, two friends I've come to know through the book club, have passed the Kreativ Blogger award to me. Thanks a lot, both of you!



I have to pass on this award to seven other people. So off it goes to Harini, Sweatha, Shaheen, Lubna, Debbie, Laura and Bluespriite.

This award also requires me to tell seven secrets about me. Just in case you are interested, read on:

1. I was a very picky eater as a child. Even though the range of foods I eat has expanded, I still frown on at least half the vegetables I know of.

2. I love to cook alone. Being in the kitchen when I am cooking is not fun, trust me!

3. I buy cookbooks only for the glamrous food photography. There are several I've never cooked a single recipe from.

4. I read a book about an American missionary to China when I was ten year old, and I've wanted to learn mandarin ever since.

5. I love to read thrillers and science fiction.

6. I try to avoid eggs when baking as I can't stand the eggy smell of sweet goodies. Eggs in savory dishes don't bother me.

7. I hate getting up in the mornings.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

AWED Roundup : An English Summer

I asked for English food, and did you guys awe me with your ideas. 17 lovely entries, and one of mine - great British food for you to pick from.

An English Breakfast



If you read your Wodehouse right, you would remember those breakfast sideboards heaving with dishes. What I have instead is something even better: traditional yet healthy ideas.

Bhagyashri had to search a bit for an English dish fitting her current diet. And did she come up with a winner, with this lovely beans on toast.

Sweatha makes the traditional Scottish breakfast of Tattie Scones. That's panfried mashed potatoes, enough motivation to me to try these immediately.

And DK, the brain behind AWED, delivers a breakfast winner with her English Muffins.

Teatime Soiree



The afternoon tea, with its formality, and its lovely sandwiches and cakes and scones, is my favorite part of British cuisine.

And scones we have, of three different kinds. Four, actually. Yamini makes scones with strawberries and another version with chocolate chips.

Sweatha comes up with these lovely cream and ginger scones.

And I have apricot orange scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam as part of my formal tea setting. This tea table also has cucumber sandwiches.

For a weekend treat, our teatime has traditional pound cake courtesy Ann.

And Madhuram over at Eggless Cooking chips in with some healthy whole wheat digestive cookies.

Dinner's Served



The main course has never been a mainstay of British cuisine. For didn't the Englishmen prefer the French dishes. But there are some hidden gems.

And then some inspired from the Indian cuisine as well. One of my favorite dishes that the Britishers adapted and took back with them is this Mulligatawny Soup that Meena comes up with.

And Ramki has another Indo-British inspiration, with his rice recipes from the British Raj.

As a side dish, Sweatha has Colcannon, a simple Irish dish of cabbage and mashed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes make a grand appearance again in two variations of that rustic dish, the Shepherd's pie.

Naina from Le-Bouffe take her mother's recipe and makes a delicious shepherd's pie, both in traditional and a vegan version with soybean granules.

And Sheba comes up with a Lentils Shepherd's Pie.

What's for Dessert



What defines an English summer for you? For me, it's Wimbledon and strawberries with cream. Aqua makes a healthier version with yogurt instead of cream.

Another English dessert not to trifle with; Faiza makes the English Trifle complete with sponge cake, custard, strawberries and whipped cream.

I was hoping someone will come up with this one. Jaya makes that dessert with a funny name; a vegan version of Spotted Dick.

And then two versions of those famed British puddings. First, a self-saucing Butterscotch Pudding from Johanna. Delicious for a winter night, and you don't even need any sauce or icing.

And finally, that English classic - the Bread and Butter Pudding, in an eggless version from Pari. I dislike the eggy flavor of the original one too, so this one's gone straight to my to-try list.

I hope you enjoyed our journey through British cuisine. And I hope I didn't miss anyone. Do let me know if I did, and I will promptly correct this post.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Simple Pleasures


Last night, I got a call from my maid/cook. Her daughter wanted a fruit salad for a school project and did I have any ideas. I did, of course, but this turned out to be a bit tricky. Thanks to next door supermarket, I haven't shopped at the local fruit seller's for a few months. So I first had to find out the range of fruits to expect. Pretty slim pickings, as it turns out. She had bananas, chickoos and pears. And probably some sour plums or pomegranate. But no kiwi or pineapple. Not even mangoes, now that monsoons have set in. And who's heard of sprigs of mint once the rain has started. I was also reliably informed that you can't buy heavy whipping cream at the local grocer's.

As this simple idea took root in my mind, I was tempted to try the salad for myself. First in a glass goes a layer of chopped bananas. Then a layer of peeled and diced chickoos. I put the fruit in the freezer to chill for a few minutes. In the meantime, I mixed a tbsp each of yogurt and malai (top cream off the milk) with a tsp of caster sugar and beat everything until smooth. Poured this on top of chilled fruit, then topped with ruby red pomegranate seeds.

Simple, but totally delicious!