Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Follies of Innovation

Taste & Create is my favorite event in the whole blogging world. But I missed the deadline last few months and had to remain without a partner. This month, Nicole had a glitch in her mail and had to extend the deadline. Time enough for me to sign up.

And I have a fabulous partner this month. Laura said that we are on the same wavelength and I couldn't agree more. She cooks a range of stuff : Indian, Mexican, cookies, breads and whatnot. And those lovely bundt cakes I couldn't take my eyes off. It's not just food. Sitting in my tiny Bombay flat, I can't help admiring her new Midwest home (is that a real river in her backyard!) with that huge kitchen. And I am totally in awe of her spice drawer.

I was sorely tempted to try one of her 20 chocolate chip cookie recipes. But because I am trying to be eat healthy (ha!) and more because I am in a bread baking mood nowadays, I decided to bake a bread she learnt from the Guru. The bread was Cinnamon Raisin Loaf, adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible.

I halved the recipe and got as far as mixing dough as dictated, but where Laura added raisins in the final dough I added chocolate chips. For I had decided to change this one to a chocolate swirl bread. I waited for the first rise, then rolled the dough and brushed some milk (instead of the egg that Laura used) and sprinkled some more, okay a lot more, chocolate chips, then shaped my loaf. I let it rise again and followed all the directions to bake this golden brown loaf.



And this is where things got a bit awry. I should have guessed, because chocolate melts and raisins don't, but I didn't have a clue until I started to take my loaf out of the pan. And it was stuck - at every place where the chocolate chips had melted. I did manage to take it out of the pan, but not in one piece and surely not in slices pretty enough to photograph. But was it delicious! The slightly sweet bread, with chocolate spread all over. You bet I am making this one again. But this time, I will follow directions.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vino Extraordinaire

If I make a list of my favorite authors, Joanne Harris will feature in the top 5. I have read everything she has written, and with two exceptions, liked them all. Blackberry Wine, our book club's pick for this month and the second book of her food trilogy, is my favorite.

The book flips back and forth in time. Between three summers in mid-seventies that a teenaged Jay Mackintosh spent with Jackapple Joe, ex-miner and amateur gardener/winemaker who brings a little of everyday magic to Jay's life. And a time in Jay's life some 20 years later as a has-been writer who is struggling to find himself. A time when Joe enters his life again, in form of six bottles of Joe's fruit wines. Bottled memories, he calls them.

This is the happiest book Joanne has written. No, everyone in the book isn't happy all the time. But you will close the book with a very good feeling. Layman's alchemy, Joe calls it and I agree.

I cannot make wine. But the book inspired me to bottle memories. In my case, the last strawberries of the year. I made strawberry preserve.



I made this preserve not from a recipe, but inspired from my favorite brand of sugar free jams. They claim that they sweeten everything with grape juice so I thought I'd give it a shot. Zipped a cup of black seedless grapes in a blender for a few seconds, then sieved them to extract the juice. Washed a cup of strawberries and halved them. Then heated the grape juice in a pan until it came to a boil and added the strawberries. Let it cook, covered and at a low heat, until the juice almost dried and strawberries had cooked but still retained their shaped. This isn't your regular jam and we aren't looking for pulp here. I like my preserves to be chunky and not overly sweet and this is what it was. No pectin, and no preservatives. But that's because I made such a small quantity that none was required.

And other members of "This Book Makes Me Cook"?
Siri took the French route and made Savory French Breakfast Muffins.
Sweatha followed Jackapple Joe and made Crushed Potatoes.

Now on to the author who started it all. Jane Austen, with her Victorian settings and elaborate tea time rituals, was the inspiration behind This Book Makes Me Cook. And April is Jane Austen Special. You pick your favorite Austen, read it, cook from it and post your recipe on last sunday of April. If you want to join us and want to know more about the club, do leave a comment here and I will get back to you.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pesto



I am not a fan of store bought pesto. Not because it's not fresh, or because it contains preservatives. I don't like it because of the cheese.

I don't like parmesan. There, it's heresy, but I've said it now. Give me fresh mozzarella, crumbly feta or even gorgonzola. But parmesan's just not my thing. Now pesto is a sauce hard to avoid if you like Italian, so I decided to make my own cheese-less version of the classic.

Drop a loosely packed cup of basil leaves and 2 chopped garlic cloves in a blender. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Now add a tbsp of pine nuts, another tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of coarse sea salt and blend again. But stop while your sauce is still grainy - remember that pesto is something you originally made with mortar & pestle so we aren't looking for smooth here.

Dip a spoon and dig in. If any of it survives beyond the first ten minutes, scrape it into an airtight container and leave it in the fridge. I've heard it lasts a few days; I am yet to see proof of it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hot Off the Streets?

I'd torn this recipe from a magazine many years ago. The author claimed that "pyaali" made a perfect pair for the brun bread. She also said that this is the quintessential Bombay street food. Which is where I hit a snag. In the last many years in the city, I've never heard of pyaali - as a street food or otherwise. But as I read on, I became intrigued with this curry of dried white peas and the rainbow of accompainments it comes with. For this is how my torn magazine fragment describes the dish. You fill your bowl with the curry, then top with your pick from an assortment of toppings.




To make the curry, soak 1/2 cup dried white peas (called matar or vatana in Mumbai) overnight. Boil with 1/2 tsp each of salt and turmeric powder in plenty of water until soft. Around 10 minutes in the pressure cooker did it for me. Also boil two small potatoes and chop them in small pieces. Add one of the chopped potatoes to the peas and boil until they are blended with the peas and slightly mushy.

The Toppings:

1. Spiced Potatoes : Chop 3 cloves of garlic finely. Heat a tsp of oil in a pan and saute garlic until it starts to brown. Add a tsp of chilli flakes, a hearty pinch of salt and the second chopped potato. Add some water and let cook until the gravy coats the potatoes.

2. A handful of tamarind soaked in water, then sieved to extract the juice.

3. Kokam pieces (5-6) soaked in water and ground to a thick paste

4. Coriander and mint leaves, chopped finely

5. A tsp each of coriander and cumin seeds, dry roasted and coarsely ground

6. Finely chopped onion

A fabulous blend of flavors, and made for a very filling dinner last night. I didn't even get around to eating any bread, this was so delicious by itself.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Of Brun and Bun Maska

There is more to Bombay's breads than the pao that goes into pao bhaji and vada pao. There's Brun. and there's bun. We will get there. First, you have to get to know the city's Parsis. And Iranis, who are also Zoroastrians, but came to city a little later, in the late 19th or early 20th century. And when they came, they brought with them these little cafes that dot the city.

I am no expert on Irani chai cafes. And I can't tell you whether Yazdani Bakery will provide you the best experience or Kyani's. But I can tell you a few things you need to ignore when you get there. Appearances don't matter; so ignore the fact that the marble/glass top tables and the wooden chairs look a bit dilapidated. Also ignore the rundown look the place sports.

Instead, get yourself settled. And order a bun muska. This one's familiar to you as a first cousin of the soft hamburger bun. It's similar, but just a tad bit sweeter. Maska, of course, is the generous dollop of butter that dots your bun. Now order a brun - the closest match I can think of is a crusty french roll that's soft like a cloud once you bite into it. Finally, order a chai - the sweet, milky tea that's a perfect match to both the breads.

You can get your brun fix even if you don't want to go to a cafe. Drop into City Bakery, the famous Worli landmark. Chances are you will have to jostle to get to the counter, and no one is going to let you linger. But for very few rupees, you can get your bun or brun to take home. You can also get other relatively fancy stuff, but that's not why you are here. Get brun, for that's what legends are made of.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dukkah



Talk about myths busted. I went to Dubai planning to buy zat'ar, the fragrant herb and spice mix. And Dukkah, the interesting blend of nuts and spices. Not sumac, because I still have a pack left in my fridge. So zat'ar was easy - every Carrefour supermarket had that one. But no one had dukkah and I was like, how can they not have dukkah? It's a middle eastern thing, right! But well, they don't sell dukkah in Dubai, so I came back and armed with recipes from 10-odd blogs (all roughly the same), I set to make my own.

The key to making dukkah is : line up all your ingredients, toast each of them separately in a heavy non-stick pan till they are fragrant and lightly roasted, then put everything in a blender and grind coarsely. This is your dukkah. Now dip your bread in olive oil, then dip it in dukkah and indulge. A final word of warning: this can be highly addictive.

And finally, my list of ingredients:

1/4 cup almonds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 1/2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/2 tbsp peppercorns
8-10 dried mint leaves
1/2 tsp fennel
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Blog Picks : Frozen Strawberry Yogurt

Do you get amazed by the amount of food blogging facts I don't know. Take this example. For a long time, I had no idea who David Lebovitz is. And for a really long time after that, I had him filed away as "that icecream book guy". It's only recently that I discovered this American in Paris as not just a culinary genuis, but also someone whose writing style I enjoy.

The very first recipe I bookmarked when I was reading David's blog was Strawberry Frozen Yogurt. And with strawberries season about to end in Bombay, and the summer heat about to set in, this was a perfectly simple recipe to make.



Slice 400 gms strawberries into small slices. David tossed them in a bowl with 2/3 cup sugar, but I remembered just in time that the strawberries here are sweeter so I reduced the sugar to less than half (around 3 tbsp). In around an hour, when the sugar had dissolved, blend the strawberries with a cup of yogurt and juice of half a lemon.

I don't have the fancy Cuisinart icecream maker that Mr. Lebovitz owns so I used the time tested way of icecream-maker-less souls : freeze the yogurt for an hour, beat it for a few seconds in a blender, freeze and repeat twice. By this time, your yougurt is nicely creamy and icicles won't form when you freeze it for a few hours.

I'm sending this lovely yogurt over to Priya who is hosting FIC - Pink/Rose this month.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

From a Year in Bread : White Sandwich Loaf

A few days back, I took a bread baking challenge upon myself. If you missed the plot first time round, the idea is that I will follow the three bakers from A Year in Bread in their year long one-bread-a-month odyssey. I even have a partner now. Siri wrote to ask if she could join me in bread baking; and I sure can do with some more prompting.

I'd done the March pizza recipe already, so both of us moved promptly to April's pick - the famed No Knead Bread. But it was not to be. I made it first and while it wasn't a disaster, it just wasn't good enough. Siri decided she didn't want to do the No Knead bread either so we moved on, instead, to the May bread. Which happens to be something on my mind for a long, long time. I've always wanted to bake a whole loaf of bread and in May 2007, the trio baked white sandwich loaf.



I picked Susan's recipe, which is just what she calls it - an easy basic white sandwich bread. Her recipe is for 3 loaves, so I divided everything by 3 to make my one loaf. And because she gives an option to use water or milk to knead the dough, I made it with half of each.

The bread took a little longer to bake in my oven than Susan's 35 minutes, but it came out with a fabulous crust and a perfect interior. My first loaf finally, and I can't believe how good it is. Sandwich! what sandwich - the bread vanished along with a pack of butter before I could get to that stage.

Siri is baking today as well, and she might post depending on how her bread turns out. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

South Indian Cooking like a pro

My sole criteria for buying cookbooks is that they should have good looking pictures. But this one time and for two very special reasons, I've bought a book that does not have glamorous food photos on every page. One, because while I am fairly adept at north Indian cooking, I do not know a whole lot about the south Indian cuisines. Two, my friend says that Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan is the definite word on Tamil Brahmin cooking - and knowing what he knows, I trust him on this one.

As with every cookbook I've bought, our relationship starts like an uneasy friendship. I need time to get to terms with the author's flavors and how they differ from mine. I also need to make a trip to the store, as some of these ingredients - known though they are to me - don't make a regular appearance in my cooking. As I make my first dish from the book, I realize that she uses way too much oil and halve it everywhere. But I add the spices as she dictates and understand too late that Ms. Padmanabhan is made of a sterner stuff than I am. I eat everything bland, her food is fiercely spicy. Time enough to fix it next time. In the meantime, my first authentic Dakshin recipe : Pulliodarai or Tamarind Rice.



This one's rather long and involved so read it patiently. First, you got to make the tamarind sauce. Soak a ball of tamarind, roughly the size of a lemon, in 2 cups water. Mash through to extract the juice, sieve and put aside.

Heat a tbsp of oil and fry 1/4 cup coriander seeds, 4 dry red chillies, 1/4 tsp asafoetida powder, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tbsp each of chana dal and urad dal and 3-4 curry leaves. Grind to a fine powder.

In another pan, heat a tsp of oil. Add 5 red chillies and fry till dark brown. Add a tsp of mustard seeds and 1/2 tbsp chana dal. Once the mustard seeds start to pop, add the tamarind water, 1/2 tsp each of salt and turmeric, a tbsp of raw sugar and the tamarind juice. Simmer for around 10 minutes until the mixture thickens, then add the spice powder you made and mix well. This makes your tamarind sauce - Chandra says you can keep it for months in the fridge.

Now, the rice. Cook 1/2 cup long grain (basmati) rice in 1 cup water with 1/2 tsp salt and a pinch of turmeric. Spread on a plate. If you like (I didn't), pour a tbsp of oil over the rice and mix. In a pan, heat a tsp of oil and add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tbsp each chana and urad dals, 1/2 tsp asafoetida powder and 3-4 curry leaves. After a few seconds, add a handful of chopped cashewnuts. Pour this tempering on the rice. Add 2 tbsp of tamarind sauce and mix well. Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds.

Gosh! This has to be the longest recipe I ever wrote. But it was every bit as delicious and worth the effort. And do remember to halve or delete the chillies if your preference runs towards less spicy food like me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Perfect Pizza Sauce

I'm back from the land of shopping malls and hotels; of ski slopes and water worlds in the middle of the desert. It was fun while it lasted (and thanks for all the tips, Bharti!) but I guess I'd pick something with a few more forts, palaces and museums next time.

Before I do any more cooking, here's the pizza sauce I promised you just before I left. I never bought any packaged pizza or pasta sauce after I made this the first time and I've been making the same one for years , so you can guess it has to be super easy. Once you get through with all the chopping, that is.

So on to the chopping board. Cut 6 tomatoes into largish cubes. Peel a small onion and cut into quarters. Peel and smash 3 garlic cloves to bits. Tear a handful of coriander leaves. If you feel like, roughly chop any of these you have in the fridge (but it's truly optional) - 1/2 bell pepper or some celery or the green bits from 2-3 spring onions.

Heat a tsp of olive oil in a pan. Add garlic and onions and stir for a few seconds. Add tomatoes, cilantro and anything else you chopped plus a tsp each of salt and black pepper, a large pinch of dried oregano, 1/2 tbsp vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover and let simmer for around half an hour until all the ingredients are very soft. Let cool a bit, then grind to a paste in the blender.

If this is going into a pasta or you like your pizza sauce to be chunky, you are done. For a smoother pizza sauce, pass the blended mixture through a fine seive.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just in case you were wondering...

I am off to Dubai for a short vacation. Back in a few days.

Dubai tips? Things to do? Things not to do? Please write - I did zero planning for this trip and have no idea what to expect.