Followed by everything Sunday should be and sunbursts of orange and chocolate

I get really annoyed when I start on a book which sounds eminently interesting, only to find it is a sequel. It is like going to a party the morning after for brunch. Sure, brunch is good, but I wanted in on all the excitement of the evening before and not pretend to be mildly amused at all the little inside jokes – “you had to be there” and “you should have seen…!”

In short, I feel left out.

Therefore, before you read further, please read this.

So the next day, a cheery if a little warm Sunday, I set out to buy all the ingredients for the layered hummingbird cake. My favorite store yielded everything I needed – the nuts, the can of pineapple, even the bananas at the right level of ripeness for baking – except the cream cheese. They never stock it anyway so there was no reason to lose heart. There was another store down the road which almost always has it. Except, of course, you guessed it, they did not. So onward to another store, a bit further off, the personnel of which seemed rather miffed to be disturbed out of their Sunday somnolence. By this point, the day had stopped being cheery and was merely warm. So I ditched all the hummingandsingingbird plans and bought oranges instead. Triumphant, I returned, only to realize an hour later that, of course, I did not have enough chocolate to go both inside and on top of the cake. A few distinctly unladylike swear words later – because I am still unsure of my ganache making skills and besides who wants to spend the entire week eating fruit salad – it was decided we shall go with orange cake with chocolate chunks but without chocolate ganache.

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

Now I may never know how this tastes with ganache, but I will attest to the fact that this cake, the way I made it, is stop-in-your-tracks-holy-moly-guacamole-are-you-kidding-me good. The crisp crust, the moistness and the fresh orange tang, the little bits of chocolate, only a few of the reasons you should go get oranges now. For me, there were three additional bonuses:
1) I used the zester. If you don’t find zesting heaps of fun, honestly go see a shrink
2) The first time I experimented with buttermilk. And not the last time. We live and learn
3) The bundt pan was inaugurated. The beautiful little thud with which the cake says goodbye to the pan – highly addictive.

I made the buttermilk at home and grated chocolate all over. Ate a slice and left for the stand-up comedy show. The husband gracefully took me out and lots of drinks, fried potatoes and quite a few laughs later, this tasted even better.

My recipe was a mix of Smitten Kitchen and Barefoot Contessa’s. I went with proportions that felt right and am glad I did. Since my bundt pan is an 8 inch, I halved Deb’s recipe but went with the entire amount of orange juice for the syrup.

To begin, get the buttermilk going by adding a little over a teaspoon of lemon juice to a little under a half cup of whole milk. I microwaved the milk (straight from the fridge) for about 15 seconds before adding the lemon. Ten minutes later, it will look slightly curdled.

Meanwhile zest two large oranges (two and a half normal oranges) for about 1/8 cup of orange zest. Squeeze out 3/8 cup of orange juice, keeping ¼ cup aside for the syrup topping and 1/8 cup for the cake. Complicated? Baking is a crash course in fractions.

Cream together 113 gm of butter with 1 cup of sugar, till light and fluffy (about five minutes). Add three eggs, one at a time, and then the orange zest.
While the mixer is doing its thing, sift 1 and ½ cups of AP flour with ¼ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp baking soda and ½ tsp salt. Chop a little over 200 gm of chocolate to yield 1 cup of chunks, and toss them in a tbsp of flour. In a bowl, mix the orange juice, buttermilk and ½ tsp vanilla.

Add the flour mix and liquids to the mixer, alternating (flour-liquid-flour-liquid-flour). Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl between additions. Add the chocolate.
Pour the batter into a greased-and-floured pan. Mine did not gracefully pour, I had to sort of coax it into the pan. Smooth the top and bake in a pre-heated oven for about 50 minutes at 175 degree. Test it at the 45 minute mark, mine needed another 10 minutes.

Heat the ¼ cup of juice with ¼ cup of icing (confectioner’s) sugar, till the sugar dissolves. Once the cake has cooled down (ten minutes out of the oven), take it out of the pan and spoon the orange syrup over it.

I grated left over chocolate bits over it. If possible, it tasted better the next day. I stored it covered at room temperature. It dried out slightly by the third day which strangely, I liked even more.

Later in the week, I had another ingredients hunt, courtesy my 40-something-chemistry tutor friend, who needed mini burger buns and a particular brand of frozen corn and cheese nuggets for dishing out 30 burgers for her daughter’s class party to be sent off at 6 AM in the morning. I, of course, faithfully checked everywhere for the cream cheese.

Lonesome Saturday Evening and the Promise of Summer Desserts

This pleasant Saturday evening, I wanted to go watch a stand-up comedy with the following description: “Having turned 40 this year, Vaz (the comedienne) focuses her wit on the challenges of ageing in a culture that worships youth, her decision not to have children and the stress that accompanies this choice, as well as her constant struggle to overcome her obsession with housework.”

First, I spent half an hour on the phone convincing my recently turned 40 friend (with an obsessive compulsive cleaning disorder) to do a girls’ night out. Despite my earnest promises to get out of my pajamas and get into a presentable dress and heels (the things we do as trade-offs), she refused. Turns out that she had to stay at home and tutor her son before his history exam. And probably obsess over cleaning the dinner dishes.

Mango Kulfi

Mango Kulfi

Next, I dished up my husband’s favorite snack, trying to persuade him into being company. I would never ask someone to accompany me if I did not think they would enjoy themselves more than I would. Given our decision to be part-time aunt and uncle and not full time mom and dad, and his absolute belief in cleanliness coming before godliness, you would think that he would jump at the offer. But no, he would rather play a round of tennis and then do a round of dusting around the house.

My plans to laugh hysterically scuttled, I decided to spend the evening baking. Yesterday, I had resolved, that this weekend I would learn to bake layered cakes and had was looking forward to trying the hummingbird cake. Going out to buy the cake pans (which I have been meaning to for a long time), I ended up purchasing additionally a bundt pan (which I have been resisting to for a long time). Side note: Was psycho-ecstatic at seeing the first mangoes of the season at the departmental store.

Fact: If you have a newly bought bundt pan, you shall day dream about and google/food blog search gorgeous looking bundt cakes and fail to do a single thing about buying any of the ingredients you need to actually make them. Not wanting to give up hummingbird cake dreams, I found the perfect sounding bundt recipe for it. Only to be unable to make it, not having either pineapple or cream cheese at home. Darn. Not to be so easily dissuaded, after some feverish browsing, I stumbled across this delicious looking chocolate chunk orange cake. Now normally, not being big fans of the fruit, we never ever have fresh oranges lying around. But lo and behold, we have today, the exact number needed to make the cake. I sighed, because I was certain I was out of fresh cream. I bet you can imagine my excitement, when my desultory poking around in the kitchen cupboard, actually unearthed a tetrapack of usable cream and some dark chocolate. Hallelujah! I could practically smell the organgey-chocolatey baking aromas.

Except we are out of eggs. Or rather, we have only egg nestled in its container, lonely and morose. Like someone else’s friends, the egg’s near and dear ones were probably doing housework (in that special heaven where eggs went, after they became omelets.)

I have settled, therefore, to blog. Having no exciting or new recipes or pictures or baking stories to share with you – I turn to an old one from last year. I had meant to blog about mango kulfi last year, but missed doing so during the mango season. This is seriously too great a summer dessert to not sample, at least once in your life. And so easy-peasy, I bet you will not get it wrong, even if you tried to.

Mango Kulfi

Mango Kulfi

To make this, simply combine 2 ½ cups (500 ml) whole milk, ¼ cup milk powder, ½ cup condensed milk and ¼ cup sugar in a pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce and simmer for a while, till the mix thickens. Though the recipe does not call for you to do, I kept stirring it and anxiously peering at it and sniffing it. It smells divine, by the way. Once the mix has thickened (mine took twenty minutes), take it off heat and let it cool completely. If you get onto the phone with your mom, at this point, like I did, to share kulfi making excitement, she will stress on the cooling part, like mine did. You see, if you add an acidic fruit like mango to anything hot, it will instantly split. Now don’t say you already knew that. I did not, so was quite taken in by the science of it all. While waiting for the mix to cool, chop and puree some mangoes. You need about 1 cup of pulp. Mix the pulp in. At this stage you can add some chopped or slivered almonds and some saffron infused milk. Set into kulfi moulds (6 as per the recipe) – or pour into ramekins or porcelain dishes. If using the latter, cover with some foil. Freeze. Resist opening the freezer every ten minutes to check whether it has set.

So there you have it. A great dessert to usher in the summers. Go get some mangoes now. And let me know if you are free tomorrow evening and do not have any plans to lovingly vacuum the house. Game for tomorrow’s show?

Celebrating the freedom to choose and International Women’s Day

The first couple of months of the year are always busy and depressing, as if the new year is determined to make its presence felt on the back of the pleasant and mellow goodbyes of its predecessor. I have been on the road for several days now, balancing the family, career, friends and the ‘me’ passions of cooking and reading. Flights and airport adventures at unearthly hours, trying unsuccessfully to binge eat my way out of exhaustion-fueled depression, and developing (I am sure) all sorts of bone and eye related troubles while hunched over the keyboard. In a particularly low moment one evening this week, while miles away from home, in a strange hotel, staring at another several hours of work, I was petulantly ranting on the phone to the mum. And then she slipped in a gem which made me stop dead in my self-wallowing tracks, “remember, you chose this.”

As another International Women’s Day approached and retailers and service providers all over spammed me with offers celebrating my womanhood (rather reminiscent of P&G’s wishes of having a happy period), I found myself, on the long drive back from the airport, late Friday night, questioning the wisdom of my choices; thinking of other women I know and the journeys they are on. A dear friend who is determined to re-start her career after dedicating every waking moment to her two children this last several years, my sister in law who chose be one half of a commuting couple and raise her daughter as a single parent while staying on at work, another friend who is considering quitting at the peak of her career to devote more time to the family and find herself again. The examples are countless, even without peeking into the generations above and below. I realized anew, that at the heart of the matter, we are all attempting to find an identity and ways to measure our worth. While there are no simplistic answers, I find solace in what my mother put her finger on. It is in the choice and exercising of it, that we celebrate the essence of being a woman. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams it is a beautiful world because we CHOOSE to think of it so, and make it so. And so I choose to continue to carry on, putting one foot in front of another and booking yet another set of flight tickets.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, my mother in law cooked up a storm – all sorts of comfort food. This evening it was onion and potato pakados – chickpea flour batter dipped, crisp and crunchy vegetables with tomato and chilly ketchup as the dipping sauce. I did die and go to fritter heaven, but now the deep fried ball of guilt is weighing me by down several kilos. Difficult to celebrate womanhood while feeling like this. Might as well add period happiness and get done with it.

Double Tomato Bruschetta with Roasted Veggies

Double Tomato Bruschetta with Roasted Veggies

On the subject of comfort food – here is something healthy and vegetarian, from dinner last Sunday. Double Tomato Bruschetta with oven roasted veggies and whole-wheat spaghetti in béchamel sauce. To make the roasted veggies, throw in any vegetables you may have on hand into the oven at 250 degree c. Last week it was zucchini, bell peppers, cauliflower florets, and baby corn. You can also use carrots, beans, corn, peas, broccoli – any and every veggie you choose. Drizzle with olive oil and fresh/dried mixed herbs. I usually use a mix of thyme, rosemary and oregano with some sea salt. Roast till done – the trick being to lay your vegetables so that they don’t crowd each other. You want them to roast and not steam. Add walnuts for crunch and texture.

Bon Voyage Li’l Ms Tomato

“It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis” 

I started off this post wanting to be philosophical about the passing of time, transience and hot air balloons carrying us away to our dreams (inspired by Brainpickings’ brilliantly curated piece), but I think I am going to go with warmth, food and an up-side banana cake instead.

Our best friends catch a flight tonight to relocate half way across the world, and I am already feeling nostalgia for what used to be. These guys – a family of three (K, who tells the best uber-dramatic stories based on ordinary everyday incidents and can make people laugh into being better versions of themselves, M, who I have traded books and candy crush lives with – and their two year old daughter aka heart stealer who is basically a cherubic tomato with lots of curly black hair) are our neighbors and over the last several years, have become our family and friends – you know the kind whose kitchen is an extension of yours, you have combined grocery lists, and your gadgets connect automatically to their wi-fi when you step over their threshold.

Of course, food and drinks (several gazillion gallons of the latter!) have been the foundation of our friendship. They are the guinea pigs who I try all my baking on and since they think my Italian cooking rocks (blush, blush), I have gladly fed all sorts of oregano and garlic based experiments to them. My fondest memory, though, is the following: I returned home late one night after a super-long and tiring day at work, to an empty and silent house (the family was away). While unlocking the front door, I was filled with exhaustion and dread at the thought of putting together a lonely dinner for one. In this miasma of loneliness and self-pity, like sunshine, K & M appeared and insisted on dragging me to their place. And I found myself seated at their dining table, tucking into a hot, delicious, home-cooked meal (masala dosas, coconut chutney with a chilled tall beer, in case you are wondering!) while little ms. tomato shared her potato wafers with me. There was something about the all-enveloping and unexpected coziness and warmth from that evening, which will linger on, long after K stops knocking at the door.

In the middle of their relocation chaos, a bunch of us got together at the spur of the moment, to bid them farewell over margaritas. Since K&M got me this fridge magnet, the least I could do was to bake them a farewell cake. Given that my oven insists on sulking before any farewell, I don’t think it was my finest attempt. Still, plenty of drinks and emotion laden speeches later, chasing the cake down with vanilla ice-cream, did make for a good conclusion to a very pleasant evening.

banana and chocolate upside down cake

Now coming to the cake recipe, with more time I would have wanted to make banana cake with mocha frosting and candied peanuts, but given the suddenness of the party, I went with something far simpler, an upside down banana and chocolate chip cake which still utilized some poor bananas which were at the end of their prime. An aside, if you think I don’t bake anything which is not a David L. recipe, you are probably right. I halved his recipe as the expanding waistline dissuades leftovers.

Ingredients for the topping:

  • 30 gm demerara sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • A drop or two of lemon juice (which I actually forgot to add, despite having the lemon out ready to squeeze)

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 105 gm AP flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 75 gm sugar
  • 1 tbsp or 15 gm melted butter
  • 1 whole egg
  • 125 gm banana puree (from 3 small bananas)
  • 60 gm yoghurt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • 40 gm chopped semi-sweet chocolate (Having run out chocolate chips, I chopped in a few mini Lindts)

Before I forget, do not use a springform for this or any other upside down recipe. And if using demarara sugar, I suggest whizzing it to a fine powder before using it. Else, you will struggle to melt it like I did.

Heat the butter and sugar in a small baking tin. The original recipe calls for an 8 inch, I had a small flower shaped tin. Place the tin over a low flame (on the stove) and heat gently. If it does not melt, don’t panic. Keep at it, and it should soon be this dark brown liquid which you can coax to cover most of the pan. Cool the pan. Slice the bananas to ¼ inch slices and place (slightly overlapping) over the caramel. Add the lemon juice.

Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl. Add the sugar. In a small bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gently stir the wet into the dry. Don’t overmix. Add in the chocolate.
Use a spatula to coax the batter over the bananas.

Bake for about 30 minutes in a 180 c preheated oven. Cool and invert. Serve warm. I thought mine was tad less sweet, so the ice-cream went quite well with it.

Coming back to K, M and Ms. Tomato, wishing you guys bon voyage, and a new life filled with amazing vistas, adventure and joy. You shall be missed.

Days made happier with Spiced Ginger Cake

Remember how a couple of weeks ago, around Christmas, my neighbor-turned friend made ginger cake, and the delicious aromatic spicy smell wafted its way into my house and had me begging her for a little sampler. (If you don’t recollect this, that is because a) you don’t read my blog b) you read my blog, but you have a poor memory c) you read my blog, but were quite caught up over Christmas and ensuing days and therefore don’t recall the finer details. Only option c is forgivable. If you choose option a, don’t tell me – I will want to weep. And anyway you are not reading this either).

Now that we have the complicated-parenthesis-driven aptitude test out of the way, let me get to the cake. And in keeping with the emerging theme of today’s blog post, let’s go with multiple choices. You make/eat this cake if

a) It is December and you want the cozy aroma of a ginger bread/cake in the oven to herald and celebrate the season.
b) It is January and you want something baked to set off past decadent indulgences and yet treat yourself
c) You don’t care which month it is, you just love ginger

My neighbor was kind enough to share the cake AND the recipe AND the pictures she clicked especially for you, dear readers. A big round of applause for her! By the way, she is super-creative, and I urge you to visit and order from her With Love venture. She makes adorable gifts for children (see Happy Day photograph!) and a portion of each purchase goes towards underprivileged children. For more details, visit With Love or write to madewithlove.rose@gmail.com.

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Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons orange-ginger marmalade (substitute: 2 tablespoons of finely grated fresh ginger + 2 tablespoons orange juice)
  • 1 cup basic caramel sauce (to make: heat 10 tbsp sugar in a pan. When it starts to bubble, slowly add two cups of water while stirring. Simmer till the sugar is incorporated and the sauce reduces to half)
  • 1 cup powdered (or icing) sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • Ground Spices (Grind together 2″ long cinnamon, five cloves, and 10 peppercorns)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 170 C and prepare a 9 1/2 inch cake pan. In a medium bowl, mix together the powdered sugar, oil and butter. Beat eggs separately and incorporate into the wet mix. In another bowl, mix together the flour, ginger & spices. Combine both the wet & dry ingredients well. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes. Cool completely before serving. For that extra zing – serve with vanilla ice-cream.

Hope 2014 has been good to you so far and you are going strong with your resolutions. Will update you on mine soon. Till then, happy ordering With Love products, happy baking and happy eating!

Bravery, Joy and some Toffee Pudding in the New Year

Have you read Neil Gaiman? Yes? LOVED him? Yes? That is why we are friends. Have not read him? Then what are you doing here – please don’t waste a minute more of this precious life and run out and buy his ‘Neverwhere,’ to begin with. If you live in my vicinity, give me a shout – will be glad to lend you a copy. I am dead serious.
If you have read his books, and not liked them, I am not speaking to you anymore. What’s the point? You and I will never see eye to eye on anything. You probably dislike desserts as well.

If you are going out to get a copy, pretty please get his latest book for me. I can’t seem to find it.

Toffee pudding cake

Toffee pudding cake

So why am I thus hectoring you? Because amongst other things, Neil excels at writing wishes for the new year. So here goes, my wish for you and me, for 2014:

“It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.
So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.”

Good stuff, right? The birth of Pootler chef is easily one of the best things that happened to me last year – the blog has given me much joy. Wish me the will to continue. Hope that you find/keep at something that gives you joy.

SG (the husband)’s family has an age-old tradition to cut a cake at midnight to ring out the old and welcome the new. SG and siblings grew up expecting a cake at the stroke of the hour. And I have eagerly adopted it, no better way to end the year than to pootle around the oven. And digging into warm cake, community style, can only herald good things – time with friends and family, laughter, some good memories – to come.

Here it is, the Sticky Toffee Pudding that welcomed 2014. Since I had only 200 ml of cream at hand, we shall call it Toffee Pudding and be happy with it. I cannot exaggerate the simplicity or awesomeness of this recipe. Let it suffice – I dream of the cake. David L. mentions in his post that he made it twice in a week. Well, SG had to physically restrain me from baking another batch today. Soon, when his back is turned. Evil laughtering.

I baked the cake first and added the toffee sauce later. Do check the original on the options to make this. And yes, my toffee is much paler than it should be, courtesy a new brand of demerara that I was experimenting with. Will let you know when I make it next, if a darker sugar impacts the taste.

To make the pudding

  • Chop 180 gm of dates and keep aside
  • Sift together 1 ¼ cup (175 gm) AP flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt
  • Beat together (of course, I used the Kitchen Aid, but you can do it by hand or a hand held) 4 tablespoon unsalted butter and ¾ cup (150 gm) white sugar
  • While waiting for the eggs and sugar to become light and fluffy, bring to a boil the chopped dates and 1 cup (250 ml) water. Switch the heat off, and add 1 teaspoon baking soda and mix. Use the mix while still warm
  • Meanwhile, to the butter-sugar batter, add in one and then another egg. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Keep scraping down the sides of the bowl
  • Alternate between adding half of the flour mix, then the dates with water, and then the remaining flour. Mix gently, and don’t overbeat
  • Pour into a pre-greased 8 inch or 9 inch pan and bake in a preheated 190 C oven for about 45 to 50 minutes
  • Let the cake sit in the pan and resist the temptation to sneak in a taste

To make the toffee sauce

  • In a saucepan, add 200 ml of cream, 1/5 cup (36 gm) demerara sugar, and 1 tablespoon of golden syrup. Add a pinch of salt, though I think I forgot to add some
  • Stir to melt sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes while constantly stirring
  • Make holes in the cake using a fork or a toothpick. My baby niece helped by wielding a fork with more enthusiasm than was strictly required
  • Pour the toffee sauce over it. Cover with foil and bake for another 30 minutes at 150 c

I urge you to make this cake. It is simple enough for beginners and delicious enough for seasoned bakers. Trust me on this, you will find immense joy!

Christmas Morning, Scary Friends and Chocolate Sprinkle Thumbprint Cookies

I am of the strong opinion that humans invented festivals so that we can cook and eat ourselves to death. Christmas morning was spent baking chocolate sprinkles thumbprint cookies.

Chocolate Sprinkle Thumbprint Cookies

Chocolate Sprinkle Thumbprint Cookies

Lessons Learnt:

  • Replacing cocoa powder with nutella does not work
  • Substituting powdered sugar with granulated sugar leads to a gritty icing no matter how much you mix it
  • If you have a tiny oven, do not sign up for a recipe which makes two to three dozen cookies. If you stuff the oven, the cookies burn. And if you bake them six at a time, they take the whole day
  • White chocolate chips burn if you replace chocolate sprinkles with them
  • The only way to get rid of the chocolate icing smell is to take a shower
  • Putting your hand into the hot oven to make indents on the cookies, leads to burns. The first time you do is foolish. The second time you do so, proves you don’t have a brain
  • Basically, I suck at figuring replacements that work, I don’t have a brain and I should not sign up for a marathon baking session when I can lie in bed instead

This baking was as a promise to a next-door-friend. She baked such gorgeous gingerbread the other day that I insisted on having some. And no, I don’t snoop at the neighbors. But the smell of that baking! It wafted down and inspired insistence. She has promise the recipe, people, so watch this space. But given the rather suspect nature of the cookies, I feel like a heel gifting her some.

This other set of friends have invited us a whole set of us to their place today evening for their annual celebrations. Last year, the chocolate crinkle cookies, were less painful to make and made a great gift. This year, am not so sure. Remind me to blog about those cookies. They deserve a post all to themselves.

Instead, these rather pretty but dodgy tasting cookies shall be fed to friends who got us this fridge magnet (see the photograph!) and a gorgeous set of blue-yellow-red mushrooms. Not the eating variety, but the ones of garden accessories nature. The mushrooms are brightening up the garden and the magnet proves baking at gun point can be difficult :)

When neighbors become good friends

When neighbors become good friends

If you still want to bake these cookies (recipe courtesy the Brown Eyed Baker)

  • Heat oven to 180 c and line cookie sheets with parchment
  • Mix 2 ½ cups (about 315 gm) of AP flour and ½ tsp salt in a bowl. Beat 1 cup (256 gm) butter with 1 cup icing sugar and 2 tsp vanilla. Beat at high speed, for about 3 minutes, till light. Reduce speed and gradually add the flour-salt. Mix on high again for a minute, for the dough to form
  • Meanwhile, pour chocolate sprinkles into a bowl. Pinch off 1 tbsp portions of cookie dough and form into a ball. Roll the ball in sprinkles and form an indent in the middle with the back of a measuring spoon (use the smaller one). These don’t spread a whole lot, so you can lay them out about a couple of inches apart
  • Bake in the oven for about 18-20 minutes, taking them out mid-way to redo the indent
  • Cool the cookies and ice. For the icing, beat 4 tbsp (56 gm) butter. Add 1 ½ cup powdered sugar, 1/3 cup cocoa powder and beat. Add 4 tbsp whole milk, and ½ tsp vanilla. Since I added a dollop of Nutella, I reduced the sugar and left out the vanilla
  • Pipe the icing on (the fun part) and look for people to force-feed the cookies to

Next time, I am NOT going to listen to the voices that tell me to bake cookies. Even at gun point.

The Magic of Three

Today’s post is about 3. The number 3, my favorite single digit number, right after 7, 2, 9 and of course, 4 and 5. Remember there were three little piggies building houses that the bad wolf tried to tear down (of course, this was in the age when neither wolves nor vampires were lust-inducing handsome creatures). Good old Shakespeare had the same number cackling “Fire burn and cauldron bubble” which in turn, made Terry P. (bless his boots!) gave us Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. And finally, in my third example, JKR chose three brothers and their hallows in keeping with so many other tales and myths. You get the picture, right? Everyone picks 3. In fact, if 3 were in school (or in a competitive game show), it would get picked first when people chose their teams. So all in all, a good number for me to blog about.

Banana Cake with Demerra Sugar and Chocolate Sprinkles

Banana Cake with Demerara Sugar and Chocolate Sprinkles

So the first topic of this post is “three wishes”, for which I need to tell you a little story. Once upon a time (last week), in a land far far away (in Chennai, my least favorite city in the whole world), I landed early in the morning, for a pre-lunch meeting. In a rare burst of romance, that cloudy Friday morning, I mused that I had never been to the famous city beach. Lo and behold, several hours later (after a delayed meeting, missing my flight back and crossing the city a couple of times) – I found myself at the beach, stuffing on mollig bhajjis (chilli poppers) and grilled corn. A long trudge back to the airport, and several hours spent in traffic, only resulted in a delayed flight. AND as icing on the cake, they ran out of my favorite sweet at the airport counter of Krishna sweets (if you have not tasted KS’s Mysore Pak, imagine this milky kind of cake in which you can taste every single of the trillion calories that every bite contains). I begged and pleaded the store counter guys to check again, for even one stray piece and YES, my second wish got granted in the form of a last 400 gm. By then I had thoroughly mixed up the nature of the wishes granted by the genie in the magic lamp (who did Disney musicals in his spare time) and the terrible Monkey’s Paw (spine chilling –decidedly-not Disney). The third wish though was given by the Good Genie. The nice flight check-in personnel, giving in to my abject begging and pleading (it is an art form!), put me on an earlier flight out. And thus it came to pass, that just as the clock struck midnight, I reached home, deliriously exhausted, but just in time for Wedding Anniversary #2.

You see, the husband has two siblings. And quite romantically or poetically, we celebrate our wedding anniversaries in a row. His elder brother went first (you know Papa Bear!) and he and his wife have theirs on the third day. We came second and our day is in the middle. And younger sister and brother-in- law (BIL makes the best pizza and ramen north of the tropics) married third and have their anniversary first. So it all adds up – why I put on so much weight in December. And why the husband is perpetually confused as to when our wedding anniversary is. Of course, I wanted to bake this year. And of course, my ‘airport tourism’ gave me no such opportunity. Instead, Mama Bear got us a gorgeous strawberry cake and the three couples blew out the candles together (with younger SIL and BIL, overseas, using technology and a bit of imagination).

Which brings me to the third topic (I know, I know, long post!) and the three bananas and the cake I did want to bake. I got around to it today, as the three bananas that I was saving specially for the cake, were going beyond over-ripe. And oh my Gawd! I suggest you run out right now and get yourself the ingredients to make this super-easy-and-even-more-delicious cake! You don’t need three or even one occasion to celebrate – in fact, you don’t have a moment to waste, not if you want to taste complete “awesomeness”.
Thanks again to David L. for a super-recipe. I made some minor modifications to his recipe (one for taste/health, a couple for mood, one because of laziness, and a couple due to ingredients and bakeware at hand). My version is  below – do check the original out.

Preheat oven to 180 c and butter and line a 9 inch pan. I used a round spring-form, but I do believe a square one or loaf tin will work better for an even rise. Sieve together 1 ½ cups (210g) of flour, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp baking soda, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp salt. Add in ¾ cup (150g) sugar. I used demerara. You can use plain granulated white or brown sugar. Mash 2 over-ripe bananas and break in 2 eggs (brought to room temperature), 2 tbsp (30g) of melted butter, ½ cup yogurt/curd, and ½ tsp vanilla. Mix wet into dry and stir gently. Mix in 1/3 cup (60g) of chocolate chips and stir till just combined. Pour into the cake tin.

Then proceed to go wild. You can bake as-is or top with anything that catches your fancy. I used a combination of demerara and chocolate sprinkles which needed using up. I doubt if the sprinkles do more than look pretty, but that sugar topping!! The resultant crusty-crumb or crumby-crust is to die for! Bake for 40 minutes.

I had a quarter of this cake for lunch (some with strawberry jam!). In keeping with the blog theme, three reasons why I love this cake
1.  Very little washing up. If you have a weighing scale, it requires only 2 bowls, and 1 (½ tsp) spoon and one tiny bowl used for melting the butter. And 1 fork (aka banana masher) and the spatula. It is a party doing the dishes.
2.  Did you notice only 2 tbsp of butter? Did you?! Did you?!
3.  I still have one too-ripe-to-eat banana remaining. Banana granola bars may be in order.

These are a few of my favorite things

For me an important part of growing up has been about becoming clearer about what gives me happiness. And I am not talking about retail therapy or watching TV shows back-to-back kind of bliss (though all those are eminently fun). This joy is not based on material acquisitions either – and I don’t dismiss the sheer excitement of owning an egg separator or a humongous flat screen television (how else will you enjoy those marathon TV sessions!). Nor is this about realizing the true value of friends, family and friends-turned-family and family-turned friends (we all know they make life what it is, and you need someone to watch all that TV with.) This, gentle reader, is about those ‘activities’ which not only are great fun but also make you glad that you were put on earth. This long monologue is to prime you for two of my favorite such things – (imagine drumroll!) cooking healthy and travelling to eat.

Double Tomato Bruschetta

Double Tomato Bruschetta

This post is really truly inspired from that fact that SG – the husband- is in Italy for work. And I am home alone, moping and working horrendously long hours at the day job. But this cloud is thickly silvered – some me time is good for crystallizing thoughts and ideas and lo and behold, googling about cooking holidays in Italy. The descriptions have left me in a tizzy and I have been day-dreaming about visiting local markets in the Italian sunshine to buy fresh produce and learning how to whip up risotto and tiramisu. I have imagined it right down to the exact taste of the roasted tomatoes on the wood fired oven baked pizzas. Bank balance and vacation time permitting, this summer, I am determined to turn this dream into reality. The husband can have his Ferraris, I’ll happily settle for a cheese making course.

Keeping with the above, I bring to you one of my favorites –bruschetta with fresh and sun dried tomatoes. Since I can safely say I strive to be a femivore (remember my other thing is healthy cooking, but sans the chicken coop!), I don’t buy sun dried tomatoes. Instead I oven roast cherry/plum tomatoes with fantastic results.

So first the oven roasted tomatoes: Wash and cut a bunch of plum tomatoes into half. Douse with olive oil, and throw in some sea salt and any herbs you have handy. I use dried rosemary and thyme. Lay them cut side down on-to a glass dish (all the cookie sheets I own are aluminum which are a no-no with tomatoes.) Slow roast in a preheated oven at 165 c till done. David L recommends two hours but I find they get done earlier – all wrinkly and wonderful. The longer you leave them in, the more concentrated the flavours.

They stay safe in a glass jar in the fridge for a little less than a week. While they are heaven on a bruschetta, they work equally well scattered over simple toast for a quick meal on the go.

Double Tomato Bruschetta

Double Tomato Bruschetta

And now for the double tomato bruschettaCombine some chopped tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, minced garlic, olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, some fresh basil (now is not chiffonade the best word ever!), and salt and fresh pepper. Let sit for 10 minutes. I am not fussed about quantities, and taste as I go along – but if you are, check the recipe. Toast some baguette slices, and top with tomato mixture and grate some cheese (I have used mozzarella, processed, even cheddar – the mozzarella grilled the best) and grill in a preheated oven for a couple of minutes till the cheese melts. Voila, dig in.

So listen up folks! If you want to travel together to Italy on a cooking vacation – got to be vegetarian or vegetarian friendly – will welcome you with open arms and tremendous enthusiasm. Recommendations and advice are also very welcome. Am all agog and all ears!

To Mrs. Dalal, with Love

Cooking, like cycling and swimming, has what I call a ‘step-learning curve’. For a long time you wallow in the shallow end, flailing your arms and legs helplessly – pretty much resembling a drowned rat. And then after days of swallowing lungfuls of chlorinated water, you suddenly start gliding gracefully and doing multiple laps of the swimming pool. Till ten years back, I could barely brew a decent cup of tea and the height of my culinary expertise was potato sandwiches. So I started with a few books which taught me the basics of cooking – right from selecting and storing various types of vegetables, telling the various types of lentils and flours apart, and the fundamentals of cooking with eggs. I will never be close to being the Michael Phelps of the cooking world; however, I can now comfortably feed myself (and family and friends) mostly healthy and occasionally decadent meals and dishes.

A large portion of my cooking prowess is owed to Tarla Dalal. With her passing away the week before last, the media – print, electronic, and social – has been inundated with obituaries and tributes. As a tribute and a big thank you, I did what she taught me – I cooked. This last ten days have been both a walk down the memory corridor, recreating my favorite recipes from her books, as well as a journey into experiments and learning new techniques. While flipping through the often food-spattered pages, to find my tried and tested recipes, I came upon some new ones which I have discovered to be keepers.

Read more to find highlights of the food which came out of my kitchen last week, the details of the books I picked these from and the slight modifications which I make to the recipes to a) hasten the process and b) decrease the washing up.

The sign of a recipe book being loved

The sign of a recipe book being loved

Dals
By the best thing that happened to me in terms of recipe books is this 6 by 3 inch wonder. A well-made hot bowl of lentils warms the heart, delights the taste buds and gives you all the protein you need for the day. Practically every recipe in this book is a winner and I have bought, owned and gifted several copies. I made a couple of dal dishes this last week, both with spinach – Palak Toovar Dal, and Masoor Dal with Spinach. Easy to put together on a weeknight, especially if you have some spinach cleaned and refrigerated to be used. With all lentils, I pressure cook them with a wee bit of turmeric and very little water. Most other ingredients are fried up along with the tempering (in a wee little tempering pan I own) and added to the dal along with the water, brought to a boil and then simmered. Instead of using tomatoes and amchur, my version of masoor dal used a large dollop of tamarind paste.

Bread Kofta Biryani

Bread Kofta Biryani

Chawal
Another treasure trove of rice recipes is this little book. Bread Kofta Biryani graced my table, not once but twice the last week – because it is the perfect way to use up left over bread, it is easy to scale for several people, and it is something you can assemble before a party, ready to be put into the oven minutes before serving dinner. Ah, I baked the Koftas instead of frying them – 200 degrees c for about 25 minutes with turning them around occasionally to ensure even baking.
My tribute to Tarla Dalal will be incomplete without due mention of Badshahi Khichdi. If you like potatoes, curd and rice, I suggest you drop everything you are doing and rush to make this now.

Parathas
After dal and rice, we have to have some parathas. I am sadly, still at that stage, where all my rotis and parathas resemble, as the cliché goes, the map of India or Africa, whichever one is your favorite. However, with this Paneer and Vegetable Parathas, there is very little rolling as the parathas are quite small but extremely tasty, healthy and filling

Some rice and veggies to go with the Chettinad Curry

Some rice and veggies to go with the Chettinad Curry

And since the rest are one recipe from each book..
…I am going to put them together.
The delicious Chettinad Curry, in which I left out the cabbage/cauliflower and instead added some partially steamed broccoli while simmering the curry.
The Creamy Spinach Toast which was breakfast yesterday, sans the cheese and the additional baking.
The Tandoor Paneer Tikkas which are staple finger food – where the taste is determined by the quality of the paneer and the grilling technique. The marinade of this can be used for pretty much any vegetable – including cauliflower and broccoli.

Needless to say, this is but a miniscule sample from the thousands of recipes Tarla Dalal has written out. While I can chronicle the number of recipes and cookbooks she has churned out, the millions of bucks her empire has earned, or even the entire generations of women she has taught to cook, nothing indicates a life well lived better than the fact that long after her passing, she will continue to make a significant difference in people’s lives. I look forward to discovering more of the world, Ms. Tarla Dalal created – one which is redolent not only with spices and aromatics, but also with the unmistakable love which characterizes dishes cooked for people we care for.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Dalal – you shall be missed and thanked every time I open a book of yours.