Monday, February 6, 2017

Matcha Cake With Chocolate Frosting & Candied Pansies

Matcha cake with chocolate frosting and candied pansies

This was a week ago. When we had a sudden shower at night, my first thought was about how glad I was that I had picked my pansies during the day. Or the rain would have caused some damage to the delicate petals that I had so gently picked to decorate this cake. I had made the same kind of cake a few weeks ago for a family meet and it was well appreciated. And this time we were expecting guests all the way from Germany, friends of my sons, and I thought this would make a good 'welcome' cake.
I started with the flowers. Since drying them takes some time, I did not wash them after they were picked. But in the morning while watering my plants I sprinkled a lot of water on them so they were as good as 'washed'.
Candied pansies

Then they were placed on a platter and I brushed each with egg white. Then I dusted icing sugar on them and they were left to dry for about 4 hours. In the meanwhile I made the cake.

11/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons matcha powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
100 grams butter at room temperature + extra for greasing your cake tin
I used a 7" round cake tin

Sift the flour, matcha powder and baking powder in a bowl. Set aside.
Cream the butter and the sugar till the mixture becomes pale and fluffy.
Add one egg and mix till it is well incorporated in the mixture. Repeat the process with the other two eggs.
Add the milk and mix again.
Fold in the flour/matcha powder/baking powder mix.
Transfer the batter into the greased tin and bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Remove and let it cool. Then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack.

For the chocolate frosting:
200 grams dark chocolate
200 ml cream (I used Amul Fresh Cream)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Break the chocolate into small pieces by putting it in a plastic bag and bashing it with a rolling pin.
Melt the chocolate on a double boiler. Make sure that no lumps remain.
Add the cream and the vanilla extract, Give it a good mix and set aside till it cools down. 
Assembling the cake:
As soon as the cake is cool enough to be handled, cut it into two vertically.
Cut the 'dome' from the top so that the surface is even.
If you feel that the cake is a little dry you can add some sugar syrup all across the surface of the two 'roundels'.
Place the bottom part on a plate and pour the frosting on it. Spread it with the help of a palette knife.
Now place the next layer and pour the remaining frosting. Cover the sides with the help of the knife with the frosting.
Place the candied pansies all across the surface of the cake.
Let the cake remain in the fridge till the frosting is 'set'.
Candied pansies

Our guests loved the cake. And they loved the flowers! It was worth making this cake. Despite its simplicity, the pretty edible blooms made all the difference. And no prizes for guessing which annuals yours truly will be growing again next year.:)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Toffee Bananas

Toffee bananas
Toffee bananas
When I first saw this classic Chinese dessert on Food Safari, I couldn't wait to try it. But other recipes came in between and this one never got made. So when my sis-in-law sent me two bunches of beautiful bananas the other day, I thought I should do them justice by making this dessert. These bananas are locally known as Jahaji.
I only used one and a half.:) Receiving produce in that quantity, I have to gift some away as well. With three people in the house and one who does not have bananas, even one bunch is too much!
With bananas, the variation that is mashed and mixed with flour, sugar, cream/milk and made into fritters is a popular snack.
Coming back to the recipe, it's the one on the SBS website. The recipe is by Danny Yeum.

50 grams self-raising flour
25 grams cornflour+ extra for dusting
90 ml cold water
Vegetable oil for deep frying
2 bananas, peeled and cut into thick slices diagonally
120 grams white sugar
A bowl of iced water for 'setting' the caramel
Black and white sesame seeds for sprinkling
Ice cream to serve
I halved the recipe and left out the ice cream. Maybe another day. And since I do not usually use self-raising flour, I added a pinch of baking powder to the flour.

Whisk together the flour and the baking powder mix. Add the cornflour. Then add the water and whisk into a smooth batter. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the mixture.
Heat a wok and add enough oil to fry the bananas.
Coat each banana slice in cornflour (you can toss them in the flour). Dip each banana slice in the batter and fry. The frying can be done in batches till they turn golden and crisp. Drain on a paper towel.
Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and cook till it turns into caramel. Shake the pan in between.
Remove from the heat and add one fried banana to the caramel. Turn so that all sides are coated.
Then plunge the caramel-covered banana to a bowl of iced water to harden the caramel. Drain immediately.
Remove. Repeat till all the bananas are used up.
Transfer the bananas to a serving platter and sprinkle the black and white sesame seeds on top.
The crunch of the caramel as you bite into a fried banana slice is wonderful. 
I couldn't make mine look as good as the one on that site but as for the taste, I'm happy! 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Curried Lentil Flour

Sometimes, when there is too much to be done, help comes in the form of Ali. When he comes I can sit back rest assured that the window panes need not be checked for specks of dirt or any weed in my small planting area is left unattended. He is so good at his work that he has been a godsend on several occasions. He is a daily wage earner and a father of five daughters and one son. Every time he goes home which is several hours away from our city, he brings back some fresh garden produce. In summer it's mangoes and in winter it's sweet potatoes and leafy greens. This time he brought more greens and a small packet of black lentil flour. My first thought was...fritters! But he told me that it's usually cooked into dal. 
Spiced black lentil flour
And he told me that it was spiced with chillies, turmeric, and other masalas. I took a whiff and it was aromatic in an earthy way. And the fact that it had been roasted before grinding made it even more fragrant. Since this was new to me I thought I would send this as an entry to MLLA (My Lentil Love Affair) an event being hosted for this month by one of my favourite bloggers, Rafeeda of The Big Sweet Tooth.

1/2 cup toasted and spiced black lentil flour
1 large onion, peeled and diced fine
1 medium onion peeled, sliced and fried in enough oil to a golden brown
A pinch of cumin seeds
A pinch of fenugreek seeds
1 tsp mix of garlic and ginger pastes
Salt to taste
2 green chillies, scored lengthwise
2 tejpatta
Coriander leaves for garnishing

Put the lentil flour in a bowl and add about a cup of water. Mix it till no lumps remain. Set it aside.
Heat a pan and add the oil. As soon as it comes to smoking point, add the tejpatta and the cumin and fenugreek seeds.
Add the chillies and the diced onions and the garlic/ginger paste.
Cook till the onions turn pale and then into a light brown.
Pour the flour and water mix. Add enough hot water as needed depending on the consistency that you like.
Cook for about 10-12 minutes on medium flame till it thickens slightly. It should be like a thick dal.
Switch off the flame and transfer the contents to a serving bowl.
Garnish with the coriander leaves and fried onions. 

This is excellent with both rice or rotis. I only needed another side dish. In this case it was the saag that came from Ali's garden. As you can see from the recipe that I did not use too many ingredients. But variations can always be made with this recipe too.

Linking this post to MLLA #103, conceptualized by Susan and hosted by Lisa.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Sikarni, A Nepalese Dessert

Sikarni, a Nepalese dessert
Inspiration for this dessert first came from a small book on Nepalese recipes. It was gifted to me by my sister-in-law several years ago. This picture was taken when I made it for the first time using whatever ingredients I had in my kitchen at that moment. Since then I have been experimenting quite a bit with the additions to the dessert.

Sikarni is a curd-based dessert. The time taken is in draining the whey by lining a colander with cheesecloth and leaving it to drain for 12 hours. Later it is taken out and mixed with cardamom powder, sugar or any sweetener and saffron added to warm milk. Then nuts like pistachios, almonds, and cashews are chopped and added to the mix. It goes back to the fridge and is served cold.
This goes very well with most fruits like grapes, apples, bananas, chikoos, kiwis and so on. Fruits like mangoes can be pureed and mixed to the dessert. And instead of ice cream or whipped cream, sikarni makes a nice change served as a topping with fruits.

I used 800 grams of plain store-bought yoghurt. After draining out the whey this was what I got. This weighed 369 grams.

To this, I added a bit of cardamom powder, 3 tablespoons of icing sugar and a pinch of saffron which was mixed/crushed in two tablespoons of warm milk.

This was added to the drained curd and mixed with the help of a beater. Then I used it with different pairings.

With pomegranates. 

With more oranges, seedless black grapes and nuts. 

The next day the curd took on an orange hue in some places from the saffron. I used some jamun syrup I had prepared earlier from frozen jamuns from my tree. This tasted absolutely delicious! 

I had some grated coconut left over from making pithas so I used it for a small tart shell with a coconut crust. With the similarity to labneh (till the point where the whey is drained) it made me think of how good it would be for a tart filling.:) I must say it wasn't the greatest of all pairings but I'm glad I tried it. My newest pansy to bloom took it a notch higher (looks-wise), don't you agree?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Curried French Bean Seeds

Although French beans are available throughout the year, the mature seeds are sold only in these cooler months. I picked up some the other day from the market and couldn't wait to cook this dish. The seeds that are sold are fresh and not dried. So they need not be soaked  before cooking. The dish tastes somewhat like rajma. Cooking with fresh seasonal produce is such a joy!
My backyard has been a hub of activity these past few weeks. Pickles basking in the sun, pumpkin seeds in a sieve, a tray of sesame seeds, orange peel, Indian jujube and chillies, all soaking up the sun. I feel that a little piece of my mother's backyard is surviving in mine.:) Coming back to the beans, I usually cook them like dal but this time I used some chicken stock that added much more flavour.

Ingredients: Serves 6-8
500 grams beans
500 ml chicken stock+the paste of 2 onions and 4 cloves of garlic (details given under "Method")
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 green chillies, scored lengthwise
2 large tomatoes, eyes removed and sliced
1 tbs toasted and ground coriander powder
1 tsp toasted and ground cumin powder
1 tsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
A quarter tsp grated ginger
2-3 tejpatta
1 stick cinnamon
2 bruised cardamom pods
Salt to taste
A pinch of cumin seeds
Chopped coriander leaves for the garnish
Vegetable oil, as needed
Wash the beans and transfer them to a pressure cooker. 
Pour some water. The level should be the same as the beans.
At this point I also added onion and garlic paste. Both were added to the stock earlier (I left the skin on) and these were taken out. Both were peeled and ground and the paste added to the beans.
Add the cinnamon stick and the bruised cardamoms. Add a bit of salt and cook for two whistles. The quantity of salt added at this point is not much as the stock was well seasoned.
Meanwhile heat a pan and add the vegetable oil.
Throw in the tejpatta and the cumin seeds. As soon as the seeds sputter, add the green chillies and the onions. Cook till the onions are translucent. Add the turmeric powder and cook till the raw smell goes off.
Add the tomatoes and the rest of the spices and cook till the mixture is done.
Pour the stock and add the cooked beans. Cook on a medium flame ill the mixture is homogeneous. This might take about 20 minutes.
Take out about two ladles of the cooked beans, mash them with the back of a ladle and put the mixture back to the dish. This will make the gravy thicker.
Cook till you get the consistency you desire. In my case, I needed some gravy for rice and rotis.
Switch off the flame and transfer the contents to a serving bowl. Scatter the chopped herbs on top.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dal Jodhpuri

As in most Indian homes, dal is a staple in our house too. You just don't measure or think about the ingredients when you make regular everyday kind of food. On days I don't make dal it's usually khari or curry with enough gravy to mix with good old rice. The recipe I'm posting today is simple but delicious. A few ingredients and the addition of ghee makes it special.

And with the name Jodhpuri one can't help thinking about the amazing cuisine of Rajasthan as a whole. There aren't very many Rajasthani recipes I have made but sangri, gatte ki sabji, kadhi and laddoos have been tried, tasted and loved to bits. Writing this reminds me of our travels in Rajasthan when our boys were quite young. We did a road trip that covered 12 cities and till today that trip remains one of the most enjoyable ever!

Ingredients: Serves 3-4
1 cup chana dal
1/2 cup moong dal
A pinch of hing
3 dried chillies
Turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Cumin seeds
Coriander leaves
Dal Jodhpuri made on another occasion
Wash and soak the chana dal for about an hour. Then transfer the dal to a pressure cooker. Wash the moong dal and add it to the cooker. Add salt and turmeric powder. Add about 21/2 cups water.
Cook for a couple of whistles. Mine is a small cooker. Open the cooker after the steam goes off.
Heat the ghee in a kadhai. Add the hing, cumin seeds and dry chillies.
Pour the dal and cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from the flame and transfer contents to a serving bowl.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
This dal can be served with rice or roti. The addition of ghee makes it wonderful, flavourful and aromatic.
I didn't write the measurement for ghee as it is all about personal preferences. As for me I like to add generous dollops.:)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Beet-stained Egg Salad

Beet-stained egg salad with cucumber, home-grown greens and edible blooms
Magh Bihu, which is also known as Makar Sankranti, Lohri, and Pongal, in other parts of the country, came and went. This is a harvest festival and has agrarian roots. It's impossible not to think of the memories we grew up with associated with the festival. The preparation would start with the soaking and pounding of sticky rice for pithas. The smell of toasted sesame seeds and coconut with a hint of cardamom would fill the air. Luckily for me three of my siblings live in the same city and we often get to spend such occasions together. Over the years the number of dishes cooked have come down but fish like chital (clown knife fish) and duck is a must when we meet up. This year we feasted on two kinds of fish curries and duck with fragrant ash gourd. And there were pithas and other sweets. Pitha is the word for a sweet pancake made of rice flour and has a filling of either toasted sesame seeds sweetened with jaggery or with sweet coconut. They can also be made with all-purpose flour with a little variation in the making process.
And coming to today's recipe, I have been dying to try out these pickled eggs in beet juice. Not only do they look spectacular but the novelty of using eggs in another form was tempting enough for me to make this salad. A few days ago our temperature dipped a bit. All along we had been complaining how this winter didn't really feel like winter and it wasn't cold enough for bonfire nights. And this is also the season when edible seasonal flowers bloom and I couldn't pass up this chance of using the pansies blooming in my pots. Or the spinach plants that the sparrows have somehow spared.

I started with the beets first. They were washed and peeled and went into a pan with enough water to cover them. I put a bit of salt, a few cloves, one cinnamon stick and some peppercorns. I also added a bit of apple cider vinegar to the liquid. This was cooked until the beets were done and there was still enough liquid to 'stain' the eggs. This was cooled and went into a glass bowl. At the moment my jars are filled with Indian olive pickle which is why I used the bowl.
Four eggs were hard-boiled, cooled and shelled. Then they went into the beet mixture and into the fridge. It takes about 4-6 hours for the eggs to take on the beet hue but I thought it best to leave them overnight. The next day the other ingredients I used were:
4 beet-stained eggs, halved
1/3 cup pickled beets
1/3 cup pomegranate arils
A bunch of baby spinach
A bunch of micro-greens (I used a variety of brassica I'm growing)
1-2 sprigs of fresh basil
A few edible flowers (I used pansies)
1 small cucumber, sliced thin with the skin left on
With edible flowers, it's best to use home-grown organic ones as you don't know what pesticides might have been used in the ones available in the markets.

For the dressing:
2 tbs lemon juice
Sugar as per taste
Salt as per taste
1 tsp freshly-grated black pepper
A generous drizzle of olive oil
Mix the sugar and salt with the lemon juice in a small bowl or jar. As soon as the mixture dissolves, add the other ingredients and give it a good stir. Set aside as you prepare the salad.

Arrange the cucumber slices around the serving platter. Then do the same with the eggs. Scatter the rest of the ingredients but make sure the star ingredients are not hidden from view. Garnish with the flowers. Give the dressing another good stir and drizzle it on top of the salad. Enjoy!
I let the yolks remain as they were. If you want more elements of taste, you could take out the yolks, mix them with more salt/pepper/herbs. I liked the taste of the eggs. There was a bit of sweetness from the beets and the aromatics did their job very well!
Last year I used home-grown pansies to decorate this cake.