Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Orange Cake and Minced Meat

Orange cake on my new cake stand from Zansaar

Recently I ordered a cake stand from Zansaar . Seeing it while surfing the site, I fell in love with it and Had to have it! Here it is now proudly standing on my table! The first cake I made was a moist orange cake and since the bottom looked better than the top, I turned it upside down. No embellishments on this one as I made it specially for my first born who came home yesterday and will be here for nearly a month. He likes plain unadorned cakes with citrusy flavours. It turned good...it was moist and the smell of the orange was refreshing! Here's the recipe.

One and a half cups of flour, sieved with the baking powder
One cup of butter, softened+ extra for greasing the tin
3 eggs at room temperature
I tbsp vanilla essence
1 heaped tsp baking powder
A handful of raisins, washed and coarsely chopped
The rind of one orange
The juice of two medium-sized oranges
1/2 cup sour cream (I used the one from Flanders Dairy)
1 cup of caster sugar

Cream butter and sugar and add the sour cream. Break the eggs one by one and gradually mix in. Add the vanilla essence as well as the rind and the juice of the oranges. Fold in the flour till the mixture comes together. Then add the chopped raisins into the mixture. Pour into a greased tin (I used one with a floral pattern), give it a few taps on the kitchen work top to remove air bubbles and bake in a preheated 180 degrees oven for thirty to thirty five minutes. Check with a skewer  and remove if the skewer comes out clean. Let it cool, preferably on a wire rack.

Minced meat: a wonderful accompaniment with rice or roti
Another of my son's favourite is minced meat which I made for dinner. Along with other goodies, minced meat is what I cook on his first day home (after a gap of many moons). It's lamb mince and cooked with plenty of onions, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, chilli, and turmeric powder. It's garnished with finely chopped serrated coriander. 

For months at a stretch our house is an empty nest. I look forward to the day when my sons come home. Even if it is for a short while, our house comes alive....As for the activity in my kitchen, my posts will tell you.:-)))

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Naplam Achar/Fermented Fish Pickle

A jar of pickle and freshly cut anthuriums/ferns light up my kitchen table
The fermented fish/naplam that is so loved by us is made into chutney, khari, and pickle. Today I made this pickle adding some dried shrimp and dried fish. 
Most of the ingredients that go into the pickle. Only the oil, turmeric and  salt are not in this photo

About 200 grams fermented fish
100 grams of dried shrimp
100 grams of dried fish, cut into half inch pieces
Ginger, I used a 3" piece
Garlic, I used about 30 cloves
10 large onions, grated
One packet of hot chilli powder
About half a litre of mustard oil
A few Indian bay leaves/tejpatta
Salt to taste
Coriander powder (optional)

Wash the shrimp, check for grit and drain. Chop the dried fish (I used Bombay duck) into half inch pieces. Wash and drain. Do the same with the fermented fish. 

Heat oil in a karhai. When it comes to smoking point, add the bay leaves and then the onions. Fry till the onions turn translucent. Then add the ginger and garlic pastes.

Keep frying then add the turmeric and chilli powder. if using, the coriander powder can be added at this point. The dried fish and the shrimp can go in now. When the pickle is nearly done (you can tell by the look and the colour) add the fermented fish. Fry only for a few more minutes as it will get cooked in the hot oil, then turn off the gas. Check the seasoning. The entire cooking time will be between 20-25 minutes. Cool and bottle. The pickle will keep for 15-20 days without refrigeration.

The turmeric I used was preserved in vinegar. A visitor on seeing my turmeric plants in pots had told me that she slices them, keeps them in vinegar, and eats them straight from the bottle. Just a few slices a day. The health benefits of this spice are many. Well I tried it but the taste was so awful. But I'm glad I have some home-grown turmeric in vinegar and that is what I used in this pickle.Coarsely ground, of course. Traditionally, turmeric is cleaned, boiled, sliced and dried in the sun before being powdered. It's a long process. I prefer to use the fresh ones when they are dug up around March/April. The rest of the time I use the powder form from local growers.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Sweet Taste Of Home

The sweet taste of home came in a crate this morning. Mangoes wrapped in paper so they would not be battered or bruised as the long journey through the worst roads that my home district of Dima Hasao is known for. But they came intact, as if they had just been plucked off the tree in our backyard, the same tree which saw many of our growing-up years. And the changes in our garden that  reflected the health of the family. The years of my father's fight against cancer and finally his passing away were also the years when the garden nearly went to seed. I feel blessed that I still have a surviving parent, my mother, to send us the fruits of the season and for my brother and nephews to do the needful to get the package delivered to us. Luckily for us, my two sisters also live here in the same city so we get to share all the gifts of my mother's garden together. Healthy garden produce is also a way of saying that all is well, or surviving, or on the road to recovery....

These mangoes have been left to ripen. Fully ripe mangoes would surely rot in this heat and in the 350 kilometre journey. We were reeling at 38 degrees Celsius these past few days. It's come down a bit today but the sporadic rain has brought no respite. I made a salad that's good for a summer day. A little tart, a little sweet, and a little spicy. The ingredients that went in are:

1 tender cucumber
1 nearly ripe mango
1 green chilli
A small bunch of vegetable fern/daomalai
A teaspoon of coarsely grated pepper
Salt and sugar to taste
The juices of the mango for the dressing

Only the tender part of the fern was used in this salad. The fern was blanched and placed on iced water. The mango and cucumber were finely shredded. I made a bed of the ferns on the plate and in a separate bowl, I mixed the rest of the ingredients with the dressing and the seasoning. The single chilli was sliced lengthwise and placed right on the top. This salad goes well with rice, dal, and other accompaniments.For another salad with vegetable fern as the main ingredient, you can check out my earlier post here.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Baking The Basic Bread

Fresh from the oven. I tend to go overboard with the sesame seeds...love that crunch!

Baking and that too bread, came rather late in life to me. The thought of proving the dough, keeping it in a warm place, proving again, all that seemed a long and tedious process to me. Comparatively, our Indian flatbreads did not need that much of effort and they were always considered easy to make. Growing up with seeing something made in the family kitchen made it all seem more effortless.It was much later that I started to appreciate the process itself and long and tedious are certainly not the words that I would associate with bread-making. It's a creation that is satisfying and although I've read about this much earlier than I actually got to experience it, the smell of bread in the oven is heart-warming. Since then I've had countless such moments, and every moment is still as loved, and as precious as the first.
But that doesn't mean that I haven't had my failures. Who baked the hardest bread? Me! And whose dough did not rise? Mine! Blame it on the yeast or whatever the causes, am I glad I didn't give up! 
Plain buns and dinner rolls with black sesame seeds

The kind of platter that I love: fresh bread, fried sausages, and cucumber with crushed peanuts

The recipe that I follow for the basic dough remains the same.

1 level tablespoonful dried yeast (I use Tesco)
2 level tablespoonfuls sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
450 grams of flour 
Some vegetable oil/olive oil or melted butter+ extra for greasing the bowl
Warm water

  1. Heat some water in a pan till it comes to a comfortable hand temperature. If the water is too hot it will kill the yeast and if it is not warm enough, the dough will take a longer time to rise.
  2. Put the yeast and a tablespoon of sugar in a bowl. Pour some of the warm water, give it a gentle mix and leave it in a warm place for about 15 minutes. The yeast is ready when you see the froth on the surface.
  3. The remaining sugar and salt should be added to the water that is left in the pan.
  4. Put the flour in a large bowl or clean working surface and rub the oil or butter into it.
  5. Form the flour in a circular wall and pour the dissolved yeast in the centre.
  6. Start mixing by flicking the flour from the outside of the ring into the liquid in the centre. When the liquid has absorbed enough flour to form a sticky dough, work in the rest of the flour.
  7. Knead the dough for about eight to ten minutes. The texture will turn smoother as you work the outside of the dough continuously to the centre.
  8. Grease a large mixing bowl and drop the dough in it. Cover it with a damp kitchen cloth and keep it in a warm place to rise. It will double in size after 40-45 minutes.
  9. Put the dough on a lightly floured working surface and knead it to distribute the air evenly adding as little extra flour as possible. The dough is now ready to be shaped into how you want to bake your bread.
  10. Before the bread goes into a hot oven, brush with beaten egg and scatter (optional) the seeds of your choice. 

For the sesame seed knots I roll the dough into  sausage shapes and tie them in knots. I love adding plenty of sesame seeds or flax seeds. I also like to add herbs and some coarsely grated pepper depending on what kind of bread I'm baking. There are several recipes I'd love to try out and I think I'll soon be getting there.

Happy baking to you all!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jambu Muffins

I'm making the most of the jamun season (jambu in Dimasa). Sharing them with the birds, friends and family, as well as incorporating these lovely berries in my cooking. Today I made these muffins using the ripest ones. The ripest also means the deepest of purples and the sweetest.:) 


1 cup jamun with the seeds removed
100 grams butter, melted
100 grams fine sugar
2 large eggs
A quarter cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of grated lemon rind
One and a half cups flour, sieved
One teaspoon baking powder sieved with the flour


Pre-heat the oven. Mix the wet ingredients together (I used an egg whisk) and gradually add all the dry ingredients till fully incorporated. The berries were added last and folded into the mixture. With a tablespoon fill the muffin cases, a little above the halfway mark. I used a muffin mould where I placed the cases. Bake at 170* C for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Blending Flavours is on Facebook. Hope you stop by and check out my page. Thank you!

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Vegetable Pie & A Failed Tart

Today's pie was inspired by The Good Cook's recipe of a cheese and onion pie. I ended up using more ingredients than cheese and onions but ever since I saw that show it was at the back of my mind. More so because he talked about his childhood and the smell of his mother's baking (this particular pie). No matter how old one may grow, food fragrances from childhood remain forever.I have mentioned before that I started baking pies and tarts rather late but now I'm comfortable about clubbing ingredients together rather than think about how the combo will turn out.. And since Simon Hopkinson makes everything look so UN-complicated, his recipes are worth trying out.

Looking at these photos, I'm tempted to say, don't judge a book.....!! But it was actually delicious! Whenever I make some pastry dough I always make some extra so that I can keep a (pastry) shell or two in the fridge. The filling that went in are:-

Ten cheese slices
Three onions, sliced and fried in butter
Two boiled potatoes lightly fried in butter
One roasted beet, finely sliced
One roasted carrot, shredded
Salt to taste
Coarsely grated pepper

All the ingredients were mixed and placed in the shell. The cheese slices were layered between the veggies. I rolled out the pastry top, made the patterns with a fork and pricked a few times in the middle of the cover. A light brushing of egg and it was ready to go into a preheated 180 C oven. After thirty minutes it was cooked and the browning was even. We had it during tea-time and it was still slightly warm.

Plums are now in season and since they are only slightly tart and mostly sweet. After tasting them I thought I'd make a few plum crumble tarts. This picture was taken before the crumble topping went in. It was a mistake that I learnt the hard, time-consuming way. It would have been different if the plums came from a thousand miles away, in the cooler parts of our country where cherries, almonds and apricots grow.:) Baking made them more acidic that I now know I'll never be using them in my baking. They're only good for chutneys, jam and sauces. Most fruits in our region are very acidic. They turn sweet only when they are overly ripe and about to fall off the tree. No wonder fallen fruit tastes so much sweeter!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cooking With Teasle Gourd /Hangathai

One variety of gourd available during the summer months is the teasle gourd. We love its mild taste and the fact that it can be cooked in a variety of ways makes it popular. It's a climber with tuberous roots. The roots are usually on sale during January/February so that they can be planted before the year's first rains come. That is when the shoots make their first appearance. By May and well up to August these gourds can be consumed. The tender leaves are also edible. Sometimes I add the leaves to fried potatoes or to paneer dishes. It does taste somewhat like spinach.

The most common ways of cooking the teasle gourd is to chop them fine and fry them. The tender ones can be halved and cooked in dal. We also like to add them to fish curries and in mixed vegetable sabzi. These are also stuffed with potatoes or some other filling and fried in batter. In Dimasa, it is called hangathai. Apart from cooking all the above ways mentioned, we also make them into a chutney with fermented fish, hot chillies, onions, and herbs.

Today I fried them in batter without stuffing them. It's a simple form of cooking but still delicious. Although this vegetable is also known as the Spiny gourd, the "spines" are tender and can be left on. But most cooks prefer the cleaner look and scrape away the spines. I boiled the veggies till they were nearly done. They should still be firm after they are removed from the water. Then I cooled and halved them. The batter was made of chickpea flour to which I added a teaspoon of grated ginger/onion/green chillies. The rest of the ingredients that went in are salt, nigella seeds (less than a quarter teaspoon), a pinch of turmeric, some red chilli powder, cumin and coriander powder, and finely chopped serrated coriander.

The boiled and halved gourds were dipped in the batter and fried till they turned brown on both sides. With the little batter that remained I used it up by chopping two onions and fried the onion rings. More chopped coriander (serrated) were generously scattered over the fried gourds.

To make stuffed gourds, the innards are scooped out after boiling them. A prepared filling of your choice can be put in the shells, dipped in batter and fried. Adding a bit of rice flour to the batter makes them crispier. The scooped out flesh can also be added to the filling or they can be added to other vegetable dishes that you prepare.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dera a.k.a. Alpinia nigra

The dark green leaves, the tender stalks, and the fruit

One of our region's popular vegetables is the Alpinia nigra. From the family Zingiberaceae it grows to a height of about 3 feet. The leaves look somewhat like those of the turmeric. The plant  has a faint gingery smell very much like galangal. The stalk and the fruit are widely consumed. Known as dera in Dimasa, this vegetable is usually cooked in a khari that is thickened with rice flour. It is also made into chutney with the addition of hot chillies, fermented fish, alkali, chopped onions and salt. The fruit (derathai) resembles miniature banana flowers. Only the harder outer skin is removed while preparing the vegetable. The innards are pretty much tender so they can be lightly steamed and boiled and mashed into chutney.
The tender stalks and a dish made from the same
In my hometown, this plant is a common back garden feature. So other uses, apart from eating also comes up. For instance if you notice that some of the chillies or tomatoes are ready for the picking and you haven't carried a basket with you, never mind. Just cut a leaf or two, and wrap up the harvest in those leaves. A dried stalk from the same plant works as good as a string to tie up and carry the produce back to the house. Bamboo "strings" are of course the most commonly used in our region to wrap up and tie up produce before selling them. Two of these examples can be seen in my pictures.

The pretty blooms of the Alpinia nigra
The vegetable dish in the collage was made with the tender stalks (deragong) of the Alpinia nigra with the addition of diced potatoes, eggplants, chillies, ginger and garlic pastes, turmeric, salt, chopped tomatoes, coriander and cumin powder. It was cooked in mustard oil and garnished with finely chopped serrated coriander. Good with plain rice or even with roti.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Polenta Tart

Seeing a lot of polenta cooked on TV, I got a packet (Agnesi) recently and tried it out. Many of you reading this must be familiar with polenta recipes but this was a first for me. I read up online and also referred to the recipes in the May issue of BBC Good Food magazine. Polenta is an Italian word for hulled and crushed grain. Sand-like in texture, it can be cooked in water or stock, eaten as a porridge or baked, fried, and grilled. I have yet to try out the other ways...baking was the first option.

I cooked the polenta , about 150 grams, in chicken stock first. Although I measured 500ml of stock, I didn't need to use the whole lot. Then I let it cool before I emptied it into greased tart tins with removable bottoms pressing towards the sides as well until the tin was fully covered. The cheese I used was what was in the fridge at that point of time. Sold as Cheezza, it's a blend of Cheddar and Mozzarella. Nearly 200 grams of grated cheese was used on the tart. Before the cheese went in I sliced three tomatoes and seasoned with coarsely grated pepper and very little salt. Although the recipe said that the polenta should be baked before the filling went in, I completely missed that. I baked the tart with the filling, till the cheese started to brown a bit. As for the taste, well, I loved it. And that gorgeous yellow colour would make you want to try it again!! There's surely going to be more polenta-based dishes in my kitchen.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Jamun Season!

Jamun juice
Picking some berries for the first time this year called for a celebration. I removed the seeds, crushed them a bit, poured water and let them steep for an hour in the fridge. Then I added a dash of lemon, sugar and a touch of salt. It was wonderfully refreshing. The juice can also be made by boiling the fruit in water. The colour gets more intense when the fruit becomes fully ripe.

The fragrant blossoms(in the first picture) attract a lot of bees and butterflies
Every year when the jamun/Indian blackberry starts to ripen, there's more bird activity on my tree. The slightest tinge of dark pink shows up by the end of May and in my head I go yay. I don't really notice until the ground where some juicy ripe fruit has fallen becomes a picnic spot for the most common birds in our area. I'm glad some birds don't have to venture out too far during this season. My home-grown sparrows and two crows are practically living on the tree. That's during the day. I'm not a big fan of crows but these two left the nest on my mango tree recently and maybe they would have flown for food or away but since the berries are abundant they are still hanging around.:)

Nothing tastes better than home-grown!

The photo above was taken a few years ago. This fruit is known by several names like the Java plum, black plum, and jambul. It goes by the name jamun in many parts of India. In Assam it's called jaam and in my mother tongue we call it jambu. Its botanical name is Syzygium cumini and it's native to several south-east Asian countries. According to Wiki, the jamun has been spread overseas from India by Indian emigrants and at present is common in former tropical British colonies.

The fruit is slightly acidic but we love to have the really ripe ones as they turn soft and sweet. Because of the presence of anthocyanin, a plant pigment, having the fruit colours the tongue purple. 

Jamun chutney
I also rustled up some jamun chutney today. In some oil I added panch puran and whole dried chillies. Then I added a quarter teaspoon each of  coriander, cumin, turmeric, and red chilli powder. Sprinkled some water so that the spices would not burn. Then I added thirty pitted berries with one large sliced tomato. Stirred for a while then added a dash of salt and two teaspoons of sugar. After a few minutes, it was time to remove the chutney from the fire. The combination of sweet and acidic was wonderful!

Jamun reminds me of my childhood. During the hot days of summer we would sit under the tree and have the fruit with salt. The smell of fallen fruit would fill the air. It wasn't just these berries. It was the combined smells of other summer fruits like mangoes, passion fruit, and jackfruit. Overpowering! Jamun also reminds me of a wine recipe that my blog friend Helen of My Rustic Bajan Garden  gave me a few years ago. Here it is.

To make the wine get a large covered plastic or ceramic container. Place several cups of jamun. Do not wash the fruit. Add sugar to the top, about one cup to every two cups of jamun. Add cinnamon and cloves. Cover and leave in a dark place for twenty one days and no longer. Remove jamun and spices. Strain and bottle.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Joy Of Cooking!

Chocolate/citrus cake for my niece, Sunaina

The last days of May went off in a flurry of visits...to my sister's and a few friends. The school results (classes ten and twelve) were announced and that called for celebrations. At my sister's, her eldest daughter Sunaina, (the one who's being fed a piece of cake as her mother looks on) is likely to pursue her career in medicine. I had made the cake by adding the rind and the juice of a sweet grapefruit. The flavour was light but refreshing! After pouring the ganache, I made the swirls with a knife. Everybody loved it...the swirls and the taste!!:)

Breakfast fare
My younger son is also home now for the summer break and it's a joy to have him around. The breakfast of puri (puffed Indian flatbread) and Kabuli chana (chickpea) was what he woke up to on his first morning home after several months. Fried chicken  with lemon grass, roast pork and all the delicacies are made on a regular basis. It's a more laden table:) now, not only for him but for anybody who drops by. The joy of cooking/baking has increased manifold!
Some of the (recent) baked goodies from my kitchen
The Kairi tarts were made again as the mangoes are about to ripen. I'll have to wait another year to bake these...this sweet tart has already established itself as a summer treat!

Here's to all youngsters who have crossed the first hurdle. I wish you all a bright future!