Sunday, September 02, 2012

Rainy-day-at-home cake

For the first time in a while, I'm spending a whole day at home. I had classes today, but when I weighed the dubious joy of listening to a five-hour lecture on Indian history against a rainy day spent cosily at home with a bright-eyed dog and a cosseting mother, it was an easy choice. This cake might also have had something to do with swaying me.

I baked it yesterday afternoon, in between a conversation. It took all of ten minutes to put together and about thirty more to bake. This is one of my favourite recipes and I've baked this cake, oh, at least a dozen times this year. It is from Amanda Hesser's "The Essential New York Times Cook Book", and of course with a pedigree like that it's guaranteed to turn out splendid. Sometimes, I bake it into cupcakes slathered with this ethereally light frosting and once, I covered it in a brown butter and chocolate glaze. This is the cake I'd fantasised about drowning in caramel, but when it came out of the oven all cracked and crumbly, I decided to save the caramel for another day. All things said and done, this cake really needs no ornamentation beyond a dusting of powdered sugar. Even that disappears by the next morning, melting into the surface like it was never there. I like eating it with my fingers, sitting by the window, looking out at the rain. 

Recipe here

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Inspiration chickpea salad

I went into the kitchen to bake a cake and emerged instead with a salad. I'd been thinking of the cake for a while. It was to be deeply chocolatey and crumbly, and as soon as it was done, I'd stab it viciously with a fork and pour bubbling caramel sauce all over it. It was late evening though, and I was tired, and while descriptions of butter and chocolate were all very well and stabbing cakes is always fun, I found that what I really craved was garlic.

Amma'd gone off blithely for her evening walk and I was left to fend for myself in the kitchen. A rummage through the fridge revealed only a handful of boiled chickpeas that looked rather sorry for themselves. So there was nothing left to do but to play U2 loudly, sing along, and start chopping. I began with the garlic that I started off in cold oil so it would infuse without burning. While that began to bubble, I chopped up a tomato finely and upended that into my wok. It hissed with a fury that only abated when I followed the tomato with chunks of eggplant. Everything got salted and sugared (I'm a big believer in adding a pinch of sugar to everything salty and a pinch of salt to everything sweet. Amma says this practice makes everything I make taste the same. What does she know?) and was then left alone to cook. I chopped up some capsicum and half an onion, then rescued the chickpeas from the fridge and skipped out to the garden for some fresh basil.

By the time I returned, the eggplant chunks were soft and the tomato had lost its integrity and was clinging onto them fiercely. Everything else went in and a few stirs later, it was ready. Now, I don't like to toot my own horn, but man was this slap-your-thigh bang-your-fork good. Even the dog, who hates vegetables like they're made up of postmen, queued up for a taste. He then watched, bright-eyed, as I photographed my cooling bowl, and spent the rest of the evening curled up ingratiatingly under my feet.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The colour of sunshine

I woke up late this morning. (Incidentally, in these places, late is 7 am, and if you stay in bed past eight, amma will come in and check your temperature.) The dog of course woke me up at 5:30, but that doesn't count as waking up any more. I blearily shuffle him out while he nips at my ankles. I let him out and head back to bed again for another blissful hour, or on rare days like today, an hour and a half. By the time I woke, amma and appa were back from their morning walk and on their second cups of coffee. The dog lay quietly panting on the floor, with the air of someone who wasn't going to move till called for breakfast. I had the kitchen all to myself, and instead of making myself coffee, I set about slicing mangoes.

One advantage of living in the north is that even though summer comes late, the mangoes stick around longer. The mangoes ripen as the sun travels up the length of the country, and here in Delhi, I get to try them all. The monsoons have come, bringing worryingly little rain,  but the markets of Delhi are still full of mangoes and will be for a few more weeks yet. I've waxed embarrassingly lyrical on this blog before on my love for mangoes. Suffice to say, it only grows stronger each year. This time around, I've mostly been eating them whole, tearing off their skins and feasting on their flesh. Sometimes though, I can be a little more civilised. 

The mangoes I had in the fruit basket were a little past their prime. They still smelled floral, but with a hint of astringent. They tasted sweet but with a somewhat insipid sweetness. I decided it didn't matter and puréed them with honey. The honey turned the colour of the purée -already very bright- into shocking orange. Then I turned on the ice cream maker and swirled in my puree with yoghurt. Appa came wandering in and we discussed the news over the noise of the machine. 

Fifteen minutes later, I was scraping out great gobs of sunshine-coloured frozen yoghurt, to set and then serve after a satisfying Sunday lunch. 

Summertime mango frozen yoghurt
As for the recipe, I'm afraid I can't give you exact proportions here. It was seven in the morning and I hadn't had any coffee. Still, here's what I remember:

Take three mangoes of the small and fibrous variety. It's good if they have a couple of spots here and there that make you disdain eating them as they are, because I still hold that the best way to eat a perfect mango is raw, with your hands, juice running down to your elbows. Peel off their skins. If they're the small, fibrous variety that I recommend, the skins should come off easy. If they're not, you're on your own, you maverick. Cut the flesh off the seeds and scrape as much as you can off, using a blunt knife. Purée this flesh in a blender with a pour of honey. Err on the side of too much honey; freezing dulls the sweetness. Then turn on your ice cream maker and pour two cupfuls of low-fat yoghurt into it. I suppose high-fat would be better, but we seem to have made 'fat' an evil word these days and I'm as susceptible to social conditioning as anyone else. Pour in your purée and watch in fascination as the yellow swirls into and eventually blends in with the white. After about twenty minutes that you'll spend discussing politics over the noise of the ice cream maker, scrape out the contents of the bowl into a tupperware container and place it in the freezer to set up firmly. Shamelessly lick the bowl ice cream maker's bowl, refusing to share even with the dog. 

Serve after a hearty lunch, preferably on a Sunday when you can go sleep it all off later. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Date nut bars

I was sitting in a rather boring science class when I dreamed these bars up. The air conditioning was set to Arctic and I was hungry. I started thinking of roasted almonds, lightly dusted with salt. They didn't do it for me, so I switched to caramelised almonds in sugar. Somehow by the end of class that mutated to almonds and dates in a sticky chocolatey goo (incidentally, if you must have goo, it might as well be chocolatey, no?) stuck firmly atop a buttery biscuit.

That was in the last week of summer, when the temperatures rose to 46 degrees Celsius and at three in the afternoon, after slipping on melted butter and cussing a blue streak, I had my bars. I gave up eggs a while ago and it's a constant challenge to find other ingredients to substitute for them in my baking. For standard-issue date and nut tartelettes, a mixture of egg and sugar is used to bind everything together. I could've simply used sugar, but then I ran the risk of it getting too sweet or too hard. I thought about what it was in the egg that was so perfect for holding reluctant nuts together and realised it was the protein. Now, malt has protein too, of the wheat gluten sort. Malted drink mixes also contain sugar and chocolate flavouring. All it took was a little water and butter mixed with Bournvita and I had a substance as thick and goopy as my heart could desire. I chopped up some roasted almonds, peanuts and dates, mixed them with the Bournvita and spread it all on a disk of shortbread. This went into the oven until the top was scorched slightly and had settled into a decided crust.

After waiting for it to cool, I cut my disk into slices and shared one with the dog. He licked my hand in search of crumbs afterwards and hung around me chummily for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Cooking for one

April was kind to us. We expected heat and we got showers. We expected dry, windless evenings and we got summer storms. May, I know it's only the first of the month, but I have to say I'm a little disappointed in you. April spoiled me. 

Panda is very alert these days. He spends most evenings running furiously up and down the length of the house, barking at sounds both real and imagined. When I finally get him to settle down in bed, he tosses and turns, wriggling his body into the funniest contortions. In the mornings, he wakes up precisely at six, like an alarm goes off inside him. I'm usually half-awake and dreading what is coming. First I hear him get up and stretch. He takes his time with that. Then he yawns, shakes himself and walks over to me. I hear his nails clicking on the floor just before I hear a shrill bark, right beside my ear. It is time to get up. 

We went for a long walk this morning. Panda sniffed about and glared at cyclists while I listened to execrable music on the radio. When we got back, he drank a lot of water and collapsed behind the sofa to await breakfast. He's very passive-aggressive about breakfast. He never condescends to sit outside the kitchen in wait, like most dogs would do. Instead he glares at me reproachfully from behind the sofa cushions while I sip my coffee. 

And sip my coffee I did, while I read the paper leisurely. I already knew what I wanted for breakfast. 
After about half an hour, I was finally hungry and so I turned on the oven. I'd already bookmarked this recipe and I had a suspicion it was going to be very very good. 

In all the southern American romance novels I've read, there's usually a scene when the heroine bakes biscuits for the hero. It is generally when he falls in love with her. I turned on the oven, measured and kneaded. I only made a third of the recipe because it was just me for breakfast. Panda came to observe, staring stolidly at me from the kitchen door. He still had a bit of a mustache left behind by his breakfast of bread and milk. Every so often, he would stretch out a pink tongue and lick his lips. 

I rolled my biscuits by hand and set them in a pan. The pan slid into the oven and then I returned to my coffee and paper. Twenty minutes later, they were ready, crusty and fragrant. I ripped them in two, and they had white, feathery, lightly steaming insides. Suddenly eager, I dragged a piece through a pool of honey and ate it, and it was exactly like I'd imagined. So then I fixed myself a plateful, poured a fresh cup of coffee, and  returned to my paper. 

PS: I'm also including a picture of an ever-so-pretty salad I made a while ago. I photographed it and meant to tell you all about it, but now I've quite forgotten what I intended to say.