Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Highlights of 2014

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”   ~Roald Dahl
 
 
With these words, I wish all you beautiful people a magical 2015!! Leaving you with a few highlights of the year gone by..
 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Apple Pie

Back in school, when I did not know a spatula from a sieve, the big sister would be the one in the kitchen, rustling up a storm. She said it then and she says it now, "Cooking de-stresses me"! This was pre-Internet days and much before the onslaught of cookery programmes on TV. She would pour over all of my mother's old cookery books, searching for something new to try out. She was the family chef and yours truly was her willing guinea pig.
 
One of her most prized recipes those days, actually still is, was a simple apple pie. What seems simple now was at the time, special. My palate was very basic and the Indian food scene was very limited. Come to think of it, the only restaurant in Bombay that used to serve apple pie was probably, Gallops at the Racecourse! So, making apple pie at home was very special. And family, friends and anyone and everyone who had her pie, raved about it!

 
So, the other day when a friend asked me if I had an apple pie recipe up on the blog, I thought I give a shot at recreating the old favourite.
 
The construct of this recipe is simple. The crust is a short crust pastry dough and the filling is cut apple slices that have been tossed with some sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice.

 
Pulling it out of the oven, it hit me why this one will always be a family favourite. It is simple and unpretentious baking at its best. The warm, flaky buttery crust will always be a winner and when it encases that beautiful, cinnamon flavoured apple filling that has been zested up with a hit of lemon juice, it is destined to be a classic. Superlatives fall short on what a perfect combination apples and cinnamon are. The way it makes your kitchen smell is an added bonus!  
 
Earlier on the blog, I had made a French Apple Tart from the 'Baking with Julia' book. But, in that tart, the filling was an apple compote. Out here, the apple slices still have a slight bite to them which I personally much prefer.

 
Making this recipe took me back years. Every time I would ask my sister to bake me an apple pie, in return she would ask me to do something for her, like clean her room or something equally tormenting. What a bully! In defence of my easy subjugation, there are very few desserts more perfect than a well-made apple pie!
 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Mulled Wine

Before you know it, Christmas is here! And while we may not celebrate Christmas at home, I do look forward to this time. It ties in perfectly with the end of year holiday mood. And helped along by the weather, it is also  the time when I am more than inclined to work the oven overtime. And yet this year, Christmas has caught me unaware.
 
So, while I may not have food to share with you today, we can always have a drink together. Keeping the occasion in mind, it is only natural that today's special should be mulled wine!!!
 
 
If there is one drink that usually finds itself on most Christmas menus, it is mulled wine and with good reason. Warm wine that has been sweetened and flavoured with spices is perfect for the weather in mind. And helping matters along is the fact that it takes no more than 10 minutes to get it on the table.
 
 
In this case, I flavoured the wine with traditional Christmassy flavours, with orange and spices like cloves, cinnamon and star anise. Ten minutes on a gentle flame and you are done. It is a perfect  time to use up that bottle of red wine in the cellar that no one thinks too highly of because this recipe transforms it into a real celebratory drink.
 
 
Pour yourself some  mulled wine in a glass, wrap your cold fingers around it, take a deep breath of the beautiful spices in there and then take a sip of this warm, flavoured wine. As it hits the back of your throat, you are warmed up in no time. And if like me, you are feeling a bit under the weather, this is what the doctor prescribed!
 
Be it a large group at a party or a small cosy gathering at home, this is the drink for the season!
 
 
Wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas!! May you have a beautiful day that is filled with love, fun and laughter!
 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Strawberry Apple Crumble

Last weekend, the temperatures finally dipped. And with it came the window of opportunity for all things warm and cosy .. .. and that of course, goes for all things sweet!
 
And in my dictionary, nothing spells warm and cosy better than a well made fruit crumble!
 
 
Strawberries have made their appearance and you know I have a weakness when it comes to cooking with the fruit. But, I added some apples, for no other reason than I had two lying in the fruit basket with no one volunteering to finish them.
 
But, feel free to use any seasonal, soft fruit of your choice. Think plums, peaches, berries or even pears.
 
 
And for the crumble, instead of the traditional all flour topping, I went with a healthier option of oats and whole wheat, with a dash of cinnamon. I figured there are going to be more than enough calories consumed over the next two weeks!
 
 
What a rustic and homey dessert this is. As it bakes in the oven, you can smell the vanilla and cinnamon wafting about. The apple and strawberry mix stews into this luscious, red compote with a vanilla accent that threatens to flow over the edges. And it all hides beneath this buttery, toasty, golden brown crumble that is the perfect foil for all that warm, soft fruit. 
 
This is a beautifully comforting dessert that just seems to warm you all over!
 
 
It has been a horrific week. Just as we tried to make sense of the siege in Sydney, we were confronted by the mind-numbing, heart-wrenching images from Peshawar. No matter how hard I try, on this occasion, words fall short.
 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Chicken And Mushroom Pies

Nothing like a spot of rainy weather in the middle of December to get you to pre-heat your oven!! With an empty afternoon ahead of me, I thought I give a shot at making some individual, savoury pies. For someone whose baking sojourns don't last longer than an hour at a stretch, this was beyond ambitious.

The savoury pies I had in mind were to have a chicken and mushroom filling that would be encased in a short crust pastry case and topped off with a puff pastry lid. So, I was putting my hand up to make not one but two pie crusts from scratch. What was I thinking??



Three and half hours later, I have survived to tell my tale and honestly, it wasn't as bad as I thought. The short crust  pastry dough is something I am familiar with and hardly took much time. As for the puff pastry, I went with this  fantastic recipe by Gordon Ramsay for a rough puff pastry. I don't think any home cook should waste their time attempting the classic puff when the rough does the job so admirably. On another ambitious afternoon, I might be tempted to give the all-puff sausage rolls a try!!

As for the filling, it was a straightforward creamy chicken and mushroom filling. The assembly sounds more tedious than it actually is.


 
I did question, more than once, the wisdom behind attempting two kinds of pastry dough. But, it all gets justified when these pies come out hot from the oven and you cut through all those buttery, flaky, crackly layers of the puff pastry. All that beautiful, buttery crust is then contrasted with that creamy, herby filling. These individual pies pack in quite a bit and with a cup of soup and a side salad, I'd say one pie is enough for one person.

While a bit of unseasonal rain might have inspired these pies, they would make perfect picnic grub. And with the tropical Winter finally making its appearance, time to pack the Picnic baskets...or so I wish!! 
 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Florentines

Well, hello December!! I am not sure how you got here so fast but you've arrived with all your trappings! My inbox is filled with Christmas and holiday recipes. My Facebook page is filled with impending travel plans. Every second day is an auspicious day for weddings as per Indian almanac and with it the never ending stream of ceremonies, parties and traffic jams. The migratory flock of NRIs (non-resident Indians) have returned to teach us a thing or two on how to exploit an advantageous exchange rate. Yes, it looks to be a typical December!!


And December is also the month when food blogs throw up some of their finest food posts, keeping the holiday mood in mind. You will also see a surge in cookie recipes as families get ready for the impending family reunions.
 
And that's how I got the idea to make these florentines. Most florentines that you would have come across are these thin cookies that have nuts and dried fruits, bound together by sugar and butter. But, the recipe I have gone with, is a mini version from my all-time favourite 'Popina Book of Baking'. The recipe bakes them in a mini muffin tin that results in these adorable bite-sized confections.


This recipe by Isidora Popovic, the lady behind the Popina bakery, is a very simple one. The florentines are chewy, surprisingly not too sweet and with each bite you will taste one of the different components. Dipping one side with chocolate helps complete them. And yes, I will acknowledge that I could have been less clumsy with the dipping.


If there ever is a month of late nights, it has to be December. And what better accompaniment to all those late night coffees than these florentines!!!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Herb And Cheese Pull-Apart Bread / Roasted Tomato And Carrot Soup

I am not a big fan of soups and yet this past month, a mug of vegetable soup has been the provider of my daily dose of nutrition. Ideally, nothing beats a bowl of steaming chicken soup when you are sick but I wasn't feeling up to having anything do with meat. So, vegetable soup it's been. Tomato, carrot, spinach, pumpkin, cabbage, cauliflower and any other veggies than you can think of putting in a soup, we've had it in some permutation and combination!!


Since I've been feeling better this week, I've been enthused to hunt around for a good bread recipe to go with soup. At first, I thought of a baguette but then while googling around, I came across a few pull-apart breads and the decision was made.
 
Pull-apart breads are all about the visual. They look like a sequence of bread slices that have been stitched together into a loaf. Essentially made from a regular bread dough that is rolled out, sprinkled all over with a filling of your choice and then the dough is cut into strips and then again into squares to get the requisite look. It might sound complex but if you follow the pictorial step-by-step link that I have provided ... it's all quite simple!
 
 
For this dough, I went with a cheese, garlic and herb filling as these are flavours that would go with most soups. Although for this post, I played it safe with a roasted tomato and carrot soup. There is nothing much with the soup. It just involves roasting all the veggies and then blitzing it all up and you are done.
 
 
I am not sure on how to describe the final flavours of the soup, other than to say that roasting the veggies evokes the flavours of the Mediterranean. The natural sweetness of the carrots are the perfect foil for the sour tomatoes. Once roasted, there is not much to add to the soup except for the seasoning.And this bread is the perfect accompaniment to it.
 
Like I said earlier, a pull-apart bread is all about the visual. The golden crust speckled with herbs and cheese is impressive. The best part of this bread is the contrast between the golden-brown hard crust on the outside and that pillowy soft inside that tastes of garlic, cheese and the herbs. Straight out of the oven with all those heady aromas wafting about, I think you'll find the bread simply irresistible!
 
 
The seasons have changed and while much of India is yet to experience it, keep this bread in mind for the Winter ahead. Hope you're having a lovely weekend!!

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