Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Highlights Of 2013

There is never a better time to look back at the year than on its last day. It's a different thing that towards its last few months, 2013 seemed to be in a bit of a hurry but that discussion is for another time. I leave you with some of my top posts of the year. Some of them are my personal favourites and some of them are yours. Please do let me know which was your personal favourite and if I have missed out any!
Party safe tonight and I'll see you in the New Year!! Happy 2014, all you beautiful people! 

Friday, 27 December 2013

Chocolate And Vanilla Marble Cake

And then for tea time, we had some cake, of course!

Continuing from yesterday's post, where I shared the spoils from an afternoon of baking. First, for lunch we had a savoury quiche and then for our afternoon cuppa, I stuck to the old-fashioned, homely charm of a butter cake. You might get adventurous and fancy from time to time but ultimately home baking is about the classics and you can never go wrong with a pound cake.

There is something so comfortingly simple about a pound cake, complete with that ruptured, rustic top that has a charm of its own. There are many adaptations to a basic pound cake with the addition of lemon zest or orange zest or dry fruits or even, chocolate chips.

This chocolate-vanilla marble cake is my favourite version of the classic. I am not really sure but I suspect it appeals to my inner child to see those swirls of chocolate and vanilla play around with each other and result in that 'marbled' effect.
The recipe is the same for a basic pound, butter cake. Then half the batter is flavoured with cocoa powder. Alternate spoonfuls of the two batters are placed in the cake tin and then with a skewer, you gently draw swirls.

The final result is just delightful. You have the firm but light texture that you expect from a sponge cake. You can not only clearly see the two flavours but you will also taste them distinctly when you bite into a slice. Apart from the visual beauty of that marbling, the interplay between the sweet vanilla batter and the slightly darker, not-too-sweet chocolate batter ensures that the cake is not cloyingly sweet.

Baking this cake reminds me why I enjoy baking. Its about simple ingredients resulting in a beautiful cake that is homely, rustic, delicious and meant to be shared with family and friends amidst some gossip and giggles. All that's left is a cup of tea!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Chicken And Spinach Quiche

After weeks of lacklustre baking, I got bitten by the baking bug yesterday in a big way. I don't celebrate Christmas, so I had the whole day as a holiday where I chose to stay home and bake up a storm. Ma was a bit bewildered with all the sudden action in the kitchen. I'm holding the weather responsible for this spurt of enthusiasm...the joys of a tropical winter!!
First up, for lunch I baked a chicken and spinach quiche. After all the sweet pie and tarts that this blog has seen, a savoury quiche has been on my mind. I went with a filling of cooked chicken, spinach, cheese and some celery, for some added herby flavour. Celery is one of my favourite herbs to add to food. So, I even raised the profile of the crust, by adding some celery to the pastry. It is a subtle touch that adds bags of flavour to this pie.
You can play around with your filling, as per your taste. Off the top of my head, I can think of mushroom, cheese and thyme, chicken and mushroom or even spinach, corn and ricotta. Just don't be stingy with the filling. I have used an egg-cream-milk mixture to bind the filling together. If you aren't generous with your filling, you run the risk of tasting more of the egg mixture, making it taste more like a frittata. I think I managed to get the right balance.
The filling was just right. My main ingredient was the chicken, with the spinach and celery giving not only some veggie flavours but also some needed visual texture. The creamy egg mixture binds it all together without in any way overpowering the other ingredients.
This quiche is a rustic and hearty dish, perfect for any family dinner. Make it as a part of a larger spread or if its just two of you, then it's a meal all by itself. I would, however, recommend some sort of green salad to infuse a certain freshness to help counter all the eggy creaminess of the filling. Come to think of it, this quiche would be perfect picnic food too, with its beautiful flavours and easy portability.
I do apologise for the poor quality of the photographs. We've been experiencing some overcast weather for the past few days and the lack of natural light has really affected these pictures. Moreover, I took them in haste with everyone waiting for lunch to start!!
Now, come back tomorrow and I'll tell you what we had for tea! Yup, it was a busy day in the kitchen!!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Gingerbread Men And Women

It does not matter whether you personally celebrate Christmas or not. In a month of holidays and partying, its just another excuse to celebrate. For the past few weeks, food blogs have been putting one Christmassy post after another. Procrastination, of course, saw me waiting till the very last for this post. At least, I got it up before Christmas!

I decided on the gingerbread theme. Its just so Christmassy.. you never hear of anyone making gingerbread biscuits, any other time of the year. It's only for Christmas!! And its a family affair, with everyone from kids to adults discovering their inner artist when it comes to decorating them.

Only one hitch .. I couldn't find any gingerbread cookie cutters, neither in Bombay nor in Delhi. Luckily, a darling sister-in-law carted these all the way from Down Under. I got the whole family, gingerbread man and woman and the kiddies, a boy and girl.
One you have the requisite cookie cutters, its all pretty straight forward. The dough is made in a food processor, then rolled out, cut up and baked. Once cooled, that's when the fun begins.
My advice to you, enlist the help of all those around you.. kids and adults alike. I did it all by myself and let's just say, I have new found respect for all the professional cookie decorators out there and their craft.
The photographs speak for themselves.. I am not the most creative nor the most patient. I did try to get creative with red accents on the clothing and red lippy for the girls. I strung all the kids together as a garland. And all my friends out there, do notice the curly hair on the women.. that's my personal touch!
And for all the observant ones out there, Rudolph the reindeer also makes an appearance, complete with his red nose. If you can't find him, look for the upside-down gingerbread boy in the garland. Go ahead and have your laugh for the day!!
Aside from all the decorating, there is also the taste of these cookies. It essentially has the texture of a shortbread with a mild ginger taste that matures with time. These would make an excellent addition to the cookie platter but they will be even better as edible Christmas tree decorations!! Engage the kids and you can imagine the fun with each one unleashing their artistic potential on these cookies.
Like I said earlier, whether you celebrate Christmas is immaterial. There is a spirit of love and celebration out there, embrace it and spread the joy. Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a beautiful festive season!!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Pancakes With Strawberry Compote

For the past few weeks, I've really been into weekend breakfasts. Blame it on the weather and increased winter appetites. First, it was the baked eggs, then there was the orange French toast, so this weekend, I thought it was time for pancakes!

And no, I don't have the skill to make the thin, delicate French crepes, so instead you're getting the easier, fluffier, thicker American version.

To help me make this American favourite, I turned to a lady from across the pond. Every Nigella book has a recipe for these pancakes, with small variations to each recipe.
I've always been intimidated with making pancakes, somehow thinking that they would require a lot of skill, with all the flipping action involved. Put your mind to rest, the batter is so thick that you have to spoon the batter onto the pan. The trick is that when little bubbles appear on the edges of the pancake, its time to flip them to the other side. There is no mess involved. If I can do it, trust me, anyone can!! And did I mention, the batter is simply made by blitzing all the ingredients together!
A popular choice to go with pancakes is honey/maple syrup along with some crispy, bacon to counter all the sugar action going on. I prefer the idea of a fruit compote. There's something appealing about the burst of freshness that fruit brings. I have gone with strawberries, but you can go with any other fruit, plums, cherries, apple and even, oranges for a citrus twist.
The pancakes are fluffy and light and with that fruit compote, you won't realise how many you've wolfed down. Then , you wash it all down with some coffee and that's when you realise that these deceptively light pancakes are indeed, quite filling.
And lest you think, this is too much sugar action for breakfast, let me tell you there is hardly any sugar in the pancakes, barely half a teaspoon. The sugar is in the compote and it is entirely up to your discretion, how much sugar you'd like to add to the fruit.
Do make these, I'm in no doubt that you and yours will enjoy them and won't be surprised if they become a regular on Sunday mornings. I'll leave you now, to be back soon with my Christmas post!!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Orange Marmalade French Toast / Challah : 'TWD : Baking With Julia'

This week, the group at 'TWD : Baking with Julia' decided to bake Challah. Challah, for those not in the know, is a special Jewish braided bread eaten on Sabbath and holidays. But, for me, Challah is one of the most beautiful looking breads in the bread basket. If the sourdough exudes the rustic and rugged charm of a country guy, the challah is the slick, city boy in comparison. It is glossy, golden brown, beautifully braided and speckled with seeds, making it one impressive looking loaf. It's a different matter that yours truly couldn't even manage to braid the loaf in a straight line!!

And why won't it be good looking?! The dough is enriched with milk, butter and eggs that ensures that only do you get that beautiful colour but also that the bread is rich and beyond delicious. Even the seeds on top add to the taste and overall appeal of this  bread. The golden brown, glossy crust hides a soft, slightly sweet crumb that just cannot disappoint anyone.

The bread is beautiful, just eaten by itself, straight out of the oven. But, every challah recipe will recommend that this bread is excellent to make French toast. Now, that's an idea that will always find favour. Who doesn't like that sweet, fried, eggy bread that comes with a memory all the way from your childhood Sunday mornings??
But, because I put in all that effort to make the Challah, this wasn't going to be any, ordinary French toast. I thought I'd make things interesting with Nigella's recipe for Orange French toast that adds orange zest to the egg mixture and is then served with an orange marmalade syrup.
The citrus hit gives the French toast a zingy freshness and the slightly bitter undertones of the marmalade ensures that things don't get too sweet. The syrup hardly takes a few minutes, so, there is no elaborate prep required. I used challah and homemade marmalade but regular white bread and shop bought marmalade would do the trick equally well. It is such a small twist to your regular French toast and yet, the end result is the perfect indulgence for a lazy, weekend morning. All that's left to do is wash it all down with a cup of coffee!!
This weekend, I'll leave you with words of one of the most inspirational men of our times, "Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again." Rest in Peace, Nelson 'Madiba' Mandela!
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