Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lazy Weekend Rice



This one's for the sundays you don't really feel like cooking much. Also for days when you don't want to go out and shop for food. As long as you have rice and some tomato puree, you can design this recipe to use whatever you have languishing in your fridge.

For this week's version, I chopped an onion finely. Also found a yellow pepper I didn't know I'd bought and chopped it finely too, minus the seeds. While this was happening, I washed and soaked half a cup of rice and took out a cup of mushroom stock from the freezer.

Next, I heated a tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Added two cloves of garlic that I'd peeled and minced. As the garlic started to sizzle, I added the onion and the peppers. Stirred it around for a couple of minutes until the onion had started to turn brown. I then drained the rice and added it to the pan. Mixed it well with the veggies and let it cook for a minute or so. Next in, 2 tbsp of tomato puree. Waited another minute, then added the mushroom stock alongwith some salt, pepper and my current favorite seasoning : herbs de provence. I let the stock come to a boil, then reduced the heat to a simmer and covered the pan.

Five minutes later, I remembered the bowl of chickpeas I'd set aside for hummus that was never made so I went back and added them to the rice. I figured the time delay wont matter much since the chickpeas were already boiled and it didn't. As long as I was adding stuff, I also pitched in with a dash of smoked chipotle sauce (another recent craze; I add it to everything!).

Covered the pan back again and let it simmer until the rice was done, with the stock all absorbed. Some torn mint leaves added the final fresh touch, and then time to go back to lazy sunday nap!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Macadamia Praline Cupcakes



I first tasted macadamia nuts when a visiting cousin brought some back from Australia. The only plant native to the continent down under, macadamias have a subtle flavor unmatched by any other nut. When a friend got me another pack a few weeks back, the only way I could thank him was to bake something with macadamias.

I didn't want a cookie, I didn't want a whole cake (what will he do with so much cake!) so it was clear we were going the cupcake route. But then, I didn't want to just add ground or chopped macadamias to the batter. I wanted a cake where macadamias were the star.

And every time I thought of a cake, I visualized a vanilla cake topped with macadamia praline. I searched everywhere but couldn't find the exact cake I was looking for so I just created something of my own.

First off, I made praline. If you are scared of caramel, you are going to go away now. DON'T! It's simple and not as scary as it sounds. Line a baking sheet with parchment and spread 15 or so macadamia nuts on it. In a small saucepan, heat 3/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil on a slow heat, then turn up the gas and let the sugar boil undisturbed for 5 minutes. Watch it like a hawk, resisting all temptations to go out, answer the phone, do anything else at all! Once the sugar turns to an amber color, quickly pour on the nuts. Let it cool and harden, then grind to a crunchy powder in your food processor.

Next up, I made the cake I had a huge success with a few days back - Dorie's Simple Loaf Cake. I poured the batter into 6 parchment lined ramekins and set them to bake in an oven preheated to 180C. Ten minutes into the baking time, once the top had set a bit, I took out the cakes and sprinkled the praline all over. Back in the oven, they baked for another 15 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center came out with no crumbs.

The cupcakes tasted as pretty as they looked. So delicious in fact, that I almost dropped the idea of giving them away and was about to keep them all for myself. I did keep one for me in the end, and am I glad I did! While the loaf cake was delicious enough in itself, the praline topping added a depth of flavor the original lacked. Totally my best cake ever.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Masterclass Donuts



This post is pure coincidence; a confluence of two events. First, I saw this fabulous donut recipe on Masterchef Australia. I've been diligently following the show since it started but this was the first time a recipe really caught my attention. In a "make this right now" kind of manner.

Then the daring bakers came along and decided that we should do donuts this month. They even dispensed with their usual strict rules and said that anything goes, as long as it is broadly a donut. I've been missing challenges last few months, so this is just the perfect time to return to the club.

Made with a batter rather than a dough, the Mastechef donuts are misshapen and not exactly pretty. But they are light, crunchy and delicious. Following the recipe exactly as given, I rolled my hot, just fried donuts in lavender sugar, then used a pastry bag with a sharp tip to make a hole and fill the donuts with blackcurrant jam.

Unless you are catering to a crowd, reduce the recipe. I did 1/4th of the recipe and still got more than a dozen. Which, incidentally, were all gone within few seconds of my opening the box at work. So maybe you should make the full recipe anyway; it will make you incredibly popular.

PS : (The Mandatory Blog Checking Lines for Daring Bakers)
The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Japanese Street in Mumbai

Just back home after spending an exciting day with Harini. While I'm gonna let Harini tell you about the rest of the day, I thought we should talk about a certain Japanese food festival. Presented by the students of Institute of Hotel Management (or Dadar Catering College as its called by popular choice), the 4-day event was meant to recreate a Japanese street fair. So how would they do that? There was Japanese food, of course. And there was a lot more.

But first, the food. We were given five coupons each with our passes to spend on the food stalls. Between the two of us, we managed to sample everything on the rather elaborate spread:

Okonomiyaki : Savory pancakes made with cabbage and tons of other vegetables. They were nice and crisp but the overly tangy sauce on top destroyed the effect.

Vegetarian Appetizers : The best stall there was! In our vegetarian platter, we got yakitori skewered vegetables, a potato cutlet (who can dislike fried potato) and deep fried tofu in a crispy coating. The last one came topped with delicious wasabi mayonnaise, obviously courtesy Maido India, the sponsors of the event.

Sushi : A complete let down. The two maki rolls had under-seasoned rice and no fillings worth noticing. The nigiri roll came topped with tomato (gasp!). And the inari was filled with over-vinegared rice and nothing else. To top it all, the pickled ginger wasn't even pink.

Tempura : Crisp batter fried vegetables - do you think I'd have noticed even if it was horrible?

Curry : We went for tofu katsu curry. It was unmemorable except for the rice - the real sticky rice, instead of long grained variety every restaurant in Mumbai sends your way.

Soba Noodles : Soupy noodles in a vegetable stock. Nice, comfort food.

I didn't taste the miso soup, but Harini took one sip and declared it a failure. I did try two of the three desserts though. The green tea tiramisu started out fine, and the vanilla icecream with orange glaze was a nice enough end to the meal.

Now that we have covered everything on the food front, let's look at the rest of the street. There was an Ikebana stall, where both of us created our novice level "masterpieces". The origami stall was way too crowded, so didn't make it to that one. There was also a make-believe Japanese garden complete with cherry blossoms where you could get your picture in a kimono. And there was traditional tea ceremony - fun to watch even though I wasn't one of the volunteers to have tea.

All in all, a fun evening to end a fun sunday!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's in a Podi



I have a notebook full of recipes. It's tattered, falling out at the edges which tells me I started hoarding recipes early, pretty much before high school. There are recipes from magazines, from cookbooks I borrowed from library. I've even pasted recipes that come at the back of certain packages. Then there's a second notebook. This has to be somewhere from the end of my college years. I can't fathom how I got to be so organized, but I went back and added page numbers to both the notebooks and created an index, neatly split into recipe types and cuisines.

This second notebook has more "exotic" stuff from the first Jamie Oliver my library bought intertwined with Sanjeev Kapoor recipes. Then, because this notebook went travelling with me when I moved away from home, it has my first recipes copied from roommates and new friends.

One such recipe is podi, known affectionately as gunpowder. I am pretty sure podi means a generic chutney and comes in several forms, but my friend introduced it to me as this spicy version you mix with oil and eat with your idlis. Since then, no matter how many other recipes I've seen, this is the podi I make every single time I am in the risk of running out of my stock.

You heat a fry pan and roast a cup of chana dal in 1/2 tsp oil. Turn it out of the pan, then heat another 1/2 tsp oil and roast 3/4 cup split (white) urad dal. Mix a marble sized ball of tamarind (with no seeds or fibers), a tsp of hing, 4 tsp of chilli powder and salt to taste. Roast for a minute in just a hint of oil. You now have three plates of roasted stuff cooling away. Grind all three coarsely but separately, then mix to form your gunpowder.

Next time you make idlis, heap a tbsp of podi on your plate. Make a well in the center and add a couple of tsp of sesame oil. Mix to form a paste. Dip your idlis for the ultimate taste experience. But go easy on how much you eat in a go. After all, this isn't called gunpowder for no reason.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Have we talked about Cafe Britannia Yet

There are several reasons why Cafe Britannia doesn't automatically figure as my first pick of restaurants to talk about in Mumbai

1. They are tucked away in a corner of Ballard Estate, a rather long way from home.

2. They are open only for lunch; and they refuse to serve even that on sundays. Yes, on sundays they just stay at home!

3. They aren't big on service. As soon as you settle down in the ancient chairs set around checkered clothed, glass topped tables, they'd rather you order quickly from the small menu set below the glass. The food will show up quickly too, and then the menu clearly orders "Do not stay after you have paid the bill".

4. They don't believe in newfangled things like credit cards.

And yet, I knew we'd eventually get around to talking about this charming Parsi eatery. All for one reason : Berry Pulao. If you are a carnivore, you have parsi specialities like salli boti, patra fish and dhansak to pick from. But for a vegetarian, you only go to Britannia for one reason.

So what's berry pulao? It's rice cooked with vegatables, obviously. There's beans and peas and potatoes (and no carrots, thankfully!). But what makes is special is the tangy little Iranian berries that top the pulao and give it its name. Accompanying the berries are crisp, fried onions of the sort that you will find on the best of biryanis.

To go with your pulao, order the insanely sweet, dark pink raspberry soda. And finish off your meal with an impeccable caramel custard.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Found it!



It turns out my friend wasn't looking for pound cake at all. What finally met his approval as "THE CAKE" was this simplest loaf cake from Dorie Greenspan. At least, it started as Dorie's cake. Given the number of changes I made to the recipe, it's purely accidental it turned out to be as good as it did.

But there's no mistaking the fact it's incredibly simple. First off, I set my oven to preheat at 180C. Then, since I figured my silicone loaf pan could be a part of my previous cake problems, I lined the bottom and sides of a 7 inch metal cake pan with parchment.

My second problem, I reckoned, could have been the baking powder. If you are happy with the taste of commercial baking powder, by all means use that. I made my own by combining 2 parts cream of tartar with 1part baking soda. Sifted 2 tsp of this mix with 1 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 tsp salt.

In another bowl, I mixed 3 eggs, a cup of sugar, 1/2 cup yogurt and 2 tsp vanilla extract. Except I run out of caster sugar after I filled 2/3rd of the cup, and had to make up the quantity with confectioner's sugar. Who knows, the cornstarch in there might have helped the cake! And by the way, Dorie used sour cream not yogurt so switch to that if you like.

Whisk all these things until smooth, then add your sifted flour. Stir to combine and blend well with the liquid mix. Since this sounded way too plain to me, I also added a handful of candied citrus peel at this stage. Finally, pour in 1/2 cup canola oil. It will look like it will never mix with the batter but keep whisking and you will eventually have a glossy, well-blended mixture.

Pour in the cake tin and bake for around an hour. Start checking at 50 minutes and take it out when the toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no crumbs.

PS: If you are in Bombay and looking for canola oil, it's in one corner of the olive oil shelf at Hypercity.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pound Cake...FAIL



Or Not a fail exactly, but not perfect either. My friend is looking for a cake he used to eat and love many years ago. He says it was a plum cake, but when I showed him one of those, it turned out to be a different species. From what he describes his cake to be - brown at top, soft and buttery inside, no chocolate or nut or fruit in sight - it has to be a pound cake.

Now I've never made a pound cake before this. But in the past week, I've tried two recipes. The first one was New York Times' Citrus Almond Pound Cake. I don't quite know what happened but the batter was too thin when it went into the oven. It seemed wrong when I put it in, and an hour of cooking didn't make it any better.

The second one, that you see up there, is from smitten kitchen. It was soft, buttery and once I added the glaze that should have originally gone on the NY Times cake, parts of it were totally delicious. But only some parts. I baked it in a loaf tin, and while some parts of the cake got too dry, there were sections that were undercooked. I did check with the whole toothpick routine, but obviously I missed and had to throw away whole slices from the center of the cake.

What am I doing wrong? Do you have a fool proof recipe I can try? HELP!!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dormitory Days



My first home away from home. The company issue flat I shared my first years in Chandigarh with other singles not yet ready to set up a complete home. People transferred away from families. Transient couples who stayed a few days, or months.

It was the interlude between leaving home and starting a real life. My actual "growing up" years. My first brush with compassion, and conceit.

It was also the first time I realized that not everyone, everywhere eats paranthas for breakfast.

Tons of cultural nuances I picked up from other roomies stay with me even now. So do some recipes, new for me then, cherished ever since. This sambar is one of them. Made without any vegetables, even without curry leaves, this is a sambar of a bachelor kitchen. Of a house where everyone routinely forgot to shop for groceries, and the sad looking onion in the corner was the only concession to the sabziwala who stopped by last week.

First you boil 1/3 cup of arhar dal with 2 cups of water, salt and turmeric. You need it turned to a mush so be a bit generous with your cooking time. In the meantime, soak a golf ball sized piece of tamarind in a cup of warm water, and strain to get a thin pulp a few minutes later. Thinly slice the onion. Root into the cupboard for spices, manage to find some cumin seeds and black mustard seeds. Give up on everything else the recipe called for. Thank God that no one stole the MDH sambar powder sitting in that secret compartment in the fridge.

Heat a tbsp of oil. Add cumin and mustard seeds, about a tsp each, and let them splutter. Add onions and let them brown on a medium heat. Now add a tbsp of sambar powder, mix well and then add the tamarind water. Let it come to a boil and then simmer for 5-7 minutes. Add the dal, mashed into the water it was cooked in. Let everything simmer for a few minutes for the flavors to meld, then test for seasonings and add more salt if you need to.