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!!

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