Showing posts with label Dessert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dessert. Show all posts

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Jammy Thumbprint Cookies

We're still in the first week of 2012, so it is not too late for me to wish you all a good one.

Our little family spend New Year's Eve the same way we have celebrated this day for the past 4 years- at a lovely dinner party hosted by a dear friend who was a former neighbor. It was a small gathering of very interesting people- artists and historians and architects. One of the regulars at the party was a lovely lady, an award-winning textile artist who happens to be 90 years old. After dinner, she invited us up to see her studio and beautiful home and took us up to the rooftop to see the new year being rung in with fireworks. Being in her company was the most inspiring way to start the new year.

Imagine my shock and sadness when just 2 days into the new year, she suffered a massive stroke and has now passed on. Such is life- the present moment is all we have; there's no telling what tomorrow will bring. I will remember her as a glowing example of how to approach life with grace and humor, to revel in the beauty and color around us and to create good things always. I'm so glad Lila got a chance to be held and cuddled by her, and that I told her that night how much that I think she is the coolest person. Too often we wait until people are gone to say how awesome they were.

Right now it looks like 2012 might be an eventful year for us. We will likely have close family members visiting us, a few new nieces/nephews coming into this world, and perhaps even a move to a different place. And when I cook or bake something delicious, you'll definitely be the first to know.

My baking spree in the holiday season gave me a chance to try a long bookmarked recipe- vegan thumbprint cookies that I first saw on The Kitchn. The recipe is titled "life-changing cookies"- how could I resist making them and seeing if they changed my life??


I followed the recipe closely. The recipe did not specify whether the almonds were raw or roasted; I started with raw almonds and toasted them a little before cooling and grinding them. If you have a bunch of partially full jam jars in the fridge door (like I did), you can make a colorful assortment of these cookies. Along with the usual strawberry and raspberry jam, I was able to use some wonderful blackberry jam which was a sweet gift from The Cooker. Finally, I made sure the cookies were baked until they looked nice and toasty, which enhanced the flavor and gave them a wonderful crunch.

The first batch of thumbprint cookies made their way into several cookie boxes for Christmas gifts and we snacked on them. At the first time, I was a little underwhelmed. These are hardly life-changing, I thought to myself. But with a hearty taste and just the right amount of sweetness, the cookies grow on you. What really surprised me was the feedback from my friends. One friend reported that the box barely lasted until the next morning (and they had been delivered after dinner the night before). Another confessed that he could barely force himself to save a cookie or two to share with the rest of the family. A third e-mailed asking for the recipe. Suffice it to say that the cookies were very popular. I shrugged and promptly mixed another batch of dough. Try these cookies if you get the chance. They are eggless, vegan even. And the sticky, jammy centers will appeal to the kid in you.

Books for Baby

These days, this is one of my favorite books to read to Miss Baby: Guess How Much I Love You written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram.


It is a sweet and simple story with the most darling illustrations. The one problem is that I get choked up with emotion every time I read this book to Lila. I dare you not to cry when you read this book. It will make even the most cold and cynical heart melt into a puddle.

Having a newborn has also introduced me to the world of fabric books. Fabric books are cuddly and even the most spirited babe will find it hard to tear them! When my parents were here, we spent many happy hours browsing in craft and fabric stores, and found a fabric printed with book pages, ready to be cut and sewn into a cute little book. Of course my mother had to pull out the sewing machine and make it for her grand-baby.




Anyway, that's my little bloggy fix for the weekend. Have a good week ahead!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Portable Chaat and Doctored Ice Cream

Hello again! What started as a brief blog break somehow turned into several weeks of hibernation. We've had the kind of wet, cold, miserable weather that made me want to snuggle on the couch with a pile of good books, and I gave in and did exactly that.

Then yesterday the sun came out and I could feel the warmth soaking into me and infusing me with a burst of energy, so here I am with a couple of non-recipes, simple little things I made this weekend.

Chaat (the name given to a variety of Indian street food) is generally a gloriously messy affair. I've never thought of chaat as a particularly portable treat because of the dripping sticky chutneys, the fact that most chaats have a dozen components and that these components are often held at different temperatures and best assembled right before eating. But this past Saturday I wanted to take a snack for my trivia team and the chickpeas and potatoes in the pantry and the date tamarind chutney in the fridge persistently suggested that I should make some aloo tikki chana chaat. I've already posted the recipes for the components here. This was an experiment to see if I can convert this chaat into a portable format. It worked very well. The chaat was in good shape even after a car ride and 2 hours after I assembled it, every last one had been devoured without any mess at all.

This is how I assembled it right before we left home: in a 9 x 13 baking dish (a Pyrex or ceramic dish would be the prettiest choice but I used my battered metal one because it has a snap-on cover), start by arranging the shallow-fried tikkis (potato patties). Some breadcrumbs in the tikki mixture really helped to give them a crisp coating. Next comes a scoop of chana, where the chana is made a little drier than usual and where you try and get the chana to fit onto the tikki. Then a dollop of thick date tamarind chutney, followed by thick yogurt whipped with salt and paprika, and minced fresh cilantro. Cover the tray and you are set. The sev goes in a separate container to be sprinkled on generously right before everyone dives in.
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Among the books I've reading lately were two by Marsha Mehran; they tell the story of three sisters who flee violence in their home country of Iran and seek refuge in a small town in Ireland where they open a cafe. I first heard of these books when Lavanya mentioned them in a comment on this post

The books are worth reading for the luscious food writing and unusual Iranian recipes. I enjoyed the story line in the first book, Pomegranate Soup but thought the plot in the second novel Rosewater and Soda Bread was weak and utterly unsatisfying. But this second book did have a scene in which the younger sister assembles a dessert called rosetachio ice cream. She simply scoops vanilla ice cream into a bowl and tops it with a drizzle of rosewater and a sprinkle of chopped pistachios. As she is doing this, she has an intense conversation with her oldest sister. I could not focus on the conversation because I was busy thinking, boy, this ice cream sounds so good. 

    

Luckily, I had half a carton of vanilla ice cream in the freezer and made this 2 minute dessert on Sunday night. It is a great way to doctor up some plain vanilla and transport yourself to more exotic (warmer!) lands with every spoonful. 


  • Soften good quality vanilla ice cream by leaving it out on the counter for 20 minutes or so. 
  • Stir in a splash of rosewater and a handful of chopped toasted pistachios
  • Freeze again, then serve.
Dale's Tales
Dale had an exciting new experience last month- he got to be a food critic- a taste tester for some local dog treats. My friend Deborah and her pup stopped by one morning with two local dog treats, and Dale got a chance to taste them and offer his expert opinion. If you'd like to read the article, here it is.

Now that the food critic gig is over, Dale is back to his regular full time job as chief daybed tester.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Festive Sugar High


Of Tiramisu

Last weekend, the parade of witches and zombies prowling the streets symbolized the start of the holiday season in the US.

I had big plans for a orange-and-black Halloween dinner. In the end, it worked out with some adjustments. There was a black bean soup, vegetable-cheese enchiladas in a orange-ish gravy (totally delicious, by the way) and spinach salad with almonds that have orange skin and dried blueberries (those look almost black if you squint at them).

For weeks before, I had been eyeing the tiramisu recipe (this happens to be V's favorite dessert) posted on Served With Love. What a lovely simplified recipe, but it does call for a bunch of specialty ingredients. We were at a local Italian store the day before Halloween and I stocked up on marsala wine, mascarpone cheese, ladyfingers (light finger-shaped cookies; nothing to do with bhindi) and espresso powder.

So tiramisu made it to the black and orange theme dinner because espresso is nearly black and ladyfingers are nearly orange. Why I humor myself this way I don't know. Clearly my spouse and friends eat whatever I put in front of them regardless of colors and themes.

In making tiramisu, I learnt a few new things:

  1. Marsala is a fortified wine (it has alcohol added to it) which means it keeps well in the pantry, just like brandy or sherry. A bottle of marsala can be bought and used over several months, which is great because this is not a drinking wine, and recipes that call for marsala wine usually need a cup or less. 
  2. Mascarpone is like a cream cheese but quite tasteless on its own. But it forms a wonderful base for the dessert, picking up the flavors of booze and coffee very well.
  3. Egg whites freeze beautifully. After defrosting them, they can be whipped just like fresh egg whites. 
The tiramisu recipe is a keeper for sure. The only challenging bit is when you cook the yolks together with some wine and sugar into a light custard. You need some judgement to tell when it is cooked, and it needs a good bit of patient stirring. Other than that, you mix and layer. Everyone who tasted this dessert was in raptures- it is not too sweet and utterly decadent.


Coconut Macaroons

Now what was to be done with the 4 egg whites left over from the tiramisu recipe? Luckily, the coconut macaroons I intended to make for a party yesterday called for 2 egg whites. As I cracked open 4 eggs for the tiramisu, I kept a bowl and a storage container near me. Two whites went into each of these. The egg whites in the bowl were whipped up to make a quick omelet for lunch and the container with the other two egg whites went into the freezer. I pulled them out of the freezer two hours before starting to make macaroons and they thawed and came up nearly to room temperature, and were easily whisked into foamy soft peaks.

The coconut macaroons come from a recipe by Monica Bhide, posted by Susan, the Food Blogga. I bookmarked them three years ago, I think, and finally found that they could be part of the Blog Bites end of year holiday buffet and of our Diwali celebrations.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is being celebrated this weekend and although I am not religious (understatement of the year, much?), I can certainly get behind the spirit of good triumphing over evil and the light of wisdom overcoming the dimness of ignorance. And what's not to love about the tradition of making, sharing and eating sweets and treats?

If you have saffron and cardamom on hand, the rest of the ingredients- eggs, sweetened condensed milk and sweetened coconut flakes- can be found in any ol' American supermarket. This is a big plus in my world, where trips to the Indian store for specialty ingredients are few and far between.


As you start setting out the ingredients, you already feel the ghosts of nariyal burfis past. The unmistakable blending of coconut and sugar and cardamom is sure to trigger memories of celebrations. The process of making these could not be simpler. Crush cardamom and saffron into a powder. Mix this spice with coconut flakes, condensed milk and a tinge of salt, then fold in whipped egg whites to hold everything together. Scoop little tablespoon-sized mounds on a cookie sheet and bake to perfection. Please refer to the recipe for complete and detailed directions.

Even though two of the ingredients have the word "sweetened" emblazoned right there in their names, we found that the macaroons were not tooth-achingly sweet. The taste of the coconut and the scent of the spices came through convincingly. Several people at the party told me how much they enjoyed the macaroons, even though coconut can be, you know, polarizing.

The only thing I would do differently next time would be to either lower the baking temperature for my oven or bake the macaroons on the top rack because I found that the macaroons browned very quickly at the bottom (a couple of them crossed the line between browned and burnt) before the tops had a chance to get toasty.


For anyone who does not wish to use eggs or does not have access to an oven, Suma of Veggie Platter has a recipe for coconut laddus using condensed milk and sweetened coconut flakes but skipping the eggs and the baking; check it out here.


Happy Diwali to all who celebrate it; I wish you all much sweetness and joy this weekend and for the year to come.

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P.S. An announcement for interested readers in the St. Louis area- Cookbook author Raghavan Iyer (whose recipes are well-loved on several blogs) will be at Washington University next week. There are demos and book signings and buffets galore. Check out the events by clicking on the picture below:

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.


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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. 

Notes:
  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. 
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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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Berry Luscious Treat

It is strawberry season and my friend from next door (mom to Shanti the husky) informed me that she had 2 pounds of plump strawberries patiently waiting in her fridge. She happens to own an ice cream maker and the fate of the strawberries was sealed once we found this easy, gorgeous recipe.

We decided to make the ice cream together by which I mean that Shanti's mom pressed the on button on the blender and I stood behind her to lend moral support. Because this is all the work that the recipe needs.

No-Cook Strawberry Ice Cream
(adapted from this recipe from Kitchen Parade, makes 6-8 servings)

1. Blend together
  • 1 lb. fresh strawberries, cleaned, stem removed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 box (8 oz.) low-fat cream cheese, cut in chunks
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
2. Freeze in an ice cream maker and serve. Tastes best as a soft-serve rather than completely frozen.

Everyone who tasted this ice cream, including one person who insisted that he does not like strawberry ice cream loved it. For one thing, it has that glorious, fresh, spring-like, girly shade of pink without the yummy addition of FD&C Red No. 40. It is bursting with strawberry flavor and the sugar has a mere supporting role. If you love fruit and hate sugary desserts, this one is for you.

The no-cook ice cream recipes are good to have in one's repertoire. Over the summer, I'd love to try out some more of them, like this chocolate banana ice cream and this pistachio rosewater ice cream.

Last night, Neighbor Girl went grocery shopping and came back with a treat for us, cute little single serving cups of chocolate peanut butter ice cream from Haagen Daaz (and all normal sounding ingredients, imagine that). It was to die for. Of course, I promptly found this double chocolate peanut butter ice cream recipe that I have to try ASAP.

I don't own an ice cream maker yet but might get one later this summer- they really seem to come in handy for quick desserts. Until then, I'll use the old elbow grease method, whipping ice cream by hand a few times as it freezes. 


Fresh off the Hooks and Needles

A couple of crocheted hats adorned with cheerful flowers:

Can you tell what creature is lurking on this hat?
It is a whole parliament of owls. The pattern is called "Who?" and is kindly shared on Penguin Purls. What a hoot!
The only depressing thing is that these hats are destined for a Children's Cancer Hospital. I truly wish we lived in a world where there was no need for chemo caps for wee kids (or for anyone else, for that matter). I couldn't help getting a lump in my throat as I made the little hats.

Have a good rest of the week; I have many things on my to-cook list but let's see what I can come up with next.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Tender Coconut Ice Cream

It was the 1980s and while the world around me was dealing with serious matters of oil spills, assassinations, industrial catastrophes, and falling walls, I was sedately making my way through primary and secondary school. The highlight of the school year was the summer break when we took the overnight train to Bombay and visited our grandmother, aunt and uncle for several weeks.

I was unaware of the terminology then, but my aunt and I were devoted foodies, and she spent a great deal of time treating me to all the good eats of that megacity. We would track down the newest bakery in town for its flaky biscuits and try all the "specials" listed on the chalkboard of our local Udipi restaurant, where all the waiters knew us and greeted us with big smiles. We would rifle through our closets for our most posh-looking frocks so we could go to the Taj coffee shop and splurge on pastries.

In the mid-80s, we took a short autorickshaw-ride from my aunt's home to the swanky neighborhood of Juhu to visit a brand new ice cream store called Naturals. The unique selling point of this store was that they would use all-natural fruit pulp to make decadent ice cream; none of the bright pink "strawberry" and bright green "pistachio" flavors here. And that's where I tasted something called Tender Coconut Ice Cream. The subtle and ethereal taste of young silky coconut wrapped in cream. It rocked my little world. Soon, my aunt and I were on such intimate terms with this particular flavor of ice cream that we just called it "TC".  I don't even want to stop and think about how much TC we consumed over the ensuing years; I am sure some of it is sitting on my hips to this day. Today, Naturals is an extremely successful brand with a gazillion stores in Bombay and neighboring cities, but remember, Naturals, we were the ones who loved you first even before you were famous!

Well, I don't have access to Naturals or TC any more where I live. On my last trip to India in June '09, Nandita made me almost weep with joy when she pulled out two flavors of Naturals ice cream from her freezer for dessert after the fantastic meal she made for us. She gave me a choice of tender coconut and mango and I admit that I ignored my good upbringing ("never be greedy") and said I would have both.

The point of telling you all this is so you can imagine my surprise and joy when I spotted a recipe for tender coconut ice cream a few weeks ago. Not just any recipe but one that calls for no cooking and can be made in a couple of minutes. Not just any recipe but one that calls for ingredients that are easily available where I live. Not just any recipe but one that was tried and blogged by that genius of a cook named Meera of Enjoy Indian Food.

Mix contents of 4 cans together and freeze, that's all there is to it.

Tender Coconut Ice Cream (Just Like Naturals)!!!

(adapted from Meera's recipe)

1. You need 1 can each of sweetened condensed milk (low-fat OK), evaporated milk (low-fat OK), coconut milk (reduced fat OK use the real thing) and tender coconut/ young coconut meat in syrup, which is sold by Thai companies in Asian/Thai/international grocery stores.

2. In a bowl, mix together the coconut milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine.

3. Drain and discard all the syrup from the can of tender coconut. Chop the coconut meat into small bits. In the last 5 minutes of churning, add chopped tender coconut to the mixture. Freeze, then serve.

I happened to use an ice cream machine because I've borrowed one from my neighbor for a few days. I think it would be fine to just mix the components and freeze them in a bowl, beating it a few times during the freezing process to break up the ice crystals and aerate the mixture.

Even with all the canned ingredients, this ice cream was divine and very very similar to the TC of my memories. If you have access to fresh thick coconut milk, it would be even more incredible. We shared the ice cream with friends and everyone unanimously loved it. Thanks for a keeper recipe, Meera! You made a girl very very happy.

It is a very rich ice cream as you can imagine but this quantity is enough for 10-12 servings in my estimation. A little certainly goes a long way.

By being able to recreate a favorite store-bought treat in my own kitchen with the help of a fellow blogger's recipe, this post is an entry for Blog Bites: the Copcat edition hosted right here on this blog.

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Here's a short video of Dale talking with Tony and getting treats on demand:



Wherever in the world you live, I hope you have a fantastic week; I will be back in 2-3 days with a sweet refreshing beverage.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Carrot Almond Halwa

Sometimes it is only a mental block that keeps me from trying recipe variations. For instance, I am so accustomed to dairy-based Indian desserts that wrapping my head around vegan Indian desserts can befuddle me. A few years ago, I cooked lunch for a group of vegan guests. The appetizers, main dishes, salads and sides all were a breeze but I tripped up while planning dessert and  resignedly served a platter of fruit.

Vaishali's posts are doing much to help me make vegan versions of Indian desserts- she makes delectable vegan halwas of every hue with no dairy in sight. Using her gajar halwa as my inspiration, I made this version yesterday. To mimic the gritty texture of cooked-down milk/khoya, I used some almond meal.

Gajar Halwa That Just Happens To Be Vegan

(serves 4)
  1. Shred 2 lbs. organic carrots using a hand grater or a food processor.
  2. In a heavy pan, heat 2 tbsp. Earth Balance buttery spread.
  3. Saute the carrots until bright red.
  4. Stir in 1 cup almond milk and 4 tbsp. almond meal (or finely ground almonds).
  5. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture reduces and the carrots are cooked.
  6. Stir in 1 tsp. cardamom and sugar to taste (I only needed a quarter cup or so).

The taste of the gajar halwa was wonderful. It is light and nutty and something I will be making again and again, whether or not I have vegan guests.
I shared this halwa at a cook-out last night with a group of St. Louis food bloggers. We met in the incredible teaching kitchen of the Kitchen Conservatory (candyland for foodies), and I'm so glad Alanna put in the time and effort to organize this event. St. Louis has many creative and clever food bloggers. They do all sorts of fun things like keep bees and grow garlic and match shelter dogs to families!
If you are a food blogger, have you met other food bloggers in your city?
On The Bookshelf

I read more than my fair share of novels and magazines, but one of my favorite genres will always be non-fiction. They say truth is stranger than fiction and I certainly believe that based on the non-fiction I've read.

When written with humor and expertise, non-fiction books can give us a crash course in a serious academic discipline and connect abstract concepts in maths and science and technology with real life. I recently read The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow and it was a most entertaining glimpse into the role of statistics in everyday life. Another highly fascinating and riveting read was The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, which is a great detective story of a physician chasing a microbe (and sparking off the science of epidemiology) even though he did not even know it at the time.

This morning I awoke at 4 AM to finish reading Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, the real story of a family in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Eggers is a talented writer. The story is written so simply but the narrative is gripping and you get deeply engaged with the characters as the story progresses. I highly recommend this book.

There are two non-fiction books that I read in recent months that had rich and meaningful content but where the writing was unfortunately very jagged and rambling, in my opinion, which took away from the reading experience. These were Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen about one man's struggle to build schools in remote regions of Central Asia and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, about the life and work of Paul Farmer in bringing healthcare to the most impoverished regions of Haiti. But these are the kinds of books that are worth reading, because they make me want to do something meaningful and with my life and stop making excuses already.

Next on the non-fiction list, I'm going to start with a  memoir called In Hanuman's Hands by Cheeni Rao; I read Kamini's stunning review of the book and checked it out from the library this weekend.

Have you read any interesting non-fiction lately?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Dream of Summer: Pistachio Kulfi

By the time mid-February rolls around, people around here get very fidgety. And by people, I mean me. It feels like winter has been around for years, and I am eager to bypass the next few weeks on the calendar and head straight for April or May, when the fresh produce finally hits the markets and when I can go for a walk without 10 minutes of coat-buttoning and scarf-wrapping.

When friends invited us for pizza night at their home yesterday,  I decided to stop whining about the weather and cheer myself up by making one of my favorite summer desserts, kulfi. Kulfi, an Indian frozen dessert, is traditionally made by evaporating the heck out of whole milk, constantly stirring it for hours, until it reduces to a thick slurry, then adding sugar and spices like cardamon and saffron, or nuts or fruits. Unlike custard-based ice creams, kulfi does not contain eggs. The taste is sublime, rich and creamy, closer to Italian gelato than to aerated ice cream.

My happiest kulfi memories are from Chowpatty beach in South Bombay, where my family loyally patronizes one tiny kulfi shop. Their malai kulfi, the most basic flavor, is sublime but I really enjoy the mixed kulfi, where you get to enjoy small slabs of different flavors- kesar pista (saffron pistachio), orange, strawberry and mango- all on one dish (like one of the plates in this pic).

The traditional method for making kulfi is very labor intensive, and certain short-cuts have been devised to make the process easier on the home cook. You can start off with evaporated milk, sold in cans in supermarkets all over the US, and also use cornflour (cornstarch) as a thickener to help the process along, like in the rose kulfi I posted before. In the US, people have come up with kulfi recipes that use supermarket ingredients and don't involve any cooking at all, and that's the method I used when I made this fig walnut kulfi.

Kulfi is usually just poured into molds and frozen, without using an ice cream maker, which is very lucky because I don't own one anyway. But I did blend it a few times during the freezing process to get rid of most of the ice crystals since my milk mixture was not as thick as it could have been.

PS: I am going through an unfortunate food phase where I want to add rose water to everything. That's why this particular kulfi has Persian flavors reminiscent of falooda. But add saffron for a more traditional version.

Pistachio Kulfi
(for about 6 servings)


1) In a heavy pan, combine
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
2 cups milk (I used 2%)

2) Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often for 20-30 minutes or until the mixture is reduced by a third or so. Be sure to scrape all the milk solids at the side of the pan into the mixture.

3) Dissolve 2 tsp. cornstarch (cornflour) in 2 tbsp. cold milk. Stir it into the boiling mixture and let it cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture thickens.

4) Turn off the heat. Stir in
23 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
13 cup pistachios, toasted lightly and ground to a fine powder
1 cup cream
1 tsp. cardamom powder
1 large pinch of saffron OR 2 tsp. rose water

5) Let the mixture cool. Pour it into a sturdy lidded container and place in the freezer. Let it chill for 2 hours, then remove it from the freezer every hour and churn it with a spatula to break up the ice crystals. Do this 4-5 times, then let the kulfi freeze until you serve it.

For a variation, set the kulfi in popsicle molds instead.

The homemade pizzas that our friends served were more delicious than anything I have eaten in a pizzeria- they made 3 delicious variations, including an unusual one with barbecue sauce and a topping of onions and peppers. The cool creamy kulfi was an enjoyable end to the meal.

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I read this interesting article today that talks about something that's on my mind a lot- thinking of how much trash I generate while going about everyday life when so many things we touch are thrown away within minutes. The post mentions the "psychological hurdle" of doing things that are different from the norm and I found myself nodding in agreement. For myself, I believe that every single little thing does count. I am not naive enough to believe that I am saving the planet by mopping spills with a dishcloth instead of a paper towel. And I am not cynical enough to think that small everyday habits don't accumulate to make us more aware and more conscious of our actions.

I still can't get myself to bring containers everywhere. When I bought a cup of hot chocolate on Friday, it did come in a lidded cup that I tossed in the trash. I have a long way to go.

But here's one action that has become second nature for me- taking my own bags to the grocery store and to produce markets. My pet peeve used to be those thin plastic bags that you use for produce. I knitted myself a sleeve (pattern here) to organize all my produce bags, and now I reuse them. If a bag gets soiled after a few uses, it gets one final use, to pick up after the dog, and then ends up in the trash.
The picture below is stash of bags that I have finally learned to grab every single time I go to the store. I have learned to say, "Thank you, but I'll use my own bags" quickly before the cashier starts to bag my groceries. There have been a few times when the store clerk has glared at me and made me feel like a trouble maker. But more often, they are very accommodating. And other shoppers sometimes notice my bags and remark that they should try to remember to bring their own bags too. It is one small step.

Have you made any small change in your life to make it less wasteful? Share it in the comments- I'm always looking for new ideas.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sweet Comforts and Candied Treats

Last weekend, I made two desserts that are both extremely popular and simple to make, but that I had somehow never got around to making before.

It started with a conversation with a friend last month when the subject of Indian restaurant buffets came up and she confessed that she was in love with Indian-style rice pudding; enough to go back for second and third helpings whenever she found rice kheer served in the buffet line-up. When this friend made dinner for us this Sunday (a delicious meal where the centerpiece was tangy-spicy vegetarian Filipino adobo), I remembered the conversation and put together a big bowl of kheer to take over to her.



Jan13_3


Kheer, soft and milky as baby food, comforting and sweet, is one of those desserts that features in a majority of Indian cuisines, often as the official dessert of festive occasions or a quick celebratory sweet to celebrate a birthday or a good report card.

The kheer I grew up eating and have made dozens of times is the one with seviyan/vermicelli, as in this recipe I have posted before. This was a good excuse to try something different and make some creamy kheer with rice instead of vermicelli. This is a quick stove-top dessert made with pantry ingredients.

I used the simple and straightforward recipe from Enjoy Indian Food as my guide (thank you, Meera!) and here's how I made the rice kheer. This made 4 servings (large rice kheer-fan portions, plus a tiny bit left over for a treat for my friend the next day).



Jan13_4


1. Grease a heavy pot with a few drops of oil.

2. Add
4 cups 2% milk
13 cup Basmati rice (rinsed well and drained).
Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often until the rice is almost cooked through.

3. Add
12 heaped cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
a hefty pinch of saffron
1 tsp. cardamom powder

4. Cook for 10 min on medium-low heat, stirring often. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down.

5. Stir in 2 tsp. rose water. Garnish with toasted pistachios. Chill and serve.

Ever since I bought a bottle of rose water a few weeks ago, I am in love with it! In this case, it added a wonderful exotic aroma to the dessert. The rice kheer was simply divine. We enjoyed every single spoonful.

I am sending this to this month's Sugar High Friday- the 61st edition has the theme of Sweet Comforts, hosted at A Merrier World.

Here's another quick and simple dessert I made last weekend to take to a trivia game and share with my team- strawberries in a dark chocolate shell. I rarely buy strawberries, least of all in the middle of winter, but bought these when I had guests expected for a brunch that never materialized because of the kitchen repair woes (yes, it is all fixed now and life is back to normal).



Jan13_1


I used a bar of dark chocolate, melted it in a deep bowl in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring to melt the chocolate without scorching it. Then I dipped the strawberries (that had been washed and dried thoroughly beforehand) and placed them on parchment and then in the fridge for the chocolate shell to form. Because I was worried about the sweetness, I sprinkled a little granulated sugar on each strawberry. I wanted more chocolate per strawberry so I did not let the excess chocolate drip away, that's why my strawberries are stuck in dark chocolate puddles.



Jan13_2




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As we go on with our normal lives, life in Haiti has been turned upside down by a devastating earthquake. Let's share a little and give what we can to help the rescue efforts. Click on the link to Doctors Without Borders on the right sidebar.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pumpkin Flan

This is what I made for Thanksgiving dessert- Pumpkin Nutmeg Flan, another long-bookmarked recipe that I finally found a muhurat to make. V is an ardent fan of flans and caramel custards of all types, so I knew he would love this dessert.

To keep it simple, I skipped the cookie topping in the original recipe.

The one technique that is used here is baking in a hot water bath or a bain marie. Read more about this technique here.

Here's how the original recipe came to be Recipe #35: Pumpkin Flan.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

2. Put a kettle of water to boil, for the bain marie.

3. In a large bowl, add

7 eggs
1 15 oz. can canned pumpkin puree
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
1 12 fl. oz. can evaporated milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

Use an immersion blender to make a smooth mixture.

4. In another pan, melt 1 cup sugar into amber caramel.

5. Pour the caramel carefully into a loaf pan. Add the pumpkin mixture and bake in a bain marie for 15 mins. Then turn down the oven to 350F and bake until set (inserted knife should come clean), 45 minutes or so.

6. Chill, then invert before serving.




Notes:

One problem I had was that there was way too much pumpkin mixture- it would have overflowed the loaf pan. At the last minute, I had to grab a smaller bowl and set up another bain marie so as not to waste the remaining mixture. So if you plan on using these proportions, have 2 oaf pans, or one loaf pan and some extra baking cups ready.

Another thing I would do differently next time is to cover the pans with foil while baking to avoid a rubbery surface from forming.

The flan was absolutely delicious- with flavors of pumpkin and nutmeg, it was the perfect alternative to pie on this holiday.

To all those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! I have a very very long list of things that I am thankful for, but I'll only mention here my gratitude to the good folks who visit this space, share their love for home cooking and always have a kind word for me. Thank you.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hello!

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.

May09_1

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!

May09_2
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, March 28, 2008

Sweet and Salubrious

Back to breakfast! All the new-and-improved breakfast treats I tried so far this month have been savory, in a frank display of my personal preferences. But every once in a while, I do crave a little sweet something to go along with my morning chai.

Today's whole-grain tweak: Using whole-wheat pastry flour and almond meal for baked goodies. Whole-wheat pastry four is a low-gluten flour of finely milled whole wheat. I started using it only this month, and am I loving it! It is the perfect substitute for all-purpose flour in a variety of popular breakfast foods like pancakes, coffee cake, biscotti and muffins. Apparently, it works even in a decadent chocolate cake!

Almond meal is nothing but almonds that are ground to a flour. I got mine at Trader Joe's, but of course it can be made it home by simply blitzing down almonds to a fine powder. Nut flours can go real rancid real fast, so I store it in the refrigerator. Almond meal is becoming more commonly available because it is a useful flour replacer for those who are on a low-carb or gluten-free diet. Almond meal can be creatively used in all kinds of sweet treats like apple crisp, cherry clafoutis, lemon ricotta-almond cake and also in savory recipes like Kalyn's breakfast muffins.

In a bid to use up some buttermilk left over from this recipe, I used the proportions given in this Vegetarian Times recipe to come up with a simple pear and almond loaf. Grated pears add a beautiful moist and sweet touch to this cake.

Pear Almond Loaf

2008_60

Ingredients:
1 ½ firm medium Pears
1 T Lemon juice

2 large Eggs
½ C Sugar

Dry Ingredients (mix together)
1 ½ Whole-wheat pastry flour
¾ C Almond meal
1 ½ t Baking powder
½ t Baking soda

Wet Ingredients (mix together)
¾ C low-fat cultured Buttermilk
2 T Applesauce
2 T Oil
1 t Vanilla extract (or almond extract)

Almond slivers for garnish

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 350F and grease/spray a loaf pan.
2. Coarsely grate the pears (you need about 1 cup), add the lemon juice and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat together eggs and sugar for several minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
4. Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately, a third of each at a time, into the egg-sugar mixture and mix gently.
5. Press the extra liquid out of the grated pears and stir them into the batter.
6. Pour batter into the loaf pan evenly. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden and an inserted toothpick comes clean. Let it cool before slicing.

Verdict: What a spongy and delicious loaf this is! The rich almond flavor was unmistakable. The loaf rose just beautifully and I got that coveted crease on top. The almond slivers did add a pretty touch and a great crunch to the loaf (IMHO) but they sure made it a challenge to cut neat slices. I found it easier to turn the loaf on its side and cut that way. Cut into thin slices or thick wedges, this is a great loaf to pack into a lunch-box or take along on a picnic, or to serve with your favorite beverage. Instead of pears, other fruits like apple or ripe banana would work just as well, as would chopped dried fruits like dates or figs.

This post is making its way to Raaga's blog, where pears are being celebrated as the fruit of the month!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tea-Tinged Truffles

I'm still in the midst of "eating down the pantry", as Lydia put it, although I did go shopping for some perishables like eggs and milk last night. Meanwhile, let me tell you about these chocolate truffles that I made as a contribution to the New Years Eve feast that our neighbor had invited us to.

Now that I have discovered how easy and fun it is to make confections at home, I can't seem to stop myself. But these truffles were a joy to put together, with a short ingredient list, and no fiddly techniques involved, but results that looked quite impressive. The only thing is to pay attention to the proportion of cream to chocolate: too much cream, and the truffles won't hold their shape; too little cream and the mixture will harden too much and be difficult to roll. A mixture of milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate works well because it has a good balance of sweetness and pure chocolate taste. I buy chocolate in 3.5 oz bars, and it was convenient for me to use a bar of each type of chocolate to make these truffles.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite blogs- The Perfect Pantry. While Lydia flavored hers with coffee, I was loyal to my tea-loving self and flavored these truffles with tea and tea masala. I had half a mind to call them chai truffles or maybe even chai tea truffles but I wisely refrained! So here they are...

Tea-Tinged Truffles

2008_4
(Adapted from Lydia's recipe; makes about 18 truffles)
Ingredients:
1 3.5 oz bar fair-trade bittersweet chocolate
1 3.5 oz bar fair-trade milk chocolate
1/2 C heavy cream
2 t extra-strong black tea decoction (I used orange pekoe)
3-4 drops tea masala extract
1/3 C chopped toasted pistachios
Method:
1. Finely chop the chocolate bars and place together in a bowl.
2. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until it is almost boiling.
3. Pour onto the chocolate and let it stand for a couple of minutes to allow the chocolate to melt. Whisk well to blend the chocolate and the cream into a smooth glistening mixture. Stir in the tea and the tea masala (I dissolved the masala in the tea first).
4. Cover and chill the mixture for 1.5-2 hours.
5. Wash hands well before shaping the truffles (or wear gloves). Scrape up a small portion of the chilled chocolate mixture with a teaspoon and roll it gently in your palms to form a truffle. Roll truffles in pistachio bits to coat them.

All done!
2008_3


Chocolate truffles are a blank canvas that can be filled, coated and flavored with an assortment of goodies that is only limited by the imagination of the cook. Take a look at these truffles laced with cardamom, balsamic vinegar, orange zest , cayenne pepper and green tea. There was a whole Sugar High Friday devoted to truffles; here is the incredible round-up of that event.

I'm sending these tasty morsels to Mansi Desai for her Game Night Event that showcases simple and tasty party recipes. The term Game Night evokes very conflicting emotions within me :D On one hand, sporting events make me weep with boredom, and those infernal game nights where people gather around a big screen TV and lustily cheer on a bunch of people running after some ball...they make want to run screaming into the woods. But I do enjoy those Game Nights that involve sedate board games like Pictionary and Taboo. Well, these bite-size portion-controlled treats are the perfect dessert for *any* gathering. They would also make a magical gift when packed into a pretty box.

What are you planning to do this weekend? Have a wonderful, relaxing time!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two Tangy Milky Desserts

...one Maharashtrian favorite, and the other, an American favorite.

The first is Shrikhand, a simple dessert of strained thick yogurt mixed with sugar and flavorings like saffron and cardamom. I must confess that of all the profusion of Indian desserts that I know and love, shrikhand would never make it to even the top 20. I usually find it too thick and rich and cloying after a few bites. But I was making a typical Maharashtrian meal for some friends last night and decided to give it a try. After all is said and done, it *is* a low-maintenance no-cook dessert and when you make it at home, you have full control over how much sugar you add to it.

I got this recipe from an aunt (actually one of my parents' closest friends). She belongs to that band of Indians who settled in the US in the 70s, in the days when Indian ingredients and stores were few and far between in this country. Over the decades, she has tried and tested and perfected (and how!) ways of making Indian favorites using ingredients commonly found in American supermarkets. When she informally told me how she makes shrikhand, I tuned out everything else and filed away the instructions carefully in the voice recorder of my brain. When you collect recipes as I do, you quickly learn to memorize every detail when an accomplished cook is talking. Virtually every shrikhand recipe that I come across mentions that it is essential to use full-fat yogurt. According to my aunt, *low-fat* yogurt yields the best shrikhand (full fat is too buttery and non-fat is too chalky, as per her trials). Now, this is not someone who would ever compromise taste for the sake of low-fat anything, so when she says that low-fat tastes the best, I am convinced. She also mentioned that she prefers Dannon brand yogurt. I used Trader Joe's and it worked just fine. The taste of this shrikhand was so irresistible that I felt absolutely no need to add sour cream or anything else to it, as some recipes do. Thank you, Anju maushi, for sharing your recipe!

Shrikhand

SKand
(serves 4-6)
Ingredients
1 tub (32 oz/ 4 C) low-fat plain yogurt
3/4 C granulated sugar (anywhere from half to one cup, according to taste)
pinch of salt
1/2 t powdered cardamom
1 t warm milk
1 hefty pinch saffron threads
2-3 T chopped almonds or pistachios
Method
1. Set a large strainer on a bowl. Line the strainer with clean porous fabric (eg. cheesecloth) or clean coffee filters. Pour the yogurt into the strainer. Cover the strainer/bowl and place in refrigerator overnight (8-12 hours).
2. Place the thick, strained yogurt into a fresh bowl. The nutritious whey that has dripped away can be used to knead paratha/roti dough, in dals or soups.
3. Add the sugar 2-3 T at a time, stirring every time you add some, at 3-5 minute intervals. This way the sugar dissolves evenly into the yogurt.
4. Meanwhile, stir the saffron into the warm milk and let it soak for 5-10 minutes.
5. Finally, after all the sugar has been mixed in, add a pinch of salt, saffron, cardamom and nuts. Stir and refrigerate until you serve it.

This shrikhand was delicious, and might be worth a try for those who think they don't like shrikhand much. Low-fat, schmo-fat...it was utterly creamy with just the right consistency, to my palate. And far less indulgent than most other desserts I can think of. Other delicious additions to shrikhand are nutmeg powder and charoli. At feasts in Maharashtra, shrikhand is often the accompaniment to puri-bhaji.

Fruity takes on shrikhand:
Strawberry Shrikhand from Ashwini
Blackberry Shrikhand from Manisha
Peach-Saffron Shrikhand from Suma
Amrakhand from Aarti
There is such a thing as "chocokhand" (chocolate shrikhand) sold as a novelty by some Indian dairies, but it looks like no blogger has tried making that yet :D

Strained yogurt is such a versatile ingredient. Among other things, it can be used to make sandwiches, frozen yogurt, tzatziki, and delicious dips.

*** *** ***

There are so many parties and get-togethers this month that an over-abundance of desserts is almost inevitable. I swear I am making these sweets to take to holiday festivities and to share with lots of people and restricting myself to itty-bitty servings (that's not what her hips are saying). To continue with the sugar high, here is the other dessert I made this week: Lemon Squares.

I saw Key Lime bars being made on an episode of America's Test Kitchen on PBS and they looked irresistible- a sweet cookie crust baked with a sweet and tangy custard filling made quite simply with citrus juice and sweetened condensed milk. I used lemon instead of lime because it is what I had on hand. I also could not find animal crackers in the store so I subbed something called Teddy Graham Honey crackers. Sorry, cute little teddies who got blitzed to crumbs in the food processor :( I loved the graham cracker crust here, so I will continue to use it instead of the animal crackers.

Lemon Squares

LemBar
(adapted from this Cook's Illustrated recipe)
1. Prepare a 8X8 inch square baking pan by lining it with foil (with some overhang) and lightly oiling the pan.
2. Preheat the oven to 325F
3. Crust: In a food processor bowl, add 5 oz. honey graham crackers, pinch of salt, 3 T melted butter, 3 T sugar and a dollop of molasses. Pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Pour it into the prepared pan and pat it down evenly (I used the bottom of a glass).
4. Bake the crust for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a bowl, mix 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk, 2 oz. cream cheese (1/4 of the standard pack), 1 egg yolk, pinch of salt, 1/2 C fresh lemon juice and 1 T lemon zest.
6. Pour the filling into the bakes crust and bake for 20 minutes. Cool for an hour, then chill thoroughly before slicing into 16 squares.

This dessert is really fun to make, for some reason. And tastes divine. These people agree.

To all my friends who celebrate it, here's wishing you a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A first attempt at Peanut Chikki

Rich roasted peanuts trapped in a shell of complex (salty-sweet, caramel, smoky) notes- peanut brittle or peanut chikki is my all-time favorite candy. I first tried making chikki when I was still in middle school. I only remember that the episode was a messy one, and now, many many years later, it is time to give it another shot.

Although chikki can be made with refined white sugar, it is more commonly made with that flavorful brown sugar that Indians know as jaggery or gud or gool. Jyotsna's essay All About Gur Things is a beautiful look at the art of making jaggery- my favorite sugar in the whole wide world. In his book On Food And Cooking, Harold McGee explains that brown sugars are sucrose crystals that are coated with a layer of dark syrup from one of the stages of sugar refining. It is the syrup that gives brown sugar a more complex taste than the one-dimensional sweetness of sugar. The supermarket variety of brown sugar is simply ordinary refined sugar coated with a thin film of syrup. Once I knew this, I stopped stocking my pantry with brown sugar altogether. Now I simply mix regular sugar with molasses to make up brown sugar whenever it is called for in recipes. Unlike the fake supermarket brown sugar, jaggery is described by McGee as a whole sugar, crystalline sugar still enveloped in the cooked cane syrup that it emerged from.

Many of us from Western India probably associate chikki with a popular vacation destination called Lonavla. This hill-station is a cool refuge from the blistering heat of the plains and I remember taking many trips there with my family. I think it is almost illegal to visit Lonavla without trying one of the dozens of different kinds of chikki sold there; and if you want to maintain your social life, it is necessary to buy several little string-wrapped boxes for friends and neighbors and co-workers as well. Abodh's essay on Chikki at Lonavla tells you "everything you wanted to know about the Lonavala chikki and didn't know whom to ask"! (This blog has some great little essays and pictures about life in Bombay, like this one about Bhaji Galli or vegetable lane, plus Abodh rescues stray dogs from the streets of Bombay. What a great cause).

Looking through various recipes, I could see that chikki is a pretty minimalist food that calls for, basically, sugar and peanuts. The sugar can be white sugar or jaggery or a combination of the two. I chose all-jaggery. The peanuts can be roasted or not. They can be crushed or not. I chose to roast and skin the peanuts, and chopped half of them and left the others whole (or in halves, actually). Some recipes add some ghee, others don't. I did add some. Some recipes add cardamom and some don't. Again, I chose to add a little bit. The final variable is the ratio of peanuts to jaggery. For the first pass, I decided to go with a 1:1 ratio. The ratio would really depend on individual preference. For breaking up large lumps/slabs/mounds/dheps of jaggery, Anupama's tip is an excellent one. The recipe describes how I made chikki this time, followed by notes on what I would change the next time I make it.

Peanut Chikki

peanChikki

1. Roast 1.5 C peanuts in either a skillet or microwave. Skin the peanuts and coarsely chop half of them. Set the peanuts aside.
2. Lightly grease a baking sheet (or some other flat surface) and keep it ready.
3. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, add 1.5 C chopped jaggery and 1 T ghee. Heat on medium-low heat until the jaggery starts to melt.
4. When the jaggery melts and the syrup starts to form threads that snap when cooled, take it off the heat. My idea was to heat the jaggery syrup to 300F (hard crack stage that is best for brittle). But around 250-260F, the syrup was getting too dark, clearly forming threads and had to be taken off the heat before it scorched. This is most likely due to the fact that jaggery has different caramelization properties as compared to pure sugar. I think.
5. Off the heat, add peanuts, a pinch of cardamom, mix well and pour onto the greased surface. Spread into a sheet using a spatula.
6. Break into pieces once it is cooled. Store in an air-tight container.

Lessons learnt:
1. I will coarsely chop all of the peanuts to meld the taste of nut and jaggery in every bite.
2. I will use more jaggery than peanut- about 2 C jaggery for every 1.5 C peanuts.
3. I have to standardize the temperature at which jaggery forms a brittle.
Perfect or not, this chikki was crunchy and thoroughly enjoyable!

Love your chikki? Adore that brittle? Here's more:
Peanut Chikki from Chachi's Kitchen
Peanut Chikki from Vindu
Coconut Chikki from A Whirl of Aromas
Dry-fruits Sesame Chikki from Cooking Pleasures
Til Wadi from A Cook @ Heart
Video: Peanut Brittle from Mark Bittman
Cashew Brittle from The Wednesday Chef
Popcorn Brittle from Culinary in the Country

I'm going to make another dessert tonight, and if it works out, I'll post about it. The two main ingredients are lemon juice and condensed milk. Care to guess what it is?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Candy is Dandy...

...especially when you make it with your own two hands! And if you manage to find a good recipe, it can be quicker than liquor ;) Some of my cooking projects turn out to be like governmental panchavarshik yojana (5-year plans)- grand plans that may or may not ever materialize. This whole idea of learning to make candy at home has been only two years in the making. 

It all started when Cathy came to tea bearing a box of toffee, the recipe for which she had learnt from David Lebovitz in a cooking class. Cathy claimed that this candy was very easy to make, but when Cathy says things like that, I don't believe her for a second. This is a person who makes adorable felted bunnies and spins tea towels from scratch. She recently finished baking her way through an entire cookbook, bringing a new cookie in to her workplace nearly every Monday for 3 years. In short, Cathy is not your average person...not by a long shot. Turns out that she was not kidding about the candy, however. 

Soon after I tasted Cathy's candy, in an incredible stroke of luck, David Lebovitz posted that candy recipe on his blog, with a wonderful detailed post for wannabe candy-makers (read it carefully-twice-before attempting this candy). Apart from ingredients like sugar, butter, nuts and chocolate, the only investment this recipe needs is a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the syrup and determine when it has been cooked to the right stage. 

What is candy? Cooked sugar, essentially. The simple things are always the most deceptive; candy-making is sheer physical chemistry, and pages 680-693 of Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking provide a fascinating glimpse into the science of candy (the number of pages giving an idea of how much technicality there is to discuss). 

Is a candy thermometer essential? No. The time-honored method of cooling the syrup quickly (in a bowl of cold water) and testing the stage (soft ball/hard ball/soft crack/hard crack...no I did not make these names up) works just fine. But a candy thermometer makes life a lot easier for the less experienced cook like me- having to judge the balls of syrup and making up your mind about the stage of the syrup while the rest of it is still boiling away can be stressful. I bought a sturdy-looking analog Pyrex candy thermometer for 8$ and it is well worth it.

(Note added in 2020: I am still using this very same candy thermometer and it is very useful for making yogurt at home, in addition to candy.)
 

Choco-Nut Buttercrunch Toffee

bccandy1
(adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe) 

1. Coarsely chop 2 C toasted nuts. I used pecans and almonds and chopped them in the food processor. For the next batch I will use 1.5 C nuts, use only almonds and chop them by hand; the food processor resulted in some nut powder and nut pieces that were quite uneven. 

 2. Lightly grease a 8x10 inch (or so) rectangle on a baking sheet. Spread half the chopped nuts on the sheet and leave the other half aside. 

 3. Chop 5 oz fair-trade bittersweet chocolate and set it aside. 

 4. Also place nearby coarse salt crystals (for sprinkling), 1/4 t baking soda and 1 t vanilla extract

5. In a medium heavy saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine 1 stick (1/2 C) butter cut into small pieces, 1 1/4 C sugar, a dollop of molasses, a hefty pinch of salt and 2 T water

Heat with minimum or no stirring until the temperature reads 300F (hard crack stage). This took perhaps 10-15 minutes, and the syrup was at a great boil by that time, although it thankfully did not boil over the sides of the pan. 

6. Once the temp is reached, take syrup off the heat, stir in vanilla and baking soda and pour it all over the nuts on the baking sheet. I was thrilled that the syrup flowed very well and spread itself quite nicely. 

 7. Scatter the chocolate bits all over the syrup. Let them melt for a couple of minutes and then spread the chocolate all over with a table knife or spatula. 

 8. Sprinkle with coarse salt and the remaining nuts. Press the nuts in gently so that they will set into the chocolate. Let it cool down. After 1.5 hours, the chocolate had still not set so I put the sheet in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to help it along. Refrigerating the candy to set the chocolate was a bad idea because it caused the chocolate to look dull and "bloom". Just let the candy set at room temperature for several hours, even overnight (cover it) until the chocolate sets. 

The sheet of toffee can now be broken into bite-size pieces quite easily. 

Verdict: What can I say? This is some drop-dead amazing candy. It tastes exactly like the stuff that you buy for exorbitant sums of money from glassed-in confection palaces. If you like butterscotch, and if you were a fan of Cadbury's "nutties" with that irresistible center, this candy is for you. This candy is addictive. You have been duly warned. I owe you, Mr. Lebovitz. 

Next stop in Candyland: peanut chikki as soon as I can hack the dhep (mound) of jaggery into manageable chunks. Stay tuned! 

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