Monday, January 25, 2010

Sweet Nothings ... SHF #61

Is there a way, one can remove the brain from its cranium, give it a good massage, and pop it right back? Coz if there is, I would seriously consider it. The last few weeks have gone by in an absolute flurry. And it's going to get only worse. (Bangs head on table). Nope it isn't three-morsel-eater (THM) and her ways with food. Not even the cold. I am in the middle (well, not really, considering I started only two weeks ago) of my graduate core classes, and it's not a pretty sight.

Don't get me wrong, I love every minute of it. No matter my complaining. That's just me. I love whining; if nothing else, the weather it is. In this case, it's these response papers we have to turn in. The first week's readings were challenging, but stellar, so writing what I thought of it, wasn't a big deal. Being my luck, it had run its course by week two. Since the Tuesday of last week, I feel like a headless chicken that was first drugged and then injected with caffeine. (Shudders thinking about taste).

Now, this week's reading was interesting, but I am beginning to think the guy who wrote it, had unscrewed his head, and then put it on backwards. I mean, nothing else, can explain how someone could make intuitive processes of how we communicate into mumbo-jumbo-meets-abracadabra-and-falls-into-toilet. That doesn't make sense, does it? Exactly, my point.

Thankfully, the last few weeks weren't all about me-wanting-to-scratch-my-corneas-out. Eats got an award for being "kreative" (Thanks Swathi! That's awfully sweet of you!) AM made the most delicious, little egg tartlets following my dearest friend May's recipe, to cheer me up; I suspect he feared for his corneas too. And THM learnt to say Sawwwy (Sorry), Fla-wee (flower), Taw-wee (towel) and Kyawee (she likes to call herself kyari, short for Kyara). Weeee! It wasn't such a lousy week after all.

The award needs me to list seven things people don't know about me. In random order, here they are:

1. Coffee makes me bounce off walls. If you are one of those silent types, who likes to talk in monosyllables, don't let me near you when I have had a cup. Seriously.
2. I never say no to a good shoe. Even though I go on and on about Louboutins and Blahniks.
3. I (sometimes) skip brushing my teeth at night. (Sorry, mom!)
4. I like Valentine's Day, even though I pffft at it every, single year. (Hint, hint AM).
5. I love surprises. If they come packaged in little turquoise boxes, even better. (Art of giving hints 101)
6. I think I want to skydive, someday.
7. I can eat seven (big) cups of chocolate mousse -- in one sitting.

I am passing on the award to seven of my favorite bloggers ...

Manasi of kisss-the-cook
Ann of splitpearsonality
Priya of priyaeasyntastyrecipes
SE of denufood
Vinaya of foodtravelbooksandmore
Kate/Kajal of aapplemint
Sonia of 7spice

Here are the rules for the award peeps!

1. Thank the person giving the award.
2. Copy the award to your blog.
3. Place a link to their blog.
4. Name 7 things people don't know about you.
5. Nominate 7 bloggers
6. Place a link to those bloggers
7. Leave a comment letting those bloggers know about the award.

♣ A tartlet a Day ...

We tasted these over New Year's at our friend's May and Carl. Apparently these sweet nothings are quite a favorite among Chinese, and feature regularly on Dim-sum restaurant menus. May learnt this wonderfully, simple recipe from her Taiwanese friend, and usually reserves it for special or festive days. On the day she made these, and by the time we reached for dinner, Carl had polished off 20, and their son Wesley about seven. Yep, they are that good! These are going to a merrier world for SHF # 61 as my comforting dessert.

May's Egg Tarts

For the crust you need:
14 tbsp unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1/2 C sugar
1 large egg (at room temperature)
3 C All purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp milk

For the custard you need:
14 fl oz milk
1 C sugar
6 eggs(at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 375F. (You have an oven thermometer, don't you? Shouldn't be baking without it. Trust me).

Start creaming the softened butter in a mixer. After a minute or so add the sugar. Beat until the sugar is fully incorporated. Then, add the egg and keep beating. Once incorporated, add the flour and keep beating. When the flour is lumpy, pour in the milk. After a little beating, the dough should come together. Wrap it in parchment paper and set aside for about 20 minutes.

For making the custard, combine all the ingredients and mix well with a whisk. I would whisk the eggs first, just so there are no lumps. I think using a vanilla bean instead of extract might give an interesting texture.

After the dough is rested, make small balls and roll them to cover the tartlet pan/shell you have. Carefully drape the dough so it hugs the inside of the pan/shell. Break off any excess.

Use a aluminum baking sheet to arrange the shells and then pour in the custard filling leaving some room at the top for the custard to expand. 1/8 to 1/4 inch from the top is about right. Remember, air bubbles are bad for custard integrity. Pour slowly and in a steady stream to avoid trapping air. You may tap the shells to release any air, but do it at your own risk. I say, a collapsed custard tastes the same as a perfect one!

Bake 25-30 minutes in the oven at 375F. Keep an eye on them from the 20 minute mark. If the custard is puffing up too much, open the oven door a little to stop the cooking. When you see small pin holes on the custard top and the crust looks done it is time to take them out. Sorry, you will have to wait for them to cool down completely before they are ready to come out of the pan/shell.

This recipe will make about 48 two inch tartlets. Trust me, you will need that many if you like eating good stuff! I would recommend using shallow shells/pan, but they can be hard to find.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Halwa, Oh Halwa! ... ICC January challenge

As much as I like my quick-and-simple-eat-while-you-rush-rush-meals, I have a thing for traditional recipes that require slaving and a good dose of TLC. For one, they almost always reward you with unforgettable tastes and memories of home. And secondly, I really, really wish I can cook like my grandmother. Someday, at least.

So, when I sighted upon Srivalli's wonderful Indian Cooking Challenge, I jumped for joy (a couple of times. And then some) and signed up. As I clicked impatiently, my mind racing with images of perfect rava ladoos and chaklis, and me finally learning to make them, I was snapped out of my reverie with three small words. Moong dal Halwa. Oh, sweet lord! I read it a couple of times to make sure I had read it right. Alas, it was true! My halwa nemesis sat there blinking at me in print. To devour me whole in its silky smoothness. And this time around, I didn't have my mother to save me. Well ... that's kind of debatable.

To give you a low-down, a flashback is in order:

Late on a Saturday evening, my mother came home after her evening walk, to find me desperately stirring a wok full of gooey-yellow-stuff. No, it's not what you think.

Mum: Aiya! (my Maharashtrian mother uses this word to show a range of emotions) "Karte," who told you to do this? (Karte/kartya, depending on the gender, loosely means brat; But like Aiya! is actually used to replace words that mothers choose not to say.

Whisks the spoon, and turns down the flame. All this while, she also manages to glare at me. You know, that same interchangeable look mothers give when you touch a precious Tchachki at the neighbors house, or say something completely inappropriate.

Me (sheepishly): Moong dal halwa.

Mum (melodramatically thumps her forehead with the palm of her hand): Hey Bhagwan!! (Or, Oh Lord! Only when it's accompanied with the palm-hitting-the-forehead, you know you are in trouble. Deep trouble.)

And, so that's how it ended. My grievous and brief encounter with moong dal halwa. Ever since, I have all but run whenever it's even mentioned 10-feet in the vicinity of my hearing. And, it really didn't have anything to do with the trouble I got into with my mother. (Well, maybe just a little). If she hadn't come when she had, and whisked that spoon away from me, I am scared to think what I would have done.

Then, it occurred to me. I was no longer 19. And this wasn't my mother's kitchen. So, even if there was a repeat performance, it would be alright, really. At, the very least, it would make a hilarious post.

Gulp. Gulp. We'll know who will have the last laugh, won't we?

♣ Muhahaha!

(Gets melodramatic, and clicks fingers on countertop). Yep. When you have the right recipe, you can pretty much laugh like Mogambo every time you make it.

After reading both the recipes given by Srivalli, I decided I wanted to try the first recipe, as I had a bookmarked recipe for making khoya at home.  And surprise, surprise! I not only got over my horror of moong dal halwa, but I successfully managed to make khoya at home.  Yayy!

I think the only thing I will do differently next time is to use 3/4th C of sugar instead of a cup, and employ a  heavy-bottomed-non-stick pan  -- as the dal paste sticks to the pan, pretty much as soon as it hits the ghee.  

Thanks Simran and Lataji for the wonderful recipes! My entry is going straight to Srivalli. (Hmm ... maybe a few taste-stops later)

Moon Dal Halwa

You need:

1 C (split-yellow) moong dal
3/4 C sugar
1/2 cup clarified butter or ghee
1/2 cup khoya
Cashews and raisins for garnishing


In a pan, over low-medium heat, lightly toast the moong dal.  Wash the dal, and soak overnight. The following morning, blend it to a smooth paste, "adding very little water."

Heat a heavy-bottomed (non-stick) pan, and add in the clarified butter. As soon as the ghee melts, carefully add the moong dal paste, stirring quickly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Stir until the dal is soft, lump-less, changes color to a pale tan, and you can see the sheen of clarified butter.

Mix in the sugar and khoya until well combined with the dal. Remove from heat, mix in a handful of raisins and some chopped cashews, and serve warm.

Note: Srivalli says, as long as you "keep the ratio of -- equal amounts of dal and sugar, half the ghee and khoya, constant" -- you can increase/decrease the halwa quantity, as you like.


'Tis the season to bake ...

I had all intentions of baking a cake for Divya's, Show Me Your Cake. But, between making moong dal halwa for Srivalli's Indian Cooking Challenge, and working on my graduate papers -- all my plans of baking-from-scratch have gone awry. Thankfully, there's the option to re-post. And fortunately, I am pretty much shameless about stuff like that.

So, without further rambling, here are my two entries:

Nigel Slater's Chocolate Beetroot Cake (read complete post here).

I have re-written, and re-arranged some of the steps, as originally given, because my husband found some of the instructions confusing. (Rolling eyes.) Oh bother! Original recipe here.

You need:

250g beetroot (I took about 2 medium-sized ones)
200g fine, dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids)
4 tbsp hot espresso
200g butter (happened to chance upon Grade AA butter, would have never thought butter has grades!)
135g plain flour
A heaped tsp baking powder
3 tbsp good-quality cocoa powder
5 eggs
190g golden caster sugar (I used Turbinado raw sugar)
creme fraiche and poppy seeds, to serve


"Lightly butter a 20cm (8-inch) loose-bottomed (spring-form) cake tin, and line the base with a disc of baking parchment. Set the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 (350F).

"Cook the beetroot, whole and un-peeled, in boiling unsalted water." (I had no patience to wait around for half-an-hour, so I pressure-cooked them for three whistles, instead). "Depending on their size, they will be knifepoint tender within 30-40 minutes. Young ones may take slightly less. Drain them, let them cool under running water, then peel them, slice out their stem and root, and blitz to a rough puree."

Now he gets a bit muddle-some. Or so says AM. So, let's re-arrange and re-word.

"Sift together the flour, baking powder, and cocoa. Separate the eggs; put the whites in a mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together."

"Cut the butter into small pieces -- the smaller the better," and set aside.

Nigel, asks to whisk the egg-whites later, but I found that hard in between other multi-tasking. So, "whisk the egg-whites until stiff, then fold in the sugar," and set aside.

"Snap the chocolate into pieces," and melt it, "in a small bowl, resting over a pot of simmering water. Don't stir. When the chocolate looks almost melted, pour the hot espresso over it, and stir once."

"Add the butter pieces to melted chocolate," pressing it down, "under the surface of the chocolate with a spoon, and leave to soften."

Once the butter has softened, "quickly but gently, remove the chocolate bowl from the heat, stirring until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes, then stir in the egg-yolks; mix firmly so the eggs blend into the mixture."

"Fold in the beetroot. Firmly, but tenderly, fold the whisked," egg-whites-sugar, "into the chocolate mixture. A large metal spoon is what you want; work in deep, figure-of-eight movements, but take care not to over-mix."

"Fold in the flour and cocoa."

"Transfer to the prepared cake tin," place in the oven, "and turn the "heat down immediately to 160C/gas mark 3/320F. Bake for 40 minutes." (It took me exactly that much time to bake), but ovens tend to vary. So, set the timer for 35 minutes, and check on the cake thereon.

Once done, "the rim of the cake will feel spongy, the inner part should still wobble a little, when gently shaken."

"Leave to cool (it will sink a tad in the centre), loosening it around with a palette knife after half-an-hour, or so. It is not a good idea to remove the cake from its tin, until it's completely cold." I kept it to cool overnight.

"Serve in thick slices, with creme fraiche and poppy seeds."

To reach nirvana, creme fraiche is a MUST on this cake. Talk later. Eat now.

Paula Deen's Red Velvet Cupcakes. (Original recipe here.  For my post, click here)


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wohooo ... 2010! Brrrr

I am so frozen stiff, I swear I resemble one of them stalagmites. I had promised myself (here we go with the resolutions, already) to keep posting every second day (!) after Nupur's wonderful Marathon. And, here we are nine days into 2010, woe is me and all. But, really! I am unable to get beyond how cold it is. Highs of -15 F. Lows of -30 F. Kulfi anyone? It's on the slab of ice that was once my deck, getting frozen, right as we speak.

Just yesterday, when three-morsel-eater wanted more of her snackies, I found myself wishing for a Bot. Ahhh ... He/She would cook, clean, feed hungry little ones, and me. Change channels from HGTV to Travel in a jiffy. Change my socks, bathe me too. Er ... maybe that's going too far, even for a house-bot.

But, you get my point.

In this okole-freezing weather that's what every house needs, to pick up the slack, while you are buried under layers of sweaters, duvets, thermals and other woolies. Some passageway for the eyes to see television. Of course, somewhere to breathe from, and also a long, long, straw dipped into the never-ending-fountain-of-hot-chocolate-and-youth. And, then when it's time to eat, you are evacuated by said Bot into this warm, cozy bubble of a thing; the food here will take you back eons of years ago. Every morsel reminiscent of grandma's cooking ... ahhh.

But, what would happen to a body accustomed to only eating, drinking and watching tv? Still, in the bubble, people! Still in the bubble.

You know, we should be like those bears and chipmunks that hibernate during winter. That's so smart! No foraging for food = no cooking either. Not that they cook anyway, everything is salmon sashimi or peanuts. Frankly, I am seriously considering both.

Me: What's that, honey? I have a flu-flaw. What flu-flaw is the man talking about? That's exactly why you don't act like James Bond and shovel snow without a monkey-cap! Flu-flaw, indeed!

An epiphany ... and two minutes later ...

... Me: Oh! A food blog. Right. My food blog.

So, here I am blogging. Beyond stiff. But, cooking and blogging.

Happy 2010, everyone! Summer is not that beyond. Four months of frozen buttocks isn't that long, anyway. (FOUR MONTHS!)

♣ Slurrrp ... And Eat

Nothing can warm the cockles of the soul like a bowl of noodle soup, on a cold winter's night. And if its simple, and quicker to make, than wearing socks, I say eat first. Wear socks later. This recipe comes from one of my go-to Chinese cookbooks, "Authentic Recipes from China," by Kenneth Law, Lee Cheng Meng and Max Zhang, that I keep right next to my Ruchira, and Gordon Ramsay. I have adapted the following recipe for Hot and Spicy Sichuan Noodles, to suit the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator. It's so versatile that you can easily do a switch-a-roo and no one would be the wiser. According to the authors, this noodle-dish is a favorite street-food in China, sold by hawkers on the go, or "mobile vendors."

Hot and Spicy Sichuan Noddles or Dan Dan Mian
Adapted from Authentic Recipes from China by Kenneth Law, Lee Cheng Meng and Max Zhang

You need:

1/2 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns or Sansho pepper (I substituted with chilli flakes)
1 1/2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp oil
8 oz (250 g) ground pork (I substituted chicken for pork and used this delicious authentic egg- roll stuffing from Steamy Kitchen; the stuffing tastes good even without any meat)
2 C (500 ml) chicken stock
1/2 C (125 g) preserved, salted radish, diced or 1/2 C of julienned parsnips (I found the Chinese salted radish a bit too fishy because of the oil used for preservation; parsnips were a wonderful, sweet replacement)
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp black vinegar
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp sesame oil (I used sesame-chili oil)
1 tsp chili oil (optional if you can find sesame-chili oil)
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 lb (500 g) fresh wheat flour noodles or 8 oz (250 g) dried flat wheat noodles (Egg Fettuccine also works well)
4 spring onions, thinly sliced as garnish


On a low-flame, heat a small pan or wok. Roast the peppercorns or sansho pepper or chilli flakes for two-three minutes. Pour in the peanut oil, and allow to "cook over low heat for 10 minutes to infuse the oil with the flavor of the peppercorns," or chilli flakes. Then, cool completely, strain and leave it be.

Heat oil in the same pan or wok, and "stir-fry the pork for two-three minutes, or until cooked." If using chicken, be careful to cook the chicken on medium heat until it is cooked through-and-through, but still moist. Or simply, follow the steps of the egg-roll stuffing as given here.

"Combine the chili-flake/peppercorn oil, chicken stock," parsnips or "preserved radish, soy sauce, black vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, chili oil and white pepper in a saucepan. Keep warm over medium heat."

In a huge stock-pot of boiling water, sprinkle in some salt, and pour in the flat noodles. "Fresh noodles will take about two-minutes, dried noodles about four." Drain and run some cold water over the noodles, spooning them into serving bowls. Ladle in the "hot broth, top with pork," or chicken or mushroom-carrot medley, and "garnish with spring onion." Slurrrrp. And eat.