Friday, 31 January 2014

The American Sponge Cake

Some recipes tend to surprise you and this is one of it. I had never made a Sponge cake but always loved to have one. Recently, I had this strong urge to take up the task and so quickly looked up a recipe from Joy of Baking. However, I had just finished a big batch of muffins and cookies that I had made for my daughter's birthday and there weren't many interested people (read husband) to eat more cakes at home. But opportunity did come in the shape of a sudden dinner plan at my place with some friends. I immediately got together the main ingredients (eggs!) and was happily making it. What made me more happy was the discovery that the recipe did not require any butter/oil and just a little flour than what a regular cake recipe calls for. So get ready for a slightly guilt-free indulgence!

1 cup all purpose flour
6 large eggs separated
1 cup fine granulated sugar divided
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla essence
Zest of 1 orange/lemon (outer covering)
1 tsp almond essence (optional)
2 tbsp water

In two separate bowls, take out the egg yolks and the egg whites. Beat the egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar until light in color and creamy. Now add the essences, zest, and water and beat to a smooth creamy texture. When you hold the batter up with a spoon, it should fall back like a smooth ribbon. 
Now, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat further. This ensures the moistness of the cake. Now add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and beat until soft white peaks are formed. 
Sift the flour with the baking powder and add it to the yolk mixture, 1/3 cup at a time. Gently fold with the help of a spatula. Now add a little of the egg white and fold in without mixing too much. Add the remaining egg whites and fold in gently just until incorporated. Over mixing will deflate the batter. 
Pre-heat the oven at 175 degree celsius and grease a spring form pan or any regular cake tin. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and smoothen the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Monitor the temperature in between to ensure no over browning on the top. Cool on a wire rack. You can garnish the cake by sprinkling some icing sugar through a sieve or with the favorite icing and fruit topping of your choice.

1. Tastes best if refrigerated overnight.
2. The secret to a soft and fluffy sponge cake lies in how best you beat the egg whites.
3. Initially it may taste a little dry and have a strong eggy smell. Refrigerate overnight and the smell would be no more.
4. You can add an extra teaspoon of vanilla essence.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Kid's Birthday Special Muffins and Cookies

The 28th of January is a special day as my baby turned 2. Like all mothers, I wanted to make this day special for her. She also seemed quite excited about the day and so it became even more important for me to plan it a special way. However, I did not want to hold any lavish parties or invite the adult guests for dinner/lunch as it would have nothing to do with her. So I decided to celebrate her birthday in her playgroup where she enjoys the most and has all her friends. I decided to make small goodie bags stuffed with mini muffins and cookies which would be easy for little babies to eat and enjoy. Some balloons and party caps completed the set up and my baby and her friends had a wonderful time playing together and singing birthday songs. Her teacher was kind enough to send me some pics of the event and I was satisfied seeing her happy face. Here's what I made for her friends.

Mini Choco Chip Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
1 egg
1/2 cup mini choco chips (I added a little bit more for the kids)
2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder and keep aside. In a bowl, beat the butter and sugar together till smooth. Add the egg and beat further. Pour in the milk little at a time and mix well. Lastly, add the vanilla essence and give a mix. Now fold in the flour mixture and gently incorporate until the entire quantity is mixed without any lumps. Now add the choco chips and mix with a spatula until just incorporated. Do not over mix. 
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degree celcius and line a mini muffin tray with liners and pour the batter till 1/3 of the cup. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Mini Dark Chocolate Muffins

1 cup all purpose flour
1 oz semi sweet dark baking chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
50 gms butter

Sift the flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking powder and keep aside. In a bowl, beat the butter and sugar till smooth. Add the egg and the milk and beat further. Now fold in the flour and mix till the batter is smooth. Lastly, fold in the chopped chocolate and stir just to incorporate. Do not over mix. 
Pour the batter into lined muffin trays up to 1/3 of the cup and bake in a pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes at 180 degree Celsius. 

 P.S.: In the final stage, I added one M&M candy on top of each muffin, which did not turn out to be a good idea! :(

Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Ice Cream Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup icing/confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz semi sweet chocolate chopped

Beat the butter and sugar until smooth. Now, add the flour, salt, vanilla extract and knead a smooth dough. Flatten the dough into a disk shape and cover with a plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about an hour or until firm. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and cut out small ice cream shaped cookies with the help of a cookie cutter. You can use any other shape as you desire. Place the cookies on the tray and refrigerate again for 10-15 minutes while you pre-heat the oven at 175 degree celsius. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes until slightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile, on a double boiler melt the chopped chocolate until smooth and glazy. Now dip the cooled cookies into this chocolate syrup and refrigerate again for 10-15 minutes until the chocolate sets. Store in air-tight containers in the refrigerator and take out 10 minutes before serving.


And the final platter looked like this:


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Pav Bhaji

The one dish that signifies Mumbai's street food is Pav Bhaji. While there are many more delicacies in this league but somehow Pav Bhaji has always retained its popularity. Credit also goes to the readily available Pav Bhaji masala in the supermarkets of both India and abroad. However, as easy as it seems to be, most people including me often fail to recreate the exact taste. I have always followed the instructions available on the back of the masala packet to prepare Pav Bhaji at home. This time however I decided to search the Internet for recipes and came across Tarla Dalal's simple recipe which was a little different from the usual procedure, at least for me.

200 gms cauliflower, cut into florets
2 medium poatoes, diced
1/2 cup green peas
3 medium onions, chopped plus for garnishing
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 small capsicum, chopped 
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 1/2 tbsp pav bhaji masala
Salt to taste (the original recipe called for black salt)
1-2 tbsp butter

To be ground to a paste
3-4 kashmiri red chillies, soaked in warm water
3-4 garlic cloves

Boil the cauliflower, potatoes, and peas until tender. Drain the water and keep aside. 
In a pan, heat the butter and fry the onions till translucent. Add the capsicum and the prepared paste. Fry for 2-3 minutes. Now add the tomatoes and fry till it becomes mushy and the oil separates. Add the dry spices and mix well. Now add the boiled vegetables and salt. With the help of a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the veggies well. Add a little water if required (I like my pav bhaji without gravy so I did not add any). Garnish with freshly chopped onions and serve with butter seared buns.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Chettinad Pepper Chicken

Chettinad cuisine is known for its spiciness and strong flavors. In Singapore, there are specialty Chettinad restaurants which serve authentic dishes from this cuisine. Easy on the pocket but heavy on taste and satisfaction. I was having a flu since past few days and what better cuisine than Chettinad to provide me some relief from it!

750 gms chicken, washed and cut
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 big tomato, chopped
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
2-3 green chillies, slit
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns, ground to a fine powder (not advisable to use store bought pepper powder)
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 sprig curry leaves
Salt to taste
1 tbsp mustard oil

In a pan, heat the oil and splutter the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Add the onions and fry till translucent. Add green chillies, curry leaves, and ginger garlic paste and sauté. Next add the tomatoes and fry till mushy. Add the dry spices along with the salt. Tip in the chicken pieces and mix well. Cover and cook till chicken is almost done. Now add the ground pepper and cook for 5-10 minutes or until done. Remove from heat and serve hot with plain rice/ roti/naan.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Coco Paneer

Paneer in itself is very versatile and, when combined with interesting ingredients, can create beautiful and delicious dishes. Today's dish is a recreation of one of Tarla Dalal's recipes for Paneer in coconut milk gravy. Apart from its interesting taste, the other thing that truly amazed me was the ease with which it can be prepared. In less than 20 minutes, you are ready to serve a meal! Now, isn't that wonderful? Team it up with some yummy jeera rice and you will be a happy person.

250 gms paneer, cut into cubes
2 cups coconut milk
3 tsp cornflour dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 medium onions, chopped
1 inch piece ginger, chopped
4-5 green chillies
Lots of coriander leaves
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a pan and fry the paneer pieces till golden brown. Drain on paper towels and keep aside. In a blender, make a paste with the onions, ginger, and green chillies without adding any water. 
In the same oil where you fried the paneer pieces, add additional oil if required and crackle the cumin seeds. Now add the prepared paste and fry for 2-3 minutes until the raw smell disappears. Add salt as per taste. Pour the coconut milk and the cornflour mixture and mix well. Bring it to a boil and add the paneer cubes. Simmer for 2 minutes and add fresh coriander leaves. Give it a stir and remove from heat. Serve hot with some jeera rice or neer dosa and enjoy this interesting and delicious paneer recipe.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Chicken in Spicy Soy Sauce

This recipe comes from one of my fellow blogger's mother's diary. She calls it "Black Chicken" as it is fondly christened by this name by her friends and family who have tasted and relished this dish. The world has now indeed become a small place with even recipes getting passed on from one kitchen to the next staying hundreds of miles apart. That day isn't far when people across different nations can enjoy a meal together even while staying miles apart (Not just through Skype though!)

1/2 kg chicken with bones (you can go for only drumsticks as well)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp ginger-garlic
1 tsp red chilli powder
1-2 tsp good quality garam masala
Salt to taste
1 tsp olive oil

In a bowl, mix everything together except the chicken pieces and oil. Now add the chicken pieces and coat them properly with the marinade. With a fork, prick the chicken pieces and keep aside for 25-30 minutes.
Heat oil in a pan and add the chicken pieces along with the marinade. Fry till the juices are well absorbed and the chicken gets fried well. Now sprinkle a little water and cover cook for sometime on a low flame till the chicken is tender. Remove from heat and enjoy with some pulao or fried rice.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Ghilla Pitha (Deep Fried Rice Flour Cakes)

I belong to the beautiful state of Assam in the northeast India. In Assam, apart from the other festivals like Diwali and Durga Puja, we have three major festivals- Magh Bihu (or Harvest festival) celebrated in the month of January, Bohag Bihu (or Spring festival) celebrated in the month of April, and Kati Bihu (or Autumn festival) celebrated in the month of September. Each Bihu has its own significance and bring with it loads of fun and celebration. While Bohag bihu is the one which is celebrated in the most pompous manner, Magh Bihu has its own charm. The new rice would be harvested at this time and the farmers would be thanking God for a good harvest and celebrate with a grand feast. The speciality of this wintery feast is that the food is cooked on a bonfire and all the family members and friends would sit together and chat and cook up a delicious meal for all. In the morning, they would make delicacies called "pitha" and offer it to fire god and pray for a good year ahead. They would bathe their cows and buffaloes with raw turmeric and "maah" (black gram) and take blessings of their elders for a happy and fulfilling new year. I have so many childhood memories of this bihu and its celebrations that it feels like just yesterday when I was a kid and would happily enjoy all the food prepared by Maa. Now that I am miles away from my family, I have a few friends here with whom I hope to recreate some Bihu memories for the future.

2 cups Rice flour
1/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup jaggery, grated or mashed with hands
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp orange rind
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 cup water
Mustard oil for frying

Take a deep bottomed dish and add all the ingredients except water and jaggery. Now add the jaggery and add very little water at a time until a smooth batter is formed similar to the consistency of cake batter. If the batter is a little too thick, do not add more water as the jaggery would also be releasing some water of its own. Make sure there are no lumps. Cover and keep aside for at least 5-6 hours or preferably overnight. When keeping overnight, you can keep it in the refrigerator and take it out about 1-2 hours prior to frying. 
Heat a small wok and add sufficient mustard oil. Take spoonfuls of the batter and fry till golden brown on both sides on a low flame. Drain the excess oil on paper towels and store in air tight containers and enjoy this northeastern delicacy with a hot cuppa.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Red Chilli Pickle

Pickle at home and made by you!! That was my mom's first reaction when I narrated my success story to her over the phone. She could not believe her youngest can now even make pickles at home, leave aside running a food blog. Well, time flies Maa. Maybe oneday I will feel the same for my baby.

150 gms Green or red chillies (the original recipe called for 250 gms)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp methi seeds
1/4 tsp hing
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp olive oil (I added 2 extra tbsp of oil while mixing the next day)
2 lemon or 2 tbsp lemon juice, whichever is more

Chop your chilles, ideally into three parts. Make sure the chillies are washed and patted completely dry before chopping. Roast the cumin seeds and methi seeds in a pan. Turn off the heat and add hing while the pan is still hot. Transfer the contents into a blender and add mustard seeds. Make a smooth powder and empty the masala into a bowl. Add turmeric powder, garam masala, and 1 tbsp lemon juice and half the salt. Keep aside. 
In another bowl, preferably a glass one, put the chillies, salt, turmeric powder, oil, and the remaining lemon juice and mix well. Cover with a tight lid and either keep it in the room or in sunlight for few hours for best result. After 5/6 hours, add the prepared masala and mix everything well again. Now keep covered in the same bowl for 1 day occasionally stirring in between. Next day, transfer the pickle into a glass jar and add a little more oil. Keep bathing the pickle in the sun for a few days for best results. Remember to keep shaking the jar once in a while for proper mixing. Enjoy!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Nolen Gurer Muffins (Date Palm Jaggery Muffins)

The first thing I did when I landed in Kolkata for my week long holiday recently was to ask my uncle to get me some good quality Nolen Gur to carry to Singapore. I had seen some superb recipes in the beginning of the winters in Kolkata through one of my fellow bloggers, Amrita Gill, and was quite excited to try them. However, I had to wait until my India trip and the moment I got back to Singapore, I fished out the recipe from her blog and my delicious muffins were ready in no time. I am so impressed and happy with the results that I will be making them again for my daughter's birthday as mini muffins to be given away to her playgroup friends. Thank you Amrita for the superb recipe!

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup nolen gur/date palm jaggery
1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
Almond silvers for garnishing

In a bowl, take the softened butter and whisk. To this, add grated jaggery and mix further. You can use a food processor for easy and even mixing. Now add the egg and beat further. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the butter mixture. If you find the batter too thick, you can add 1-2 tbsp of milk. The batter, however, will not be as runny as normal cake batter. 
Pre-heat the oven to 160 degree celsius. Line a muffin tray with paper liners and add spoonfuls of the batter into the moulds. Gently sprinkle some almond silvers on top of the batter. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and golden on top. Store in air-tight containers and enjoy these blissful muffins with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Sesame Chicken

This dish had been on my to-do list for quite sometime now. The first time I had it was at my friend's place for dinner and ever since it has become one of my favorites. While I did attempt to make it once, but back then I had used all shortcut methods and so the result was obvious as well. This time, however, I followed her recipe to the T and had a super satisfied meal. While I did compromise a little with the chillies as my baby would also be having it, the taste was nevertheless awesome. This dish also forms a part of Assamese cuisine and hence even more dear to me and makes me feel at home.

400 gms chicken (with bone or without)
2 medium onions
5 cloves garlic
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 green chillies (I compromised a bit on the chillies; you can add as per your requirement)
4-5 sprigs of coriander leaves made into a paste with 1-2 green chillies
3 tbsp black sesame seeds, roasted and made into a fine paste with little water.
2 tbsp mustard oil
1 tsp garam masala
Salt to taste

In a pan, dry roast the peppercorns and cumin seeds. Remove from heat and let it cool. In a blender, add the onions, garlic, and chillies and make a paste. Now add the roasted peppercorns and cumin seeds. Continue grinding until a coarse paste is formed. 
In another pan, heat mustard oil until smoky hot. Add the onion paste and fry till raw smell disappears. Now add the chicken and fry with the masala leaves oil. Add salt and garam masala. Simmer and cook covered until chicken is tender. Now add the sesame paste and stir. Also, tip in the coriander paste and mix. Cook for 5-10 minutes till the gravy dries up a little and oil starts coming up on top. Remove from heat and serve hot with plain rice and onion salad.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Veth Chaman-- From the Valleys of Kashmir

One of the many benefits of having a blog, a food blog at that, is the constant urge to try out new recipes and different cuisines. India itself has so many different cuisines that many a times they are either completely forgotten or remain confined to their specific regions. Kashmiri cuisine is one such cuisine which I, personally, haven't eaten much or cooked anything till date. The speciality of this cuisine is its spicing. Most of the spices which go into their dishes are homemade rather than bought from the market. The aroma and taste of freshly prepared spices is the star of this cuisine. Today's recipe is a pure vegetarian dish with paneer. Have it with your hands in pure desi style and enjoy the aroma of the spices. Fingerlicking good!!

1 cup warm water
1/4 tsp hing/asafoetida
Mustard oil for frying
250 gms paneer, cubed

For the garam masala
4-5 cloves
4-5 cardamoms
1 inch piece cinnamon
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1/4 tbsp dry ginger powder

For the paneer base
1 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 cloves
3-4 cardamoms
1/2 inch piece cinnamon
3 tsp saunf powder
3 tsp dry ginger powder 
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp kashmiri chilli powder (I added about 1 tsp since I like it less spicy)
2 tbsp curd, whisked
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
2 tsp garam masala prepared above
2 tbsp mustard oil

Heat oil in a pan sufficient enough to fry the paneer cubes till golden brown. Add hing to the warm water and mix well. Soak the fried paneer pieces in the hing water for about 20 minutes.
In another pan, dry roast the ingredients listed  under garam masala and grind to a fine powder. Keep aside.
In the same pan where you fried the paneer pieces, add additional oil if required and heat. Add the cumin seeds and cloves. Now add the dry ginger powder, turmeric powder, and chilli powder. Fry for a minute. Now add about 2 tbsp of the hing water to deglaze. Stir. Tip in the whisked curd, milk, cardamoms, and saunf powder. Mix well until smooth. Now add the fried paneer pieces, salt, and garam masala. Coat the paneer pieces evenly with the gravy. Add the sugar and simmer for 5-7 minutes covered. The gravy should not be too watery. Check for seasoning and serve it hot with plain rice.