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.


If it’s Tuesday Orange Pancakes, and a doze of ethics

The Tuesday just before the Lenten season begins with its prayer, fasting and reflection on our humanness, and of being dust and returning to being one with it, has been and will always be synonymous with… Pancakes!

I’m talking crêpes, the thin, curled at the edges kind of pancakes I grew up eating every Pancake or Shrove Tuesday from the time I could eat solid food. But now my kitchen’s been laid siege to, ambushed by a couple of painters who are trying their best to overcome their natural instinct to dawdle and still do their work with a smile, while nodding sagely at every comment I make or fault I point out, and then promptly forgetting it the next moment. But they’re a nice twosome. The older one with his collection of racy Bollywood songs on full volume and a mobile phone with 3G on cricket match days so he can watch the Indian cricket team lose to Australia and then to Sri Lanka in the tri-series during his break, lamenting loudly whenever the home-team drops a catch or loses a wicket. The younger one, eager to move on as he told me yesterday, and away from a career in house painting to start a food stall selling fried batter coated spicy potato balls called batata (potato) vadas. 

They work in tandem to get the job done these two and they’re not bad. Better than most I’ve encountered before them, they get through their day cracking the odd joke or two, sans any protective gear against the acridness of the primer they apply to the walls, or from the dust they inhale from sandpapering the walls. They’re simple folk, the older one hasn’t been to school, taking up jobs within a certain radius of his home because he cannot read the destination on the bus, even when its written in the vernacular. But he’s happy that I understand and attempt to speak his language, even though my attempts are at best atrocious.

I should inform you now that India is a country where hundreds of different languages and dialects are spoken, so it’s impossible to know them all. That said, it pays to know the local lingo, howsoever broken your attempt may be. So I pop by every now and then and engage in banter with the guys. It helps get the job done.

My kitchen still needs a couple of coats on the highlight wall, a brilliant yellow, but they ran out of colour… again. I’m planning to have a couple of words with the painting contractor when he drops by next, but given that he did that with my bedroom as well, it seems like the norm. The concept of ethics when it comes to work is still a very niche concept in India, with customer service way down the pecking order of things. ‘You want, you buy, and you shut up’ the mantra, or, perhaps it’s… ‘I’m working isn’t it, so what’cha cribbing about’.

A school friend who now lives in Canada and works as a physiotherapist there, once complained about the patients at the hospital where she worked. Many of them on state sponsored medical care, they cribbed about the wait and the quality of treatment, and just about everything else, she said. Those were the moments she thought most of home. Of having to wait hours in the waiting room of a doctor’s clinic, despite paying an average of 200$ US per visit, for just for a 5 minute consultation. No chance of reclaiming your money unless there’s something seriously wrong with you which warrants surgery. Then you can add that tab to your Medi-claim bill, cross you fingers and send up a prayer to the Lord that the doctor spelled your name right, and hope that the consultation fee was for something related directly to that surgical procedure. ‘Proximate cause’ and all that spiel.

Medical Insurance is big business in India, and human life here (and I suppose in many countries around the world), cheap and dispensable, not to mention that we’re all potential cash cows. So you better take that medical insurance policy, pay your yearly premiums and hope and pray that you don’t need to use it. The government does precious little apart from implementing new schemes mostly in rural areas for the economically deprived, most of which are prone to misuse and abuse from within that hallowed bunch of government servants themselves. Can you imagine one woman delivering eight babies in a five year period and we’re not talking multiple births. Now where are those Guinness Record guys when you need them. So the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) gets scammed of hundreds of thousands of rupees, with fake birth claims and cataract operations on non existent patients, and my medical insurer loads my premium when I put forth a claim for money already paid for an essential surgical procedure. That, when the amount I have claimed is less than half the amount I’m insured for. I wonder if it happens around the world, but I’m really peeved with my insurer. So I’m increasingly on my knees praying to the Lord to keep me healthy. I just hope I don’t need to get my knee-caps replaced.

Speaking of prayer, I started this post with pancakes. So yesterday once the painters had left for the day I managed to reclaim part of my kitchen and whipped up a tiny batch of pancakes. I couldn’t let the day go by without at least trying to whip up a couple even though my kitchen was quite bare. Rather than stress myself out, I decided to go with what I had instead of griping about what I didn’t. And I ended up with a delightfully light and tiny, but extremely delicious batch of Orange Pancakes. All it took was some self-rising flour, an egg, orange juice and yoghurt instead of milk. I added in a little nutmeg, grating it on the edge of a serrated knife, and a little sugar (just about a teaspoon) to counter the acidity from the citrus. The next time I make these I’ll zest the orange as well, but the zester was packed away.

Batter meets butter...

I love crisping up my pancake at the edges, so they don’t just look like they have a frilly edging of a different colour, but the texture provides a lovely contrast to the softness of the pancake. Then place some cut segments of a lovely plump orange all along the centre, before drizzling over some condensed milk.

My mum’s Pancake Tuesday pancakes are filled with sweet and juicy grated coconut with raisins, with a touch of rose water and cardamom. So these pancakes are a departure from tradition as I know it, but they were delicious nevertheless.

Paint Update: They’re still not done with the kitchen, and I’ve plateaued as far as take out goes. Another bite shall make me… I’m not saying the word. After all, this is primarily a food blog.

Have a holy Lenten season.