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Cheese Pakora Begorrah

As Winter comes creeping up, I thought the time has come to share with the world the joy of cheese pakoras. Or, as my father likes to call them, “Not Really Pakoras” – a sentiment shared by the entire male sex according my very informal poll. Ingrates.

However, they’re delicious, hot, comforting, easy to make, very forgiving of adaptations, and quite filling for a snack. In short, they’re perfect!

Other than those pesky health issues they’re bound to give you, but who cares about a heart attack tomorrow when you can eat yummy pakoras today, right? Right!

Cheese Pakoras
(serves 2 – or 1 greedy person like myself)

Ingredients:

Cheese – a handful grated or two slices. (You can use any melty cheese although the more fancy ones are really wasted here. Just go for your usual cheddar or Velveeta or similar local variant for best results. And you can adjust the amount of cheese up or down as you prefer too)

Flour – three heaped tablespoons

Egg – one, beaten.

Onion – one half, chopped fine but not minced. (You could substitute one leek or four spring onions, less if you’d rather)

Chillies – One or more, according to taste, red or green, minced is good but not necessary. (You could substitute with jalapenos or even crushed black pepper. I prefer red chillies because those little flecks of red look great in the batter)

Milk – cold, three tablespoons or more, enough to bind without turning the batter into paste. (Substitute with cold water if you’d rather. Do not use hot water because it will melt the cheese and turn the batter runny)

Salt – a pinch. (Seriously, a pinch – because the cheese and egg will make it salty)

Oil – enough to deep fry

Method

First off, if you’re using cheese slices because you haven’t got anything better (ah, college! OR ah, laziness!) in the fridge, then go ahead and dice it up by running a fork lengthwise and widthwise. Use a knife if that works out better for you. If you’ve got grated cheese, then good for you, you’re ready to start.

Beat the egg till frothy with the salt, add the onions and chillies and beat till incorporated. Now add the flour and mix. Tumble in the cheese and give it a couple of turns so everything comes roughly together. Next add three tablespoons of milk to the mixture.

Use the same tablespoon for the flour and the milk if possible so that the measure is consistent. Add more milk if necessary. You don’t want the batter as runny as your usual pakora mix, but you don’t want it to be a sticky dough either. Too runny and the milk will overwhelm the egg and the pakoras will lie limp on the bottom of the pan like octopi suffering from ennui; too sticky and your pakoras will just taste of flour, a gluey warmth that sticks to the roof of your mouth in a decidedly uncomforting way. Your ideal batter should easily flow off the spoon but still roughly hold its shape for a few seconds when it plops back into the bowl.

Don’t stress if your first effort isn’t perfect though – the point of the cheese pakora is for you to relax, make stuff out of things that are already in your fridge and scarf it down (preferably with ginger chai) before you notice anything about it other than its guilty deliciousness. Once you’re hooked and experimenting with these once a week to your doctor’s horror, you’ll soon figure out your sweet spot.

Now as this involves melty cheese, I strongly recommend a nonstick pan. But go ahead and use the sticky kind if the nonstick is still in the wash. Pour tablespoons (yes, the same one with which you measured out your flour and milk) of the batter into the hot oil. Since these are made with egg, they’ll puff up to twice their size, so you’re not being mean with the portions.

Cook on medium-low heat. Stand back because these will spit and spatter as the cheese inevitably comes into contact with the oil. A minute on either side. Remember these are made with ordinary flour and contain cheese, so you don’t want them to turn that reddish brown of your usual pakoras. They’re cooked on one side when they puff up and are ready to be flipped over; take them out when they turn a gentle golden brown all over.

Yields about 10 pieces, crispy on the outside and melty on the inside. Drain and serve with your favorite sauce. I prefer Sriracha or Maggi Hot & Sweet. It goes great with leftover Taco Bell sauce too.

If you share my father’s exacting standards and would rather eat something more traditional, check out the video above. That looks crazy good.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2010 in Life, Personal, Video

 

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Fried Round Things

Bollyviewer once commented that all my recipes revolve around eggs and milk. That made me giggle because that’s exactly right. With those two magical ingredients in my fridge, I can whip up anything from a drink to a dessert to main course to pakoras (up next!). The day I have less than four eggs and at least a quart of whole fat milk in my fridge is a dark day at Chez Amrita. Starvation is practically leering in my face as I stumble out the door and run for the grocery store. Okay, amble. A diet of eggs and milk isn’t really conducive to running.

Anyway, I thought I’d offer something that didn’t revolve around eggs and milk for once – just to prove that I know other ways to get a heart attack before I turn forty. It’s a family recipe and as far as I know nobody else makes this thing. I’ve certainly never seen it on a restaurant menu nor have I ever been offered any at anybody’s home. According to family lore, my Auntie S invented the amazing dish we know simply as “Fried Round Things”.

She was puttering around the kitchen one day with a couple of my other aunts and they were debating what to do with the remains of two bunches of bananas and plantains sent over from the family estate. We were a large household and most of it had vanished but there were still a few left and they were on the verge of going bad. So thrifty Auntie S threw together a few ingredients and voila! An enduring family favorite was born.

The South Americans make something similar with green plantains but their version is savory and usually involves meat, delicious in an entirely different way. Fried Round Things only uses ingredients approved by my grandmother’s kitchen and is thus thoroughly vegetarian and pretty sweet. It is also very rich and if you pig out on it, you should know that consumed in large quantities, Fried Round Things can act as a laxative. You have been warned.

Note: This recipe uses two items that the general public (that’s you!) might not be familiar with – plantains and freshly shredded/dessicated coconut.

1. Plantains. For this recipe you need ripe plantain. Green plantains will not work. Local supermarkets in most places tend to carry these nowadays but if yours doesn’t, then check out the grocery stores that cater to people of Caribbean descent. Or South Indians if you live in India.

If you don’t know your plantain from your banana, then ask someone at the store to help you choose one that’s ripe / closest to ripening. If it’s ripe, then use it by the next day latest; if it needs some more time, stick it in a paper bag if you have one and leave it out for a day or two but not more than that. I like my plantains really ripe (it turns black) but don’t go that route unless you’re familiar with them and can tell ripe from rotten. Fried Round Things are delicious but nothing is worth food poisoning.

2. Dessicated Coconut. This is optional – in the sense that I’ve made Fried Round Things without it and I didn’t miss it all that much. But it’s undeniable that it really does add a certain something to the taste so if you can get your hands on it, that’d be good. Again, this is available at most supermarkets and if not, check your local Thai / Caribbean / South Indian grocery store. I used to get my supply from China Town when I lived around the corner from it, so it’s really everywhere.

At home, my mother and aunts use freshly shredded coconut. Which is nice and possible when you have a coconut tree in your garden and a maid willing and able to crack open a coconut with a wicked machete and then grate the whole thing out. I, on the other hand, once tore open a Bounty bar, nibbled off the chocolate layer and then crumbled in the coconut insides to my batch of Fried Round Things. I do not recommend my method. Better by far to find a maid adept in the art of machete-wielding and a house with a coconut tree growing outside it.

All this is to tell you that when you buy your dessicated coconut, taste it first to see if it’s been sweetened. It took me a while to find unsweetened dessicated coconut, which is what I’m using in this recipe, so if yours is sweetened, you’ll have to adjust the amount of sugar used.

Okay, so -

Fried Round Things

Ingredients

Plantain (ripe) – 1

Banana (any banana, smaller in size to the plantain, ripe) – 1

Plain Flour – 3 to 4 tbsps, level.

Granulated sugar – 1 to 2 tbsps, heaped.

Dessicated coconut (unsweetened) – 3 tbsps (use a big handful if its freshly grated unsweetened coconut)

Ghee – 1 tbsp

Salt – a generous pinch, one level tsp at most.

Vegetable Oil – for deep frying

Utensils

Bananas, especially when combined with sugar, will stick. Save yourself from a nervous breakdown and use a non-stick wok and wooden slotted spoon. A mixing bowl and a tablespoon. Maybe a masher.

Method

Peel and cube the plantains and bananas. Tumble them into a mixing bowl. Use your hands if you’re all down-home like my mom or a potato masher if you’re all fancy like me, and roughly mash the two together. You don’t want to thoroughly mash them to an uniform consistency – it’s good to have little chunks left intact.

Add coconut and salt and fold them in. Add the sugar; adjust upwards or downwards depending on the sweetness of the plantain, banana and coconut as well as your own tastes but make sure you add in at least half a tbsp of sugar as this will help caramelize the final product.

Add the flour. This basically acts as a binding agent so your goal is to only add enough flour to make sure it all sticks together like really thick, goopy batter. When you’ve added three tbsps, it ought to look kind of pasty and all sorts of wrong. This is when you add the ghee. The batter will immediately loosen up and resemble really thick cake batter.

If it’s at all runny, then add a little more flour. The ideal batter should be thick and goopy.

Heat oil and drop in tablespoons of the batter. I’m afraid this is the kind of thing that requires surveillance because it’s really easy to have it caramelized black on the outside while still raw on the inside. The trick is to drop in the batter in amounts no greater than a tablespoon and keep the heat steady at medium low. Try not to touch it too much while frying. Just turn it over once.

When it turns a fine golden brown, it’s ready to come out. Don’t be dismayed if it’s darker than that. We cousins personally think it’s better when it’s a little charred but my mother disagrees. Make sure you give the Fried Round Things a gentle squeeze as you fish them out because bananas and plantains drink oil like sailors drink liquor on shore leave. If you want to be extra conscientious you can cool them on a wire rack and blot them with paper napkins but look – you’re eating a thing called Fried Round Things. Let’s not kid ourselves here.

Makes 12. Serves 4. Enjoy!

(And if you plan on being greedy, make sure you’re stocked up on toilet paper.)

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2010 in Life, Personal, Video

 

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Slow Bread Pudding

The bread pudding we make at our house is basically a caramel custard with bread for extra oomph (real reason: it’s a convenient way to get rid of leftover stale bread. There is a limit to the amount of breadcrumbs a person can make and consume). So if you have a creme caramel / caramel custard / flan recipe, like the one above in the video, just add the bread and you’ve got delicious bread pudding! Or else, follow these directions:

Bread Pudding for Dummies!

Ingredients

Milk – 1 litre or quarter gallon

Sugar – 2 cups + approx. 1/2 cup granulated sugar for caramel

Eggs – 6 + 2 yolks (optional)

Custard powder – 1 tbsp (optional – I’ve never actually used this till now but my mother keeps telling me I should)

White Bread – Half to three quarter loaf or whatever bread you have left. Mixture at end should still be liquidy so stop before the bread soaks up all the liquid. Croissants are okay (all that butter is yummy for pudding), but pass on whole wheat or multi-grain bread. You could use it, but I have no idea what that would taste like. I usually make breadcrumbs out of those. Tell me if it works out for you if that’s the only thing you have in the house.

Vanilla – 2 tsp or one pod (if you have Food Network, you know what to do: slit the pod lengthwise, use the blunt end of the knife or point and scrape along the innards and then dump both the shell and the inner scrapings into whatever mixture you’re using).

Nutmeg – 1 tsp freshly grated OR 1/2 tsp powdered (optional, increase quantity if you’re a huge fan of nutmeg. I always have fresh nutmeg and might go up to a half tsp more if I’m using a vanilla pod)

Walnuts – optional, to taste. I use “a handful”, roughly chopped.

Water – as needed.

Utensils

Two pans – one should be large enough to hold the pudding mixture but small enough to fit inside the other pan. If you’re using an oven, I suggest a souffle pot placed in a lasagna pan. It works for me. But really, anything goes as long as its not nonstick. This is not a nonstick friendly recipe, so put that thought out of your head. Although the larger pot/ pan could be nonstick. It’s going to be used as a water bath so that’s all right. The main dish, i.e. the smaller pot that’s going to hold the pudding mixture, needs to be either ceramic or metal though.

If you’re using the burner method, make sure the smaller pot has a rim of some kind so the plastic cover won’t slip off.

Method

Okay, like I said, if you have a caramel custard / creme caramel / flan recipe that you swear by, then use that. Otherwise, here’s my culinarily challenged method for a dish that sounds fearsomely complicated but really isn’t.

First decide whether you’re going to be using the oven or the burner (read directions below in the Cooking section and make up your mind) and choose your main dish accordingly. Now you need a caramel sauce to coat the bottom.

If you’re using a souffle dish, then take a small pan and pour about 1/2 cup granulated sugar into it. This is the amount I usually use, but feel free to adjust as per your liking. If you don’t have a liking, then stick to my liking for your debut effort because at least you’ll have somebody to blame when you set your kitchen on fire. Heat pan until sugar begins to burn and bubble around the edges.

IMPORTANT: Do not use a spoon to help the caramelization process. Caramel is like mortar and you’ll spend the next three hours trying to prise it off whatever spoon you used. I learned this the hard way as my mother laughed at me.

Swirl the pan instead. When the color begins to change to gold, take pan off heat for a quick second and standing well back from it, pour a little over 1/4 cup water into burning sugar. Do not be alarmed at steam and noise. Return to heat and swirl pan a few more times until sugar has completely dissolved, caramelized and color has changed to dark brown.

Pour into souffle pot and swirl mixture around so it evenly coats the bottom of pot and about one inch of the sides. Don’t worry if the result is geometrically off. Just make sure the bottom at least is completely covered. Please be careful because if you get hot caramel on your skin, you will regret it for a long time.

If you’re using the burner method, then you can melt the caramel directly in the pot you’re going to use. Same directions. Set caramel coated pot aside to cool. Crackling noises as mixture cools and hardens are absolutely normal.

Next take 2 cups of sugar (more if you have a very sweet tooth) and blitz in the blender with 6 eggs. If you’re very committed to a firm pudding and are doubtful about the staying power of a half dozen eggs, add an extra 2 yolks. Make yourself feel better about the coming heart attack by thinking of this as a French recipe (note: there is no reason to suppose this is a French recipe). Alternatively you could add a tablespoon of custard powder. You could even add the yolks and the custard powder if you’re especially greedy and/or careful.

Personally, I’ve never used custard powder and the only time I ever added the extra yolks is the one time I made this with 2% milk. We need whole fat milk for this little show, me hearties!

Speaking of which… once eggs and sugar have been blitzed into submission, either pour in the milk and give it a good blitz to combine OR if it won’t fit in your blender, pour mixture into mixing bowl, add milk and use a handheld electric whisk or the whisk attachment in your KitchenAid and combine the three. You could whisk by hand, but then you’ll be in your kitchen till the cows come home. If things get desperate as they did once in college, then pour the egg and sugar mixture into a separate bowl and combine with the milk in your blender in batches. Indian ingenuity at work!

What you have in front of you now are the beginnings of a basic custard. Add vanilla extract and freshly grated nutmeg. If you’re not using vanilla pods, feel free to blitz for a couple more seconds to show the ingredients who’s boss. Yup, it’s you!

If caramel has cooled by now, pour custard into the pot. Otherwise, set aside for the moment. Take bread slices and remove crusts. Dice the bread into one inch pieces. Dunk bread into mixture.

NOTE: What I like to do is use a big mixing bowl and a handheld electric whisk to create the custard mixture. Then I can just dump the bread into it and set it aside for ten minutes so the bread soaks up the goodness and turns into beautiful mush.

Stir in nuts if you like. You can use whatever you have or prefer but I think walnuts stand up best to the flavors of this pudding. Remember to fish out vanilla pod if you used it. Now it’s ready to cook.

Cooking

Okay, so now comes the moment of truth. This is probably the most complicated part of this no fuss, make it with leftovers, recipe. I know people who make their creme caramels in Dutch ovens and pressure cookers and whatnot. I’m not one of them. I know precisely two methods of making this and they are as follows:

1. Oven: Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Boil about five cups of water. Place souffle pot containing bread and custard mixture in the middle of empty lasagna pan. Pour boiling water into lasagna pan to roughly one inch depth. More is okay (just barely, don’t push it) but less is not. It is important that the pot have a firm position in the middle of the pan, it should not float in water.

Pause to congratulate yourself on your fancy water bath. Next up: Iron Chef!

Place the whole thing in middle rack and bake for 4o mins to an hour. It depends on your oven but start checking on the status of the pudding from 30 minutes on. When the knife inserted in center comes out clean, pudding is done. Try not to splash water all over yourself when checking. That shit is no joke.

Remove souffle pot and let stand to cool. Once the pudding has cooled – and I don’t mean is just slightly warm or anything like that. I mean cooled – stick it in the fridge for at least three hours or, better still, overnight.

2. Burner: Take a plastic grocery bag or similar item large enough to completely cover the top of the pot containing the custard mixture and wash thoroughly, inside and out. If the plastic bag is too small, it might help to cut it in two. Pat dry the plastic and stretch it tightly over the mouth of the pot. Take a piece of string and tie the plastic under the rim of the pot. Yank on the plastic to make sure it covers the mouth of the pot tightly.

Now a reasonable person might ask, “But Amrita, we live in technologically advanced times. Why can’t I use tin foil or saran wrap or something similar? Why must I butcher a grocery bag like a deprived human being?” And I would tell them, “You’re right. But my mother says this is the way we do it and my mother has strange hoodoo powers that might make my kitchen explode or make me choke and die on a piece of newfangled pudding, so this is the way I make it. I don’t think she cares how you make your pudding though, so feel free to experiment and let me know how it all turns out for you.”

Now if you’re done wasting my time with your philosophical inquiries, take your large pot and fill with water about one to two inches deep. Place smaller pot with plastic covering into the middle. As with the other water bath, make sure its placed firmly at the bottom and is not floating. Remove or add water as needed. Place lid on top and turn on the burner.

Now if you have one of those insanely cool silicone covers that stick with what seems to be willpower or are doing this whole exercise in a massive steamer of some sort, then more power to you. If you’re like me and stuck in the Stone Age, then find something really heavy, like a mortar and pestle and stick it on top of the lid to weigh it down. Wait for the water to boil and steam to struggle out. Then lower the heat to simmer and leave it be for 45 minutes.

Turn off the heat after 45 minutes and let it stand until things cool down enough for you to take the smaller pot out of its steamy haven. Let it cool. This will probably take half the day. Do not remove plastic top until it’s thoroughly cooled.

Once the pudding has cooled – and I don’t mean is just slightly warm or anything like that. I mean cooled – remove the plastic covering and stick it in the fridge for at least three hours or, better still, overnight.

Eat

After refrigerating overnight, run a knife along the edges of the pudding and upend into a serving dish the way you would a jelly out of a mould. Do it carefully over a sink because the caramel will have diluted into a thin sauce and it’ll run over everything.

Enjoy! The damn thing only took you 12 hours from start to finish!

[For M - who asked but didn't know what she was asking for! :P]

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2010 in Life, Personal, Video

 

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Borborygmus

In honor of Julia and Julie, which I enjoyed very much, not to mention Top Chef coming back on air, I decided to become a sheeple and do a little French cooking this weekend.

After all, I never cook French (unless its soup of some kind – I find that anything with broth in it automatically sounds and tastes better when it’s French) cuisine and I figured it’s about time I give it a whirl. So off I went to find a few recipes to try.

And that’s when I realized why Julia Child was such a phenomenon – because French cooking is laborious! Not hard, mind you. Just intensely time consuming and with a million little finicky things that make you wonder why in God’s name you ever invited this grief upon yourself. Like any other cuisine, you won’t know until you begin but if you’re willing to put in some time, give it some love and refuse to panic or try to kill yourself when things (inevitably) go wrong, I think you should emerge more or less unscathed at the end of it. It also helps if you have some company to eat the results of your hard work unless you love yourself so much, no amount of effort is too much for a solitary meal.

Now I didn’t want to want to make anything too ambitious and I wasn’t in the mood for a souffle (although if you are, then you can’t go wrong with that recipe unless you simply can’t make a roux) – what I really wanted, in fact, was some delicious carbonara and a nice glass of white to wash it down. Or maybe a little homemade gnocchi with mushroom sauce?

But! French!

So what did I finally end up cooking? Er, this delicious frittata that I was sinfully pleased with: just halved the number of eggs to 4, substituted Romano for Montasio cheese and reduced it in proportion to the eggs, and put in some bacon instead of prosciutto. Basically, I made a variation upon a variation. Who cares! It was yummy! And suitably French! That is, until I realized everything about it sounds terribly Italian.

Erm. :oops:

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2009 in Life, Video

 

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I’d Do Anything For The Blog

… but I won’t do this.

It’s not like I don’t get the impulse. I do. I’ll chance upon something that is totally doable like these tips for homemade skin care products, etc and I think, “Hey! Maybe I should try that. And then I can write about it because it promises to be at least mildly soul-destroying in an unspecified sort of way.”

And that’s always interesting, isn’t it? Those guys at Jackass made an entire career for themselves by destroying their bodies – I could maybe burn the skin off my face so I could write about it. And since I’m not making a penny off the experience, I could even call it Art. With a capital A and everything.

But not even for snob value would I agree to live on a mix of cayenne pepper, maple syrup and lemon a.k.a. The Master Cleanse for a week much less her Coconut Cleanse which apparently involves “fresh-squeezed carrot, apple and ginger juice blended with heaping tablespoons of forest-green Enerfood powder, coconut milk powder and Meta Cleanse colon declogger” with a little side of lettuce if you feel peckish.

There are just so many things wrong with description. First off: carrot juice. I have really bad eyesight and ever since I turned eight my health-nut uncle has been trying to hypnotize me into thinking I’m part bunny rabbit (for my own good, of course). Now I don’t mind chowing down on a carrot or two once in a while (especially when it tastes like this) but I once made the mistake of thinking that carrots might be easier on the palate if they were consumed in juice form rather than whole. Oooo nooooo! Big mistake. You could use that to punish children.

The apple juice isn’t so bad, although I must say I prefer apple cider or, at a pinch, apple brandy. What? An apple is an apple is an apple, the way I look at it. Keeps the doctor away. And it doesn’t need to be all sloshed up with carrots and ginger. My stomach is not a pork roast.

Then there is the ginger juice. Really? Ginger “juice”? That’s what you’re going to drink? Let me remind you all of the original ginger juice that’s super yummy to drink, especially when it’s cold and raining outside – adrak ki chai. Make it whole milk, double on the cream. I mean, milk and ginger with a dash of tea? That has to be a cleanse in somebody’s language.

And I don’t even know what an “Enerfood powder” is, forest green or mountain blue or field yell0w or whatever its color might be. All I know is that it sounds like one of those futuristic food-like substances that humanoids eat in science fiction movies once the earth has been reduced to a barren wasteland on which nothing grows but giant radio-active sunflowers that like to snack on people and employ an army of gigantic attack bumblebees to herd the human food source its way. I suppose I could start eating it and think of it as being “in training” for that inevitable day, but merely considering it makes me want to eat a nine course meal at my favorite Italian restaurant, drowning in meat and butter and cream and chockfull of carbohydrates and fat.

Mmm, fat.

Which brings me to the “colon de-clogger”. Do you know what happens to people with a clogged colon? Their bodies fucking de-clog! So if you think I’m going to swallow lemon water mixed with chilli powder or stick a hose up my bum-bum so I can have a clean colon, you’re out of your mind. And I don’t care which freak in Hollywood thinks this is a great idea.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2009 in Life, Personal, Video

 

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Nightmares and Cakes

So here’s what I learned this weekend – if you watch The Dark Knight and follow it up by gorging on a six ingredient cake of which four ingredients are eggs, cream, sugar and rum, you will then dream of Amisha Patel singing songs from Mamma Mia on a Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham set (complete with diffused lighting) before Batman saves her from the machinations of two random dudes who’re in cahoots with Dr. Evil just as she launches into a Lara Croft impersonation and swings from a chandelier to save the cast of Battlestar Galactica – and then you’ll wake up in a pool of drool with a tummy ache.

Gross.

My Auntie S’s cake is meant to be eaten with extreme caution. It’s officially called The Burnt Sugar Cake and informally as “Auntie S’s cake” but I prefer what my mother calls it – the cream and sugar cake. Because that’s basically all there is in it, with a little flour to hold it all together. The directions below are written in a language called “Baking for Dummies” because that’s pretty much my level of baking. Believe me, if I could make this thing, so can you! It’s the world’s easiest cake and I’ve never ever come across a single person who didn’t love it (duh! it’s pure fat, of course everybody loves it). In fact, a little less love and I wouldn’t be sitting here right now feeling like crap. Oh well, it’s like drinking – at least I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Ingredients

Eggs – 4

Cream – 2 cups

Sugar – 2 cups (powdered) + 3/4 cup (granulated)

Flour – 2 cups

Baking powder – 1 level tsp

Boiling water – 1/2 cup

Dark Rum – 1/3 cup (optional but I prefer it and it burns off while baking so you don’t have to worry about kids)

Vanilla extract – 1 tsp (optional)

Walnuts / Almonds / Raisins / Cashews – a handful, roughly chopped (optional)

Method

Beat powdered sugar and eggs in a food processor. You can use a Kitchen Aid or electric whisk but you don’t want this to be too aerated so if you have a food processor go for it. When eggs and sugar have combined (about two – three minutes), add cream (thirty seconds). Pour into mixing bowl. Sift flour and baking powder together; add a few spoons at a time to the egg and cream mixture, stirring to combine.

In a separate pan, pour the granulated sugar on high heat and let it melt. When the sugar caramelizes and turns liquid, stir a little until all the sugar is melted and the color turns dark brown. When it starts to bubble and froth, add half a cup of boiling water and turn off the heat once the mixture stops hissing. Stand back and be careful when adding the water.

Cool the caramelized sugar – and no, lukewarm is not fine – and pour into the cake batter. Add vanilla, rum and lastly any nuts or raisins as per your taste. (I like walnuts with this. It’s almost unbearably rich but yummy!) Stir gently.

Pour into buttered, floured pan (if you don’t know what that is – take a little butter in a warm, dry cake pan, swirl it around so every inside surface is coated, drain excess butter if any, and dust it lightly with flour, shaking the pan free of any excess amounts). Bake at 180 C or 350 F for 45 minutes, check every five minutes after half an hour. When top is a rich dark brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean, cake is ready.

This is not a cake that needs or wants icing but if you want to prettify it further, hold a sieve over it and sprinkle powdered sugar. You can eat it warm or do what I do – slice and chill overnight and eat it cold. Bliss.

What I particularly love about this recipe, apart from it’s sheer lack of complications, is that it’s so forgiving. As long as you have an oven, a cake pan and the ingredients at hand, you can eyeball things or use everyday kitchen utensils to measure and mix. In fact, the original recipe says things like “use a katori of sugar” and “four large tablespoons of rum” and “beat it all in a mixi”.

Heh. Mixi. Enjoy but don’t eat it all at once even if you really want to.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2008 in Life

 

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Butter & Lasagna

lasagna.jpg

Weird food habits run in my family – most of them related to texture. My father, for example, won’t eat fruits of any kind except plantain that is barely ripe. He won’t eat tomatoes for the same reason and for 35 years my mother has been cooking him sambar (which he loves) and surreptitiously fishing the tomato pieces out before he sees them. Every time we hired a new cook, she’d have to go through the whole process of explaining that the tomatoes were allowed in every dish but must be cut into large size chunks so that they could easily be separated prior to serving or chopped so fine that they’d merge into the gravy. Every single one of the cooks thought she was nuts and my father nuttier but this is the kind of thing that makes me believe my parents must truly love each other – she, because she does it even though she thinks my father is being a diva; he, because he eats the dishes that he knows have been tainted with the touch of the mushy tomato.

My own No-No is curd. It’s a long story (short version: a close encounter with an itch worm in my childhood led to an even more intimate encounter with a tub full of curd and ever since then the mere smell of it turns my stomach). Ideally, I wouldn’t even have it in my house but since a tremendous amount of Indian cooking involves the darn thing (including my favorite mix of MTR Rava Idlis and a whole bunch of kebabs), I’ve managed to get over my aversion to the point where I’ll acknowledge its existence long enough to cook it into some dish. This makes my mother happy because she spent my entire childhood trying to con me into believing that curd could only be eaten as is, never to be incorporated into anything I ate, especially things that I loved to eat. My mommy loves me.

But curd is now at the center of an argument that she and I have been having for the past couple of days. I was reading this post on Cooking the Hard Way about churning your own butter and it all sounded very easy. I thought I’d try it out some time and get some fresh buttermilk in the process. I’ve been meaning to try out a new pancake recipe and this would be perfect. I mentioned as much to my mother. Big mistake.

“That’s not how you make butter,” she scoffed. “Or buttermilk.”

“But Ma, she has pictures of it!”

“Rubbish! That’s not how you make butter! I make butter all the time [note: this is true] and that’s not how I make it.”

“Well, how do you make it then?” I asked.

“You take curd and you beat it until it separates into solids and liquid. The solids you press into butter and the liquid is buttermilk.”

“Ew!” I said, grossed out. “That’s disgusting!”

“You’ve been eating it for years,” she informed me. “You didn’t think it was disgusting then.”

“Ma!” I said, shocked. My father was right after all – if the devil got into her she could make you eat horrible things and you’d never even know! “How could you?”

“Do you want to know how to make butter or not?” she asked, unrepentant. “If you do, then this is how we make it. And it’s delicious!”

So my question to all of you butter churners is: how do you make butter?
***

On a different note, reading Kate’s entry on lasagna brought back memories of the first time I tried making some. I didn’t make the noodles like Kate does but I have used the freshly made ones rather than the kind you get in a box and they do make a difference. It’s slight but it’s good – and I wouldn’t give myself sleepless nights if I couldn’t find any or make any. I found the recipe on Epicurious (which also gave me my favorite Carbonara recipe) and till date it’s the best one I’ve found:

Ingredients:

SAUCE
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
2 tablespoons minced garlic
8 ounces lean ground beef
6 ounces spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

LASAGNA
15 lasagna noodles (about 12 ounces)

2 15-ounce containers part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained,
squeezed dry
2 large eggs

4 3/4 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/4 pounds)

Preparation:

FOR SAUCE: Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and garlic; sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. Add beef and sausages to pan; sauté until cooked through, breaking up meat with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until flavors blend and sauce measures about 5 cups, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Cool.

FOR LASAGNA: Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 7 minutes. Drain; cover with cold water.

Combine ricotta and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese in medium bowl. Mix in spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in eggs.

Drain pasta and pat dry. Spread 1/2 cup sauce over bottom of 13×9-inch glass baking dish. Place 5 noodles over sauce, overlapping to fit. Spread half of ricotta-spinach mixture evenly over noodles. Sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella cheese evenly over ricotta-spinach mixture. Spoon 1 1/2 cups sauce over cheese, spreading with spatula to cover (sauce will be thick). Repeat layering with 5 noodles, remaining ricotta-spinach mixture, 2 cups mozzarella and 1 1/2 cups sauce. Arrange remaining 5 noodles over sauce. Spread remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese evenly over lasagna. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.) Cover baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake lasagna 40 minutes; uncover and bake until hot and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving.

***

It sounds a bit complicated but your major investment is really time, which only bugs you during that last fifteen minutes when you’re waiting for it to cool and going crazy from the aroma. The thing that shocked me about this recipe was how well it came out in spite of my never having cooked Lasagna before in my life. This makes rather a lot of it but that’s ok – it keeps rather well and the sauce, which is excellent, actually tastes better on the second day. Also, you just need a salad to accompany this (or not) and you’re all set. Although wine is always a help, especially if you’re unsure of the outcome. If you don’t feel like making lasagna, then that’s cool too: pour the sauce over spaghetti. The reviews all told me to increase the sauce amounts by 50% because they were all running short and I guess that’s true if you have a real deep lasagna pan. I made mine (still do) in a normal deep dish that I had with me. It didn’t allow me to make too many layers but what I had was more than enough.

Oh, and if you’re like some of my desi friends and are constantly looking for ways to desi-fy a meal, I’d suggest you wait until you’ve made this at least once before you try to innovate – unless you know what you’re doing and are a really good cook, of course. I’m an unimaginative traditionalist so all I do is triple the crushed red pepper.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on March 17, 2008 in Life, Personal

 

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Happy New Year!

Have a drink!

Here’s the last post of the year and I was wondering what to say to all of you wonderful people whom I’ve met this year. Something funny, poignant, sad, meaningful – a good, old fashioned rant, maybe?

But then I thought, is that how I plan to ring in the New Year? Am I sitting here in the dark, moaning about the awfulness of it all, or flipping through old albums and wiping away a tear at the tender memories buried within?

Er, no.

I’m fixing me a drink and having me some fun, thank you.

So why shouldn’t you? After all, had we met in real life, I’d have fixed you a drink too and much good time would have been had by all. Therefore, I’ve decided time and space are no bar to you and I raising a toast.

To all the things we hold dear and the hope for a better tomorrow!

And – because I’m so supernice – I have here a couple of recipes that are guaranteed to engender a false sense of euphoria and send you vomiting into the nearest toilet bowl at your metabolism’s leisure. In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that my bartending experience is… well, nil. So, er, you’ve been warned. Enjoy!

Also, DO NOT drink and drive, you hear? Don’t try and be a hero and get a cab, cheapo! It might just save your life and someone else’s.

We start things up with a Snowball coz it’s light and easy:

2 Shots Advocaat
Top up Lemonade
0.25 Shot Lime Cordial

Shake the advocaat and lime juice together. Pour into an ice filled highball. Top up with lemonade.

Next stop, the Black Shadow coz… well, I like the name.

1 Shot Blue Curaçao
0.5 Shot Crème De Cassis
Top up Champagne

Shake together Blue Curaçao and Crème De Cassis in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into flute glass and top up with chilled Champagne.

If all this sounds a bit too easy or boring, how about Peach Champagne Punch – with Tabasco in it?

1 (29-ounce) can peaches, drained
1/4 cup peach schnapps
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Tabasco
1 (750 ml) bottle champagne, chilled

Blend peaches, peach schnapps, lemon juice and tabasco in a blender or food processor until smooth. Just before serving, pour in champagne.

And if you’re one of those Tabasco fanatics who like to douse everything they eat in the stuff, then why not try a Red Margarita?

1 cup frozen strawberries
1/3 cup tequila
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
2 cups ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

You can end the night with a cup of Dutch Coffee, which I personally prefer to Irish Coffee.

1 Shot Advocaat
1 Cup Black Coffee

Allow the coffee to cool for one minute. Stir in the Advocaat and add sugar to taste.

However, if you’ve been partying all night and still raring to go, try a Dutch Breakfast:

1 Shot Gin
1 Teaspoon Galliano
1 Shot Advocaat
0.5 Shot Lime Juice
0.5 Shot Sugar Syrup
0.5 Shot Lemon Juice

Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain into an ice-filled glass.

And if you’ve none of these things on hand, just break out a bottle of whatever you do have and mix it up. What the hell, it’s New Year’s Eve. Oh, and do keep a friend nearby – to hold your head as you retch and to rush you to the hospital when you come down with alcohol poisoning.

Friends – they’re wunnerful!

Detox the next morning with a Cucumber Tonic. That’s right – cucumber. Serves you right!

1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
Ice cubes
2 cups tonic water

Set aside 2 cucumber slices. In a blender, combine 1 cup cold water with the remaining cucumber, the lemon juice and the honey. Strain into a pitcher filled with ice, top with the tonic water and stir. Garnish with the 2 cucumber slices.

Happy New Year, everybody! Much love.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on December 31, 2007 in Life, Personal

 

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