Saturday, May 28, 2011

Firsts! A Review and Awards...

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This has been an extremely busy week for me, but in a wonderful way. I had an excellent week of work, blogging, cooking, baking & eating, lots of time spent with my little girl & family, and I got my first set of foodie awards from not one, but three of my blogger friends! :)

This week, I also got to meet with a great group of food enthusiasts in my city. It was really nice to share a meal with people who shared my love of good food. The Chennai Food Guide group was invited to review a new Italian restaurant in the city - Tuscana on Chamiers by Chef Willi.

The building that houses the restaurant is a charming old bungalow, and the interiors were pleasant and inviting. I especially loved the 2-10 seater private dining rooms scattered all around the two level bungalow. We had the pleasure of dining with the owner, Vipin Sachdev, whose passion and love for quality and for food was very evident. Chef Willi made an appearance too, and regaled us with some stories from his youth.

Now, on to the main part. The food. On the whole, the food was very good. We started with a very simple, but extremely flavorful classic rosemary & rock salt focaccia. It was exactly the way a focaccia should be. Crispy, golden crust, and soft fluffy interior. It was delicious, especially dunked in extra-virgin olive oil. There was another focaccia too. But I don't remember it. This was followed by soup & pizzas. The soup was a chunky vegetable minestrone, which was a lot more flavorful than I expected it to be. The pizzas, which are baked in a real wood-fired oven, were good too. There were both vegetarian and chicken pizzas to go around.

By the time we got to the mains, I was already a little full from eating too much focaccia (lesson learned!). The first main that came around was the Veal Scaloppini. Ah! They were perfectly cooked, well-seasoned medallions of veal, with great sides of mushroom, tomatoes & capers and pasta. I could have eaten just those sides for lunch and left very satisfied. They were excellent.

Then came the chicken breast escalopes. I somehow wished it hadn't. The chicken breasts were overcooked, dry and under seasoned. Very disappointing. Maybe if they trim the breast down so it is evenly thick, it would help with uniform cooking, because eating the thinner, narrow end of the breast was really not a pleasant experience.

But I got over it very quickly, when I saw the Lamb Shanks Ossobuco. Those lamb shanks were so juicy and tender & falling off the bone. Yes, they were slightly under seasoned, but after I added some salt, they were just perfect. I wish I had tried some of the Char grilled Swordfish they brought next, but I had no more room. The skin looked crispy and the flesh moist, and I am sure it would have been delicious.

There were some nice vegetarian options too, which I did not try. The one that looked most appealing to me was the Gorgonzola & Cream Cheese Tart. It was pretty, but the crust did look a little dried out. I didn't try it, so I won't say more.
Dessert is always the highlight of the meal for me. Tiramisu and Panna cotta with a berry compote were brought around. The panna cotta was very pretty with the tiny specks of vanilla, but a tad too sweet for me. Especially the compote. Then, I tasted the Tiramisu, and forgot everything else for a few minutes. It was really, really good. What I liked best about it, apart from the texture, was that it was only mildly sweet. It was the perfect end to an excellent meal.

The service was very good too, but then again, we had the owner of the restaurant at our table, and I am sure that makes a difference! Thanks again to Vipin Sachdev & Chef Willi of Tuscana on Chamiers, and my new friends at Chennai Food Guide for a great lunch & wonderful company! Overall, I really enjoyed most of the food, and I would go back for more.

Now, on to my first awards! Yay, how exciting! :) You can go to my new 'Awards' page to see them.

First, I received awards from Xinmei of Pudding Pie lane. She is an extremely talented (and very young!) cook and photographer. Her posts are so funny, and always have me in stitches. And her recipes are really great too! You really should visit her site.

Then, Manu from Manu's Menu also dropped in to tell me she had left me an award. She is such a great cook and I absolutely love Manu's recipes, which range from Italian to Indian. Each of her dishes look and sound absolutely delicious and I wish I lived closer so I could sample them - especially her picture perfect macarons!

Finally, Mary from Inside a British Mum's Kitchen, left me a couple of awards! I have been visiting her site for a few weeks now, and she makes some amazing & healthy food for her family! I wish she would adopt me just so I could eat some of the stuff she makes.

These bloggers are all fantastic & I am so grateful that each of them thought my blog was good enough for one of these awards! I hope you all visit their sites and don't forget to tell them all I said 'hi'! :)

Okay, now I am supposed to share seven things about myself. Here goes-
1. My faith is very important to me. I love God and the relationship I have with Him.
2. I love colors. My favorite color has changed several times in my life. And now I finally realize I can never choose one color. They're all so beautiful. However, there are some shades of blue and green that I cannot bear.
3. I LOVE nutmeg and lime. These are two flavors that rock my world.
4. I am a huge LOTR fan. (Does that make me sound geeky?)
5. One of my ambitions in life is to learn cheese-making. Right now, I can make my own cottage cheese and marscarpone. I really would love to learn more.
6. I used to be a cat person, but then this crazy, ugly dog came into my life and changed me.
7. I am very, very gifted at drawing apples & eyes. I don't know how that will help me in life, but it might. You never know.

Now, to pass on these awards. I would like to pass these awards on to three of my blogger friends.

1. Sharizat of 1000+1
2. Jackie of Galexi Cupcakes
3. Rachel of Eaternal Bliss

I love these three blogs & the bloggers are such fabulous people. I'm so glad I've met them! You should visit their sites & get to know these fantastic people! Sharizat, Jackie & Rachel, please stop by my awards page & pick up your awards... I am so happy to pass them on to you!

Disclaimer: The review of Tuscana on Chamiers was not a paid review.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Loaded Caramel Ice Cream

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I have these friends (you know who you are!). They enjoy food, and I enjoy cooking for them. It's a WIN-WIN situation. And because I always care too much about what other people think about my food, they always have a laugh at my expense by saying that whatever I have made is 'the best in the world'.

I make fudge? It's the best fudge in the world. I make pasta? It's the best pasta in the world. I roast a chicken? It's the best roast chicken in the world. I make cupcakes? Yes. You guessed it. They're the best cupcakes in world! I know better than to take their word for it being the best in the world, but they usually eat up all the food, and so I know it was tasty. But with this ice cream, if they tell me it's the best caramel ice cream in the world, I might actually believe them a little bit. I don't know if it's the best, but it would come pretty darn close! Too bad there's none left over for them to 'certify'! :D

Ever since I bought my Cuisinart Ice Cream & Sorbet maker about 6 years ago, I have experimented with several ice cream flavors. Some more successful than others. My favorite flavors have been Vanilla bean, Mocha, Triple Chocolate and my version of Cherry Garcia. And now, I am so excited by how successful this recipe has been. I call this flavor Loaded Caramel Ice Cream. It is a caramel ice cream with a peanut butter-caramel ribbon and fudgy brownie chunks. Would you like me to go on?

Before I do, I have one request. Please make this ice cream. It is so good! In fact, if you want to continue reading, you must decide to make this ice cream. If you don't have an ice cream maker, there are still ways to make this. Read this article. It will help. But you MUST make this ice cream.

Okay. You are still reading this, and so I assume you have decided to make this ice cream. Good choice! You are a smart cookie!

For the Caramel Ice Cream base, I used David Lebovitz's Salted Butter Caramel Ice cream, but I made a few changes. Mainly, I reduced the sugar because I was afraid the ice cream was going to turn out too sweet, in spite of the caramelization. And besides, I was going to add that ribbon. So it made sense.

The ribbon I made by modifying my Hot Fudge Sauce recipe, which I will share with you soon. The brownie was from a leftover fudge brownie I baked (not the Bacon brownie, though bacon and caramel sound like a match made in heaven!). I reserved one brownie from a batch I made a few days ago for something just as momentous as this ice cream.

Don't get put off by how long the recipe is. If you read through, you will see that it is a fairly simple recipe.

Caramel Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 tbsp salted butter
Scant 1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
500ml whole milk
6 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. In a wide, heavy-based pan, spread the sugar out in an even layer & put it over a medium flame. Wait till the the edges start to melt. Then slowly start stirring the sugar with a spatula, starting from the outside and working your way slowly to the center. Stir only gently. Once the sugar has turned into one big puddle, stop stirring and keep a very careful eye on it. You want it to go a deep golden brown, not a dark brown. Then it's gone too far. For a more detailed explanation on caramelizing sugar, David Lebovitz has yet another excellent article.
2. Once the sugar is caramelized, take it off the heat and immediately add the butter & the salt and stir quickly until dissolved.
3. Stir in the cream and bring the mixture back onto the stove. David warns us here that the sugar might seize up, but I didn't have any trouble with that.
4. Add half the milk and stir well.
5. In a medium dish, lightly beat the egg yolks. Pouring very slowly and whisking the eggs at the same time, add about 2 cups of the the hot mixture, half a cup a time.
6. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan and continue cooking on medium heat until the mixture thickens. You want a slightly thick custard mixture.
7. Take it off the heat, and stir in the remaining milk & vanilla. Allow the mixture to cool, and then refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight. During this time, you could also cut your brownie into bite sized pieces and freeze them. Frozen brownie bits are easier to stir in than soft ones. Unless you want brownie crumb ice cream. I learned this the hard way.
8. Freeze in your machine, as per the manufacturer's instructions. While your ice cream is freezing, take the caramel sauce out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. If it is still very thick when your ice cream is ready, microwave it for a few seconds, till it reaches room temperature. Don't let it get warm.
9. Once the ice cream is set, transfer 1/3 of the ice cream to a large bowl. Drizzle over about 1/4 cup of the caramel sauce, and sprinkle a few frozen brownie bits. Add another 1/3 of the ice cream and drizzle with another 1/4 cup of the sauce, and a few more brownie bits. Top with the remaining third of the ice cream. Add some more sauce & brownie bits. Run a butter knife in slow, random swirling motions through the bowl for about 10 seconds or less.
10. Transfer to an air-tight box and store in the deepest part of your freezer for at least a couple of hours before serving.
Peanut Butter-Caramel Ribbon
1/2 cup sugar
2 generous tbsps liquid glucose
3 tbsp salted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp smooth peanut butter

1. Caramelize the sugar & liquid glucose just like you did in the ice cream recipe. Follow the exact same rules.
2. When you reach the desired stage of caramelization, take the caramel off the heat, and quickly stir in the
butter and salt.
3. Stir in the cream and bring back onto the heat and cook for a further one minute.
4. Take it off the heat, and let it sit for about 2 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter and mix until it is completely incorporated.
5. Refrigerate till needed. If you are using it immediately in this ice cream recipe, make sure it has completely cooled to room temperature before using.

I hope you try this ice cream flavor. I loved it and I know you will too! I ate it with more caramel sauce, and a generous sprinkle of crushed, salted peanuts, and every time I got a bite of brownie, the ice cream tasted a little bit like a Snickers bar. And if you know me, you know I love me my Snickers!

My only 'complaint', if you can call it that, is that this ice cream is really soft. I guess you could call it extra soft-serve ice cream. The weather here being as hot as it is, didn't help either. And so, getting a picture of this ice cream was a nightmare! Hence, the runny ice cream in some of the pictures. But, take my word for it. Less than 12 hours after it came out of the ice cream maker, and it's all gone. It was darn good ice cream.

P.S. - On a completely unrelated note, thanks to my new hobby - blogging, I had the chance to meet a group of food lovers in my city. Together we shared a lovely meal at a restaurant the group was invited to review. In my next post, I will share with you a little about Chennai Food Guide, and about my meal at the Italian restaurant, Tuscana on Chamiers.

Oh, and I am also elated to report that I got my first bunch of foodie blogger awards! So exciting! I cannot wait to share them with you & to pass them on! I would have done it in this post, but I though this one was long enough already.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fudgy Bacon Brownies w/ Nutella

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After that healthy, but delicious granola post, I just felt right to post this. Because we need balance in life, you know. And bacon. We need bacon.

Yes. I finally went and did it. Something I thought I would never do. I went and put bacon in dessert. And man, oh man! No regrets whatsoever. Since it was my first time, there is some room for improvement, and if you let me, I want to share what my experiences were.

It all started when some friends & I planned to have a pot-luck dinner. Not just any pot-luck dinner. Bacon Fest! What fun! I decided right away to do a main & a dessert, but what dessert? Bacon pie? Bacon Ice cream (I almost did)? Bacon on some sort of pie? Finally, I settled on Bacon Brownies. I don't know why, but that sounded the best. Better than Bacon Clafouti. Bacon Brownies.

I hunted high and low for a good brownie base recipe, but I finally came back to my most trusted Brownie recipe. Even if you skip the bacon, I suggest you make this recipe, especially if you like fudge. This recipe makes the moistest, fudgiest brownies ever!

Now, for my honest feedback. The recipe really worked, but I guess the bacon was too crispy and the chocolate overpowered the bacon in the batter, and the Nutella overpowered the bacon sprinkles. That was pretty sad. We still tasted the bacon, but it was not as strong as we would have liked it.

There were 2 squares left after dinner, which I put in the fridge. Made sense with the meat topping. The next morning, I helped myself to a square for breakfast. Yes. For breakfast. Bacon is a breakfast food, you know! Don't judge me. Anyhoo, I took a bite of the brownie and lo and behold, there was bacon. I could really taste it. I guess the chocolate flavor wasn't as strong when it was cold, and I could really, really taste the bacon. IT.WAS.SO.GOOD! It was like eating the yummiest piece of bacon-flavored fudge. Doesn't that sound good? Bacon flavored fudge. Mmmmm!

Next time I make this recipe, and yes there most definitely will be a next time, I will double the bacon, cook it a little less, chop the bacon into larger pieces, and skip the Nutella. And the time after that, I will try Bacon Blondies! My journey with bacon has just begun.

Here is my recipe:

Bacon Nutella Fudge Brownies
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar  
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder  
1/2 tsp vanilla 
3 medium eggs, cold
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 cup finely chopped, toasted walnuts
8 strips of bacon
3-4 tbsp Nutella

1. Cook the bacon strips to the desired level of done-ness. Chop into approximately 1/2 squares. Set aside on a paper towel.
2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter, and turn off the stove. Let the butter cool slightly.
3. Add the sugar, sifted cocoa powder, vanilla extract, salt and water. Stir well until completely blended and smooth. Let this cool for 5 minutes.
4. Add the eggs one at a time into the mixture, beating well after each addition.
5. Beat well for 5 minutes until the batter is smooth, glossy and thick.
6. Add the flour and stir well to blend, and continue to beat the batter for another 3 minutes.
7. Stir in the chopped walnuts, and 3/4 of the bacon bits. Reserve the remaining bacon.
8. Grease and flour a square baking tray. Pour the batter in and spread it evenly, making sure the top is nice and smooth.
9. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, but with a few wet crumbs sticking to it.
10. Let it cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Cut into nine even squares, and lift out of the tray.
11. Frost each square with a thin layer of Nutella, and sprinkle with reserved bacon bits.
12. Serve warm or cold. Cold is good.

This is the recipe I used. You could add more bacon or keep it the same way. But either way, you will not regret making this.

Bacon fest was a great success. On the menu, bacon wrapped sausages with apple, buttery cornbread, bacon & caramelized onion pizza, potato wedges, and of course, the Nutella bacon brownies. What a spread it was! I wish I had pictures to share, but nobody even stopped to whip out a camera. We were all enjoying our food too much. And let me tell you, it was goooooooooood! :)

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Sesame Honey Granola

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Let me first explain the circumstances that led up to this post.

Everyone gets food cravings. Right? I don't know about the rest of you, but when I have a food craving, it is usually for something that's most definitely not good for me. Like chocolate ice cream with a chewy fudge sauce. Or fudge. Or bacon. Or brownies. Or a spoonful (or three) of caramel sauce. Today, I got a craving for something healthy. That felt weird. I really, really wanted granola. And we didn't have any. I have seen several wonderful granola posts out there, and so I was inspired to make my own. I worked with whatever was available in my humble kitchen, and this is what came from that very successful experiment.

I have shared breakfast recipes before - my Never-Fail Pancakes Recipe, and my Oatmeal Streusel Banana Muffins to mention a few. But one thing I have not mentioned on my blog, is that though I love breakfast foods, and I love sitting down to breakfast, it is also the busiest time of the day for me. And so, I rarely find the time to eat a proper breakfast. All I usually eat before I get to lunch is a couple of crackers, or a cup of tea or some juice. Some days, if I am particularly hungry, I wolf something down while feeding my daughter her breakfast. This is not something I would recommend. I know that breakfast is the most important meal, and this yummy granola is hopefully my first step towards a healthy change.Yay, me!

After reading some of the fabulous granola recipes out there, I noticed that all I need to do is use a couple of basic ingredients, and experiment with the rest. And so I did. I must say that my favorite part of this granola was the sesame seeds. Oh my goodness! SO good, and SO good for health too! The walnuts were pretty yummy too. I named this granola 'Sesame Honey Granola', because those were the most prominent flavors.

One major change was the cooking time and temperature. I decide to start this project too close to breakfast time and so I didn't have the luxury of a 45 minute baking time. The proper way to bake this seems to be at 160-170 for 35-45 minutes. I baked it at 200 for 20 minutes. I just checked on it periodically, and it turned out just fine. If you want to be safer, you should go with the lower temperature.

Here is how I made my granola.

Sesame Honey Granola
2 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped to small chunks
3/4 cup cornflakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp salt
a pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup honey
3 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried dates

1. In a large bowl, mix the oatmeal, sesame seeds and walnuts.
2. Add the cornflakes to this bowl. If the flakes are very large, crush the cornflakes in your hands as you add it into the bowl. You don't want it to powder, but you want it in smaller pieces.
3. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg ands salt and mix all these ingredients together.
4. In a small bowl, stir together the honey and the melted butter.
5. Pour in the honey-butter mixture, and stir well until all the dry ingredients are coated with the honey and butter.
6. Into the bowl that had the honey-butter mixture, add all the dried fruit, and just stir them together until they are lightly coated with whatever little honey-butter is still in the bowl. Set this aside.
7. Spread the granola out on a slightly greased baking tray. Make sure you spread it out evenly.
8. Bake until golden brown, stirring up the granola occasionally. I used a serving fork to stir it. Keep checking so that it doesn't over-brown or worse, burn.
9. When it reaches the desired color, turn off the oven. Then, take the tray out, add the dried fruits, and stir into the granola. Put the tray back in the oven for a further 3-4 minutes. The oven is still turned off.
10. Remove the tray from the oven, and let the granola cool, stirring occasionally even during the cooling time. When cool, break up with a fork and transfer to an airtight jar.

This is great with hot milk (my husband always eats his cereal with hot milk), or with cold milk (the way I like it). It also tastes fantastic just eaten dry, by the handful, straight from the jar.

Now, that I have given you a fantastically delicious and healthy recipe, watch out for my next post. I want to share with you my recipe (and honest opinion), of a dish I made for a Bacon-fest party at our home last week. Sounds wicked, doesn't it? It was an incredibly delicious pot-luck meal. I will post the recipe later this week.

UPDATE - Two new things to report. 1. On the days I eat breakfast, I normally feel very hungry within a couple of hours. But today, I did not feel hungry till it was well past lunch time. That's a very, very good thing in my book, because otherwise I end up snacking on stuff that's not so good for me.

2. I just had this granola with a small bit of ice cream for dessert. OH MY! It was super delicious! I feel healthier already... :)

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Hummus & Baba Ganoush

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Okay. Today Blogger really did it! I know everyone faced issues when Blogger went down for maintenance, but this is something that is even more annoying. I finished typing a whole new post, I formatted it, and wanted to change something. After typing a couple of words, I decided not to use that, and deleted it. But the whole text of the post got deleted somehow. I knew that I just needed to use Ctrl+Z to bring back my post, but before I got to it, Blogger’s annoying Auto-save kicked in and saved my blank post! And I lost all my work. Grrrrr... Does anyone know how to turn off auto-save or at least change the time setting? I can’t seem to find the setting anywhere. This just makes me want to join the hoardes migrating to Wordpress even more. Ok, now that I have vented, I will get back to my post. I hope I remember all that I wanted to say.

This is part two of my post on our Lebanese meal. I have already shared with you my recipes for the Pita Bread and Chicken Kebabs. Now, I share with you my two dips. The Hummus and the Baba Ganoush.

I cannot tell you how much I love Hummus. You may have noticed that I say that about a lot of foods. I like foods in general. But this really is one of my favourite things to eat. In my opinion, hummus goes with a lot of things Рpita bread, sliced baguette, crudit̩s or even crispy nachos. Yes. Nachos. I like to mix things up and I enjoy every bite. I have made it several times before, and each time I very pleased with the outcome.

Hummus has a few standard ingredients, but I am sharing with you the proportions I like. I like to taste the creaminess of the chickpeas, the peppery taste of the extra virgin olive oil, the sharp notes from the lime, the heady aroma & flavors from the garlic and cumin and the nuttiness of the sesame tahini. I think it is a perfectly balanced dish and tastes incredible. Even my eighteen month old thought so. (Oh have I mentioned that she has now mastered counting up to 10? She started at 17 months, and is now a pro at it. I am such a proud mama!)

I suppose the easiest way to make the hummus is to use canned chick peas. That is a luxury that is not available to us here. So, I buy dried chickpeas and soak them overnight. Then, I discard the soaking liquid, add fresh water and salt and pressure cook it for about 20 minutes. Whether you use canned chickpeas or dried ones, make sure you reserve some of the cooking/canning liquid for the recipe.

2 cups cooked chickpeas
5-6 cloves of garlic (medium size)
1/4 cup tahini
7 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3-4 tbsp of the cooking/canning liquid
1/2 tsp roasted cumin powder
1 tsp salt
Zest of 1/2 lemon (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil and smoked paprika to serve


1. In a blender, combine half the chickpeas, 5 cloves of garlic, the tahini, 5 tbsp of lemon juice, the olive oil, the cooking liquid, cumin powder, zest and the salt.
2. Blend until smooth and silky. Add the remaining chickpeas and continue blending till you achieve the texture you like. The hummus should be a thick, smooth paste and not lumpy and dry. Add more cooking liquid if your paste is too thick.
3. Taste the hummus and adjust the levels of garlic, salt and lemon juice to taste.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.

The second dip that we ate with that delicious meal was Baba Ganoush. I have eaten it a few times at a local restaurant, but this was my first time making it. I was very pleased with the result.

Baba Ganoush

1 large eggplant                       

1/4 cup tahini
2 tbsp (or more) lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp salt       
A pinch of cumin powder
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp finely chopped cilantro


1. Roast the eggplant directly on the stove-top (over the direct flame), turning it frequently until the skin has blackened and starts to split, and the flesh has started to soften.
2. Transfer the eggplant to a greased baking tray and bake at 200 for 20-25 minutes or until the eggplant is soft and cooked though.
3. Take the eggplant out of the oven and drop it in a bowl of cold water. After 2-3 minutes, remove the eggplant from the water and peel off the skin and discard it. Chop the flesh roughly and transfer to a blender jar.
4. Add the lemon juice, garlic, salt, cumin, olive oil and blend until smooth and silky. Taste the baba ganoush and adjust salt and lemon juice.
5. Stir in the chopped cilantro.
6. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with more cilantro.

It has several of the ingredients used in the hummus, but tastes very different. It was also really delicious, and had a lovely smoky flavour and the wonderful taste of cilantro. The flavours of the pita, kebabs, hummus and baba ganoush really complement each other.

The whole meal required quite a bit of planning and prepping, but in the end, it was a meal to remember. I really enjoyed making and sharing it with my little family.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pita Bread and Chicken Kebabs

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Right now, I am running dangerously low on EVOO, lemons and garlic in my pantry. Why? Because I cooked Lebanese, of course!

I love the flavors of Lebanese food, and even though it is easily available everywhere, I have never attempted a full Lebanese meal before. I have made hummus several times and I am a huge fan! But, this was my first time making the babaganoush, pita bread and shish taouk chicken kebabs. We ate this with crunchy lettuce, slivers of raw red onion and cucumber sticks, and lime wedges on the side. It was a hearty meal and we really enjoyed it - even my eighteen month old.

In this post, I will share my recipe for the pita bread and the kebabs. I will share my recipes for the dips in my next post.

I found the recipe in an ancient little baking booklet on breads. It has no cover and the printing looks like it was done on a home printer, and the font is very childish. I don't remember where I got it. But it has some great bread recipes.

I originally planned to make the pita bread in the oven, and I even made one 'test' pita. It turned out great! But because I was pressed for time, and my little girl was getting hungry, I made them on the stove top. They turned out fine and even though all of them didn't puff, they were still delicious! I realized I didn't roll some of them out smoothly enough, and the creases in the bread made the steam escape while they were puffing up. Never mind, they were still delicious!

Again, with the kebabs, I intended to bake them, and I am sure they would have turned out fabulously in the oven, but I just didn't have the time. So, using very little oil in a non-stick pan, I shallow fried the chicken, turning the pieces often for uniform color. They were really, really good. I loved the warmth of the cinnamon and cumin in the marinade. The recipe is a variation of an Indian kebab dish I make often. I just made some changes to make it less Indian.

Because I made this for dinner, the pictures taken at night aren't great. But the meal was! :)

Pita Bread

2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 - 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup warm water

In a large bowl, add the half cup of warm water and the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and allow it to proof for 5-10 minutes, until creamy and frothy.
Stir in the oil, salt and one cup of the flour, and mix until smooth.
Add the remaining flour, half cup at a time, until you have a soft and slightly sticky dough. For pita, you want a moist dough
Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, with your hand or using a dough hook, for about 10 minutes.
Form the dough into a smooth ball and transfer it to an oiled bowl. Cover with cling film. Set aside for anywhere between 1-6 hours to rise.
Half an hour before you bake them, punch down the dough, and shape into 10 uniform balls of dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll each one out into a smooth and uniform circle. Cover and allow them to rest until the oven and baking sheet are very hot.

If you are going to bake them, half an hour before baking, preheat your oven to 450, with your baking sheet inside the oven.
Before you bake them, spray or lightly sprinkle your baking sheet with some water. Place 1 or 2 dough circles into on the baking sheet at a time. Bake for 3-4 minutes, or until completely puffed. You don't want them to brown, or they will become too crisp. But who am I to stop you? If you want them brown and crisp, go ahead! :)

If you are cooking them on a stove top, heat the griddle and lightly grease it. Place one circle of dough and let it cook for 10-15 seconds until small bubbles form on the surface. Turn over and let it cook on medium heat for a further 30 seconds. Flip and cook until it puffs up. If one or two of them (or all of them) don't puff, don't fret. Just let them cook for about 2 minutes more and take them off the griddle. I can assure you that they will still be delicious.

Whether you are baking them or cooking them on a stove top, wrap the cooked pita breads in a slightly damp tea towel to keep them soft until you eat them.

Chicken Kebabs

4 boneless chicken thighs
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed to a smooth paste
1 1/2 tsp of cumin powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp (or more) chilli powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper powder
1/2 tsp garam masala (A combination of cinnamon, cloves, pepper corns, cardamom, cumin, fennel seeds and nutmeg.)
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil1/2 tsp salt

Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and marinate for at least an hour. Or you could leave it overnight in the fridge.
Shallow fry them, turning them frequently until cooked. About 10 minutes per batch of kebabs.
Or you could bake them in a single layer on a greased baking sheet at 200 for 20-25 minutes.
Or skewer them and grill them until cooked. About 5 minutes on each side.

These kebabs are very flavorful and were lovely with the creaminess of the hummus and the smoked flavor of the babaganoush. The pita breads were perfect to make little Mediterranean 'tacos'. The ones that didn't puff made very good wraps.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mango Fool

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A Mango Fool - that's me! I am fool for mangoes!

I always say that the only things that make the Chennai summer bearable, are the mangoes and watermelons. I have been making batch after batch of watermelon juices & drinks, but never thought of taking pictures. Silly me. As for mangoes, we've been mostly just devouring the fruit. Though our mangoes don't have bright orange flesh, like I've often seen in pictures, they are syrupy sweet and juicy and absolutely to die for!

The heat here is unbelievable. It is really, really hot and it seems almost impossible to survive without air conditioning - and yet most people in this city do! I am so grateful to God today for a roof over my head and for being able to afford air conditioning. We are so blessed & I am reminded of that today!

One dessert I love to make during mango season, is Mango Fool. Out of curiosity, I looked up 'fool' on Wikipedia. Not 'fool' the person(s), but 'fool' the dessert. According to Wikipedia, some experts think that the name is derived from the French verb 'fouler', which means 'to crush' or 'to press'. Makes sense. But in my humble opinion, I think this dessert is called a fool, because even a fool could make it. It is such a breeze to make and absolutely delicious and refreshing to eat! The mangoes were amazing in flavor and sweetness, and I did not need to add anything to improve the flavor.

You can make a fool out of several kinds of fruit, but harder fruits would need to be cooked before they are pureed.

Mango Fool

Ingredients (for 4 servings)

2 cups of fresh mango pulp
3/4 cup whipping cream
Powdered sugar and lemon juice (if required, to taste)

1. Whip the cream till the soft peak stage. If your mangoes aren't sweet enough, add powdered sugar to the cream, as required. Chill the whipped cream for an hour or two.
2. Puree the mango in a blender until smooth. If the mango you use is has stringy fibers, you may need to pass it through a sieve. Our mangoes were perfect and just needed 10 seconds in the blender. If the fruit is slightly flat tasting, as some mangoes are, add a few drops of lemon juice to brighten up the flavor. Chill along with the whipped cream.

To serve, you could either layer the mango puree and whipped cream, or just fold the two together and serve chilled. I folded them together along with diced mango flesh to break the creamy monotony. It is a monotony I could very easily live with, but I was striving to improve on perfection. It was fabulous & absolutely refreshing in this summer heat! My little girl loved a dollop of the fool on her pancakes for breakfast this morning, too! :)

This dessert always triggers a childhood memory for me. My grandmother used to make something very similar, but used milk instead of cream. Then, she would freeze them in ice cube trays. I have fond memories of sucking on those frozen, cubes of mango, the juice running down my arms and down my chin. And on a hot summer's day, it was the perfect treat for a little kid. I think I'll pop my next batch in the freezer to share with my little girl.

These cute little ceramic pots were part of my Mother's Day gifts! Aren't they cute?

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cauliflower Soup with Creme Fraiche

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I thought that once camp was done, I would be able to slow down a little. But things have been getting more hectic than ever. Suddenly, all my clients have work for me. When it rains it pours! But hey - I guess too much work is better than no work at all. :)

Because I have been working so hard, I treated myself today. I went to a book store! I love book stores. I bought my husband a comic for his growing collection, I bought my daughter some pop-up books and most importantly, I bought myself the prettiest journal. It has beautiful, thick, creamy pages, a magnetic flap, and most importantly - the binding is grey raw silk with blue floral designs in velvet. It looks gorgeously antique and feels absolutely divine in my hands. Ever since I started this blog, I find I have been writing my recipes down more than ever. So, I thought this would be a nice book to write in. Maybe when it's full, I can buy a few more to fill and give them to my daughter when she's older.

Oh and did I brag about my Mother's Day gifts yet? I got a beautiful box of chocolate, a luxurious towel (it's a very fun hot pink!), more chocolate, a trendy handbag, and just so can photograph my food in pretty crockery, some beautiful serving plates and bowls. I'm loving the love! :)

Speaking of love - I love soup! As for my husband, well, let's just say he can live without it. He doesn't mind it as one course in a meal, but he doesn't enjoy soup as a meal. Sigh. But every now and then, I manage to convince him that soup is good for the soul, and today was one of those days.

These were just ingredients I happened to have in my fridge, and I thought they made sense together. We ate it with some homemade bread and some crumb-fried chicken tenders on the side (for crunch and meat, my husband said).

Cauliflower Creme Fraiche Soup

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into medium florets (the smaller they're cut, the quicker they cook)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsbp butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt (I used onion salt)
a pinch of nutmeg
4 cups vegetable stock
1/4 - 1/2 cup creme fraiche (to taste)
Pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and butter.
2. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion has softened and turned translucent. Do not let the onions brown.
3. Add the bay leaf, salt and nutmeg and stir.
4. Add the 3 cups of stock and bring to a boil
5. Gently drop the cauliflower into the hot stock and cook until the cauliflower is very soft. 20-30 minutes depending on how small you've cut the cauliflower.
6. Allow the pot to cool before blending the soup in small batches until smooth and creamy.
7. Transfer back to the pot and add 1/4 cup of the creme fraiche. Stir until it is completely incorporated.
8. If you feel the soup is too thick, you could thin it with either more stock or even some milk.
9. Adjust the seasoning, add pepper and more creme fraiche if desired.
10. Serve hot or cold, topped with some creme fraiche and dill.

This soup is very smooth, rich and very, very filling. I know cauliflower is a winter vegetable, and I can just imagine sipping this in a cup on cold evening. But I ate the soup cold, and it worked just fine for me on this hot, summer day!

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Orange-Honey Cupcakes for Mother's Day

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This year for Mother's Day, I made cupcakes. I tend to do that a lot these days. When in doubt, I make cupcakes!

Today, I wanted to take some time to thank my mother. We always make fun of the fact that she isn't a great cook (though she does make a few fantastic dishes, including fabulous marshmallows!). Her cooking ability, or lack thereof, is a standing joke whenever we get together as a family. But, she makes up for it in so many other ways. Ever since the birth of my little girl 18 months ago, she has been so much more of a blessing than ever. Without my mother's help, I wonder how I could have made it through those first few tiring, frustrating, depressing months. So, I just wanted to say 'Thank you, Mom!'. Since she loved the Red Velvet cupcakes I made for her birthday, I was sure she would love these too!

I also wanted to say 'thank you' today, to my wonderful husband and my precious little girl for giving me the awesome gift of motherhood. I cannot begin to tell you how much my life has changed since she came along. And, they have also been the happiest months of my life.With each stage of her life, she continues to amaze me and take my breath away. And my husband is such a good dad & takes such good care of his baby girl. I am so blessed to have them.

I had some nice oranges at home and so I though this would make a nice combination. It is a variation of a lemon cupcake recipe I use sometimes. For the frosting, I adapted The Pioneer Woman's Tasty Kitchen website's "That's the best frosting I've ever had" recipe. It was very good! I can't say the same about my frosting abilities. I really need to invest in a good set of frosting bags and tips. I have a few random ones and while I can't really blame my tools, they didn't help much either!

Orange-Honey Cupcakes
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, separated
1 1/2 tsp fine orange zest
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp mixed spices (cinnamon powder, freshly grated nutmeg & a pinch of clove powder)

1. Prepare a cupcake tray by lining with paper/foil liners. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the juice, honey, oil, egg yolks and orange zest.
3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and spices.
4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
6. Fold in the whisked egg whites, folding gently until no white streaks remain.
7. Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Cool on a wire rack and frost when completely cool.

Best Orange Frosting
5 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar (not powdered)
Orange food coloring (optional)

1. In a saucepan, combine the milk and flour and stir until smooth.
2. On a low heat, while stirring continuously, cook this mixture until it is very thick and creamy.
3. Allow the mixture to cool completely. It should not be even slightly warm.
4. Stir in the extracts and set aside.
5. In a large bowl, cream the butter. Add the sugar and continue creaming until the mixture is light and fluffy.
6. Add the cooled flour mixture to the butter mixture and continue beating until the frosting is light and has a whipped cream-like consistency.
7. Mix in food coloring if desired.

These cupcakes were very, very moist, light and had a very tender crumb. They were only mildly sweet & so the frosting worked very well with it. I will make this recipe again, only next time, I would probably add slivers of blanched almonds. I think it would really add something to these already flavorful cupcakes.

My mother liked the cupcakes, as did my husband and daughter. And that made me very happy this Mother's Day!

Hope all of you had a wonderful Mother's Day too!

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Delicious Challah

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The week hasn't been as busy as I had expected. The camp is still happening. We have more than 475 kids attending every single day. It is chaotic and fun at the same time. But, I am helping from home, over the phone, because I am still sick. I hate being sick. My husband, the superhero that he is, is holding the fort at the camp and doing all the hard work. Thank God for him! I have had to go there only thrice this week.

The weather here is unbearably hot. 105 degrees and climbing! I'm surviving on watermelons and popsicles. Not the best things when you're nursing a cold, but what else can I do? I'll be fine soon though.

I've been enjoying seeing all the awesome Mexican fare in all the blogs. I wish I had the time and energy to shop and cook up a Mexican feast to share with you all. I love Mexican and I think it could easily be my favorite cuisine! And I hope you all had a delicious Cinco de Mayo!

But, my energy levels are way too low at the moment. So, I made my favorite comfort food - fresh, warm bread!

I've mentioned quite a few times on this blog, that I really enjoy working with yeast. Earlier this week, I posted about the Filled Doughnuts I made last week. This week, I decided I wasn't going to fry anything. I haven't baked in a while, and so, I made the classic Jewish bread - Challah. I have always loved this sweetish bread. It isn't easily available where I live, but I have really enjoyed it the few times I've eaten it. I am really glad I decided to make it at home. It is SO good! I know this really isn't the season for Challah, but it is good bread and good bread is always welcome in our home!

I made a loaf last night. Everyone loved it so much that I immediately mixed up the dough for another batch, and left it to slow rise in the refrigerator overnight. We really loved having fresh bread for breakfast the this morning! I adapted this recipe from combining various recipes that I read while I was researching Challah breads. The main change I made was to reduce the sugar, because I realized not everyone likes their bread as sweet as I do. The recipe I have given you below has the right amount of sugar, because I know Challah bread is meant to be quite sweet.

Most bread recipes call for bread flour. That makes sense. But, we don't have bread flour available here, and so I used all purpose flour. I just kneaded it extra to work the gluten. It worked perfectly fine. The bread was soft and delicious.

Challah Bread
Starter sponge:
2 1/4 tsp Active Dry Yeast (1 envelope)
1/4 cup honey
1 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 olive oil/vegetable oil
1 whole egg + 3 large egg yolks, beaten lightly
3/4 cup sugar (I used only 1/3 cup)
2 tsp salt
3-3 1/2 cups bread or all-purpose flour
Egg wash:
1 whole egg
1 tbsp water
A pinch of salt
Sesame or Poppy Seeds

1. In a large bowl, add the yeast, honey and warm water. Set aside for 5-10 minutes until frothy.
2. Stir in the 1 cup of flour and mix till smooth. Set aside, undisturbed, in a warm place for 30-45 minutes. At the end of this time, the sponge will have doubled in volume and the surface will be covered in small to large bubbles.
3. Stir in the egg, egg yolks, and oil. Mix till well combined.
4. Add the sugar and salt and mix in.
5. Add 3 cups of the flour and stir well till combined.
6. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead well, adding more flour only if required. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky. Don't let the dough become stiff and dry. I needed about 3 1/4 cups of flour.
7. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. If you are using all purpose flour, like I did, spend more time kneading the dough. For best results, knead using a dough mixer.
8. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl with greased cling wrap.
9. If you want to bake the bread the same day, allow the dough to rise for 2 hours. Then knock it down, and form into a loaf or braid. Allow the dough to rise on the baking sheet or loaf tin for an hour. Brush with 2-3 coats of the egg wash, sprinkle on the toppings and bake for 30-40 minutes.

10. If you want to allow it to slow rise, place the covered bowl in a warm place for an hour. Knock it down, knead for a few minutes and put it back in the bowl, cover it and refrigerate it overnight. The next morning, let the dough sit out for an hour. Form the dough into the desired shape on a baking sheet or in a loaf tin. Let it rise for an hour, brush with 2-3 coats of the egg wash, sprinkle on the toppings and bake for 30-40 minutes. 

Note: The top of this bread tends to brown really quick. So, halfway through the baking time, you might want to cover the top of the loaf with aluminum foil to avoid excessive browning.

My little girl loved the bread. She chewed on the heel of the loaf (my favorite part of any loaf, too) for a long time and finished every crumb. This morning, apart from fresh bread, we had cheesy french toast with smoked paprika using the older loaf. I think it would have been even better if the bread was a day older, but it was still delicious!

While making this bread is time consuming, it isn't too much work at all. Unless you call waiting work. I assure you - the soft, slightly sweet bread is well worth the wait!
And I think the dough is versatile enough to be used for other things as well. I intend to try lots of things with this dough. Look out!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Filled Doughnuts

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The busy week is moving along at snail's pace. Doesn't help that now I'm sick too. But I'm not complaining!

The highlight of my week so far, has been my little girl. My 18 month old is truly amazing in my eyes. Every time she says a new word or phrase, it thrills me to bits. When she started counting from 1-10 a few weeks ago, I was so excited. But this latest one is my favorite so far. Since she was about 15 months old, she would recite the alphabet from A-H, and then stop. I figured she'll learn the next few letters soon enough. But a few days ago, she started doing something new. And now, this is how she says her alphabet - A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, I love you! She makes me so proud! :)

Anyways, after my last, very harried-sounding post, I decided that since the thing that de-stresses me best is cooking, that's what I would do. So, I got my hands into some yeast dough and worked the dough till my arms hurt. It felt so good! :) And it really showed in the result. The extra kneading resulted in an amazing dough texture. See? Being stressed helps - sometimes. :)

I used the same recipe for the doughnuts as the last time. You can find the recipe here. I think these doughnuts are phenomenal when eaten fresh. By fresh, I mean within the first 10 minutes of frying. The outside is crisp and the inside velvety & soft. They're amazing. But, having said that, you couldn't possibly eat all of them within 10 minutes of frying them. Or could you? :) These doughnuts still taste great even after a day or two.

Because it is an egg-based filling, I felt it was safer to store these in the fridge if they last more than eight hours. I only had one leftover to store in the fridge, which my husband enjoyed with coffee the next morning. All it needed was a quick zap in the microwave.

For the filling, I used a simple pastry cream or creme patissiere. Here is my favorite recipe for creme patissiere. I adapted it from various sources.

Vanilla Bean Creme Patisserie
2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup white sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter

1. Pour the milk into a large saucepan.
2. Add the 1/4 cup sugar to the milk.
3. Split the vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the inner seeds. Add all the seeds and the pod into the milk.
4. On a low heat, slowly bring the milk to a gentle boil.
5. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, the whole egg, the cornstarch and the one-third cup of sugar, until light and creamy.
6. Pour the hot milk into the bowl, in a slow stream, whisking the egg mixture constantly.
7. After the two mixtures have combined, transfer it back to the saucepan and cook on low heat until the custard is thick and creamy, and coats the back of a spoon.
8. Strain to eliminate any lumps and to remove the vanilla bean pod.

I usually like to cook it a little longer that usual, to get a thicker custard, simply because I don't want runny filling in my doughnuts. When the doughnuts were cool enough to handle, I filled the doughnuts very generously using my Kuhn Rikon Frosting Deco Pen. It was super easy. After they have been filled, let the doughnuts cool completely before dusting them with powdered sugar.

Alternatively, if you love peanut butter as much as I do, you could also use the peanut butter pudding recipe from my trifle pudding post, to fill the doughnuts. I'm kicking myself for not trying it, especially because I had some leftover pudding in the fridge. I am sure it would have tasted great!

But, I have always loved filled doughnuts, and so this will be the first of many filled doughnut recipes.

Just thought I should mention - for some strange reason, every time I want to type the word 'doughnut', I end up typing 'doughbut'. I wonder - is that my conscience's way of telling me to lay off the fried bread??? Hmmm...

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