Sunday, November 29, 2009

This Book Makes Me Cook : Bread Alone

Bread makes you happy. Bread makes you friends. Fresh baked bread, in short, can set most things right. It certainly heals the broken heart of our heroine Wynter. The novel, our book club's pick for the month, seems all fluff at first glance. Your typical story of a trophy wife about to be divorced looking for solace in a job that involves baking bread.

But there is depth of feeling here. And there is nuance that makes "Bread Alone" a little bit more than yet another romance. I like the way Judith Ryan Hedricks builds the characters, going from their appearances to their lives to the emotions that intertwine them. And I love the fact that there are no minor characters here. Even the short-staying absentee cake baking partner makes a lasting impact. Wynter obviously does, in her vulnerable yet steely role, and in her transition. But bread remains the star - be it the age old recipes of the old bread baker Linda or the blizzard of new recipes Wynter brings in.



Baking a loaf of bread was the only cooking this book could have inspired me to do. Wynter has her "Chef", the starter of her French baking days. I have my newly formed Ms. Tippity, the sourdough starter I baked my first loaf with. The night before, I took the starter out of the fridge and measured out 2 tbsp. To this I added 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour, then left it overnight. Next morning, I added another 1/2 cup of warm water and enough plain flour to knead it into a smooth dough. Once I'd added all the flour and halfway through my kneading, I also added 1/2 tsp salt.

Formed it into a ball and left it in a greased bowl for 3 hours to double. Punched it down gently, then shaped it into a round loaf. Left it on a baking sheet lined with parchment to double again, another two hours. Heated the oven to 190C, then slashed the top of the loaf with a sharp knife and baked until golden. Because I used a lot of starter, the bread was less sour than my previous rolls. But off it came with a crackling crust and a soft crumb, the perfect bread.

Janaki, our newest member, takes the "halve the yeast" message from the book and makes a whole wheat bread.

Aqua tries "halve the yeast" too for her white bread.

Sweatha makes Swirled Nutella Scones.

Sheba, another new member of the book club, bakes Patty's Cake.

And we have another new member still. Bhagyashri, our third new entrant this month, makes cherry scones.

Also hop over to Ann's to read her review.

Next month, we are reading Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair. Please leave a comment here if you would like to join us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Applesauce



I should totally stop cooking until I get a new camera. But this was taste & create, and I had signed up before the whole camera dropping event happened. Plus, I have a lovely partner in Jen from PiccanteDolce. Literally, the blog name means spicy & sweet (yes, I had to look that up). That's exactly what the blog is - a collection of a wide range of recipes.

I felt an instant affinity as that's pretty much how I cook; just anything that takes my fancy, be it salad or cake. What I decided to cook from Jen's blog is a simple applesauce. I've been planning to make some for a long time, so this was finally my chance.

The only change I made was to use golden delicious apples and all brown sugar (instead of part white that Jen does). Now go look at her picture, and look at mine. I totally can't understand how my applesauce gets to be this brown when she has a pale cream concoction. Whatever the color though, this was superbly delicious. Had some warm with granola, then cold mixed in yogurt. The rest of it is now in the freezer. Any ideas on how to use it up?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Edamame at Hypercity

Will my neighborhood grocery store never stop shocking me. Here I was just walking past the section with packaged vegetables and herbs. I noticed something from the corner of my eye and did a quick double take. Labeled green soybeans, sitting pretty on the counter were edamame. I love the salted steamed beans to death. And because you couldn't buy them in India so far, I would spend half my lunches and dinners on trips outside India eating plates of plain salted edamame in overpriced Japanese restaurants.

But now, I can just bring home this packet, pop it in the microwave with a tbsp of water, sprinkle some coarse salt after a couple of minutes. And have the bestest guilt free snack on earth.

I wonder what they will come up with next. Globe Artichokes?

PS: If you have noticed the lack of pictures around here recently, that's because I dropped and broke my camera. Making do with my cellphone until I find a replacement.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Back to Indian Cooking Challenge



Since I do so little traditional Indian cooking, I was super thrilled when Srivalli came up with the Indian Cooking Challenge in July. But one month down, I got lost in the whirlwind of events that have deadlines at the same time and ICC sort of got left out in the melange. Then Srivalli announced gulab jamuns as the October challenge. That's like, my absolutely favorite sweet. There was a time I would pester whoever's going out to dine with me to stop and have gulab jamuns before we go home. And I still eat them every chance I get. And then the challenge got even better - Srivalli changed the deadline to November 15 so I had every chance in the world to try and make my favorite dessert.

You know I made khoya yesterday. The first thing I did this morning was to take it out of the fridge and pick a recipe. Yes, we were given a choice of three recipes to pick from. Already, a lot of people had tried the gulab jamuns with the recipe from The Yum Blog or Alka. So contrarian that I am, I decided to go with Indo's recipe. Except that I divided it by 1/8.

And gosh! I could hardly wait for the lovely looking gulab jamuns to soak in the syrup before I tried them. They are soft, not too sweet and more delicious that any store bought gulab jamuns I've eaten. Now the next challenge is to keep me from eating all of these at one go.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Making Khoya from scratch



I have a memory. My mother, stirring the milk as it boils down to a solid mass. Me, a 10 year old, waiting eagerly as she stirs in sugar and a little ghee and hands it over to me.

Apart from being being a delicious treat on its own, khoya (aka khova or mava) is the base for countless Indian desserts. If you are still wondering what it is, all you do is boil a liter of milk (more, if you dare) and then simmer it until the liquid's almost all gone and you are left with a rich, solid mass. It's critical to use a heavy saucepan. And dropping a couple of steel spoons in the milk as it starts to boil usually helps prevent burning. Apart from that, it's just solid effort in terms of stirring it for an hour or two, waiting for the transformation to happen.

I've never made khoya before simply because it has a terrible effort to rewards ratio. And also because it's so easy to get good quality store bought khoya around here. But when Srivalli announced Gulab Jamuns as the October dare for Indian cooking challenge, she also added that we need to make our own khoya.

I love gulab jamuns and when Srivalli extended the deadline to November 15, I had no choice but to get going on this project. I started with just half a liter of milk, and the khoya didn't take that long to make. But it's too much effort for one day, so the gulab jamuns have to wait. Until tomorrow, that is...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Meet Ms. Tippity


I haven't gone crazy. It's perfectly normal and legitimate for sourdough bakers to name their starters. And as of yesterday, I count myself among the privileged. No, I can't believe it either. But the starter I began last sunday is finally up and running.

Twice during the past week, my starter gave up showing signs of life. Then I realized, that like any moody pet, this one doesn't like a change of diet. Feed it rye flour and it's happy. Change the food to plain flour and it begins to ebb. By and by, we have got to a stage where it expands every 8-10 hours. My sourdough flowchart says it's time to bake bread, so I baked some rolls.

Saturday night, I fed my starter as usual but didn't throw away the rest of it. Instead, I mixed 2 tbsp starter with 1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup of rye flour. Sunday morning, I added enough plain flour to make a soft dough, then left it for 4 hours to rise until doubled. Shaped it into rolls, then left it to double again. All in all, it took a whole day to get to the baking stage.

Finally, at 7 pm, the rolls were in the oven. And half an hour later, I had my first sourdough success. I've never tasted sourdough before so I was surprised at how sour it actually was.

Ms. Tippity was fed again and now rests in the fridge. I'd bring her out again next friday to help with my weekend bread baking. So long, and enjoy your break.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chickpeas, Spinach, Tomato, Garlic


I think I am getting influenced by that Alinea chap. What else will explain this title up there? But then, this is a dish worthy of an Alinea-like title. You already know I like chickpeas. And I like spinach. But this combination...well, it's gobsmackingly good, even if I say this myself.

The Chickpeas : Soak 1/2 a cup overnight, then boil until just tender. Heat a tsp of ghee and add 2 freshly ground tomatoes. Cook on a low heat, stirring continuously, until your tomatoes turn to a thick paste. Add salt, a pinch of red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp chana masala (okay, confession time - I didn not have chana masala, so I put in pao bhaji masala instead!).

Cook for a minute or two to mix. Do not add any water. You will be tempted to do it. Just don't - trust me here! Add the boiled chanas (minus the water they were boiled in) and cook for 5 minutes or so until dry.

The Spinach : Wash and roughly chop 2 cups of spinach leaves. Add 1/2 cup water, one small chopped onion and 2-3 cloves of garlic then cook until the spinach is soft. It takes 2 whistles in the pressure cooker if you are using that. Blend into a puree and return to the pan. Simmer until the spinach, onion, garlic mixture thickens to a soup like consistency.

The Plating : Take a shallow soup plate and flood it with spinach puree. Arrange chickpeas in the center. If you are Grant Achatz, you will make a neat circle with a tweezer. This chef here was too busy trying to eat it to make it any prettier.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Forbidden Rice Salad


I know you are eager to get to the salad. But for those waiting with bated breath to hear about my starter (you are, right?), I have created a spreadsheet tracking it's progress versus the Debra Wink recipe I am using. Have a look here.

Now, the salad. This is black rice that's grown in China. I think the legend of only emperors being allowed to eat it is a marketing gimmick. But I always fall for the name - it's forbidden rice after all. So I soaked 1/2 cup of forbidden rice for 2 hours. Then boiled it in plenty for water until it was cooked (just like pasta). It took around 20-25 minutes. Mixed in a thinly sliced spring onion, 2-3 chopped radishes and a handful of cilantro.

For the dressing, I mixed juice of one lemon with a tbsp of olive oil, salt, pepper and sumac (for that extra tang and the lovely, lovely color). Whisked it together and poured it on top of the rice.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An update and an award

The alchemy has started to work. When I got back from office tonight, my precious starter was full of bubbles and almost double from where I left it this morning. Oh! I am so excited. I've just mixed in 2 tbsp each of rye flour and mixed fruit juice and moved it to a clean container. This is the last dose of rye and juice it gets. If the magic continues to work, my starter moves to plain flour and water tomorrow. If not, well...we'd see.

In the meantime, I have no pictures to share with you. But I do have an award. Kanchan has passed on the Presentation Award to me.



Thanks a lot for the award, Kanchan. And I'd see you all tomorrow with an update on my pet project.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sourdough Starter : End of Day 1

There comes a time in the life of every bread baker when yeast is not enough. Then you have to catch, cultivate and pet that wild beast; the sourdough. If you are new to the concept, sourdough breads are breads made out of naturally cultivated yeast rather than relying on those little packets of the instant variety.

It's a long process, success is never guaranteed and you end up with a living pet on your refrigerator shelf forever. Yet, every bread baker does it. And finally, I am doing it too. I've read about sourdoughs for years. There are recipes that start with just plain flour and water. Some that resort to exotic stuff like red cabbage. But the one I picked from the melange is Debara Wink's pineapple juice starter. Paul over at Yumarama created this starter alongside another competing recipe and his step-by-step detailed instructions give me confidence enough to take the plunge.

But I couldn't find unsweetened pineapple juice. Trust me, I looked everywhere. There's orange juice and there's apple juice but there's no pineapple.

Then last night, I mixed 2 tbsp of wholemeal rye flour with 2 tbsp of unsweetened mixed fruit juice. And my starter's officially started. Maybe it will work; maybe it won't.

At least, nothing much had happened when I got home tonight. The mixture was just as I left it. Just now, I've added the second shot of rye flour and juice (2 tbsp of each). Going by the time it took Paul's starter to bubble, next 24 hours is when the magic should work. Stay tuned.