Showing posts with label Cake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cake. Show all posts

Monday, May 24, 2010

Strawberry Quick Bread and Strawberry Shrikhand

For someone who is not too fond of strawberries, I have surprised myself by making and posting three desserts involving strawberries in the short span of a week. That's because seasonal strawberries are beautiful little things, aromatic and sweet-tangy, nothing like the hard tasteless strawberry-shaped pellets that grace supermarket shelves all year round.

When I have extra fruit on hand, my first instinct is to make quick bread, which is more cake than bread. I found this strawberry bread recipe on Vintage Victuals. It is always charming to see unique recipes on food blogs that have a story behind them, that come from family and friends of the blogger.

I modified the recipe, halving it to make a single loaf, substituting some whole wheat flour and cutting back the oil and adding some sour cream  because I needed to use it up. With all these changes, the recipe goes to Blog Bites: Adaptation being hosted right here on this blog (tomorrow is the last day to send in your entries).

This quick bread is a simple, tasty treat, perfect for packing into lunch boxes or picnic baskets, worth enjoying over a cup of tea or a tall glass of iced coffee or lemonade.

Strawberry Quick Bread
(adapted from this recipe on Vintage Victuals; makes one loaf)

1. Mix 2 cups of chopped fresh strawberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar and let the strawberries sit for 30-45 minutes, until the mixture becomes syrupy.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a loaf pan.

3. Dry ingredients. Whisk together in a large bowl-
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 34 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 cup sugar
  • 12 tsp. baking soda
  • 12 tsp. cinnamon powder
  • 12 tsp. salt
4. Wet ingredients. Whisk together in a medium bowl-
  • 2 large eggs
  • 13 cup oil
  • 13 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
5. Combine wet and dry ingredients gently. Stir in strawberries with all the juices. Scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a tester comes clean.

* * *
We hosted a farewell dinner last night for friends who are moving to another city in pursuit of new adventures. This dessert involves no cooking and showcases fresh local strawberries. It is a variation of the traditional shrikhand that I have posted before. If you can stir, then you can make this dessert. That's the extent of cooking skills needed for this recipe.

V's comment when I offered him a taste: "This is the Indian version of strawberries and cream". We all loved this summery avatar of shrikhand and at the end, the guest of honor pulled the  bowl and serving spoon into her lap and scraped it clean. This is exactly why I love cooking for my friends.

Strawberry Shrikhand
(makes about 6 servings)

1. Line a colander/strainer with cheesecloth, clean cotton fabric or paper towels. Add 4 cups (32 oz. tub) of plain low-fat yogurt to the lined colander, cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or so.

2. Take the strained yogurt into a bowl.

3. Add
  • 23 cup sugar (or less or more to taste)
  • 1 tsp. cardamom powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 to 3 cups strawberries, cut in small dice
4. Stir everything together, decorate the shrikhand with strawberry fans if you wish, chill and serve. 

  1. It helps to add the sugar a few tablespoons at a time and let it dissolve into the thick, cold yogurt rather than adding it all at one time. 
  2. If you make this shrikhand too far ahead of time, the fruit will start releasing liquid. Make it only 2-3 hours before serving if possible.
  3. To cut prep time even further, use Greek yogurt which is already strained. 
* * *
Fresh off the Needles
A small bag that I made to give as a gift; this adorable pattern is called the Christine Bag.

Check back in 2 days for the round up of the Blog Bites: Adaptation event, and have a lovely week.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


Anybody out there? :)

[Hearing echoes of my voice in this poor neglected empty space]

What can I say? Time sure flies! Do people remember how to write rudimentary HTML after months of not writing any, I wonder? Is it like riding a bike?

Over the past several months, I have been writing SAS code instead of blog posts, studying and working as best as I can, and spending quality time with the needles and hooks. Somewhere along the way, I found the time to reach a milestone birthday- the big three-oh (YAY! I think.) For all those who left loving e-mails and comments asking how I am- thank you! I am doing well, busy but happy :) And for all those who could care less about me but want to know how Dale is doing- he is well. A little older and grayer around the muzzle, but much wiser, he says.

Am I "back to blogging"? Yes and no. I'm off to India soon for a vacation, and my schedule is still awry. The plan is to indulge in some guilt-free blogging, writing whenever I can about whatever strikes my fancy food-wise. Visits to India are always sensational in terms of food, and I hope to come back with some tales of meals shared with friends and family. I also intend to barge into the kitchens of homes I visit to learn some new tips and recipes from my favorite home cooks and share them with you.

*** *** ***

I made a quick bread this morning- an eggless carrot cake inspired by Shammi's recipe. I don't do much eggless baking, I realize, but I wanted to bake a sweet treat to take along on a visit to friends, and the family avoids eggs so it was a good excuse to give egg-free baking a try.


We hear so much about baking being an exact science and how you can't really get away with tossing in a bit of this and a little of that. All true- but this recipe is certainly an exception to the rule. I tweaked it merrily and got excellent results. Here's how I made it. Feel free to walk on the wild side and use "proper" buttermilk, yogurt, a vegan substitute or whatever you have on hand. My feeling is that this is a very robust recipe and will turn out fine.

The short-hand I use is: C refers to cup (8 oz), t refers to teaspoon while T refers to tablespoon.

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together 1¼ C all-purpose flour, 2 T powdered buttermilk, 1 t baking soda, 1 t baking powder, ½ t salt, 1 t ginger powder, 1 t cardamom powder, 1 t nutmeg powder.

3. Stir in 2 T ghee, 2 T canola oil and ½ C water.

4. Use a spatula to gently fold in ½ C sugar, 4 small to medium grated carrots, handful of chopped pecans and handful of mixed dried berries.

5. At this point, the batter was too thick and to be able to fold in everything, I added a splash of milk.

6. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a tester comes clean.

To my delight, the loaf rose beautifully and I got the prized crease on top of the loaf. Oh, the little things that make my day!

I barely waited 10 minutes before lopping off a slice to taste. This tastes like a cakey version of gajar halwa- simply delicious, and, dare I say it, less laborious to make. That's one more awesome recipe from Shammi.

Have a sweet weekend!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Chocolate Birthday Cake


Birthday cake was the very first thing I learnt to make, and the very first recipe I knew by heart. My parents were big on homemade birthday cakes for their kids. At least two times a year (on the birthdays of my sister and myself), the big oven would get pulled out from the little storage room beneath the stairs and dusted off. Equal weights of eggs, butter (usually home-churned), sugar (powdered in the mixie) and flour (sifted with baking powder) were set out. Ritually, butter and sugar were creamed together with some vanilla essence. Beaten eggs and flour were added in tandem, a little at a time, until a thick and creamy batter emerged. The batter would get divided into two parts. One part got tutti frutti and chopped walnuts stirred into it, and the other got a few spoonfuls of cocoa powder. The two batters were dropped in random clumps into a cake pan lined with newspaper, and after a hour of baking, a random marbled cake emerged, with swirls of pale yellow and dark brown. Ocassionally, the birthday girl would request a more colorful cake, and then the batter would get divided into four, and two portions would get pink or green food coloring to result in a beautifully ribboned cake with swirls of pastel colors. This pound cake was an all-round favorite, and when I was in high school, my friends and I would bake the cake without supervision. Which is to say that I would bake, and everyone else would sit around and tell me to hurry up so that they could lick the spoons and bowls.

And this is why, to me, birthdays = birthday cake. There may be a party, or not. There may be presents, or not. But a homemade birthday cake made just for the birthday boy or girl is the stuff that is worth turning a year older for. Today, for V's birthday, here is what I made him: a layered chocolate cake with a raspberry filling and a ganache frosting.

The basic chocolate cake recipe came from The Art of Simple Food. In her book, Alice Waters gives several tips for turning out light and airy cakes, including-
1. Using cake flour for a more delicate result. Of course, if you live someplace where cake flour is not available, regular all-purpose flour (maida) can be used.
2. All ingredients should be at room temperature.
3. The first 5 minutes of baking are crucial, so it is important to have an oven that has been pre-heated for 10-15 minutes so that it is is properly warmed up.
4. Beating the sugar and butter together well to make an fluffy aerated mass.

Apart from the usual suspects- flour, butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract- this recipe calls for a double dose of chocolate- both cocoa powder and some melted chocolate in the batter. It also calls for some buttermilk. In Indian cuisine, buttermilk refers to either the liquid left over from churning butter, or to simple diluted yogurt. In the US, it refers to tangy thick cultured milk. One can buy liquid buttermilk in quart sizes but I recently took Lydia's advice and bought myself a tub of buttermilk powder. Now I can quickly make buttermilk as required. The most unusual (for me) "ingredient" in this cake is boiling water! Once the main ingredients have been mixed together, more than a cup of boiling water is added to make the batter. It feels downright bizarre to pour water into a cake batter. Unusual or not, it works.

This cake is moist, soft and absolutely chocolatey. I have been trying different recipes for chocolate cakes for several years, trying to find the one recipe that I really like and that I can use as my go-to chocolate cake recipe for making cupcakes, layer cakes and sheet cakes for all ocassions. I have found it!!!

Chocolate Cake

(Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)
Ingredients (all at room temperature)
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 t vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 C buttermilk
1 1/4 C boiling water
To be sifted together
2 C cake flour (or all-purpose flour)
6 T cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
0. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter two round 8-inch cake pans, cover the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, butter it lightly, and coat the pans lightly with cocoa or flour.
1. Melt the chocolate: chop it coarsely, then microwave for 30 second bursts, stirring after each burst. It took me only a minute, or less to get this amount of chocolate melted. This can also be done in a double boiler.
2. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add sugar and vanilla, and beat very well for 5-10 minutes until very light and fluffy.
3. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
4. Stir in the melted chocolate.
5. Stir in half the dry mixture.
6. Stir in the buttermilk.
7. Stir in the rest of the dry mixture. At this point, the batter was so thick that it was more like a dough. Hang on.
8. Slowly, stir in the boiling water until it is just incorporated. Now you will have a smooth and glossy batter.
9. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: The cake tastes wonderful just as it is, but adding some frosting is, well, the icing on the cake (apparently we need more metaphors for this phenomenon). Buttercream frosting does look beautiful on cakes, especially if you do some fancy piping. I can't stand to eat it, however, and decided to frost the cake with some ganache- cream and chocolate whisked together to a thick dreamy paste. One could also use plain sweetened whipped cream for this cake- it is chocolatey enough to stand up to that. For the ganache, chop 4 oz chocolate (bittersweet or milk chocolate or any combination of those). Heat 1/2 C heavy cream in a small saucepan nearly to boiling point, then pour it over the chocolate. Let it stand for 5 minutes, then whisk together. The 1:1 proportion of chocolate to cream is important because if you add too much cream, the result will be runny and not a frosting at all (been there, done that, won't be making that mistake again).

Filling: I love the combination of fruit and chocolate and decided on a classic raspberry filling for this cake. I used this raspberry filling recipe from Smitten Kitchen (halved the recipe, but in the end I needed only half of the halved recipe). Except that I was too lazy to strain the seeds out of the pureed raspberries and just left them in (apologizing mentally to the people who are going to eat this cake and will just have to deal with a mouthful of raspberry seeds). Next time, I will definitely strain the puree. Or just buy some raspberry preserves and use them instead.

Assembling the cake: First, I turned out the cooled cakes from the cake pans and gently used a knife to remove the "dome" of the cakes to make even layers. This is going to take me some practice but is not that difficult. An assembled layer cake is difficult to move around, and I found it easy to assemble the cake right on the surface where I was planning to serve it. To keep the surface clean, tear some paper towels/parchment paper into four strips and place them in a square on the surface, then place the cake on these strips. Place one layer on the surface, spread with a layer of filling; not to thick or it will ooze out and make a mess. Then the second layer, then slather with the ganache. I did my best to do a neat job but it was still ...umm...let's call it shabby chic. Garnish with fresh raspberries if desired. The extra ganache/crumbs will drop on these strips. Once the cake is frosted, the strips can be gently pulled out, leaving a clean surface behind.

Happy Birthday, my love!

Have a sweet weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

The Heart of the Matter is a food blog event with a difference- like many other events, you make a dish every month based on a theme, BUT with one important criterion: the food has to be heart-friendly and healthful! It is a wonderful challenge to think of the food we eat and come up with something that is both delicious and better for the body. The round-ups are collected in the HotM blog so that we can all have a handy collection of recipes to try out. The theme this month, hosted by Joanna is something that is rarely heart-friendly: Baking.

I wonder if anyone ever goes out and buys bananas with the specific intention of making banana bread. Unlike other sweet treats, banana bread always seems to be an after-thought. An emergency culinary operation to save over-ripe bananas from the trash-can, and to save our conscience from the distress of having wasted good food. Well, the banana bread that follows was also a rescue mission to salvage two rapidly ripening bananas. I found a recipe on the Vegetarian Times website that looked a little different from the usual banana bread recipes. After trying it, I realized that it could fit into the heart-healthy theme of the event above and decided to send it in.

Why is this recipe more heart-healthy than most baked treats?
1. It uses fiber-rich whole-wheat flour.
2. The source of fat is mainly peanut butter, which is a rich source of protein, micronutrients and "good" fats.

I made a couple more changes in the original recipe: (a) reduced the sugar and added some molasses (see note below) instead, (b) substituted milk for half of the oil. One might think of making this recipe even less fatty by substituting 2-3 egg whites for the one whole egg, and applesauce for the oil. The chocolate chips are optional, but oh so delicious. Perhaps the most heart-friendly device with respect to sweet treat is sharing them, just like our parents always instructed us to: cutting the loaf into small portion slices and sharing them with lots of friends ensures that you enjoy it without over-indulging. Next time, I might bake this in a 8 x 8 baking pan instead of a loaf pan to be able to cut smaller portions easily.

A digression: Molasses is a by-product of sugar production.
It has a deep color and a robust taste to match (the way jaggery has a distinct taste; unlike refined sugar which is just baldly sweet). The taste of molasses might be an acquired one; I grew up in a region that is teeming with sugarcane fields and sugar factories, and did acquire the taste early in life (molasses is called kakvi in Marathi). It is a great choice for a sweetener because it has lots of micronutrients- these factories work hard to remove all possible nutrients from sugar while refining it and many of them end up in the byproduct, molasses. Of course, because of its deep taste, molasses won't work in all baked goods, but is delicious in banana bread (as I can testify) and ginger cookies and gingerbread, and worth experimenting with in other breads and baked goods. I've tried it in carrot halwa with delicious results. The bottle you see here is organic fair-trade molasses that I found in Whole Foods.

PB Banana Bread with CC


(adapted from Vegetarian Times, makes 1 loaf)
1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Spray a loaf pan with oil.

3. Dry ingredients: In a large bowl, mix
1 C white whole-wheat flour
1/3 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

4. Wet ingredients: In a medium bow, mix
2 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 C unsweetened crunchy peanut butter
1/4 C plain non-fat yogurt
1 large egg
1 T oil
1 T low-fat milk
2 T molasses

5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredient bowl and stir gently to combine. Stir in 1/3 C chocolate chips.

6. Pour the batter into loaf pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool, slice and serve.

The Verdict: Utterly delicious! I ate a slice just after baking this loaf, and it was divine. The molasses and banana flavors seem to be made for each other. The crunch and richness of the peanut butter, coming upon the ocassional gooey chocolate chip- this recipe is a keeper. This is worth going out and buying bananas for!

P.S. If you don't like peanut butter, you might want to make this delicious nutella variation from Daily Musings.

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A note to fellow bloggers: If you are interested, please do participate in Blog Action Day 2007, simply by writing a post on any issue related to the environment on Monday, October 15th.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

All-American Carrot Cake

Sugar High Friday is one of the sweetest, most popular and long-standing food blog events. It is all about making sweet treats and sharing the joy. This month, our host, Johanna of The Passionate Cook wants us to go local. She says, "I want you to be on the look-out for a speciality that is local or regional to where you live..."

...Well, I am interpreting Johanna's challenge in a very broad sense: "where I live" is the United States, and so here I am, baking an All-American dessert, Carrot Cake!

Many food history sources suggest that the popularity of carrot cake began during World War II, when sweeteners were scarce and expensive and strictly rationed. Carrots were relatively abundant (often home-grown in victory gardens) and substituted as sweeteners in desserts.

Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, has been quoted as saying, "Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie." Indeed, the addition of carrots, and the replacement of butter with oil is helpful in convincing oneself that carrot cake is a healthy dessert. Carrot cake reached its height of popularity in the US during the health food craze of the 60s and 70s, providing company to other foods like granola! Today, carrot cake remains a popular American dessert and a diner staple.

This carrot cake recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine. It has an exuberant ingredient list- apart from the freshly grated carrots that give the cake its name, it contains two ingredients that, in the US, are synonymous with the term "tropical": pineapple and coconut. Crushed pineapple is readily available in supermarkets, but I suppose gently cooked fresh pineapple would work as well. The recipe calls for sweetened coconut flakes that are sold in the baking aisle of US supermarkets, but I had our Indian-style dry coconut shreds at hand, so I just used those instead. Cinnamom is added to the batter to provide a hint of spice. Pecan bits add some more richness and texture. Carrot cake is usually made with oil instead of butter, and here the oil is reduced to 3 tablespoons, which is very reasonable if you consider that it makes a large cake yielding 20 servings or so (other recipes for carrot cake call for 1-2 cups of oil). With all the carrot and pineapple, this cake will invariably be quite dense, and not as fluffy and airy as other cakes. It is, however, very moist and tasty.

Another hallmark of the carrot cake is a tangy cream cheese icing (or frosting, as it is called in the US). Usually, the "icing on the cake" is my least favorite bit- I find classic buttercream icing unbearably greasy and achingly sweet. But the combination of zesty cream cheese (and a little butter) with sugar was worth a try. The original recipe called for 3 cups (!!!) of powdered sugar, and I reduced it way down to a cup and a quarter. This resulted in an icing that was plenty sweet, but where the taste of the cream cheese was not drowned by the sugar. You can buy powdered sugar (also called icing sugar or confectioner's sugar) but I use it so infrequently that I just make my own, by blitzing granulated sugar in a clean spice grinder.

Carrot Cake

(adapted from this recipe from Cooking Light magazine, April 2007, makes one large sheet cake)ccake4
1.5 C AP Flour
1 C granulated Sugar
1 t Salt
2 t Baking soda
2 t Cinnamon powder
1/2 C desiccated Coconut shreds (or sweetened coconut flakes)
1/3 C chopped toasted Pecans (or walnuts)
2 large Eggs
3 T canola Oil (or vegetable oil or peanut oil)
1.5 C drained canned crushed Pineapple
2 C fresh grated Carrots
1 cup (8 oz/ 1 packet) reduced-fat Cream Cheese, softened
3 T usalted Butter, softened
1 t Vanilla extract
1.25 C powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with oil (or two smaller ones) and set aside.
3. Dry ingredients: Sift flour into a bowl. Add granulated sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon powder, coconut, pecans.
4. Wet ingredients: Beat eggs in a bowl. Then add oil and mix well.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir gently.
6. Stir in carrots and pineapple. Pour batter into the baking dish.
7. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is done: this is usually apparent from three signs- (a) a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean (b) when you press a finger gently on the cake, the surface springs back, (c) the cake leaves the sides of the pan. The cake will be quite dense, so don't expect it to rise very high.

8. When the cake is completely cool, it is ready to be iced. To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Stir in the vanilla extract and sugar and mix well. Spread the frosting evenly on the cake. Optional: If you have Way Too Much Time on your hands, as I did when I made this cake, you could decorate it :) I used some extra shreds of carrot and black poppy seeds to add a dash of color to the snow white icing.

This recipe is a keeper! The cake was moist and tasty, and the combination with the icing was fantastic! Plus, the generous size of the cake is perfect for bringing it along to picnics and pot-luck parties as a "blast from the past" dessert. I will definitely be making it again.

For all the little kids and all the big kids who are returning to school this week, here's wishing you a wonderful fall semester and a great school year!

For dozens of interesting specialty desserts from all over the world, check out Johanna's delicious round-up.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Of Brown Rice and Brownies

A few weeks ago, I realized with a start that in two-and-a-half years of blogging, brown rice has been a rare commodity on this blog. How did that happen? It has something to do with my complicated relationship with brown rice: On one hand, I love the nutty and chewy texture of brown rice, and want to embrace its healthful properties. Brown rice has been a presence in my kitchen for several years and I do serve it now and then. But I still can't wrap my head around eating brown rice on a regular basis, relegating white rice to the status of an occasional treat. I can't fathom eating amti or pithale or sambar with brown rice, and I am not too thrilled with the idea of making lemon rice or tamarind rice with brown rice.

So, for some ideas and inspiration, I turned to my culinary gurus: the food bloggers. Here are some of my favorite experiments with brown rice, all truly delicious!

Idea 1: Adding brown rice to dosa batter. I got this idea from Manjula's recipe for Brown Rice and Barley Dosa. I started making dosas on a regular basis only this year, using the standard proportions of 1 C urad dal: 2 C white rice. For this first experiment, I took a cue from Manjula and used 1 C urad dal: 1 C white rice: 1 C brown rice. The result was very delicious, and definitely a small yet significant improvement, nutritionally speaking.
To go with the dosa, I made a Konkani version of sambar, using Shilpa's authentic recipe for Kolmbo. My variation: I halved the amount of spices in the masala mixture to account for our rather wimpy taste buds. Even so, this was the spiciest sambar I have ever tasted- very flavorful and delicious.

Idea 2: Brown rice khichdi. I had all kinds of pre-conceived notions that khichdi, my favorite food, should not be messed around with. Then I saw Musical's recipe for Mothaan di Khichdi and it called for my beloved matki/ moth beans and, surprise, brown rice! I made it the very day she posted it, and followed the recipe directions religiously. With a dollop of tangy mango pickle, this meal was nothing short of *divine*.
Last night, I made a variation of it: Using 2 C of mixed sprouts (matki, moong, masoor) instead of the half C of matki. I cooked the rice together with the sprouts...sprouts cook very quickly and do not require the pre-cooking. This version was as delicious as the original. What a simple and fantastic recipe! Serve it with any stir-fried vegetable (subzi/ bhaaji) for a complete and utterly satisfying meal.

Idea 3: Pairing brown rice with a spicy curry or stew. You need something robust and full-bodied to match the nutty flavor of brown rice, and rajma (a traditional Punjabi kidney bean stew) is the perfect example! I am happy to inform you that I have found THE rajma recipe that I have been seeking for years (the essay on the post is such a fantastic read; the author of the blog is a well-known writer in Bombay). The combination of rajma with plain boiled brown rice was such a treat. I cook my brown rice on the stove-top [1 C rice (soaked 15 minutes, then drained) : 2 C water]. For more tips on cooking plain brown rice, see this DH post.
The rajma recipe calls for all of 6 ingredients and turns out something soooo delicious. I think this is a wonderful recipe for anyone who is new to Indian cooking and intimidated by long ingredient lists. This recipe calls for kidney beans, onion, tomato, salt, oil/ghee (butter could be substituted) and red chili powder (cayenne pepper). These are very common ingredients in most pantries. Dare I say could make a version of this with canned beans in a pinch. My variation: I did soak the rajma for a few hours and rinsed it thoroughly before pressure-cooking it. Otherwise, I stuck to the recipe religiously. I did not even "speak while eating"!

Finally, while we are on the subject of "brown", here is some dessert! I wanted to bake something sweet for my parents when they were visiting, and what could be more American than brownies? Via Trupti's MBP post, I found this recipe for Low-Fat Brownies that I liked at first sight. Applesauce is used to add moisture while cutting down on the fat and it calls for a great deal of cocoa powder, making the resulting brownies very chocolate-y indeed. With only half a cup of sugar, these brownies are not very sweet at all- just the way I like my "sweets"! My variations: (a) I used only 1 tsp vanilla extract (b) added 1 tsp instant coffee to the dry ingredients (c) added half cup toasted chopped walnuts to the batter. We loved the taste of these low-fat treats just by themselves, but on that day, I served them with vanilla ice cream, garnished with some apple roses.
I've made these brownies a couple of times since then, and everyone likes them. This recipe goes straight into my folder of "keeper recipes".

Idea 4: Oven-Baked Brown Rice For anyone struggling to make brown rice on the stove-top, Alanna shares a fool-proof method from Cook's Illustrated Magazine. Her Oven-Baked Brown Rice was very easy to make, and turned out just perfect: every grain of rice fluffy and perfectly cooked! It is nice to make a big batch of brown rice and use it over 2-3 days (it re-heats perfectly in the microwave).

Idea 5: Fried Rice Any left-over cooked brown rice can be easily used to make a "fried" rice with vegetables like onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, green onions (any combination of these). See an example here.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Monthly Blog Patrol, Weekend Stuff

Every month, Coffee from The Spice Cafe sends us off on a mission called the Monthly Blog Patrol: the idea is to browse our favorite blogs and choose some recipes that make us want to run to the kitchen and try them, and, well, run to the kitchen and *actually* try them, instead of just drooling all over the keyboard. The theme for this month was Something Sweet. I chose the simplest sweet treat ever: Banana Muffins from one of the most gorgeous new blogs on the block: Tasty Palettes, written by Suganya. I loved this recipe because (a) it is a good way to use over-ripe mushy bananas that would be otherwise fated for le garbage. (b) most muffin recipes are for 12 muffins, this one only makes 6, the perfect number for my little family (and I only own one 6-cup muffin pan anyway). (c) it calls for all pantry ingredients, no sour cream or any such thing that I don't usually have on hand.

I followed the recipe quite closely, only omitting the walnuts (since I made it the day after V's dental surgery, as a get-well-soon treat, and he was certainly not able to chomp on walnuts at the time), and adding a dash of cinnamon and a couple of drops of vanilla extract instead. Here is a look at the muffins right after they emerged from the oven:
I wonder why the tops looked so funny! Any ideas from experienced bakers? The only thing I can think of...the oven temperature was too high, so the outside of the muffin cooked before it got a chance to rise. Next time, I will bake at 350 F instead of 400 F.

Anyway, the muffins tasted wonderful, and made for a very special breakfast-dessert indeed!

Thanks, Coffee for hosting and thank you, Suganya, for a lovely recipe!

Weekend City Blogging-1

(Pictures taken by V)
Now that the weather is nice, I thought I would share some glimpses of Saint Louis. The first in the series has to be the iconic Gateway Arch that defines this city. I'm never too interested in monuments and touristy attractions, but I do think the arch is a very beautiful creation, rising sleekly into the sky at the bank of the Mississippi river, denoting the border between Missouri and Illinois.
It is in the shape of an inverted catenary arch and is made of stainless steel. It is the tallest monument in the United States. You can get into tiny pod-like elevators and take a 4-minute trip to the top of the arch.

We recently made a trip to the arch as part of a Flat Stanley project. What is it all about? Basically, an elementary school child (in this city, V's cousin's little girl) makes a paper doll ("Stanley") and mails it out to a family friend/ relative (in this case, V and me) in another city (in this case, St. Louis). The recipient has to take the doll on an adventure and write back to the child telling her all about it. It is a lesson in geography, letter writing etc. and fun for all concerned. Read more about the Flat Stanley project here.

Here we are, taking a paper doll to see the arch...

Weekend Dog Blogging

(Pictures taken by V)
As part of his adventure, our lucky paper doll Stanley also got to spend some quality time with the most adorable dog in all of St. Louis, Dale!
But posing for pictures is so exhausting! After a few minutes, Dale heads off for a nap...
Dale might be asleep, but his ears stay wide awake in case someone should utter the magic words "Chalo" heralding a walk!

I'll leave you with a final link: As a avid food-blog-watcher, my new favorite place to find new posts is Food Blog Desam. Many thanks to Mathy and Indira for their efforts in creating this time-saving resource that lets us find newly written posts the minute they are posted! See you tomorrow, for the Q of Indian vegetables.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

WHB: Ginger-Pear-Saffron Cake

One of the most popular (and long-running) events in the food blog world is Weekend Herb Blogging started by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. I always learn about new and interesting vegetables, herbs and spices through this event, but don't get around to participating much. Now, I am going to use WHB as a motivation to write about some new foods as they find their way into my kitchen.

My obsession with wanting to make this particular dessert started the minute I glanced at this picture and recipe in the November 2006 issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. I just *dearly* wanted to make this beauty of a cake: studded with pears (V's favorite fruit) and the color of sunshine because of the saffron. I also imagined that the pairing of pear with ginger would be spicy and delicious. Last weekend, I was assigned to bring dessert to a large potluck-style party. This was just the perfect opportunity to try a new recipe on some unsuspecting guinea pigs!

The recipe called for a few ingredients that I never keep on hand: candied ginger, ground ginger and buttermilk. Thus was the candied ginger introduced into my kitchen for the first time. I bought it from Trader Joe's and the ingredient list was gratifyingly short: just ginger and sugar.
Candied ginger is a simple form of preserved ginger where the ginger is boiled in sugar syrup and dried. You can certainly make your own using a recipe like the one on this page. Generally, after soaking, the candied ginger is rolled in more sugar, resulting in crystallized candied ginger but the one from TJ's is uncrystallized and smooth. I prefer not having that extra sugar, actually.
What can you use candied ginger for? A combination of candied ginger and ground dried ginger gives a great spicy kick to any ginger-flavored sweet food like ginger cakes, gingerbread, ginger shortbread or ginger pancakes. Or this decadent chocolate-ginger tartlet. You can just pop it into your mouth for a sweet gingery treat.

Making the Saffron-Scented Pear Upside-Down Cake...see the recipe here.
1. I pulsed together saffron and sugar to make, well, saffron sugar. It smells so good! The saffron sugar was creamed with butter and spread on the bottom of an oiled pan. I needed to make two cakes to feed the crowd, so I doubled the recipe.
2. Layering the pear slices: now this was the tricky part. The recipe called for Comice pears, but I was only able to find red Anjou pear. Martha says to peel and core the pears, then thinly slice them (by hand, or using a mandoline). Well, Martha must have a much better knife than I do, as well as vastly superior knife skills, because the pears I had were too unripe to be cut into silky, thin slices. I ended up with something far uglier...this was for cake A. For cake B, I decided not to peel the pears at all, just slice them using the mandoline. Much better! The slices were layered on to the saffron-butter mixture.
3. Next: the batter. This contained buttermilk, eggs and vegetable oil but no butter, and was liberally sprinkled with minced candied ginger and ground ginger. The batter was poured into the pans, and into the oven they went.

As I started cleaning the kitchen after popping the pans into the oven, I clapped my hands to my forehead: I had forgotten to add vanilla extract! The next 40 minutes were spent trying to come up with a way to remedy this. A google search of "forgot vanilla cake trouble-shooting" and other such incoherent phrases yielded no useful information. As the cake baked, the lack of the warm vanilla scent kept reminding me of my foolish omission. I decided to taste the cake, and if it tasted eggy, or if I really missed the vanilla, I would make some honey-vanilla whipped cream to serve with it.

This is what the cakes looked like: Cake A, the ugly one:

Cake B, slightly prettier:

The verdict: I tasted a generous slice from cake A ( resulting in the pac-man-like avatar seen here) and was relieved to find that with the ginger and saffron, I barely missed the vanilla. The cake was quite delicious with a surprisingly prominent saffron taste. The pear layer was too skimpy; next time I will layer the pears on some more, and might use riper pears for a more fruity taste. I think this cake would be best served as a snack, at brunch or tea-time. It does not work so well as an after-dinner dessert by itself, but may work with some caramel sauce or a fruit compote.

And now I have all this buttermilk to use up. What is your favorite recipe using buttermilk? Has anyone tried using store-bought cultured buttermilk in Indian recipes for "kadhi" style recipes? Thanks for your ideas!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sweets For My Sweet!

'Tis February, and love is in the air. Aptly, the theme for Meeta's Monthly Mingle is Sweet Love. Not a problem at all. Because my sweet, unlike me, does love his sweets quite ardently. A little light bulb went off in my head when I read the theme: I knew just the dessert I wanted to make. It is the sweet treat that V loves at any time of day or night, and something he prefers even to a chocolate dessert: Lemon-Poppy Seed Cake. For all the years that I have known him, V has been rather loyal about his brunch and snack comestibles: either a walnut-raisin cream cheese schmeared bagel or a lemon-poppy seed muffin.

For an equal number of years, I have been planning to make lemon-poppy seed cake and just never got around to it. In truth, it is one of the simplest cakes to make: light and citrusy, with only the addition of the crunchy black poppy seeds and a slight tang from the lemon. Now, armed with a new set of baking dishes, I was all ready to make it. A quick google search revealed this recipe on Epicurious, taken from the book The Cake Bible, and I did follow this recipe exactly.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

Recipe Source: This recipe on Epicurious.
The method was a little different from the cream-the-butter-and-sugar step that I have started dozens of cakes with. Here, the dry ingredients, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, poppy seeds, and lemon zest were mixed together. Then, softened butter and a milk-egg-vanilla extract mixture were added and mixed in to the dry ingredients. This was a breeze with my **new hand-held mixer**, an unexpected and very thoughtful gift from Alanna!
See anything funny in the picture?
The prepared batter was poured into a greased and floured loaf pan and baked at 350 degrees F. In 50 minutes, the cake was done (a little bit over-done actually). I then spread some lemon juice-sugar glaze on it and kept it overnight before slicing it.
The verdict: The cake itself was light and very tender, just delicious. The glaze, however, made the cake unevenly soggy instead of the moist result I was looking for. Plus, the glaze was too tart. Anyway, V loved the cake, and so did the colleagues that I compelled him to share it with. Meanwhile, I shall keep looking for a recipe that I like better. I remember seeing one in a Cook's Illustrated cookbook...I'm going to hunt for that one again.

Thanks, Meeta, for hosting this event...for finally inspiring me to make a sweet treat that has been years in the making!