Monday, 20 March 2017

Strawberry Mojito Paletas

Am sure you all read the news where the Met Department has predicted an 'above normal' summer for the year with 'moderate to severe heat wave conditions'. I don't know about you but my mind just went blank as I read the news. Anyone who knows me will tell you of my zero tolerance of the Indian Summer. And I still haven't forgotten last year's Summer. It was brutal, long, unforgiving and there was no respite till June. And to make matters worse, Winter was such a mild one this year. February, that month of blooming flowers and pleasant weather was this year, uncomfortably warm. It is not an one-off event. Freaky weather is increasingly becoming frequent. Every year is turning out as the hottest year ever recorded.


This is just wrong. We need to start thinking more seriously about changing weather patterns. About how we've allowed the green cover of our cities to deplete as they made way for concrete roads and shiny malls or let our rivers dwindle to resemble sewer drains. Of how each one of us has contributed to this mess and needs to make amends personally, however small the effort may seem. We need to make the effort to adopt solar energy for our energy needs at home and take up the responsibility to personally grow more trees. To use less plastic especially those blasted, ugly plastic bags that mar our cities and countryside. To make intelligent food choices that reflect locally grown produce because I think, we all agree, climate change is happening right now and it isn't sparing any of us.

And for any loon out there, who thinks climate change is a hoax, I ask you to come and spend the next three months in India, without any access to any kind of air conditioning or cooling comfort. And once you are done, then we will talk!



While I despaired over the coming onslaught of Summer, I found a recipe for strawberry paletas in Yossy Arefi's 'Sweeter Off The Vine'. Paletas are ice pops made from fresh fruit and Yossy's are made with strawberries and campari. I, instead, took my inspiration from a strawberry mojito. So, in went mint, lime juice and rum to flavour these ice pops. 

You can leave out the rum, if you wish, you will still enjoy them. And for those, who love their rum, don't go overboard or else these pops won't freeze. Be open to experimenting with any other fruit of your choice. And yes, I could have called them ice pops but how much more exotic does paletas sound. Makes you wanna put on a sombrero for the occasion.
 

The absolute juvenile pleasure of enjoying an ice pop is ever intact. You may not be able to escape Summer but for a few minutes, these have the power to help you ignore it. Summer, Be kind! 


Saturday, 4 March 2017

Orange Loaf

I admire people who pursue a creative passion alongside their regular day jobs. It's as if they have understood one of life's essential lessons that only the very fortunate few get to pursue their creative instinct as their life's work. For the rest of us, it is important that we find that passion/interest/hobby in our lives that keeps that spark of creativity alive and keeps us hungry to learn more. As long as you have that, I believe life will always continue to surprise you and keep you away from the rut of stagnancy.

I was reminded of this when I recently finished with Navtej Sarna's book, 'Second Thoughts'. Sarna is the current Indian Ambassador to the United States, who apart from being a distinguished diplomat has also traversed the journey from writing newspaper features to literary essays to poetic translations to short stories to novels. 

Something to be said of diplomats and their mastery of the written word. Of the top of my head I can think of Vikas Swarup, till recently the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson and now High Commissioner to Canada who is equally well known for his literary body of work, of which 'Q & A' remains his most well known, after it was adapted in film as 'Slumdog Millionaire'. There's Shashi Tharoor, the former UN diplomat and author of a number of widely acclaimed books including the literary masterpiece 'The Great Indian Novel' that is always on my list of personal favourites. And why, even Pablo Neruda was a diplomat!


Coming back to Sarna's book, it is a collection of essays that he's written for the 'Hindu Literary Review', over a period of seven years. His main motivation is to explore the personal lives of the authors of the books he's read, as he puts it, 'to understand the mind of the writer and the process of literary creation'. His quest leads him to Wodehouse's school to Hemingway's home in Cuba to Boris Pasternak's forgotten grave to a drink with Khushwant Singh to the cafe in Cairo where Naguib Mahfouz wrote for four decades only to find it abandoned and boarded up. There are books and authors that you have read and loved, those that you know about but haven't yet read and then, there are those to whom you are introduced to for the first time in this book. 

What makes this book is Sarna's deep love of books that shines through every page. It speaks to the book lover amongst us when he recounts that thrill of discovery in a second hand bookshop or that time he read Gone with the Wind whilst standing against a pole in a crowded 'University Special' bus. Of how there's no greater companion than a book to snuggle up to on a rainy day or after a hike in the mountains. You'll understand his lament of how the beauty, grace and nuances of a language are being lost in today's world of 140 characters and instant downloads. But most importantly, of how over the years, like old friends, the books that we have read have stood witness to the the different phases of our life.


So, between books and finding that balance in life, I baked a cake. It's a simple cake for those times when lost in a book for hours, you look up at one point, looking for something to keep you going. This cake does the job beautifully. I got the recipe for it the old-fashioned way. It comes from my sister who got it from her sister-in-law who got it from her friend and the chain ends here because I have no clue how she got it. It's an orange loaf and when I say orange, it's the whole orange - pith, pips et al. You simply put all the ingredients in a blender, whiz and you have your batter ready. Even by my standards, it doesn't get simpler than this.

And for all your grand efforts, you are rewarded with a beautiful, moist, warm hued cake that speaks of citrus and sunshine. If you are wondering about the pith and pips affecting the taste, there is a hint of bitterness in the cake but it is not at all overpowering. If anything, it balances the sweetness. 


I think you'll enjoy it as much as we did. Have a beautiful weekend!


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Pistachio Pound Cake With Strawberries And Cream

If you've read this blog for some time, you must know how much I love to work with recipes where the focus is on the fruit of the season. My first foray of baking with fruit began with Isidora Popovic's 'Popina Book of Baking'. My very first recipe on this blog came from that book. I was absolutely taken in by how the fruit added so much more to the flavour and freshness of my bakes. 

I, then followed it up with Nigel Slater's 'Ripe : A Cook in the Orchard', a book that opened up a collection of recipes that paired fruit in sweet as well as savoury dishes. And my latest addition to this small collection is Yossy Arefi's 'Sweeter off the Vine'. Yossy is the voice behind the blog, 'Apt. 2B Baking Co'. I adore everything about this Brooklyn based baker and photographer's blog..the recipes, the photography and now I'm completely taken in with her book. If you enjoy baking and somehow, haven't yet discovered her blog, I'd seriously recommend it. 
 

The season of fruits in India may differ from those in these books but each of the books mentioned above always has space for recipes that work with strawberries, the fruit currently in season. Out of all of the book's recipes with strawberries, I zeroed in on the pistachio pound cake that is paired with strawberries and cream. I do have my eye on the strawberry and campari ice pops but those will have to wait for the weather to get a bit warmer.
 

I was intrigued by the pistachio pound cake. I have used almond meal in my cakes and have loved the depth and richness that it has given my cakes but have never worked with pistachios. And what an absolute delight this pound cake was. 

Who doesn't love a good, hearty pound cake and the pistachios give it that something extra to stand apart from your regular pound cake. You can taste the pistachios but it is not overpowering at all. It just adds a lil something special to the wholesomeness of a pound cake.


The recipe pairs thick slices of this cake with strawberries macerated in a lavender sugar and cream. While the idea of lavender sugar had me really excited, unfortunately I couldn't get my hands on it out here. So, I adapted by macerating the strawberries in vanilla and some liqueur. 

Serving strawberries and cream with this cake immediately elevates it as an elegant dessert. However, if you don't want to serve it with strawberries and cream, I assure you that pound cake, warm out of the oven, with a cup of tea is still a winner.


Hope you all had a lovely weekend..xx!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Orange, Fig And Cardamom Cake

Nothing like a new year to start afresh with this blog. Last year was a nondescript year for me and yours truly is more than ready to welcome the new year. As for this blog, it seems that all I managed was nine posts for the whole of 2016. So, this year will be all about getting all those posts floating around in my head onto this little space of mine. 

And getting straight onto the job with a cake that I baked this weekend. For some reason, almost every post in the latter half of the year was chocolate. So, am taking a break from chocolate and turning to my other love, baking with the fruit of the season.



That would be figs and oranges today. I found this cake in Nigel Slater's 'Ripe', his weighty ode to cooking with the fruit in season. This is essentially an almond cake, flavoured with oranges and cardamom that has a layer of fresh figs, running through the middle of the cake. As the cake bakes, the figs cook into a soft, jammy consistency.

Once baked, a lemon and orange syrup is then poured on top of the hot cake. You will be tempted to give it a miss but don't. You will appreciate the citrus syrup when you help yourself to a slice. 

The cake does not score high on looks but cut yourself a slice and you will realise that all the drama is in the taste and texture of this cake.

This is a moist cake that uses not only almond meal but chopped almonds too and that gives it this nutty, grainy texture, very different from your regular cake. This is a cake where you must wait till it completely cools down or else you won't taste all the flavours that this cake promises. On first taste, it's the orange that will hit you but later you will discern the cardamom as well as a hint of lemon from the citrus syrup. The cake looks so moist that I wondered if it was too sweet but turns out that the syrup in fact infuses it with extra citrus notes that balances out any fears on the sugar front. 

Whist figs are a personal favourite, any other fruit such as strawberries or plums should work just as well.  
 
  
As the new year started, articles all over were about how we need to slow down, be mindful and move out of our social media bubbles. I couldn't agree more. So, here's to a new year, where you make the time to discover, connect, embrace and rejoice in life's simpler pleasures. Happy New Year..x!

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