Say Cheese! … Goan Pao Bread goes Cheddar

039It’s good to be back where it all began, here at ‘The Cook, The Baker and The Clay Boy Maker’.

I’m the laid back sort. I think I’ve said it before. Frankly, I tend to say it every now and then just in case someone out there hasn’t heard it yet and mistakes me for one of those hyperactive, eager-beaver sorts. But then, it’s what I received as part of my heritage, being a good Goan that is (read: person from the beautiful, sunny, beach-kissed land of swaying palm trees known as Goa or “amche Goi” as we like to refer to the motherland, or simply, “our Goa”). The only difference between me and the local ‘poder’ (pronounced po-dere) or baker from Goa is that I would most definitely swap the ubiquitous bottle of fiery Feni that they swig down without batting an eye or twitching a muscle, for dainty sips of a good Merlot or Reisling.

But then, I did pick up a bottle of Feni the last time I visited Goa, only because the bottle was ceramic and had that lovely old-fashioned look to it, and because it would make a nice addition to the pots and bottles sitting in my little balcony garden, probably with a nice money plant growing out of it. The only problem is I haven’t got down to drinking the Feni yet. Perhaps I shouldn’t talk about drinking, given that it’s Lent and the very least I can do is not talk about alcohol even though I did have a glass of wine recently. But then so did my priest at mass.  

So back to the good old pao which we Goans so love and cannot do without, that Goan Christians in particular have come to be named after it. So we’re referred to as ‘Macs’ by all and sundry, which comes from the Konkani “maka pao di re” or “give me bread”.

Pao is nothing more that a pillowy soft and fluffy, pull apart bread. In the old days when I was very young and Goa was on the family annual holiday list., toddy (sap which is tapped from palm trees) was used to ferment the dough and give it that lovely aroma and flavour which is missing from the pao you get in the market today. I haven’t used it in my recipe either but I decided to elevate the humble pao in my own way and used a lavish sprinkling of Sharp Cheddar both in the dough and on top of the bread just before baking.

Flavour??? Yup!!! There was loads of it.

017So here’s the list of ingredients –

3 cups AP Flour (+ extra for dusting etc)

2 tsps active dry yeast

1/2 cup tepid water (+ extra if required to form a smooth and elastic dough)

1/2 cup milk

1tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup Evoo (+ extra to line your bowl etc)

1 cup grated sharp Cheddar (+ extra for grating on top after brushing the loaves with milk)

2 tbsps full cream milk for brushing the loaves

Make sure you prove the yeast for 10 mins in the water along with the teaspoon of sugar. Add the frothy yeast mix to the flour to which you’ve added in the salt. Add in the milk and knead the dough well for at least 12 – 15 minutes. Leave it to prove in a dry place for at least 2 hours. Once the dough has more than doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and knead it lightly. Roll it out and sprinkle on the grated cheese, bringing the dough over in the folding motion. Sprinkle over the balance cheese, ensuring that the dough has been evenly dotted with cheese throughout. Shape into even sized balls and either place on a prepared baking tray or in a baking dish. about an inch to an inch and a half apart. Cover and leave the loaves of pao to prove again for at;least another hour to an hour and a half.

Preheat your oven for at least 20 – 30 minutes at 220º C. Once the dough has doubled or trebled in size, brush the tops with milk and grate on some more cheese, as liberally or sparingly as you like. You could also do an egg-wash instead on the milk, but then the cheese gives the top of the pao such a lovely golden hue when baked, that the egg-wash seems quite unnecessary.

Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes… allow them to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes…

020021… before turning the loaves out onto a cooling rack for an additional 5 to 7 minutes…

024… and go pao crazy.

Cut into it and slather on some butter. Or just tear it apart and dunk glorious fragrant, warm chunks of luscious cheddar pao bread into your favourite gravy or curry. Believe me, it does go with everything.

037Enjoy!

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Spinach, Sundried Tomato, Cheddar and Oat Loaf and a cheer for Barack Obama

Finally!

Yes finally there’s a political leader with more to him than just talk. Coming from a country which still clings on to a relic left behind by its erstwhile colonial rulers who back in the day were known for their prudishness, I’m ashamed to say that we in India still largely follow many of the laws laid down by the British who ruled us more than a century ago. And even though the British themselves have evolved and moved on with the times, we haven’t kept pace. One of those archaic laws is the one that criminalises homosexuality, making it an offence punishable with imprisonment. That this law exists, even though it’s largely on paper, is often used by greedy cops to extort money from young men seen roaming together or sitting in close proximity, whether straight or gay, or by parents of gay men or women who refuse to bow to extreme societal pressure by getting married to persons of the opposite sex and chose to come out instead. A 2 judge bench of the High Court in Delhi sought to decriminalise section 377 of the Indian Penal Code a couple of years ago, a step in the right direction. But the law still exists in the statute books as of date. The matter now before the Supreme Court of India, with various individuals and religious organisations coming together in opposition.

Which brings me to North Carolina’s anti gay marriage stance and the Constitutional Amendment which effectively denies any and all legal rights to same-sex couples, and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, sticking his neck out in an election year and making clear his support for equal rights to all people, including marriage for same-sex couples.

Whether it was Joe Biden’s earlier endorsement of the same which compelled him to take a stand as some may say, or whether he as a father of two young children growing up in a world which sees hatred and bigotry growing by the day, chose to lead by example rather than sit atop a fence, Barack Obama came good and stood up to be counted.

Jesus, I believe my dear Mr. Obama, would certainly approve.

To all those right wing red-necks who believe that Jesus was western, white, and vindictive, I’d simple like to point out that they are wrong. Jesus came from the Middle East, was probably olive-skinned and had dark brown hair, was born and died Jewish. There is no record of him celebrating his birthday, though he faithfully celebrated the Passover in keeping with his Jewish roots, and to all accounts he was forgiving, kind and loving. A man who didn’t cast stones, embraced ‘harlots’ and ate at everyone’s table. Yes, I am a Christian, and that is the Jesus I believe in.

And continuing with all things wholesome… here’s my bread for this week… A Spinach, Sun-dried Tomato, Cheddar and Oat Loaf

I haven’t baked a loaf of bread in a while and I seem to have developed a fondness for bread which is chock-full of things that are… good for ya!

This is a pretty dense loaf and I was worried that all the water in the bread, including whatever was in the spinach (though I did squeeze it out dry) may cause the loaf to collapse, but it held its own and I was quite pleased with the end result.

I would ideally have preferred to use Feta in this recipe instead of the Cheddar cheese I ended up using, but I couldn’t find any on the day, so…

Here are the ingredients –

Step 1 –

3/4 cup instant oats

1/2 cup AP flour

1 cup hot water

1 teaspoon salt

(Mix these ingredients well and leave standing for 20 minutes)

Step 2 –

1 cup + washed and finely chopped spinach

3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes (bottled in olive oil and garlic)

3 tablespoons EVOO

1/3 cup grated Cheddar

4 cloves of garlic (minced)

Step 3 –

15gm fresh yeast

3/4 cup warm water

1/2 teaspoon sugar

3 1/2 cups AP flour + extra for dusting, kneading etc

3 tablespoons instant oats for topping

1 egg mixed with a tablespoon of milk (for brushing over the loaf)

Activate the yeast and add to the Oat mixture (from Step 1).

Slowly add in the AP flour, a little at a time, mixing well as you go. Finally add the spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, cheese and the EVOO and mix well, so that the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the dough. Knead for about 10 minutes until a smooth dough forms.

Place the dough in a well oiled bowl, and cover with cling film or a damp towel. Allow the dough to rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Mine more than doubled in 1 1/2 hour.

Knead the dough again on a well floured surface, shape into a loaf and place it into the loaf pan. I pinched the top a little bit. I still had a little bit of dough left, enough to make 4 Buns.

Allow the dough to rise again for an hour, slash the top of the loaf with a sharp knife, brush on the egg-wash and sprinkle on some instant oats. Preheat your oven for 20 mins at 230° C. Once the oven is hot, reduce the temperature to 200°C, place the loaf in the centre of the oven and bake for about 40 minutes.  Let the Loaf cool in the pan before turning it out on to a wire mesh to cool completely. Slice into it only when the bread has cooled thoroughly (about 40minutes to n hour after you take it out of the oven).

The buns I baked at 230°C for 25 minutes.

This bread makes a great sandwich with some ham and cheese. And is a wonderful accompaniment to a big bowl of soup or a delicate stew.

Have a wonderful and enlightened weekend! 🙂

Supremely Cheesy Garlic Chive Crackers and the Buddha who lost his head

My Buddha lost his head the other day. 

He’s been with me for well over a decade my little stone Buddha. Surviving treks and trips across the country, being carted around in haversacks dumped on dirty railway platforms and in the cargo hold of planes, and through weeks of silent meditation… not to mention a Labrador named Shanti who hid him deep within the recesses of her ripped-apart bed one day when she wanted to vent at being left alone at home for too long. I honestly expected him to emerge on her walk the next morning thinking of how she would get him out of her system. We’re talking stone here… But silly me, because it was Shanti who had the last bark and a change of heart and led me to where she had sequestered him. It was all so funny, I cracked up, hugged her and I swear I could hear her give a little doggie-giggle in glee when I turned my head away. So yeah my Buddha’s been a constant companion over the last decade.

And then quite unexpectedly he loses his head.

Incidentally I’m all for venting. I believe it to be good for digestion, though I fully subscribe to the Buddhist notion of it being devoid of any trace of anger… crazy, huh? So now you think I’m nuts, or on something. Seriously people, I haven’t even tried weed, let alone other more potent stuff and now that I’m stepping into the mid 40s I doubt I’m going to start. Though I understand that menopause can get you to do really crazy things.

But getting back on track I suppose you’re wondering if it’s even possible to vent without anger. After all, isn’t the purpose of venting just that, to express anger towards…???  Someone. But it isn’t… and I’m not talking some cockamamie bs here. Anger is self-destructive. Corrosive, it eats away at our insides burning holes in our bodies, minds and souls if you believe in them, while the person whom you thought your anger was directed at walks away without a care in the world. Stick n stones…

But that doesn’t mean that you ignore a situation gone bad, address it by all means but with a measure of calm. It is truly okay when we’re overrun to look for avenues to express the feelings that arise within us but with the least possible damage to ourselves. While some may choose to pray or meditate and by observing their anger watch it dissipate, others may walk or run till their legs ache and sheer exhaustion distracts them from their previous state of being. I also believe that you won’t quite qualify for the loony bin if you choose to look up at the sky and just scream or better still make sure no one’s watching you do it unless it’s your best friend who knows what a nut-job you are anyway. Venting can be quite therapeutic when it’s directed at no one in particular.

Which of course brings me to comfort food and crackers. I absolutely love crackers and I’ve never baked them. Silly, huh??? And its not just any old cracker I’m talking about here. I’ve been craving cheesy crackers. It was this huge bunch of garlic chives that I saw at the supermarket and promptly picked up on which I squarely lay the blame. But having never baked crackers before I was a bit worried about proportions and then I came across this recipe for Cornmeal and Chive Crackers from Pitchfork diaries and adapted it, omitting the cornmeal component entirely and using two different kinds of cheese, a sharp aged yellow Cheddar and Gouda. The result was a flaky and delicately crisp, but oh so cheesy cracker with the flavour of the garlic chives coming through all the way. I added white and black sesame seeds for a bit of nuttiness and that extra crunch.

Here are the ingredients –

¾ cup all purpose flour (extra while kneading and for dusting as required)

3 tablespoons butter – melted (microwave for 15 seconds)

3 tablespoons each – Sharp Cheddar and Gouda Cheese

4 tablespoons garlic chives – chopped

Pinch of salt (you can omit this as I discovered later)

½ teaspoon black pepper (crushed) 

1 tablespoon each – lightly toasted (cooled) white and black sesame seeds

Start by microwaving the butter so it begins to melt, then add the cheese and stir to incorporate. Once the cheese is all mixed in, stir in the chives and mix well. Sift the flour onto the butter-cheese-chive mix, add the pepper (you can omit the salt) and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the dough. Knead till all the ingredients are well assimilated to a soft dough.

Divide the dough into three balls. Cut out two strips of parchment paper and after dusting one of them with flour, place one of the dough balls onto the parchment and press down to flatten. Sprinkle the dough with flour and cover with the second sheet of parchment. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough as thin as you can possibly roll it.

Make sure that you roll the dough out from the centre to the edges since you want even thickness throughout.

Lift the top parchment off carefully and cut into shapes using cookie cutters or a steel ruler and pizza cutter like I did and prick the rectangles with a fork or a skewer to prevent them from puffing up while baking. Repeat the process for the rest of the dough balls.

Lift the rectangles carefully off the parchment paper onto a parchment lined baking tray with a spatula and bake them in a 180° C preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes or till they turn a light golden brown.

Cool the crackers on the baking trays itself once you take them out of the oven, before transferring them onto a cooling rack. I had some with ricotta… Cheese all the way! And they’re great on their own, especially with a hot cup of tea. 

I even had some at dinner with curried black-eyed beans, and they were delicious.

And I had some for dessert the next day with a lychee ice-cream.

Well, to get back to the Buddha I must say that I was a bit disheartened when he went over the edge and lost his head, but I managed to glue it back on, and he looks none the worse for wear.

And yes a dear friend ordered me another from Amazon which is en route 🙂

Enjoy your Sunday and have a great new week!

 

 

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!

Cheddar and Currant Cornmeal Cookies

These make the perfect dessert cookies. Not too sweet, these cookies are good on their own as well, but taste better when served alongside a fruit compote or a scoop of your favourite ice cream or sorbet.

I’ve used a mild cheddar here and not the sharp cheddar I prefer for my cheesier cookies… so while the cheese acts as a binder, bringing together the rest of the ingredients, it does not overwhelm the flavour of the cookie.

And yes I drizzled (err… poured) a rum infused syrup over them while they were still warm….

Cheddar and Currantcornmeal Dessert Cookies

Spring Onion, Double Cheddar and Bacon

Okay I’ll admit that I’m a bit partial to muffins… They are versatile, playing their role as hunger pang fillers and meals in a bite… depending on how hungry you are. And then there’s the clincher – they can be both sweet and savoury.

What gives ehh!

Which means that you can pack these mini mouthfuls of wholesome goodness with just about anything you like. I personally tend to be more partial to savoury muffins and well… the proof is in the picture…

Spring Onion, Double Cheddar and Bacon MuffinsEnjoy!