Monday, December 30, 2013

Red Velvet Cake

Alright then, I'm calling it quits on this year.  Ok, ok, I mean it's the last post for the year. And what an year it's been.

First things first, this year has been sooooo  much better than 2012. Ofcourse it's been a roller coaster of sorts, but the resonating thing that I have felt throughout has been L.O.V.E

I've felt so much love from my family and my friends that it overwhelms me. Back home in Delhi, just before we left, I realised that they were such an integral part of my life and it meant as much to them as to me. Here in Islamabad, we've made friends so quickly that a part of us feels that we've lived here forever. We've received so much love from everyone  around us that it's made me/us feel so much better about the life we lead. 

2013 has also been an year of cooking for me. I've really made some fabulous meals that I can easily say I have been very proud of. I've also been exposed to some new ingredients that has changed the way I think of food.

Having spent half the year in Delhi and half in Islamabad, I learnt a lot of new words for ingredients across borders. I also learnt how people use these ingredients in their regular everyday cooking, which was so exciting for me. And how wonderful it was to see how the cuisine changes so little and yet tastes so different

I've loved how people have welcomed us with open arms and into their homes and shared food with us.  It's just made everything so much easier and so much more nicer.

Which is why, I'm ending this year with cake that I love very very much. The Red Velvet. My version of the red velvet is nothing spectacular, except it is perhaps the moistest cake you've ever eaten.  The underlying cocoa flavour is mellow, the cream cheese just the right amount and honestly, such a light cake that you'll be wondering why you haven't made this at home before.

To me the Red Velvet is a sign of the good times, and I'm hoping that it continues into next year as well.

Red Velvet Cake
Adapted from The Joy of Baking

2 ¼ cup sifted flour
¼ cup corn flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 tsp + 1 tsp vinegar
2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream Cheese Frosting:
400 grams cream cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 1/2 cups cold heavy whipping cream (double cream) (35-40% butterfat)


1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Centigrade and place rack in centre of oven. Butter two - 9 inch round cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Set aside.

2.In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, corn flour, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside. Add one teaspoon of vinegar to one cup of milk and set aside.

3. In bowl beat the butter until soft (about 1-2 minutes). Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Add all the egg white together and whisk well for 2 to 3 minutes until the mix appears fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

4.In a measuring cup whisk the milk mixture with the red food coloring. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.

5. In a small cup combine the additional teaspoon of vinegar and baking soda. Allow the mixture to fizz and then quickly fold into the cake batter. 

6. Working quickly, divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops with an off set spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25 -30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.

7.  Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Place a wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert, lifting off the pan. Once the cakes have completely cooled, wrap in plastic and place the cake layers in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or overnight). (This is done to make filling and frosting the cakes easier.)

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1. In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and icing sugar and beat until smooth. Using the whisk attachment, gradually add the cream. Add more sugar or cream as needed to get the right consistency.

2. Assemble: With a serrated knife, cut each cake layer in half, horizontally. You will now have four cake layers. Place one of the cake layers, top of the cake facing down, onto your serving platter. Spread the cake layer with a layer of frosting.  

3. Place another layer of cake on top of the frosting and continue to frost and stack the cake layers. Frost the top and sides of the cake. 

4. I crumbled the fourth layer and added it to the sides of the cake.

5. Chill for one hour before eating.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hot Cocoa Mix in a Jar

December's making me very homesick. Like very. I can't really put my finger on it, but I think it's a combination of not having my family around, no Christmas tree up and perhaps my impending birthday.

Last year, by this time, my Christmas party was just about to begin. I'd planned for weeks. Baked for days and then finally made so much mulled wine that by the time I was ready for people, I needed that one drink. But that's the best part isn't it of a party?

I miss all that. I miss having friends over. I miss my life back home.

Don't get me wrong. I'm NOT miserable in Isloo. I'm busy here. I'm happy here. I've made friends. Our evenings are filled with social events. And we've got tons of things to do. And home is finally looking like home as well.

So what is it that I miss exactly? I miss sharing that bottle of wine with my friends. I miss having my sister over. I miss having to cook for someone (other than the husband). I miss just driving to my mother's house and collapsing.

But I have hope. I'll be back home in 40 days. That's what I'm going to do when I get back home. So yay!

So how do I cheer myself till then? With some hot chocolate ofcourse. I wish I'd got my Cointreau with me, It just makes the world a better place.

This week, I've made a lot of mixes - cookie and cocoa, to sell at the Winter Food Bazaar and this was one of them. With plenty of cocoa, chocolate and marshmallows, it's the closest I can feel to home. My friend Iman with an "E" did these labels, so pretty no?

This concoction makes a lovely rich thick dark hot chocolate. You can add more sugar if you like, but for me it's just perfect. Just remember to take out the marshmallows before you add in the milk, because that way you can throw them back into a steaming mug of dark deliciousness.

Hot Cocoa Mix 
Makes 6 Servings

6 tablespoons Milk Powder
4 tablespoons Cocoa Powder
4 tablespoons Granulated Sugar
6 tablespoons Chocolate Chips / Chunks
15 mini marshamallows
Some sprinkles

Start with a clean jar. Layer the milk powder, then the cocoa, granulated sugar and then the chocolate chunks. Finally add the marshmallows.

When you're ready to drink the deliciousness, just add water or milk. :)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Shakshuka. And the Farmers' Market

Moving to Islamabad, meant that life was going to change. I knew what I had signed up for. What I didn't realise was it would be so hard to leave everyone behind. That sometimes I'd be pining so badly for people that I couldn't get myself to call them. It meant that I had to get used to being alone.

But I was wrong. Because this city has been kind to me. So very kind. In the four months I have been here, I have felt happy much more than I have felt sad. And that's a good thing right?

One of the reasons I lucked out was because I ran into the Farmers' Market. The atmosphere is so warm and friendly. There's an air of camaraderie that makes you feel right at home.

This weekly event is quite the highlight for me too, especially since I get to cook live with whatever ingredients that the farmers bring that morning. It's like a brand new mystery box every week. Cooking improv has never been so much fun.

But I have to be honest here, I do cheat some weeks. Because by now, I know most of the farmers and am able to pick up the phone on Friday evenings and ask them what produce they are bringing the next day. But those are for the weeks I am completely uninspired.

Some weeks I just know what I want to make. Like this Shakshuka. Between the beautiful fresh cottage cheese and harissa and tomato relish and the desi eggs, I just knew I had to make it. I used 12 eggs for the one I made at the market, and I m not lying when I say this, but they were gone within a matter of minutes!

What's a Shakshuka you may ask me? Shakshuka is middle-eastern breakfast one-pot meal that consists of a tomato and cheese based spiced mixture with eggs poached on top. Served straight out of the pan it's cooked in, it's mopped up with large chunks of bread. You can throw in spinach if you want or any leafy vegetable to up the iron content.

Back at home, I made the recipe with two eggs, more than enough for the two of us. But feel free to up or down the recipe as per how many eggs you want to eat.

Serves 2


1 tsp olive oil
2 tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli
2 tsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
50 grams spinach chopped
50 grams masala cheese
2 eggs
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Bread to mop with


1. Wash the tomatoes and chop them roughly. Chop the clove of garlic as well.
2. In a non-stick pan add the olive oil, chilli and garlic. Let it sizzle. At the tomatoes and the tomato paste, along with salt pepper, cumin and chilli flakes. Saute for a few minutes and add the spinach
3. Cook the mix on high heat for a moment and add the cheese to it. Make two shallow holes.
4. Break the eggs on top. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. Cover and poach on low heat, till done (Or however you like the eggs)
5. Serve with a good hunk of bread

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eggless Date and Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies happened quite by accident. But two things led to these cookies. One, a friend gave me a bottle of the most beautifully fragrant date syrup and two, we were invited for dinner where the hosts didn't eat any eggs.

It's getting quite cold here in Isloo, and oddly I'm enjoying hanging in the kitchen, especially when the oven is on. The gas oven really warms the tiny kitchen up and I am quite content pottering about while something is baking.  But only while something is baking. (Which means, I'm really not cooking that much!)

The only problem though is that the aga, really takes a while to warm up in the winters. So by the time I sift the flour, mix up the cookie dough and then make balls and flatten them up, I'm pretty much still waiting for the needle to go up to 180 degree centigrade.  But I don't mind standing next to it and warming my legs.

Back to the cookies. By upping the leavening agent and baking them for barely 10 minutes, I've gotten a cookie that is ready in under 18 minutes. (Pretty cool huh?)

The date syrup give them this mellow wintery feel, but if you don't have it substitute with honey or maple syrup.

I've baked this cookies 4 times over already. The second time round I gave them a 15 minutes in the oven, which made them more biscuity than chewey. (that's the picture you see now) but I prefer them to be lighter and chewier so I think about 11 minutes is perfect baking time. The husband had an opinion on these too - can you make them flatter please and not so fat like you - I really had to roll my eyes up for that comment.

The chocolate chunks added a beautiful sharpness to them but you can play around with raisins or currants to make them more wintery. And maybe throw in spot of cinnamon?

Whatever you do, make sure you store them in an air-tight container and maybe, just maybe, they'll last you for the week.

Eggless Date and Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies
An original recipe

Makes 12 normal sized cookies

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup date syrup
1/4 cup oil
2 tblsp milk
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 180 degree centigrade.
2. In a bowl sift together the flours, baking powder and soda and salt.  Add sugar to this.
3. In a separate bowl add the vanilla, date syrup and oil and stir till well mixed. The oil will take some time to mix in with the date syrup.
4. Add the wet ingredients to dry along with milk. Add the walnuts and chocolate chips. And mix till they come together. The dough will be sticky, but don't worry the oil will help with making the balls for the cookies.
5. Divide the dough into 12 portions. And roll into balls. Arrange on a baking tray. Press down each portion of cookie dough and add an additional walnut on top.
6. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes. Cool and then eat.