Friday, 24 January 2014

Til Ladoos - Sesame Jaggery Brittle

In early November last year, the news broke on social media, as news breaks these days, that Tarla Dalal, India's celebrated cook book author, had passed away. As the news spread, the unanimous reaction was not for the loss of a cook book author but for a loss of a teacher. Almost every home cook who heard the news reminisced how they first started cooking, by learning from her books.

Her appeal lay in her life story that many could relate to. She didn't go to any fancy culinary school, rather it was marriage that prompted her to learn how to cook. From there she went on to take cooking classes and eventually, published her first cookbook, 'The Delights of Vegetarian Cooking' in 1974. She would go on to build a food empire, with over 150 cook books to her credit.

So, what was the secret behind her popularity? A couple of things, I believe. She catered solely to India's vast vegetarian population and took in to account their religious and social compulsions. Her recipes were tested and simplified for the novice cook in such a way that if you followed her recipes to their last step, they would never fail you. Look around my blog and you will see many of my posts on Indian food are her recipes and till date, none of her recipes have disappointed.

But, even more crucial was what she taught us through her books. She taught Indians to move out their comfort zone when it came to food. This was much before the age of television cook shows and the Internet and food blogs. Why, it was even before India had opened her doors to the outside world.

We were hesitant and at times, even ignorant about food outside our individual communities. She taught us not only about India's diverse cuisine but also introduced us in small doses to global cuisine. And her students were delighted that from their home kitchens, not only were they exploring Indian food but also the world's.

So, you had a South Indian woman trying her hand at paneer korma, a Punjabi favourite and a Gujarati lady attempting a Thai green curry or Italian cannelloni, even if it was a much altered version that catered to an Indian, vegetarian palate. And to keep up with the times, as Indians were confronted with lifestyle diseases, she even came out with cookbooks for diabetics and those battling hypertension and obesity!

Rather than being some intimidating, highly qualified professional chef with supersonic knife skills, she had a personality that reminded many of a family aunt or friend who you would turn to for a trusted recipe and advice. So, when I decided that I wanted to make til ladoos, a traditional Indian sweet that is made in the winter, I naturally turned to her website and it did not disappoint.  

For those not in the know, these ladoos are best described as having a texture similar to a brittle that is then rolled into balls. The ingredients, sesame seeds and jaggery are considered by Indians as traditional foods to fight the winter blues.

The recipe is a very simple one. Do take care while rolling them as they can be a bit hot to handle. These are a personal favourite and I reckon, for many of you out there too!

Thank you Tarla Dalal, for teaching us Indians to cook and to step out of our predictable, comfort zone when it came to food and explore diverse cuisines, from India and the world!! RIP!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

White Chocolate And Coffee Truffle Brownies .. .. Baker-in-Disguise Turns Two!!!

A few days back, late into the night, I looked at the date at the bottom right corner of my screen and I kept looking. And then it struck me, it was on this day, two years back, I started this blog as a tentative, unsure effort with absolutely no clue on how it would all play out. Two years?!!? Time, sure, does fly by!
And as with all important anniversary dates, one can't help but reflect on the year gone by..

The first thing that jumps out at me is how I learnt to stand back a little, as with my photography, so too with the blog. No longer did I excessively obsess about blog stats or whether I got a blog post up every week or how could I get more page views. I stepped back and simply enjoyed myself.
I put it down to a little confidence in myself. By the end of the first year, I figured, notwithstanding all my clumsiness, I could follow a recipe to its conclusion and at times, even put my teeny personal twist to it. It wasn't about baking the best ever brownies or the fanciest cake or the most perfect, spectacular looking loaf of bread.
It was about reaching out and sharing with you something that had bought a smile to my face and I hoped it would be the same for you. It could have been a book or a sheet of music or the fruit of the season or the weather of the moment.
And as for the food, it was about anything that piqued my interest, be it a new technique or an old classic. Yes, I had my posts of grainy photographs and unimaginative writing that make me cringe, but this year the blog was a truer medium of self expression!
I'd say it was the tiny amount of confidence that I talked about earlier but more importantly, I owe it to you, the reader of my blog. When you dropped by for a post or you stayed for some time looking around or you came back again. When you read my post silently or you tried a recipe or you appreciated a photograph. Whether you knew me personally or you met me through this blog, I treasure every visit and every word of encouragement. Words will never be enough to express how grateful I am that you appreciate what I do!
And so to celebrate two years, I baked something that I would make if we were to meet in person for a cup of coffee. Because, increasingly this is what baking has come to mean to me. A way to reach out to people and share with them something, simple and fuss-free that would make them smile and their eyes light up!!
These truffle brownies tick all the right boxes. You've tried brownies and then you've tried brownies with their gazillion variations. But, you cannot get through life without sampling these little beauties. No one can not love them!
I have the lovely 'Popina Book of Baking' to thank for this beautiful gem of a recipe. These are extremely easy to make and crowd pleasers. The coffee ensures that despite all the chocolate decadence, these brownies don't get overpoweringly sweet. The white chocolate pieces not only provide a visual contrast in a sea of chocolate blackness but also some much needed textural crunch. Pair a chocolate brownie with a coffee chocolate truffle and this would be their love child, destined for higher glory!
As I enter another year of blogging, I want to bake more savoury and gluten free and learn to cook more  of India's diverse cuisine. More importantly, I want to hear from you. What do you like? What do you not like? Am I stuck in a rut with respect to certain aspects? Should I be doing something differently? Is there something you'd like to see more of on this blog? Please tell me.. I am listening.

I'll wait to hear from you. Till then, I'll leave you with a most heartfelt 'THANK YOU'!!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Dark Hot Chocolate

It was a quiet start to the year for me. Down with the flu, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate and decided to make a mental list of resolutions for the year ahead and reflect on the lessons from the past year. But, halfway through the cuppa, all that thinking got me drowsy and I thought to myself, since when did life turn out as intended or as anticipated. So, I ditched the list but that cup of hot chocolate, I kept. If you must know, I even splashed some coffee liqueur into it!!

No one can not like hot chocolate. I like mine with dark chocolate and flavoured with cinnamon and orange. And this one is no ordinary "milk with sugar and cocoa" hot chocolate. This is milk with some cream that is infused with cinnamon and orange zest, heated and then poured over some chopped chocolate. The hot, flavoured milk will melt the chocolate and result in the most delicious, thick hot chocolate that just keeps getting thicker and more chocolaty as it cools.

Depending on your taste, substitute the dark chocolate with milk chocolate if you want it sweeter and play around with milk-cream ratio to get the desired consistency.

I leave with you some of my favourite cookbooks that have enthralled and inspired me ever since I've started writing this blog. Some have taught me, some have appealed to my fuss-free nature, some have taught me to work with fresh and seasonal produce and some have simply spoken a language I could connect with.

A dear friend recently told me, "The best is yet to come..". With that beautiful sentiment in mind, I wish you and yours, all the best that life has to offer in 2014!! Happy New Year!!

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