Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Mohanthaal - Traditional Indian Gram Flour And Cardamom Fudge

Every year, come Diwali and you will see me scouring my mother's cookbooks looking for a traditional Indian sweet recipe to try my hand at. And of course, when I say every year I mean every year since I started writing this food blog. For every other time, I believe in the convenience and practicality of store-bought. 

Turns out that I have apparently tried all the easy stuff there is to make. So, this year, it was time to get a bit ambitious. So, with great enthusiasm, encouraged by Mama of course, I zeroed in on making Mohanthaal, a traditional besan (gram flour) and cardamom sweet from Gujarat that is then topped off with slivered pistachios and almonds.

But honestly, when the time arrived to make it, the only person enthusiastic about making it was Mama. Thankfully, she insisted and persisted and made this absolutely delectable Mohanthaal that I can share with you. All that yours truly did was to measure out the ingredients, read aloud the directions from the recipe book and cut the squares of the finished product, which as you can see are all crooked and uneven!

However, if you have the enthusiasm, it all seemed quite easy or at least that's how Mama made it look. And not too time-consuming either. And the end product was nothing short of professional and even better than the shop bought stuff and no, I am not being biased!

Each little cube of this Mohanthaal is packed with all that is right about Indian festive sweets. It is rich, indulgent, flavoured with cardamom, topped off with nuts and meant to be shared with as many people as you can this festive season!

This Diwali, amidst all your shopping, I hope you bought some traditional diyas to light up your homes.The potters who create them are a traditional, cottage industry that will face an unfortunate decline without all our collective support and patronage.

Wishing all you beautiful people and your families a very happy and blessed Diwali, from our home to yours!!  

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Orange and Cranberry Muffins

Am sure you experience it too .. the burgeoning of small businesses all around us. In the past few months, I have been introduced to so many of them. From those working directly with the weavers of Varanasi to one that is pioneering India's first range of organic and artisanal chocolate. I have bought from social enterprises that are helping women stand on their feet to businesses where an individual has taken a leap of faith to strike out on their own, with only their passion as their surety. And it's been an inspiring coincidence that so many of them have a woman behind the enterprise.

What strikes me most is to see the level of detail and care and planning that goes into these businesses. Beside their core product, be it the brand name or the packaging or their social media presence, there is so much soul and feeling that goes into it and invariably, it is an extension of the entrepreneur's personality. So, it is always a delight to meet the person behind the brand. 

So, I was tickled when a friend launched her own wellness company, 'Pahadi Local',  that is dedicated to sourcing natural products from the hills. J, is an old friend from college who has found her mojo as a serial entrepreneur and it's a fascinating journey, which you can read here. The first products to be launched are 'Gutti ka Tel' - pure, unadulterated apricot kernel oil and 'Khal' - an apricot scrub made from the residue after the oil is extracted. 

While shamelessly plugging a friend's business comes with the territory of being an old friend, these are also products I personally use and vouch for. I have dry, sensitive and extremely moody skin, ever since I was a child and that's taught me two lessons. One, the skin should be well moisturised at all times and second, only use products that are natural and stay wary of anything artificial and chemical. Mess with these two points and it's not been pretty!

The apricot kernel oil works on both counts, especially when the season changes to Winter and the skin can do with all the help it can get. It really rejuvenates your skin and rest assured, it is so pure and safe that it is used by babies and pregnant women. Anyhow, that's my personal experience with 'Gutti ka tel' and I'd recommend, if nothing else that you at least connect with 'Pahadi Local' to know about their products.

Talking about Winter, the past few weeks have seemed as further away from it as can be. It's been to the point of being uncomfortably hot. But, on this blog, we like to play pretend every once in a while and so, made these orange and cranberry muffins that Isidora Popovic describes as 'appealing on a cold winter's morning'.

These are zesty, citrusy, moist orange muffins that are packed with cranberries and topped off with pistachios. They are good for the morning as they are not too sweet and citrusy flavour is a great pick-me-up. Unfortunately, I had to make do with dried cranberries but just imagine how pretty these would be with the fresh ones. 

Now, I would love to hear if you or someone close to you has been involved in an interesting start up. Hope you're having a good week!!

Note: You can connect with Pahadi Local on their Facebook page or on +91-75064 69522 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Apple And Brandy Syrup Cake

I do envy all those of you who are experiencing Fall right now. The colours of the leaves, the crispness in the air and the general cosiness that the season evokes, be it the clothes, the food or just the general, toasty vibe.
You could argue that the Winter is anyway pleasantly mild in my part of the World but with the way the weather is these days, Winter or whatever we pass off as Winter is still a while away. So, I did the only sensible thing one does when you can't get what you want. You bake a cake, of course! And this one has the flavours of Fall!!
It's an apple cake with a supporting cast of oranges, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts that once baked is then glazed with a brandy syrup. Much like other cakes on this blog, this one too, is not much of a looker but don't be hasty in judging it.
It's a dense, moist cake that is crammed with flavour. The star pairing is that of apple and cinnamon with the undertone of citrus giving it some freshness. The toasted walnuts and raisins provide the tiny pockets of texture and taste that are always welcome. If anything, the flavours are slightly reminiscent of a Christmas cake.
Over the course of the baking, the apples stew in their own juices with the sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar on top and will remind of you of everyone's favourite Apple Pie. The brandy syrup keeps the apples and the cake below moist.
A warm cake does not need any embellishments I believe, but if you'd like, you can pair it with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream or even some vanilla custard, depending on how the weather is in your part of the World.
Now, if only the weather would oblige....Have a lovely week ahead!!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Chocolate, Almond and Orange Biscotti

Since I don't have anything interesting to share when it comes to food, I thought I'd pop in and say hello and share with you the books that I've read recently. The first is Elif Shafak's 'The Architect's Apprentice'. I have been wanting to read more of her work after she captivated me with her earlier book, 'Forty Rules of Love'. And the second book is the final instalment of Amitav Ghosh's 'Ibis' Trilogy, 'Flood of Fire'.

I am no one to critique these novels or these writers except to say I am just in awe of both of them. Their ability to write a story of fiction, breathe life into its characters and then build the plot to a crescendo whilst capturing the drama of human emotions that beats at its heart, is story telling at its finest.

Ghosh's book is richer and more complex but that's also because his canvas stretches across three books. And I also feel that his book is steeped in the culture of traditional Indian storytelling, with its myriad of sub plots whose paths intersect and intertwine through the book.

But, most of all these books remind me that the more I read, the more I realise how little I know. Both are books of fiction that are set in a factual, historical setting and one can only marvel at the sheer research undertaken by both authors to write these books. Shafak's novel has the Ottoman Empire as its backdrop while Ghosh's novel is set in the theatre of the Anglo-Chinese Opium War.

And I'll admit my knowledge of both is abysmal. In fact, my knowledge of history overall is patchy and wonder if it has anything to do with insipid history curriculum that we had in school. And it's a handicap because to the understand the issues of the present, one needs to view them through the periscope of past events.

Now, that's enough of a ramble about the books that I've read. Instead, let me tell you about these biscotti. I saw these on Pinterest and there was something about them being dipped in chocolate that made me want to bake them.

These are dry, crackly cocoa biscotti with a hint of orange and cinnamon that are given texture with almonds and pistachios that are then dipped in shiny, glossy dark chocolate so that nobody can find any fault with them. Biscotti are some of the easiest and least time consuming biscuits to make. I will say though that these biscotti taste better the next day when the flavours have been allowed to deepen.  

I am currently reading Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' and wondering why I haven't read it till now. I'd love to hear what you are reading, no matter what the genre is. Have a lovely weekend!! 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Chocolate Hobnob Biscuits

It's been a bit quiet around here, hasn't it?! It's not that I have been super busy but rather the mind's been a bit preoccupied and honestly, before I knew it, the days have just gone by! I've even had a few posts in mind but they've just remained stuck right my mind! I've had the time, the inspiration, the kitchen to myself and yet, for reasons that remain unknown I've just stayed away from the kitchen.
And then this week, as it always happens, I wanted to pre-heat the oven again. Just like that! So, to ease back into the groove with things, I decided first up to fill up the biscuit jar that's been lying empty for way too long.

I saw these biscuits on Izy's blog a few days back and I knew had to bake them. For no other reason than nostalgia. Chocolate-coated Hobnobs and chocolate-coated Digestives have kept me company through many an exam and late night project submission deadlines. And for some reason, I always chose the dark chocolate ones over their milk chocolate peers. Well, the reasoning was that the virtues of dark chocolate would counter the evils of excessive and stress induced snacking. The mind's ability to twist logic around to validate our decisions is simply genius!!

But, coming back to these biscuits that I baked. Hobnobs are oat-based biscuits and this recipe is brilliant. There is no white sugar, no white flour, no eggs and they taste even better than the shop bought ones. You could leave out the chocolate topping but I advise against that. The chocolate completes it. And with the Indian climate, store them in the fridge. Hobnobs taste better when cold.
You should hopefully see some more activity on this blog in the coming weeks. In the meanwhile, I hope you've been well..xx!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Chocolate And Pear Tart

On a rainy, weekend afternoon, there are very few things better than heading into the kitchen for a baking session, especially when it promises to reward you with a tart at the end of it all. The pears have arrived in the market, signalling that the seasons are changing. The first of the season have arrived, plump and juicy. So, of course, they made it to the tart, paired with chocolate, a timeless combination.
The recipe I have used is from the much loved and much used 'Popina Book of Baking'. It is a chocolate short crust pastry tart that is filled with a chocolate sponge that is then topped off with some pear slices.
Many will wonder if the pears are too delicate a fruit to pair with something as decadent as chocolate. It is something I have wondered about in the past but I have always been proven wrong. Somehow, pears seems to effortlessly stand up to stronger flavours such as chocolate or even blue cheese. Not only does it cut through the richness of chocolate but somehow the chocolate helps to enhance the flavours of the fruit.
The tart is a fair bit of work but I promise you the result makes it all worth it. The crust is a regular short crust that has cocoa added to it. The cocoa, I think, is more for the visual aesthetics rather than for the flavour. Because all of the flavour is in that filling.

The filling bakes into a soft, moist, chocolaty cake whose texture is regularly punctuated by the crunch of the toasted almonds in the fillings as well as those juicy pears on top.
You could pair it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream to serve it as a dinner party dessert but I enjoyed it straight out of the oven, warm with a cup of coffee. Like I said, it is worth all the effort and time spent on it.
Have a beautiful week ahead!!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Île Flottante With Fresh Cherries

The good thing about the stone fruit season is that the season in India is more or less in line with the season around the world. And that means you are never short of ideas for what to do with the fruit in the basket. And amongst all those ideas, I have a soft spot for French desserts. They can be elegant, they can be rustic, they can be simple, they can be flamboyant and sometimes, all at the same time. And I'm always taken in by how pretty they sound. Makes me wish I had paid more attention in class when we were taught the language in school!
Like this dessert I made with the last cherries of the season. In English, it would translate as 'floating islands', which won't elicit much of a response. But, say 'ile flottante' and it's time to pull out the little black dress for the occasion, even if you have no idea what it means.

'Île flottante' is a dessert that consists of poached meringues that are served floating on a crème anglaise, French for a vanilla custard. There are numerous recipes on the Web and I turned to the most economical one that was Mary Berry's.
The meringues use the egg whites and the custard uses the egg yolks and Mary's recipe uses them in equal number. Which is just perfect because I find nothing more frustrating than when I have leftover yolks or whites at the end of a recipe, which then means I have to go look for another recipe just to use them up!
The recipe is also resourceful in the sense that it uses milk to poach the meringues and once that's done, you use the same milk to make the crème anglaise. Perfect score in home economics, I say!
Preparing the dessert was not difficult but I'll admit it was a bit too fiddly for my liking, specially the bit about poaching the meringues. Although the meringues transformed themselves into soft, fluffy clouds as promised, I just had to keep second guessing myself, never really knowing if I was getting it right. In contrast, making the custard is quite simple and remember it is better served chilled.
This is a very rich dessert that makes quite an impression when it first appears. There is that white, soft, fluffy, delicate meringue served on a bed of pale yellow crème anglaise, whose simplicity of appearance belies its extravagance in flavour.
That would also mean that if you are looking for something simple and light, you will find this dessert a tad overwhelming. And that would also hold true, if you are a person who likes the taste of eggs to be hidden in your dessert, because it plays a starring role in both the elements.

What I would have preferred is a little less sugar in both the elements. This dessert is usually served with a caramel sauce but that would have just piled on the sugar I think. And that's why, thank goodness for the cherries. The freshness and the slight, natural tartness of the cherries cut through all the sugar and the richness of the dessert.  So, the cherries were a brilliant idea, courtesy David Tanis for the NYT.
Have you made or eaten ile flottante?? Do tell me what you think of it. Hope you're having a good week!!
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