The past several weeks have led me to the, perhaps unsurprising, conclusion that in large part, being a student is not conducive to being creative in the kitchen. It’s not so much the lack of time (I like nothing more than a relaxing bake after a long day’s work…crazy, perhaps), it’s more the lack of a decent larder, of all those ingredients that just happen to be lying around in the cupboards at home – the vanilla extract, the chocolate chips, walnuts, the packs of butter that the fridge is never without, the random array of spices etc. Last night I got a little too excited when I returned to the flat and saw that there were four fairly brown bananas just sitting there in the fruitbowl, as, in my book, this means there is no other option but to make banana bread. I got up this morning relatively early (relative in student-terms of course), again a little too excited about a morning bake before uni, and started to get all the ingredients together on the counter. Last of all, I opened the fridge to reach for the eggs……NO EGGS. ARGH. There’s four sticks of celery, a cabbage, half a butternut squash, some brie but NO EGGS. Maybe this isn’t a reflection of being a penniless student with insufficient funds to stock her cupboards with wondrously delicious ingredients, but just indicative of me being a bit of a lazy bugger incapable of even stocking the staples? Needless to say, I did not venture out to get eggs. I’ll get them later.

Mild rant over. I went home last weekend and as per usual, i baked. Creature of habit. My friend suggested carrot cake – which was kind of apt, with its autumnal look to it. It has never been one of those things I’ve baked growing up – in addition to coffee cake, its the cake I’ve always associated with tea-rooms – quaint and quintessentially english – to be served with a hot cup of english breakfast on a cold and blustery sunday afternoon after a long country walk. It is one of my favourites though – the subtle sweet and cinnamony taste coupled with the incredibly more-ish cream-cheese icing. Yum yum yum. This recipe came straight out of the Hummingbird Bakery book – not a book that I rave about, I find its recipes overly-indulgent, I prefer a more simple approach to baking. But, having said that, this was delicious. A little too dense/rock-like (it would have doubled up as a great weapon), but I think that was due to me a) using small country farm eggs and b) not using any bicarbonate of soda….However, it was still DELICIOUS..

Recipe: 

Cake:

300g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs
300ml sunflower oil
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
300g carrots (grated)
100g shelled walnuts chopped

Cream cheese icing:

600g icing sugar, sifted
100g unsalted butter (at room temp)
250g cream cheese, cold

– Preheat the oven to 170ºC (325ºF)
– Mix together the sugar, eggs and oil until all combined
– Gradually add the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla extract.
– Stir in the walnuts and grated carrots until they are evenly distributed
– Pour the mixture into the two pre prepared tins and bake in the oven 170ºC for 20-25 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting Method:

– Beat the icing sugar and butter together
– Add the cream cheese and beat until completely incorporated.
– Put in the fridge/freezer for a little bit to cool/harden (makes it more spreadable and less runny….although as you can see from the photos, ours never really hardened up)

Assembling cake:

– Allow cakes to cool on cooling-rack
– When cool enough, spread half of icing over bottom half of cake
– Place second half ontop and spread remaining icing over the top of the cake.
– Sprinkle with whatever you fancy – cinnamon, walnuts…

EAT (although not too much – it’ll make you sick….)

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How have I only just discovered the hearty scrumptiousness of a plain and simple oven-baked sweet potato? I have fled the homestead (well, not fled, but left) and plunged myself into a life of poverty-stricken student-dom in London (slightly melodramatic perhaps) – which means surviving on a diet of tinned tuna, peas and butter, pita and houmous etc…WOE IS ME (i’m not going to mention the griddled lamb with roasted vegetables, pomegranate and goat’s cheese which I made for myself on friday…that will only serve to destroy the illusion). So yes, pity me and my limited larder contents.

I am, however, secretly very proud of the meal I conjured up last week (as per usual, the photo does not do the dish proud). On friday evening, accompanied by a hungover (and slightly moany/hungry) friend, I dashed around Sainsbury’s, grabbing various vegetables, BOGOF deals, bread, milk etc….making absolutely no attempt to formulate in my head how exactly all of the ingredients were going to come together to make actual meals. So on sunday night, still riding high after the success of my lamb/vege/goat’s cheese extravaganza, I opened the fridge and was faced with a random array of vegetables/dairy items (and one very useful pomegranate)…hmmm. I grabbed the sweet potato, mushrooms, lemon, garlic, coriander and red onion, bunged the sweet potato (skin-on) in the oven for a good 40 minutes (drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt), in the meantime cooking up the mushrooms, onions etc. Once the sweet potato was done, I whisked it out of the oven, cut a slit in its top, dropped in a couple of knobs of butter, piled on the mushroom mixture, and sprinkled with fresh goat’s cheese…VOILA.

So simple. So easy. And a perfect antidote to those impending cold autumnal nights.

Recipe (roughly-speaking) – Serves 1

1 sweet potato
5 closed cup white mushrooms
1/2 red onion
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Bunch of fresh coriander
Soft goats cheese (as much or as little as you wish)
Lots of pepper (and some salt to taste)

– Scrub the sweet potato and take off any eyes or rotten patches. Prick with a fork, rub/drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and place in the middle shelf of the oven (180 C) for 30-40 minutes.
– Finely chop the red onion, slice the mushrooms, crush garlic, chop the coriander.
– Add splash of olive oil to pan and add red onion and garlic. When slightly browned, add mushrooms.
– When cooked, add the lemon juice and chopped coriander to the pan and season with salt/pepper.
– Take sweet potato out of the oven (checking with a knife/skewer that it’s soft/cooked), slit open the top, drop in a knob of butter and dollop the mushroom mixture on top.
– Sprinkle on goats cheese and fresh coriander.
– EAT.

We went down to the PYO farm again last week, this time to pick blackcurrants and cherries. However, on arriving, we met this chap who was raving about tayberries (a cross between a black raspberry and a loganberry, which itself is a cross between a blackberry and a red raspberry….the world of berries is a seemingly confusing one, yes). He told us that they were a more flavoursome version of the raspberry, yielding deliciously tasty jam. Kitted out in a rugged sweater, ready for the wilds of the tayberry bushes, he most definitely seemed to know what he was talking about….how could we not pick some? So, after getting horribly lost amongst the apple trees, strawberry fields, cobnut orchard, loganberry bushes etc…we eventually found the tayberry patch and joined our fellow pickers in filling up our punnets. As it turned out, in addition to being avid jam-makers (and the owners of a giant, but very timid rescue greyhound), the man and his girlfriend just adore India, having recently spent two years in Varanasi, him writing a novel and her mastering the art of ayurvedic massage – the people one meets in the fruitpicking farms of East Sussex!

Finding a recipe for tayberry jam was tough as the fruit itself is quite hard to come by (it’s not sold in supermarkets or even farmshops for that matter), but after scouring the internet, I found one on a jam-making blog, Hitchhikingtoheaven. I suppose one could use the same recipe as for raspberry jam, as the fruit itself is much the same…but I wanted a tayberry-specific one. The recipe is simple, easy to follow and apparently contains less sugar, allowing the slightly tart flavour of the fruit to come through. It came out surprisingly well, not too sweet – I was rather chuffed with the finished product and unlike the strawberry jam, it set perfectly, perhaps even a little too much. Sadly, it only yielded three (and a very small fourth) bottles….meaning that we are going to be VERY selfish and keep these ones all for ourself! Greedy, yes.

Makes 4 to 5 jars (half pint) according to recipe

Ingredients

3 lbs tayberries
1 ¼ lbs sugar (2 ½ to 2 ¾ cups)
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preparation

– Before starting with the cooking, sterilize jam jars in the oven and place a plate and a teaspoon in the freezer for the wrinkle/setting test.
– Set aside approximately 1/3 of the berries.
– Combine the rest of the ingredients (remaining berries, sugar, and lemon juice) in your jam pan.
– Bring the mixture to boil.
– After the mixture thickens a bit, add the remaining berries – this is to give the jam a slightly lumpier finish (the original recipe says ‘after 10 minutes’, but my jam didn’t start to thicken until after at least 25 minutes…so I guess this is very dependent on how your jam goes)
– Boil the jam until it sets, skim off skum as it forms. In the original recipe, she states how her jam started to reach setting point after about 20 minutes, but mine was much much later than this. I found it very liquidy and spent much time boiling it, to thicken, probably getting to that point after about 45 minutes, at least.
To test your jam: remove the pan from the heat and perform the wrinkle test – place a blob of jam onto the cooled plate, return the plate to the freezer and after a couple of minutes, the jam should have formed a skin, causing it to wrinkle when pushed.
– If no wrinkles form, return to the heat and cook for a further 2 minutes or so.
– When it has passed the wrinkle test, take off the heat and skim the skum off the surface of the jam.
– Let it cool for 10-15 minutes.
– Stir gently to distribute lumps and pour into the sterilized jam jars. Place waxed paper discs on top of the jam surface and screw lid on tightly.
– Leave and allow to set overnight.

During the last year in India I decided I missed the “3 Fs” more than anything else – family, friends, and food – and upon arriving in New York City on June 28th, I had one thing on my mind.

I might have overdone it a bit.  Cheese and crackers, a burger, fries, and prosecco on the first night was a little much and needless to say I wasn’t feeling too well. But what doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger and I wasn’t about to let a little upset stomach stop me from reintroducing myself to NYC cuisine. Among my other favorite NYC activities, I spent the first few days catching up on some important episodes of The Real Housewives of New Jersey (omg Theresa is still insane) and watching the Food Network. My friends and I were planning a dinner party over the weekend and we were going to order from one of the best pizza places in NYC, Artichoke Pizza, until Ina Garten set me straight with her Roasted Salmon Nicoise Platter. Ina was cooking her amazing meal for a baby shower but I couldn’t think of a good reason why a group of 20-somethings couldn’t eat it before going out dancing on a Saturday night.

Thus, our dinner party plans changed slightly with the help of the Barefoot Contessa and the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which is where my friend and I headed on Saturday morning. The fresh, seasonal vegetables on display made us realize we had made the right choice and with all dinner party attendees being Seattleites, salmon would most definitely be a hit.

We used Ina’s recipe (Roasted Salmon Nicoise Platter) but also added a few other vegetables such as heirloom tomatoes and purple carrots. I accidentally forgot the olives at home and grabbed a bag of spinach from the fridge instead of arugula on our way to our friend’s place to make the dish, but it turned out spectacularly nonetheless.  I highly recommend this dish for your next baby shower or any other event you plan to host. Just make sure not to place the purple carrots on top of the boiled eggs.

** And don’t worry about our missed opportunity to have Artichoke Pizza for dinner. We grabbed a slice at 4am on our way home from dancing.

I have been doing obscene amounts of baking in recent days (including making scones at 8am last sunday morning, after returning from a relatively late saturday night out. Mad? Yes, perhaps), yet blogging so little. I have no excuse. Literally, none. I’m not working. I have bags of spare time. Organization/prioritization of my time is at an all time low…although I find this is always the way when you have very little on one’s plate. Let’s hope this changes before my Masters kicks into action…

Anyway – in recent weeks I have become moderately obsessed with strawberries. I just love how in these summer months, a punnet can always be found lurking somewhere in the fridge (put there by the strawberry fairy, yes), ready to be dipped into sugar, enjoyed with yoghurt for brekkie, turned into sorbet, smoothies, coulis, added to cake mixtures (the list goes on…); they have even recently found their way into green salads (not-so-well received by my mother though…)


Our main strawberry success (well, almost) has been our first ever batch of jam. My mum has been making marmalade for a while now – it even makes its way across the ocean to family/friends in Canada – but she has never ventured into strawberry jam territory. I, on the other hand, have only ever made lemon curd, which is wonderfully easy in comparison, but seems to spend the majority of its lifetime nestled in the shelf of the fridge, waiting to be plucked out of obscurity by the not-so-health conscious ones in our family. The jam, though, was a (mildly sloppy) success I’d say. We followed a foolproof recipe from an age-old copy of the Women’s Insitute Book of Jams and Preserves (which has subsequently gone missing – very upsetting!) – the only minor failing has been its runniness. It tastes wonderfully fresh, sweet and light, but does tend to slip off the spoon/knife onto the toast with a little too much ease. But who really cares about that?! (I’m going to blame it on strawberries’ low pectin content, although admittedly, it could have been improved with a little longer on the heat).


Makes about 5lb

Ingredients

1.5kg/3lb firm red strawberries, not too large preferably
Juice of 1 lemon
1.5kg/3lb granulated sugar

Preparation

– Hull the strawberries, throwing out any vaguely rotten ones.
– Place strawberries and lemon juice in a heavy-based saucepan and heat gently.
– Simmer very slowly for about half an hour (or until strawberries have lost their form).
– Whilst simmering strawberries, warm the sugar in a bowl in the oven/microwave (will help it to dissolve).
– Add the warmed sugar to the pan, stir until dissolved and turn the heat up until it reaches 105 C (setting point for jam), then perform the wrinkle test – place a blob of jam onto a cooled plate, return the plate to the fridge and after a couple of minutes, the jam should have formed a skin, causing it to wrinkle when pushed. (If you don’t have a thermometer, you can boil it for about 15 minutes and then do the wrinkle test).
– If no wrinkles form, return to the heat and cook for a further 2 minutes or so.
– When it has passed the wrinkle test, take off the heat and skim the skum off the surface of the jam.
– Let it cool for 10-15 minutes.
– Stir gently to distribute strawberry lumps and pour into warm, clean, dry and sterilized glass jars. Place waxed paper discs on top of the jam surface and screw lid on tightly.
– Leave and allow to set overnight.

(Be careful not to knock a freshly made/bottled jar of hot jam onto the clean white kitchen floor in the excitement of it all, as we did….!)

Sweet parathas

June 4, 2011

Whilst I was making Raju’s aloo parathas, I wondered whether the potato filling could be substituted for something sweet – we did it for the samosas, why not do it for parathas too? Rooting around in the kitchen cupboards and the fridge (both delightfully full…one of the joys of living at home), I managed to rustle together some dried apricots, raisins, pecans, pistachios, honey and ground cinnamon – choosing to take the Indian paratha down a sweet Moroccan-esque road. Blitzing the ingredients in a blender, I then followed the same ‘assembling the paratha’ step as with Raju’s recipe below – plonking a dollop of the sweet fruity/nutty paste into the centre of a flattened piece of dough and then wrapping the dough around it. The only difference was, that when I then went to roll the first one out, the dough split in a number of places, with the mixture oozing out. I think this was due to the fact that a) I had overfilled the balls and b) I mistakenly let the filled balls dry slightly before rolling them out, which meant that the dough had hardened and wasn’t so malleable. However, it just meant that I had to make the parathas smaller and deeper, as you can see from the photo.

They were good. Not great, but still yummy enough to want to eat (I had two…). I, however, am someone who has a weakness for all things sweet/dough-related…so I’m really not sure if I can be trusted to be entirely objective. My parents liked, but weren’t blown away by them – I think it is a recipe that has potential – with time and effort, it could be refined and perfected! (My mum said the filling would probably work perfectly with filo pastry instead of paratha dough, but then it would cease to be a sweet paratha…)

(I didn’t note down specific quantities of the ingredients, as this was very much trial-and-error)

Curried pumpkin soup

June 3, 2011

I feel like this soup deserves a lot of acclaim considering it cost me more than $300 to make. Technically you can make it for a mere fraction of that, but I had to fly from Chennai to Bangkok in order to locate the canned pumpkin called for in this recipe. And let me tell you, it was worth it.

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I’m obsessed with anything pumpkin. Each year I count down the days until Starbucks starts selling their pumpkin scones and I don’t even want to know how many I’ve consumed over the years. So once I found this recipe a few years back, which combines the greatness of pumpkin with a subtle hint of curry, I was hooked. It’s really easy to make and like most soups, tastes even better on the second day.

Makes 4 large bowls

Ingredients

2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tbs minced peeled fresh ginger (I used 1 Tbs of garlic ginger paste instead of preparing garlic and ginger separately)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
2 (15-oz) cans solid-pack pumpkin (about 3 1/2 cups; not pie filling)
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (12 fl oz)
1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)

Preparation

– Cook onions in butter in a heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
– Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
– Add cumin, coriander, and cardamom and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
– Stir in salt, red pepper flakes, pumpkin, water, broth, and coconut milk and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.
– Purée soup in batches with a blender until smooth.
– Season with salt and pepper.

Note: I usually blend this soup, but I don’t have a blender in India and it actually turned out quite nice without this step. Additionally, since I can’t cook meat, I used water as a substitute for the chicken broth and minimal flavor was sacrificed.

Despite living in India for a total of nine months, I have learnt shamefully little about cooking Indian dishes. Eating them, yes, but cooking them, absolutely not. This isn’t something I have avoided, it’s just I never seemed to get around to doing a course or finding someone who would be willing to give me the odd lesson. Such is the busy nature of Bombay life! However, during my brief one-week break in Bombay before returning home, the cook of a good friend of mine agreed to give me a paratha lesson (although I’m not sure how much say he had in the matter). It turned out to be not so much a hands-on lesson, rather me observing him make a batch – but he led me through each step, patiently waiting for me to take photos/jot down ingredients/measurements…I’m just hoping that some of Raju’s skill rubbed off on me! Now that I’m home, my family can be my guinea pigs….

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with what a paratha is, let alone an aloo paratha, it is a type of unleavened indian flatbread, fried and eaten in northern, western and central parts of India, typically for breakfast (this being news to me). ‘Aloo’ refers to the spiced mashed potato mixture which is stuffed inside).

Makes 6 aloo parathas

Ingredients:

Filling –

4 medium sized potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed and left to cool
1 clove garlic, crushed
Couple dashes of turmeric
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala (or curry powder)
1 tsp salt
Juice of 1/2 lime
Small bunch of fresh coriander

Dough –

1/4 kg wholewheat flour
1/4 cup water (might need more/less according to how dough binds)
Optional: splash of vegetable oil

Step 1 : Making the potato filling

 

 

– Add the the turmeric, cumin powder, garam masala, salt, lime juice and coriander to the cold mashed potato and mix.
– Fry the crushed garlic and when browned, add the potato mixture and cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes.
– Take off the heat and allow to cool
– When cooled, split mixture into six balls and set aside.

Step 2: Making the dough

– Make a well in the flour and add water a bit at a time, until it becomes a non-sticky, kneadable lump of dough
– Knead dough for a few minutes and then split into six balls.

Step 3: Assembling the parathas

 

 

 

 

 

– Place dough ball in hand and flatten a little
– Place potato ball on top and wrap dough around it ensuring that it is evenly covered all the way around
– Pinch the dough together at the top and seal
– NOTE: The potato mixture MUST have cooled completely, otherwise the parathas will not roll out effectively
– Sprinkle your surface with flour and roll out the ball (seam down) into a circle with a depth of around 3mm.
– It is now ready to be fried!

Step 4: Frying

 

 

 

 

 

– Ideally one would use a flat cast iron pan called a ‘tawa’, but a pancake pan (or really any pan) will do
– Preheat the pan and when hot, place the paratha on the pan
– Once it has browned slightly, flip over and fry the other side
– When golden brown on both sides, remove from the heat.
(Raju dry-fried the parathas, rubbing a little knob of butter on each one after removing it from the heat. This is largely to reduce the oil (and hence, fat) content of the parathas, as they can be oily (ghee-laden) things, but if you would rather fry with oil, then this can be done too)

Indian Tostadas

May 23, 2011

If someone were to ask what type of food is my favorite, I would immediately respond with “Mexican.” A very close second, however, would be Indian. So I got to thinking. Why not combine the two and make something wonderful? And that I did.

Using a variation of Rajma red kidney bean curry, I made the base for the vegetarian tostadas, which is full of spices easily acquired outside of India as well. I’m sure chicken would also be great in these, but I’m not allowed to cook meat at my house, so that took away the option. And instead of using the plain old (but also quite delicious) pico de gallo, I made mango salsa with ripe Alphonso mangoes – quite possibly the best thing about living in India. If it hadn’t been so hot this morning while I walked around the neighborhood gathering all my ingredients, I might have stopped at the store that sells avocados to make fresh guacamole as well, but I opted to just head home to my A/C.

After assembling the colorful, flavorful tostada, I didn’t really want to ruin it by eating it. Then I took one bite and the rest was history. I will definitely be making these again soon.

Serves two

Spiced red kidney beans (recipe below)
Mango salsa (recipe below)
2 Cups iceberg lettuce, coarsely chopped
1 roma tomato, diced
2 chapatis (I used the ready-made ones. You can also use whole wheat tortillas if these aren’t available.)

 

Spiced red kidney beans

2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 large green chili, chopped (optional)
1 medium tomato, diced
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground turmeric
Dash of cayenne
1 ½ Cups boiled red kidney beans or 15 oz. canned kidney beans
1 Cup water

– Heat oil in a deep saucepan over medium heat and add ginger, garlic, onion, and green chili and let sizzle for 1 minute.
– Add the diced tomato, salt, and spices and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
– Reduce heat and add kidney beans and water. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Mango salsa

½ Cups ripe mango, chopped (I used Alphonso mangoes)
¼ Cup red onion, finely chopped
¼ Cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
½ large green chili, chopped
¼ tsp salt
Dash of pepper
Juice from half a lime

– Place ingredients in a medium bowl and mix together. Keep in the refrigerator until tostadas are ready to assemble.

Assembling the tostada

– Heat chapatis or tortillas on a lightly oiled frying pan.
– Place chapati on a plate and layer with a generous scoop of kidney beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and mango salsa. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
– If you’re feeling even more adventurous, add a dollop of dahi (or sour cream) and some sliced avocados on top.

Anand’s masala chai

May 20, 2011

‘I could close my eyes and do this’ were Anand’s words as he, in the midst of his morning slumber, assembled the ingredients needed for his family’s masala chai.

Masala chai is enjoyed by millions of people around the world, yet how many of you could actually make a proper cup at home? In northern parts of India, in particular, it is a staple, sold by street vendors, offered to guests on entering a home and served at upscale hotels. It is not something to be gulped down in a hurry, but savored – we find the milky sweet and aromatic tea to be something of a comfort.

A common misconception is that a good masala chai can be found throughout India. However, upon moving to Tamil Nadu we were shocked to discover that this was not the case. Luckily, our friend Anand has been kind enough to make us the odd cup or two, and has also shared his family’s recipe to go along with it.


Makes one cup

Small chunk of ginger (change according to taste)
1-2 cardamon seeds (apparently there are 12 in a pod…)
1/2 cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1-2 cloves (change according to taste)
1 1/2 tsp of white sugar
1 heaped dessert spoon of black loose leaf tea (Anand suggests Lipton Yellow Label)
3/4 Cup water
1/4 Cup milk

– Grind spices in pestle and mortar and place in pan (if pestle and mortar not available, just place spices in whole)
– Add loose leaf tea and sugar
– Add water and heat on stove until it reaches boiling point
– Take off the heat, add milk
– Place back on the heat and simmer for a few minutes
– Turn off the heat and strain into the cup

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