Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Affogato With Pistachio, Orange and Vanilla Cantuccini : 'TWD : Baking With Julia'

I'll admit.. I have a weakness for exotic sounding recipes, or should I paraphrase that as recipes that sound exotic to my Indian sensibilities. The more unusual sounding the recipe name, the more likely it is that I'll have a go at it. From rugelach to Finnish Pulla to cucidati, the book, 'Baking with Julia' has a fair share of them. One of the reasons, I guess that I keep coming back to the group despite my long absences. 
 
So, this Tuesday, I am having a go at the exotic sounding cantuccini! But, turns out that I have already made something similar. Cantuccini are Italian biscotti by another name. If anyone knows why the different names, do let me know. I suspect it has something to do with regional variations.
 
 
A while back, from the same book, I had made some dark chocolate and roasted almond biscotti. Crunchy, dry, crackly and not too sweet, I have been a fan of these Italian cookies ever since and not much convincing was needed to make them again.
 
While this recipe calls for almonds, having already used them earlier, I turned to the Middle East for inspiration. I went with the classic combination of pistachios and orange zest to flavour these cookies.
 
 
Because there is no butter or fat used in these cookies, they bake, as the recipe states, into 'a formidable state of crunchiness'. This makes them perfect for some dipping action. That's why their traditional accompaniment is vin santo but a cup of espresso or tea would do too.
 
But, since we are in the mood for something new today, I decided to serve them with affogato. Affogato is one of the simplest desserts ever created. In Italian, affogato means drowned. So, you take a scoop or two of vanilla ice-cream and drown it in a shot of hot espresso. And, me being me, I added a shot of coffee liqueur for good measure.
 
 
Where do I start? The cantuccini were superlative with a winning flavour profile. The orange zest was refreshing and the pistachios provided a much welcome nutty texture and flavour. The affogato, for all its simplicity, is one remarkable dessert. The hot espresso melts into the vanilla ice cream and then with a dash of the coffee liqueur, you are looking at a one-shot coffee ice-cream without all the work that goes into it.
 
Mix these two Italian components, the cantuccini and the affogato, and its a delightful marriage of flavours. The orange complements the coffee and the dry, crackly texture is perfect for dipping into the melted ice-cream.
 

Next time you call your friends over, ditch the coffee and serve them affogato with some cantuccini instead. Although, I must warn you that you mix gossip and cantuccini at your own peril. You won't notice how many you've had as you make your way through that bowl of ice-cream and the latest round of 'who would've thought..' gossip. Trust me.. I speak from experience!
 


Friday, 18 July 2014

Indian Style Lamb Burgers With Herbed Yoghurt

Increasingly I have come to believe that for most people, food is about the familiar. Once in a while, we lean on our adventurous side and try out a new cuisine and flavours or get dazzled by the showmanship of molecular gastronomy. But, we come back to flavours that we are familiar with. It is comforting and unpretentious when one is faced with flavours one is familiar with.
 
Like the flavours in these lamb burgers!
 
 
I came across these burgers in Anjum Anand's 'Indian Food Made Easy'. She takes a regular lamb burger and spices it up with Indian flavours. So, you have ginger, garlic, coriander, green chillies, cumin powder and garam masala. And instead of a mayonnaise that would seem off key with the Indian flavours, we have a herbed yoghurt.


And the final flavour profile won't just appeal to the Indian palate but to anyone who enjoys the effortless ease with which spices can make food sing. This is not about spices that are overpowering and drench your senses with heat. This is about spices that subtly enhance the complexity of flavours while keeping it simple at the same time.
 
 
Yoghurt is a soothing complement to Indian spices. And the herbed yoghurt is perfect with these lamb burgers. The mint is a refreshing addition that helps cool the palate and counter any lingering heat from the chillies.
 


This is a beautiful rendition of a burger with Indian spices that comes highly recommended. Hope you have a lovely weekend!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Black Forest Gâteau

Some classics should never be touched. There is a reason why they are known as classics and messing with them is a never a good idea. But, there are a few retro classics whose time has passed and they could do with a makeover. For me, the one retro classic that I never took to, is Black Forest Cake.



Through much of my childhood, the choice for a birthday cake was either a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting or a black forest cake. For me, the black forest cake was never an option. There was just nothing appealing about layers of chocolate cake dunked in sugar syrup with a tinned cherry and cream filling and then slathered all over with an overly sweet buttercream frosting with a few measly chocolate shavings on top. Oh, and let's not forget those cream rosettes on top with the mandatory bright red canned cherry on each rosette. No, there was no way I could ever be convinced about a black forest cake!
 
And then, I saw the Hairy Bikers travel across Germany and make a black forest cake that looked like nothing like the black forest cake of my childhood. And that set me off on a Google hunt for a modern makeover to this 70s retro classic.
 
 
I decided to put to use the fresh cherries that are now in season and the bottle of cherry liqueur from last year. For the cherry filling, I used a combination of fresh, pitted cherries, cherry liqueur and organic cherry conserve. The layers were a regular chocolate sponge but instead of soaking them with a simple sugar syrup, I used cherry liqueur.
 
Am not a fan of whipped cream so that was kept to a minimum but you can be more generous if its to your taste. And there is no way, I was going to cover the whole cake with a cream frosting. Instead, I only covered the top with a chocolate fudge frosting. I left the sides unadorned so that one could see the layers!!
 
 
And what a difference a few tweaks can make! The first thought that will come to you is how 'fresh' this black forest cake tastes compared to its previous avatars. The cherry filling is sweet with a slight tartness that is rounded off with the cherry liqueur that is not overpowering in the least. Instead, the liqueur provides a certain finesse to the flavour profile. The sponge cakes cannot be faulted and that chocolate fudge frosting is much more suited to this modern makeover.
 
It got an all round thumbs up, across the age groups, from 10 to 60. This cake is best had on the day you make it. The freshness of it is what makes it so light on the palate and once cut, I doubt there's be any left overs.. we didn't have any!
 
 
So, today is the Finals and let this cake be a clue to which team I'll be supporting. The man who wears the No.10 jersey for Argentina is a very compelling player but football is a team sport and for me, Germany is the better team!! Hope you had a beautiful weekend!
 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Pakoras - Vegetable Fritters

Petrichor, yes, that's the word! That's the word to describe that beautiful, heady, scent of the first rain, when the rain drops hit the parched, dry earth. It is the scent we wait for all Summer. It is the scent of relief. It is the scent of rejuvenation. For me, it is the scent that encapsulates the magic of the Monsoons!
 
There will be time later to complain about the leaky roofs, the clogged drains, the broken roads, the flooded lanes, the smelly clothes and the smellier people. But, not now. Now is about the romance of the first rains!
 

And what do we Indians love to have during the rains?? Pakoras and steaming chai, of course!! Make them at home or have them at a dhaba, they are inextricably linked with the rains.
 
For this batch, I have used onions but the ingenious Indian home cook uses a variety of vegetables. Think spinach, corn, potatoes, cauliflower or even brinjal. There's something about these deep fried, spicy pakoras when eaten and then washed down with a cup of steaming chai or a glass of chilled beer, that awakens the senses and simply, heightens the magic!
 
What about you.. do you love the rains?? or hate 'em?
 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Fig, Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate No-Churn Ice-Cream

Anybody know what happened to the rains?? And no, I am not talking about the insipid sprinkles that we saw sometime in the beginning of the month. I am talking about the all-encompassing, intemperate, unbridled, imprudent monsoons that should have come by now! I hate to sound like the English and talk about the weather but the thought of the impending monsoons was the only thing that got me through the miserable, soul sucking Summer. So, again, anybody know what happened to the rains??
 


Anyhow, between the late night football matches and the incessant complaining about the heat, I found myself a gem of a chocolate ice-cream recipe to get me through the days. You know those no-churn ice creams which I have tried with fresh fruit pulp.. well.. this time I added dark chocolate. And for added measure, some hazelnuts and figs dunked in coffee liqueur!!
 
And whoa.. I think I hit the jackpot! This was the darkest, creamiest, luscious, rich, intensely chocolaty chocolate ice-cream made without an ice-cream maker!  Imagine melding chocolate ice-cream with chocolate truffle with chocolate mousse, this ice-cream is that end product. The hazelnuts and boozy figs are a brilliant addition to this chocolate ecstasy blowout! Both pair brilliantly with the chocolate. The hazelnuts provide some textural crunch and the boozy figs.. well.. need no justification!
 
 
This is a soft serve ice-cream. Being quite rich and intense in flavour means a small scoop goes a long way. A tiny drizzle of the coffee liqueur on top ... happy days!!!
 
But, I'm still asking...anybody know what happened to the rains??


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Cherry Friands

The advantage a local, family-owned small shop has over the supermarkets is the  personal relationship it builds with its customers. They know exactly what you want, how you want it and won't waste your time introducing products they know you couldn't be bothered with.

Like the guy at the fruit shop. I am just one of the many who frequents his shop but he knows I am only interested in the fruit of the season. So no persuading me about mangoes in February and watermelons in October. He's also figured out that I am particular about where my fruit originates from. He does not know why but he knows better than to sell me Washington State apples and South African pears. All he knows is that the fruit I buy has to be 'desi'. And if you are wondering why, its because I am firm believer in eating local produce. The more miles your fruit travels, the less beneficial it is for you with all those chemicals pumped into it!


So, its strawberries from Mahabaleshwar, lychees from Dehradun, mangoes from Ratnagiri and these plump, red, juicy cherries from Himachal Pradesh. A whole box full of them were whipped out and as my eyes lit up, ever the salesman, he said, 'these are the best cherries that have come into the market in the past 5 years!!' I needed no convincing and every day, I have enjoyed a bowl full of them, all by themselves, with no frills.

But, I couldn't let the season go by and not do a post with them. I first thought of a cherry clafoutis but yours truly, has STILL not bought a cherry pitter. So, instead I turned my attention to these friands, a very popular recipe from the book, 'What Katie Ate'. I know the uber talented Katie Quinn Davies and her fabulous blog, after which her book is named, need no introduction. But, if you are one of those rare people who haven't yet seen her work, head over to her fantastic blog. Words don't do it justice! Katie makes them with raspberries and I thought they would adapt perfectly to the cherries in question.


Friands are little French cakes, made from egg whites and almond meal. I could have called them frangipane muffins but it is so much more dainty and pretty to call them friands instead. Traditionally, they are baked in a special friand tin which is essentially a muffin pan where the moulds are oval rather than round. Needless to say, I made do with a simple, muffin pan!!

Once your mise-en-place is done, the batter gets done in a matter of minutes. Then, all you have to do is pour the batter into the moulds, sprinkle the cherries and bake. And you will be rewarded on the other side with these beautiful, light, golden brown cakes, perfect for tea time.

The almond meal makes them special although the opinion was divided on their sweetness. I found them a tad too sweet but the rest had no problem with the level of sugar. That's why for me the cherries made all the difference. Their freshness that had a slight edge of tartness was the perfect foil for all the sugar action. And the portion size is just enough for one person!!


These friands are a charming tea time treat that can be rustled up in no time. Try them and tell me what you think of them.  I think you'll like them!! And anybody else want to tell me why the rains are being such a tease??

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Greek Salad With A Visit To An Organic Cheese Making Farmstay in Coonoor

Towards the end of May, my family and I managed to get away to the mountains down South, Coonoor and Ooty specifically, for a few days. Ma wanted to go back to her boarding school, fifty years after she passed out from there. The brother-in-law had to attend his 25th School Reunion and my sister, nephew and I were just glad  for an opportunity to escape from the heat. Now, if you've visited any of India's popular hill spots, you know that tourist season is never kind to them. The crowds, traffic, and chaos are enough to make you question the whole point of your trip. Or, you can be like us and choose a farmstay that lets you enjoy the charm of the mountains as it should be.

Across India, farms and homes are opening their doors to travellers who are looking beyond the impersonal, standardised hotel accommodation for something a little more informal and with character. For our part, we zeroed in on an organic cheese making farmstay in Coonoor, Acres Wild.


I love the mountains, I really do! It all starts when you leave the heat and dust of the plains behind and drive up the long, winding mountain roads. As you go higher, the temperatures drop, roll down the windows, feel the breeze in your face  and breathe in the crisp, mountain air, barring the occasional blast of diesel fumes from the buses on the way. And in this case, as you approach your destination, the air gets infused with a faint whiff of eucalyptus.

A little travellers tip, do make a midway stop at Burliar and have your fill of exotic fruits, more likely to be seen in South-east Asia,  like mangosteen, rambutans, green peaches, passion fruits and plums that are grown locally in the forests around. Taste the fruits as nature intended them to be and not the insipid, exorbitant variants that you get in Khan Market!



Secluded, at the edge of the property, overlooking the valley and surrounded by the mountains, our cottage was all that we were looking for our stay. There is a steep climb to the dining hall that might find favour with you or not, but will ensure that post-holiday weight gain is not an issue. It is a place where you hear the birds in the morning and you can count the stars at night. Of course, the occasional bus horn and blaring loudspeaker from Coonoor town will remind you that civilisation is never too far away!

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