Sunday, 29 April 2012

Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Feta Scones

My mother's garden is her pride and joy. Her time spent there, is the most favourite time of her day. She fusses over each plant like a mother, frets when all does not seem well with them and gets excited like a little girl when the first fruit/flower of the season appears!! She tells me that the joy one gets from growing plants and trees is a feeling that can only be experienced, rarely expressed!!

I had a glimpse of that sentiment, when this year, she decided to try her hand at growing vegetables. Along with some herbs, she also planted tomatoes and aubergines. My limited way with words is unable to express how excited we were when the first little tomatoes, green in colour, appeared (we almost squealed, if you must know)...and then everyday we would check on them, waiting and watching as they turned from green to red...every day a little more than yesterday!!

From a handful of tomato plants, we got a tomato harvest that was more than what our small household, Ma tapped into her inner Martha Stewart and churned out the most luscious, flavourful home-made tomato ketchup. And, when they were still more tomatoes left, she decided to make sun-dried tomatoes just so that she could unravel the mystery behind, in her own words, 'those over-priced bottles' of the same that you get in delis and shops!! With the blazing Indian sun, in a day's time, we had a bottle of sun-dried tomatoes that was promptly handed over to me "to make something with"!! And these scones are what I made!!

I had seen them a while back on Alice Currah's fabulous blog, 'Savory, Sweet Life'. With her cookbook slated for release this summer, you can rely on her blog to give you simple, reliable and delicious ideas for cooking as well as baking. Her original recipe calls for roasted tomatoes that I replaced with sun-dried ones.


The technique seemed familiar, much like that of the Irish soda bread I made a few weeks back. Only this had the dough mixed with sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese and green onions for added taste. It is also one of those recipes that takes one hour from start to finish and that includes the baking time!!

These scones had the kitchen smelling fabulous, were soft and delicious and a perfect accompaniment to a soup or a casserole for dinner. The sun-dried tomatoes and feta gave a sharpness and saltiness without being overpowering. I did feel the green onions were a bit lost but that could have also been because the ones I was using were not particularly robust to start with.

These scones got full marks from the mother and I concur. It's such an easy and quick recipe that you know you'll keep coming back to it. Play around with different cheeses, cold cuts or even vegetables and do tell me how it turned out!! And before I sign off, can I just say that all you've read about how rewarding and special it is to cook with home-grown produce is, indeed, all true!!!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Muffins

When a close friend announced that she'll be off to business school this August, it brought back memories of my time in B-school when I had gone to do my Masters. In true Dickensian sense, it was the best of times and the worst of times!! The pace and intensity of the course tested and stretched not only my intellectual capabilities but also my self-confidence, determination and perseverance. But for all the academic rigour demanded, I also met some of the most wonderful and dearest friends of my life!! We came from diverse countries and backgrounds, studied diverse subjects, cooked diverse food and spoke English with our, own unique accents. And yet there seemed to be a connect with them that forged a bond that will, hopefully, last a lifetime!!

But, with two of them, Moya and Nush, it was more than just a friendship. We were each other's deepest confidantes, strongest supporters and the people to turn to for a laugh, a hug or just a shoulder to vent and cry on. We, now, live in three different parts of the world and are not in touch on a daily basis but all it takes is a phone call and in no time conversation dissolves into a bout of giggles and gossip. Girls will always be girls!!

When I saw these chocolate muffins, they brought back a specific memory. When the finer points of 'Game Theory' or the nuances of monetary policy seemed beyond our realm of comprehension, we would walk straight from the library to the University store and wolf down one of these huge, double chocolate muffins. Frankly, I can't even remember how they tasted just that they were chocolaty, sweet, as "big-as-my-face" and just the thing needed to help us face the world of economics again!!

April is the month when both of them celebrate their birthdays and I thought I make a batch of these with a virtual birthday wish for them. These muffins are a smaller, whole-wheat version of the original because, let's face it, with time our metabolism is not what it used to be in University!!

I saw these muffins on Reeni's lovely blog, 'Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice', and they looked so moist and chocolaty, I knew I had to make them. The recipe is all smooth sailing and the end result will truly hold your attention. These muffins were chocolaty, dark and surprisingly, moist in spite of using whole wheat flour. I reckon the use of yoghurt helped keep them moist. The whole wheat is such a welcome, healthy alternative to plain flour that when you get a recipe, like this one, that does not compromise on quality and taste, you know it's a keeper!!

Usually when I bake a batch of muffins or cookies, I keep only a few at home to sample and package the rest off to my gracious and unsuspecting neighbours. This recipe, however, was so superlative that it was the other way round. Most of it was consumed at home and only when the sugar guilt had settled in that the rest were sent off 'for-the-kids'!! I urge you to try these at the earliest!!

Happy Birthday Nush and Moya!! Life's come a long way from the time when we would eat 25p 'Tesco Value' frozen cheese pizzas for dinner!!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Lemon Loaf Cake : "TWD : Baking with Julia"

The summer heat is taking over my life and the choices I make. As the heat saps at my existence, the eye searches for the soothing, the mind yearns for the sublime and the palate desires something refreshing. The lemon in the 'lemon loaf cake' for the 'TWD: Baking with Julia' seemed like it would hold promise for the sentiment in mind. Right from its fragrance, to its taste, to its colour, a lemon is a refreshing antidote for summer. The citrusy tang providing a much-needed zing to an otherwise heat-drenched existence!!

The cake in question is along the lines of a regular pound cake with a lemon flavouring that is achieved by the use of lemon zest. I enjoy pound cakes for their sheer simplicity and taste and are perfect for your everyday, no-fuss baking.

I wasn't going to mess around with the recipe until I read other people in the group being underwhelmed and claiming that the cake was not lemony enough. So, to up the lemon quotient, I added a tablespoon of lemon juice to the batter and decided I would pour a lemon sugar drizzle on the cake once it's baked. The former a suggestion from a group member, the latter my sister's.

The recipe instructions couldn't be simpler. There is no beating, no electrical equipment needed... just a bowl and a hand whisk!! Even better, once you've done your mise-en-place, it takes five minutes before you put it in the oven. Everything went according to the script, the batter rose, a dome formed and it even cracked on the top, just as the book said it would.

Once taken out of the oven, while the cake was still warm, i spooned a lemon sugar drizzle on the top. It's nothing but lemon juice and granulated sugar mixed together and drizzled before the sugar melts completely. As a result, the sugar sets on top of the cake while the lemon juice seeps into the cake.

That sugar drizzle was probably the smartest thing I did. The cake, as everyone claimed, was not as lemony as I thought it would be. But what the cake lacked, the lemon sugar drizzle more than made up for. The lemon juice had seeped in places and that gave the cake a real lemony zing. As for the granulated sugar on top, it gave a slight crunch which was a welcome addition on the textural front. If it were not for the drizzle, the cake would not have held my attention.

The cake itself was moist and delicious but if you enjoy lemon-based cakes, you want the lemon to shine through. On that count, the recipe doesn't really deliver. You need to think of adding something. In my case, the lemon sugar drizzle, helped the recipe along.


Due to copyright considerations, only the person hosting the recipe for the group 'TWD:Baking with Julia' can post the recipe on their blog. The recipe for the lemon loaf cake will be available on the blogs of Truc and Michelle. Alternately, you can write to me at and I will mail you the recipe.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Pizza Rustica : 'TWD: Baking with Julia'

With Easter Sunday round the corner, the 'TWD:Baking with Julia' group set its sight on the Pizza Rustica for our bake-together. Before we go any further, let me tell you upfront, it's not a's a pie!! A little research on the Internet revealed that it is a traditional, rustic pie made in Italy at Easter. After a month of fasting and abstinence during Lent, this quiche is made for Easter Sunday and is loaded with cheeses and meats.

While I understand the sentiment behind the overload of meat and cheese in the pie after a month of abstaining from them,  with the mercury soaring out here in India, I was more in the mood for something lighter and vegetarian. So, I decided to travel down the Mediterranenan coast from Italy and take inspiration from the Greek spinach pie, Spanakopita and zeroed in on a filling of spinach, ricotta and feta cheese.

When I read the recipe I did find it odd that the pastry crust of a savoury pie should have sugar in it. Despite the book's assurance that the sweet dough is a nice contrast to the salty, meat and cheese-laden filling, I wasn't too convinced.  So, I cut down the sugar to just a tablespoon in the crust-dough and kept the filling a mix of ricotta, sauteed spinach and feta cheese.

And instead of making one big pie, I made smaller versions so that each pie was more like an individual serving. Following the rest of the recipe was a breeze and I think, the idea of a lattice on top was a good touch.. it definitely added to the visual appeal!!

And now for the verdict -- the pie was good, absolutely no complaints with it..although I'll be honest enough to say that it was nothing that spectacular that I would want to come back to it. While I had reduced the sugar and there was just a hint of it in the pastry, it's something you can easily do away with, in my opinion. The filling was a good choice, much lighter than I had anticipated and the feta giving it the required sharpness.

So, all in all, it was a good pie.. not a pizza.. a pie!! Come to think of it, I still don't why it's called a pizza..are pizzas and pies one and the same thing for the Italians?!?!

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