2012…

So the Christmas week finally draws to an end and the lights on the tree shine brighter as they get ready to bid adieu to the year that’s gone by. And 2011 proved to be quite a year – one that saw the end of tyranny in certain parts of the world and yet a continuation in so many others. Places where the superpowers of the world didn’t think it worth their while to intervene simply because it didn’t make logistical (read – monetary) sense. Human life is after all quite dispensable. 

And then in my own country India, poverty continues unabated in some quarters, largely unseen and unreported, while political games continue to be played on issues like reservation based on caste, class and religion, while the large numbers who need to avail of benefits continue to live lives mired in abject poverty… or die trying to get themselves out of debt. Where political parties trade insults about corruption, and yet don’t deem it fit to clean up their own houses. Where crimes against women and children continue unabated while our lawmakers look on in apathy, feigning ignorance, some of them active participants in such offences.

And yet in keeping with the high traditions of the hypocrisy rampant in our society, we refrain from educating our children about their bodies, terming it unacceptable. Ironic isn’t it that sex education is taboo, but rape often results in some of the lower courts letting rapist off if they marry their victims.

All this while we worship a plethora of female goddesses and yet have an abysmal gender ratio of Male to Female births.

So as this year draws to an end I thank God and the angels and saints and the powers that be, for being there for me in myriad forms. For holding my hand through the toughest times, for protecting me and holding me in the comfort of a faith that has remained unshakeable through immense challenges. And I would like to say that, “I continue to trust in your direction for me, and I place myself in your loving care this year as always. And while it may not always seem that life is kind or rewarding, I know that in the greater context of things I am richer for all of these experiences”. 

To my family and to the good friends who’ve stood by me, steadfast and patient, as I have ranted and raved on about things relevant and irrelevant, and I know I have, I must say – “Thank You! You know that I love you and that I’ve got your backs too,”

To all those who’ve stayed on the fringes of my world, taking the form of casual friends, acquaintances, colleagues or just people I’ve had the opportunity to encounter through social networking, or through the pages of this blog. “Here’s wishing you all that’s good, with the hope that life shall continue to enrich us as we go along, whether we encounter or continue to encounter each other in some way or in any way at all.”

So to everyone out there, here’s to 2012, and to peace, love, joy, good health, common sense, generosity, good conscience, tolerance and most importantly in a world that views most things in terms of monetary value, here’s to good jobs, money and a mortgage free life.

And in tribute to the immortal Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne…

Chilli Chive and Cheddar Bread Rolls

I made these rolls as an accompaniment to the Creamy Chickpea Soup. 

So yeah as the name suggests… I used Chilli (both, a dash of paprika and some red chilli flakes), Chives, and an aged sharp Cheddar to give these bread rolls some real bite.

Baking them in muffin trays…

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoon  fresh yeast (about 21gms)

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + extra for lining the bowl and muffin trays

1 1/2 cups warm water (extra if required)

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes

2 tablespoon chopped chives

3/4 cup sharp cheddar (grated)

1 egg (beaten with 1 tablespoon low-fat milk)

I almost thought the dough was going to flop but then it worked, with a bit of coaxing and a prayer… What else! The texture was a bit dense, but the end result was good, and the rolls were really tasty… with the egg wash giving them that rich golden hue.

I served them with the soup.

And the next day… I sliced them up, toasted them… smeared on some cream cheese… (a double cheese fiesta!… definitely not for the faint hearted) and topped them with some cold meat garnished with parsley.

I think they’ll probably make excellent croutons for a French Onion Soup… but I’ll stick with a glass of Cabernet for now.

Santé!

Creamy Chickpea Soup

There’s nothing like a bowl of soup when you’re feeling under the weather. Especially a hearty soup, one that warms the bones, fills the stomach and gives you that feeling of deep satisfaction and contentment before you crawl under the covers to get a good night’s sleep… Whether it’s chicken soup or…

Chickpea…

Or perhaps a bit of both.

Now, I love chickpeas in any form. I can eat them boiled and in a salad, or simply with some red chilli, lime and salt. or as hummus, or made into a delightfully spicy Chana Masala.

But I felt the sniffles coming on, so soup it was, and to keep the contentment quotient high I figured I’d go both, the chickpea and chicken soup route.

This is my version of a Creamy Chickpea Soup with home-made low-fat chicken stock. But if you prefer to keep the soup vegetarian, you can use a vegetable stock instead. I’ve also used low-fat milk instead of cream. So you have a protein packed meal, full of goodness and taste, without the unnecessary calories.

This is a very simple and easy to make recipe. The trick however lies in slow cooking the chickpeas, twice over… First boiling them (about 2 cups of the chickpeas) in about 3 1/2 cups water. You can add in a quarter cup each of diced celery and carrots, and one small potato, cubed and peeled. Cook till the chickpeas and potatoes are just done.

(And yes… before you do any of this, don’t forget to pre-soak the chickpeas before you boil them, for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight so that they plump up. Then drain and rinse well before boiling.)

Here are the ingredients:

1 1/4 cup dried chickpeas (soak for 4 – 8 hours in 3 cups water)

1 small potato – cubed

3 tablespoons olive oil + extra to drizzle when served

1 medium red onion – minced

4 – 5 large cloves of garlic – minced

1/2″ piece of ginger – minced

1 small sprig of curry leaves

2 large ripe tomatoes – blanched and puréed

1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

3 1/2 – 4 cups low fat chicken stock

1/4 cup low fat milk

1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh coriander – chopped fine (+ extra for garnishing)

*(optional 4 rashers bacon – cooked and crumbled)

Once the chickpeas are done, drain off the liquid. Reserve about a cup of the chickpeas and purée the balance along with the potatoes (you can add in the celery and carrots as well) in a food processor along with  a 1/2 cup of warm chicken stock, until smooth.

In a large pot, keeping the flame very low, sauté the onion with the minced garlic and ginger in olive oil until just translucent, before adding in the curry leaves and the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 – 7 minutes.

Add in the paprika, the cumin and about a half teaspoonful of freshly milled black pepper. Cook for 10 minutes before adding the puréed chickpeas and the balance chicken stock. You can put in the salt at this stage, then cover and cook on a slow flame for about 50 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. If you prefer a thinner soup, you may add an additional half cup of stock halfway through the cooking process. Finally add in the reserved whole chickpeas, balsamic vinegar and sugar and cook for an another 20 – 25 minutes.

Just before serving, add in the milk (you can substitute the milk for 3 tablespoons of fresh cream), a few more twists of the pepper-mill and the chopped coriander, Stir well to allow all the flavours to intermingle.

Finish off the soup with a drizzle of olive oil, and a some of that lovely green coriander… or you could sprinkle on some crispy bacon bits instead, and serve hot with warm freshly baked Chilli Chive n Cheddar Bread Rolls.

Figgy Rye Rolls

I wish you a Merry Christmas… I wish you a Merry Christmas… I wish you a Merry Christmas…

I love this time of year… when we actually have cooler weather here in Mumbai, and when we get the most amazing array of fruits… And then it’s Christmas, and Christmas makes me think of figgy puddings and what else, but… Figs!

I bought a dozen or so of them the other day and since then I’ve been dreaming up a bunch of ways in which to use them… tarts, pies… you name it.

Christmas is also family time and time to get together with loved ones, friends and family… taking the time out to catch up and chat and exchange hugs and love. So yeah, my brother is in town and I wanted to bake him some bread to go with a fig preserve that I planned to make for him, because he just loves preserves and jams.

And then halfway through proving the dough for the Honey Rye Bread I had a flash of genius. Why not use the same dough as the Rye Bread along with the fig preserve… something that bordered on sweet and savoury. Now that would be a real treat for someone with a craving for something sweet but healthy… wouldn’t it?

The fig preserve is fairly simple to make and quite quick. I didn’t want to pulp the fruit completely or strain it… after all it isn’t a fig without all those little seeds now is it? So I let it be as is… using ripe figs, chopping them up into a small dice, then mixing the rest of the ingredients with the fruit, and letting it all stand for about 4 hours to let the flavours meld, before cooking the macerated fruit for 50 minutes to an hour on a very slow flame, stirring occasionally. Then taking the preserve off the flame and allowing it to cool completely before using.

Ingredients for the Fig Preserve:

6 large figs – chopped

4 tablespoons powdered sugar (you can use more sugar if you like it sweeter… I don’t)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup port wine ( a little extra if required)

Pinch of cinnamon powder

Large pinch of paprika

1 tablespoon rosemary – chopped

Pinch of salt

Zest of 1 lime

Juice of ½ lime

On to forming the rolls…

Since I was using the same dough for the Honey Rye Bread, I simply divided the dough into two portions and rolled it out on a lightly floured surface to a quarter of an inch thick.

Then spread on the preserve. I used a fairly thick spread (but you could spread it thinner), and rolled up the dough, constantly dusting the edge being rolled in with a sprinkling of flour till the entire dough was rolled up.

Cut the roll into pieces about an inch to an inch and a half thick using a sharp knife and place the pieces onto a parchment lined or cornmeal dusted baking tray.

Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C for 25 – 30 minutes.

Remove the trays from the oven and transfer the rolls onto a wire rack to cool.

Dust with icing sugar when completely cooled.

Honey Rye Bread with Mixed Seeds

Who doesn’t love a seed bread… with sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or even some sesame or flax seeds. And what better way to do them justice than to let them mix n mingle with each other in keeping with the season… letting them all come together in a delicious loaf using wholegrain rye flour and honey. I also love the flavour of aniseed, so I put in a spoonful… lightly toasting the mélange of seeds.

This bread is really versatile, with the rye flour and seeds, and the honey and brown sugar coming together to make this loaf truly delicious and nutritious.

Here are the ingredients –

1 cup wholegrain rye flour

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons fresh yeast

1 ½ cups warm water

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons honey (you can add an additional tablespoon or two if you like)

Assorted seed mix –

{2 tablespoons – assorted mix of sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds

2 tablespoons – flax seeds

1 tablespoon – aniseed}

So yeah as always when you’re making a yeast bread – activate the yeast with some sugar and warm water and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Adding in the oil and the honey and stir to blend.

Toast the mixed seeds in a pan for 4 – 5 minutes, tossing them constantly to ensure even toasting. Then remove the seeds from the pan and transfer to a kitchen towel to cool, and get back to the yeast mix. Adding in the all purpose and rye flour, and the salt, and mixing them, before adding in the cooled seed mix towards the end.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and leave to prove for 4 – 6 hours or till the dough has more than doubled in size.

Turn the dough, which should be fully aerated and light and puffy onto a lightly floured work surface…

Knead for 5 minutes, then cut the dough into 2 portions and shape into loaves or place into a cornmeal dusted bread-pan. Leave standing for an additional hour or two to prove again.

Take a sharp knife or a blade and score the top of the loaf down the middle and bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C for 25 – 30 minutes or till done. You can cover the top with a tented piece of aluminium foil halfway through the baking process to prevent the top from getting brown and crusty too soon. Brush the top of the loaf with olive oil and bake for an additional 5 minutes uncovered to allow the top of the loaf to brown and develop a nice crust.

I used half the dough to make the loaf and saved the other half to make some Figgy Rye Rolls – using a fig preserve I made… I just had to make something figgy for Christmas.

And as I said earlier this bread is so versatile you can eat it with a pat of butter, or with something sweet… some of that fig preserve perhaps.

Or even with something savoury… like these red wine braised chicken livers.

Either way… it’s a winner.

Crusty Herbed Olive Oil Rolls with Sunflower Seeds

For starters let me tell you that this was the one that almost got away… and it was nothing other than a Christmas miracle that saved it from certain disaster.

I’m a relative novice at bread making… considering that it takes years and years to master the art, and then you realise that there’s so much more to learn. But I’m in it for the long-haul, with plenty of enthusiasm and a burning desire to bake, bake, bake… but I try not to leave things to chance. So every time I put some dough to prove, I’m crossing the air and invoking the good Lord to ‘give me this day my daily bread’. So far so good.

But I suppose even the good Lord can be wicked on occasion and mess with a fledgling baker… just for a few laughs.

It happened two nights ago. I couldn’t sleep, the Christmas cake done… its heady aroma still lingering in the air, so I figured I may as well get out of bed and prep some dough for a batch of bread the next morning. Now, I’ve been dying to bake olive oil bread rolls, so decided to go ahead and bake a batch using dried herbs (I used oregano and parsley) and some toasted Sunflower Seeds.

I activated the yeast (fresh yeast) in warm water and sugar, added in the flour, some milk powder, the dried herbs, some of the sunflower seeds, salt and the olive oil. Mixed it, crossed the air as always and kept it in a place I’ve used before for proving the dough… and slept. Woke up the next morning and… the dough was the way it was when I put it in… damn!

Now Mumbai isn’t cold by any standard even in December, but it’s been cooler this year… and I guess 2 am isn’t the time to be proving dough in a cool and draughty kitchen. So I added an additional 1/2 teaspoon of yeast to warm water, with a pinch of sugar and a little olive oil… bunged it into the dough… knead it around a bit… and stuck it into a slightly warm oven which I had used and turned off a half hour before… and left it there for a couple of hours… and that’s when it happened.

The dough took on this gorgeously puffy aerated look and doubled in size. All I had to do was knock it back, flour the board, knead it for about 5 minutes, and roll it out to form thick cords, which I eased into muffin trays dusted with cornmeal.

Now someone may say – that’s elementary… but hey! I’m a relative novice at bread making.

Brushing the tops of the rolls with paprika infused olive oil, and sprinkling on some more sunflower seeds and parsley.

Allow the rolls to stand for about 30 minutes before baking them in an oven preheated to 220 degrees C for 15 minutes. Cover the top with aluminium foil and spray the oven walls and floor a couple of times to help the rolls get a nice crust. Then remove the foil and bake uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or the rolls turn golden brown and the edges turn crusty.

You may brush the tops with egg-wash at this point, just to ensure that the sunflower seeds sprinkled on the rolls stay on the bread once they’re removed from the oven. But this is entirely up to you. If you do brush with egg, then bake for an additional 3 – 5 minutes.

Remove the muffin trays from the oven and transfer the rolls into a breadbasket to keep them warm.

Oh by the way… the muffin tray ended up being a great idea, as the steam made the bottoms of the rolls really crisp and crunchy.

So cut into one and drizzle on the extra virgin olive oil or eat it as it is…

Or you can slice it across the middle, put in a pat of butter, a smear of mustard and a couple of slices of salami… and take a nice big bite.

And remember… that what may seem like a disaster can at times turn into something incredibly delicious and even better than you anticipated.

Here are the ingredients –

1 ½ – 2 teaspoon fresh yeast

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil + 2 tablespoon for brushing tops of rolls (mixed with ½ teaspoon paprika)

2 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt + extra for sprinkling on top of rolls

3 ½ cups flour + extra for dusting

3 tablespoon dried milk powder

3 teaspoon dried oregano

3 teaspoon dried parsley + extra for sprinkling

2 tablespoon sunflower seeds + 1 tablespoon for sprinkling on top

1 egg for brushing tops (optional)

¾ to 1 cup warm water

 

Have yourself a boozy little Christmas… Cake

So it’s Christmas time once again.

Bring out the buntings, clamber up onto your loft (your attic or basement) and get out the ornaments. Put up your tree… don’t forget the angel on top, and the lights… and try not to electrocute yourself.

Put up the crib… we put Jesus in at midnight at my parents place, where we all gather for lunch, if we’re in town… after all Christmas is about tradition and family.

But Christmas is also about cake… and the boozier, the better.

So here’s my recipe. The base recipe was from a woman who’s cooking class my sister attended years ago. But I’ve tweaked it over the years, reworking, adding and subtracting elements.

I usually bake this cake for my parents every Christmas… another tradition. So I guess I should call it ‘Ma n Pa’s Boozy Christmas Cake’.

This one’s for them!

And now comes the most important part… aka… ‘Steeping the fruit in alcohol’.

I use a combination of angelica, mixed peel, raisins, glacé cherries and black currants… chopped (raisins halved and black currants whole), bottled and then drowned in enough rum to allow the liquor to seep into every fibre of the fruit, plumping them up. My mother usually soaks the fruit in rum for close to a year.

This year I decided to get heady and used a combination of aged whiskey soaked black currants with the rest of the rum soaked fruit… and it worked!

So onto the cake….

Start with creaming the butter and powdered sugar.

I actually used a weighing scale and measured out the ingredients instead of going the cup route (at least for some of the ingredients).

190gms of butter and powdered sugar each to 240gms (about 2 cups) of flour mixed with 2 teaspoons of baking powder. (If you’re using unsalted butter do not add salt, otherwise you may want to add in about a quarter to half a teaspoon to the flour.)

At this stage measure out the fruits into a bowl, about 3 cups of the fruit. Since I soaked the black currants separately my ratio was about 2 3/4 cups of the balance of the rum soaked fruit mix, and about 4 tablespoonfuls of the black currants. Add in a couple of tablespoonfuls of the liquor from each bottle as well as the juice of a lime (half a lemon if you’re using lemons) and the zest of one lime.

I don’t use store bought mixed spice and prefer to make my own… a blend of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika for this cake, blending the spices in a mortar and pestle, before adding it to the fruit mix. Then cover and reserve for later.

After creaming the butter and sugar, add in the eggs. Four large eggs are perfect… whipping them in a separate bowl and adding them one at a time.

Add in the vanilla extract (about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon should be enough) and about 5 tablespoons of caramel. Be sure to taste at this stage to ensure that your caramel isn’t bitter.

Once the ingredients are blended… mix in the fruit. Often recipes call for mixing the fruit into the flour and bunging the flour mixed fruits into the butter, sugar and egg mix, but I prefer it this way.

Add in the flour and baking powder mix (i.e. the dry ingredients) to the wet ingredients, folding it in, a little at a time, till well incorporated (i.e. till a luscious batter is formed).

Then pour the batter into a prepared cake pan. I used a rectangular cake pan (9 1/2 x 7 inches – on the inside)…

Bake in a preheated 150 degrees C oven for about 1 hour 50 minutes (as this cake is rather dense) or till a thin skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. And I still had a little left over to make a heart shaped cupcake.

The baker’s reward!

Merry Christmas!

And here’s wishing everyone a generous helping of peace on earth, a huge dollop of joy and a extra large serving of happiness!

Amen and Shalom!