Basil and Seed Loaf and a BLT

In one of her letters to Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf wrote:

“… does it strike you that one’s friendships are long conversations, perpetually broken off, but always about the same thing with the same person?”

The beauty of friendships is just that. That despite the ebb and flow of life taking it places, crashing it over rocks, battering it against embankments, and sucking it into whirlpools, there’s always that unseen thread, that one stray link that binds friends together, whether it’s a common interest or a pet peeve. And so we banter, we fill our lives with words, with conversation… but as Virginia said, it’s “about the same thing with the same person”.

Which makes me grateful for all my friends and acquaintances, people I’ve had the good fortune to have encountered, who’ve filled my life with their presence, for howsoever short or long a time it may be or have been. People I’ve known for much of my life, and those I’ve only just met or have only encountered in virtual space… I’m grateful for all, for everything… and for Virginia Woolf who made me fall in love with books and reading, and expanded my mind and heart in ways I never thought possible. And who made me realize that it’s okay to be a maverick, and a non-conformist and to cock a snoot at the world, and cook and bake and clay boy make, and paint cartons because I’m falling short of storage, and if I have to keep them around for a little while longer they may as well look pretty.

Speaking of all things nice, I just baked a loaf of bread, a seed loaf, a Basil and Seed Loaf that I’ll be sending across to Susan at YeastSpotting.

Packed full of goodness, this loaf is nutritious and makes fantastic sandwiches, which is great because summer brunch on most days ends up being a sandwich, open or closed, with or without a salad on the side. These sandwich loaves are wonderful sliced thin or thick, or even cut into croutons and toasted to be tossed into a salad or as a garnish for a cold or hot soup. I love the crust on this loaf and that happened because I placed a tray full of water on the lower shelf of the oven and sprayed the inside walls to create steam.

I used a variety of seeds in this loaf, sunflower, melon, black and white sesame and flax seeds, toasting them a bit, and then cooling them completely before adding them to the dough.

Here’s what you’ll need –

2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour

12gms fresh yeast

3/4 cup warm water

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup powdered milk

1/3 cup mixed toasted seeds  

2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

3 tablespoon sun-dried tomato flavoured Extra Virgin Olive Oil (aka evoo + extra for lining the bowl, coating the bread pan and for brushing the loaf before baking)

All you have to do is activate the yeast with the sugar and water, before adding the flour, powdered milk, evoo and salt. Mix to form a rough dough. Now add the toasted seeds and chopped basil, making sure that it is well distributed throughout the dough. Knead for a good 10 – 12 minutes. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave the dough to prove for 2 hours.

Post first prove

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead after the first proving, then shape and transfer the loaf into an oiled and cornmeal dusted bread pan. I rolled up the loaf, just for fun and left it to prove for 1 ½ hours.

Rolled up… Just like that!

Made a couple of slashes into the loaf when it had risen with a sharp knife, brushed the top with some evoo and placed the loaf into a pre-heated oven into which I had placed a tray on the lower shelf.

I wanted to create a lot of steam for this loaf in order for it to get a lovely crust, so I poured some water into the hot tray, sprayed the inner walls of the oven with water and shut the door. You’ll need to spray the walls of the oven a couple of times during the baking process, but be quick and don’t open the door too much. Bake the loaf for 35 minutes at 190°C.

I turned on the grill element for a bit right at the end (5 minutes or so) to brown the top of the loaf, keeping an eye out to ensure that it got evenly browned.

Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 10 minutes then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing into it.

All rolled up…

Look at that!

This loaf is great eaten with loads of butter…

But it also made an excellent Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich… An open-faced BLT I dished up at brunch the next day with a Lettuce, Bocconcini and Cranberry Salad.

Now… If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I always say that everything tastes better with bacon and booze, not necessarily in that order and not necessarily together. This recipe uses just one of my favourites… Bacon, marinaded in Barbeque sauce, Dijon mustard and honey with a couple of twists of the pepper mill and then pan fried…

Bacon!

I then paired my BLT with a light and refreshing salad with a dressing that used some of the same marinade that I coated the bacon with.

I may as well give you all the ingredients at once just to make it a bit easier… have all the ingredients in place… mise-en-place. 

For the Sandwich you’ll need –

2 slices Bread (I used my Basil and Seed Loaf… sliced 1/2″ thick, and toasted with a drizzle of evoo)

3 – 4 rashers back bacon (marinaded and pan-fried or oven roasted)

2 medium tomatoes (blanched, quartered and deseeded – marinaded in 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar + 1 tablespoon evoo with a pinch of black pepper)

2 large chillies – roasted, skinned, deseeded and drizzled with 2 teaspoons of the Salad Marinade

(I used a local variety of fat green chillies called Bhavnagri Chillies which had a fair amount of bite to them, perfect for my sandwich)

a small handful of Rocket leaves

1 – 2 large leaves of Iceberg lettuce (torn up)

For the Salad –

a large handful of Rocket leaves

a large handful of Iceberg lettuce (torn up)

3 – 4 pieces of Bocconcini

a handful of dried cranberries

large pinch of black pepper

1 teaspoon Orange zest

For the Bacon Marinade –

2 tablespoons Barbeque sauce

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

(You’ll need less than half the marinade to coat the bacon. Reserve the rest for the salad dressing)

large pinch of freshly milled black pepper while frying the bacon

For the Salad Dressing –

the rest of the bacon marinade

juice of 1/2 lemon

juice of 1/2 orange

pinch of black pepper

1 tablespoon evoo

(Mix the dressing well and chill till required)

To construct the sandwich lets get started with pan frying the bacon, for which I brushed the pan with just a wee bit of oil, then lowered in the slices of marinaded bacon and cooked them on a medium to low flame till the fat melts and the bacon starts to get gorgeously caramelised. I love those little burnt looking bits on top… and I’ve got to admit that I started with 4 rashers and was left with 3 to make my sandwich. The one found its way into my stomach as soon as it was out of the pan and it was delicious 🙂

So once the bacon’s done, keep it aside and get started on the bread, slicing and then pan- toasting the slices with a drizzle of evoo. Let the bread cool down a bit before you start assembling.

First to go onto the gorgeous bread is the lettuce which I tossed in some of the salad marinade. Followed by a layer of tomato, then topped with a layer of green chillies and finally topped with the bacon…

Rocket and Iceberg Lettuce

Plum Tomatoes

Roasted Large Bhavnagri Chillies

Now that’s a BLT!

For the Lettuce, Bocconcini and Cranberry Salad – start by tearing up the lettuce into a bowl, toss in the cranberries and zest the orange. Then tear up the Bocconcini and add it to the salad, spoon over the chilled salad dressing. Toss and serve immediately.

Now drizzle some of that salad dressing (if there’s any left over over your BLT and enjoy…

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Mini Quiche… Two for One

My love for quiche is a fairly recent one even though I’ve been eating them over the years. Some have been good, others decent, some sinking like lead and most of them way too eggy. The delicatessen counter at a well known 5 star hotel in Mumbai used to dish out a fairly decent spinach quiche, but a couple of bites and my stomach would feel like it had been through a 5 course meal. Can you imagine heading back to work after one of those and hoping you’d get through the afternoon and evening without …. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ….

And then one day I started baking my own pies and quiche… and seldom ate one that was deli or store bought after that.

I used a simple flaky pie crust recipe for these, tweaking it a bit, and adding in some spice, just for fun.

For the Spiced Flaky Pie Crust you’ll need –

1 1/4 cup AP flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon paprika powder

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 cup cold butter (cubed)

3 – 4 tablespoons ice cold water

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the butter and cut it into the flour. I used a cold fork (refrigerated) to break the butter down, and once that was done, I used chilled fingertips (mine, of course, rubbed with an ice cube till hey were short of numb ;-)) to mix the butter into the flour till it resembled coarse breadcrumbs. Now add the icy water, a tablespoon at a time, and working fast knead to form a dough. Cover the dough with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 – 6 hours or overnight.

So now that you’ve got the dough all ready and sitting and chilling in the fridge you can get down to the business of the filling for your quiche.

I decided to make two different fillings, and follow two different methods. The first one had the filling put into the pastry with the custard poured on top, and the second quiche had the filling folded into the custard and spooned into the pastry lined tray.

Now I don’t recall if I’ve said this before, but I’m not really a big fan of full sized pies or quiche. They intimidate me, even though I’m quite aware that I can cut out just the portion I want. But anyway… what, or seriously where would I be without my little quirks, and mind you, I have quite a few of them. So I used my good old inch deep mini muffin trays to make these obviously mini quiche(s).

Quiche # 1 –

Duo of Mushroom with Babycorn*

Duo of Mushroom with Babycorn Mini Quiche

Ingredients –

4 – 5 ears of babycorn (depending on the size) – sliced

1/4 cup button mushrooms (sliced)

small handful of fresh baby oyster mushrooms

1 spring onion (sliced fine)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon butter

 pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper (freshly milled)

4 medium cloves garlic

1 large green chilli (sliced down the centre, deseeded and sliced into semi circles)

Toss the spring onion with the garlic in hot oil, add the babycorn and sauté for a minute, before adding in the mushrooms, the butter, chillies and seasoning. Toss on high for a minute and turn off the heat. Keep aside to cool.

*(The filling is enough for at least 12 mini quiche, but I used just half the quantity as I was only making one 6 muffin tray full.)

For the custard you’ll need –

3 eggs

1/2 cup milk (I used low fat milk, but you can use full cream milk if you like)

2 tablespoons sour cream (omit this if you’re using full cream milk)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper powder (freshly milled)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cut grated cheddar

1/3 cup Cheddar Cheese for topping (grated)

Whisk the eggs, add the salt, pepper and nutmeg, and keep beating. Slowly add the milk, and finally the grated Cheddar. Note that I haven’t used salt in the custard since the cheese will have enough salt, so you don’t really need more.

The custard is enough for at least 14 – 15 mini quiche… so served me well for both the quiche recipes.

Thaw the pie crust for 15 minutes or so before rolling it out to roughly a 2 – 3 mm thickness. Cut out circles using a utter or an inverted circular lid.

Grease the muffin trays with some olive oil or melted butter. Place the pie crust into the trays, evening them out (if required) with your fingertips. Using a fork make a pattern with the tines of the fork in the pastry.

And with a short jabbing motion make 3 rows of holes into the bottom of the pastry, spoon in the mushroom and babycorn mixture, and pour over the custard.

Top with extra grated Cheddar and bake the quiche in a pre-heated oven at 210° C for 20 – 25 minutes, or till the quiche have set.

Quiche # 2

Pan-roasted Eggplant and Zucchini

Creamy Pan-roasted Eggplant and Zucchini Mini Quiche

Ingredients –

4 large slices (1 cm thick) eggplant (pan-roasted and chopped)

1/2 small zucchini (sliced, pan-roasted and chopped)

1 – 2 tablespoons oil for drizzling over the eggplant and zucchini before roasting

! large jalapeño chilli (deseeded and sliced)

pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper

1 tablespoon grated Cheddar  (+ extra for topping)

Combine the above ingredients, and fold into the custard (you’ll need about a cup plus of the custard). Spoon the mixture into the prepared pastry lined muffin trays (I did not tine-design these), grate some Cheddar over the top of each quiche and bake them in your pre-heated oven as before.

A glass of wine would be just perfect now wouldn’t it?

Have a great day!


Dal Chicken (Curried Chicken with Lentils)

I’m done with summer, even though it seems reluctant to let go of me.

I remember the time when I was younger and actually looked forward to summers. But back then summer meant time away from school, and going off on holiday with the family. Summers were also not as beastly hot as they are now, the sun a lot gentler on the skin and when SPF 15 and a sun-hat did the job, though my mum seems to recall that I regularly suffered from sun-strokes every summer like clockwork.

We have of course no one to blame but ourselves as we’ve learnt. The excesses of generations before, taken forward by ours, caused enough havoc before we came to our senses and tried to stem the damage we had done to the environment. Global warming, depletion of the ozone layer, the earth’s coat for many seasons, and CFC’s became words we grew acquainted with… but is it all too late? Sudden changes in temperatures around the world and what can only be called freaky weather patterns started emerging worldwide. Unexplained snowfall in areas that had never seen snow and sharp peaks in temperature around the world have become commonplace. The polar ice sheets are melting at an alarmingly rapid pace and we realise that we are hurtling down the road to extinction with brakes that no longer work like they used to and worse still, with a gaping hole in our gas tank.

In short this summer’s been beastly! A good thing for beer companies and the government if you ask me, both of who make a pretty packet out of our misery. One could always try drinking fresh fruit juices, but with inflation at its peak, and at a dollar for one decent juicy orange, it’s not within everyone’s reach. So water is at the end of the day your best bet, even if you have to buy the bottled options, the only down side is that it doesn’t come in flavours 😉

Summer also means eating light, especially during the day, but then there are those occasions when the body and mouth craves something more substantial. So one night I thought I’d rustle up one of my favourite meals…

Dal Chicken or Curried Chicken with Lentils.

Dal Chicken garnished with spicy potato straws and peanuts

This dish can be made with red meat or with chicken and has three different dals (lentils) as its base. I’ve used split and hulled red lentil (masur dal), split and hulled moong dal and split and hulled black gram (urad dal… which is cream in colour once its black outer coat is removed).

Here are the ingredients –

500gms chicken on the bone (cut into pieces)

3/4″ piece of ginger (minced)

4 – 5 cloves garlic (minced)

juice of 1 lime (+ extra to finish the dish)

(marinade the chicken in the ginger, garlic, lime juice mix and keep refrigerated overnight)

1/4 cup masur dal

1/4 cup yellow moong dal

1/4 cup urad dal

(wash and soak the above dals overnight – then parboil and reserve)

1 medium onion (sliced fine)

1/2 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sambar (sambhar) powder ( you should get this in stores that supply Indian spice powders)

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon kashmiri chilli powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala (1/4 teaspoon while frying the spices and a 1/4 teaspoon at the end to finish off the dish)

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

small sprig of curry leaves

2 green chillies (deseed if you don’t want it too hot)

2 small dried or fresh bay leaves

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon + salt

2 teaspoons chopped fresh coriander

1 heaped teaspoon ghee (clarified butter)

pinch of dry mango powder (aamchur powder)

This dish involves quite a few steps but it’s well worth the effort, and makes for a soul satisfying meal.

Start by frying the sliced onions in the oil till they start to caramelise. Add in the curry leaves and the chopped tomatoes, with a pinch of salt and fry on high for 30 seconds, then reduce to low and simmer covered for 10 minutes till the tomatoes completely break down. Add the bay leaves and the powdered spices and fry them on low (lowest flame) for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Now add the chicken, one piece at a time, and turn up the flame a notch so that the chicken gets browned just a bit. Add the marinade, and a cup of warm water and bring the chicken to a simmer before turning down the gas to low. Cover and cook the chicken for 12 – 15 minutes before adding the pre-boiled dals, the chillies and a teaspoon of salt. Top with another 1/2 to 3/4 cup of warm water, cover and cook for at least 20 minutes (If you want your curry thinner you may want to increase the quantity of water to a cup or so).

Now add the balance garam masala, 2 teaspoons chopped coriander, a rounded heaped teaspoon of ghee or clarified butter (you can omit this if you like, but it makes the dish taste so much better), a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of dry mango powder (optional).

Allow the dal chicken to rest for at least one hour if not more before you re-heat and serve, this allows all the flavours to come together.

Serve the Dal Chicken garnished with potato straws or plantain chips on a bed of white rice alongside a light refreshing salad.

Oh…don’t wait for me… Go right ahead and dig in!

Smoked Chicken Noodle Salad with Lychees and Sesame Seeds

I’m in the mood for nice light lunches… errrr… brunches, especially since it is the weekend.

What else can you do when its blazing hot outside and the rain clouds are nowhere in sight, but to make yourself a pitcher-full of margaritas or pour out a nice cold beer, pop a movie into the DVD and eat something light and tasty.

I was thinking salad… a noodle salad. Now I must say that I prefer my noodle salads cold rather than hot, especially when the temperature outside is hovering dangerously close to the 40° C mark… and when lychees are in season.

Oh yeah… you heard me right. Lychees… yummm

I had contemplated keeping the salad vegetarian, but then a rather delicious breast of smoked chicken called out to me and begged to be added. And I couldn’t refuse. Tossing in a plump but rather spicy green chilli, which I deseeded.

Here’s the list of ingredients for this super-delicious salad –

150gms smoked chicken breast (sliced thin)

2 medium to large tomatoes (remove the seeds and the pulpy insides)

7 – 8 lychees (remove the seeds and tear into halves or quarters depending on the size of the lychees)

1 medium spring onion – sliced fine

1 large chilli (deseeded and sliced)

2 teaspoons white sesame seeds + extra for topping

1/2 teaspoon black sesame seeds (for topping)

80 – 100gms noodles (precook the noodles till just done –  i.e. boil, drain and then toss them in a tablespoon of sesame oil and a few spring onion greens)

4 – 5 small cloves of garlic (minced)

For the dressing you’ll need –

1 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon chilli soy

 1 teaspoon honey

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

 pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon demerara sugar

pinch of white pepper powder

Whisk the ingredients for the dressing and chill for 10 – 15 minutes before using.

Combine all the elements of the salad except for the noodles and the dressing.

Just before plating up, mix in 1 1/2 tablespoons of the dressing into the chicken salad and toss. Plate up the noodles. Spoon over the smoked chicken salad, drizzle over some more of the dressing and sprinkle on 1 – 1 1/12 teaspoons of white and black sesame seeds.

We, The Women Of This Generation, Can End Female Genital Mutilation Worldwide – #GayeCrispin #SayNØkay2FGM

Came across this link on GreatPoetryMHF’sWeblog and just had to share it. Do visit the link below and sign up to try and stop this horrendous and dangerous practice. Together we can make a difference.

We, The Women Of This Generation, Can End Female Genital Mutilation Worldwide – #GayeCrispin #SayNØkay2FGM

I was also quite shocked when I found out a while back that FGM is still practised among certain groups of people in my own country, India, and I hope the U.N. Resolution prompts governments such as the Indian government among others to make definite and focussed efforts to stop this practice.

Tuna Melt with Mustard on Homemade Bread

There’s nothing better than breakfast seated at an open window, letting the cool early morning breeze caress you while you watch Parakeets, Bulbuls, Sunbirds, Koels and a couple of Eurasian Golden Orioles, squawk, chirp, screech and coo make the most of it before the merciless summer sun comes blazing down on them forcing them to beat a retreat into denser foliage.

Oh! Who am I kidding!

Okay the part about the birds is true, and so is the part about the early morning breeze coming in through my windows. But I’m not so much a breakfast as I am a brunch person. I’ve tried, honestly I have, but I’ve been this way since I was a kid. The only way I ever did eat breakfast was if my mother was sitting right there at the table with me, watching me down my glassful of milk and shovel down my cereal/porridge and eggs with toast or whatever else was on the breakfast menu for the day. My mum was a firm believer in the adage, “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper” and she staunchly follows it till date.

But now that I’m all grown up (or so it says on my driving licence) and no longer live with mum, I get to choose my meal times, which usually consists of coffee, and more coffee with the occasional fruit at breakfast, followed by numerous little meals during the day. Leisurely brunches however remain my favourite and most preferred mealtime, which is where this post is headed. And on the menu today is a favourite, the classic Tuna Melt Sandwich.

Now would you believe it if I told you that I had my first Tuna Melt when I visited Canada on work way back in the early 90’s. Yeah, it was that late, and it was love at first bite. Lusciously creamy, the portion thankfully not all that huge, I definitely went back for seconds.

My first stop on that particular trip started off with Montreal, a city I fell in love with because of its beautiful architecture, not forgetting the delicious escargot I ate at a delightful French restaurant, one of my favourite places on some of those evenings when I had to dine alone, with just a good book for company. It is strange though that I can’t seem to remember the name of the restaurant, though I distinctly recall the face of the sommelier… typical eh?

But before I digress, No… the Tuna Melt wasn’t on the menu at the French restaurant, but was from a deli near my office… packed to go. And it was heavenly!

Here’s my take… spiced up… but of course.

I used a 200gm can of tuna chunks in light olive oil, flaking it with a fork, adding 2 teaspoons of yellow mustard seeds which I lightly pounded, to release their flavour, and about a 3/4 teaspoon of black pepper. To this I added 1 1/2 tablespoon of mayonnaise (try and make your own if possible, but you can also use a good store bought variety), and a heaped tablespoon of butter.

Next chop and add two small spring onions and a green chilli (seeds and all) to the tuna mix, and one medium tomato, from which I removed the inner pithy part including the seeds and chopped it up fine. Season with some salt (according to your taste), 10 – 12 capers roughly chopped, and a good squeeze or two of lime juice. Finishing it off with some chopped flat-leaf parsley… Yum!

Oh those tart and delicious capers!

p.s. Do not over-mix the tuna, as you want the tuna to be flaky and not turn into a pâté.

Another important aspect of a good tuna melt is the bread selection, and I used my Spinach, Sundried Tomato, Cheddar and Oat loaf for this recipe, slicing the bread quite thin and toasting the slices on both sides, on a pan till they turned crusty and brown.

Let the bread cool a little before piling the tuna mix onto it and top it all with any cheese that melts (I used Mozzarella) as generously as you can. I used about 150gms over four slices, sprinkling on some black pepper and snipped up spring onion greens.

Transfer the toasts onto a parchment lined baking tray and bake them in a preheated oven at 210° C, turning on the grill element for a few minutes, but keeping an eye out because you don’t want those luscious snowy blanketed toasts with their pepper and green onion toppings to get browned and/or burnt.

So I finally sat by my window, with my delicious Tuna Melt Open Sandwiches, juice and coffee on the side, and watched the birds who were still frolicking around since the sun hadn’t yet reached its zenith, and took a nice big bite of stringy Mozarella topped mustardy tuna goodness… Then closed my eyes and thanked God for everything I’ve had the good fortune to experience and enjoy.

And yes before I go, I have to thank the beautiful and extremely talented Dolly at http://allaboutlemon.com/ for nominating me not just for another Versatile Blogger Award but also for a Beautiful Blogger Award which I shall be passing on soon. And then as a special treat Dolly also passed on something she and her daughter designed themselves… a beautiful badge that says “You are Loved” which I’ve posted on my page. Do click on it and it will take you over to Dolly’s blog which many of you may have visited. But if you haven’t… You Must!