Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pinca, Croatian Easter Bread

Pinca, Croatian Easter bread
Pinca, Croatian Easter bread
The Google community Foodie's+ challenge for this month was the Croatian Easter bread known as pinca. The bread which is also known as sirnica or pinza is (from Wiki) a traditional Dalmatian, Istrian and Bay of Kotor Easter sweet roll. It is also popular among other parts of Europe such as Slovenia and Italy.
Pinca is eaten to celebrate the end of Lent because it contains many eggs. Along with Easter eggs, pinca has remained the centrepiece of the family breakfast in areas where it is eaten.
I did take part in the challenge on Saturday by baking my first pinca but somehow the texture wasn't right. But the taste was so good that I baked it again yesterday. I wasn't part of Foodies+ community till recently but a message from blog friend, Indrani Sen changed all that. The recipe is by Jasmina Brozović.

Here's the recipe by Jasmina Brozović from the site:
750 g all purpose flour
2 sachets (14 g) dry yeast
170 g sugar
pinch of salt
1  sachet vanilla sugar
75 g butter
75 g lard
150 ml warm milk
80 g sour cream
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
40 ml rum
40 g raisins
50 g mixed candied fruit
finely grated zest of 1 orange
finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

Egg wash:
1 whisked egg

1. Soak raisins in rum.
2. Sift flour into a bowl. Add salt, sugar and vanilla sugar.
3. Dissolve yeast in warm milk and add to the flour mixture. Add eggs, yolk, sour cream and citrus zest. Then add candied fruit and raisins together with rum. Knead until soft dough forms. Make sure to knead it for about 10 minutes. Cover with clean kitchen towel and let rise in warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
4. Punch the dough and knead it again, adding melted and cooled butter and lard. Cover with clean kitchen towel and let rise in warm place until again doubled in size.
5. Shape the dough into 5 round loafs and place them onto baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Let them rest for 30 minutes. Using kitchen scissors, cut a cross into the surface of each bun. Brush the surface with whisked egg and let stand for 10 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 180 C.

7. Bake for 30-35 minutes. While still hot, brush again with whisked egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Pinca, Croatian Easter bread
Fresh out of the oven
I did make a few changes. I didn't have lard and sour cream. My attempt at making sour cream did not happen. It remained exactly like cream even after the addition of buttermilk to cream and left to stand overnight at room temperature. So I used yogurt. Since candied fruit isn't easily available here, I made do with raisins (a little more than what the recipe stated) and about a dozen candied cherries. And I added an extra egg and felt good about it.:)
The smells that filled the house was amazing. Last time the cuts on the bread were too deep and this time I was so careful that I ended up cutting not deep enough.:( 
Pinca, Croatian Easter bread

I tasted a piece as soon as the bread had cooled down and I was very happy with it. This is one bread I'll be baking at regular intervals. It's wonderful with tea or coffee and even for breakfast. And sometimes, instead of a gift of a cake (I usually do that) I think it will be a pinca that I'll be carrying with me.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Green Tomato Sauce

Green tomato sauce
Green tomato sauce
My little gardening space would be incomplete without tomatoes in March. Only a few have started ripening among the plants that I have. Earlier I used to feel bad about plucking green tomatoes but not any more. At least not as much as I used to feel. This morning I plucked about 30 tomatoes. You can see from the picture that the sizes are small. Ever since I read about green tomato sauce on Mark's blog, I knew I had to make it. Green tomatoes are available in the markets in our city's outskirts but the pain of going out to get them is a bit too much. Growing your own is so much better. I did do a bit of URL hopping and came across a recipe that cooks the sauce in the oven. And I went with that.
Roughly 500 grams tomatoes
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
2 large onions, peeled and chopped fine
1 tsp chilli powder
Chilli flakes
Freshly ground pepper
Salt as per taste
Sugar for the balance
Olive oil
A small bunch of basil  
*Wash and chop the tomatoes. I didn't remove the skin by blanching them. And I also added a few ripe cherry tomatoes and a couple of the regular ones that were about to ripen. The few reds didn't make much difference to the colour.
*Heat the oil in a pan and add the garlic and onions. Let them sweat for a few minutes before you add the chopped tomatoes.
*Add  the rest of the ingredients except the basil and give it a good stir. Transfer the contents to a baking dish and finish off the cooking in the oven at a low temperature for about 45 minutes. ( If you are using a Dutch oven the entire cooking can be done in one pan).
* In between you can check the seasoning and make adjustments.
* When done, remove from the oven and let it cool. Blitz with a hand blender if you want a smooth texture. I used the back of a spoon and kept it chunky. 
Before serving, garnish the sauce with a few sprigs of basil.
The first thing I did was cook some pasta for lunch. I loved it and there isn't that much of a difference between the usual red tomato sauce and this green one. And now I'm thinking that this will go great with our rotis and puris too.:)
The quantity of chilli flakes and ground pepper will depend on personal taste.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lemon & Poppy Seed Loaf Cake (With Lemon Glaze & Pansy Flowers)

Lemon & poppy seed loaf cake with lemon glaze and pansies
I have a fascination for edible flowers but there aren't that many blooms in my containers that I can happily use as a garnish for my cooking. I did grow pansies years ago when I didn't know they served a dual purpose. With my three plants flourishing in one pot, I thought it would be a good idea to decorate this lemony cake dotted with toasted poppy seeds with the colour purple.

Whereas nasturtiums are slightly pungent, pansies have a mild taste. I heard that the sepals can also be consumed. For me I prefer sticking to petals. Whole blooms look so beautiful on salads...I have been drooling over several images...
Out of the oven
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup butter at room temperature + extra for greasing the loaf tin

3 tbs lemon juice
2 level tbs toasted poppy seeds

For the glaze: I got the recipe here.
1 3/4 cups of icing sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp salted butter

Butter and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
Sieve the flour with the baking powder.
Cream the butter and the sugar till it turns pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs one after the other, mixing the next after the previous one has been incorporated in the mixture.
Add the lemon juice and the poppy seeds and mix.
Fold in the flour/baking powder mix.
Pour the batter in the prepared tin.
Tap the tin to remove any air bubbles and bake in a 180C oven for 30-35 minutes.
Remove when the cake is golden brown or when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove from the pan after 10 minutes. The liner makes it easy to do this.
Mix the ingredients for the glaze until no lumps remain.
Prick little holes all across the surface with a skewer then pour the glaze on top when the cake is still slightly warm.
Garnish with the pansies.

The glaze looks thin because as I poured the lemon juice, more than what was stated in the recipe accidentally went in. I could have increased the amount of icing sugar but I left it at that. I think it was good enough with the juice and the grated rind cutting down the sweetness. For the benefit of the pictures I picked up some dried and withered blooms and scattered them around the platter.
This tastes wonderful with a cup of afternoon tea. What otherwise would have been just another plain cake got an uplift with the addition of these few blooms. Flower power.:)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pear, Apple & Strawberry Pie

Pear, apple & strawberry pie
Pear, apple & strawberry pie

With all the buzz going on about the British Pie Week (7-13 March) I thought it would be apt to bake one today. I did bake a grape pie the other day but the crust didn't look all that good so I didn't post it. But seedless black grapes look wonderful and taste even better in a pie. That's what I found out. Any mention of the word 'pie' makes me go weak at the knees.:) Savoury ones...more so. But with strawberries in season, I wanted to use them so it had to be a mix of fruits in the pie. There are many recipes out there using the same in a pie but in my case, it was making use of the meagre harvest that I usually get. And it was more to do with adding flavour than filling up the shell when I first started using them. Just a few of these berries added to apples or other fruits makes a delicious difference.
Pear, apple & strawberry pie

So today, I decided to use pears and apples and a few strawberries. These strawberries are not from my pots.
For the pastry dough:
200 grams flour, sieved
100 grams chilled butter, cubed + a little extra for greasing the tin
1 large egg
Iced water for sprinkling
{Since the weather is getting hot here, I placed the flour and butter in a bowl and put the bowl in the fridge for about an hour}.
Rub the butter into the flour till the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Break the egg into the mixture and bring the dough together.
At this point if you feel that the dough needs a little more moisture, sprinkle the iced water and let the dough come together.
Divide the dough into two separate balls. This makes it easier to work on the crust/base as the other half rests in the fridge untouched.
Flatten the balls, wrap them in clingfilm and let them rest for at least 40 minutes.
If I plan beforehand, I usually let the dough rest overnight.
The filling: 
2 pears
2 apples
5 strawberries
1/4 cup raisins, wash and pat dry
2 tbs lemon juice
Sugar as per taste
A quarter tsp cinnamon powder
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
A sprinkling of ginger powder
A dash of allspice powder
4 tbs all-purpose flour
Pear, apple & strawberry pie
The pears looked as though they could do with a bit of cooking so I peeled, cored and sliced them. I added a bit of lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Then I placed them in a pan with some sugar (plenty of moisture in those pears) and let them sweat for about 5 minutes.
With the pears taken care of, it was the turn to do the same with apples. But they were kept raw.
The strawberries were washed, hulled, halved and quartered before they joined the apples. 
After the pears had cooled down a bit, I added both the prepared fruits, then added the rest of the spices, raisins and sugar (after tasting). Added the flour to soak up the juices...then I gave it a gentle mix and set the pan aside as I got on with the crust.
The filling was about 21/2 cups. Since apples cook down, I made a pile that was a little higher than the height of my 8-inch pan.
Pear, apple & strawberry pie

The final stage: 
You'll need 1 egg yolk for the egg-wash. Lightly beat the yolk with a bit of water or milk.

Take out one ball of pastry dough from the fridge and let it come to the point where you can roll it out on a lightly floured surface. This can be done as you handle the fruits so that you won't have to wait...
Grease a pie tin. I used one with a removable bottom.
Roll out the dough into a circle that is a little bigger than the tin. 
Roll the circle on the rolling pin and unfurl it on the tin.
Press the edges at the bottom of the tin and trim off excess dough again by running the rolling pin all across the border.
Prick tiny holes with a fork all across the base so that the pastry does not puff up during baking.
Chill it as you work on the top crust.
Pear, apple & strawberry pie
Making the lattice
Take out the other half of the dough. Roll it out into a circle and then cut even strips using a cutter. I don't have a 5 or 6-wheel cutter so my strips aren't all that even.
Take out the prepared bottom crust and place the filling in it.
Now place the strips vertically on top of the filling. Fold back alternate strips and place another strip horizontally.
Repeat the process until the pie is covered with the lattice.
Trim off pastry overhang. With the remaining dough, roll out on a floured surface and cut out two long strips. Using a little egg wash to help it stick, place this along the border of the pie. Press lightly to keep it in place.
If you want, you can use a cutter and cut out patterns for more decoration on the lattice top.
Pear, apple & strawberry pie
Fresh out of the oven
I used a leaf cutter to hide the spaces where one strip ends and the other continues. Since there was enough dough left for a few more patterns I used a leaf cutter and went ahead with a handful of leaves....
Brush with egg-wash and bake in a preheated 200C oven for 15 minutes. Bring the temperature down to 180C and continue to bake till the crust is golden brown. This will take another 25 minutes or so.
Pear, apple & strawberry pie

This pie with its mix of fruits and spices tastes lovely when still warm. Either with a dusting of icing sugar or a dollop of vanilla ice cream. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Black Rice Chicken Biryani

Black rice chicken biryani

I love reading The Telegraph, our local paper that has always described itself as 'unputdownable'. One perk that comes on Sundays is the magazine called Graphiti. And on my top list of weekend reading is the food column by Rahul Verma. Last Sunday's edition had an article titled Beautiful In Black and that was all about black rice. Regular visitors might be aware of my fascination of the same and I have done a few posts on black rice.
But out there chefs are using this ingredient in ways that I hadn't imagined before. Among the many listed, there was walnut stuffed black rice arancini, black rice seafood biryani, the same tossed with assorted vegetables and also stir-fried black rice with teriyaki sauce and shredded chicken. And I recently came to know that risotto cooked with black rice turns out really well. And since I had some in stock, I did the next best thing. Made the biryani. And carrot raita.:)
Carrot raita
Since this was a trial run, I used only two cups of rice and six pieces of chicken with bones. With the latter, that happened to be the stock in my fridge.
2 cups black rice
A mix of bruised whole spices (cardamoms, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks)
3 large onions, peeled and sliced fine
A bunch of mint and coriander, chopped
A handful of cashews
15-20 raisins
6 pieces chicken (I used drumsticks and wings)
1 onion grated
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and ground
A small piece of ginger, peeled and ground 
2 tbs curd
Salt to taste
Chilli powder as per taste
Vegetable oil as needed 
Black rice chicken biryani
About to start the layering
Wash and soak the rice for about an hour.
Meanwhile marinate the chicken with all the ingredients listed below '6 pieces of chicken' for an hour.
Heat some oil in a pan and throw in a few Indian bay leaves.
Add the marinated chicken with all the juices and cook till the chicken is almost done. Add about half a cup of water and let the gravy thicken. This will take about 20 minutes.
Let the chicken cool in the pan as you get on with the rest of the ingredients.
Heat about a cup of oil in a pan and deep fry the sliced onions. I did this in two batches. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper.
In the same oil add the cashew nuts after reducing the flame. Fry for a couple of minutes till they turn golden brown.
Now turn off the heat and add the raisins. The residual heat is good enough for the raisins to plump up. Remove with a slotted spoon.
Heat water in a pan. It should be double the amount of the rice.
Drain the rice in a colander.
When it comes to the boil add the aromatics and then the rice.
Let the rice cook till it's nearly done. With black rice the texture is a little chewy. You might feel that you'll need to cook it a little more but that's how it is...
Drain the rice in a colander.
Take a heavy-bottomed pan and grease it with the oil that was used for frying the onions and the nuts.
Put a layer of rice. Then place the chicken pieces on top of the rice. With a spatula, empty the contents of the pan...the bits of masala and gravy. Sprinkle generously with the chopped herbs. Scatter the golden fried onions and some of the nuts and the raisins.
With the remaining rice, make another layer and scatter the herbs and the fried onions. Sprinkle some warm water over the rice so that it does not dry out during cooking.
Cover with a lid and place some kind of weight on the lid. I used my grinding stone (pestle).
Place the pan on a medium flame for about 10 minutes, then reduce the flame and cook it for another 10.
Let it rest for another 10 minutes before you open the lid.
Transfer the contents on a platter and garnish with more nuts. I use fresh sprigs of mint from my pots.

The carrot raita:
To make the raita I used 1 medium grated carrot. This was mixed into a bowl of well-beaten curd (250g) that had both salt and sugar added to it. The raita was garnished with toasted and ground cumin seeds, red chilli powder and a sprig of mint.
On the rice platter it does look as if the meat and rice ratio is awry. Had it been basmati rice, the plate would have looked fuller. Black rice doesn't 'expand' like the other varieties.
Although I used aromatics, I could well do away with these in my next black-rice-biryani cooking. The house was full of the heavenly aroma of the rice during the cooking process. I added the spices because I was after all cooking biryani!  But I didn't use butter or ghee.
There are several ways of making biryani and this must be the simplest of them all . But the taste was delicious. Black rice is sticky but it's not like regular sticky rice. And I did think biryani with this rice might not be a good idea but before my stock is over, I'll surely make this one more time.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fish Curry With Hyacinth Beans & Potatoes

Fish curry with hyacinth beans & potatoes
Fish Curry With Hyacinth Beans & Potatoes
Towards the end of the year, our landscape is filled with the small and pretty blooms of hyacinth beans. They come in purple or white depending on the variety. There are so many kinds and sizes. The tender ones can be fried up and served as an accompaniment to main dishes. They are mostly mixed with other vegetables and goes particularly well with potatoes. But one way of having them in our house is by adding them to our simple fish curry. With the season almost over, it's now the turn of the seeds to be made into dal or cooked with dried or fresh fish. But as with most vegetables of the season, the easiest (or simplest) way of having them is by adding them to a curry. And fish and beans in a curry is a wonderful combination. 

The blooms attract a lot of pollinators. It's a joy to see the bees and the butterflies coming to feed on the flowers. I'm growing two varieties (seen in the collage). The purplish beans in the last picture were gifted by a relative of ours. And talking about garden gifts we are blessed to have so many of them coming our way in all seasons.
This will serve 3-4. 
15-20 beans
2 potatoes 
4 pieces fried fish (here I used carp but other varieties can be used also)
2 onions, grated
2 cloves of garlic, ground
1 small piece of ginger, peeled and ground to a paste
2 tomatoes, eyes removed and sliced
1 tsp chilli powder
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
1 level tbs coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
A few fenugreek seeds
Salt to taste
3 tbs mustard oil
A bunch of chopped coriander for the garnish
Both the cumin and coriander seeds were toasted and ground. 

Top, tail, and string the beans. The beans I used were about the length of peas so I didn't cut them into halves.
Peel the potatoes and slice them. For fish curry we usually cut them into the same size as for chips.
Heat the oil in a pan. When it comes to smoking point, throw in the fenugreek seeds but be careful that they do not burn. 
Then add the onions and let them sweat a bit till they turn paler in colour.
Add the ginger and garlic pastes. Add the rest of the spices. Fry for a couple of minutes and add the potatoes.
Cook till the potatoes are nearly half done, then add the beans.
Add the sliced tomatoes and season with salt.
Continue to cook till the beans wilt and the seeds are almost done. 
Pour a couple of cups of hot water and let it come to a boil. The amount of water here will depend on the kind of gravy you want. Check the seasoning and make adjustments, if required.
Reduce the flame and add the fried fish pieces. Cook for another 4-5 minutes till the fish is tender and the beans are fully cooked. Transfer the curry to a serving dish and garnish with the chopped herbs.

Fenugreek seeds added to the hot oil makes the curry aromatic. The fried fish used in curry is usually rubbed with a touch of turmeric powder and salt.The fish pieces are fried for a few minutes till nearly done. The rest of the cooking is done after the pieces are added to the simmering curry.