Sunday, May 31, 2009

Five Quarters of the Orange

...and a challenge missed

"This Book Makes Me Cook", the book club Bhags and I started exactly a year ago, is now 11 member strong. We have read some great books in the last 12 months, some old favorites, some classics. And in Joanne Harris, most of us have found our favorite fiction writer. We began in June with Chocolat, the first book in Joanne's food trilogy. We end May with the last one in the series : Five Quarters of the Orange.

This is a book about the irreversibility of what wars bring. This is also a book about the most merciless and selfish of the human tribe : the children, whose world so focuses on what they want and need that they shut out the consequences. Some would say they don't know better. Maybe Framboise, our nine year old heroine, did not.

But then she returns as a sixty year old to the village of her childhood, to a place scarred by what happened many, many years ago. It's the darkest book in the food trilogy, but it's also the most compassionate of the lot. As you would expect, an inherited recipe album is central to our story here. Just like the recipes strewn all over the book.

When I read the book the first time, I knew what I wanted to make. Then I read it the second time last year, and I rued the time was not right to make Framboise's special sour cherry liquor. This third time, I read it with a purpose to create this liquor recipe haunting me for a few years now. I can even recite it without opening the book, I know it that well. I prayed that cherries would come in before the month ends, and here they are. Hordes of bright red boxes on every fruit stall.

And yet, life took over. And for the first time since we started the book club, I don't have a recipe to offer. But I do have a suggestion. If you haven't read the food trilogy, read it. Even if you are not a book lover. You just might discover a new love.

Let's not stop at my no-show though. The other members of the book club have great inspirations from the book:
Sweatha made Framboise's Buckwheat Orange Pancakes
Aquadaze made Chicken Stew

In June, we are reading one of my top favorites : The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. If you would like to come join us, do leave a comment here and I will get back with details.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wild Rice and Mint Salad



When I come back from random shopping trips with stuff I don't have immediate use for, I stick in this one compartment in my fridge. That's one compartment I dare not look into often, for who knows what I will find. Like I was looking for some chocolate, and there was this packet called red camargue and wild rice. Quite a shock it was, of the "how come it's still here unopened, and just two months away from it's best before date!" variety. So I'm warning you now, you are going to see this wild rice a few times here before the end of July.

This first version is a salad lunch I made with whatever else was in fridge at the time. Washed 1/2 cup rice and soaked it for 15 minutes. Then added 1 cup water, brought it to a boil and simmered until the water was absorbed and the rice was cooked. You can substitute any rice of your choice and cook it as the package dictates.

While the rice was cooking, I sliced two spring onions thinly. Placed a handful of peanuts in a microwave safe dish and microwaved them for 2 minutes to get them crunchy. Cleaned a small bunch of mint, tore a handful of leaves roughly and left another handful intact. I also juiced a lemon (lime if you are from out of India) - got roughly a tbsp and added a tbsp of water to stretch my dressing. And then I made a layered salad.

First in the glass went a layer of rice. On this I generously sprinkled salt, pepper and sumac. I then added a bit of lemon juice and a couple of torn mint leaves. Remember this dressing, for this goes over all the layers. The next layer was spring onions, followed by more rice, then peanuts, another rice layer and finally a topping of all those whole mint leaves. Add the dressing, and all the lemon juice you were left with.

A word for food bloggers : I made this when the rice was still warm, which means the glass mists over. But if you wait until the rice is cold and your dish looks prettier, it won't taste as good. So it's between good taste and good looks, and taste wins for me each time!

Wild Rice and Mint Salad goes to Ashwini, who is hosting Mahanadi's JFI: Mint this month.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Easy Lazy Summer Lunch



The inspiration for this rice comes from my favorite Chinese restaurant. When I go to China Gate, I frequently order their corn and mushroom fried rice. I also order a vegetable side dish to go with it, because that's what you do when you eat out. But really, the rice is so good that I can eat it on its own.

Which is what I did this lazy summer afternoon. I didn't have any mushrooms in the fridge, but I did have spring onions. So I washed 1/2 cup of rice and soaked it for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, I chopped 2 spring onions, greens and all. Took out a large handful of fresh corn. Finely chopped a garlic clove. The rest is easy.

Heat a tsp of oil in a pan. Add garlic and the white bits of the onion. Stir for a minute or so until lightly browned. Add the green parts of onion and corn, then stir for a few seconds and add the rice. Add roughly 1/4 tsp each of salt and black pepper - or more, or less - it's hard to say when it comes to salt. Mix well, then add 1 1/4 cup water (or as much as your rice package says). Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Allow to rest for another 15 minutes (and no, don't peak or the steam will escape).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Valentino for Taste & Create



I know, I know! I've been eating way too many desserts this past month. But what's one to do when temptations come your way. My Taste & Create partner this month is Debbmarie of Let them Eat Cake. She's a daring baker, a member of cake slice bakers and even a part of cookie carnival. In short, her blog is one sinful delight after the other.

That just matches the mood I've been in lately. Another thing on my mind, ever since the daring bakers made flourless chocolate cake in February, has been to bake me a Valentino. So call me crazy or whatever, but I decided to pick this daring bakers challenge from my partner's website.

The original recipe uses five eggs. I scaled everything down to one egg white and baked some valentino cupcakes. When warm, it was almost like eating a souffle. But the cooler cakes were dry and dense. I think I over-whipped the egg whites or over-baked the cake. Either way, an excuse to make this again : practice makes perfect, or haven't you heard!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cherries Ahoy!



First cherries of the year! Showcased in a tart made from my leftover cookie dough filled with cream cheese frosting that was swirled with some melted cherry preserve.

My sixth entry for Srivalli's Mithai Mela. Wow! What a lot of desserts I have been eating last one month.

Friday, May 15, 2009

From A Year in Bread : Filone



In July 2007, the three bakers from A Year in Bread received copies of Daniel Leader's new book, Local Breads. The book chronicles regional bread recipes across Europe. The trio would have loved to bake sourdoughs from the book, but they had took pity on clueless souls like me and decided to do Italian breads. Those that use a biga and don't need a whole week to ferment.

I first picked Susan's Puccia - lovely olive rolls, and you try resisting that name. But Susan recommends oil cured black olives and I didn't want to substitute my olives in brine. And I didn't like the idea of grapes on focaccia (so Kevin's probably mad at me because I've never picked any of his breads, but I'd make up for it, promise!). And Beth? she made Rosemary Filone. I loved her bread, but I am not a fan of rosemary so I made thyme filone instead. Followed her recipe exactly but for this one change.

I loved the bread for sandwiches (as Beth did), and thyme added a nice touch. But I also had the same problem as Beth, that I got a dense crumb instead of the gorgeous open crumb the book promised.

Next up on A Year in Bread is quick breads. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Salad Named Summer



Watermelon
Feta
Rocket
Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt

Can you think of a better description of a summer lunch?

Watermelon Feta Salad goes to Maheshwari's AFAM, hosted this month by Ashwini with the theme "Melons"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cookies on my mind



Yes, my second cookie post in a row. Thumbprint cookies sprung all over the net in the past couple of weeks. So called because you make an indent with your thumb that's then filled with jam. I saw them on at least three blogs I frequent, and they are so cute I just had to try them. Here's my version : a nutty cookie with cherry preserves.

Cream 60 gms butter with 30 gms caster sugar. Mix 1/2 cup flour with 1/4 cup ground almonds and add to the creamed butter. Mix to form a dough, then chill in the fridge for half an hour or so.

Preheat oven to 180C. Place small balls of dough on a baking sheet, and press with your thumb to flatten and make a dent in the middle of the cookie. Bake for 15 minutes. You can either fill these dents with jam before you bake (in which case it gets a bit chewy) or you can bake them plain then fill them, which is what I am going to do with the other half of the cookies up there. Or you can ditch jam and fill with whipped cream. Or ganache. One cookie, endless possibilities - that's the way I like it!

These sweet little treats are my entry for Srivalli's Mithai Mela.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Indigo : Exorbitant Excellence

When I go back to a favorite restaurant after more than a year, I usually expect to be disappointed. The menus change, chefs leave and your favorite dishes go away. But not so with Colaba's Indigo. I returned for a much overdue trip last weekend fully expecting to be pampered with excellence in everything : ambience, service and food.

The ambience : Indigo is a converted bungalow and you can pick from choice of four seatings. Alfresco dining just as you enter is charming but impractical in Bombay heat. Then there's a bar indoors, formal dining rooms on either side and a lovely terrace lounge. Because it was a dry day (one of the 4 days a year when it's illegal to sell alcohol), we could pick our choice of seating. Don't show up without a reservation on any other day.

The service : Impeccable, attentive, without becoming overbearing. Service this good is rare in Bombay.

The Food : The restaurant changes it's menu quarterly but the core dishes - soups, salads, pastas, risottos - remain. I ordered my favorite frozen lime drink, then proceeded to pick my main course of cherry tomato and watercress risotto. Their bread basket is so good I never bother with appetizers. And an insider's tip : order your dessert before you order your food. Indigo's speciality is souffle, with flavors that change daily and they need half an hour's notice. They had cappuccino souffle the day we went, and a better ending to a meal I can't think of.

My pet peeve : Indigo's expensive. Horribly so. But this is one meal I'd gladly pay for.

Alternatively, you can head to Indigo Deli. There is one in Colaba itself serving salads, sandwiches, pastas et al. And a new one just opened closer home to me in Andheri. My first lunch two weeks back (shared with a friend) was a grilled vegetable sandwich, a ravioli and a chocolate jalapeno souffle. Damage : less than half what I'd pay at Indigo.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blog Picks : Coconut Chocolate Macaroons



Because I live in India but read cookbooks from all over the world, you can't imagine how difficult it is to find ingredients or equipment sometimes. Specially when it's something silly and minor like baking parchment. That little silicone coated paper is the difference between successful macarons and the two stick-to-the-sheet failures that I've had. And that little silicone coated paper is what I can now buy in my city. Mumbaikars - head to Hypercity before they sell all the Waitrose baking parchment they are hoarding.

Even with the parchment, I wasn't ready to risk a proper macaron. Then I thought of long bookmarked Coconut Macaroons over at David's. It requires no beating or complicated mixing. Just cook egg whites, coconut, sugar and honey over a low heat then stir in vanilla and cool the mixture.

Refrigerate it overnight (or don't, but I did), then shape into mounds and bake - on a parchment, Yippee!! - for 20 minutes at 180C until golden. Optional, but completely necessary in my view, is then dipping the bottoms of each macaroon in melted chocolate.

Once the chocolate is set, these macaroons are headed to Srivalli's Mithai Mela.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Of cheesecakes, fruits and chocolate



Some flavors go together so well that chefs should be fined for not pairing them more often. Take mango and chocolate; the reason you see one solitary cheesecake up there instead of six. But I digress. This story starts with daring bakers and cheesecakes. Towards the end of every month, there is an explosion of a single recipe in the blogsphere. Thousands of daring bakers make scary things like lasagne or flourless cakes. But in April, they made cheesecake.

I am not a daring baker, and don't have enough sense of adventure to be one. But cheesecake has been on my to-make wishlist for a long time. The daring bakers recipes usually make huge quantities, but Olga cut down the recipe and made her cheesecake in muffin tins. I scaled down the recipe to 1/3rd, brought out my 6 brioche cups and made plain cheesecake cupcakes.

Olga said her cheesecake sank and cracked so I didn't even start thinking of toppings. But my cheesecakes didn't rise, didn't sink, didn't crack and were perfect once chilled. Which is when I made ganache (1/4 cup each of cream and chocolate chips heated in the microwave until melted) and chopped some mango.

I decorated a cheesecake. Then I dipped a mango slice in ganache. It was flavorful. No, it was completely mindblowing. Much better than my earlier favorite of strawberries dipped in chocolate. Which is why the ganache and mango are eaten and the other five cheesecakes are still plain. Topping ideas, anyone?

This cheesecake is my third entry for Srivalli's Mithai Mela.