Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Dates and Candied Orange Peel Biscotti

                             I stood there for about five minutes or so, watching this man fix my footwear on a sunny afternoon a few months back and I heard his friend discussing with him about philosophy and politics, even as his hands were working and it was no nonsense talk! He spoke about karma and mentioned the sufferings of few people he had seen in his life and some political figures of those days he believed have faced misery in their lives because of their wrong doings. This guy, he wasn’t dressed in a saffron robe nor was he an hairy old guy and the cobbler was not the weeping disciple at his footstep seeking enlightenment on life. They were just two ordinary looking, hard working men in lungi, who were discussing life and the virtues of being good from the knowledge gained by observing life around them. The discussion between the two went on peacefully as the cobbler did not seem to have any contradictory views and he totally agreed to what the other man said. I don’t know what surprised me more, their wide knowledge or the ease with which they understood the meaning of life.  The last thing I heard the man say, as I moved from there was, " if your thoughts are good and acts are good, everything that happens to you will always be good". How true!

                     In a country where spice rules our taste buds, it is surprising that Tacos and Pastas have found a place in our dinner chart. So have the Banofee Pie and Tiramisu which has displaced pakoras and kheers in the menu. I don’t find anything wrong in embracing new cuisine but everything goes wrong only when we let it overtake our food culture. I love food and I wish to taste every delicious food in the world, but I still know what I love the most, the imbibed taste of food that I grew up eating and one that I will always long for. I love Italian sphaghetti as well as egyptian pita bread, but, if I were to choose my food from an array of different cuisines, I would happily settle with a plate of rice and curry as that’s my comfort food.

                          Speaking of biscuits in my previous post, how about my version of the classic Italian biscuit recipe, sans the nasty egg smell which always keeps me away from regular biscotti and danish cookies. I avoid those cakes or croissants and those puddings or pies that smells eggy. One can never see me eating an omelet for the same reason. The yolk in the egg is the culprit that usually plays the spoil sport in most of the recipes, so when only egg whites are used, it generally goes unnoticed and that’s why I love this recipe! Fat and healthy looking crows around my kitchen will tell you how I don’t waste those unused egg yolks!
                    I don’t really fancy dates, as it's got a boring taste that you get tired off after eating a few times. But when I do eat, I chew dates and fresh coconut kernels together which tastes delicious and totally filling. Dates and Candied orange Peel was a surprise flavour combination when I first tasted it and I have noticed that almost everyone loves the combined taste of the duo. But, in this recipe, if you are adamant about not wanting to use dates, you can substitute with pistachios or dried apricots. I have made these biscotti several times, which we always enjoy and it is the standard recipe that I tweek to try several other combinations.

Flour                               1 cup
Butter                              50 g or Oil - 3 Tbsp
Light brown sugar          1/4 cup (packed)
Dates                              4 large (1/3 c - chopped)
Candied Orange peel     1/4 cup ( drained)
Vanilla Extract                1/2 tsp
Baking Powder               1/2 tsp
Milk                                1 tbsp
Egg white                       1

Add zest of an orange for an enhanced citrus flavour (optional)

Add baking powder to flour in a bowl.
Add the sugar and mix well.
Add oil/butter, egg white, chopped dates, candied orange, vanilla and mix well to form a dough.
Add milk if necessary and gather everything to a soft dough.
Make an elongated shape, flatten slightly and bake in a greased baking sheet in a pre-heated oven at 160ºc for 30m.

Let it cool, make slices and arrange them on the baking sheet with enough space and bake for 15 m. Store in an air tight container to retain its crisp texture.
If you can’t bake, then you can simply devour some deseeded dates filled with candied orange peels and enjoy!
You can use loosely packed sugar  if you don’t have a sweet tooth.

Candied Orange Peel
Orange peel segments from  2 oranges
Sugar                                     1 cup
Water                                     1 cup

Bring some water to boil, add the orange peel, let it boil for 5 minutes, drain. Boil fresh water again, add the orange peel, let it boil for 5 m, drain. Repeat one more time.
Combine sugar and water in a pan and bring to a boil on low- med heat.

Meanwhile using a knife peel off the white pith from the blanched orange segments and cut the orange skin in to small pieces.
When all the sugar is melted and begins to boil add the chopped orange peel and cook on low heat for  about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, when cool, store in a jar.
Use nuts and chocolate chips if desired.
The drained orange flavoured sugar syrup can be used in cakes, in making lemonades or to make tea.

By the way you are listening to the music composed by my son! The second one is the cover version of a movie song.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Teeny Tiny Biscuits From The Past !!!!!

                    I love watching the surprised and happy expressions of people everytime I give them these tiny tiger brita biscuits. Invariably the first question that comes out of almost every mouth is that," Are these  still available in the market, where did you find it?" and following that, almost everyone will express the same feeling of how much they loved snacking on these slightly larger than a button sized biscuits a few decades ago. 

                      Recently when I opened my small box full of these tiny buttons during an exam break, everyone around me was too happy to pick a few with the same gleeful expressions and surprised looks and questions and nostalgic feelings, except one young lady who refused to even take just one. Apparently she was on diet and was avoiding all kinds of biscuits. No matter how much I tried to make sense to her that a few bits is not going to harm her, she bluntly refused to even taste it.

                I am sure she might not have even seen these before or may not even see them again, her so called blind diet has prevented her from enjoying life’s simple pleasures without 'over indulging’! On the contrary, another healthy looking girl requested for more and happily popped into her mouth one after another, all the while telling me how much she missed these!

             It’s been a habit of mine to stock up these tiny biscuits in large bottles for the past fifteen years or so, but the truth is, I never get to eat them all! The bottle is emptied usually by others the moment I give them a taste of these biscuits. I am sure there will be a whole lot of you out there, who would wish right now to grab a handful of these teeny tiny biscuits for that sweet salivating taste that lingers in the mouth for a long time. Totally addictive!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Chocolate Cup Cake With Strawberry Jam

                  For long I had envisioned making large chocolate cup cakes dark and spongy, topped with little studs of chocolate chips, somthing that should be enticing and taste nothing but chocolate. It came true last week when I was craving for a chocolate cake and it turned out exactly the way I had visualised and tasted exactly the way I had wished ! I used to be tempted before by those gorgeous looking cup cakes on the shelves of many pastry shops and I believed they would taste as good as they looked,  but they never did and after a certain time I stopped buying them as all I could taste was the strong chemical in them added for that light and spongy texture ( usually an overdose of raising agents). 

                   Last tuesday, I skipped my language class and made myself these wonderful chocolate cup cakes to de-stress myself after a presentation and I must say, it was totally worth it ! I made these for myself with no intension of blogging about it, but as they tasted great, I am using a small break to share it here now! 
I chose this recipe because it requires no special skill or any fancy electric equipments. It only requires a bowl and a spoon and in the next thirty minutes you would be able to taste an aboslutely delicious chocoalte cup cake. It is that easy and delicious that you will definitely make it again. 
I adapted the Raspberry chocolate cake recipe from epicurious, added a few ingredients and made it into cupcakes.

Flour                    2/3 cup
Sugar                   1/2 cup - packed ( Dark brown sugar - measured and powdered)
Baking soda         1/2 tsp
Cocoa Powder      1/4 cup

Vanilla Extract         1 tsp
Butter milk               2/3 cup
Water                       1/3 cup
Oil                            1/4 cup
Egg                          1

Strawberry jam 
Chocolate chips

Combine ingredients in I and sift together atleast twice.
Combine ingredietns in II and whisk just to mix everything together.
Combine I and II and gently mix only until everything is combined.
Add the chopped walnuts, mix lightly,

Spray or grease four ramekins, line the bottom with baking paper spray again or grease.
Pour a little of the chocolate batter in the ramekins, place a tsp of the jam in the middle, top it with more batter and sprinkle the chocolate chips. 

Bake the cup cakes in a preheated oven at 180ºc for 20 minutes. 
Make sure to fill only 3/4 cup.
Hot or cold it tastes absolutely wonderful! ( Tastes even better the next day !)

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Gandhakasala Ghee Rice And Kaayalpattinam Kalakkari

                       I am not much of a meat eater, I love my veggies and that’s one of the reason this post was delayed. I may not be a meat lover but the people I cook for, are and they get annoyed, when I hold back the food for the photo shoot. I managed to make it this time with the last grains of rice I had and as seen here, taking good photos wasn’t my priority as it wasn’t possible with some hungry people waiting around!

                         So here’s the much awaited and the promised post Gandhakasala Ghee rice and Kaayalpattinam Kalakkari that has taken almost eight months time for me to post it! Gandhakasala rice is an aromatic rice like jeeragasamba rice that comes from the wayanad region in kerala. The rice can be cooked plain, just like regular rice or can be used to cook biriyani or pulav as its wonderful aroma will enhance the taste of any dish made with the rice. If you get used to its flavour and taste you may not even reach for basmati rice again.

                              Ghee rice is usually made using whole spices, but I have used the gandhakasala rice to make the ghee rice in kayalpattinam style,  a very delicious but lesser known cuisine from the southern districts of Tamilnadu. Ghee rice and kalakkari are part of a feast usually prepared for a wedding along with brinjal curry, a tangy rasam and a very delicious sweet dish made with fruits. Regular rice like raw rice/parboiled rice is cooked with salt and ghee and served with a very rich mutton curry called kalakkari. As the rice is cooked with salt and ghee it tastes very delicious by itself. Since it is a very heavy food made with lots of ghee it is usually made only for a wedding ceremony by the muslims of kayalpattinam. I was fortunate enough to taste some of kayalpattinams delicacies like Manjal vaada, a prawn stuffed deep fried snack and off course the wedding feast a few times. When asked the reason why plantain was added in a mutton curry, I was told that in case of shortage of meat in the curry, the plantain will mimic the mutton in taste and size by absorbing its juice in the curry and it will make up for the absence of meat. A very clever idea indeed!  This is my version of ghee rice and kalakkari, that my folks enjoy. Using a pressure cooker will spoil the taste of the curry and I always use my Japanese earthen pot to cook my curry to get that perfect taste even though it takes a little longer to cook. Vegetarians can try the same using potatoes sans the mutton and plantain.

Gandhakasala Ghee rice
Gandhakasala rice  3/4 cup
Water                      1 1/2 cups
Ghee                       1/2 tsp
Salt                         1/2 tsp

Rinse the rice well and soak for about 15 minutes.
In a cooking pan take water, add ghee and salt and bring to a boil.
Add the soaked rice (drained) and when it begins to boil, cover the pan with a lid and cook for about 12 minutes on low heat. Turn off the heat and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Serve hot with a spicy curry.
( It is similar to cooking basmati rice, but it tastes altogether different with a unique flavour)

Mutton                              3/4 k
Onion                                1 large
Shallots                             10
Tomato                              2 medium sized
Green chillies                     2
Turmeric powder               1 tsp
Fennel                               1 tsp
Chilli+Coriander Powder   6 tsp
Ginger garlic paste           3 tsp
Coconut                            1/2 cup (chopped)
Poppy seeds                      1 Tbsp

Cashew                              8
Hung curd                         1/4 cup
Salt                                    2 tsp
Plantain                             1
Coconut oil                        4 Tbsp
Ghee                                 1/2 to1 Tbsp)
Cinnamon                         2 large
Cardamom                       6
Cloves                               9
Star anise                          3

I use very little ghee, use more if you prefer, as the original curry made in the muslim households has a rich flavour of ghee ( so much that, you can see the oil and the ghee floating on the curry after cooking) that can be felt even as you eat and it leaves a lingering taste for several hours!

Add oil and ghee to the cooking pot, when it is hot add the whole spices and curry leaves.
Add the sliced onion stir and add the shallots, saute until the onions turn pink.
Add the green chillies( chopped), ginger garlic paste, tomatoes, stir for a minute.
Add the turmeric powder, chilli+coriander powder, salt, curd and stir to combine.

Add the mutton pieces, give it a good stir, add water ( see to that the meat is completely immersed in the water) and cook on medium heat for about 40-45 minutes ( may vary depending on the size of the cut).
Add the ground paste of Coconut+poppy seeds+fennel+ cashew, stir and add the plantain cubes( peeled and cubed ).
Cook till the plantain is soft, reduce the heat and simmer the curry for about 5 minutes.
Serve hot with the rice.

You can reduce the amount of chilli+ coriander powder if you do not want it to be spicy.
Originally ghee rice is made using regular raw rice or parboiled rice, so it is not a must that you should use only gandhakasala rice.
I got the rice couriered from wayanad last january, by the kind efforts of a family friend from kerala.
( Biju, if you are reading this, thanks a lot, this post wouldn’t have been possible if not for your kind help)

Earlier the rice was available in kalpakshema stores in Gopalapuram, but now they have stopped selling it. I have no idea where else it is available right now in chennai.
My intention of this post was to introduce the rice and the kayalpattinam cuisine, so even if you don’t have the gandhakasala rice, don’t hesitate to try the recipe, use regular rice, vegetarians make it with veggies and share your experience.
Now if you are not making any of the above, then try some of these, using homemade ghee:
1. Add some melted ghee and salt to taste, to a bowl of cooked rice, mix well and enjoy.
2. Cook Tuar dhal with turmeric powder and asafoetida. Add this dal to some cooked rice+ salt to taste + some melted ghee, mix well and enjoy.
3. Mix ghee and sugar and enjoy with your idlies or use ghee to your idly podi and enjoy.
These are some of my and my son’s favourite ways of taking ghee!
If you have a favourite way of taking ghee with your food, share it with me!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Moody Monsoon!

                                      Oops! I have done it again, disappearing one more time, remaining silent and leaving behind confused readers.  Well, initially I did decide to leave a gap before I posted my next recipe, as I wanted "The making of ghee" post to reach more people and create awareness that just any block of butter can never produce pure ghee, but the gap widened a little looooonger than I had planned, as I got myself involved in activities that I had long desired, which kept and still keeping me away from my own blog for days.  But, Wow! It feels so good to be posting again, especially on a day, when the weather is so nice and cool. Hot coffee and good music is all I have in mind right now.

                     My untouched camera, dust gathered props and the unused beautiful porcelain wares constantly remind me of my absence and what I am missing. I know I promised a recipe and I shall post it when I get back to my kitchen, until then enjoy the monsoon, the best season of the year that elevates the mood to an ecstatic level, after long dry days. The above picture is a pencil sketch of mine based on a beautiful photograph found on the web. I can totally understand, if you are too urged to change/close the page, not able to withstand looking at it!

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