Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Saffron And Anise Poached Apricots With Cardamom Scented Yoghurt

As I mulled over on how to finish off the last few fresh apricots in the bowl, I headed over to social media for a spot of inspiration. And the timeline was filled with stories on Ramazan and a lot of them had to do with food. They were bloggers sharing ideas for 'iftar' dinners at home and articles by food lovers on the cities' most revered and popular eating joints, each an institution in their own right. Photo features on the tiny lanes of the traditional Muslim neighbourhoods, all lit up and buzzing with food stalls, crammed against each other, that come up every evening of Ramazan to  cater to the faithful, after a long day of fasting.
This is rich, decadent food in all its glory, that pulls no punches. And amidst all that food, mostly meat dishes, there is of course, always a mention of something sweet. Most of it were familiar sweets like phirni, malpuas, jalebis, sheer khurma, falooda but there were a few unfamiliar ones, like sandaal and 'khubani ka meetha'.

'Khubani ka meetha' caught my eye because 'khubani' is the Persian word for apricots. Popular in Hyderabad, it is a dessert made with dried apricots that are cooked with a sugar syrup to make a sort of a compote that is served with cream. However, the photographs are not too kind to it. The compote looks like some sort of brown sludge which I'll admit does not look very appetising.
But, I liked the idea of cooking apricots in a sugar syrup. Only instead of the dried ones, I used the fresh apricots that I had. And instead of cooking them into a compote, I decided to maintain their integrity by gently poaching them with some saffron and star anise.

Star anise because I like the way the spice flavours fruits and saffron because it imbues everything with that beautiful colour. I paired the apricots with some lightly sweetened and cardamom scented yoghurt. But, feel free to use whipped cream or even, some vanilla ice-cream if that is more to your liking.
Poaching fruit is a beautiful way to use up the fruit for a simple dessert. The cardamom in the yoghurt is very subtle because the star of the show are the apricots. That reduced saffron syrup just ties it all together beautifully with the help of those chopped pistachios on top.

It is fruity, lightly scented and delicately flavoured and does the job beautifully for a dessert on a week night. Try it before the apricots simply vanish from the market!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Cherry Clafoutis

I don't think the romance of the first rains of the season will ever fade for me. I simply let my senses take it all in. I see the rain wash away the grime and dust of the Summer months, I hear the sound of the rain drown out everything and then there's that scent of wet earth which is just pure magic. I don't think there is a person out there who is immune to the charm of that fragrance. They say you can buy the fragrance, bottled and sold in the markets of Old Delhi and Mohammed Ali Road in Bombay but it won't have half the magic as when you smell it with the first rains!
The rains, not only signal my willingness to enter the kitchen again but it also heralds the season of stone fruits. You will see the first cherries come during the last days of Summer but somehow, I am in no mood to enjoy them as long as temperatures stay on the wrong side of 40 deg C. Summer is after all, for mangoes and the monsoons for stone fruits, for which I have a soft spot.
Ever since I started writing this blog, I have wanted to make a cherry clafoutis but I have always put it off under the excuse that I don't have a cherry pitter. You would think that at some point, I would be convinced to buy one but procrastination, I'll have to say, is my Achilles' Heel!
So, a cherry clafoutis had to wait till Sunday evening, thanks to a cherry pitter that the sister bought for me. Last evening, I also made a beautiful goats' cheese and tomato tart but unfortunately by the time it got done, all trace of natural light was gone and I couldn't manage any photographs.
Clafoutis is a baked custard which sets rather firmly and that allows it to support a lot of fruit, in this case cherries. Searching around for a recipe, I got the impression that cherry clafoutis is a rustic French dessert with every home having its own recipe. I used Raymond Blanc's recipe that is his mother's and like a good son, he claims it's the best!
Apart from pitting the cherries, there is hardly any work that goes into a clafoutis. Note to self; you are not supposed to dust sugar on the custard as soon as it comes out of the oven. The sugar melts instantly and spoils the lovely golden hue on the custard as you can see from the photographs.
If you can overlook that misstep of mine, this is a wonderful, homey dessert, perfect to round off a hearty dinner at home. The cherries are macerated in some cherry liqueur. You won't taste it but I suspect, it saves the dessert from tasting too eggy. It is not too sweet, filled with fruit and the flavour of baked custard makes it a wonderfully familiar and comforting dessert on a rainy night. Most would tell you that you should have it warm, but I quite liked it cold too. You decide!
Before the deluge, I hoped you managed to take in some of the magic of the rains!!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Summer Fruit White Wine Sangria

".. ..the heat was so intense that Babur was surprised any living thing could stir. As the days passed, the flat, brown, dry landscape with its teeming people beneath a relentless sun began to oppress Babur. He felt leached of life and vitality. It was not much better at night when mosquitoes whined and his attendants could do little to cool his tent designed for colder climes. He found no refreshment in looking at the sluggish Jumna. Its fetid banks of cracked mud made him long for the swift rivers and bracing air of his homeland."

That is an excerpt from Alex Rutherford's 'Raiders From The North', chronicling the life and times of Babur, the first Emperor of the Mughal Empire. And that passage describes, Babur's first tryst with the Indian Summer. The man has my sympathies. I am Indian, born and bred, and till date I haven't figured out a way to bear the scorching cruelty of the Indian Summer. Coming as he did from the lush and fertile Fergana Valley, set in the cooler climes of Central Asia, little wonder that the Indian Summer was such a shock to his system. But then, such were the treasures and riches of India, that going back was never an option.

History tells us that to deal with crushing homesickness that engulfed him, he turned to one of his favourite fruits from his homeland, melons. The legend has it that every time he cut open a melon, he wept for his homeland. Clearly, the summer heat did a number on him!

So fond was he of the fruit that he taught his gardeners to grow them here. And so, much like Babur and his sons, the melons of Central Asia would find a home in India.

And good for us. For on a hot, listless Summer afternoon, the succour that a slice or two of chilled melon provides can never be expressed in words. It needs to be experienced. Some like it with a squirt of lemon on it, but I like it just as it is. Especially, these days when the heat wave just does not seem to end!

And I think I might have a found one more way of using melons. And it is in this beautiful sangria recipe that I came across. It is white wine that is flavoured with the flavours of Summer - melons, mangoes and mint. Think of it as Summer in a glass!

The success of this sangria lies in using ripe, fresh fruit. Longer the fruit is allowed to steep in the wine, more likely that the flavour of the fruits will shine through. And look at that beautiful colour! It is fresh, light, fruity with mild zesty tones that will perk up any Summer afternoon or night!

History also tells us of Babur's fondness for wine and I'd like to believe that this sangria that combines his love for both wine and melons would have gotten his royal seal of approval. As am pretty sure that it will get yours too!!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Orange And Dark Chocolate Buttermilk Scones

So, what do you do when Summer shows no signs of ending or abating and you find yourself wanting to bake?? If you've read this blog for a decent period of time, you will know that it is next to impossible to find me in the kitchen in the Summers and even less likely that I switch on the oven.
And yet, last weekend I wanted to bake. Am pretty sure it's the heat that's making me behave so out of character. So, on what would feel like the hottest Sunday of the year, I woke up little earlier than usual to bake for breakfast. I like to have the kitchen to myself when I bake and a weekend morning is a good time to get that. Ma did walk in to make herself a cup of tea, bewildered and bemused by all the action, wondering what had gotten into me. But, bake I did and these orange and dark chocolate buttermilk scones were the end result.

I wanted something that was quick, fuss-free, not too much prep time and something a little out of the ordinary for the weekend and these scones ticked all the boxes. Follow the recipe, there is hardly much to do and once you have all the ingredients in front of you, it shouldn't take you more than half an hour to have scones on the breakfast table.

The only issue I had with making them was that because of the heat, the cold butter softened up real quick and the scones were not as flaky as I would have liked them.

But, they top scored when it came to taste. The orange was zesty and bright, perfect for breakfast. And did I hear you ask why chocolate for breakfast. Well, why not, especially when straight out of the oven, the chocolate chunks are little pieces of molten heaven. But if it's too much and I can't see how, you can replace them with raisins.

Fresh out of the oven, we ate them just as they are, washed down with a cup of coffee. But, if you like, you can slather some jam. A berry jam would be good!

It's been a bit quiet around here. Except for this one time, I haven't really ventured into the kitchen this Summer, that seems to be getting hotter and longer with every passing year. I hope you've been  well.. xx.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Cardamom Crumb Cake

It is universal. That need for a 'pick-me-up' that strikes every day, around late afternoon-early evening. The English have made a ceremony around afternoon tea.  And they say for the Swedes, the concept of 'fika' is a social institution. It means taking a break from work, most often coffee, with one's colleagues, friends or family. And I don't need to explain how sacred 'chai-time' is for most Indians. Although I do feel sometimes, we take more chai breaks than are necessary!
No matter where in the world you are, no matter what you are doing, it was always nice to take a few minutes off mid-afternoon for a cuppa. And you know what goes best with it.. cake, of course!! Not everyday though. Metabolism is not what it used to be. But yes, every once in a while you can't beat the charm of a good, homemade, no-frills cake! 

And that's exactly what I thought when I came across this neat recipe by Dorie Greenspan. What drew me initially to the recipe was the mention of cardamom. Cardamom is one of my favourite spices. We use it extensively in Indian cooking but I haven't used it that much in my baking.
On a closer look, this cake is also flavoured with orange and coffee. While I am partial to all three flavours, I did wonder if they would come together or would one of them, say cardamom, dominate and obscure the others.
Well, no worries on that count. Warm out of the oven, this incredibly moist cake does justice to all three flavours. You will be able to taste all three with none overpowering the others.
The winning component of this cake, is of course, the crumb on top. It not only gives the cake character but also helps accentuate all three flavours that are present, which complement each other beautifully.
Another interesting facet of this recipe is that you have to rub the orange zest into the sugar so as to infuse that vibrant, citrusy note into the sugar. And it is that citrus scent and flavour that lingers on in your mouth, long after you've had your piece of cake!

On a separate note, I used demerara sugar instead of regular white sugar, keeping my New year's decision in mind to use a healthier alternative for my everyday, home baking. but, feel free to use regular, white sugar.  

As you can see from the photographs, this cake is not much of a looker. But, it more than makes up in the taste department. This is a very flavourful cake that I can't see how you can not enjoy! And it will taste even better the next day!

Cakes like this one are the reason why I bake. Something to share with family and friends over a cup of tea!
Do you have a treasured tea-time ritual?? Tell me! Have a lovely week ahead!!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Mango And Banana Frozen Yoghurt

Oh dear dear, Summer's here! Normally I would have begun on my rant but that's so predictable that it's pointless. So, instead let's talk about things that I think will interest you.

Last week, Monica Bhide, food writer, storyteller and in the words of her book, 'culinary explorer, cultivator and teacher', asked on Facebook if anybody would like to read her soon to-be-released book, 'A Life of Spice'. Of course, I put up my hand and she very graciously sent me the Kindle link to her book. I started it on Saturday afternoon and read it pretty much uninterrupted till I finished it by Sunday afternoon.

The book is a collection of essays that Monica has written over the years. To say that it is about food or about Monica's love for food would be missing the point completely. Her stories are about how the memories we have and the memories we look to create are invariably and inextricably linked with food.

Of the family who will always remember their last meal as they leave their home forever, never to return. Of the adult who will always become a child when she returns to her parent's home, craving the dishes of her childhood. Of the experienced cook who will always remember all the disasters as a novice. Of the mother who feels her child is growing up too fast and holds on to those precious moments when they bond together over the kitchen counter. Of the immigrant who has adopted a new country but will never shake off the food and customs of the homeland. These and many more of Monica's stories bear testament to the fact as time passes and life moves on and change is inevitable, we are left with memories and more often than not, they have a connection with food. 

And while these stories are a peek into Monica's life, they are so evocative that they compel you to explore your own 'Memory's Kitchen'. Read the book and you will understand where I get the term from!

Monica confesses to a torrid romance with food and she proves it when she deftly brings it to life in her writing. "...coriander whimpers, cumin smolders, mustard sizzles, and cinnamon roars.." is just some of the magic she creates with her words!

And talking about food, I made some mango and banana frozen yoghurt. The weather is certainly calling for it. It takes just three ingredients and it's so fuss-free, I don't think you can even calling it cooking.

You can't fault the dessert but I would make two suggestions to make it better. We are right in the bang of mango season and I wonder if the banana was really necessary. Personally, I would stick solely with the mango.

And secondly, you know I don't like my desserts cloyingly sweet and yet I found this dessert lacking something. I won't recommend that you add sugar but rather you drizzle, a generous amount at that, of honey over the yoghurt. It instantly transforms it from the ordinary to the elegant. Perfect for lazy summer weekends!

Before I sign off, I'd like to draw your attention to a petition by Dastkar to protect the intellectual property rights of India's traditional handloom weavers from the powerful powerloom lobby. Please do take time to read this petition and sign up your support to protect India's rich textile legacy.

Over the weekend, a powerful earthquake hit Nepal and we've seen the devastating images all through the weekend. For those looking to donate/help/volunteer, this link might be of help. A prayer for the victims as they stand vulnerable and defenceless in the face of Nature's might!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Baileys Cheesecake / Homemade Irish Cream

While I like to flavour my food and desserts with a dash of alcohol, I am not much of a drinker. Despite that I tend to be partial to liqueurs.  I'm always ready to sample a new one. Maybe because I am intrigued by the flavours with which they are infused with. Whether they are infused with fruits, herbs, flowers, woods or spices, they all have a little story that speaks of the region they come from or I have a little story to go with it.
Like the first time I tried cherry liqueur was in Sikkim, in India's north-east corner. Having returned to civilization after a week of trekking in the mountains in the area, we were offered a glass of it as a welcome drink at the hotel we were staying. The luxury of the drink after a week of roughing it out was a memory that won't be forgotten easily! Or like the time, I had my first taste of ouzo, the Greek aniseed liqueur, in University, thanks to a bottle that a Greek flatmate had lugged all the way from home. And how he diluted it with water because he didn't trust that we would be able to handle its high alcohol content!
And then there's Baileys, for which I will always have a soft spot. I was allowed a taste of it, I think, while I was still in school and that taste of sweet cream tinged with alcohol has remained a favourite. 

I had in an earlier post talked of making my own vodka based fruit liqueurs. It's all very simple except that they all have a resting period of a few weeks to let the flavours infuse. Turns out, its even simpler to make your own homemade Baileys. And there's no resting time. Just whisk everything in a bowl and a bottle of Irish cream is at your command!!
My sister and I had made it a few years back and I thought I revisit making it over the long weekend. Try it for yourself and you won't get over how ridiculously easy it is. The recipe is from 'Farmette', Imen's charming blog as she chronicles her life on an Irish farm.
Because, it is a cream based liqueur, you are advised to finish it off in 2 weeks. So, either you give the gang of friends an invite to finish off the bottle or you hunt around the Internet for a recipe that will do the same. I zeroed in on a Baileys cheesecake.

I have gone with a no-bake cheesecake because I already have a recipe for a baked cheesecake that is gold. And baking it, would have taken away all taste of the Baileys as most of the alcohol would evaporate during baking. I also experimented with agar agar powder instead of gelatine and the results were extremely favourable.
I baked my base only because I couldn't find any digestive biscuits at home to make a no-bake biscuit base. But, you can always make a biscuit base. It will be easier and less fussy. Despite using a substantial amount of Irish cream, the taste of it is subtle in the finished product. The thin layer of coffee jelly not only helps with the presentation but helps to cut through all the creaminess that could get a bit too heavy, if left all by itself. 

This would be perfect as a grown-ups dessert for a weekend dinner. I think you'll enjoy it as much as we did.
And what about you .. have you tasted any interesting liqueurs that come with an even more interesting story?? I'd love to hear about it. Hope you enjoyed the long weekend!!
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