Friday, August 14, 2015

Accidentally vegan

Being a food blogger, I know the importance of a good picture and for some time now I've been thinking of buying a DSLR. It had been on my mind for a couple of months now and I'd been asking people, doing research online and, of course, saving up for the camera. So when I finally bought it last week and it arrived promptly the next day, I couldn't wait to make something and click away! 

I wanted the first set of pictures to be special, I'm sentimental like that, but I didn't want to slave in the kitchen. So I decided to bake some Blueberry Muffins. 

Just look at these beauties!

Turned out that I ran out of milk and yogurt. Now I was in a fix! Milk, I could do without, but yogurt? That's essential to eggless baking. So I rummaged through the kitchen cupboards a little more. And that's when it struck me - why not try a vegan recipe? I decided to use flaxseed powder to give the muffins the texture they needed. This is something I have used in the past and I was pretty confident, so that was a relief!

Blueberry muffins (vegan)

1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour 
1/2 cup of oats 
2 tsp of flaxeeds, powdered and mixed with 3 tbsp of water 
1 tsp of baking soda 
1/4 tsp of baking powder 
1 cup of sugar 
1/4 cup of oil 
1/2 cup of cold water 
1/2 cup of blueberries 
Some watermelon seeds to top 
A pinch of salt

Take a mixing bowl and put the sugar, oil and flaxseed mixture into it. Mix well till you get a smooth paste. 

Now slowly sieve over the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the oats and mix well to incorporate. Gradually add the cold water to loosen the batter till you get a good consistency. 

Finally, add the blueberries and mix well. Pour the batter into prepared muffin moulds and top with the watermelon seeds. Bake for 18-20 minutes at 180 degrees celsius. Remove from the oven when done, allow it to cool down on a wire rack. These muffins can be stored in the fridge for up to 10 days. 

Get a closer look

*You can omit the oats and use only whole wheat, adjust the amount of water accordingly
* Instead of the blueberries you can use cranberries, dried strawberries or raspberries. Basically, anything you like 
* In place of the watermelon seeds you can use walnuts or almonds. You can even eliminate this step if you like. Oh yes, choco chips (vegan ones) are a good idea too! 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Wait! Don't throw that away.

That breakfast is the most important meal of the day is a known fact. But what to make for breakfast is something a lot of us are confronted with almost daily. Sometime ago I started chalking out meal plans - breakfast, lunch and dinner - for five days of the week are now decided on Sunday evening. This gives me enough time to plan, buy groceries and prep. And trust me, this has become a real boon. I leave Saturday and Sunday flexible as I only get to experiment over the weekends. Even that, is decided on a Thursday.

While meals during the week follow a set pattern, during the weekends I like to try my hand at something different and most often, this begins with an elaborate breakfast. I make dosas (rice and lentil pancakes) quite often as the husband and I have a soft spot for South Indian food. But every once in a while, I want to do a twist on the regular dosa. That's how I tried the Doddak.

Doddak is a typical Mangalorean dish. It is an instant variety of dosa and is eaten more often as a snack than just breakfast. Doddak is made with rava or semolina as the main ingredient, you can make it plain or even add some grated cucumber to make Taushe (cucumber) Doddak, Magge (Madras Cucumber) Doddak or, like I did, you can add some grated watermelon rind. That's right! Don't throw away the rind when you buy watermelon, you can pickle them, make a curry or make Doddak for breakfast. Serve this with fresh white butter or even some chutney and sambar. It tastes great on its own as well.

A good way to use up what you're about to throw

Watermelon Doddak

2 cups of grated watermelon rind
1 cup of rava/semolina, lightly roasted
1 cup of buttermilk
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1/4 tsp of grated ginger
1 tsp of jaggery granules, optional
Salt to taste

Put the watermelon rind and rava in a mixing bowl, add the green chilli, ginger and jaggery, if using, and mix.

Now slowly add the buttermilk to this and stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Make sure there are no lumps.

Season with salt. Allow it to rest for about 10 minutes.

Heat a tawa or pan on medium heat. Spread some oil on the surface. Now take a ladle-full of the batter and pour it on the tawa. This batter does not spread easily, so you'll have to do it gently. Cook on both sides till you see it change colour and acquire golden brown spots.

Serve hot.

*You will have to peel the green skin of the watermelon before grating the rind
* Doddak batter does not last for long, so only make as much as you need
* If you're making the plain version then you can add curry leaves, coriander leaves or even some red chilli to enhance the flavour

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Not one, but two!

Everybody needs to have their recipe for a brownie. Something that's special, your 'go to' recipe and is definitely, a 'no-fail' one. Being an eggless baker, I've been on this quest for that perfect brownie recipe for a while now. I've lost the number of times I've tried and successfully failed each time. It gets frustrating. But I wanted to power on. Finally, after some mix and match, some tinkering and a sprinkle of this and that; I came up with a recipe that ticks all the boxes and I just had to share it with you!

This recipe has fast become a favourite, so much so that I've made it a couple of times already. One of the versions I made, inspired a Pinterest pin, Creamcheese swirled brownies, were such a hit that I didn't have enough to click a picture. So I'm showing you the one I clicked when I pulled these beauties out of the oven.

These brownies are really simple to make and the basic version is just beautiful. You can eat it by itself, I know you won't help nibbling a piece when it's just out of the oven! But it also makes for a terrific base - add choco chips, cookie dough, crushed oreos, nuts and even cream cheese, like I did, and you have something different each time. It's easy to multiply this recipe and make a batch of brownies to feed a larger crowd too. Just a word of caution here - make some extra, they will disappear!

Deep, dark & delicious

I'll give you the classic version with walnuts first before we move on to the other one.

Dark chocolate brownies

3/4 cup of whole wheat flour
1 tbsp of sunflower or olive oil, I used the latter
1/3 cup of dark chocolate chips or cooking chocolate, melted either in the microwave or the double boiler
1/2 tsp of baking soda
3/4 cup of buttermilk (take 3/4 cup of milk, add 1/2 tsp of white vinegar to this, stir and let it stand for 5 minutes)
1/2 cup of organic cocoa powder (you can use any kind of cocoa powder)
1/2 cup of demerara sugar (you can use regular granulated sugar but this one gives it a more gooey effect)
1 tsp of vanilla essence
1 tsp of flaxseed powdered and mixed with 3 tbsp of water
1/4 cup of walnuts, chopped
A pinch of salt

Pre-heat your oven at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or you can also grease and dust it with some flour.

Make sure you've melted the chocolate in a considerably large bowl. Take the bowl with the melted chocolate, try not to dip your finger and taste some, add the vanilla essence, buttermilk, oil and sugar to this. Mix well to form a smooth paste.

Next add the flour, cocoa, baking soda, flaxseed mixture and salt to this. Mix well again. You can gently beat using an electric beater at this stage too. If you find the batter a little too thick or dry, loosen it with some cold water.

Add the walnuts and give it one final stir.

Pour this batter into the prepared tray. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 180 degrees. You will know the brownies are done when a skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean but the brownies look still a little gooey. If you want solid, dry brownies then bake for another 5-10 minutes.

Remove from the oven, allow it to cool on a wire rack and then cut into squares.

* I use whole wheat flour in all my baking but you can swap this for maida or all purpose flour too

*  Dust the brownies with icing sugar for a fairytale effect. You can also drizzle some melted chocolate on this

* For grown-ups, add a splash of rum or Baileys Irish Cream to the batter!

Cream cheese swirled brownies

A little bit of cream cheese can add oomph to these brownies

Use the same recipe as above but add the following to the ingredients:

1/2 cup of cream cheese
2 tbsp of milk
1/4 cup of pecans, instead of the walnuts

Soften the cream cheese by adding the milk to it and slowly mixing it.

After you make the brownie batter and pour it into the baking tray, put blobs of the cream cheese mixture on it. Take a knife and swirl it around. The easiest way to do this is to use the knife and draw two 8s with it.

Now sprinkle the pecans over this and bake as recommended. 

Seafood, sangria and a lot of style

I've heard of wine and cheese, wine and chocolate, wine and fragrance even (yes, I know!). But when I received an incite to the Seafood & Sangria pairing dinner at Shanghai Club at ITC Grand Central, I was puzzled. I didn't think seafood, cooked the Chinese way, could be paired with something as diametrically opposite as the Spanish Sangria. My love for seafood aside, it was curiosity that prompted me to attend the event.

We were served four kinds of Sangria during the course of the evening - a classic Spanish, Plum & cherry, Very berry and a Watermelon basil one. I debated between the second and last one but in the end my affinity for watermelon won, and I had more than a second helping of this! To spice things up a bit the guys at ITC Grand Central also came up with some contests on the spot, this had everyone whipping out their phones and frantically Instagramming and Tweeting pictures.

(L-R): Cherry & Plum, Very Berry, Classic Spanish and Watermelon Basil Sangrias

The Cherry & Plum Sangria was fruity, light & refreshing

Coming to the food. We began with a majestically served Singapore chilli crab, which was delicious. In my mind I was comparing it to the one I've eaten at Clarke Quay and this came close. Food, like the wine, flowed endlessly throughout the evening.

Singapore chilli crab

We also had some Crispy Fish in Barbecue Sauce which had some beautiful flavours but, for me, the pick of the appetizers was the Prawn, water chestnut & bamboo shoot Suimai. The Mangalorean in me was doing cartwheels at this combination. I would have gladly polished a plateful but I didn't want any gluttony ruining my appetite for the rest of the meal.

The soup came next - a delicately flavoured Chinese mix seafood chilli butter soup - yes, that's quite a mouthful but it was oh-so-good and comforting. I'm not the one for soups when I'm having a complete Chinese meal because it fills you up a little too much. However I didn't have any problems finishing this bowl off!

Main course was a Steam river sole in ginger soya sauce which was delicate but I felt it could do with some more punch. There was also some good ol' Hakka noodles and Steamed Jasmine Rice with mixed Seafood. What I loved was, surprisingly, the vegetarian main of simple, stir fried greens, lotus stems with lots of garlic.
The rice and noodles

The River Sole with Ginger Soya Sauce and Stir Fried Greens, Lotus Stem with garlic
 Chinese desserts aren't as popular as the other courses so I was curious to see what the chef had put together for us. We were introduced to a young pastry chef who had created a dessert platter for us, this had Jasmine flavoured Tiramisu, and I'll be honest here - I detest the aroma of Jasmine - so this is something I didn't have beyond a nibble. But there were people at the table who were raving about the Tiramisu. There was also a Vanilla and Red Bean ice cream which was super-smooth and silky. My pick was the New World Star Anise Chocolate Torte - dark, deadly and absolutely delicious. I loved how the intense dark chocolate provided a beautiful base for the spicy notes of the star anise.

(L_R): Jasmine flavoured Tiramisu, New World Star Anise Dark Chocolate Torte, Vanilla and Red Bean ice cream

Fresh fruit platter
The evening was a wonderful experience. I discovered a new variety of sangria that I will definitely be trying soon and had some stellar seafood, for me, that ticks all the boxes!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Trilogy and some food for thought

The past few weeks have been hectic to say the least. Sometimes, I felt I was being stretched like a rubber band and at other times, I felt like a juggler. Too many things happening and all at the same time.

Then thankfully, the rains started in Mumbai. It is a gorgeous time of the year especially if you're home and warming yourself with a cup of hot chocolate, reading a book as the rain pours outside. But, if you have to step out... Let's not talk about that now. Okay?

With Amitav Ghosh

On the subject of books, I got to meet one of my favourite authors yesterday. Amitav Ghosh was in the city for the launch of his new book Flood of Fire. This is the last book in the Ibis trilogy. Since I'd won a contest, I'd the chance to interact with him with some other winners. The discussion was enlightening, to say the least. Ghosh spoke about how he writes his first draft on paper with a pencil, we discussed about Kindles and their convenience and how, nothing can take away from the heady aroma of a new book and burying yourself in it. 

Since we are talking about a trilogy here I thought it would only be logical that I share with you a similar recipe. Mango, which is the star of the season now, features prominently in these dishes. They're all easy to make and guaranteed to be a hit! Try them and you'll know what I'm talking about.

From left: Deconstructed Mango Rasayana, Vegan Mango Smoothie, Almost Cheesecake

Deconstructed Mango Rasayana: Jaggery & coconut milk pannacotta with mango

When we were younger my grandmother used to make this dessert in the summers called Mango Rasayana. It's commonly made in Udupi and Mangalore, a very simple and easy dish to put together; it has coconut milk sweetened with jaggery and flavoured with cardamom. A whole lot of chopped mangoes are added to this, chilled and served. Delicious!
I gave a twist to this childhood memory. I made a pannacotta with the coconut milk and jaggery and topped this with fresh mango and voilĂ ! There was a grown up version of a childhood favourite!

200ml of coconut milk
1 tsp of corn flour
1 tsp of gelatine
3 tbsp of jaggery granules
1/4 cup of water
A pinch of cardamom powder

Sprinkle the gelatine over the water, cover and keep it aside to allow it to bloom.

Meanwhile, mix the corn flour, coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom powder. Make sure there are no lumps.

Gently heat this mixture till it bubbles on the sides. Now add the gelatine mixture to this and stir till dissolved.

Remove from the flame. Pour into prepared moulds, allow it to cool down and then chill in the fridge till set.

Just before serving, add the chopped mangoes and serve immediately.

Mango, banana & tender coconut smoothie

Smoothies are the perfect breakfast option when I'm in a hurry. Add some nuts, oats and wheatgrass to that and it becomes a wholesome breakfast.

This one is a vegan option, absolutely no dairy products here! Instead I've used tender coconut flesh for that thickness. It's a great way to incorporate this into your diet.

2 mangoes, peeled and chopped
2 bananas, peeled and chopped
1 cup of tender coconut flesh or malai, chopped

Put all the ingredients into a blender and whizz until smooth. Pour into glasses, chill and serve.

Almost cheesecake: Baked yogurt with granola & mango

Baked yogurt is one of my favourite desserts to make especially if I'm feeding a crowd. It's so easy-peasy to do and you can top it with anything from chocolate to fresh fruit and it will taste awesome.
You can find the recipe for baked yogurt here. This is the one I always follow.

What I did different was, while serving I layered the bowl with some homemade granola, then the baked yogurt and finally topped with chopped fresh mangoes. The dessert looked and tasted like a mango cheesecake but with some unusual flavours. You can eliminate the granola and serve the baked yogurt with just the fresh fruit if you like too.
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