Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When citrus met cinnamon...

I love citrusy flavours. Well, not just flavours but I love the fragrance too, which is why a lot of my perfumes have these notes. There is something so refreshing about citrus that immediately cheers you up!

Talking about aromas, the one that emanates from the oven when there's something citrusy baking is nothing short of heaven. It is so welcoming and comforting at the same. And another aroma that instantly brings a big smile on my face is that of cinnamon. In fact, even the husband enjoys this so it is something that you find at home pretty often. When ingredients can make the house smell so fabulous, who needs those fancy room fresheners?

So one of those Saturdays when I was on a baking spree, which is quite commonplace for a Saturday, by the way, I wanted to bake some cupcakes. We were visiting some family in the evening and what better than cupcakes to give them? But I didn't want to do anything with chocolate. I wanted something that was, well, different. Something that would be full of flavour but not overwhelm. I tossed a couple of ideas in my head and weighed my options, finally I zeroed in on - citrus and cinnamon. I wanted to marry these two in harmony so I also decided against doing a ganache or a buttercream frosting and went in for a simple royal icing instead.

Citrus & cinnamon cupcakes

2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of cinnamon powder
A pinch of salt

Sift these ingredients together into a mixing bowl. Keep them aside for a while.

In another bowl put together the following ingredients:
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of olive oil
2 tbsp of curds

Mix them together to form a smooth mixture and then add
1 tsp of orange zest
1/2 tsp of lemon zest
1/2 cup of orange juice

Mix again to ensure that the batter is lump-free and in case you find the batter to be very dry then, add about 1/2 cup of milk.

Pour the batter into greased, lined cupcake moulds and bake at 180 degrees celsius for 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool down completely before frosting them.

Royal icing
I followed this recipe to the T.

To proceed: Once the cupcakes have cooled down, drizzle the icing over them. You can do this by using a piping bag or just dip a fork into them and shake it over the cupcakes.

* If you don't like the flavours to be very citrusy, then reduce the amont of orange zest and add some vanilla essence in the batter

* To make this a completely vegan recipe, use 1 tsp of flaxseeds powdered and mixed with 1 tbsp of water in place of the curds. Also, don't use the milk to adjust the consistency of the batter, you can use some soy milk in its place

* Never frost cakes or cupcakes when they're warm or even room temperature, they should ideally be kept in the fridge for a while before frosting. This helps to hold the frosting and keeps it from sliding off

Monday, September 8, 2014

Another first, this time, sweetened with jaggery

Today is the last day of Ganesh Chaturti and I'm writing this with loud, almost screeching music in the background.

This festival, like any other in the country, is associated with a lot of rituals and customs that are studiously followed. One of these is that the rice and coconut that are used during the puja need to be made into a vegetarian dish before Anant Chaturdashi, or visarjan as it is popularly known. This is the day all Ganpati idols are immersed into the sea but not before a grand, almost ostentatious farewell.

So when I was given the rice and coconut, all my mother-in-law told me was that I had to make something vegetarian. It could be something sweet she said, or even a savoury dish and generously gave me a couple of options too. But you know me, I didn't want to do something which was in my comfort zone, so I thought of things I could do. The easiest would be a kheer but I know I don't have the patience to stand stirring that in front of a pot, so the kheer was struck off the list. Then I thought of a plain and simple coconut rice, that was the problem - it was simple. I also thought of making a Thai curry with rice by making the curry from scratch, even the coconut milk. And so it went on...

Until the other day when a colleague told us about this extremely fast and fuss-free way to make kheer in the pressure cooker. It sounded as simple as dunking the ingredients together and allowing the pressure cooker to do its magic. So I thought, why not, let's give this a chance! I'd not made kheer in a very long time and that was reason enough.

Me being me, I made a couple of changes to the regular kheer recipe. To begin with I used jaggery instead of sugar, the husband and I both love the caramelly, earthy flavour of this sweetner so using it was actually a no-brainer for me. The other thing that I did was I made the coconut milk from scratch. It was quite the effort but worth it in the end,

Rice and coconut kheer
1 cup of rice, washed and soaked in water for about 20 minutes
1 cup of milk, I used skim milk
1 1/2 cups of jaggery, chopped or the granules
1 1/2 cups of coconut milk, I used 1 cup of thin milk and 1/2 cup of the thick milk
1 tbsp of cashewnuts
1/2 tbsp of ghee
A few drops of almond essence

Drain and wash the rice. Place it in a slightly biggish bowl. Now add the milk, thin coconut milk and jaggery. Stir it all together so that the jaggery mixes in well. Pressure cook the whole thing for about 20 minutes or 2 whistles.

Allow the cooker to cool down and remove the dish out. If you think that the kheer is too dry then add some milk. Place the dish on a low flame and stir in the thick coconut milk along with the almond essence. Keep stirring to ensure the coconut milk doesn't split. Taste at regular intervals to check the sweetness of the dish.

Meanwhile, fry the cashewnuts in some ghee and put these on top of the kheer. Serve hot.

*You can use basmati rice for a very fragrant kheer

* Instead of almond essence you can use some cardamom powder or even some nutmeg powder

*Top the kheer with fried raisins or pistachios or even some pinenuts

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ganpati goes healthy

Ganesh Chaturti is one festival that is synonymous with feasting. Really! The amount of goodies made in honour of the Elephant God used to make me envious as a child and now, when I make some of these goodies myself I can't help but bask in the festivities. For me this festival is all about chaklis, nevris (crescent shaped pastry stuffed with a coconut mixture and fried), the famous modaks and a host of other traditional delicacies that you can gorge on just this one time in the year.

This year I wanted to do something different.

When I was pondering over what I could make, keeping in mind the various restrictions that each one of us in the family have, I narrowed my choices down and decided that whatever I made had to be steamed, baked, roasted or grilled. Like the rest of us, even Ganpati gets to diet this year. Actually it isn't so much a diet but just a matter of eating healthy.

A couple of days ago my mom tried her hand at baking some chaklis. For the uninitiated these are spirals made with rice flour, flavoured with chilli powder and sesame seeds. The mother was thrilled with her version of baked chaklis and I was inspired.

I've tasted these Roasted Soya Chaklis that I picked up from a store near my place. They were so delicious that I had to stop myself from finishing the whole packed. My search for an easy recipe of Baked Chaklis led me to Divine Taste's space. The recipe here seemed simple and I knew that I could pull this off. So I decided to make a trial batch yesterday. These came out so well that I've now decided to make a bigger batch later this week for the Lord.

The original recipe uses only rice flour and powdered bengal gram flour but I added a little twist, I've used nachni (ragi) and jowar flour.

Baked chaklis
Adapted from Divine Taste

1 cup of rice flour
1/4 cup of ragi (nachni/ finger millet) flour
1/4 cup of jowar (sorghum) flour
1/2 cup of roasted bengal gram dal (phutana), powdered in the mixie
1 tsp of salt
3/4 tsp of red chilli powder
A small pinch of hing/asafoetida
1/4 tsp of baking soda
1 tbsp of oil, I used olive oil
1 tsp of sesame seeds
Water to knead

Sift flours, red chilli powder, salt, hing and baking soda together and place it in a mixing bowl.

Now take the olive oil and heat it, but make sure it doesn't smoke. Pour this over the flour mixture and mix well.

Gradually add water to this and mix well. You will need to use your hands to knead the dough. After the dough has formed add sesame seeds and mix again.

Allow the dough to rest for about 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pipe spirals on a greased baking sheet or parchment paper. I used aluminium foil for this step. Bake the chaklis at 160 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on these because, as you go on the chaklis get done faster. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool down completely, at this stage you are allowed to pop in a few just to sample, and store in either ziplock bags or an airtight container.

* You can use 1 1/2 cups of rice flour as given in the original recipe if you don't want to use the other two flours

* Taste the chakli dough as you go along and season accordingly

* Add some ajwain/carom seeds in place of sesame to give it  a different flavour

I'm sending this recipe to the Festival Cooking event at Savis Passions and also to Bake Fest, started by Vardhini, which is now being hosted at Full Scoops this month


Friday, August 22, 2014

Oats take a trip down south!

Weekend breakfast is always a leisurely and rather elaborate affair at our place. Elaborate here, doesn't mean a multiple course meal but, what it is actually is something that's a little more fancier than oats, bread or poha, all of which comprise our weekday breakfast menus. When you're rushing around in a city like Mumbai there isn't really enough time to make dosas or idlis for breakfast, which is why these form a part of our weekend menus.

Dosas are a must during the weekend. Generally I make the regular variety but sometimes I end up experimenting, we've had ragi dosas, jowar dosas, rava dosas, mix dal dosas, adai (made with lentils) and even pesarattu (which is made with moong). Yup, there's quite a variety to the seemingly humble dosa!

One of the first breakfasts that my mother-in-law made for me when I got married and moved here was this beautiful, bursting-with-flavour dosa made with oats. I remember asking her for the recipe that time and then making a mental note of it. The other day when I was wondering which version of the dosa to make for breakfast, I thought and mulled over, suddenly from a corner of my memory I remembered this particular version and decided to go ahead with it. This is an instant variety of dosa so you can mix the batter even five minutes before it goes on the tawa and you have breakfast ready in minutes! Try it, I know you will love it.

Oats dosa
2 cups of quick cooking oats, slightly roasted (I used Quaker)
1/2 cup of rawa, the slightly thicker variety
1/3 cup of curds
1/2 cup of any chopped vegetables, I used baby corn, onion and spinach
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1/4 tsp of turmeric powder
1 tbsp of coriander leaves, chopped
3-4 curry leaves, chopped
Salt to taste
Oil to cook

Place the oats, rawa, vegetables, coriander and curry leaves in a big bowl. Mix it together with a spoon. Now add the chilli, turmeric powder and curds. Mix again. Gradually add water till you get a thick batter. Adjust salt.

Keep this mixture aside for five to 10 minutes, if you have the time.

Heat a tawa and spread a thin layer of oil. Now pour one ladle/spoon full of the batter on this and spread it out evenly in the form of a disc. Cook on a medium flame. Flip over and cook again until both sides have browned or turned golden. Serve hot with chutney.

Mint chutney
This is one of the simplest chutneys to make and can be used for anything right from spreading on a sandwich to an accompaniment for dishes like idli, dosa to even in chaat. My version doesn't use coconut and is hence friendly for those who are watching their diet.

1 small bunch of mint leaves, cleaned and roughly chopped
A handful of coriander leaves, cleaned and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, I use them with the peel
1 green chilli
1/2 tbsp of roasted bengal gram dal (phutana)
Salt to taste
A little water

Grind all the ingredients together to form a smooth paste. Adjust the seasoning and then serve with dosas. This chutney can also be stored in the fridge for about three days.

*I generally roast the oats and store them, this helps them retain their shape and texture while cooking. Otherwise it turns into a mush

*You can add any kind of vegetables to this dosa, one combination that will work well is grated carrots, onion and peas. If you want to do a little exotic twist then go in for bell peppers and some chopped broccoli

*Allowing the batter to rest for at least five minutes gives all the ingredients a chance to come together. As a result you get a dosa which has more well-rounded flavours

I'm sending this recipe to the Come, join us for breakfast event at Cooking4AllSeasons

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The truth about Mondays

Monday. That very word is enough to draw sighs and long face. Talk about the power of one word that can bring out so many emotions in different people! Well I have this thing about Mondays, no I don't like them, but I have a technique that will make them easier, better, oh well, just a little more tolerable - I ensure that I do something I like at the end of the day. Simple. Whether it is catching up with a girlfriend for a quick drink, something the husband and I like to eat for dinner or even watching my favourite movie. Yes, something that simple. Try it. I know it's worked for me and you may find that it eases the Monday Blues for you too.

So when I got this invite from Food Bloggers Association of India (FBAI) for a tasting at Vicinia on a Monday morning, I was kicked. I knew I had my solution for this Monday. Vicinia is a quaint little cafe-cum-bar that's located in Kemps Corner. Since it is not too far away from home, the husband and I had been there before and we quite liked it. But I was curious to find out more especially because they said, "The menu has been revamped." So I reached the place when it was pouring outside and there were already a few bloggers who had arrived at the same time. Introductions were made and we were all chatting about the weather, the awful traffic and the Mumbai food scene in general.

Star Wars
I wanted to have something warm and even though my glass of Chenin Blanc was at the table, I decided to waited till the Seafood Bisque came. It was worth the wait, the soup was warm, comforting and just what I need to calm the chills. Next came a glass of Sangria, which I wasn't too impressed with, as one of the people behind Vicinia, Girish Ragnekar, joined us to take us through the whole concept and what he has in mind for the future. Girish suggested we try some of the signature cocktails - one was a Green Dragon, which was a olive and jalapeno martini and the other, Star Wars, which was a mix of Limca, Gin and star anise. I went in for the latter and found it very refreshing.

Spicy chicken skewers
Cranberry and goat cheese crostini 

Meanwhile we also sampled some of the starters, some spicy and delicious Chicken Skewers, which looked simple but were an explosion of flavours that just made the senses tingle. We also had some Beetroot hummus, which was strictly average, and some Goat cheese and cranberry crostini. While the combination for the crostini topping was yumm by itself I wasn't very convinced about it all coming together. For me, it was a bit too sweet and creamy, I wish there was some arugula or rocket leaves used as a garnish to add some texture and also colour.

Beetroot hummus

Lamb and cheese tarts
Next we had some Bacon wrapped prawns being served at the table. I've eaten some very stellar versions of this dish so I had my hopes up really high. And I guess that was the problem, the bacon was a little chewy and I was hoping that the prawns itself had some more flavour which could make up for this. We were also served some Lamb and cheese tarts, which looked exciting, but unfortunately the tart shell was sweet and for me this ruined the whole thing. By now I was hoping some dish would come along that would make us all go wow. So next up was this salad that stole my heart. Really. This was a Poached pear salad with walnuts, the pear was poached in wine which gave it this real depth of flavour and a beautiful, silky texture. The salad had about three ingredients but it just worked so well together. Since I liked this salad so much I ate a little more that what I should have, I know that would mean compromising on tasting some of the other dishes but I didn't mind.

Salmon, caramelised onion and arugula salad

Following this was a salmon, caramelised onion and arugula salad, which was a beautiful combination of flavours that were sweet, salty and sharp at the same time. This was followed by some Mushroom Risotto, which had that beautiful earthy flavour that you get when you've cooked the mushrooms really well. It smelt great so I was eager to dig in. Now risotto is a very tricky dish to master, it is known as the 'death dish' on Masterchef Australia for a reason! This one was packed with mushrooms, which I loved but the rice was bit more than al dente so I wasn't too impressed but on the whole, it was a good dish to tuck into.

Mushroom risotto 

I knew that after this I couldn't eat much so I only managed a teeny weeny slice of the seafood pizza that came next, this was delicious and I wished I could have another slice but I knew I'd be pushing it. Anyway, this was okay with me as I had to leave at this juncture. I would have loved to stay on and see what else Girish and Vicinia had to offer but, maybe some other time.

Seafood pizza

If you want to visit Vicinia, here's where you need to head to:
Ground floor, Chinoy Mansion, Near Gangar Opticians, Kemps Corner. Mumbai. 
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