Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pane Siciliano - We Knead to Bake #24

The new year began with a beautiful bread on the We Knead Bake group. The first bread for 2015 was Pane Siciliano, a semolina bread from Italy. It was exciting for me because there were new elements (for me) involved in this recipe - I'd never made a bread with semolina, and I'd never made a pre-ferment before. What a great way to start the new year - with a chance to broaden my bread making horizons.

The recipe is an easy one but the process takes some time. Ideally you should do it over two days giving the poolish, or in this case, the crescuita, time to develop properly overnight. The Pane Siciliano is traditionally shaped into the Mafalda (snake) or the Occhi di Santa Lucia (Eyes of Santa Lucia). I went with the Mafalda. The resultant loaf wouldn't be winning any prizes in the looks department but this was one delicious bread! And whatever reservations I had about making a bread with semolina simply evaporated as soon as I cut the first slice.

I started the crescuita in the late morning and by the time my dough was ready to prove for the final time it was already a little late. I didn't want to stay up baking till late in the night so I tucked it into the fridge and baked it in time for breakfast the next morning. (in fact, that was another first for me, I think!).

This is Aparna's recipe for the Pane Siciliano which I followed with a couple of minor variations.

Pane Siciliano

For the Crescuita (pre ferment)

1/4 cup warmed water
1/2 tsp Instant Yeast
1/4 cup plain flour

To make the crescuita simple dissolve the yeast in the warmed water. Once it froths stir in the flour and dissolve gently with a fork or whisk. Cover the bowl with a loose lid or napkin and leave it to ferment overnight. If you've forgotten to do this the night before simply start it as early as you can and let it sit for at least 4 to 6 hours. Mine was left for around 6 hours.

For the Dough

the crescuita
1/2 tsp Instant yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tsp honey
2 to 2 1/2 cups barik sooji or fine semolina, ground fine
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sesame seeds
water for brushing

Once again, bloom the yeast. Dissolve the honey in the warm water and add the yeast in. Wait for it to froth. Though I use instant yeast I still like to bloom it just to ensure it is still active. Do this in a large mixing bowl so you have fewer things to wash once you're done.

Once the yeast solution has frothed add 2 cups of the ground semolina and mix well to form your dough. Add the olive oil and the salt with the semolina flour. You will start with a thick batter like consistency. Now keep adding the remaining semolina flour and knead/mix till you have a nice soft dough. I did this in the stand mixer. The final dough should be 'just short of sticky'.

Form into a ball and leave it to rise in a well oiled bowl covered with a damp tea towel. The dough should double in volume and this will take anything from an hour and a half to two hours.

Prepare your baking pan while you're waiting. All you need is the baking sheet/pan and some baking parchment. Cut a large piece of the paper, enough to cover the pan, and you're ready. Place the paper on the pan and spread it to cover the entire surface. You will be placing the ready loaf on this before popping it in to bake.

Once doubled, punch it down gently and take it out onto your work surface to shape into the Mafalda. I like to lightly dust the surface with flour so the dough doesn't stick. Knead the dough very lightly for a bare minute and then roll it into a long rope/cylinder. You will need it to be at least two and a half feet long so you can shape a proper snake with enough coils and enough tail to place on the coils.

Shape the mafalda and then leave it to rise for another couple of hours or until double. I did this stage overnight in the fridge. I covered the bread with a damp towel again to prevent it from dehydrating in the fridge - a hazard of our frost free refrigerators.

Brush the risen loaf with water and sprinkle sesame seeds all over the surface. Pat gently and make them stick.

Preheat the oven at 190C. Set a tray upside down in the oven and let it heat up with the oven. Once ready place your tray with the Pane Siciliano on top of the hot tray. Bake the bread for around 30 minutes till the crust turns brown.

Cool the loaf completely before you slice it. Enjoy your Pane Siciliano! We had ours with butter, cheese spread and even jam.

Marathon Bloggers

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday Morning Treasure Hunt

The husband came home last night with a tantalising proposition - I'm going to take you to this shop. It's full of stuff you will love. Of course there was a caveat. I couldn't ask any questions about the shop or what it sold.

Now while it was music to my ears it qas also torture not having any clue about this wonderful shop! I asked if we could go the very next morning and the much amused hubby agreed. I  tried wheedling information out of him but had very little luck - all he said was " it's not ingredients". I had no choice but to wait. Sigh!

I booked us a cab for 7am and we set out for South Mumbai. We picked up our car from our Mazgaon workshop and headed towards Grant road. It was early morning and there were knots of school children all dressed up for Republic Day parades. Loud speakers blared patriotic songs from Hindi movies. I was totally charged up waiting excitedly to reach this mystery shop.

And suddenly we were there! A raddi shop! People come and dispose of household junk, old newspapers, plastic ware, etc, in return for a small cash payment. The shop had crates of old china, glassware, wooden bits and pieces, a couple of ugly marble sculptures ans many other odds and ends.
And among all this were a few brass things that were out of someone's kitchen. My eyes popped! A brass tiffin carrier! A footed grater with a coconut scraper, and a tea strainer caught my eye. It was love at first sight! A short sharp session of quick bargaining and I was the proud owner of all three beauties!

The hubby had seen this shop yesterday as he drove past. He noticed the grater hanging in the shop and knew this shop would have treasures for me.

I HAVE married really well, haven't I?!

Marathon Bloggers

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Challah - A Bread and a Milestone

I've just treated myself to a beautiful wooden chopping board that I bought from 42 Design Studio. A lovely paddle shaped board with beautiful wood grain, I lost my heart when I first saw the photos on Facebook. I promptly ordered one for myself already imagining the photos I would take with this beauty as a prop!

Finally it arrived and I couldn't wait to use it. I thought a nice loaf of bread would be perfect to inaugurate the board.

I wanted to make something I hadn't tried before and I wanted something that would be fitting for such a lovely addition to my blogging toys. Yes, that's what they are - toys that we bloggers play with :)

Once I started getting more interested in homemade bread I did what most of us do - joined a couple of interest groups on Facebook. I looked in the files of one of the groups and read a few recipes till I found one that I felt confident enough to tackle and had the ingredients ready and available. I was going to make a Challah - a Jewish bread that's pretty to look at and is usually eaten on the Sabbath and on other special days. In fact, there are versions of this bread all across Europe.

I gathered the ingredients, cleaned my work space thoroughly, and set out to make my Challah. Things went wrong right from the outset. Though my yeast bloomed perfectly and I followed the instructions to the T there was no dough - just a big bowl of paste, or batter if you want to be more polite. I gave it more time to rise, since the initial steps were new to me, thinking that the cold weather was probably affecting things. Eventually I realised this wasn't working and I wasn't going to be able to do this bread by hand.

I cranked up the Kitchen Aid and poured the batter (!) into the mixer bowl. I dug out my flour canister and got ready to attempt to turn the batter into dough. I thought I needed to just add a little, bit by bit, and all would be well. It wasn't. The batter remained a batter and eventually I started flinging in fistfuls of flour instead of measured tablespoons. After adding as much flour as the recipe originally asked for I finally came close to a dough. It was still sticky but at least it wasn't pouring consistency!

I came back to my work area, floured the surface and plonked the dough on. A few minutes of hand kneading with generous lashings of more flour, and I finally had what I thought was a satisfactory dough.

I buttered a large, no huge, bowl and set the dough to rise. It doubled in half the prescribed time. I had no idea what was going on! But hey, it was supposed to double and it had done that. I wasn't arguing.

The dough was duly punched down and left to rest for 10 minutes as prescribed. It rose ominously in those 10 minutes. By now I was frazzled and not thinking quite clearly. I forgot I had doubled the flour and therefore ended up with a lot more dough than I should have. Ideally I should have halved the dough and probably frozen half. But I don't yet know for sure what dough can be refrigerated/frozen and what can't. But I did divide the dough, into two parts, just not equal ones.

I proceeded to further divide the bigger lump into three portions, rolled each portion into ropes and then made a simple basic three strand braid. It was rising as I was making the ropes an then braiding. It was like a dough possessed.

Anyway, I brushed it with an egg wash and put the braid into my biggest and only deep baking pan, lined with baking parchment. I left it to prove and proceeded to make a braid with the smaller lump of dough too. In the few minutes that it took me to make the second braid the first one had grown alarmingly fat.  I kept an eye on it and put it in to bake as soon as it had doubled. It certainly didn't take the 45 minutes it was supposed to.

Seeing how fast the dough was rising I shoved the smaller braid into the fridge so that it would go slower. I had to bake the big one and I couldn't take a chance with the smaller one turning into another giant loaf.

I could have wept with relief when I popped the big braid into the oven to bake. The recipe didn't say what temperature to bake at. I wanted to fling something at someone. Anyone. I took a chance and set the oven to preheat at 160 and then baked at the same for around 35-40 minutes. Just before putting the braid into the oven I brushed with egg again and sprinkled poppy seeds on the loaf.

I could have wept again when out emerged what looked like a perfectly baked Challah. Okay, it wasn't that beautiful, nutty brown, but otherwise it looked quite good. Just a tad pale and a little gargantuan. Well, actually it was ridiculously huge! The hubby is confident there's enough in that one loaf to last us a week.

Thank God for the smaller one. It turned out beautifully. And it's the perfect size for my board! Alls well that ends well, a few hissy fits notwithstanding :)

I'm sharing what I think will be a successful recipe for a Challah keeping in mind all the adjustments I made. I'm quite clueless why the dough chose to rise at such a speed but fortunately the bread turned out quite fine. This recipe will give you two loaves.


1 kilo maida or plain white flour
1 tsp salt
600ml warm water
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tbsp honey
3 heaped tsp butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 egg yolk for glazing
2 -3 tsp poppy seeds

In a jug or bowl bloom the yeast in the warmed water. Stir with a spoon and leave it alone for a few minutes.

In a big mixing bowl stir the salt into the white flour. Once the yeast is bubbling get ready to mix it into the flour. Push the dry flour to the sides of the bowl to make a well and pour the yeast solution in. Mix in just enough flour to make a paste in the middle leaving dry flour around. Cover and leave the flour paste to bubble up. This should take around 20 minutes.

Once the flour paste has bubbled add the melted butter, honey and beaten eggs into the paste and mix. Gather in the dry flour from the sides and combine to make a soft dough. (Since the proportions in the recipe I followed were wrong this step worked very differently for me and I had to add flour endlessly to get a dough). You can either knead this dough by hand on your work surface or you can do it in a stand mixer if you have one. Work the dough for around 10 minutes till it's soft and elastic, and not sticky any more.

Put it in a large greased bowl, cover with a damp napkin and leave it to rise. Depending on the yeast, the weather, and the various bread gods, this should take anything from an hour to two hours.

While the dough is rising watch a few videos on YouTube to see braiding techniques. There are simple 3 strand braids and there are many more beautiful, but complicated braids that you can also try. With two loaves guaranteed, it won't hurt to try two different braids.

Punch the dough down and give it a quick and gentle knead. Let it rest for a few minutes.

Divide the dough into two halves. Make 3 portions or more with each half, roll each portion into a rope and braid into a loaf. Brush with the egg yolk to which you add a little water. Just a teaspoon or so. Bread expert Sujit Sumitran shared this little tip saying the yolk and water mix will give you that lovely dark brown classic challah colour.

Leave the braids to prove and double. If your dough is rising too fast just pop it into the fridge. It will rise slower.

Preheat the oven to 160C and then bake your challah till it sounds hollow when you tap it. 40 minutes or so is what it takes to get there. If your oven has space to do one at a time you can leave the waiting braid in the fridge. Don't forget to take it out 10 minutes before you put it to bake.

Let the bread cool completely before you slice it. You can also pull chunks off the loaf using the folds of the braid to guide you.

The reason I'm not halving this recipe is because I found that the basic error in the original recipe was the ratio of flour to water. I don't know if there was too much water or too little flour. So till I figure that out I'm going to be making two challahs whenever I make them :)

This experience was a milestone for me. Today I realised that I do understand bread. I was able to make a good bread in spite of what seemed to me a flawed recipe. I am proud of me :)

Marathon Bloggers 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Alu, Phulkopi Diye Machhe'r Jhol - Bengali Fish Stew with Potatoes and Cauliflower

Once in a way the Hubby asks me to cook a Bengali dish. This morning as we were in our local fish shop he bought a baby Bhetki and asked for a light and comforting alu, phulkopi'r jhol with a mountain of hot rice to be made for lunch. I used to call this 'jeere'r jhol' and one version or another of this simple preparation was made in my grandmother's kitchen and in those of all her sisters.

The fish was usually rui, a kind of river carp, and the vegetables in the stew would vary - there could be brinjals, pointed gourd or potol, plantain, and of course, cauliflower. The potato was omnipresent in all the versions. In winter when good cauliflower was available, the alu phulkopi diye jhol would appear quite frequently on the table.

As with most Bengali dishes, I had to do a little reading just to reassure myself of the basic recipe. Some recipes are so simple, and have such few ingredients they make you feel sure you've left something out! This was exactly the case today and though I was quite sure how this lovely, light jhol is made, I just had  to check anyway.

Alu, Phulkopi Diye Machhe'r Jhol

I don't claim this to be an authentic or traditional Bengali recipe. This is my version based mostly on my memories of eating it at my Didin's (maternal grandmom) house, and occasionally at our own house in Mumbai.

1/2 kilo bhekti (or any other suitable fish), sliced
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
2 medium potatoes, cut into long wedges
2 fresh green chillies
1/2 inch piece ginger
1/2 tsp nigella seeds or kalonji
1/4 tsp randhuni (optional)
1 tsp cumin or jeera powder
mustard oil

Wash the fish slices, drain and then marinate with salt and turmeric. Leave it aside while you prep the vegetables.

Heat some mustard oil in a largeish wok and fry the fish lightly till the fish just turns opaque. I prefer this lightly fried version over the darker more firmly fried version. You can fry the fish more if you prefer. Remove the fried fish to a plate or vessel and then lightly fry the cauliflower and the potatoes in the same oil, one after the other. You might need to add a little oil along the way. Remove the fried vegetables too.

Now add some oil and wait till it is heated up really well. Chuck in the green chillies, nigella, and randhuni seeds. Stir for a minute and return the fried vegetables to the wok. Add the jeera powder and stir well to mix. Grate in the ginger. Add a little turmeric powder and salt too. Add a generous glass full of water, enough to submerge the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then cover and cook on simmer till the vegetables are nearly cooked.

Slide in the fried fish pieces and let the whole thing simmer for another 3 or 4 minutes. Adjust salt if necessary and remove the jhol carefully into a wide mouthed large serving bowl. Serve hot with rice.

As you can see it's a simple, frugal recipe with no elaborate procedures or fancy ingredients. Yet, it is a delicious and flavourful dish that's made in households across Bengal. I'm happy to say the hubby enjoyed it thoroughly. As for me, I was back in our flat in Bandra, sitting at the dining table squabbling with my brother, being scolded by my parents - back to being a 10 year old demanding the 'lyaja' or the tail piece :)

Marathon Bloggers

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chocolate Fudge Cookies - A Sweet Beginning for a New Year

In the years when I bought cook books like a woman possessed I bought one called The Colossal Cookie Cookbook. It sat among the other books and I always felt a thrill of joy seeing on my shelf anticipating the wonderful cookies I would make from it. I guess we get caught up in the anticipating and forget to actually make time to really use the books and the treasure of recipes within. I did make a recipe or two but then got caught up in other stuff and the book sat on the shelf, though not gathering dust because I am devoted to my books and I like to take good care of them :)

Sometime around November I saw a frenzy across Facebook where everyone seemed to be baking cookies. I wanted to bake cookies too! I surfed the net, like we automatically do these days, and after browsing quite a few sites I suddenly ground to a halt. What was I doing?! I have enough cookbooks to start my own little library - what was I doing searching on the net?

I pulled out The Colossal Cookie Cookbook and, finally made cookies from the book again. I'd shopped over the previous months and had gathered a decent hoard of cookie making ingredients in my pantry. So now there was no excuse left. Chocolate Fudge Cookies were zeroed in upon and what a success they turned out to be!

Chocolate Fudge Cookies

200gms dark cooking chocolate. I used Morde's
1 1/4 cup white flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. I used Hintz
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
110 gms butter.
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
white chocolate for decoration

Set your oven to 180C and let it preheat.

Melt the cooking chocolate and set aside to cool. You can use a microwave like I did, or a double boiler.

In a clean bowl sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and the salt together.

In a separate bowl cream the sugar with the butter till it's well blended and fluffy. Add the eggs and the vanilla and beat further. You can use an electric hand blender for this. I plan to use my stand mixer the next time and make a double batch.

Pour in the cooled melted chocolate and whisk till it's all mixed in well. Now add the sifted dry ingredients in small quantities and incorporate. The dry ingredients will fly around so do this stage with a spatula or large spoon. You should have a smooth thick batter once everything is mixed in well. Give it a whizz with the electric beater for a minute and you're ready to bake the cookies.

Take two cookie sheets and line with baking parchment. Take a generous scoop of the cookie batter in a tablespoon and drop onto the parchment. Line up the scoops of batter leaving a couple of inches of space between the cookies. They will spread as they bake. You can use a piping bag to make it easier to drop the cookie batter onto the parchment. Use a plain nozzle, the cookies will not hold any fancy shapes.

Bake the cookies in your preheated oven for approximately 18 minutes. Let them cool on the parchment for a minute before you put them on a cooling rack to cool and harden. Don't worry if your cookies seem soft when you remove them from the oven.

Once the cookies have cooled you can decorate them. Melt white chocolate in a bowl and dip a fork into the melted chocolate and drizzle over the cookies. I think melted dark chocolate will also work quite well.

This recipe yielded 16 large cookies. Make a double batch and send some over to your BFF. Spread the love!

Now make a mug of coffee, pick up a few Chocolate Fudge Cookies, grab the book you're reading and settle down in your favourite chair for some delicious me time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015 - Why I'm Looking Forward to It

Father and child. B&W Photo Challenge on Facebook.

It's been an eventful 2014 and there are a few things I've done well this year. At the top of the list is the fact that I have found a renewed enthusiasm and enjoyment in blogging.

I had become quite jaded with things and was a little bored of restaurant reviews and events. I would attend them but I rarely blogged about them. I ended up feeling a mix of guilt for not 'giving back', stress because I felt I should be writing about events I attended (I was being hosted after all), and boredom because one event seemed to blend into the next and the next - they all felt like the same thing. The urge to write seemed to be completely dead. I needed to change something somewhere or this blog was going to be dead very soon.

After a good deal of thought I decided to stop going to these orchestrated events. There's nothing wrong with them per se, they serve a purpose and fulfill needs of brands, businesses, P R companies and yes, bloggers too. But it wasn't something that worked for me.

It's been a refreshing year and I have actually blogged the most this year, averaging a blog post a week. A huge support system and motivation has been the Marathon Bloggers group on Facebook. We started the Marathon Bloggers Project 52 at the start of 2014 and have nagged each other, encouraged each other, come up with blogging exercises and online events, all of which helped me write more, write better, and write a little more regularly.

I also started a Facebook page for the blog and that has had its own positive results. More interactions with readers and more motivation for me.

The best part of this year has been that I have not lacked for things to write about. Recipes, dining experiences, and personal thoughts and feelings have filled my blog. It has truly become a window into my world for the rest of the world to peep in to.

Photography has also kept me occupied this year and I have learned a lot, and I hope I have progressed and improved too! Having a food blog is a great advantage because it gives me a ready made space to display my photos. It's a win win situation. I participated in a few photo challenges on Facebook too - these are great exercises which can make you think and push your creative boundaries. The photograph in this post is the result of one such challenge.

In 2015 I plan to continue in the same vein. 2014 has boosted my confidence greatly. I have signed up for a photography challenge and will be doing stuff with the Marathon Bloggers for sure. The monthly breads at We Knead to Bake will also continue and I'm hoping to join a couple of more diverse group blogging activities or challenges that will keep the creative juices flowing.

Blogging is one of my most satisfying activities and I am thankful that I got my groove back. Here's wishing everyone a fulfilling 2015!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Monday, December 29, 2014

Bacon Rolls

Pull apart rolls are really easy to make and I like to make them as often as I can. It's good practice and one can variate the fillings without limit. My love for bacon is well known and it seemed to me that long strips of bacon tucked into the rolls would be simply fabulous. They were. 

I made the bread dough using this recipe

Once the dough has proved the first time roll it out and then arrange your strips of bacon on it. Be sure to cook the bacon strips first. I left them slightly soft so they would roll with the dough easily. I had planned to grate cheese over the bacon strips but I forgot. I think cheese will be awesome in there so I'll remember it for sure the next time. 

Roll up the dough along the length of the oval so you get a nice long cylinder which will yield more rolls once you cut it.

Once you've made a neat cylinder cut into portions with a sharp bladed knife or a dough scraper. Don't use something with a serrated blade. You want clean cuts that will go through smoothly without snagging on the dough. 

Arrange the cut rolls in a baking tin leaving space for the rolls to rise. Leave them to rise in a warm place for around 20 to 25 minutes. Once they look like they're pushing each other vying for space they're ready to be baked :)

Pop the rolls into a pre heated oven and bake at 200C for around 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them - once the tops are nice and golden brown they're ready. Brush the hot rolls with butter and serve them warm from the oven with a hearty soup, a casserole, or just enjoy them on their own.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Julekake - A Norwegian Christmas Bread

The year comes to an end and along with it ends my first year with the We Knead to Bake bread baking group. I didn't manage to bake all the 12 breads of this year but I did quite a few - each one a new and interesting experience.

As I was making the Julekake, the chosen bread for December, I noticed how I was using ingredients, equipment, and various kitchen tools and toys that have come to me from a variety of people, some family and some friends, all spread across the globe. Each object is a connection and has created a tie, and as I went through the various stages and processes of making my Julekake I felt the ties get stronger as I measured, mixed, kneaded, scraped, poured and finally baked.

And I felt grateful for the Internet, for email and for Facebook, for these are the channels through which these ties were formed and I feel a flutter of happiness every time I open my packet of yeast, hear the clink of my measuring cups, fire up the KitchenAid, and dig through the pantry cupboard. My friends are with me.

I followed Aparna's recipe for Julekake with variations only for the filling and I left out the almonds and icing that are used as a topping on this bread/cake. I used pearl sugar to top my Julekake.

A simple though rich bread, it has a fine dense crumb which makes it cake-like. Call it cake or bread, the Julekake is one of the best recipes I've done with the We Knead to Bake group.


2 tsp Instant yeast
1/4 cup water, warmed
1/2 cup milk, warmed
1 egg
50 gms butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
A large pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cardamom powder
2 1/2 cups white flour or maida
1 cup mixed peel and soaked fruit
1/4 cup pearl sugar

Bloom the yeast in the warm water with a little sugar. Though I use instant yeast I still like to bloom it before I chuck it into my flour to check that it is still active. This saves the remaining ingredients from getting wasted just in case the yeast is dead. I store my packet of instant yeast in the freezer where it stays well for many months and this little step at the beginning doesn't hurt.

In a large mixing bowl put in the egg, butter and sugar. Add the bloomed yeast mix and beat them all together. You can do this by hand or you can use an electric beater or your stand mixer. I used my stand mixer because I don't use it often enough! Add the flour and the cardamom powder and continue to mix. If using the stand mixer use the dough hook. Knead till you have a soft pliable dough that is smooth and stretches easily without breaking. If required, add dry flour or water to get the right consistency.

Roll out the dough like a pizza base and scatter the mixed peel and fruit, or whatever filling you are using. Raisins, or dried cranberries or any other dried berries will work quite well here. Cover the entire rolled out surface and then gather the dough together to form a ball by first rolling it into a swiss roll style roll and then bringing together into a ball. Knead it lightly by hand for a couple of minutes and try to ensure that the fruit is evenly distributed.

Oil a bowl and set the dough in it to rise. Cover with a damp dish cloth and leave it in a warm corner undisturbed, to double in volume. This should take an hour.

Once the dough has doubled deflate it gently and give it a light knead with your hands. Lay the dough ball on a greased baking try or on baking parchment on the tray and leave it to rise again, for around 45 minutes. The Julekake can also be put into a cake tin.

Brush the top with milk and then dot the surface with pearl sugar, or sliced almonds. You can also brush it with an egg wash. I prefer milk because you can't break half an egg ;)

Bake the Julekake for 25 to 30 minutes at 180C. Let it cool completely before you take it out of the cake tin in case your making it in a tin. Slice the Julekake once cooled and serve with coffee.

We Knead to Bake 2014

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Friday, December 26, 2014

Fried Prawns in Koli Masala

Today is one of those days that is slow and everything's running a little late. Not that I'm complaining! We have been incredibly busy with Christmas orders and getting ready for them for the last few days and finally, with Christmas and its accompanying madness over, we're at home taking things easy.

I'm in the mood to cook but it was late by the time the marketing got done and we were both hungry. The hubby had brought some fresh prawns and we decided to fry them up as a pre lunch snack. Now I usually marinate them in salt, turmeric and chilli powder and then fry them up. Today I was in the mood for something more than this basic, though delicious, version. I rooted around in the pantry cupboard and chanced upon my jar of Koli masala bought from Anjali Koli who writes a lovely blog called Annaparabrahma, and also retails a variety of Koli spice blends, dried fish and other products. You can check out her online store here

To make the prawns all you need to do is clean them, wash, and pat dry. Add salt and as much Koli masala as you can handle. This is a pungent spice mix with plenty of chilli so if you're not used to a lot of heat, use less like I did. 

Mix the spice in and let it sit for 15 minutes. Heat up oil in a pan and fry the prawns till done. Throw in some fresh curry leaves and stir for a minute. The fried prawns are ready to serve.
I used a flat griddle made of copper and tinned in the traditional way that we'd bought from a copper smith in rural Maharashtra. The pan is perfectly seasoned and can rival any top of the line non stick cookware. So if you have any of these old gems in your kitchen dig them out and use them!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chingri Mocha'r Chop - Prawn and Banana Flower Croquettes

There are many ingredients common in a Bengali kitchen that have never entered mine. Mocha or banana flower is one of them. My cook is now changing things drastically because with her help I am exploring and learning a whole lot of Bengali food that's new to me. Today we made chingri mocha'r chop, a very popular snack that is often served at a high tea, or as a starter at a fancy dinner. Another simple recipe and a really tasty dish that was a super hit with the hubby and me.

Chingri Mocha'r Chop

8 -10 largeish prawns, shelled, deveined and chopped into small pieces
1 Mocha/Banana flower, cleaned and chopped
1 large potato
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
dhania/coriander powder
jeera/cumin powder
chilli powder or chopped fresh green chilli

1 egg
1 tbsp maida or plain flour

Pressure cook the cleaned mocha along with the peeled potato, with a little turmeric in the water. Drain out the excess water and keep the potato aside. Squeeze out as much water as you can from the mocha. Mash the potato.

In a wok heat a little oil and saute the chopped prawns. After a couple of minutes add the mocha and the mashed potato. Add the spice powders and stir to mix really well. Add salt. Saute the mixture for a few minutes stirring and mixing constantly so it is evenly blended with the spices and there are no clumps of potato.

Cool the mixture and form flat round patties or chops.

Heat enough oil in a kadai to deep fry the chops.

In a wide bowl crack the egg, add the plain flour and beat lightly to mix. Spread some breadcrumbs in a plate. Now dip the chops one by one into the egg and then roll in the crumbs to coat completely. Deep fry till golden brown and serve hot with kashundi or ketchup.

If you're vegetarian you can leave out the prawns. And use a flour+water solution instead of the egg. In fact, this recipe then is suitable for vegans too!

If, like me, you're clueless about cleaning the banana flower just look it up on YouTube. There are plenty of videos explaining just what to do. I am lucky - the cook knows exactly what to do!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chorizo Oats

Marriages might be made in heaven but some blessed pairs are made in my kitchen. Like chorizo oats. I am in love with oats and have been making a savoury oats porridge with various vegetables and spices several times a week, and I'm always looking for new inspired combinations. Adding spicy flavourful chorizo to the mix has been one of the best ideas I've had in a long, long time!

Chorizo Oats

Quaker Oats 3/4 cup
100gm chorizo, peeled from the casing and crumbled
1 small potato cubed or cut into sticks
1 small onion, thickly sliced
1 small carrot cut into discs
1 handful frozen green peas
half a green capsicum sliced into 2inch pieces or 1 bhavnagari chilli chopped
3 tbsp tomato puree or ketchup
jeera/cumin powder
dry chilli powder or paprika powder

Heat a little oil in a wok or kadai and put in the carrots and potatoes. Fry on a medium flame so that they cook through. Add the chorizo and mix well breaking up the meat as you go. Cover the wok and let it cook for a few minutes. Now add the remaining vegetables, stir it all well and leave it alone for another five minutes or so. Add salt and the spices too.

Once the carrots and potatoes look nearly done sprinkle the oats on the vegetables and mix well. Let it roast a bit for a couple of minutes and then pour in enough water to cover everything under a centimetre or so of water. Stir and add the tomato puree or ketchup, whichever you are using. Let it come to a boil and then simmer till the water is absorbed and the oats are cooked through.

I reserved a few pieces of the chorizo once they were fried, to garnish the dish. The chorizo tends to disintegrate and blend into the dish so the reserved pieces are nice to bite into as you enjoy the oats.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Of Khadkhadle, Bhujne, Bombil and Kolambi - The Pathare Prabhu Table

A few weeks ago Manisha, who writes The Chronicles of the Sassy Fork invited K and me to lunch. She said it would be at a Pathare Prabhu residence and the meal was going to be cooked by Soumitra Velkar and his family. A chance to go feast at a Pathare Prabhu table?! I was going whether or not K could make it! The date was fixed and I had to wait. We'd had a grand dinner at Bimba Nayak's house some months earlier so I had a pretty good idea what I could look forward to.

Finally it was time to drive across the city to the Velkars' residence and luckily K had the day off too. I think I drooled all the way there...

The PPs (as they are called) are among the oldest settlers of Mumbai and have contributed greatly to making Mumbai the city it is, much like the Parsis. They laid the foundations on which this city grew into the Megapolis it is today. Common landmarks like the Bhau cha Dhakka and the Mahalakshmi Temple were built by them.

I had heard catering stories from the hubby about PP clients and how, for one party held at Shree Pant Bhavan at Chowpatty (a huge building owned and occupied by the community) they set up the kitchen in the lift of the building! Now this building housed a car showroom in the old days and the lift was massive enough to carry the cars up to the terrace where they could be parked - probably the only building in Mumbai in those days with a lift of that size! As it turned out, the son of that client was present at lunch with us today :)

Getting back to the lunch - we started with a rose sharbat with sabja seeds, and then a string of starters, one more delicious than the next. There was Bhanole, Kolambi Pie, Bombil Bhajji, and absolutely delectable Khimyachya Shingdya.

Rose and sabja sharbat.

Bhanole is an interesting dish that comprises cabbage and prawns, and is baked. Baking is a commonly used cooking technique in PP cuisine and this is a superb example of how well they have adopted and adapted a western technique to suit their palate and cuisine.

Kolambi Pie - another example of how baking is a favoured cooking technique. This is a sort of shepherd's pie but with prawns and a nice robustly spiced version.

Bombil Bhajji or bhajiyas - I love bombil or bombay ducks and my favourite way to have them is in the classic rawa or besan coated fry. This bhajji was a revelation! I could have curled up with a hot mug of coffee, a good book and a steady stream of these babies hot off the kadai and been very content indeed!

Khimyachya Shingdya - mince stuffed pastry crescents. Many communities in western India make crescent shaped stuffed pastry snacks and they're usually filled with either a sweet coconut filling or a savoury green pea or tender tuvar or pigeon pea fillings. Called karanji, ghungroo, ghugra, newri, these are quite ubiquitous in the region. When I discovered that the ones on the table today were stuffed with minced mutton my day was made :)

Eventually we moved on to the main courses. Phew! I was already stuffed but I wan't going to miss out on anything today.

We started with Mutton Gode served with pav, and a fantastic koshimbir (finely cut salad) of red onions, white radish, green chillies, fresh coriander and lime juice topped with crisply fried dried bombay ducks. I haven't eaten much dried fish and this koshimbir was a superb place to start.

The Mutton Gode - I love mutton and if it has been cooked with big chunks of potatoes my Bengali heart simply sings. This mutton preparation reminded me a lot of the sublime flavours of the Sunday mutton cooked in numerous Bengali households where the gravy is light and subtly flavoured. Though more robust than a Bengali mangshor jhol, I could easily have made a meal of the Mutton Gode with a mound of rice and a raw onion on the side. Like most of the coastal Maharashtrian communities the PPs also have their signature spice blends and the Mutton Gode had Parbhi Sambhaar masala in it. This masala has spices like naag kesar and hing in it. It also contains ground wheat and chana daal which work as thickening agents.

A rather unusual dish on the menu was the Ananas Sambhare. Made with coconut milk, cashew nuts and pineapple, this sambhar is quite unique with the sweetness of the fruit paired with the spice of their sambhar masala. I am not at all into fruits but I did taste it before gamely passing it on to the hubby who quite liked it.

Bombil Methkutache, Bombay ducks in a light but spicy gravy, this preparation has Parbhi Methkut, another spice blend that's typical to the PPs.

Only a true fish loving community would come up with a recipe that uses the bones of a fish as the star ingredient and just like the Bengalis use the head and the bones of some fish to make specific delicacies, the PPs have the incredibly delicious Katyache Bhujne. This dish had the spinal bone of the huge Ghol stewed in onions, chillies, coriander and garlic. The flavours of this preparation were very close to a version of the Bengali machher jhol that my mother and grand mother used to make. The only additional ingredient in their version was chopped tomato. I took two helpings of the bhujne and relished it with rice.

The PPs are very fond of prawns, and you will have noticed there were many prawn preparations on the menu today. This is the Kolambi Khadkhadle and it was finger licking good. By the time I got to it I was stuffed beyond belief, but I wasn't going to miss it.. so I soldiered on after a five minute break ;) Once again there was a good dose of garlic with red chilli, turmeric, some hing and the Parbhi Sambhaar masala creating a well spiced and delicious dish.

Cheek or kharvas - This is a dessert that is a favourite among Maharashtrians and is one of the hubby's top favourites too. Made from the 'first' milk of the cow, or the colustrum, and lightly flavoured with cardamom and nutmeg. Paired with it was a rose flavoured mawa (reduced milk). The hubby had two, or was it three helpings of dessert before I stood at his side and ensured he didn't have any more!

That we were stuffed goes without saying. That we were sated is an understatement. That I am in love with PP food is a fundamental truth. Quite in contrast to the spice and coconut heavy cuisines of coastal Maharashtra, the Pathare Prabhus have a lighter hand in the kitchen and I think that is what allows them to eat such a lavish spread without batting an eyelid!

There is a growing awareness of local cuisines in Mumbai and Soumitra Velkar along with his wife and mother, is doing a splendid job of showcasing his community's food to an eager audience. I cannot thank the Sassy Manisha enough for this fabulous treat :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sheermal - My First Indian Bread

Things have been a bit hectic for me and one of the things that got seriously neglected was the monthly bread baking with the We Knead to Bake group. I have missed five or six months of baking for one reason or another and I had to get back into it or the year would be gone and I would have hardly baked this year. I joined the WKTB group to learn different kinds of bread and to practice and learn new techniques. I was doing nothing, much to my disappointment. Well, there's no way to get back on to wagon apart from doing just that - getting back on. And so this month I'm back on the WKTB wagon, barely by the skin of my teeth.

The chosen bread for November is Sheermal. A mildly sweet, soft flat bread, sheermal has saffron and milk in it and can be quite rich because of the addition of ghee/butter and egg. This beautiful bread is commonly eaten in the regions spanning Persia, across the Indian sub-continent, as far as Bangladesh.

Incredibly easy to make, sheermal takes approximately three hours in all, including proving time. This is the recipe Aparna gave the WKTB group and I followed it mostly to the T. The only change I made was instead of rose water or kewra essence I used Orange Blossom water which comes from the Middle East. I didn't have rose water or kewra essence and I was looking for a chance to use the Orange blossom water anyway and the sheermal gave me the perfect opportunity.


2 1/4 cups sifted flour or maida
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup ghee
1 egg
1 -2 tsp Orange Blossom water
1/2 cup milk
a generous pinch of saffron strands

In a cup add the yeast to the warm water along with the sugar, if you're using active dry yeast or fresh yeast. This has become such an automatic step for me that I do it even with instant yeast though it's not necessary.

In your mixing bowl pour in the flour and sprinkle the salt and mix lightly. Now add the yeast mix and stir to combine. Beat the egg lightly and then add it to the flour mix. Give it a stir and now start adding the ghee a little at a time. Continue mixing till the ingredients come together to look like large crumbs. You can do this in a food processor if you have one. I didn't add all the ghee as I didn't require it.

Now add the milk a little at a time and bring the dough together. Once the dough formed a rough ball I took it out onto my work surface and kneaded it for a good 10 minutes adding milk, a little at a time, to ultimately get a beautiful and soft dough. I didn't use up all the milk either. I brushed my mixing bowl with a little ghee and put in the dough to prove. Cover the bowl with a damp napkin and leave it in a warm place, undisturbed.

Soak the saffron strands in a little warmed milk.

Once the dough has doubled (this can take anything from an hour to two hours) punch it down gently and knead for a couple of minutes. Put it back in the mixing bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Set the oven to preheat to 180C.

Remove the rested dough onto your work surface and divide into four portions. Shape each into a ball. Gently flatten each ball to form a disc approximately 6 inches across. Brush the top with the saffron and milk generously and then prick the entire surface neatly with a fork. Place the prepared discs on your baking tray and bake at 180C for 12 to 15 minutes till the sheermal turns a beautiful golden colour.

Brush with butter as soon as you take them out of the oven. Serve with your evening chai or with a spicy gravy main course for dinner. I'm going to make some chicken to go with my sheermal :)

We Knead to Bake #22

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Dreams and Making Some of Them Come True

We all have dreams. Some are big enough to remain fantasies and some are doable but remain dreams. We often class both together and let them remain dreams. We think about them wistfully from time to time but don't really do anything about making them happen. While many seem impossible, many of the dreams are not. They are doable and all one needs is the ability to decide how important it is and then the conviction to simply go after it.

K always wanted to own a Bullet. An iconic bike for most Indians, he dreamed of owning one for many years. It was one of those dreams I heard him mention off and on through the years. We nearly bought one several years ago but he chickened out at the last moment saying it was an unnecessary indulgence. And he continued to dream in a corner of his mind.

A few months ago I asked him what it was that was stopping him from taking the plunge. We had the money and could easily fulfill this dream. It wasn't an unreasonable one after all. He had no answer - just a hesitation to spend a largish amount of money on himself. At least that's what it seemed to me.

Remember my Yolo epiphany? Well, it was Yolo time for him and I was making sure we bought the bike. Sometimes you just need to grab a dream and make it happen. What's wrong with a dream coming true? Why do we instinctively deny ourselves the little and not so little pleasures?

Well, we went to the showroom and booked the bike a few months ago. And now we are the proud owners of a Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 (though I was hoping to buy the 500, but I know when not to push my luck!).

Examine your dreams and if you find you have one that isn't so impossible or unreasonable, go on and make it happen.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Spiced Chicken Legs - A Quick and Easy Dinner

The hubby dislikes chicken, even more so if it's in the mundane basic curry avatar. But chicken is conveniently available and cooks fast so I like it. As a compromise, though I cook it often, I try to make it as interesting and appealing as possible and what comes to my rescue are the variations of the simple pan grilled chicken. All I do is marinate in select spices or condiments for about half an hour and then slowly pan fry till it's done. On the side I make mashed potatoes or fries, grilled vegetables or even a salad, depending on what I have at hand. I do make elaborate curries which take time and effort to make and those are always a hit but they're time consuming and need some planning and gathering of ingredients. The pan grilled chicken is my friend when I'm in a hurry or just not in the mood for a lengthy session in the kitchen.

Spiced Chicken Legs

4 to 6 chicken legs
Cajun spice mix or any other spice mix that you like, or mixed dried herbs
bacon fat (optional)
olive oil

Make deep cuts in the flesh of the chicken legs. You can also use thighs for this recipe. Rub salt, pepper and a generous teaspoon of your preferred spice mix into the chicken pieces. If you're using dried mixed herbs add some minced garlic to the marinade.  Leave the chicken to marinate for at least half an hour.

Heat the bacon fat in a non stick pan. Add a splash of olive oil to it and let it warm up properly. Place the marinated chicken pieces in the hot oil and sear properly on all sides. Lower the heat and let it cook covered for around 10 minutes. Turn the pieces over and cook evenly on all sides till the chicken is cooked right through. You can add a very small amount of water (a couple of tablespoons at the most) to the pan if required but be sure to dry off the water completely as the chicken cooks.

Serve the chicken hot with fries, potato mash, grilled vegetables, garlic bread, whatever you have at hand :)

If you like, fry a few slices of bread in the pan juices after you have taken out the chicken. The bread tastes divine!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dohneiiong - Pork with Black Sesame, from Meghalaya

A few days ago I went for an incredible lunch that featured the cuisines of the north eastern states of India. From aperitif to dessert, it was a wonderful gastronomic tour of seven states and I learned a lot about the cuisines of this region. I think the biggest lesson I took home with me is the fact that momos are not from the North East. They're from Tibet and Nepal, although they have penetrated into many regions of India, not just the NE.

Given my love for pork, I was quite thrilled to see a dish featuring my favourite meat on the menu. That wasn't all - we also saw a demonstration of how this dish was made. The recipe was shared with us and I am going to share it here on my blog for one very simple reason - you will find the ingredients anywhere and quite easily. There's no exotic ingredient that you have to beg your friends to bring back from their home in the NE.

Dohneiiong - Pork with Black Sesame by Gitika Saikia

Half kilo pork belly
100 gms black sesame seeds. Roasted and powdered
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp fresh ginger garlic paste
3 - 4 green chillies, chopped
1 tbsp red chilli paste
1 tbsp turmeric powder
mustard oil

Boil the pork belly and cut into largeish cubes.

In a thick bottomed pot or casserole dish heat a few tablespoons of mustard oil till it smokes. Reduce the heat and chuck in the sliced onions. Let it fry stirring it once in a while. Add the ginger garlic paste and fry for another couple of minutes. Once the onions have changed colour add the pork cubes, chillies and the chilli paste. Stir well and mix properly. Add the salt and the turmeric too. Saute on a medium flame and let the pork cook for a good 10 - 15 minutes.

Mix a little water into the sesame powder to make a thin slurry. Pour this into the pork. Water is added to the sesame powder to make it easier to mix it into the pork, so don't use too much water. Now cover the pot and let it cook for another 5 minutes or so. Give it a stir once in a while and it will be ready to serve as soon as the water is gone and the oil is released.

This tastes best served with sticky rice but you can enjoy it with whatever rice you make at home.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Tour of NE India Through Food at the APB Cook Studio

Mumbai is seeing a growing interest in the regional cuisines of our vast country and I have been fortunate enough to sample many of these not so easily accessible cuisines at various events and, sometimes, in private homes. We've been seeing food festivals emerge as a trend in the last few years with the Koli festivals, the Pathare Prabhu food fest and, very recently, the CKP food festival. There are also big dos like the annual Upper Crust Show and the Good Food magazine event where food professionals and businesses from across the city showcase their products. And there is the band of home cooks who are now having pop ups, custom designed private meals at their own residences, and sometimes they do a special event at unique venues like the APB Cook Studio.

North Eastern cuisine, like the term Indian cuisine, is a complete misnomer. There is such diversity in ingredients, cooking styles, influences, and food preferences that one simply cannot class the cuisines of the seven north eastern states of India under one banner. The Cuisines of the Seven States of the NE Demo and Dine event at the APB Studio today gave me a glimpse of this incredible diversity. With Gitika Saikia as our guide, we were taken on a culinary tour of the entire north eastern region The sheer variety of meats, herbs, local vegetables, cooking and preserving processes, and styles left me amazed and hungry - hungry for a deeper knowledge of what seems to me a wonderful world of food.

The menu for the event was -

An apertif made of amlakhi (amla) and hilikha (haritaki).

Pasa - A soup from Arunachal Pradesh. A flavourful broth of herbs and lightly cooked fish, this soup was one of the highlights of the meal for me.

Dohneiiong - Pork in Black Sesame paste. A Pork preparation from Meghalaya.

Eromba - A vegetable and fermented dry fish preparation from Manipur

Bai - A wonderfully light clear soup of assorted vegetables, bamboo shoot, lime leaves and rice, this delightful one pot meal is a staple from Mizoram

Akhuni or Axone - A chutney made from fermented soy beans. This is from Nagaland. Naga cuisine has loads of different chutneys that are pounded fresh just before the meal and I was fortunate enough to eat many varieties in the hostel in Pune, thanks to my Naga friends.

Mosdeng Serma - A chutney of fish, tomatoes and local herbs, this one was from Tripura.

Dau Jwng Sobai - Chicken cooked in urad or kaali daal. This is an Assamese preparation that had minimal ingredients, was slowly cooked, and ultimately tasted really good. This dish had 'khaar' or alkali extracted from the banana plant as one of its ingredients and the taste of the khaar was distinct, yet not overwhelming.

This was served with sticky rice, and an assortment of pickles for extra zing. The rice was served bundled neatly in banana leaf packets.

This is what my plate looked like piled up with food! The mash you see in the foreground is Eromba, of which I don't have an individual photo.

Dessert is not a traditional concept in the region and it is only in recent years that the trend of serving dessert at the end of a meal is slowly picking up.

Gitika served a simple flavourful dessert that was basically khoi, a variety of puffed rice, cream, and sugarcane jaggery layered in a bowl.

The session began with Gitika demonstrating two recipes, the Dohneiiong, and the Dau Jwng Sobai. Gitika is a naturally ebullient person and as she took us through the recipes she also told us about her experiences visiting various tribes in their villages, invading kitchens and shamelessly begging to taste whatever was being cooked, and even wheedling goodies to take back home!

As we ate our way through the cuisines of the Seven Sisters we were aware that this was just a mere glimpse of all that lay in that magical world in that mysterious corner of our country.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52