Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A seedy affair



A bit of flour
A handful of rye
Water, sugar, the magic of yeast
Mixed seeds to top it all

There's sunflowers in there
Some sesame, some hemp
A sprinkling of linseed
A sunny, crunchy bread!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The best coffee cake



Until very recently, I thought a coffee cake meant a coffee flavored cake. Go ahead, laugh all you want - I was quite confused when I saw all those nut and cinnamon cakes with not a drop of coffee in sight. So that's when I realized we were talking about cakes you eat with coffee. Cakes usually topped with a delicious buttery crumble mixture. This first coffee cake I baked also happens to be my best cake so far. I can't personally vouch for this being the best coffee cake in the world, but who am I to argue when the Pioneer Woman says so.

It's also pretty simple to put together. I halved the original recipe to fit my 7 inch round pan but remember that it calls for 3 eggs so it might be a bit tough to halve (I spilled half an egg white when separating eggs so you can say it was purely accidental in my case).

For the cake layer, you soften 75 grams salted butter and cream it with 2/3 cup sugar. Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour and 2 tsp baking powder. Measure out 1/2 cup milk. Add 1/3rd of flour+baking powder to the creamed butter, mix , then add 1/3rd the milk you have and mix to combine. Similarly add the rest of the flour and milk in stages until it is all mixed in. In another clean bowl, beat 1 1/2 egg whites until stiff. Drop the egg whites on top of the cake mixture and gently fold them in. Line a 7 inch round tin with parchment and spread the batter.

Now we make the crumble topping. This is different from what Ree did so pay a little attention. Soften 75 grams butter. Mix with 1/2 cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, a tbsp of cinnamon and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts. Now add 1/3 cup rock sugar - I don't really know what it's called but these are large brown chunks of sugar, almost like candy. And they are what made the cake topping so special by adding that butterscotch like crunch.

Sprinkle/spread the crumble topping on the cake batter and bake at 180C for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with no crumbs sticking to it. I let it cool a little before trying to take the cake out of the pan but it was still very very soft so be a little careful when cutting it into slices.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Indigo Challenge : Mushroom Coconut Lemongrass Soup

Indigo menu says:
Roasted Mushroom Soup with Coconut, Lemongrass & Almonds
Thai Chili Oil



There is a reason there wasn't a post here last six days. I was determined to cook the next recipe for my Indigo challenge (if you missed the script so far, I am cooking my way through dinner menu of the Indigo restaurant). But not only was this next dish a soup, it also involved Thai ingredients like coconut, lemongrass and chilli oil that I am not particularly fond of. A bowl of soup later, I am regretting I waited so long to make this. But also happy because it's raining tonight and I got a little wet coming home - just the perfect state to be in for eating some piping hot soup.


It took me my first google search to realize that Indigo couldn't possibly be putting shredded coconut in a soup and it's coconut milk we will be looking for. Plenty of recipes out there combining this coconut milk with mushrooms and lemongrass. Nothing in the way of thai chili oil, but I always knew it will be a topping. The only thing I could find no place for was almonds. Finally, I gave up thinking and ended up putting some flaked almonds as a garnish too - which was a nice crunchy touch, quite like croutons.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's make the soup first. The first step was thai chili oil that I made 2-3 days back. I crushed some dry thai chilies in a glass bowl. Heated 1/4 cup of a neutral vegetable oil and poured it on the top of the chilies. After a day, the oil had turned a nice red color so you could strain it at this point. I left the chilies in there.

Indigo says roasted mushrooms but I didn't have the heart to switch on the oven for just that. So I sliced 4-5 mushrooms and arranged them in a single layer on a non-stick pan. Cooked them for 4-5 minutes stirring every once in a while until they were golden.

In the meantime, I set 1 1/2 cups of water to boil with 4-5 kaffir lime leaves, a stalk of lemongrass and a little chopped galangal. Once the water started to boil vigorously, I turned off the heat and strained out the fresh, lemony stock. Mixed this with 1/2 cup coconut milk and a hearty pinch of salt. Heated it again until it started to boil, then added the mushroom and let it simmer for a minute.

To garnish this simple yet seriously addictive soup, I added a couple of stalks of lemongrass (but take care not to eat them). Then topped the soup with a few drops of chili oil and flaked almonds.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Art of Cheesemaking



If I lived in Europe, I would have never thought of making my own cheese. But as things stand in Mumbai, you can't do much in the way of eating cheese without rueing the lack of variety. Or more recently, feeling the pinch of high prices of imported cheeses.

I've made paneer all my life and I successfully made mascarpone once, so I thought that making the other kinds of cheese can't be all that hard. What I didn't reckon was the lack of one crucial cheesemaking component : rennet. Not just in India, I looked through all stores I could my last trip to London and no one stocked rennet. Then my friend went to US and looked through several stores until she hit one obscure one in Texas that parted with rennet tablets.

For my first use of rennet, I picked the very easy Neufchatel. Brush and spoon explains the process with some detailed pictures and it does take a while to make, but not even 10 minutes in terms of active effort. The rest of it is just patient waiting.

What I did was mix a litre of milk and 2 tbsp of cultured buttermilk in a stainless steel pan. Or at least, I hope it's cultured buttermilk - I used Amul's probiotic variety. Once it had gently heated to room temperature, I added 1/8th of a rennet tablet dissolved in 2 tbsp water (I know, it's hard to break a tablet in 1/8 but I did it anyway).

Let it rest overnight, then poured the now set curds into a cheescloth resting on a strainer. Tied it up and let it drain all day, and the result was the creamy block of cheese you see up there. I've mixed in a pinch of salt and it tastes great on toast but other ideas to use it up are totally welcome.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Roomful of Strangers

Last Thursday, I did something quite daring by my standards and went out for dinner with 20 strangers. The occasion was day one of a new restaurant at Grand Hyatt; the company eclectic and friendly. Amidst wine and conversations, the two brains behind Brown Paper Bag and the PR manager for Grand Hyatt made sure we met everyone in the lovely bunch of "what started as strangers and ended as friends".

And now, aren't you dying to hear about the newly opened Fifty Five East, the restaurant that replaces that Martini Bar called M they had for a few years. The short version is that it's pretty, it's good food and you should go there for dinner tomorrow (but don't wear heels; it's a long walk to a buffet spread over a huge space). And whatever you do, save space for dessert.

If you are still here, be warned that this was the first time I went to a restaurant where the PR guy took me on a tour and chefs came to talk to me, so I am probably gonna inundate you with information. First the space - there's a lot of it everywhere. It's beautifully decorated; one part with fancy light cutouts and the other with a colorful sari collage.

The food is a selection of Lebanese, Japanese, Thai and Indian. I know, I was shocked at first too at the strange mix. But once you get to know it better, it's a brilliant concept. Most of it is mezze and grills, cooked right inside the restaurant in open kitchens. The cold section features Lebanese - your standard measures of hummus and yogurt dips with pita. But there's also sushi right there at the same counter. An authentic Japanese chef turned out a fairly non-authentic spicy fried mushroom sushi, and I didn't dare try the bhindi version.

The hot section is Thai and grills. There was a green veg curry and pad thai but it was in the grills section that I met the star of the show. It was polenta and parmesan cakes with a creamy mushroom sauce. I went for seconds, I would have gone for thirds if I didn't notice the desserts section first.

Indian? I'm sure it was nice, but I didn't see anyone from our group turn in that direction. I know I didn't.

So we go on to a dessert buffet to die for. On one side are healthy fruits and some Indian sweets no one was paying any attention to. In the middle were some 20 odd pastries, cheesecakes and tarts. I noticed a custard, the chef claimed it's cream brulee, then sprinkled some sugar and out came a blow torch. You know I am all for drama at my table. So I went back and told him to torch a lemon tart for me.

Then I went back and told him to make a warm crepe with berry compote. I would have gone back to get a soft serve customized with fruit purees and almond clusters, but the nice chefs got it for me at the table. I would still rate the lemon tart the best. But I am obsessed with lemons so try everything else too when you go.

Then say goodbye to some lovely new friends and vow not to eat the next three days.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Indigo Challenge : White Bean Soup

Indigo menu says:
White Bean Soup with Arugula Pesto & Roasted Garlic Chips


I am not a soup person. But my first dinner at Indigo, the table next to ours ordered soup. So the waiters came in carrying two plates, empty except for a garnish arranged decoratively. Then they walked in with soup in a separate dish and poured it over the plates. I was smitten; I wanted high drama on my table too. So I ordered soup. And I order soup every time I go to Indigo. Did I tell you I'm not even a soup person.

The first two dishes on the Indigo menu are soups. This one called for a white bean soup, an arugula pesto and garlic chips. White bean soup recipes are easy to come by. I picked the one from food network, then omitted the garlic from the recipe and decided to make the whole thing with flageolet beans. Arugula pesto was easy; I simply replaced basil with arugula in my usual pesto recipe.

Garlic chips were the hardest - I didn't even know such a thing existed. After tons of googling, I found a Thomas Keller recipe over at Cookbook Catchall and I was all set.

Here's the entire soup recipe from start to finish:

Soak 1/3 cup white beans (or the delicately green flageolet beans) in the morning if you are eating soup for dinner. In the evening, boil the beans until tender. Heat a tsp of butter and a tsp of olive oil in a pan. Add one shallot, chopped finely and cook on a low heat until it softens. Add a sage leaf and half a cup of cooked beans. Stir to combine. Add a cup of mushroom stock and a hearty pinch of salt. Simmer for around 10 minutes. Pour the soup into a blender and puree (but dont make it too smooth; leave it a little grainy).

For arugula pesto, pulse a loosely packed cup of arugula leaves in a blender until coarsely chopped. Add a tbsp of pine nuts, another tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of coarse sea salt and blend again.

For garlic chips, peel 8-10 garlic cloves and thinly slice on a mandolin. Put the slices in a small bowl and cover with cold milk. Microwave for 20-30 seconds until the milk comes to a boil. Drain the garlic slices in a strainer and discard the milk. Rinse in cold water. Repeat this three times, using fresh milk every time. Dry the garlic on paper towels, then fry in hot oil until golden brown.

The verdict : The soup was good by itself, with a little pepper on top. Flageolet beans have a great flavor anyway, and the mushroom stock added an earthy touch. Arugula pesto was too strong to deal with on its own, but it speckled the soup with green and added an interesting dimension. The best part of the dish was garlic chips. I sprinkled them on the soup; and I snacked on the leftovers. Well, my entire group at office snacked on them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Announcing : The Indigo Challenge

You might have noticed that this blog has been floundering for a while. There has been some nice food, but nothing truly exceptional going on around here. And twice in the past week, I cooked something I thought was too boring to write about. Mixed vegetables, anyone? Won't you rather have "warm spherical dashi cloud with fairy ring mushrooms flavoured with purple shiso, sesame and yuzu".

While we aren't going the El Bulli way yet, there is going to be some excitement in our lives. For you are going to get food only seen so far on the menu of the best fine dining restaurant in Mumbai. When I decided to set myself this challenge, the choice of restaurant was easy. Indigo, with its ever changing innovative food has never failed to impress me.

Now Indigo in Colaba has regular lunch and dinner menus, plus a daily special. And a sunday buffet menu. And a separate dessert menu.

So what's the challenge? I'm going to cook every vegetarian dish on Indigo's dinner menu. That's 16 dishes in all, to be followed by a chocolate souffle - the only dessert I ever eat at Indigo.

To be clear, these are not Indigo recipes. All I have to go on is a one line description of the dish. I always order their day special, so I haven't tasted even a single dish in this menu. I don't even know what any of these look like once the Indigo chefs are done with them.

Exciting, isn't it! Specially when you have a white bean soup coming up. Complete with an arugula pesto and garlic chips. Ah...well...garlic chips? what's that???

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Book Club Turns Two...with Fannie Flagg

It was two years ago that Bhags first came up with the idea of This Book Makes Me Cook. Twenty four great books later, I find myself in a close knit circle of book lovers, all eagerly looking forward to next month's treat. To celebrate our special anniversary month, we made it a Fannie Flagg Special; so the members can read any book of hers they choose.

The first impression I have of Fannie Flagg is that she could be an accomplished time traveller. As she tells her stories set in Southern USA, she moves effortlessly between memories that span several decades. I first read what's her most famous work - Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Then I read Welcome to the World, Baby Girl and instantly fell in love with the residents of that small town called Elmwood Springs in Missouri. Welcome to the World... is the story of Dena, a New Yorker who loses her way and finds her life back in her small hometown. Dena's story gets remarkably interlinked with residents of this town a quarter century before including my favorites - the perky Dorothy with her neighborhood radio show, the woozy Aunt Elner and the every worrying Norma.

These same characters make an appearance again in the charming Standing in the Rainbow, a tribute to Fannie Flagg's story telling skills. And then yet again in Can't Wait to Get to Heaven. All these are separate stories, none a sequel to the other, all moving back and forth in time with an ease that surprises. By the time you finish reading all three books, Elmwood Springs' residents feel like friends you have known forever.

There is plenty of food in Fannie Flagg's books. Fried Green Tomatoes even comes with recipes for biscuits and gravy and such at the back, and then was followed up with a real cookbook. I even tried frying green tomatoes once. But what I've always wanted to make from Fannie Flagg's books is Dorothy's famous carousel cake. How I wish I had the skill to recreate Dena's happy memories of white and pink cake complete with a circus tent and a merry-go-round.

Instead, I baked a batch of cookies like Neighbor Dorothy would every morning, to welcome the audience trooping in to listen to her show.



These cookies also have a story. Last week, I won a giveaway - yes, me! You bet I was so excited when Aparna told me she's sending me a copy of Monica Bhide's "Modern Spice". Monica brings a fresh perspective to Indian food, and I loved her unfussy recipes. One of them was Amaretto Naankhattai, made with ghee instead of butter and tinged with spices.

To make naankhattai, beat 1/2 cup each of caster sugar and melted ghee (clarified butter) with a fork until creamy. Sift in 1 cup of flour and a tsp of baking powder. Add 6 tbsp coarsely ground almonds, a pinch of ground allspice (or nutmeg if you follow Monica) and a tsp of amaretto (which I didnt have so I added vanilla). Gather the dough and press until it comes together.

Divide into 12 parts, roll each into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake in an oven preheated to 175C for 20 minutes.

Next up, Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. If you would like to read with us, please leave a comment here and I will get back to you with details.