Thursday, 21 July 2016

Chocolate Chip Cookies

It was at the height of Summer, when the mind was too distressed to indulge in any kind of voluminous reading, that I picked up this slim book with a green cover and blue edged pages. It was Ruskin Bond's latest and was simply titled, 'A Book of Simple Living : Brief Notes from the Hills'. I figured since I couldn't make it to the hills, which in an ideal world I would escape to, for the three brutal months of Summer, I'd find some comfort in Ruskin Bond's words that have always celebrated the magic of the mountains. 

And what an enchanting read it turned out to be. The notes, most no more than a page, are written with the author's trademark simplicity, honesty and a certain childlike wonder. I simply let the words wash over me as he wrote about life's simple joys and even simpler truths. Be it the mountain view from his window as the season change or the daisies growing out of the rocks or the memory of a past love or the sound of a gushing mountain or simply, a sweet appreciation for the balm that solitude provides. So that even on an excruciatingly, unbearable Summer's afternoon, whilst stuck in an air-conditioned room, one was left with no option but to smile. 


And then a few weeks later, I would come across his very first book, 'The Room on the Roof', a special illustrated edition to mark it's 60th anniversary. As he himself explains, the book was written by him, when in a foreign land, terribly lonely, he wrote down all his memories of a time, when egged on by adolescent energy and rebellion, he broke off the shackles of authority and propriety to embrace a world of colour, adventure, angst, desire, excitement, envy, joy and a multitude of other emotions that one grapples with at that age.

It's interesting to place the two books, side by side. One, as Bond puts it, is a 'book about adolescence by an adolescent', capturing the emotions of one, on the cusp of life. The other is written by a man, who has just turned eighty, sharing his secrets of contentment, whilst acutely aware of his own mortality. What they both have in common is the honesty and simplicity that run through their pages which has the ability to look you in the eye, prompting you to pause and look within. With the two books, you are privy to one man's journey through life. And you are left with one of life's most enduring messages. That to shrug off life's rancour, hostility and disappointment and to arrive at your twilight years with a twinkle in your eyes, a smile on your face and laughter in your voice, is in living in the moment, moving on from the past, building a bond with nature and appreciating life's smaller and simpler moments. Because as he writes, "Happiness is a mysterious thing, to be found somewhere between too little and too much"



And talking about the simple things in life are these chocolate chip cookies that I baked. Choc chip cookies are one of those baked goods that everyone bakes, everyone has a recipe of and everyone has an opinion on. I zeroed in on a recipe that has popped up in countless blogs, with each one saying this recipe met the brief for what they were looking for in a chocolate chip cookie. Why, it even won BuzzFeed's Chocolate Chip Cookie Taste-A-Thon (yes, they do have something like that!), fending off some serious competition.

The recipe is by Tara O'Brady, the voice behind the blog, 'Seven Spoons' and this recipe appears in her debut cookbook by the same name. What draws me most about the recipe is how fuss free it is. You don't need to bring the eggs and butter to room temperature. You don't even need a hand mixer, a bowl and a whisk will do just fine. Although what is non-negotiable is that you should use chopped up chocolate chunks instead of standard chocolate chips. You choose whether you want to rest the dough or bake them right away, although I'd recommend that you let the dough rest overnight.

Because, the cookies that will emerge from your oven have nothing to fault them with. They are slightly crispy, slightly chewy and those little islands of warm, melty dark chocolate have the power to set the world right. I don't like to use the term 'best ever' but let's just say, I reckon your search for a chocolate chip cookie recipe will end with this one. So, when you do get the time, give it a shot.


Tom Alter, captured the essence of Ruskin Bond's work when he writes, "Ruskin knew that life was not a childhood game, but he also knew that the game of childhood was the only way to survive life".

Monday, 27 June 2016

Chocolate Creme Caramel

Every time I come back to this blog after a while, I make my excuses and tell myself that I'll be more active, going forward. And yet, over the past few months, every time I've said that, there's been activity for 2-3 weeks and then complete radio silence. And it happened again, over the whole Summer. 

Anyone who knows me a teeny bit knows how I simply stop functioning during the Summer. And this time, it was as if the Summer had gotten personal with me. It seemed longer, more intense and more torturous that I've ever felt it. Every year I struggle and yet, this year it was a new high. Am sure, the rest of you in India felt it too. Add to that, the Internet connection at home went kaput. Something about 'ongoing upgradation of the network' that meant no Internet or Internet speeds from the pre-Jurassic era, which is worse than having no Internet. Trust me!


So, between an endless Summer and a non-existent Internet connection, I've been locked out of the kitchen and this blog. And honestly, one made the other worse. Summer would have been more bearable if I didn't have to rely on my phone for all my digital work and likewise, the problem with the Internet would have been manageable in any other season or so I tell myself. And of course, as these things work out, both issues shall get resolved in the same week. I told you.. someone's been making it personal with me! 

Easing back into normal programming on this blog with a chocolate creme caramel that I made sometime during the Summer. That moment when its too hot to go outside and you crave for something sweet and realise that your refrigerator has nothing to offer, you turn to the three ingredients that are always available in your pantry and make some creme caramel. And because, chocolate always makes everything better, you make chocolate creme caramel.


Always make a creme caramel a day before, it helps it set beautifully and lets the caramel leach into the custard. Creme caramels are fairly simple and if I could make it in the Summer, anyone can make it anytime.

And there's something to be said about that dark, bitter caramel layer that makes this dessert. And this is such a forgiving dessert, even if a little caramel chips off when you unmould it from the ramekins, as the photographs testify.

So, here's the question, is the chocolate version better than the original. You know how I always say, chocolate makes everything better but in this case, I'd cast my vote with the simplicity and honesty of a simple creme caramel with no-frills. There's nothing wrong with the chocolate version, but there's a reason why the original is a classic. It's honest, unpretentious and comforting and sometimes, that what you crave and want, which in my case, is more often than not.

I have brilliant recipe on the blog for the original, if you want to give it a shot. But, then that's my personal opinion and who's to say, which one you might prefer. 


It's not been an easy Summer at all.. but we've survived it. So, now that we can all breathe again, do tell me how have you been?? Raising a cheer to the monsoons, with love..xx!!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Honey Roasted Figs With Limoncello Cream / Homemade Limoncello

For all my experiments with growing herbs that I talked about in my last post, the truth is my mother is an avid gardener. Her garden and its produce have the subject of many of my posts over the years.Every year she experiments with something new in the garden and like every other gardener, she has her share of hits and misses. 

One of the highlights of her garden this Winter was her little Italian lemon plant.Two years back, the man at the nursery had asked if she would be interested in growing Italian lemons. We took a small plant, planted it in a pot and crossed our fingers. Two years on, this Winter we had a bumper crop of a dozen or so lemons. 


These were longer, yellower, thicker skin and more fragrant than the lemon we get in the Indian markets. Cut open one in the kitchen and the entire room and your fingers will be perfumed with this delicate, fresh, citrus scent. 

It's not everyday that one gets their hand on Italian lemons in India. So, we had to make something special in them. And what's more special than using Italian lemons to make some Italian liqueur. 


It doesn't take much to make limoncello except for the waiting period while the lemon peel steeps in vodka. It is the prettiest light lemon colour and it tastes zingy, lemony, delicately sweet and I must mention, it turned out more potent that I expected it to be.

My recommendation on a hot, summer evening, fill up a glass with ice cubes and then pour in a little shot of limoncello and savour it sip by sip and I assure you, by the time, you empty that glass of yours, you will be a much happier person!



Making a bottle of limoncello is the easy part. Deciding what to do with it, not so much. Not in the mood for much cooking, I settled in on figs roasted with honey and limoncello that is paired with some limoncello cream and toasted almonds and a teeny drizzle of honey on top.

You can use Greek yoghurt but as I mentioned in my last post, these days, double cream and I are having a moment. Diet be damned! Vanilla ice-cream would also go well and you could drizzle the limoncello on top for added flavour.  

This is a simple dessert but nothing to knock your socks off! It is a pleasant dessert to round off a hearty dinner. The options to substitute are endless. On the top of my head, substitute the figs with strawberries and the limoncello with brandy.  A matter of personal preference, but I liked all my components chilled.



Heading off for a short break over the long weekend and I'll see you next in April. A long weekend is coming up and I hope you get to spend it with family and friends. If you play Holi, please make the effort to use natural colours!!

Wishing you and yours a beautiful and fun Holi..xx!!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Roast Potato And Spring Onion Tartlets / Spinach And Walnut Salad With Orange Vinaigrette

On turning 95, one of India's most prolific writers and journalists, Khushwant Singh wrote on happiness and what one has to do in order to achieve it. As expected of anyone who reaches that age he had something substantial to say on the topic. And besides, his irreverence and honesty made it a refreshing read in today's politically correct world.

That article I talk about was a while back and among all the maxims that he had written, many of which one had read or heard elsewhere in some form or substance, one of them stayed with me. It said, "Plant your own trees and flowers, see them grow and blossom, and cultivate a sense of kinship with them."


I would be reminded of his words when I read Timothy Egan's article, "The Eight-Second Attention Span" in the New York Times. He writes how in the age of the ubiquitous smart phone and our need to always be connected and for instant validation, our attention span has been the biggest victim. And no amount of digital detox will help. What will help is to consciously engage and make time for activities on a daily basis that will work as an antidote to what he calls our 'shrinking attention span'. He recommends deep reading and gardening. He reckons there is no instant gratification in gardening. Sow the seeds and nature forces you to wait while it takes its course and decides whether to reward you or not for your efforts.

I don't know about you but I am some time away from owning my own piece of land or home where my gardening aspirations can come to fruition. So, instead I improvised this winter and grew my own herbs in little pots. We grew coriander, celery, mint, spinach, methi (fenugreek), rosemary and thyme. 


The celery, mint and spinach were outright successes. The coriander and fenugreek did well but somewhere along the line, the lack of experience showed up and both the plants got a bit messy and we reasoned that it was better buying them from the market where they are fresh and easily available. As for the thyme and rosemary, it was as if we hadn't even planted them. Not even a teeny  green shoot to boot!!

And I'll admit, the whole process was not only gratifying but it brought along a certain childlike fascination and excitement with it. Try it, and see how many times you check on those little pots looking for some sign of life and growth. In its own way, it creates an empathy and understanding about the entire food cycle and the challenges it faces. And see if you can resist showing off your homegrown produce at every instance! 


Fresh herbs are best used to enhance the flavour profile of any dish but when it comes to spinach and fenugreek, they are best made the hero of the dish. So, for a meal over the weekend, I made a spinach and walnut salad that I paired with some roast potato and spring onion tartlets.

The tartlets are from my all-time favourite 'Popina Book of Baking' to which I added some chopped celery for added flavour. While I adore roast potatoes, I did find them a bit too starchy and creamy in these tartlets. I recommend and would do so the next time I make them, to replace the roast potatoes with either some roast chicken or even mushrooms.

Luckily, in this case, the spinach salad came to the rescue. Tossed with the walnuts in the orange-honey vinaigrette, it cut all through all that creaminess. It was light, fresh and zesty and lightened up the palate. And the walnuts are always a welcome textural and nutty contast.


And to end it all, we had strawberries and cream. I am not a huge fan of cream but then the other day, I whipped up some cream with a wee bit of orange liqueur and I think I might have created a monster. Because from now on, that's the only thing I want to pair my strawberries with. For something different, I did macerate the strawberries with some ahem(!) homegrown mint. Such a small and simple twist, but a huge payback on the flavour front. I recommend you give it a try before the strawberries leave the market!

I know there are a lot of urban farmers out there. Any tips or suggestions that you have, I'd love to hear from you. The weekend's already upon us.. Have a lovely one!!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Strawberry Tarts

It's been so quiet for so long out here that I am not even sure how to begin this post. So, I'll get to the point straight away as to why I felt the need to put some space between me and this little blog of mine. 

If you are a food blogger, you will probably understand what I have to say...or maybe it's just me. The food blogging world is relentless with its constant bombardment and preoccupation with the visual imagery of food that it tends to get a bit overwhelming. It felt so intense that somewhere, in the multitude of food blogs that I follow on various social media channels, it all got a bit pretentious and all-consuming and somewhere along the line, I stopped enjoying this space.

And as I tuned off, I became critical of my own blog, especially of my posts over the past one year. The photographs seemed over-exposed/under-exposed, too grainy and lacking in focus and composition. And as for the writing, barring a few posts, it all read as repetitive and a tad boring, if I may say so myself. It was clearly time for a time-out!


But, as I stayed away, I kind of missed this place. I missed the creativity it sparked in me. I missed the baking and the little stories I wove around them. And yes, I missed interacting with the people I've met through this blog, even if this blog can boast of all of five readers!! 

This blog was never solely about the food. It was about the memories and stories that food evokes and about how food is the medium around which we create new memories. And somewhere in the social media onslaught, I lost touch with that. 

That meant clearing out my social media to follow a smaller bunch of food blogs that I can relate to. And of course, getting back to this blog with a resolve of keeping it simple. Of course, the critic within me tells me that I need to still work on my photography and my writing, which I believe will always be an evolving challenge.


These should be the last few days of the strawberry season and to ease back into the blogging groove, I kept it simple with these strawberry tarts. The base is a regular short crust pastry that I filled with creme patissiere, which is just the French term for a thick and creamy custard. And, if making creme patissiere seems like too much cooking for you, which it is NOT, you can use whipped cream or even hung yoghurt if that's what your palate prefers.

The main focus are those fresh strawberries on top that I macerated with a wee bit of sugar. Recipes will suggest that you brush them with jam to make them glossy but these were so fresh that they needed nothing. 


That buttery, flaky crust contrasts with that creamy, soft, chilled vanilla custard and then topped off with those fresh strawberries makes just the most delightful tea time treat for the weekend!

It's been a while but I hope life's been treating you well...xx!!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Chocolate Cake With Strawberries, Pomegranate And Mint Wreath

Things have been so quiet around here on the blog that Christmas almost passed us by. Rather than going into why I've been missing in action, I'm just going quietly slink in and join the Christmas party because that's all that matters!
 
We may not celebrate Christmas at home but there's no reason why one can't put up the twinkly lights, pull out the pretty plates, bake a cake and raise a toast to the year gone by! 


And that's what we did. The cake is my trusted eggless chocolate cake with a fudge frosting that I bake every time I need a cake on short order and am assured will not disappoint.
 
How could I not jazz it up keeping the colours of Christmas in mind?! Luckily, strawberries and pomegranates are in season right now and a few mint leaves from the garden did the job beautifully. And lest I forget, thank you Pinterest for the inspiration.


This is the first time I have used fruit in such a way to decorate the cake and I must admit I absolutely love the final result. It hardly took any time and effort and made the cake look so festive. It's an idea which I shall be turning to time and again.
 
 
And on the taste front, the fruit cuts through all the chocolate and freshens up the cake and the palate, both in danger of being overwhelmed in this season, where indulgence is the norm.


Wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I wish that you spend the last week of this year surrounded by family, friends, laughter, good food and all that makes this season special!

 

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!!  


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