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Jan 31, 2013

Typhoo Mar-tea-ni's & a Lesson!

Wine pairing, beer pairing, coffee pairing and now tea ...we are certainly getting adventurous! Not so much actually because my mom used tea bags to colour 'chhole' all the time and I have done a 'matcha' creme brulee in my kitchen too. This tea pairing event however was on a different level. With Chef Vicky Ratnani taking us through the processes and The Park as our hosts, we knew we'd learn something new today! The showcased tea's were by Ty-Phoo an in house brand for the Apeejay Surrendra Enterprise.

"Typhoo Tea Limited is an over 100-year-old iconic British brand with a rich heritage stretching back to 1903 when Birmingham grocer John Sumner developed and sold a blend of tea in his shop.

Over the years, Typhoo has developed from being the first brand to sell ready packaged tea, to being a leading tea business that now offers products in every sector of the tea market. Brands such as London Fruit & Herb - recognised across the world, Heath and Heather - offering a natural fruit and herb product to an audience growing in health awareness and Melrose’s and Glengettie, regional favourites in Scotland and Wales. On 31 October 2005 Apeejay Surrendra Group, one of India’s largest tea producers with 17 plantations across 50,000 acres in Assam, acquired Typhoo and its associated brands."

This was my first interaction with Chef Vicky Ratnani and I found him to be very affable and warm, these seem like prerequisites for celebrity chef's these days, gone are the times when one had no clue who cooked their meal at a hotel or restaurant. It was fun watching him do his new and pretty appetizing sounding 'Chai da Kukkad', however, I wasn't very taken by the flavours when we actually tasted it. There was nothing wrong with the dish as such, it could have been seasoned better and one teabag torn and steeped in some of the broth, strained and brought back into the dish would definitely add more depth to the dish. The other trouble is chicken breasts, is it really that hard to get them done right?

The meal for the day started with a very interesting CousCous and grilled vegetables ensemble served with an Earl Grey, which I loved. The main course with the Masala chai infused chicken which was passable, then came the Flourless chocolate cake with strawberries, which had it's own nuances that I found hard to appreciate but the pairing with a milk free Assam tea was just right! The beverages for the day were fruit infused, mild Mar-tea-ni's which I personally loved and will surely replicate at my next cocktail party. The afternoon was made interesting by Chef Ratnani's exuberant presence and general tea banter, thanks Ty-Phoo and Aqua at The Park!

From the tea samples Ty-Phoo shared with us, I enjoyed the Orange Spicer Fruit infusion, the Earl Grey and the English Breakfast Tea. Here's my recipe with the Cardamom Tea Pannacotta made with Ty-phoo's Cardamom Flavoured tea.

Ingredients: (serves 2)

1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 cup Milk
4 tbsp Water
1.5 tsp Gelatin
2 Ty-phoo Cardamom Flavoured teabags
2 tbsp Fine sugar
2 Cardamoms


Method:

Warm the water and dissolve the gelatin in a small bowl. Warm the milk, steep the tea bags in it for 5 minutes or so, you can use an extra tea bag if you want a deeper flavour. Bring to a boil, add the sugar and remove from the stove. Cool the mixture a bit, remove tea bags and use a whisk to blend in the dissolved gelatin, then the heavy cream. Check the sweetness, pour into 2 ramekins or 4 champagne flutes and refrigerate. I usually don't de-mould puds and desserts like these because I like to serve em in cutesy dishware. Gently pound open the cardamom pods and garnish the top of the pudding, serve cold!

Jan 24, 2013

A Royal Blue

The weather in my city had turned to a listless grey. It reminded me of gruel, how London would be and black and white pictures. A part of me finds this dreariness quite romantic so I was glad to be heading to an afternoon with my beloved blogger buddies and Vietnamese food. I have tasted Vietnam from Anthony Bourdain's perspective, he is so lyrical about the cuisine of this quaint, struggling, ex-French colony, that it makes you wonder how fish can be sweet from sea water and how herbs mimic the potency of spices, beautiful! With an introduction like that, a few dishes at Pan Asian restaurants and a few experiments at home, I was ready for a full on Vietnam experience at Blue Ginger, Taj Palace Hotel (New Delhi).


The Taj group has marveled Delhi for decades, three of which I have vivid memories of. Taj Palace in particular was quite the hangout when we were young adults. Coming back here always induces a sense of nostalgia and warmth. Blue Ginger is their Vietnamese Restaurant, beautifully done with dramatic waterfall chandelairs and a cozy private dining room, I was happy to be in a place where everything is opulent and well, heavy,  the chairs, the silverware....!

The menu was wonderful, mainly because I would love to try some of those things but never really travel far enough (not in the near future!) or conjure them in my kitchen! Having said that, have a look for yourself -

  
AMUSE BOUCHE
Curried rice cakes with scallion oil & Sriraja panich
STARTERS SAMPLER
Non Vegetarian
Cuu bam xúc sàlách
Stir fried minced lamb with fried onions and scallions served with lettuce
Goi Cuô´n Tôm Gà
Fresh summer rolls with shrimp & chicken
Goi Xòai
Raw mango salad

Vegetarian
Dâu Hu Sóc Muôí
Tofu rock salt
Goi Cuô´n Cha
                                                           Fresh summer rolls with vegetables
Goi Xòai
Raw mango salad

SOUP
Súp Gà Mang Tây
Chicken and asparagus soup
Súp Nâm Chay
Shiitake, ceps, homishimeji and enoki mushrooms soup

GRILLS
Tôm Nuong Muôi Biên
Peppered prawns with sea salt
Gà Nuong Ot lá Chanh
Grilled chicken with lime leaf and chilli

Dâu hu Nuong Kiêu HUÊ
Tofu in lemon grass and chilli marinade
Muop, Dâu Bap, Nâm Nuong Kiêu Hà Tiên
Grilled zucchini, okra and mushroom Ha tien

SORBET
Sweet tamarind sorbet

MAIN COURSE

Tôm Hùm Xàò Muôi Tiêu
Stir fried lobster with garlic, salt and pepper
Bap Cuu Nâu Dâu Haò
Lemon grass scented braised lamb shanks in caramel chilli oyster sauce
Gà Xàò Sa Ot
Stir fried chicken supreme with lemongrass garlic chilli sauce
 Cu Sen Dôn Rau Chiên Giòn Sôt Me
Crispy lotus root and vegetable delicacy served with tamarind sauce
Dâu xào bach qua
Hue style edamame and broad beans with ginko nuts
Càri Chay
Spicy vegetable red cari
 Xôi Chay Trong Thô
Sticky rice with vegetable topping in clay pot
Mi Xào Mêm Chay
Stir fried soft noodles with vegetables

 DESSERT

Bánh Flan Dac Biêt
Ginger coconut caramel custard
Socôla Boc Kem Voí Ruou Amaretto
Chocolate bombe with coffee mousse and amaretto chocolate sauce
Kem Huong Sa
                                                        Lemongrass Ice cream

How intriguing isn't it? For someone like me just the words are music to my ears so the food has to match up and match up it did! I discovered a whole new array of flavours, some I had imagined and some I had forgotten, Vietnamese is that kind of blended cuisine where you are bound to find something you love. And so many surprises, just like Anthony said. In this menu, the Amuse bouche stood out for its spectacular 'hot' zing, from the starters, the Stir fried minced lamb with fried onions and scallions served with lettuce was so pleasantly good that I plan to try it at home. I have tried many a Mango Salad in Pan Asian restaurants but this one was one of best, raw mango is a flavour from my childhood, if you do it well, you will strike a chord! I am not much of a soup person unless its going to be my meal but give me anything with Shiitake and I will love it. The prawns were unforgettable and surprisingly (coming from me), the same can be said of the Grilled okra, so familiar, yet so new. Unmatchable stars of the Main Course have to be - Bap Cuu Nâu Dâu Haò (Lemon grass scented braised lamb shanks in caramel chilli oyster sauce), this has to be eaten to be believed, I would go back just for this, hats off Chef's! The Cu Sen Dôn Rau Chiên Giòn Sôt Me (Crispy lotus root and vegetable delicacy served with tamarind sauce) is something all vegetarians need to try, it is such a richly flavoured dish that not once did we need to add a condiment or seasoning! And for me the biggest surprise, the Dâu xào bach qua (Hue style edamame and broad beans with ginko nuts), which I tasted separately since I was mainly keen on the meats, but this would be one place I could go veggie, seriously!A super special mention of the palate cleanser, the Tamarin Sorbet, never had anything like it before and I simply loved it ... damn it was like a whole different take on a 'kala khatta gola', if you ever had those!

Picture this - Crisp, chilled Chardonnay, still cold from the cosy afternoon and another glass, a warmer, more inviting glass, of a full bodied and heavy Cabernet Shiraz, while we chat and banter. Completely unaware of how wonderfully complimentary the dessert platter will be and then it comes, complete silence! From the three showstoppers - Bánh Flan Dac Biêt (Ginger coconut caramel custard, oh so French!!), the Socôla Boc Kem Voí Ruou Amaretto (Chocolate bombe with coffee mousse and amaretto chocolate sauce) and the Matcha infused, Kem Huong Sa (Lemongrass Ice cream, my favourite!), I was equally awed by all by I am a sucker for anything with lemongrass, so I came out a very satisfied soul!

I say, slow down, take an afternoon off and do something truly special. Life is all about ebb and flow, flow a little, enjoy the ride and do it with a belly full of Vietnamese at Blue Ginger, The Taj Palace Hotel. Thank you for the experience.

I enjoyed this afternoon with - 

Himanshu - The White Ramekins
Mukta - Bake a Mania
Sangeeta - Banaras Ka Khana
Charis - Culinary Storm

Jan 17, 2013

Chocolate Almond Cake Cookies

One of my favourite ice cream flavours since I was a kid has been anything with dark chocolate and roasted nuts, preferably almonds. My mom used to find it weird and always suggested fruity flavours like strawberry, mango or plain old vanilla but I would gravitate towards more complex ice cream compositions. Back then there was the Moet's ice cream parlour in GK and of course good 'ol Nirula's, they still do a pretty neat job of the Jamoca Almond Fudge and their vanilla is to die for, try it in the Nutty Buddy and you will know what I mean, creamy, buttery vanilla! So even today, though I am a huge fan of Bourbon and even Milano, I love chocolate cookies with nuts and I prefer them soft and gooey not crispy or crunchy. Which is why we love cake cookies, they are just the right combination of a hearty cake and a delicate cookie. We  of course make 'em monstrous so that each one is a darned dessert in itself, in fact if you warm one in the oven and top it with ice cream (coffee is my recommendation!), it is a bona fide and decadent dessert! Another favourite snack combo for me is salted almonds and bits of dark chocolate, which has influenced this recipe greatly. I have been making cake cookies ever since Ally was a baby and even today, when she wants 'not dippy' (Parle G are her favourite as dippy biscuits!) cookies, she asks for a cake cookie. I make chocolate chip, vanilla, peanut butter with real salted peanuts, rum 'n' raisin and even apple and walnut!

These particular ones are yum because they stay soft even after 3 days in a box. They are excellent by themselves but even better if you're sipping an unsweetened coffee with 'em! I carry them for a long drive and pick up a cappuccino on the way just to add to the experience.

Ingredients: 
 
80 gms cocoa
200 gms flour
200 gms brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg
150 ml milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
120 gms butter
1/2 cup roasted nuts, I used almonds, you can use walnuts if you like.

Sift the cocoa and flour together along with the baking soda. Use a hand mixer to blend together the butter, egg and milk, add the vanilla essence and then the flour mix in batches. Mix well, the consistency should be of a thick cake batter, sticky even, you will need two spoons to make dollop of this batter on to a baking sheet. Use a spatula to fold in the nuts, I always use lightly salted roasted nuts, love the sweet-salt-bitter from the cocoa balance. For peanuts you can use the Haldiram's salted peanuts. Pre-heat the oven on 220 C, line a baking tray with butter paper, use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to drop even sized dollops the size of say a Ferrero Rocher, about 2" apart and bake at 200 C for 6-8 minutes. These bake fast, it is hard to tell by the colour if they are done since they are dark brown anyway, better way is to see if they are well risen and cracking on top. They will be soft to the touch and till they cool they will be pretty delicate, so don't make them too big. Remove from butter paper while warm not hot. 

I topped these with a teaspoonful of chocolate ganache, the kind that sets and dropped a pretty little roasted almond right on top. Enjoy!

Jan 15, 2013

Rushed Pot Pies!

I got a food hamper for Christmas that had instant soup packets in it. We weren't going to drink 'em, tomato maybe if A was here but other than that they were just sitting pretty in the pantry. The mushroom one had been calling out to me for a while, I love mushroom soup, albeit, the fresh one but off late its been way too cold to even plan soups, so we do a standard chicken and veggie one that lasts 4 days and can be morphed with a change of seasoning! I had boneless chicken leftover from an order, mushrooms, but just half a pack, the mushroom soup pack and a puff pastry dough, which obviously spelled, chicken pot pie, in a jiffy, that is!

One of the best Chicken Pot Pie's I have ever had was at the All American Diner at the IHC, way back, wonder if it's any good now?! My mom used to make it from scratch, the chicken filling, the puff pastry (thank you TimeLife) and she didn't put any of that carrot nonsense, it was all mushroom and chicken. I add celery now that it's freely available but I remember a time as close as 6 years ago when Ally was a baby where we had to use Celery salt for Stroganoff or pot pie unless we were going to make a trip to Khan Market and pay through our nose for a piddly stalk!

This makes 4 ramekins or one pie enough for 4, serve it with salad and a Bruschetta and it will be a nice spread.

Filling:

2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized bits. I bake the pie in ramekins so I keep the chicken pieces small, it requires less cooking time and they stay moist, pre cooked chicken can get all overcooked and stringy in a dish like this.

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp Worchestershire Sauce

10-12 mushrooms, cut into bits

2 spring onions thinly sliced, with some of the greens, great for colour and flavour

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, this adds quite a punch

1 large celery leaf with a bit of talk, cut or torn up.

3 tbsp fresh cream

4-5 cloves of garlic smashed

1 bayleaf

Salt & freshly ground pepper

1/2 pack of mushroom soup, dissolved in 1 glass of water.

Puff pastry for crust.

Toss the chicken bits in the Worchestershire sauce. Buy good quality condiments, the cheaper, locaql varieties have a gross, chemical after taste, so taste the sauces you buy, raw before you use them in your cooking. Heat a pan,  heat the oil and butter, I love the flavour of olive oil and butter together, also this makes sure the butter doesn't brown or burn. Add the onions and garlic, then the bayleaf, fry till the onions are soft and transparent but not browning, throw in the mushroom bits and the chicken, with the sauce/juices of the marinade, fry on high till the meat sears all over, about 2 minutes, lower heat and saute for 3-4 minutes. Dilute the mushroom soup mix in a glass of water, make sure there are no lumps, pour into pan and cook on a low flame, till it begins to thicken. Season with salt and fresh pepper, add the torn up celery leaf and fold it all in. Let it thicken till the chicken is coated with a thick sauce. Remove from heat, cool a bit and fold in the fresh cream, make sure its room temperature, you don't want anything splitting the cream. Fill into four ramekins, cool and cover with pastry to make a crust.

Roll out the puff pastry, fold over twice and roll out for an extra flaky finish. I source puff pastry from a local bakery and I am quite happy with it, I would rather be making preserves or baking than prepping puff now that I have a better and not-frozen option. Use a thin rimmed bowl or a large cookie cutter to cut circles almost the size of the ramekin top (bigger), Use your fingertips to tuck in the top crust over the chicken, top with an extra layer of puff cut into a heart or square, whichever cookie cutters you have. Keep the crust rolled out fairly thick. Tuck it in well, the chicken filling will bubble and spill. The excess you can use to make cheese, zeera, oregano, garlic puffs, like I have on the side. Bake on 220 C till the crust bakes through and browns.Like I said the chicken will bubble and sputter so don't place the ramekins directly over the elements. Serve hot and ENJOY!


Lime 'n' Lemony - Cupcakes!

For those of you in the 'know', you sang that header like the Limca ad, right?! I wrote it like that :) ... citrus is such a weird flavour for nature to introduce in winters. Its light and airy, fresh and beach-y, yet its so perfect for the weather. It's nature's way of making us appreciate the sunshine just a little bit more, enjoy sunny winter afternoons, fresh orange juice, tangerines in a salad, orange reduction salad dressing ... I don't care what they say about winters-sour foods-bad throats, we love oranges, limes and lemons during these months and keep trying to find new ways to enjoy them.

It's back to school time in our home and I am back to baking 'tiffin' stuff, so no fudgy indulgences, we need practical snacks that aren't out of a box or bag! Since lemon curd is something Ally's palate has taken to only now, I decided to make lemon curd filled cupcakes. I usually put a roasted almond, piece of milk chocolate, peanut butter, apple preserve, why not lemon curd?! The result is surprisingly pleasant because the sugar and citrus seep through the cupcake and make it lemony all over with a sticky yumminess!

Batter:

200 gms flour
1 tsp baking powder
200 gms sugar
120 gms butter
2 eggs
150 ml yoghurt, make it the consistency of thick cream, use milk.
1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Sift the flour and baking powder, add the sugar and mix with a spatula, add in the room temperature butter, eggs, vanilla essence and yoghurt. Use a hand mixer to whisk this all together into a nice thick batter.

Lemon Curd: 

2 Eggs, 2 yolks and 1 white
50 gms butter
75 ml lemon juice, I actually use 150 ml and reduce it down to half, then use it, this thicker concentrate adds a lot of colour and a gooey thickness to the lemon curd
125 gms sugar
1 tbsp lemon rind, the yellowist part.
A few drops of lemon essence help to take the edge of the eggy-ness, but if you can't find any, you can do without it.

Use a glass bowl to mix together the eggs and sugar over a double boiler, make sure its not touching the water vessel, eggs can cook pretty fast and you don't want that to happen. Add the lemon juice and continue to mix till it thickens, use a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, cool slightly and strain, add cubes of butter while the sauce is still warm, fold it in, add the lemon zest and/or lemon essence, whisk well. If its not thick enough, you can return to the double boiler and let it thicken, make sure you keep whisking so that it doesn't get lumpy. Refrigerate when cooled, this will thicken and congeal it further, which is how you need it for the cupcakes.

Pre heat the oven on 220 C. Line a cupcake tray with cupcake liners, add half an ice cream scoop of batter, put a teaspoon of the lemon curd in the centre and cover with another half scoop of batter. Make sure the lemon curd is thick set and cold. Bake on 220 C for 8-10 minutes or till the top is cracked and light brown. Sprinkle with icing or vanilla sugar while warm. These are sticky cupcakes, so the liner can be removed while it's still a bit warm, serve the warm out of the oven with hot chocolate and ... you'll love it especially if you love orange and dark chocolate as a combo. Enjoy!

Shirazine Roast Pork

God, how we love pork! As a child I ate pork in the processed form, dad and I would buy a half kilo of salami and eat most of it on the way home and we did exactly that when we visited the same store last month, 30 odd years of cold cuts in the car! We didn't really cook pork meat at home, the first vindaloo I ate (at your place, Mora!) was rabbit, so pork came into my kitchen back in Manipal. At college, we cooked with pork and since I married into a part Goan family while still in college, we cooked it at home too! I loved the texture, the bite, the meaty sweetness and over the years we have moved on from Goan influences to Asian pork dishes and its a whole new, wondrous world of good eating! One of friend's cooks used to make this one Coorgi pepper pork curry that I still make, Ooooh, deja vu, I think I've blogged that curry somewhere... yup - http://www.theshirazine.com/2010/09/shirazi-pepper-pork.html

Coming back to Asian spices and pork, what a gorgeous relationship they have?! The pork gets amazingly enhanced and the slow cooking/braising process is ideal to trap in all the juices and keep the meat soft and flavoursome. This recipe is great because it needs minimal handling, just let the meat be, simmering away! There is a huge smack of spices here so I serve it with cold, crispy lettuce sprinkled with sea salt, EVOO and lemon juice and white rice.



Ingredients:

1/2 kg pork chunks, I take it  on the bone, but the butcher knows I prefer less bone-y bits, so all in all its a 70/30 of boneless/on the bone. The bone adds a lot of fat and flavour, I say add a bone separately if you are cooking boneless meats.

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 star anise

2 black cardamom

6 green cardamom

6 cloves

2 bayleaf

4 whole red chillies

1 Cinnamon stick

6 cloves of garlic, 8 if they are small bits

2 large red onions thinly sliced

4 tbsp Olive oil or cooking oil

1 tbsp Chinese Five Spice powder

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp black pepper powder

Salt

2 cups warm water

Coat the pork with the white wine vinegar and set aside. Heat oil in a pressure cooker, its the heaviest bottomed pan I have in my kitchen. Add 2 cloves of garlic when the oil is hot and then the meat. Sear the meat on a  high flame tills its no longer pink and browning evenly. Remove from the oil and keep covered in a bowl. Throw in the rest of the garlic, onions and the whole spices, fry on high for few minutes, then lower the heat and brown the onions. Depending on how fatty the pork you are using is, you may need to add a little oil to brown the onions well or you can throw in a piece of fat to get the flavour going. Once the onions are soft and transparent, add the meat, the sugar and the salt and pepper. Mix well, cover with a heavy lid and cook on low for 10 minutes, keep an eye on the meat though, you will need to add 1/2 cup of warm water after 10 minutes or sooner if the meat is sticking to the base. Cook for another 20 minutes, then add the Five spice powder and another 1/2 cup of water. The moisture content should always be a thick sauce consistency not runny, gravy. Another 20 minutes after the last 1/2 cup, check the meat for readiness, it should be pretty soft by now. Give it another 10 if not, add little water if you need to, check the salt and the five spice flavour and adjust accordingly. This should taste heaty from the spices and sweet-ish as well. When the meat is done, you can adjust the amount of sauce/gravy you need. The flavours are very strong so you won't need it very thin, goes great with white rice. Enjoy!

Jan 14, 2013

Seasonal Salad Special!

I am a big fan of seasonal produce. I grew up in a home where winter vegetables were not cooked during the summer because like mom said, nature didn't intend it so. We didn't eat cauliflower and apples in summer and lady finger and melons in winter, it still holds true in our kitchen. So then the fun doubles, enjoy apples while you can, do more with them, bring in seasonal greens, this is the only time we'll get baby spinach and crunchy as hell, iceberg. Strawberries only seem to get better. As the crop matures over harvests, it seems like the quality of fruit matures as well, as though it's DNA starts to get accustomed to a new land, new weather, these are after all local strawberries and they are darned good! Watch out for the ones where the crown is green-ish, these are most definitely artificially ripened, what you need to find are consistently deep red fruit with no dark, squidgy spots. And how can we forget oranges, all those fantastic memories of sitting in the sun, relentlessly peeling and devouring oranges like our lives depended on it. It was a serious endeavour, I remember this one time, I was sitting with my mom in our new home about 15 years back and we just sat there for what seemed like a couple of hours and didn't say a word, we just soaked in the sun and ate oranges! It's a lovely and peaceful memory to have of her, which is why till date the fragrance of oranges on my hands reminds me of mamma! She would put an orange, an apple and a trail mix of walnuts, cashews, almonds, pinenuts (in the shell!!!) and raisins in my school bag, that's besides the tiffin box and I had to have all this between 7 am and 2 pm. All my winter memories of the 45 minute school ride are of chatting in the back of the bus with a handful of dry fruit and hating the pine nuts for being in the shell!

All this came back to me in one bite the other day. I asked for the Apple and Feta salad served with walnuts and a dressing of orange reduction and thyme and what I got was a bowlful of memories. I replicated the same at home that very evening and I think this is going to be one of my all time favourite salads ever. I want to call it a 'Bowlful of Memories". You can improvise a lot with this salad, add baby spinach, mix up the lettuce's, add olives or fried capers. When you fry capers, they flower and crispen lightly, just drain them well before you do. I substituted mint for thyme in my dressing, I love mint with fruit, in fact much like star anise, mint is more a dessert flavouring for me. It's tough to enjoy cold salads in the winters but this is a perfect one for a sunny lunch or a robust dinner of red meats, team it up with this salad and you'll love the hot and cold thing going on!

Serves 2

Salad:

200 gms iceberg lettuce, torn up into bite sized bits, I don't like them chopped and I don't like them the size of my palm

8-10 strawberries sliced, thin

1 small apple, sliced, thin pieces, the size of the strawberry pieces

1 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

6-8 walnuts, broken into fours

4-5 tbsp of feta, into small dollops

Dressing:

1 cup of orange juice, I used fresh, it took longer to reduce but was less acidic/citric compared to the one I tried with packed orange juice, which is in fact reconstituted, so!!

2 tbsp EVOO

2-3 mint leaves, just pinch them with your nails to release the flavour, don't tear or chop, use small, young leaves, they are easier to eat in a bite.

Sprinkle of sea salt, the feta I use is generally salty enough for this salad and orange reduction adds a lot of flavour, which doesn't make you miss the general saltiness of a salad

Garnish:

8-10 capers, fried lightly in olive oil or roasted in an oven, 180 C for 5-7 minutes

or

Green olives

Mix up all your fruits and veggies, go easy, don't bruise everything, add small dollops of feta, the walnuts (you can use them if you don't like the rawness of nutty flavours, 180 C in a preheated oven for 5 minutes, moisten the baking dish with olive oil, shake the walnuts around to coat them and roast!). For the dressing, reduce the orange juice down from 1 cup to 6 tbsp or from 250 ml to 50-75 ml. This takes around 10-15 minutes in a heavy bottom pan. Cool and mix with the EVOO, season and add the mint leaves. I like the leaves to be softened not cooked.

Serve the garnish and dressing on the side. Enjoy!

Jan 11, 2013

Deep, Dark and Delicious!

The other night I was craving strawberries and dark chocolate, I had both but I didn't want to do the usual dip and devour, this night was different. This night was a bit like the one from the movie 'Bridesmaids', you know where she spends all this time making the perfect cupcake, only to eat it all by herself, alone in her kitchen. I felt a bit like that, like I deserved to do something special for myself, since I was by myself so often! Sometimes indulgence is the key! So I decided to make a chocolate tart topped with a strawberry and served with strawberries in fresh cream. I can find heavy cream at the dairy nearby but its not really the whipping kind, so I use this bottle/shake technique and get it a bit thicker, sweeten it with icing sugar and then just dunk the strawberries in it (whole), that goes in an ice cream glass and the tart sits on the side, waiting to make happy once more!



Tart:

This is a biscuity, buttery tart, bit like shortbread, I use my hands to settle it into the tart moulds, just be gentle and avoid your nails from making gashes (mine did!) which I patched with a little dough, once you fill the tart it won't show anyway! Be generous when you roll out a circle to drape the tart mould, you can pinch it all off once you have set the dough in.

150 gms flour
50 gms icing sugar
120 gms butter, cold, cut into cubes.
2 tbsp or slightly more, cold water

Mix the flour and icing sugar together, then use your hands to mush in all the cold butter cubes, till the mixture goes from a mess to coarse breadcrumbs. Use a tablespoon at a time of cold water to bring all this together into a tight, buttery dough. Best to not overdo the moisture, its just there to bring the dough together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1/2 hour. Roll out as per the size of the tart mould you are using, I made lemon tart sized, medium tart shells. Drape over the mould, use your thumbs to settle it in, especially around the sides and on the top where the ridges are. Use a fork to poke 2-3 sets of hold on the base, so the tart doesn't puff up. Bake on 200 C for 8-10 minutes or till light brown.  Cool, loosen and remove gently.

Ganache:

4 tsbp butter
120 gms dark chocolate
6 tsbp fresh cream

Melt the butter and chocolate on a double boiler, you can use a micro if you can work it better than me. Use a wooden spoon to stir and melt. Remove from the boiler once only lumps are left, residual heat will melt the rest of it. Cool completely, then fold in the fresh cream. Stir well, or keep it swirly if you like, would look lovely in a tart actually. Fill the tart shell with a spoon, top with a sliced strawberry and ENJOY!



Cake my cookies please!

Winters is when we crave soft, fudgy, chewy, hot out the oven snacks. This is serious cold going on and no crunchy, crispies will do, what we need has to be both warm to touch and warm to feel. Our cookies become cake-y, our puddings almost always have dark chocolate and the only fruit we bake with are apples, ah ...eating in winters!! I have been making cake cookies for ages, they are very versatile and you can change flavours very easily. In fact with this batter you can actually make 2-3 different kinds of cookies. We made pink, strawberry flavoured fairy cake cookies, chocolate chip cake cookies and almond flavoured raisin cake cookies. You can experiment with different types of essences, from almond to even peppermint and make a choco-mint cake cookie. Since these are basic drop cookies, you don't even have to bother with refrigeration, rolling or cutting, so if the kids want cookies, all you need is 30 minutes.

Flour 200 gms
Sugar 220gms
Butter 120 gms
Eggs (small) 2
Baking pwd 1 1/2 tsp
Baking soda 1/4 tsp
Yoghurt 60 ml
Milk 100 ml
Vanilla essence (for basic version) 1 1/2 tsp

Preheat the oven on 200 C. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda and keep aside. Beat the butter and sugar for 3-4 minutes tills the mixture is pale and fluffy, I use a glass mixing bowl and a hand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time and whiz up all nice and airy. Add the milk and the yoghurt and another quick whiz for a minute. Add the vanilla essence then the flour mixture, in batches. The consistency should be slightly thicker than a cake batter, like a stickier, heavier version.

You can separate this batter into different bowls to make different types of cookies.

Chocolate chip - fold in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips with a spatula or wooden spoon when the batter is ready.

Mint-choco chip - add a tsp of peppermint essence/flavouring

Almond/Raisin - half cup of raisins, 1 tsp of almond essence, depending on the brand you may need a bit more, so do have a quick taste of the batter before you bake.

Strawberry - 1 tsp red food colouring for a pink tinge and 1 tsp of strawberry essence or flavouring.

Line a baking tray with butter paper and use an ice cream scoop for even, same sized cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 200 C or till the bottom looks light brown. These turn out puffy and cake-y and go best with coffee or hot chocolate. Enjoy!

Shirazine Tagine Pilaf!

We ate Moroccan the other day and it blew our minds! I rarely say that for meals outside of my kitchen mainly because after having eaten so much good food over the years, the 'wow' factor is getting harder and harder to find. New cuisine's are the only option of finding 'umami' over and over again. You know how they say, do we all see colours the same way, I feel that about taste too, do we all taste flavours the same way? So for me, 'umami' is not certain foods only but also how your palate perceives them. I don't taste it in truffles, I taste it in Arab dried limes, seriously!! So this lamb 'pulao' I tried wasn't really made in a tagine, it was inspired by all the Moroccan flavours from that night and ingredients and visuals too, how my plate would look if I mixed lamb tagine with fluffy, white rice!

I cook the lamb separately and rice is boiled and the water is discarded, I keep it 'almost' done because it will do time in the oven as well. Preferred cuts for the lamb or mutton are from the shoulder, round, meaty pieces, on the bone. The spices I use are all whole and though I source dried limes from the Gulf, they are available in specialty stores. To substitute I tried a quarter of a large lime (the big yellow ones from the mountains), it wasn't exactly the same but it added a nice citric kick. I also use dried plums in biryani's and pulao's quite often, they are just right when you want to balance spicy-tangy-sweet. You can use plum sauce as well, a tbsp or so but it's very Asian for my palate.

Lamb/Mutton 750 gms
Onions, finely sliced, 2
Garlic Cloves 6-8 small or 3-4 big, smashed 
Black Cardamom 2
Green Cardamom 5
Cloves 6
Cinnamon 1whole stick
Bay leaf 2
Dried Lime 1
Garam Masala 1 tbsp
Paprika 1 tsp
Sugar 1 tbsp or 1 dried plum
Hot water 1 cup
Olive Oil 6 tbsp
Salt

Wash and pat dry the lamb/mutton, marinate with salt and paprika, keep in the fridge, it marinates better in the cold. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a pressure cooker (I don't pressure cook the meat, I just give it one whistle before serving/assembling so meat the opens up, it's already tender from the braising). Throw in the garlic and it brown slightly, add the onions, keep the flame high and get them transparent and on the verge of caramelizing that kind of keeps them sweet-ish. The rest of oil will be used to roast the whole spices which you can do in a small pan or baby wok. So fry the whole spices separately and add the whole thing to the onions and garlic. Add the meat and keep the heat up, let the meat sear, move it around and mix the whole thing up nicely. This should take around 5 minutes, after which you can add the Garam masala, dried lime, sugar or a dried plum and salt. Fold it all in, put in 1/2 cup of hot water, lower the flame and cover with a heavy lid, no need to pressure cook. mix and check in about 20 minutes, add the rest of the hot water, cover and cook for another 20-25 minutes, keep an eye on it, you can add little more hot water only to keep the meat moist not to make a curry. Check the meat, it should be nice and tender, you can give it one whistle but check that there is ample moisture (not a lot). Boil the rice while the meat cooks, drain and layer in a low, flat baking dish. Layer the meat on top once done, you can sprinkle burnt onions, blanches almonds and even roasted raisins on the top. Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes on 200 C.

I served this with our kitchen's all time favourite garlic dip/dressing/topping 'thoum', a combination of fresh garlic paste, yoghurt and mayonnaise. Try serving this fresh orange or 'keenu' wedges, it is just superb! Enjoy!
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