Sunday, September 26, 2010

Orange and Clove Tea Cake - Mad Tea Party comes home!

This cake was made on an almost instantaneous plan, no lingering over recipes, no comparing notes. Just 15 minutes to put together the ingredients and another 35 minutes to bake - it was the first time I was trying this recipe, so I was a little anxious how it would turn out. But it was perfect.

Just like the person and the tea party this was made for - an instantaneous connection made just by reading each other's blogs. Sensing the similar wavelengths, appreciating the passion for food, the honesty and the humility which shines through. So, when the opportunity came to meet - couldn't pass it up. Not even if the both of us were on the last weekend before we went on a trip and had a million things to do. And it all came together so beautifully - a perfect tea party (though coffee was drunk!) with the right company and some stimulating conversation.

As some of you may have guessed by now, this was me meeting up with Anita of Mad Tea Party. For our own Mad Tea Party.  Exchange of mails, telephone numbers, calls and we had a tentative plan to meet on the weekend. So Sunday morning, Anita called and we fixed up for that afternoon 3 30pm. My relatively free Sunday had by then transformed into a matinee show of Beauty and the Beast with kiddo followed by lunch with friends, so I knew I wouldn't have time to serve up an elaborate spread. BUT when you have a food blogger coming over, you have to have food!

I had a couple of tangerines at home and I knew a tea cake would be nice and light for that time of the day.  So, I quickly looked for an orange based cake, which I found on the Whole Foods Market website - scanned through the list of ingredients to check that there were no exotic deal breakers. The main ingredient was Greek Yoghurt - which I thought could be substituted with hung curd. So, I tied up some home made yoghurt to hang in the fridge and then left at 10am to return only at 3pm.

I then raced around roasting the cloves and then grinding them, combining the eggs with the yoghurt, honey and zesting the oranges and lemon, while Tara (my girl Friday) tried to get some semblance of segments from the tangerines without mangling them. Managed to get everything together and into the oven by 3 30pm and 5 minutes later Anita and her husband were at the door! So, the cake baked itself while we chatted and caught up on who we were and what we did and all the things that connect us in this small world.

And as the filter coffee perked, hubby joined us too after his brief siesta while my daughter came back from our neighbour's place and we talked some more.Finally, time to check the cake (I had set it for 45 minutes but it was done in 35) and it looked gorgeous - lovely brown crust with the oranges peeping out.  It smelt delicious too - the cloves and the orange filling up the house with their aroma.

By then the dance of the cameras had begun, with my daughter pitching in for good measure, insisting that she wanted to take a pic too - talk about seizing the moment! The husbands waited patiently ("long suffering" were the words used I think) while we took our pics. And then we sat back and did what we do best - eat! 

I had made some khari biscuits too - with my latest discovery of readymade puff pastry from a local gourmet chain. I really, really miss my khari biscuits and the puff pastry makes it as easy as one- two- three! Roll it out, cut and bake. But more on that later.
The cake was moist and had that lovely citrusy flavour - a little sweeter than the recipe said it would be, but not as sweet as a dessert cake. Went well with the coffee - despite what one might think about a citrus cake.

Orange and Clove Tea Cake (adapted from here)

1-2 oranges cut into peeled sections - I used one large kinoo (mandarin) orange.

1 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
1 cup refined flour (maida)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp clove powder (1 tsp cloves, roasted for 3-4 minutes and then ground) (the original recipe calls for 1.5 tsp but I didn't want to experiment with that much; this quantity gave a gentle bite to the cake without overwhelming it)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 tbsp orange zest
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp orange extract

1 cup hung curd (hang about 2.5 cups of homemade yoghurt or 2 cups of  store bought yoghurt for atleast one hour)

6 tbsp honey ( I would reduce this to 5)
3 eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup pure olive oil

1. Grease and flour an 8" cake tin. Pre heat the oven to 350C
2. Combine the dry ingredient - sieving the whole wheat flour before adding to the refined flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, clove powder and salt.
3. In a large bowl, mix the castor sugar with the lemon and orange zest with fingers. Add the eggs and honey and essence and beat till well combined,.
4. Add the olive oil and the hung curd and beat again till you get a smooth, thick batter. 
5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and arrange the orange segments on top so that they are half in and half out of the batter.
6. Bake for 35 minutes or till a skewer comes out clean.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Buttermilk Roast Chicken - Nigella Express

I have managed to try quite a few recipes from Nigella Express in just 2 months - a testament in my opinion, to any cookbook. At first glance, I thought the book would be more of a coffee table acquisition to drool over, than one which I could actually use on an everyday basis. This, especially in the context of Nigella's style of cooking as seen on her television show, where we see liberal lashings of butter and cream being used - something which I just can't seem to get myself to replicate.

To be fair, it is usually the Nigella Feast episodes and the Christmas specials where the calorie laden desserts seem to hold sway. The Nigella Express recipes are lighter and more practical: even where the recipe calls for a little more calories than I would normally use, its easily adaptable to a low fat version. Like I did for this recipe for roasted chicken.

The recipes in the On the Run section are particularly helpful when you are looking for a quick fix but flavourful meal - or even something you can pack for lunch. Her Sesame Peanut Noodles  for example - as easy as mixing together cooked noodles with peanut butter (yes peanut butter!) and some sliced peppers and chopped herbs - I added some chilli flakes to spice it up and it was a great work week dinner with the leftovers perfect for the lunch box a day or two later.

This recipe for roasted chicken though, turned out to be just right for a light lunch on Sunday after a heavy breakfast. The best part about it is it suits my style of marinating meat or fish into different portions as soon as its bought. Some for curry, others for grilled or baked recipes and so on. So, when its time to cook, you just have to thaw and cook the way you want it.

For this recipe, you need chicken drumsticks to be marinated in a very simple combination of buttermilk, maple syrup and garlic for anywhere between 2 hours to overnight or more. It literally takes less than an hour to put together a meal with these drumsticks. I had initially marinated this in preparation for my brother and family visiting us to celebrate my Dad's 70th Birthday. But in all the confusion that followed their arrival (and the fact that with my parents here, we were eating mainly vegetarian meals) I forgot about them!

So once they had left, and the house came back to just the three of us, I poked around the kitchen missing Mom's cooking and then came across these. I had substituted honey for the syrup and cut down the amount of oil in the recipe and it was delicious. The next time I made this, I used some golden syrup and a sprinkling of Mexican spice powder and it was even more delicious. My daughter loves chicken drumsticks and was thrilled with these. I served it with a lightly spiced Pulao (pilaf) and some Tomato Carrot Soup.

Buttermilk Roasted Chicken (Adapted from Nigella Express)


6 chicken drumsticks (I used skinless)

1 cup buttermilk - Buttermilk when used in Western recipes, refers to the whey left behind after curdling milk with vinegar or some other souring agent (like cream of tartare). I used, what we refer to as buttermilk in India - a little home made yoghurt whipped with 2-3 three times the water.

4 tbsp + 1 tbsp olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves minced

1 tbsp black peppercorn crushed

2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tbsp honey

1. Whisk together 4 tbsp of olive oil with the buttermilk, honey, crushed garlic, chilli pwd , pepper and the cumin powder.

2. Toss the chicken drumsticks in the marinade in a freezer bag.

3. If cooking in the next 2 hours, leave in the refrigerator, else freeze till you are ready to cook later. Remove from the 'fridge (or if removing from the freezer than thaw for half an hour to 45 minutes). Drain the marinade and reserve for making a sauce or jus for another dish.

4. Pre heat the oven to 190C, toss the drumsticks in 1 tbsp of oil and cook the chicken for 25-30 minutes till it is brown and crispy on the outside and completely cooked on the inside (you can check with a fork)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jhaal Jhol - Mixed Vegetables in a Spicy Mustard Curry and Mustard, Lemon and Coriander Grilled Chicken

I follow Bong Mom's Cookbook very closely - seem to identify with the general disregard for rules where cooking is concerned, her penchant for adaptation and the close relationship she shares with her daughters. Plus she spins some fabulous golpo :)

I have been able to try more than a few recipes from her repertoire - especially Bengali cuisine. I have made a couple of the fish recipes, but the vegetarian recipes fascinate me with their lilting names - Charchari, Tara Tari Paanch Mishali, Shorshe Begun.....they call out to me to discover what they must taste like. So, one Sunday afternoon, while we were lying sprawled around the house after a heavy breakfast of puris and kurma - "pythonish" - as the household idiom goes; I wondered what to cook for lunch. Something light...hmm, maybe rasam, rice and a porial. Naah....not porial today - too bland for what I was craving right now this cool, rainy day in September. No coconut based masalas after the kurma in the what else can I make. I open the refirgerator and meditate in front of the crisper until the 'fridge beeps indignantly at being left open for so long. I look at the summer vegetables we have - now restricted to the gourd family since we have already eaten cauliflower, potato and carrot in the kurma.

And then I think of the other cuisine with a penchant for using as much of a variety of vegetables as we do in the South - ridge gourd, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, radish, pumpkin - Bengali cuisine. And not only do they love all the variety but they also like to mix it up together into one dish - all the better to have a perfect melange of sweet, sharp, bitter and sour flavours.

I remember my Bong friend here making a maacher jhol- a thin, light curry which had the pungency of mustard underlying it. And then I thought of the Charchari on Bong Mom's blog as well. As always I wanted everything; I wanted the mixed vegetables in a jhol like curry rather than the semi-dry consistency of the Charchari and I wanted the pungency of the mustard as well. So I adapted this recipe  - Borar Jhol/Jhaal Whatever (her title, not mine!)- secure in the knowledge that since she herself had adapted the recipe from her Mom's repertoire, she wouldn't mind. Especially, since I did stick to her Mom's tweak to the original recipe to make it jhaal (spicy) - so what if the daler bora (lentil fritters) were replaced with mixed vegetables? Wasn't the bora itself a replacement for the fish in Macher Jhol?

Armed with these justifications, I ground the mustard paste (shorshe bata) - managed to avoid the bitterness that she cautions may happen while using a blender. My theory is that a low wattage blender (like a coffee grinder) may overheat if run for too long and therefore turn the paste bitter. So if you are using one, grind it on slow, with breaks in between.
I also used yellow mustard seeds since I find that black mustard seeds tend to be bitter sometimes. I used 4 tbsp of yellow mustard seeds soaked for 20 minutes in warm water along with 1.5 tbsp of poppy seeds (khus khus) and ground together with 2 green chillies to a smooth paste adding two tsp of water at a time. Be patient.

For the vegetables, I diced raw bananas, egg plant, bottle gourd and ridge gourd - didn't have pumpkin or bitter gourd which I would have loved to include. I did not steam them separately and instead cooked them in the curry itself after frying them for 3 minutes - this way they didn't get overcooked and mushy, as gourd vegetables sometimes do, and also absorbed the spice paste beautifully.

The jhaal jhol was amazingly flavourful - the mustard-chilli paste gave the right amount of heat to the dish for us; though for people who find it too spicy, they can omit the red chilli powder - Bong Mom says she usually doesn't use red chilli powder for preparations with the mustard paste. The mustard paste in this case was an addition made later by her mother to the dish - something which according to me, takes this dish from simple to sublime! We had this mixed with rice and it was lip smackingly delicious. This one is going to become a staple in our house.

Recipe adapted from this one

Tempering of nigella seeds and asafoetida as per the recipe, then the onion and tomato (I used 1 medium one each, chopped fine) and 1 tsp of ginger garlic paste (since I didn't have ginger paste).
Skipped the potato and turmeric and went straight on to the coriander, chilli and cumin powders.
Then the diced vegetables (eggplant, bottle gourd(lauki/sorakai/dudhi),smooth ridge gourd (turai) - about 2 cups) fried for 3 minutes and then cooked cover in 1.5 cups of water and salt to taste for about 8-10 minutes. The vegetables should be cooked through and soft but not mushy.

Remove from flame and serve warm with rice.

This goes to Nupur's event Blog Bites 7 - the Iron Chef Edition - where we have to pick one ingredient and cook it two ways using recipes from other food blogs. My ingredient of choice for this event is Mustard - something we take for granted in Indian cooking, but one that has many more uses than the basic tempering we are used to.

The other recipe I have picked is Kalyn's Mustard, Lemon and Coriander Grilled Chicken Breasts - something which I knew would go down very well with us, having cooked similar recipes before. This was the first time I was including mustard though, but seeing that this was from Kalyn's Kitchen, I didn't have a shred of doubt on how it would turn out.

Kalyn's recipes are all tried and tested and beautifully healthy as well. Her blog is a treasure trove of information on healthy recipes, especially suited to the South Beach diet. Her step by step instructions are a testimony to the time andenergy she spends creating these menus/recipes and meals.

Her casseroles are a favourite at home and I have tried many of her other one pot meals. This recipe is no exception - the marinade of mustard,olive oil, coriander and lemon juice worked beautifully on the chicken and I also mixed in about a half a tablespoon of the mustard paste which was made for the dish above. I used English mustard instead of Dijon mustard and added a tsp of black peppercorns while grinding the coriander leaves for a little more heat.

Breast pieces with bone were used instead of boneless pieces. The preparation was also a bit different - I flash fried the chicken breasts for 3 minutes on each side in a frying pan and then baked it in an oven for 35-40 minutes at 180C, turning once half way. The top was nice and crispy while the insides were beautifully cooked and tender. Served this with pasta tossed in a light, sauce with tomatoes and herbs.

A must try.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake for a Tea Party

For Anita's Tea Party celebration, the only fitting thing I could think of was this divine Chocolate Cake which I have blogged about before. This time though, I made it so my daughter's teachers could have a tea party celebration for Teacher's Day!

I have seen previous Teacher's Days in Delhi and the gifts and flowers it seems to entail in this showy city.....I don't subscribe to the idea at all. My mother has been a teacher all her working life and I know for sure that the one thing they do like is genuine appreciation for all the hard work they put in - the one upmanship among parents is, to say the least, annoying and sometimes embarassing.

My daughter is still very young though and it is a little difficult to explain to her why we don't necessarily have to do what everyone else is doing. So, I thought of involving her in baking a homemade chocolate cake instead, as a token of her love and appreciation - something which the other teachers could partake in as well, instead of making it a personal gift. She was happy to do all the mixing and measuring (and licking of bowl!) and took genuine pride at the end of it all in the soft, pillowy cake which emerged out of the oven. Lets raise a toast to freeing ourselves from the pack and doing what's right instead.

This time around, I added some whole wheat flour and cut back on the butter (as promised the last time) and it didn't make a difference. It is still a gorgeous chocolate cake - one you should try the next time you want someone to know, they're special.

 Chocolate Cake

Refined flour (maida) - 1 cup
Whole wheat flour - 1/4 cup
Baking soda - 1/2 tsp
Baking powder - 1/2 tsp
1/2 cup cocoa powder, (I used Cadbury's)
1/2 tsp coffee powder (instant)
1 cup boiling water
Vanilla essence - 2 tsp
Butter at room temperature - 1 cup
Castor sugar - 1 cup
Eggs - 2

1. Take a large bowl and beat the butter in it with an electric mixed on medium for about half a minute.
2. Add the sugar gradually and cream together till shiny and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat the first well before adding the second one.
3. Meanwhile, heat the water till it is boiling and then pour over the cocoa powder in a bowl. Mix well till dissolved. Cool and then mix in the vanilla essence.
4. Sieve the flour, baking soda and baking powder together. Add the flour mix a little at a time to the butter sugar egg mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, beating continuously with the mixer on medium continuously. When it is combined well, beat on low for another half a minute.
5. Pour the cake batter into 2 pans (I used a 8" round pan and a smaller rectangular pan) which have been lined with parchment paper on the bottom and greased and floured on the sides.
If not using parchment paper on the bottom (I didn't have any this time), grease and flour the bottom well, instead. This cake is very soft and if not lined or greased, may break when you try to turn it out.
6. Pre heat the oven to 190C and bake for about 25 minutes - a toothpick inserted should come out moist but not uncooked. Cool completely before attempting to take it out - this is very important.
7. Warm slightly before serving.