Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A piece of cake - Victoria sponge with orange zest.



As many of you who've been following my blog know.. I've been known to run away from eggs. Run, literally scamper out of the way. Just as an individual with a Parietal cortex stroke, my brain effortlessly used to come up with the most ridiculous of excuses to avoid buying them when my son asked me. It finally hit my head that it wasn't fair to my son that I should deprive him of a food he was curious to try, and I began to gradually bake cakes. Yes, I still clear out the counter around the 'future' cracked eggshells like a bomb disposal squad clears out curious onlookers and for once, I'm extremely prompt in clearing up and washing the dishes that the eggs have been in contact with, just to ensure there is no trace of any 'eggy' odor. And for helping me get over my neurotic aversion, I have my Food52 friends, Cynthia, (the Solitary cook) & Mrs. Larkins, (a.k.a the Scone lady) to thank, they were instrumental in getting me out of this crazy loop.

My go to book for cake recipes is this magazine promotional book from Australia, published in 1985.  Yes, I used to bake way back then, with the same trepidation, but had mommy's hand to hold on to for support, so the  fear never became apparent. Getting such books in India in the 80's was a luxury and it was by sheer luck that my mother spotted this book at the local stationery store in Chembur, Mumbai. Each and every recipe I've tried from this book has been a straight forward success and I will post more recipe as I make them, with full credit to the source.


The only addition I've made to this recipe is the addition of orange zest,For the sandwich filling, I personally like warming up some marmalade and slathering it in between the layers, but chocolate ganache will work splendidly too.

Victoria sponge: (Recipe from Great Cakes, a magazine promotional book from Womans Day (Australia) & white wings brand Flour)



You need:
  2 cups (280 grams) Self raising Flour (I used the King Arthur brand)
2 sticks + 2 tablespoons (18 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1.5 heaped tablespoons finely minced orange zest.
Confectioners sugar for dusting.

For the filling:
1 cup warmed, melted orange marmalade
OR
1 cup chocolate ganache

  • Preheat oven to 375 F.

 
  • Cut out 2 nine inch circles of parchment paper. Grease the bottom & sides of 2 circular baking tins with butter. Carefully press down the parchment paper onto the base of the tins.
  • Measure out the flour and add the salt. Sift to combine.
  • In a stand mixer add the butter and Vanilla extract.Keeping the speed at the lowest setting, beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar gradually along with the orange zest, (increasing the speed slightly) and continue beating the mixture until it turns light and fluffy.


 
  • In the meantime, crack the 4 eggs into a bowl and whisk them. Add the mixture very slowly into the creamed mixture of butter and sugar. (adding the eggs quickly  causes the mixture to curdle). In case the mix does curdle, dont worry, simply add in a bit of the flour that you've measured out for the cake. Once the eggs are incorporated, gradually add in the flour and mix gently until all the flour (including the bits sitting on your paddle attachment) is well combined.

  
  • Divide the dough equally between the two baking tins and smooth over the surface using a large offset spatula.


  • Place in the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 30 - 35 minutes until the center of the cake feels 'springy' to the touch of your finger tips.
  • Remove the cakes onto a cooling rack. Once the cakes are completely cool, sandwich together using either the warmed marmalade or the chocolate ganache. Dust the top with confectioner's sugar as per your preference. Cut into wedges and serve with afternoon tea.

My kids & I decided to use the cakes from an earlier baking session to try our skills at decorating.. 




Bon appetit!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Garlicky Herbed Lentil & Carrot Pilaf:


I hate negativity, I'd much rather spend my time in the Lab doing what I love best, running my experiments, taking measurements,  analyzing & visually recording  the results. Or, in blogger-speak, create a recipe, clear my kitchen counters,  prepare the dish, take photographs & then tuck into my creation. I'd rather not have written up my last post, my response to Martha Stewart, but there was something so smug about her tone in the interview, non verbal, that my pre-frontal cortex just had to sit back and support my lower brain in lashing out. It was not easy, for every 2 sentences I put down, I had to erase one. It was a learning experience, one that made me determined to never let my self imposed guard down when it came to to the quality of the recipes I post and never be stingy on listing references & inspiration, however insignificant or indirect.

 Today's recipe was both an example of something hurriedly cobbled together into a one pot dish that had a healthy proportion of carbohydrates, protein & vegetables, as well as a dish inspired by someone else's recipe. The combination of herbs was the brainchild of Liz Larkin, a.k.a The scone lady. and it was for a recipe of Pan fried Fragrant Cauliflowers that I discovered on Food52.


The flavoring from this 'masala paste' left such an imprint that it begged to be tried again, despite the obvious lack of a resident cauliflower, in fact, the lack of any other convenient vegetable, except for a bag of bunny food,viz carrots. Combined with some lentils (I have 1/2 a dozen varieties sitting in my pantry, neatly labeled) & cooked Basmati, The two dishes, compared side by side, have no relation to each other, and yet, the root flavoring is the same.

Since I had hurriedly cobbled up the first batch and the family polished off every morsel of it, I went back & recreated the dish before the combination of spices & tastes slipped out my my brain & food memory. The results were identical the second time around as well. the combination of lentils & rice is reminiscent of the Middle Eastern dish Mujaddara, accompaniment of choice for Mujaddara is yogurt, and the same works perfectly for the 'carrotty' version as well.

Garlicky Herbed Lentil & Carrot Pilaf:

You need:
2 cups Basmati rice
4 cups boiling water
1/2 cup whole lentils (I used the green French Puy lentils)
2 large carrots, cut into sticks
2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 dried bay leaves,
 Salt to taste.

For the paste:
2 heaped tablespoons minced or chopped ginger.
2 serrano chiles, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnishing

Rinse the lentils in plenty of water. add to a saucepan along with 2 cups of water, bring to a boil and allow the lentils to cook until soft, retaining their shapes and not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Rinse the Basmati rice until the water runs clear. In a heavy bottom pan, add 2 tablespoons of ghee, and 'toast' the rice until the grains begin to turn opaque. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt along with 4 cups of boiling water. Stir to dislodge all the grains sticking to the bottom of the pan, cover and lower the heat to the lowest setting. allow the rice to cook until all the water is absorbed. Uncover, allow to cool slightly & fluff with a fork to separate the grains.


Combine the cilantro, serrano chile, garlic and ginger and blend to a paste.  I used a Mexican mortar & Pestle, the molcajete, just so that I could have some irregular texture in my blend. (plus there's something so relaxing in using manual tools, just builds a connection to your food.)


Slice the carrots into thick 'coins' at a diagonal angle. Then stack up 3-4 of these  coins and cut into little 'sticks.


Heat the remaining ghee and the oil in a large skillet once the oil/ghee mix gets hot, add the nigella and fennel seeds along with the bay leaves. (No particular reason for adding these spices, Mrs. Larkins recipe doesn't use ANY spices for the cauliflower. I just happen to love the nigella fennel combination). Add the cilantro/chile/ /ginger/garlic paste to the tempering and fry until the paste begins emitting a divine aroma. Add the carrots and saute until the carrot softens slightly (they should still retain a 'crunch') and then toss in the  cooked lentils.


Season with salt (remember the Basmati already is salted, so adjust accordingly), allow any remaining moisture to dry up.


Add the lentil mixture to the rice and fold in until the carrots and lentils are evenly dispersed. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and serve warm.



 with a side of yogurt, Raita or Tzaziki.



Bon appetit!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

'Martha Speaks' -- and my reply..



Dear Ms. Stewart,
     This is probably the 'n' th (where 'n' is a sufficiently large positive integer) response from the blogosphere to the condescending remarks you made in your interview. And in true blogger style each one of those that I've read so far is a signature of the author who composed it. Let me answer you in the language I know best.

Who are these bloggers? Well, Ms. Stewart, we are a large networked group of men & women who are extremely passionate about what we do. What's remarkable is that everyone of of us chose to do this of our volition, without any delusional assumptions of striking it rich, Monetary returns are simply bonuses, a validation that we must be doing something good. We reap ample rewards through encouraging feedback from our followers, who make it a point to let us know how much they enjoyed cooking & sharing our creations at their kitchen table with the family. I doubt whether you would ever know that on a personal level, you probably have (underpaid) interns taking care of your mail.

Are they editors at Vogue magazine? I'm surprised that you chose to indirectly drag in  likes of the inimitable Anna Wintour ,  editor-in-chief of Vogue (America) and her senior staff  into this discussion. Because in doing so, you inevitably draw attention to comparisons to yourself. Ms. Wintour is well known for her dignified reluctance to submit herself to interviews. Her actions speak louder than her words,  quite the opposite case w.r.t the context of your chatty interview. We bloggers may not be  and don't particularly care to be, editors at Vogue, just as you, Ms. Stewart,  are not, and will never be  'Anna Wintour'.

While on the topic of  recipes, Our reputation as trusted bloggers is built one tested recipe at a time. We neither have the luxury of  limitless access to the best of ingredients nor the best photographic equipment that money can buy. We are  usually a one man/woman operation, right from concept, visualization, creating, testing, analyzing the recipe, as well as prepare the final report with photographs and discussions/anecdotes to post on the blog. Martha Stewart Omnimedia (MSO) probably has departments dedicated to each of those, and I doubt whether you've even personally tried making even 1% of the recipes you publish. If my recipe doesn't taste or look right, it never sees the light of day, and don't forget, that's a chunk of my grocery budget that gets wasted. And yet, judging by the number of comments about dud recipes from the Martha Stewart machinery, ... lets do the comparative math, shall we?.

On a personal note, (and this includes many other bloggers with a similar background) I chose to become a blogger after training  to be a scientist. in other words, just traded a laboratory bench for a kitchen counter, I treat my recipes like a scientific SOP, documenting every step with the same level of importance as a plasma or DNA sample, and I take pride in discussing any inspirations from other recipe sources like journal references. (terms that you, Ms. Stewart,  probably never even heard of, despite your dubious association with Imclone)

 Yes, There are a few naive, uninformed or simply unscrupulous bloggers among us, pilfering recipes, photographs and sometimes entire blogs,  and not a day goes by when we aren't contemplating filing DCMA's or complaints on the social media against these bad eggs. In many cases these include 'reputed' magazines who've lifted recipes & photographs without due credit, Unlike MSO, we do not have legal budgets to spend on litigation.
When you make condescending remarks, painting all bloggers with a 'Martha Stewart Blue' colored brush, you blatantly insult the likes of  stars, such as David LeiteDonna Currie, Elise Bauer, Dara Michalski, creators of multiple fail proof recipes,  not to mention Ree Drummond, one of Food Networks upcoming stars, also a blogger. And don't even get me started on Food52, a blogger friendly crowd sourced start up success story from Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs.

Your interview with Bloomberg weekly displayed a snobbish arrogance, of an egotistical Pride. Even as I try  to think of the proverbial Horses instead of Zebras after hearing you, and see  the graph of your company's stock prices decay at the same rate as that of radioactive rhodium, my involuntary thought process goes back to that saying "Pride rides before..."

Regards,
 Nivedita Subramanian.

Coming up:  A recipe for Garlicky Herbed Lentil & Carrot Pilaf:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Recreating flavors (or at least trying) - White turnip stew with toasted Chana dal.


Kootu or vegetable stews are an integral part of South Indian cuisine. Just about any vegetable, be it a root, shoot or fruit, bud, blossom or bean, doesn't matter, chances are that a South Indian has already made a kootu out of it. The kootu is a low maintenance recipe, vegetable of choice, boiled with a pinch of turmeric, thickened with either a paste of coconut, chile & cumin or cooked & mushed up dal. A shot of sizzling tadka (with mustard, Urad dal, a single arbol chile, a pinch of asafetida and Curry leaves) and voila, a nutritious stew, all set to be served up with steaming hot plain rice.

Asafetida takes the place of onion & garlic in South Indian food, especially dishes from the Brahmin community. Yea, we were born to be a bunch of nerdy geeks whose grandmothers shuddered at the mere mention of those smelly bulbs that incited base, scandalous emotions. They usually added cinnamon & Fennel to the list as well. And God forbid, you were ever cheeky enough to mention that asafetida was in fact a byproduct from a variety of fennel,  you'd be thrown out of the kitchen, if not the house with a glowing piece of firewood or coconut fiber broom, whichever is nearby!

Dealing with Asafetida in its raw form is not for the faint of heart. To put it mildly, it stinks, until it meets a pool of sizzling hot oil. Then just as a fairy tale troll changing into a prince by the kiss of the sizzling oil, it blooms, blooms into a magnificent aroma of onions & garlic frying. Yep those South Indian 'maamies' (aunties) certainly knew how to get around food restrictions!

The preferred dal for kootu  is usually tuvar (pigeon peas) or mung, but this particular recipe calls for toasted split chana dal (the smaller version of the garbanzo bean/ kabuli chana). Toasting the dal brings out a nutty aroma that complements the assertive aroma of the fried curry leaves. The soft mellow turnips  balances these assertive flavors with their mild sweetness. I first tasted this dish at Chennais flagship South Indian restaurant 'Dakshin' at the Park Sheraton Hotel, and have been making it rather regularly ever since.

Turnip 'Kootu (Stew) with toasted Channa Dal

You need:
2 cups peeled and  cubed white turnips (~ 8 small turnips)
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
Salt to taste
1 cup split chana dal
2 green chiles, slit or cut into pieces

For the tempering:

2 tablespoons Oil
1 teaspoon Black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon Split Urad dal
1/4 teaspoon Asafetida powder
1 sprig curry leaves, torn
1 red arbol chile
 

Toast the chana dal until it turns a light golden brown color, Rinse in adequate quantities of water, combine with 2 cups of water  and 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric  and cook till soft in a pressure cooker (about 7-8 whistles for a traditional Indian cooker). Allow the cooker to cool, open the lid, and mash to a smooth paste using the back of a spoon or an immersion blender.


Add the turnips to  just enough water to submerge them, along with the remaining turmeric and chiles. Bring to a boil. Add salt, lower the heat and cook until the turnips are fork tender. Add the mashed dal, taste for salt and simmer until the flavors combine (~ 10 minutes on a low flame).
 In a cast iron pan heat the oil until it sizzles. Add the mustard, Urad dal and Arbol chile. Once the mustard sputters and the Urad dal turns golden, lower the heat and add the asafetida and torn curry leaves. Allow the leaves to curl and fry up lightly and then pour the entire contents of the cast iron pan into the stew. give it a good stir, cover and allow to cool slightly before serving  with steamed rice.



Bon appetit!



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

So long Summer! - A recipe for Peach 'Varatti' (Peach Jam - South Indian style)



 I never fail to get a bit down & out when Sept 21st (the autumnal equinox) rolls out annually. Days officially (and from the planetary perspective) become shorter than nights, Coats get yanked out, the frantic search for a matching pair of warm socks from the sock drawer and before you knowing the Daylight saving weekend is upon you. You may gain an hour that day, but it seems to be a terrible compensation for the fact that it gets dark at 6.00 p.m and even that gets progressively earlier until Dec 22.


I've spent the summer playing with peaches, in fact, two Bushel's worth. Smoothies, jams, salsa but the best of them went into making a preserve of a different kind - Varatti . You see, the inherent tropical weather in the Indian subcontinent, especially in Southern India, meant that fruits would spoil rapidly and canning was not a method of preservation employed in traditional cuisine. The preferred method was to cook the fruit down to evaporate the water content and preserve it with a liberal coating of ghee (which was added to the mashed fruit until it began oozing out of the thick pate). The most popular candidates for this kind of jamming were of course the native fruits, viz, Ripe mangoes and Jackfruit.

Given its ethereal aroma and the 'custardy' texture so reminiscent of mangoes, peaches were a perfect fruit for making traditional Indian style preserves. As with making jam in the traditional way, it is a labor of love and time, lots of it, but in the end, you're left with a lot of perfectly portioned jars to  savor and/or gift (as I did, I carted about half a dozen bottles to India share with friends and family)

Yep, there are other fruits being jammed & canned here in the pics, to be blogged about in later posts!

Peach Varatti: (Makes about  six 8.0 oz  and three 4.0 oz jars)

You need:

25 - 30 peaches (really ripe ones), enough for 20 cups of puree
1/2 - 3/4 cups ghee
3.5 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon powdered cardamom
1/2 cup fresh extract of ginger

To prepare the ginger extract, puree about 1/2 a cup of peeled & chopped ginger root with as little water as needed. Squeeze and strain out the liquid in a cup and allow to stand for about 15 minutes.


Wash the peaches, and peel the skin off. Cut off the flesh and discard the pits. Puree the fruit.



In a heavy bottom pan ( an enamel coated 5 quart chicken fryer works great), add 1/4 cup of melted ghee and add the puree.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to little above a simmer (medium low). Cover with a spatter guard and allow the puree to cook down  to about 1/5 of its original volume. You can  add the puree in batches, if you prefer, instead of the whole  quantity all at once. It takes up to 3 hours to reduce, keep stirring occasionally just to make sure that the bottom does not get burnt, especially as the mixture thickens down.

Once the puree has reduced, stir in the sugar, the remaining ghee and the cardamom. Gently decant the ginger extract, discarding  the white starchy residue at the bottom of the cup, and add it to the peaches. cook down on a low flame until the ghee begins oozing out of the jam (which, by now has turned into a deep brown color, for a lighter color, feel free to use white sugar instead) . Transfer into sterilized glass jars and can the bottles using the standard technique applied for other jams.



 Store in a dark cool corner of your pantry at room temperature. I made my first batch in July, using the yellow peaches, and another batch last week using the milder white fleshed variety, my personal choice for flavor would be the yellow ones.

The varatti is divine when paired with a sharp cheese to make grilled paninis.

Using rustic Tuscan Pane bread, spread the varatti over one slice, layer with some sharp cheese (I used cheddar), add some fresh cracked black pepper,
 


Lightly brush some melted butter on the outside of the bread, grill the sandwich until the cheese melts and begins oozing out and the grill lines sear into the slices


and serve hot with a side of plantain chips!




Bon appetit!











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