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!

Monday, 12 May 2014

How To Make Ghee (Nei) - The Traditional South Indian Method - Home Made Ghee

                The very second the Drumstick leaves are dropped in the hot ghee, the lovely crackling sound and the aroma wafting through the air, will bring my son where ever he was running to the kitchen and ask with such happiness in his face, if it was going to be ghee rice with that ‘leaves’ for lunch that day. A delightful food experience that he will never forget, like I never did.

                     He grew up on home made ghee until we had the luxury of fresh milk from our home bred cow. I remember making a litre or two of ghee every few months and add a tsp of ghee while feeding him dal rice or with rasam, or with greens, or with sambar almost every day and all that ghee never made him fat. A tsp of home made ghee made the traditional way is recommended for good health, even otherwise I wouldn’t say no to home made ghee.  If you have ever made ghee the way we South Indians make, I can assure you that, neither the experience nor the aroma of the ghee made in this manner will leave your memory ever.

                  To make ghee, we need butter. Butter can be made in two different methods. Traditionally butter is churned from home made curd on a full moon day and the ghee made from the traditionally churned butter happens to be the healthiest and the pure form of ghee suitable for consumption, especially for growing kids. It takes only less than a day to make ghee using the traditional method.

          In the traditional method of churning butter, the reason I have used a clay pot is, due to its earthen nature the clay pot keeps the content cool and the butter is churned far quickly than when churned in other vessel and moreover the narrow neck of the clay pot prevents the liquid from splashing all over and spilling outside while churning which is what usually happens when made in a regular vessel making the entire surrounding a messy place. I would strongly suggest to use a clay pot if following this method for the best result.

The second method is by collecting the cream that settles on top of the milk for several days ( a little curd is added to the cream halfway through the collecting period) and then the collected cream is churned to extract butter which is then melted to make ghee. The ghee made in this manner is of second quality with little health benefits as it is neither made fresh nor it is properly cultured like the traditional method.The ghee made in each of this method has its own character and effect when consumed.

                    I have shown the two methods of making ghee right from scratch, from milk to curd to butter to ghee, which happens to be the traditionally practised method of churning butter in a time when there was no refrigerator or other electric gadgets and the second method of churning butter from cream collected over a period of time. However since it is not feasible for all to get fresh cow milk you can use fresh cream available in some bakeries or in stores in cartons to churn butter. If in India you can use Milky Mist Fresh Cream to churn butter.

Empty the contents of the carton ( chilled milky mist cream) into a bowl and beat using an electric beater on high speed until the butter separates leaving behind butter milk. I have tried this too successfully, although I wanted to include this in the video, since I didn’t have any store bought cream in hand I couldn’t . Butter churned in this method can be used to make ghee following the procedure shown in the video. In the video you will see:
How to make Curd from scratch using raw milk,
How to make butter from curd
How to make butter from cream
How to make Ghee from Home made butter, in the traditional SouthIndian method.

Home Made Ghee ( Nei) from scratch, using whole milk/ How to hand churn butter from Curd/ How to churn butter from Cream

Since it is always advised to use melted ghee for better health, store the ghee in a steal jar with a handle as it will be easy to melt the ghee whenever needed.

Don’t ever be mislead by suggestions that tell you to use commercially available butter to make ghee, as what you will be getting is only melted butter and not ghee. I have tried that too during a period when there was no more cow and no more fresh milk and when I was desperate for home made ghee. I tried making ghee with the commercially available butter and without a second thought, it went straight down the sink hole. For someone who have tasted real ghee for years and made from scratch using fresh raw materials, I can say with conviction that the methods I have given here are the only best ways to make home made ghee and I would suggest to never ever make ghee from store bought butter, because it is not ghee, it is just plain melted butter.

The same procedures can be followed to make ghee using buffalo milk too, but the ghee made from buffalo has its own character.
Don’t try to make using store bought milk you will not succeed. I have tried that too using milk with even 6% fat , churning for more than an hour and there was not a trace of butter.
The milk we buy in packets undergoes various stages of processing not just stripped of its nutrients and fats but added with various chemicals to prolong its shelf life so it is not possible to extract butter from commercially available milk and the same applies to butter blocks that you buy from the store, which is not fit for making ghee.
The ghee on cooling begins to solidify with a lovely sand like texture  as seen in the picture. ( Shot on the second day of making)
For the second and third method the cream must be cold before it is churned.
Don’t use frozen milk, avoid even the so called organic milk that comes frozen, the truth is, it is barely edible, can’t take more than a sip !
Try to source fresh milk from someone who owns a cow for the best home made ghee that is absolutely nutritious and flavoursome.

Apart from cooking, Ghee can be applied on mouth ulcers to get cure. It also helps in treating skin rashes. Also when skin is scalded, ghee can be applied to prevent the formation of a scar.

Save a little ghee until I post my next recipe using the ghee which is going to be an even more traditional food, which you might not have heard of!

Friday, 2 May 2014

Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies With Pistachios And Rose

                             Some time during the 90’s, whistling a happy tune and fiddling in the kitchen, I caught the attention of my father who was working in the garden to peep through the window, only to be surprised to see his teenage daughter whistle like a boy. Music on the background, whistling along, has always been my happy quotient and a sure indicator that I am completely enjoying what I do. Especially If I happen to be cooking, my good mood reflects in the food prepared. Blessed are those people who create music, as they are truly gifted. I may not be gifted, but love the sound of music resonating around me and whistling happens to be my comfort level of expressing, even though it may not follow any of the rules laid down by the Music Grammar!

                        Recently Chennai was blessed with musical showers by not one, but two orchestras. One, by The BBC scottish Symphony Orchestra and the other by Yaani. I was fortunate enough to attend both and witness the musical extravaganza that rocked Chennai for the first time. It was a lively atmosphere at Yaani’s performance, as the crowd cheered for every single movement by yaani and every word he spoke. His exuberance was so contagious, that the crowd never sulked even for a moment, but rather the smitten fans demanded for more. While you could not hear nothing more than a loud applause at the BBC SSO, from the so called elegant crowd, who even responded only feebly when they were wished Good Evening, it was totally a contrasting scenario. Living in the land of Ilayaraja whose music reigns and the home town of an oscar winner, it would be a sin not to love music and aptly chennaites have proved it all right by appreciating the beauty of music in both these orchestras.

                  My recent obsession has been listening to ABBA’s chiquitita and I am totally driving everybody crazy playing it over and over again! Well, who can resist Classics! Vanessa Mae and Estos Tonne ( His "Between Fire and Water " , "The Golden Dragon" and "Cuban Dance and Rhapsody" will surely make you fall for this Jesus look alike guy) are two other musicians whose live performance I wish to watch in the future, if I am lucky. Anything can happen anytime in Chennai!

Flour                        200 g
Oil                           6 Tbsp
Light brown Sugar     1/2 cup ( packed )
Pistachios                   1/2 cup ( chopped )
Rose Essence              1/2 tsp
Earl Grey Tea bags     2
Baking Powder           1 tsp
Milk                         1/3 cup ( 5 1/2 tbsp)

Grind the light brown sugar to a fine powder.
Empty the contents of two tea bags into a bowl and to this add flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and mix well.
Add the oil and rub into the mixture using hands, until well mixed and resembles wet sand.
Add chopped pistachios and the rose essence and give a stir.
Add the milk and gather everything to form a soft dough. Do not knead.
Place the dough in between two plastic sheets and roll into a thin sheet of 1/4 inch thickness or desired thickness and cut out shapes.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper and spray oil or grease it with butter or oil.
Arrange the cut out cookie dough on the prepared baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 180ºc for about 15 minutes.
Let it rest in the oven for another 5 minutes before removing from the oven and cooling it.
The cookies will become crispier as it cools down.

Can use butter ( 80 g) instead of oil for a rich buttery taste. ( I have tried )
These cookies can be made without the tea also and using various other combinations.( I have made them)
Like, pistachios and rose can be skipped and instead orange zest can be added along with the earl grey for a lovely citrusy shortbread.
The cookies can be made much thinner than the ones shown here but adjust the cooking time as it will take less time to cook.
The pistachios can also be coarsely powdered and added to the flour and made into thin crisp cookies which also tastes delicious. ( I have made them)
You can use rose water  if available instead of rose essence. ( Rose water is available in ‘NutsnSpices' shop)
You can use French Earl Grey Tea which is rose flavoured, in which case skip using rose essence or rose water.

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