Friday, 25 September 2015

Chocolate, Almond and Orange Biscotti

Since I don't have anything interesting to share when it comes to food, I thought I'd pop in and say hello and share with you the books that I've read recently. The first is Elif Shafak's 'The Architect's Apprentice'. I have been wanting to read more of her work after she captivated me with her earlier book, 'Forty Rules of Love'. And the second book is the final instalment of Amitav Ghosh's 'Ibis' Trilogy, 'Flood of Fire'.

I am no one to critique these novels or these writers except to say I am just in awe of both of them. Their ability to write a story of fiction, breathe life into its characters and then build the plot to a crescendo whilst capturing the drama of human emotions that beats at its heart, is story telling at its finest.

Ghosh's book is richer and more complex but that's also because his canvas stretches across three books. And I also feel that his book is steeped in the culture of traditional Indian storytelling, with its myriad of sub plots whose paths intersect and intertwine through the book.

But, most of all these books remind me that the more I read, the more I realise how little I know. Both are books of fiction that are set in a factual, historical setting and one can only marvel at the sheer research undertaken by both authors to write these books. Shafak's novel has the Ottoman Empire as its backdrop while Ghosh's novel is set in the theatre of the Anglo-Chinese Opium War.

And I'll admit my knowledge of both is abysmal. In fact, my knowledge of history overall is patchy and wonder if it has anything to do with insipid history curriculum that we had in school. And it's a handicap because to the understand the issues of the present, one needs to view them through the periscope of past events.

Now, that's enough of a ramble about the books that I've read. Instead, let me tell you about these biscotti. I saw these on Pinterest and there was something about them being dipped in chocolate that made me want to bake them.

These are dry, crackly cocoa biscotti with a hint of orange and cinnamon that are given texture with almonds and pistachios that are then dipped in shiny, glossy dark chocolate so that nobody can find any fault with them. Biscotti are some of the easiest and least time consuming biscuits to make. I will say though that these biscotti taste better the next day when the flavours have been allowed to deepen.  

I am currently reading Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' and wondering why I haven't read it till now. I'd love to hear what you are reading, no matter what the genre is. Have a lovely weekend!! 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Chocolate Hobnob Biscuits

It's been a bit quiet around here, hasn't it?! It's not that I have been super busy but rather the mind's been a bit preoccupied and honestly, before I knew it, the days have just gone by! I've even had a few posts in mind but they've just remained stuck right my mind! I've had the time, the inspiration, the kitchen to myself and yet, for reasons that remain unknown I've just stayed away from the kitchen.
And then this week, as it always happens, I wanted to pre-heat the oven again. Just like that! So, to ease back into the groove with things, I decided first up to fill up the biscuit jar that's been lying empty for way too long.

I saw these biscuits on Izy's blog a few days back and I knew had to bake them. For no other reason than nostalgia. Chocolate-coated Hobnobs and chocolate-coated Digestives have kept me company through many an exam and late night project submission deadlines. And for some reason, I always chose the dark chocolate ones over their milk chocolate peers. Well, the reasoning was that the virtues of dark chocolate would counter the evils of excessive and stress induced snacking. The mind's ability to twist logic around to validate our decisions is simply genius!!

But, coming back to these biscuits that I baked. Hobnobs are oat-based biscuits and this recipe is brilliant. There is no white sugar, no white flour, no eggs and they taste even better than the shop bought ones. You could leave out the chocolate topping but I advise against that. The chocolate completes it. And with the Indian climate, store them in the fridge. Hobnobs taste better when cold.
You should hopefully see some more activity on this blog in the coming weeks. In the meanwhile, I hope you've been well..xx!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Chocolate And Pear Tart

On a rainy, weekend afternoon, there are very few things better than heading into the kitchen for a baking session, especially when it promises to reward you with a tart at the end of it all. The pears have arrived in the market, signalling that the seasons are changing. The first of the season have arrived, plump and juicy. So, of course, they made it to the tart, paired with chocolate, a timeless combination.
The recipe I have used is from the much loved and much used 'Popina Book of Baking'. It is a chocolate short crust pastry tart that is filled with a chocolate sponge that is then topped off with some pear slices.
Many will wonder if the pears are too delicate a fruit to pair with something as decadent as chocolate. It is something I have wondered about in the past but I have always been proven wrong. Somehow, pears seems to effortlessly stand up to stronger flavours such as chocolate or even blue cheese. Not only does it cut through the richness of chocolate but somehow the chocolate helps to enhance the flavours of the fruit.
The tart is a fair bit of work but I promise you the result makes it all worth it. The crust is a regular short crust that has cocoa added to it. The cocoa, I think, is more for the visual aesthetics rather than for the flavour. Because all of the flavour is in that filling.

The filling bakes into a soft, moist, chocolaty cake whose texture is regularly punctuated by the crunch of the toasted almonds in the fillings as well as those juicy pears on top.
You could pair it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream to serve it as a dinner party dessert but I enjoyed it straight out of the oven, warm with a cup of coffee. Like I said, it is worth all the effort and time spent on it.
Have a beautiful week ahead!!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Île Flottante With Fresh Cherries

The good thing about the stone fruit season is that the season in India is more or less in line with the season around the world. And that means you are never short of ideas for what to do with the fruit in the basket. And amongst all those ideas, I have a soft spot for French desserts. They can be elegant, they can be rustic, they can be simple, they can be flamboyant and sometimes, all at the same time. And I'm always taken in by how pretty they sound. Makes me wish I had paid more attention in class when we were taught the language in school!
Like this dessert I made with the last cherries of the season. In English, it would translate as 'floating islands', which won't elicit much of a response. But, say 'ile flottante' and it's time to pull out the little black dress for the occasion, even if you have no idea what it means.

'Île flottante' is a dessert that consists of poached meringues that are served floating on a crème anglaise, French for a vanilla custard. There are numerous recipes on the Web and I turned to the most economical one that was Mary Berry's.
The meringues use the egg whites and the custard uses the egg yolks and Mary's recipe uses them in equal number. Which is just perfect because I find nothing more frustrating than when I have leftover yolks or whites at the end of a recipe, which then means I have to go look for another recipe just to use them up!
The recipe is also resourceful in the sense that it uses milk to poach the meringues and once that's done, you use the same milk to make the crème anglaise. Perfect score in home economics, I say!
Preparing the dessert was not difficult but I'll admit it was a bit too fiddly for my liking, specially the bit about poaching the meringues. Although the meringues transformed themselves into soft, fluffy clouds as promised, I just had to keep second guessing myself, never really knowing if I was getting it right. In contrast, making the custard is quite simple and remember it is better served chilled.
This is a very rich dessert that makes quite an impression when it first appears. There is that white, soft, fluffy, delicate meringue served on a bed of pale yellow crème anglaise, whose simplicity of appearance belies its extravagance in flavour.
That would also mean that if you are looking for something simple and light, you will find this dessert a tad overwhelming. And that would also hold true, if you are a person who likes the taste of eggs to be hidden in your dessert, because it plays a starring role in both the elements.

What I would have preferred is a little less sugar in both the elements. This dessert is usually served with a caramel sauce but that would have just piled on the sugar I think. And that's why, thank goodness for the cherries. The freshness and the slight, natural tartness of the cherries cut through all the sugar and the richness of the dessert.  So, the cherries were a brilliant idea, courtesy David Tanis for the NYT.
Have you made or eaten ile flottante?? Do tell me what you think of it. Hope you're having a good week!!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Chicken Pulao

A week before I left for University, my concerned mother dropped a few packets of dry spices, a couple of pages of handwritten recipes and 2 books on Indian cooking into my bag. Knowing fully well that my cooking repertoire extended to eggs and toast, you'd think she was being a tad optimistic but there's a reason they say Mum knows best!
Settling in with the new flatmates, the first thing my darling but absolutely incorrigible American flatmate, Sam, said when we introduced ourselves was "Oh, from India!! I love Indian food, you must make us some..". Of course, I laughed nervously, mumbled something and changed the topic. But, Sam was anything but persistent. So, guess who came to the rescue - one of those cooking books that Mum put in the bag. I looked for what seemed the easiest recipe, a chicken pulao, read it a million times, crossed my fingers and toes, said a little prayer and attempted to make it. And would you know it, the stars were on my side!!
A fool proof recipe and those spices that Ma had packed, resulted in a simple chicken pulao that not only won over Sam but also Becca, the only competent cook in the house. It was restrained, subtle and packed with flavours, a complete antithesis to the somewhat dodgy fare they had been exposed to from the ubiquitous curry houses that dot the British landscape. So successful was that attempt, that friends, flatmates, neighbours, classmates, anyone and everyone who wanted a taste of Indian cooking was fed that chicken pulao. By the time I left, I could make it with my eyes closed. Never did I alter it and never did I attempt to make anything else!!
So, why am I telling you this all now?! Over the weekend, I made a chicken pulao from Maunika Gowardhan's blog that tasted a lot like the one I made all those years back in University. It is Indian home cooking at its simplest and most flavourful. I paired it with a tomato and onion raita, just as I did, back at Uni.
Flavoured with whole spices, this is one pot dish where the chicken is slowly cooked to create a flavourful stock in which the rice is also cooked in. As it cooks, the fragrance that permeates your kitchen will itself tell you that you are onto a winner. There are no harsh or overpowering flavours. It's just simple, hearty, fragrant home cooking that will nourish, comfort and satiate all at the same time. Perfect for an easy weekday dinner. 
I have always said that the most important aspect of food is the memories it creates and the memories it brings back. And this chicken pulao brought back the best of them, when each of my flatmates tried it. 
The one time I was heavy handed with the chilli would be the one time when Hania and her mild, Egyptian palate would try it, only to then go on and finish a whole tub of ice-cream after that. Matthew was just happy to have a meal so that he did not have to resort to having a Mars bar between slices of bread for dinner. John would have preferred his Brazilian bean and rice but was too much of a gentleman to say otherwise.
And then there was Vince from Hong Kong who never got to try the dish. Because, for the whole time he lived in the flat, he would stay awake all night, have his dinner in the wee hours of the morning and breakfast was somewhere in the middle of the afternoon. So, of course with all the collective wisdom at our disposal, we came to the most rational and logical conclusion. We decided that he was a spy!!
Like I said, the best memories! Have a great weekend ahead!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Plum Coffee Cake

I never really know what my next post is going to be. It is usually guided by the season of the moment but apart from that, I get my ideas from just about anywhere. Like last fortnight, when one of the total five readers that this blog has, asked me for a plum and frangipane cake, I was more than ready to oblige. And then Ma pointed out that it's been a while since I had baked a cake. Considering she is also among those five readers, I couldn't put it off any longer!
So, on 'popular demand', I made a plum coffee cake. And no, a coffee cake has no coffee in it, it is just meant to be had with a cup of coffee!!  

Cakes like this one are my favourite cakes to bake and you will see versions and adaptations of it in the recipe index. It is seasonal and so simple that all it requires is a hand whisk and two bowls, one each for the dry and wet ingredients. Once you have all the ingredients in front of you, it doesn't take more than ten minutes before you can pop it in the oven.

This is a simple cake that is given character with ground almonds and orange juice. It has no butter but uses a yoghurt-oil mixture that yields a super moist cake. The best part of the cake is its topping. The plums are sprinkled with sugar before baking. This ensures that the fruit cooks during baking and goes all soft and roasted and it releases all its beautiful juices that makes it just the perfect accompaniment for that cake beneath it.
While the fruit cooks, the sugar sprinkled on top caramelises to make this dark, slightly crunchy crust that contrasts beautifully with the vibrant, moist cake inside. You don't need to serve this cake with anything, just maybe a cup of coffee.

This is such a flavourful cake that has this beautiful, rustic charm about it that I can see you enjoying it as much as we did.
And if you have any ideas for future blog posts, I am always listening! Have a great week ahead!!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Saffron And Anise Poached Apricots With Cardamom Scented Yoghurt

As I mulled over on how to finish off the last few fresh apricots in the bowl, I headed over to social media for a spot of inspiration. And the timeline was filled with stories on Ramazan and a lot of them had to do with food. They were bloggers sharing ideas for 'iftar' dinners at home and articles by food lovers on the cities' most revered and popular eating joints, each an institution in their own right. Photo features on the tiny lanes of the traditional Muslim neighbourhoods, all lit up and buzzing with food stalls, crammed against each other, that come up every evening of Ramazan to  cater to the faithful, after a long day of fasting.
This is rich, decadent food in all its glory, that pulls no punches. And amidst all that food, mostly meat dishes, there is of course, always a mention of something sweet. Most of it were familiar sweets like phirni, malpuas, jalebis, sheer khurma, falooda but there were a few unfamiliar ones, like sandaal and 'khubani ka meetha'.

'Khubani ka meetha' caught my eye because 'khubani' is the Persian word for apricots. Popular in Hyderabad, it is a dessert made with dried apricots that are cooked with a sugar syrup to make a sort of a compote that is served with cream. However, the photographs are not too kind to it. The compote looks like some sort of brown sludge which I'll admit does not look very appetising.
But, I liked the idea of cooking apricots in a sugar syrup. Only instead of the dried ones, I used the fresh apricots that I had. And instead of cooking them into a compote, I decided to maintain their integrity by gently poaching them with some saffron and star anise.

Star anise because I like the way the spice flavours fruits and saffron because it imbues everything with that beautiful colour. I paired the apricots with some lightly sweetened and cardamom scented yoghurt. But, feel free to use whipped cream or even, some vanilla ice-cream if that is more to your liking.
Poaching fruit is a beautiful way to use up the fruit for a simple dessert. The cardamom in the yoghurt is very subtle because the star of the show are the apricots. That reduced saffron syrup just ties it all together beautifully with the help of those chopped pistachios on top.

It is fruity, lightly scented and delicately flavoured and does the job beautifully for a dessert on a week night. Try it before the apricots simply vanish from the market!
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