Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. Book review

Yotam Ottolenghi
I love this man and I am not afraid to say it. Really, I'd do anything he'd ask me to. No. I take that back. I actually do anything he asks of me. I don't improvise, I believe in what he says and follow it to the T.


Because he is awesome. Yes, you read that right - Awe-frikkin-some. And you know why? Cause he is one of most brilliant but underrated chefs in the world.


Yotam Ottolenghi doesn't just create recipes, he creates magic. He can turn the humble eggplant into a velvety salad, cauliflowers into saffron-scented yumminess and beans into burgers with just moving a couple of ingredients around.


He's the man who has converted my meat-eating, vegetable-not-so-much-liking husband into a happy vegetable eater. He's the one who has changed his opinion about aubergines. He's the one who has inspired the best chocolate cake that I ever knew existed.


All this considering, he's quite the carnivore and was at his wit's end when The Guardian asked him to do a column on vegetarian recipes. But the way he has treated vegetables - with so much respect and appreciation and love - that this sensational cookbook is as exciting to read as it is to cook from. 


And just look at the pictures! 



So fresh! So alive that you want to eat it. Such beautiful pictures, that will inspire you into creating some of the best meals. At least it did that for me.


You see that eggplant on top - that's one of my favourite recipes ever. It's a luscious boat of grilled eggplants which has been spiked with thyme and filled with a tangy garlicky buttermilk and topped with sweet pomegranate pearls. They taste absolutely wonderful and make such a pretty picture too.


Then there's the mushroom and herb polenta. I'd never made polenta at home until this recipe and even then I couldn't stop licking my spoon.


Another one of my favourite recipe is the Meditteranean tart - a tart so chock full of vegetables including pumpkin, zucchini and eggplant, that you'd be surprised how sublime it actually is.





Or just look at that recipe above- it's roasted parsnips with sweet potatoes and onions in a caper vinaigrette. Ottolenghi asks you to treat this recipe as the blueprint of an infinite number of roast vegetables. I  am not even going to describe how this tastes like because truly there are no words.

The thing is, this is a book for every man. The recipes are overly cheffy. The ingredients are simple. In fact most people who like cooking will have at least 90 per cent of the ingredients in their pantry. The book itself is divided into chapters that are easy to work around. And it offers a whole range of skill-sets, bordering mostly on easy. No super easy.

Since Ottolenghi is Israeli - most of his recipes are also inspired from that part of the country. He's used cereals, pulses, polenta and fruit and cheese to create amazing recipes. Have I eulogized him enough, or do I have to go on for you to buy this book already!

Available in India, US and UK

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Coffee ice cream. And things I learnt over the weekend


Expecto Patronum © Cookaroo
 This weekend was quite a challenge for me, and I learnt three things over 48 hours

1. If you lock your keys in the car, remember to keep the spare somewhere you can find it
2. Never use a blender to grind frozen coconut
3. And I am too old for tequila.

Too. Frikkin. Old. So old, that I can't deal with the hangover without copious amounts of water and a couple of Darts (asprins), first thing in the morning. So old, that the thought of food makes me giddy. So old, that an afternoon siesta is the only thing that can rev my engines.

Tequila - it truly spells death for me. I don't know how people go around singing about tequila sunrise - I can't open my eyes the day after downing some tequila, let alone see a sunrise.  To be fair I should have known this before succumbing to the temptations of Long Island Iced Teas. I mean it does have tequila. Plus I remember the last time I had some margaritas - I couldn't get out of bed for the whole day.

But there's an exception to the rule - coffee tequila! This divine dark-brown molten drink that feels like silk. So when my friend NC gave us a bottle of his favourite drink, I couldn't help but make something from it, despite the fear of a sleepless hangover.

As much as I don't like and drink coffee, I love coffee ice cream. I've loved since I tasted for the first time in the late eighties in a small shop in Chennai. My father was addicted to it. And every day of the summer vacation, he'd drive us to the shop where we could pick our flavours and he'd just have the coffee ice cream.   Even after the flavour went defunct, and the shop closed down, my father figured out ways to eat coffee ice cream.

So much was his love for the flavour that he'd even mix lots of instant coffee to vanilla ice cream, put it back in the freezer and then eat his bowl full of 'coffee ice cream' half an hour later. The strange thing is, I can't remember a day, I didn't so the same thing. I'd often add Kahlua and some instant coffee to my ice cream (and then stay up the whole night thanks to the caffeine) since I was like 14.

When I moved to Delhi, Nirula's had just introduced some new coffee flavours - Cappuccino and Coffee chocolate fudge  (Of the two, the former was better).  But they weren't as good as I remembered what I'd eaten in Chennai.

Of course, Gymkhana still does a great coffee ice cream - I think it's a Mother Diary ice cream and Kent's in Defence Colony makes a mean coffee shake with the same ice cream. Over the last six months, between my friend N and I, we must have consumed at least 60 coffee shakes.

Anyhoo, making coffee ice cream was extremely therapeutic, the smells in the air reminded me of home and the flavour was spot on - since I added some south Indian filter coffee to it.

The funny thing was despite mixing up the coffees - I used Starbucks, this Mexican coffee tequila and south Indian filter coffee, the flavours reminded me of my childhood - I had no trouble sleeping at night. :)

Caffeine overload © Cookaroo

Coffee Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, available in India, US and UK


Ingredients
·         1 1/2 cups whole milk
·         3/4 cup sugar
·         1 1/2 cups whole coffee beans (I used star bucks)
·         Pinch of salt
·         1 1/2 cups heavy cream
·         5 large egg yolks
·         1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
          2 tsps coffee tequila
·         1/4 teaspoon finely ground coffee (I used south Indian filter coffee)

Special equipment: Ice Cream maker

 Method
1 Heat the milk, sugar, whole coffee beans, salt, and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan until it is quite warm and steamy, but not boiling. Once the mixture is warm, cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

2 Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a medium size metal bowl, set on ice over a larger bowl. Set a mesh strainer on top of the bowls. Set aside.

3 Reheat the milk and coffee mixture, on medium heat, until again hot and steamy (not boiling!). In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Slowly pour the heated milk and coffee mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that the egg yolks are tempered by the warm milk, but not cooked by it. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

4 Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof, flat-bottomed spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula so that you can run your finger across the coating and have the coating not run. This can take about 10 minutes.

5 Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Press on the coffee beans in the strainer to extract as much of the coffee flavor as possible. Then discard the beans. Mix in the vanilla and finely ground coffee, and stir until cool. Stir in the tequila.

6 Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Beans beans, they are good for your heart © Cookaroo


I'm also sending this for Patricia's event The Weekly Story at the Colours Dekor  and I hope she likes it.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Chocolate bread pudding. Spoils of war

I can haz leftovers? © Cookaroo
This is what I made for dessert last night. That piece is all that's left of this chocolate bread pudding. And chances are, by the time I get home, there will be nothing left. (The husband had to go to work late this evening, so can you see why I am slightly suspicious).

But meanwhile, have you guys been watching Junior Masterchef Australia? Are those kids awesome or what! I can't take my eyes off their sweet smiles and their elegant movements in the kitchen.

Last week, in one of the eliminating episodes, the kids had to recreate Callum's croissant bread pudding with a chocolate sauce and mascarpone cream. You should have seen some of them! So neat, so deft, so brave! I am totally in awe of them.

Once the episode got over, I had a sudden craving for bread pudding. Except there was no bread at home. So I thought that I might as well bake some bread. Except I got stuck with some terrible yeast that refused to rise. I wassa very sad.

Anyhow, my sister bought two huge loaves of bread for Sunday brunch, and after making club sandwiches, I was left with an entire loaf! And when an impromptu match-watching (IPL) plan was fixed for Sunday night, this was the dessert I knew I wanted to make.

Rummaging in the fridge, I found some chocolate-banana spread that my brother had bought when he was here. The spread is in two parts - the chocolate is well chocolatey - plain not Nutella-esque and the banana is well awful and synthetic. The smell had put me off that jar forever, so when I spied it in the shelves, I thought this might be a good way to use it up. I didn't use the banana-bit, although some did accidentally make its way into the chocolate bits, but all in all, I used up half a jar.

I threw in some chips, some marshmallows because regular bread pudding calls for raisins and sometimes jam - I thought this might be add another texture.

Crispy bits © Cookaroo

A good soak and two hours later the pudding could be served. I served it with some vanilla ice cream, but am sure it'll work well with some whipped cream as such.  Can you see the crispy bits on top? That's my favourite part of the pudding.

Also a proper post on bread pudding still needs to be done. I have to run otherwise I'm going to be in a lot of trouble with my friend, N, who's starving.

Wiping the slate © Cookaroo
Chocolate Bread Pudding with marshmallows and chocolate chips
Serves 6

Ingredients

10 slices of bread (I used whole wheat and oats)
4 tblsps butter
5 tsps chocolate spread (if you don't have chocolate spread, just melt regular chocolate and spread it)
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cups mini marshmallows
3 eggs
500 ml milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Method


1. Butter each slice of bread on one side. Slather on some chocolate spread on one slice of bread and top with another slice, buttered-side down. Basically you're making chocolate sandwiches.

2. Cut the chocolate sandwiches in cubes and spread in a baking dish. Sprinkle chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, making sure you're getting them into all sorts of crevices.

3. Break the eggs into a separate bowl, add sugar and vanilla and whisk. Slowly add the milk till all the sugar dissolves.

4. Put the milk mixture into the chocolate sandwich dish. Let it sit for atleast 45 minutes (to overnight) before baking at 170 degree for 40 minutes. Let it rest for 20 minutes before eating.

5. Serve with ice cream, chocolate sauce, cream extra marshmallows and whatever else you feel like.

I am sending this off for Pari of Foodelicious' Only Chocolate event, which you guys must see for some fun chocolate recipes.


Pudding and pie © Cookaroo


Friday, May 25, 2012

Lemon mousse. Leftover special

Lime and lemony! © Cookaroo
The thing is, I'm always stuck with egg whites when I am making ice cream. And come summer, I love making them for dessert when people come over.

Eating an egg-white omlette, however healthy it may be, is hardly as nice as a whole egg omelette. Or maybe it's just that way in my head. So I'm always looking for recipe for using up egg whites. In fact I have a list in my gmail drafts which lists down things I can do with leftover yolks and things I can do with egg whites.

One of my favourite things to do is ofcourse make a White Velvet Cake which is the base for a number of cakes that I like to make. Then there is the pavlova - I don't mind making them, it's just that if I need something done there and then, then chances are I'm going to forget. My other options is making macarons - Pierre Hermes style, but that is an art I am nowhere close to mastering.

In fact I know how many tears I have shed over macaroons. Some don't rise, some behave like total bitches and spread all over the plate and others don't get no feet. So ya, I needed to throw that idea out of the window.

But after making this awesome coffee ice cream (which I will post next week), I had 4 egg whites leftover and a whole bunch of cream from the husband's birthday cake. I had some excellent Jacques Torres chocolate that my friends NC and SSC had got me, one singular mango lying in the fridge and a whole bunch of lemons. Plus I had people coming over for dinner. So I had to think quick.

A mousse sounded doable especially now that my new stand-mixer has arrived (Thank you husband) and in this terrible terrible heat, a cold and fruity dessert is always a winner.

A quick search on the Internet, a four-ingredient Lemon Mousse recipe popped up. It sounded simple and refreshing.

I just improvised it a tiny bit. Adding additional lemon extract and some colour, so that I could trick myself into believing it wasn't that simple.

Light, creamy with a melt-in-the-mouth texture, the mousse was everything you could ask for. I served with chocolate sauce - odd as it may sound, chocolate goes really well with lemon desserts. Try a lemon cheesecake with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and you'll know what I mean.

You're welcome to halve the recipe, I just had to work with what I had, plus I wanted to get rid of the leftovers :)

Foamy © Cookaroo
Lemon Mousse
Adapted from BBC Good Food

Serves 8

400 ml fresh cream
2 lemons - juiced and zest
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg whites
A pinch of cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp lemon extract
6 drops yellow food colouring

1. Whip the cream with sugar until soft peaks form. Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract, lemon extract and lemon zest. Whip till the mixture thickens further

2. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar till they form soft peaks.

3. Add the food colouring to the cream mixture and fold in the egg whites. Do this quickly, so that you don't lose too much air.

4. Spoon into glasses. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving. Serve with cold. Decorate with pretty fruit and serve with some chocolate sauce.

What's up doc? © Cookaroo

Thursday, May 24, 2012

50 great curries of India. Cookbook review

Have you ever eaten at someone's house where the food has been an eye-opener? Where what's on the table is so good that, no matter where you are, many moons later, the meal still lingers in your mind.

I've had many such experiences. Experiences that, I feel, have made me understand food better, made me cook better. Sometimes the taste of a simple daal is etched across your mind. Or a mutton roast so succulent that you want a recipe there and then. 

That's what happened to me at my ex-boss's house several years ago. I ate a meal so spectacular but simple, quaint but so explosive that my taste buds were going all over the place. Her husband, Arun, is one the most fabulous cooks I ever know. He's more of a, what do you call it, an instinctual cook. Someone who dreams up recipes, someone who can connect the dots between ingredients, someone who just knows. 

So when my (ex)boss told me that the one cookbook he swears by is Camellia Panjabi's 50 Great Curries of India, I was curious. I mean I didn't own that many Indian cookbooks apart from the token Sanjeev Kapoors and Nita Mehtas. Plus, whatever I needed to know about curries, my grandmother had taught me all. I decided to look for it anyway.

Strangely, it wasn't a book that was readily available. We hadn't embraced online shopping as yet, and bookstores didn't seem to keep her book and despite me asking them to stock it, I'd return home, most times, with another cookbook. Finally in a tiny discount store in Delhi, I spotted the book. Covered in plastic wrap, the book contained a CD - of three of her most popular recipes. Could I get an open copy to browse through the book, I asked the shopkeeper. A good 15 minute hunt later, I was told it was the only copy. Obviously that meant I had to pick the book.


Even then, it lay on my shelves for at least an year before I decided to skim through it. I barely even glanced at it, I was busy marking out my favourite recipes with post its. Then one fine day, I wanted to make a chicken curry unlike the curries I had made before. Google called out to me. I searched for several recipes, until I chanced upon one that I liked. Black-spiced cashew nut chicken. Oh quite simple, I thought to myself and I have everything lying at home. I looked for the source - turned out it was a Camellia Panjabi recipe.

Oh, I have her book! Reaching out for it, I realised what a fool I'd been. This book had an answer for nearly everything. What really is tandoori chicken? Why do Indians like the clay oven (tandoor) , why spices must be roasted. Camellia had broken down all the processes and the pairings right at the beginning of the book, so I could skip all that easily and just go ahead and read the recipes.


There were egg curries that I couldn't wait to try. Lamb dishes which had to be made there and then and ideas with vegetables that were simple, regional and wholesome. But one recipe caught my eye and I felt I needed to give it immediate attention. A watermelon curry.

Just large watermelons cut into chunks and tempered with red chilli powder, salt and some other spices. A Rajasthani dish, eat it as an accompaniment the book suggests. When I made it for the first time, this curry totally boggled my mind. I ate it as my main course, I ate it as a dessert and the next morning, ate it for breakfast. It was so good.

Next, I tried the Malabar omelet curry - and it tasted straight out of God's Own Country (and I don't even like eggs that much) and then the chicken korma - quite fabulous!

Camellia had made a lot of effort, telling you how to grind your garam masala - telling you the difference between chillies and even explaining, rather simply why you should use what you should.

The photos are lovely. Well-styled and beautifully presented. And it's really difficult to make Indian food look pretty, let alone back in the nineties, when styling was a bit bizarre.

The edition I have at home, is a reprint. Story goes, within years of Chutney Mary, the book was sold out twice over. And today as I surf on the net, I can see three more reprints. 

Available in India, US and UK

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Watermelon, feta and mint salad

You called?  © Cookaroo
A couple of years ago, in my old office, we organised a potluck. It was the middle of summer and since we had to do it over lunch, we decided on salads. We were nearly 10 of us (I was asked to bring dessert, but that's later) and so you can imagine the decadence that came with it all. 

As the organiser I had a list of salads that people were bringing - pasta salad, sausage salad, chicken salad, apple and potato salad - oh it all sounded lovely. My friend Riddhi (who is by the way, an amazing cook) said she's bring a watermelon salad. It's got feta and onion, she added. Oh lovely I said, sounding utterly skeptical. And what a fool I was.

When she brought, it was the one salad I could not stop eating, the onions gave it a lovely crunch, the mint a freshness and the feta a sort of a salty contrast to the sweet watermelon. How do you make it, I asked her. Oh it's a Nigella recipe, she said, and there's really nothing to it.

She's couldn't have been more right. This is a super simple to put together and there's not a single ingredient that isn't available here. Nigella uses lime juice, I use balsamic - but whichever recipe you follow, this will be a great salad.

I mean it is my favourite salad in the summers. It's the salad I always make when I have people over. It's the salad I make when I don't feel like eating dinner. It's the salad that my husband and I will fight over.

Moral of the story?  Make it, like today!


Not quite Nigella © Cookaroo

Watermelon, feta and mint salad
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Bites. Available in India, US and UK

Ingredients


1 small red onion
1 small ripe watermelon
100 gms feta cheese
Bunch fresh mint, removed from stalk
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
100g pitted black olives
3-4 tblsp balsamic vinegar
  
Method

  1. Peel the onion and slice it rather thin. Put the onions into a bowl with the balsamic vinegar, wrap in cling and keep aside.
  2. Chop the watermelon into large pieces and remove the seed. Arrange into a bowl.
  3. Cut the feta into pieces and add the olives which have been sliced.
  4. Wash the mint and scatter over the salad, generously. Wrap in cling and chill until ready to serve.
  5. Take it out of the refrigerator 5 minutes before serving. Add the onion and a splash of balsamic and pour the olive oil atop.
  6. Serve immediately with forks.

It's a cruel cruel summer © Cookaroo


I am also sending this to Amina's Guest Quest event


Monday, May 21, 2012

Fresh Cream Pineapple cake. Just like the small bakeries


Tropical Typhoon © Cookaroo

Warning: This cake comes with a temper tantrum.

Fresh cream pineapple cake, you'd think this would be an easy cake to make. I mean what IS there in it. Some sponge, tinned fruit and whipped cream. Really how hard can it be?

Except, whipping cream at 40 degrees (centigrade) in a uber hot kitchen is already asking for trouble. And if your hand-mixer decides that today's the day that it will stop working, chances are you're already close to a breakdown and THEN, you fall sick - all hell will break lose. 

Trust me, I tried. Oh boy did I try. I bought all kinds of cream - low fat, double cream and the soya cream (you know the kinds bakeries use). I bought all kinds of pineapple - sliced, crushed, bits. I chilled all the ingredients. I even decided to make a low fat fresh cream cake, and used zero butter in the sponge. I thought I was being smart. Except, I really wasn't.

I started with the low fat cream. That was really my biggest mistake. The cream just wouldn't whip. It just wouldn't. I had chilled the cream overnight. I drained excess liquid. I put a bowl of ice under my steel bowl. I'd whip it for 15 minutes. Put it back in the chiller for 20. Twice. Four times. Ten times. And then after completely having it, left for work.

When I came back home, I made attempt number two - this time with the double cream. Same thing - chilled overnight, on a bowl of ice and voila, I was done in 5 minutes. Except it wasn't enough. By the time I layered the cake, the cream was nearly over. I could barely get a thin layer of cream over the top. I had already started sniffling.

An hour later came attempt number three. By then, the soya cream had thawed (it needs to be frozen at all points) and I could use atleast 300 ml immediately. A couple of minutes into the whipping, the handmixer packed up and the bell rang - the husband was already here.

I don't even think I can express my irritation/panic/discontentment. It was as if all the emotions wanted to sock each other at the same time. I opened the door, and ran back to yank out my faithful whisk. Lots of elbow grease (read 20 minutes) later the cream had thickened considerably. Not peaky still but enough to ice. I wasn't thrilled but this would have to do. And when I brought the cake out, I hit my elbow on the counter. 

Aaaargh! Could it BE any worse? I iced the cake and as the husband went to answer calls, I was ready to curl into a ball and start weeping. How badly behaved could I be! That's how he found me - bawling and it wasn't until I'd ordered myself another hand-mixer (this time with a stand) that I stopped crying.

Not the icing on the cake © Cookaroo
An hour later, the both of us decorated the cake. Is this what you wanted? I asked him. Yes, he said. But I'm never asking you to bake me a cake again. 

:(

When he finally cut the cake, it went through like butter. The sponge was soaked through, almost pudding-like. The cream offset the tart pineapple and the cherries were glorious in their pits. This is awesome, he said, with a mouthful of cake. It's better than what you get at Wengers, he added over his second helping. But I'm still not going to ask you again. 

Despite that, sans a piece (that I ate) he polished off the entire cake over the weekend. 

Never again, you say?? © Cookaroo
Italian Sponge Cake. Adapted from food.com

Ingredients

 For the sponge

6 eggs separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 cup cake flour (1 cup all purpose flour remove 1 tblsp and add one tblsp cornflour)

For the filling and icing

800 ml of double cream or whipping topping
1 large tin pineapple bits
2 tblsp sugar
1 cup icing sugar (if using double cream)

1 small tin of red cherries for decoration

Method

For the cake
 1. Cut butterpaper to fit into three 9 inch round cake pans. Grease the bottom of the pans and fit the discs.

2. Preheat oven to 170 degree centrigrade. Separate the eggs. Whites in a bigger bowl, yolks in a smaller bowl

3. Pour the vanilla extract on your egg yolks, let it sit while you beat the egg whites till they are peaky and stiff
4. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture is pale and thick and frothy.

5. Add the cake flour and fold in the egg whites.

6. Bake for 15 minutes or until the skewer comes out dry.

7. Let it cool completely before taking it out of the tin. The cake will shrink. Is ok.

For the filling and icing
 1. Drain the pineapple bits. Reserve the liquid. Mix two tablespoons of sugar with the pineapple liquid. Keep aside.

2. Whip the double cream until peaks are formed, adding icing sugar as needed.

For the assembly
1. Put one cake at the bottom of your serving dish. Drench it well with the pineapple juice. You’ll use about 6 to 10 tblsps of the liquid as per the size of your cake.

2. Spread 2 tblsps spoon of the whipped cream. Layer with pineapple bits. Nearly half the tin.  Spoon 5 tblsps of cream. Add the next layer.

3. At this point return this cake to the refrigerator, it’ll help firm up quickly. Let it sit for atleast half an hour.

4. Take it out and repeat the process. Liquid. Cream. (Save a handful of pineapple bits now). Pineapple bits. Cream.

5. Now before you put in your third layer, drench the layer with the pineapple liquid and then turn it on to the cake. Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before you start the icing it.

6.To ice, you use a palatte knife and smooth the cream all over the cake. Use a piping bag to make the dots and arrange the remaing pineapple bits along with some cherries on top of the cake. Let it rest for at least an hour before eating.

I see you © Cookaroo

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sugar cookies that say Happy birthday

Today is a double whammy day for me - it's my aunt VB's and brother's birthday. If we were in Chennai right now we'd be celebrating it a lot different. But here... All I can say is Happy Happy Birthday to two people I love very much:

Rainbow balloons
So here I am sending them virtual sugar cookies, some a little tan, some a little scary because I. Freaking. Can't. Ice. You heard me, I suck at frosting - this despite owning writing icing. My hand is unsteady and I am always, always in a hurry.

But don't get me wrong. These cookies taste amazing. Plain simple and awesome, they are from one of my favourite blogs Sweetapolita and I've used her recipe for the perfect sugar cookies. I just halved it and you can find the recipe here. I realised a couple of things while baking them

1. Try and put even sized cookies for baking - otherwise some get very tan
2. Do freeze the cookies before baking they spread very little.

For my brother - since the guitar is his current passion - I give him - Guitar cookies


Dil main bhajee guitar © Cookaroo
And then these guitars are gently weeping, because I really messed up the icing

Weeping crying, but yummy © Cookaroo
For VB - I've made her a very tanned baby owl. Which is essentially because she's a night bird and is forever tanned because of swimming

Hoot hoot © Cookaroo
And then I decided to make her a bigger owl, you know because she's always been the bigger owl to me


What big eyes you have grandma © Cookaroo

With the rest of the cookie dough, I wanted to make one for my husband too, whose birthday it is tomorrow. It looks something like this:

 Who? © Cookaroo
 I think it looks like Jesus Christ. You know the one at Rio de Janeiro, except with his hands folded. When I told him I wanted to make him Lord-shaped cookies, he looked horrified.  Blasphemy he said. He don't get no humour. On the other hand, I will float this idea to his cousin, who is a pastor and has the most brilliant sense of humour. I'm sure he'll ask him to bring some the next time we go to Church. 


And so I let him have his pick with the cutters


Take your pick ©Cookaroo
He picked a flower. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Popina: Book of Baking. On Cookbook Wednesdays


I'm doing a baking book after a while in the hope that it will shed some light on my pineapple cake dilemma. You see tonight's the night, when my creative juices have to flow (I have another day to bake it but even then, I need to finalize on something today).

There are decisions to be made, tins of pineapple to be picked up and double cream to be found. But before that I want to tell you about another book that means the world to me. Especially if you have guests you want to impress.

If you watch cookery shows as feverishly as I do, then you'd have definitely seen Rachel Allen on TV. I'm not a fan of her recipes, but the tips she gives during her shows are keepers. On one such episode she's interviewed Isidora Popovic, a baker in London who has a stall in the Portabello Market in Noting Hill and sells the most amazing tarts and quiches. She called herself Popina. 

The episode went on to show how Isidora's crust is different, much lighter and easier to replicate and how are topping are to-die-for. How each week they crack 6000 eggs by hand and how she comes up with fun recipes that use organic ingredients which are used to bake fresh everyday.

Anyhoo, as is my obsession I quickly went online to check all about Popina. I learnt that Isidora began baking from home. That her little apartment in London was filled with table top ovens. Any empty space had an oven. And that she'd make everything from scratch and sell it at the market. And it was in 2000 that she received help from Prince Charles' Prince's Trust and started catering for private functions after graduating from an Art's course. That she was an artist-turned-baker.

I felt inspired and was completely in awe of her. And then in a couple of days totally forgot about her. Until, while browsing through a bookstore, this book fell off a shelf and on to my head, quite literally. Popina! The name sounded so familiar and when I flipped through the book, I realised she was the same person.


The first picture I saw was of a plum tart. It looked delectable. The second, was of a mushroom tart. Needless to say, I bought the book. 

And what a find this book is! The recipes are original, the ideas are different and most of all, she is so encouraging and inspiring. In one of her interviews Isidora had once said that she never cooks from a recipe instead she relies on her instinct and how visually appealing she finds it. 

Yes, there's a lot of savoury baking - Isidora teaches you how to make cheese straws - with cheddar and Granny Smith apple - a sweet and sour snack that is really quite out of the world. She teaches you how to make crackers, cookies - ginger and chilli - a combination that sounds odd but is totally awesome. The savoury baking is not an after thought here - it is the thought. The spinach and garlic muffins are incredible as are the feta and tomato muffins. I've never eaten roast potato and spring onion tartlets or aubergine, red pepper and tomato tart, but both are packed full of flavours and so unique that you cannot help but make them over and over again.



But never has it been mentioned  how awesome her chocolate recipes are. There's a recipe for her award-winning brownie - the chocolate truffle brownie. And I don't know how to say this - but that brownie is so rich, so sublime that you'll only trade it for a pound of flesh. And then there is the chocolate cake - a gluten-free recipe that calls for rice flour and is another recipe that you'd have to walk over my dead body for.

That said, the pictures are amazing. Really amazing. Each recipe is accompanied by a beautifully shot picture. The language is simple, making the recipes easy to follow. And the best of all, here's a person like you and me - with a story - who made a beginning doing something she loves. And look at her now, she's a celebrity chef. 

This book is stimulating both visually and mentally and it tells how life can change. Available in IndiaUS and UK

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mango Cheesecake. And a request

Mango-faced monkey © Cookaroo
So this is birthday week. Not mine, the husband's. And it's a big birthday. Not big celebratory kinds, but big as in age kinds.


For over a month I have been harassing him about what he'd like for his birthday. Would he want a party? Something fun with family? Hang out with friends? And as most Taureans I know (I do know a LOT of them), he's being stubborn. Don't you dare throw me a surprise party. I don't want a present. I don't want to do anything. I might want to go out for dinner.


Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhh. He's really being a boor. And so difficult. So over the weekend, I told him to tell me exactly what cake he'd like for his birthday. As a non-chocolate fan, I didn't even expect him to say the C word. But nor did I expect what came next.


I want a fresh cream pineapple cake. Like you cut at office. Like you get in bakeries across Delhi. Like that is a mother to a pineapple pastry.


I said this before, and I am saying this again. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhh. This is what I get for trying to bring some gourmet home. But as the dutiful wife that I am, fresh cream pineapple will be made.


And if anyone has some fool-proof recipes to share, I'm going to welcome that with open arms.  Meanwhile the recipe I am sharing with you is just as fool proof. And really delicious. As stupid as it sounds, make the cheesecake with tinned mango puree, you'll get an even flavour and a better texture. This is a tip from my friend Amrita, who makes a mean coffee cheesecake. 


All about the texture © Cookaroo
Mango Cheesecake Recipe - No bake version

Makes one 9-inch cake, serves 12 generous portions

Ingredients:

For the crust:
160 gms digestive biscuits crushed (I used marie)
50 gms butter melted

 For the filling:
1 cup icing sugar 
200 gms cream cheese (I used kwark cheese)
400 ml whipping cream (I used Amul)
300 ml mango puree
4 tsp gelatin (if you’re using china grass make that 8 tsp)
¼ cup water

 For the Mango Glaze:
100 ml mango puree
2 tbsp water
1 tsp gelatin

Method
 For the base
1. Put the digestive biscuits into a ziploc bag. Take a rolling pin and bash it to your hearts content. Or till nice and crumbly.
 2. Add melted butter to the biscuits. Mix well. Pat it down into a loose-bottom tin. (Springform is better)
 3. Put it in the freezer, while you go about making the filling.

 For the filling
1. In a small metallic bowl put the gelatin and water to bloom. Leave aside
 2. Meanwhile beat the cream cheese with sugar.
 3. Whip the cream. Fold in to the creamcheese mixture.
 4. Gently melt the gelatin. Strain and add to the mango puree and add that to the cheese mixture. Fold and incorporate well.
 5. Take the biscuit base out of the freezer. And pour in the mango mixture. Let the cheesecake set for 4 to 6 hours. 

 For the topping
1. Bloom 1 tsp of gelatin in water. Melt over a slow flame. Strain and add to the mango puree.
 2. Take the cheesecake out and pour this mix over the cheesecake. Let it sit for another 2 hours
 3. To serve, bathe a knife in warm water, and poke the cheesecakes on the sides. This will help loosen it from the sides. Open the springform and with additional mangoes on the side. 

Yellow! © Cookaroo
Meanwhile I'm sending this post to Sumee's Bon Vivant event since this is as fruity as it gets. 


Monday, May 14, 2012

Salted caramel and chocolate tart. Rated A

Divine secrets © Cookaroo
I made this tart twice this weekend. 


It all started with a conversation with myself. You see, when I eat something interesting outside, I obsess about it for days. About how it tastes, about how I can replicate it. Then, I read up all about it, check the recipe on various blogs, see what Dorie Greenspan or David Lebovitz or Rachel Ray have to say about it. I think about the ingredients I am going to use, I do a stock check at home and then finally, finally find a recipe which I feel is adaptable and well, for lack of another word, easier.


So as you can see, this conversation about the Salted caramel tart lasted for a while. Should I make it for an occasion? Should I be a pig, I asked myself? The answer came pat - ofcourse! That was then followed by a debate - a 10 inch tart vs 6 inch. Alone or to share. And then my friends S & N asked us out for dinner on Saturday. 


With the tart weighing heavily on my mind, I asked N what he thought about Salted caramel and chocolate. In bath salts or in a shampoo, he asked me. Ummm, in a pie, I said. Yum, he said. 


That was all I needed. Signal. From God. From anyone. And I got down to making this brilliant tart. This was the first time I was making the chocolate pate sucree and I was so surprised how easy it was. Yes, it needed a bit of chilling (twice actually) but it turned out crisp and quite lovely.


The caramel, which is always the more challenging layer, there's a trick to it - you've got to be patient and smart. And unfraid. Once you can control these emotions, and even if you don't a candy thermometer, you're good to go. 


This is a grown up dessert and because of our weather conditions, tastes best straight out of the refrigerator. 

Flecks of joy © Cookaroo
Salted caramel and chocolate tart
Makes two 6-inch tarts or one 10-inch tart




Ingredients



For The Chocolate Tart Dough
8 tablespoons / 113 grams of butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder


For The Caramel Filling
1/2 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pinch of coarse salt

For The Chocolate Ganache Glaze
1/2 cup heavy cream
300 gms bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Extra sea salt for sprinkling

Method

For the tart dough.
  1. Cream butter and confectioners' sugar until combined, about 1 minute. Add egg yolk and vanilla, and beat until smooth.
  2. Sift flour and cocoa powder, and beat on low speed until just combined. Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and form it into a disk; wrap well. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Between two sheets of lightly floured butter paper (this is important!) paper, roll the tart dough1/4-inch thick and press it into a tart pan.
  4. Trim the excess dough. Chill the tart shells in the refrigerator for 20 minutes
  5. Blind bake the tart for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and bake for additional 5 to 10 minutes. Let it cool.

For the caramel filling
  1. Place 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan. Add sugar and corn syrup, and cook mixture over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until it becomes a dark-amber caramel, about 10 minutes.
  2. Carefully whisk in butter, cream, and a pinch of salt (the mixture will bubble up), whisking until smooth. (The caramel can be made up to 5 days ahead and refrigerated in a covered container.)
  3. Pour the caramel into the tart shells and let stand until the caramel is set, at least 45 minutes in the refrigerator.

For the ganache
  1. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let stand for 2 minutes, then stir with a rubber spatula until smooth.
  3. Pour glaze over each of the tarts while still warm. Serve cold from the refrigerator. Sprinkle with sea salt just before serving.

Note: The reason I keep saying serve from the fridge, is because I did it both ways – room temperature and from the fridge. The latter is more set and is easier to cut.

Sticky gooey © Cookaroo

Friday, May 11, 2012

Triple olive muffins for Foodie Exchange

There's no such thing as too much fun. Or is there? Naaah really not. So when Charis of Culinary Storm organised a Foodie Exchange, there was little you could do than jump at the opportunity. This way we'd get to meet new bloggers and learn so much. She decided to pair the participating bloggers from different parts of India who were all to send each other a goodie bag of surprises - some edible and some not! And the joy she spread, don't even get me started on that.

Those who participated included:

Charis of Culinary Storm  
Deeps of Naughty Curry
Madhuri of Cook Curry Nook
Sarita of The Clean Toothpick
Pratiksha of Honeyed Pandemonium
Jeetendra of Moody Foodie
Apeksha of Veggie Wiz
Poorna of Presented by P
Ameya of Kitty in the Kitchen
Sid of Chef at Large
Siri of Cooking with Siri
Geetha of Fragrant Kitchen
Renuka of Pinch of Salt
Marsha of The Harried Cook
Sangeeta of Health Food Desi Videshi
Rekha of My Tasty Curry
Nikhil of Nonchalant Gourmand

I was paired with the Harried Cook, Marsha. I'd been reading about Marsha on the Chennai Food Guide, and many a times stumble across her blog on several blogrolls. She is just awesome. A baby, a business and a blog - that's quite a handful she has going on. We landed up chatting with each other gtalk, often wondering what we should send to each other. Leading questions, reading the blog didn't really help. We just had to then had to go with our gut feelings. And I must say I was super pleased with what I got!

Lookie here!! 


 Goodie! © Cookaroo

Marsha sent me this awesomely fun tin from Chumbak, which she said in her letter, she uses to mainly store her icing tips and cookie cutters in. I'm going to do the same, except I've got to empty out all my cookies :). She also send me an oven mitt - with the sweetest owl print, a doodle book, xmas sprinkles from her own stash, kalamata olives paste and vanilla sugar.



Except a teeny boo-boo happened. The Kalamata Olive paste leaked a tiny bit and soiled itself and the letter a bit. Everything else was perfect. But it made the letter hard to read. But I thought it made it more fun. Piecing together the letter was like doing a puzzle. Really, there's no such thing as too much fun!


But then, came the next question, what should I make with this? Marsha suggested I make bruschetta, I did. The olive paste tasted wonderful with it. I sprinkled vanilla sugar on some carrot cupcakes. That was superb too, but not inspired enough. And then I spotted two kinds of olives in the fridge. Why don't I make savoury muffins using the olive paste, I asked myself and three kinds of oilves?

I sat on the idea for a couple of days, thinking of a recipe. And then I figured I should use seven grain flour, the same I sent to Marsha, to keep it more themey. And this is what I got


 Say cheese © Cookaroo
The muffins were moist, I used both milk and buttermilk. Healthy - used a mixture of butter and oil. I also had some olive gouda lying around in the fridge... I wasn't sure if that would make it too salty, so I stuck to mature cheddar (one of my favourite cheese) as it has sweet undernotes. I also kept the salt minimal, added dried red chilli for an extra oomph and instead of chopping olives and bunging them into the batter I decided to use one as a topping and the other as a whole surprise. The kalamata olive took charge as the prime flavour. I also threw in some onion to make it mildly sweet yet crunchy. 

I have to say these muffins came out really good. They were salty enough to be slathered in butter. They were healthy too - for guiltless eating. And they were great fun to make. I'm sure substitutions will be super easy too. Sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, feta - gosh I could go on and on. 

So here goes - The Harried Cook inspired muffins

Triple olive muffins and cheddar cheese with seven grain flour 
Serves 6 large or 8 medium muffins

Ingredients
1 cup seven grain flour (or plain all-purpose flour)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp italian herbs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp + 1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp butter
1 egg
2 tblsps kalamata olive paste
1/4 cup cheddar cheese
1 onion finely chopped 
Whole green olives

For the topping
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
25 piece sliced black olives
Chilli flakes


Method

1. Finely chop the onion and saute it in a teaspoon of olive oil. Let them remain crisp, yet mildly caramelised. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degree centigrade

2. Mix milk, buttermilk, egg , oil, kalamata olives paste and cheese together in a small bowl.

3. In a big mixing bowl, add the seven grain flour, baking soda, herbs, salt, sugar and butter. Pour in the liquid and stir till the the mixture combines well.

4. Put a tablespoon of the mixture into the muffin-line cupcake tin. Drop a single whole pitted green olive into the centre of the mixture. Top with another tablespoon of the muffin batter.

5. Bake for 20 minutes. And then add the topping. Sprinkle a tablespoon of mozzarella cheese and press 4 rings of sliced black olives. Sprinkle with chilli flakes. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes until the cheese melts and the olives are embedded into the muffins. Eat warm with butter.

Split wide open © Cookaroo

Thank you Charis for this fun experience and thank you Marsha for the most fun goodie box and for inspiring a yum recipe!

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