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!!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Spiced Cappuccino Biscotti

It's been a while around here. I wish I had some funky, exciting reason for why I've been missing from this space but instead all I have to say is that I fell sick. It's been a while since I've fallen sick, so when I got hit, I got hit realll bad! Of course, with perfect timing, I fell sick a few days before Diwali and its been a slow and cautious recovery since then. And with that, my Diwali post for which I had grand plans were junked because forget going near the kitchen, I wasn't going near any food! And while this is a bit late in the day, I hope you had a beautiful Diwali with your family and friends!!
 
 
And like I said earlier, it's been a slow recovery out here. The food cravings have returned but I have been advised to take it easy. And then, just like that, this week, I have been feeling good enough to want to pre-heat the oven!!
 
Not wanting to risk the recovery by baking something that would be too heavy or rich, I decided to ease back into things by zeroing in on these biscotti. These are coffee biscotti that have been flavoured with cinnamon and cloves and then, for good measure, some chocolate chips. And what works in their favour is how easy it is to make them.
 
 
These biscotti do not really score on their looks but you can't fault them on their flavour. The dominant flavour is that of cloves which is a refreshing change to the usual cinnamon that I tend to lean towards. The coffee got a bit lost but then maybe I should have gone for a stronger brew. And those chocolate chips can only make everything better.
 
Since, there is no butter, these biscotti are crunchy which means they are perfect for dipping into those steaming cuppas that this season calls for.
 
 
I should hopefully be getting back into the groove with the blog over the next few days. In the meanwhile, how have you been?? Hope life's been treating you well!!
 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Khaman Dhokla - Steamed Savoury Cake

These days, every morning, the area outside the porch of my mother's home is carpeted by these delicate white flowers with orange stems. These fragile flowers belong to the Parijat (Harsingar) trees planted just outside the gate. They bloom as the sun sets, perfume the night air with their fragrance and then as dawn arrives, they fall to the ground. It is magical sight to wake up to. Carefully collected from the ground, they are offered to the Gods. They flower from September to November, just in time for India's festive season, from Ganesh Chaturthi to Navratri to Diwali.

 
And talking about Navratri, if there is one festival that Gujaratis wait for all year round, it has to be Navratri. As someone who traces half her roots back to Gujarat, I have been privy to the sheer madness that overtakes the community for the nine nights of Navratri. The rest of the country celebrates Navratri too, but the Gujaratis take it to new, and if I might admit, embarrassing heights. You may bemoan the crass commercialism that has crept in and overtaken the festival but you can't take away the excitement and euphoria that fills the air as they dance the night away.
 
So, I couldn't let Navratri go by and not pay homage to my Gujarati roots. If there is one dish the country associates with Gujarat, it is the dhokla. While the Gujarati and his dhokla has been the topic of many a joke, it is a dish very close to the Gujarati palate and rightly so! 
 
 
It is a steamed cake made from gram flour, flavoured with green chillies and ginger and topped with a tempering of mustard and sesame seeds. Like every other Gujarati dish, the heat in the dish is countered with a little bit of sugar. Extremely simple to make and made in under thirty minutes, this is a delightful tea-time snack.
 
You can taste the spice with a hint of a sugar and it does not overpower the palate. It is steamed and resultant lightness in texture is always a good thing. The tempering on top provides its own flavours and texture that complete the flavours of this dish. Paired with coriander chutney, you discover its charm for yourself!!
 
 
Navratri is the celebration of good over evil but, more importantly, it is nine days when we celebrate the power of our Goddesses. I said it last year and I'll say it again, it is one of India's cruel ironies that in a country that worships her Goddesses so fervently, women have to face their biggest challenges on a daily basis.
 
I invoke the words of the Mahatma who said, "To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman."
 
 
With those words, I wish you and yours a very happy Dussera. May we overcome all the evil that befalls our lives and emerge stronger and more prosperous!!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Pomegranate And Saffron Labneh

If you buy a pomegranate,
buy one whose ripeness
has caused it to be cleft open
with a seed-revealing smile.
 
Its laughter is a blessing,
for through its wide-open mouth
it shows its heart,
like a pearl in the jewel box of spirit.
 
A laughing pomegranate
brings the whole garden to life.
Whether you are stone or marble,
you will become a jewel
when you reach a human being of heart.
 
~ Excerpt from THE LAUGHTER OF POMEGRANATES by Rumi



As I told you last week, I was introduced to 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi in Elif Shafak's 'Forty Rules of Love'. Am still in the early pages of the book but I am already getting entranced by his words that keep playing in my mind.
 
So, when I saw a whole mound of pomegranates at the fruit stall and then these words by Rumi, this post had to be next!
 
 
Tis the season of pomegranates right now and it is on my list of fruits that are best eaten alone. I enjoy its many contrasts. It is sweet and tangy at the same time just as it is juicy and crunchy at the same time. And then there's it's colour, that beautiful, luscious, sensual red that stains and changes all it comes in contact with, much like the 'human being of heart' that Rumi writes about.
 
It deserves a dessert that celebrates its unique personality. I found this beautiful dessert that paired the pomegranate with labneh on a fantastic blog by an ex-chef from Sydney, 'He Needs Food'. Drop by for a visit for gorgeous recipes and even more gorgeous photography.
 
 
Labneh is a yoghurt cheese, popular in the Middle East and is essentially yoghurt drained of its whey. Here, it is flavoured with saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and orange zest and then layered with pomegranate arils and juice. The original recipe has orange blossom water which I unfortunately could not find anywhere out here. A pity because that would have accentuated the Middle eastern character of this dessert.
 
And what a beautiful dessert this is. It will remind Indians of 'shrikhand' and that is what it essentially is. The labneh is light and refreshing on the palate without being cloyingly sweet. You then have the pomegranate that provides a textural and visual contrast that is most welcome. I do wish I had the orange blossom water. It would have mellowed the citrus tone of this dessert which was quite assertive because of the orange zest used.
 
 
This dessert is perfect to cleanse and cool the palate after a meal that has been heavy on spices. It is perfect for the all-vegetarian diktat that is now in place at home because of Navratri. And most importantly, it is perfect for the weather we are experiencing right now where the monsoons have retreated but winter is still some time away!

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