the boule wears butter

Hooo boy. Here we go.

I think at this point it would be useless to look at the thermometer. Because I’m pretty sure the mercury’s exploded out the top. It’s that hot here. We’d be kidding ourselves if we call this “spring”. It’s more like we’re bang in the middle of summer sweating bullets. That time of year when picnic baskets are whipped out, a bottle of Pimm’s is more dear to you than your brother or sister and you’re glad you installed air-conditioning in the den last year.

After all the bellyaching about being a dabbler, I’m back with a vengeance. A.k.a. boule à l’ail.

Well. Sort of. Because I didn’t really look up a French technique or recipe for this one. Nor did I stuff it with garlic in any way. And there is nothing terribly ground-breaking about making bread at home. But I did it. I baked bread. And it is nothing less than liberating. A feeling of utter independence. I am told that making a bottle of jam or brewing a vat of beer can harvest a similar feeling, apparently. We’ll get there. For now let’s just deal with bread.

Those of you who already have bucketloads of bread-making savvy and already know the feeling I’m talking about – keep mum, will you? Let me have my five minutes of glory and enlightenment.

The boule in question is definitely not the first of its kind. I did have half-a mind to start by making a sourdough starter. I also at one point thought of bounding down to my local bakery to ask for a jar of starter, but then they might have looked at me weird, so that idea went out the window. And after going through a plethora of recipes thrown at me by countless bakers – Julia Child warbled at me with kind eyes, Michael Ruhlmann gave me a lopsided smile from the pages of his book and there was also a lesson from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François – I settled on quantities that were pretty consistent through all the recipes. And what we’re left with is some really good bread, speckled with generous amounts of thyme and parsley and fragrant with garlic. The boule wears butter like second skin and is gorgeous when used to sop up meaty stews or soups.

I love that word ‘sop’. Sop. I’m eating a piece as I’m typing this and I promise you, you’re going to like this. Maybe you already do.

Boule à l’ail

Note about mixing and kneading:

If you’re using a stand/electric mixer with kneading attachment: Mix the ingredients together till the dough comes off the kneading needles easily, slightly elastic and in one piece. If the dough is too sticky keep adding flour little by little till it reaches the correct consistency. Take it out of the bowl and knead vigorously for 5 minutes by hand, over a lightly floured surface.

If you’re doing this by hand: Start mixing with a fork. As soon as the mixture starts clumping around the twines of the fork, scoop it out on a clean well-floured surface and bring it together. Start kneading vigorously and continue kneading for 10-15 minutes. While kneading, press hard with the heel of your palm. If the dough sticks to your palm, sprinkle a little more flour onto the dough. Keep adding flour little by little till the dough is soft but not sticky. When you press it there should be a thumbprint left behind.

For the first boule, I used half the quantities noted below and that’s how big it turned out. I also pulled the boule out of the oven before it browned any further. So if you like a darker crust on your bread keep it in the oven longer. The second boule [made using exact quantities noted below] is in my oven right now. Will let you know how it turns out.

1 cup water
1 tsp fresh yeast
Pinch of granulated sugar
2 cups bread flour + more, as needed
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp garlic paste, for brushing
Ghee or olive oil, for brushing
1 tbsp cracked black pepper/ Chopped garlic, to stud on top [optional]

In a glass bowl, microwave the water on full power for 15 seconds or till its warm to the touch. It shouldn’t be hot or steaming and you should be able to plunge a finger into it easily. Add the yeast and sugar an d stir to dissolve. Leave the bowl in a warm but dry place for 10-15 minutes. The surface should be frothy. In a large bowl sift in the flour, salt, thyme and parsley and mix with a fork. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeasty water. Mix and knead as required (see head note).

Pop the dough into a large clean bowl and cover with cling film. Let this bowl rest in a warm and dry place for 1 hour, or till the mass doubles in size. Take it out of the bowl and knead vigorously again for about 5 minutes to knock the air out. Shape into a round ball and place on a lightly greased baking tray. A baking tray lined with parchment will also do. Brush the surface of the dough with ghee or olive oil. Rest for another hour till the dough swells up again.

Pre-heat oven to 200 °C. Brush the surface again with some more ghee/oil. Brush with garlic as well. Slash the surface once or twice with a sharp knife. This helps the dough release hot air and rise. Sprinkle cracked black pepper on top and bake at 200 °C for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 180 °C and bake for 25-35 minutes till the top is golden-brown and the bread produces a hollow sound when the bottom is tapped.

Serve slathered generously with butter. Best when dipped in extra-virgin olive oil or with soupy meat stews.

 

I’ve been thinking

We’ve had quite a mellow week. I love weeks like that. They start amicably and end weary, but happily. The weeks that start with the rustle of newspapers, a simple bowlful of cucumber and tomato salad or mayo sandwiches. And then goes on to a lunch of plain – and sometimes under-seasoned – lasagna at the office cafeteria.

Weeks that don’t come with the threat of deadlines and that end with a warm eggplant hash for dinner. Instead, they come with laundry that needs to be done and put out to hang till dry. And then for good measure we’ll pull out an umbrella and keep it within arm’s reach, just in case the city decided to pull an 8th April.

These weeks are sometimes likely to be punctuated with a soft cake and glasses of cheap port. Weeks like these call for spending time with your mother over out-of-season cocoa and introducing her to things like Touch and a salad that uses tinned mackerel.

These are seven days that end with happiness, food, family and with you. I would like to mention here that I’m trying to act all dignified and grown-up right now, but its difficult to hide your excitement and to stop flapping arms when you know people like reading about [or maybe even making?] the food you eat.

A quick shout out to Jeannie of Jeannie Richard and Esti of Coffee Camera Love who think I deserve the Versatile Blogger Award [gasp!]. Thank you! You guys really know how to make my day.

I know I keep coming back here to talk to you about food. And it doesn’t even begin to quantify the amount of food-oriented thinking I do throughout the day. I think of sandwiches and yet I haven’t told you anything about them. We love sandwiches here.

I try my hand at pastry but when I look back at it, I feel like I haven’t cooked anything real. For starters, I haven’t baked bread yet [!]. I haven’t yet made homemade ricotta. And even though I make sure I know where my chicken is coming from, I haven’t ever spatchcocked any. I understand that many of my readers may have done all that already and that makes me bite my lips and look at my feet.

Now that I’m typing this I’ve just realized that I’m a dabbler. A dabbler who doesn’t know how to bone a duck or is too chicken to make puff pastry from scratch. I have been happy to look and salivate at a pork terrine for the last two years but haven’t even had the guts to attempt one. But this is about to change. At least, I hope it is. If I ever have the chance to give my 23 year-old self a piece of my mind, I’d tell her to suck it up and dive into making a three-tier wedding cake instead of dilly-dallying with watery tomato soup.

I will see you next week. And it will be good.

Have a happy weekend you lot.

P.S.:- the photographs were taken with my dad’s old Yashica that I’ve been tinkering with. And those trees below are what my folks see when they wake up every morning. When on earth is that going to happen to me?

a cocoa that’s not kidding

I don’t really know where to start with this post. My fingers are poised over my keyboard and nothing. Which is a dead serious issue because I always have a lot to say about chocolate. A lot. Always.

Maybe we need some visual aid. So tada:

Yes, we are messy hot cocoa drinkers and yes, that’s my carpet.

You see, as per The Unwritten Rule, the world is also divided over hot chocolate and hot cocoa. And I may try from time to time to dismiss any such argument casually, but I am well-aware of the fact that there is a specific, if not a significant, difference.

I am also aware that I may be committing heresy right now – in the middle of sweat-drenched and colour-vibrant spring I’m giving you something that is more suited for chilly winters, stormy nights, toes under blankets and heartbreaks. What am I thinking.

But excuse me while I lift my head from a puddle of chocolate long enough to explain, which is again ironic, because chocolate doesn’t really need any explanation. I’ve always thought that hot chocolate is an adult drink and hot cocoa is its juvenile version. Hot chocolate is sophistication personified while cocoa runs around the playground throwing Frisbees. Hot cocoa is a make-do when there’s no chocolate around. It’s the drink you sip, take a look at and then ask “Who are you kidding?” Which leads me to say that it’s a drink you make when there are children around. Or more officially it’s what Flopsy and Mopsy and Cottontail had for supper if they were good little bunnies“.

If that’s the case, then today’s recipe is going to be a mind-changer. I have already done a lot of mind-changing since I’ve started writing this blog so I think it would be safe for me to add this to the list. You can try history, health or even quantum physics but I don’t need much convincing on the topic of adding chocolate to warm milk. In all honesty, I was craving hot chocolate but a tin of cocoa rolling around very visibly and noisily on a pantry shelf can inspire an alternative version. Provided that you’ve ruled out the urge to make a chocolate cake or a cocoa cookie of some kind. I remembered spotting a hot chocolate recipe in Max Brenner’s book, one with a blatantly catty title: Wannabe French Hot Chocolate. How can I ignore a recipe with a name like that? I might have smirked to myself as I read it.

I also might have snorted loudly while I went through the recipe because it had seemed deceptively simple to me. It calls for cornstarch and eggs instead of cream. True to its name, it involves dark chocolate. It also involves a lot of pouring, stirring and bowl-changing. Like I said, not simple. Max Brenner, are you listening?

So on Saturday, I set off trying to mold that recipe around cocoa powder instead of chocolate chips. In other words: over the last three days, dear readers, I’ve had approximately six cups of hot cocoa and two cups of cold cocoa that ranged from lovely to not lovely. Cocoa tinted with red-hot chilli powder to ground cardamom to those with floating caps of whipped cream. Some with cornstarch and others without. And all that because I wanted to bring you a formula that I think works best. I obviously take my job here very seriously.

Hot Cocoa
inspired from Chocolate: A Love Story by Max Brenner

2 cups of whole milk
1/3 cup of natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup of brown sugar (Muscovado is preferred)
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/4 tsp of dried red chilli powder
2 eggs

Whisk the two eggs in a large bowl and set aside. In a sauce pan combine the rest of the ingredients except vanilla, and heat till the sugar dissolves and there are no lumps of cocoa left. Let the mixture start to steam. Take it off the heat and start pouring it into the whisked eggs. Whisk continuously while pouring. Return the milk-egg mixture to the sauce pan and set it on medium heat. Stir the mixture continuously with a wooden spoon till it comes to a full boil. The mixture should have thickened a bit by now, like a semi-custard. Take the pan off heat and stir in the vanilla. It’s important to strain the mixture into cups/mugs before serving. Straining removes the graininess if any. Serve just as it is or with dollops of whipped cream. I find that this cocoa tastes even better right out of the refrigerator. To store, the hot cocoa can be strained into a flask and kept warm or pour into a lidded jug and pop it into the fridge where it will keep for 2-3 days.

P.S.:- I keep wondering who prefers what. I can’t get over hot chocolate while I have friends who swear by hot cocoa. Is it a taste thing or a memory-attachment thing? Which side are you on exactly?

walnut cake, tamarind sauce and thank yous all around

walnut and coconut cake with tamarind sauce

Like most members of my species, I have spent quite a bit of time speaking into my shampoo bottle delivering what one day would be known as my Oscar speech. I know exactly who to thank, who to mention and who to point and wink at. I’ve even rehearsed my ecstatic-but-embarrassed-but-grateful laugh.

So far, the possibility of me getting up on that stage for real might be near non-existent. But I’ve got a blog here people. A blog! And I’m going to take full advantage of it. Here are all the thank yous to a star-studded cast and crew:

I’d like to thank Anthony Bourdain. If I hadn’t watched you stuffing your face with Chinese food somewhere in Hong Kong sometime vaguely in 2007, I would have never pressed my cable provider into providing food and travel channels on my telly, even when he kept telling me that they were inaccessible in my country at the time. The face you make while eating on television reminds me of the faces my family members have been making for a long time and that piqued my interest. You also made me notice chefs.

I’d like to thank the producers of Top Chef. Because of your show, I doubted my decision to become an architect. It was for a very very brief time, but it happened and it was a big deal that led to lot of eye-rolling from my family.

I’d like to thank James Martin. As a blundering newbie who rolled cluelessly into the kitchen, with an empty stomach and an equally empty frying pan, I’ve spent countless Saturdays inhaling your advice on omelettes to seafood to roasting to braising.

I’d like to thank Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay. I don’t know if you guys are friends but I sure hope so. I also don’t know if you know what people say about you, but I don’t really care. All I know is that both of you kept me well-fed through very difficult days, kept me entertained and drilled the words ‘fresh’, ‘simple’ and ‘fuck’ into my head almost daily.

I’d like to thank Nigella Lawson. You saw me through chocolate and frozen peas. You also assured me that its okay to not know how to poach an egg expertly.

I’d also like to thank Dan Lepard. I know that we haven’t been very close, but I would be completely baking-impaired if it hadn’t been for your cakes. And especially a certain walnut cake which has made me scour more than a score of similar recipes throughout the foodosphere since I spotted it.

And last, but in no means the least, Clotilde Dusoulier. Thank you. You helped me eat through Paris. Undoubtedly, one of the best things I ever did. [This is where I point at her and say:] You rock dah-ling.

walnut cake with tamarind sauce

The cake in question is not runway-worthy. But after serious doses of butter and ghee a girl needs to take a breather and go all unsexy. But that’s the thing about this walnut cake. It’s deceptively sexy. Deceptively.

It doesn’t try hard. It doesn’t have to. Its fragrant with walnuts, fruity with oil, earthy with coconut and tangy with lemon juice. It comes with a caramelized top and crumbles beautifully like a cake should. And then as if to taunt you, it presents itself drenched in a tart tamarind sauce. Will the games never end.

But the best part of the cake is that it goes with everything – tea, coffee, dessert spoons, breakfast plates, sweltering spring afternoons et al.

walnut cake with tamarind syrup

Walnut and Coconut Cake with Tamarind Sauce
inspired by an Orange Walnut Cake from Bon Appetit Desserts

Note: Use olive oil in place of sunflower oil for a fruitier flavour. Tamarind is very tart and the cake already contains lemon juice which adds a slight tang to it. I like my tamarind sauce to be slightly on the tart side, but if you prefer it sweeter add a couple more tablespoonfuls of honey to the sauce. It’s important that the sauce and cake both be cool before you pour the sauce on top, because you don’t want the sauce to soak through the cake really. I’ve also noticed that the top of the cake colours up quicker than the rest of it, so if you notice the top turning colour too quickly, loosely rest a piece of aluminum foil on top of the cake tin to cover the top. This prevents the top from burning.

1 cup of chopped walnuts
1/2 cup of freshly grated coconut
1 cup all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp of baking powder
4 eggs
1 1/3 cup of granulated sugar, powdered
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1/2 cup of milk
1/2 cup of sunflower oil
2 tbsp tamarind pulp
1/2 cup water
2 cardamom pods with seeds, crushed
1/4 cup honey

Pre-heat oven to 175 deg C. Grease a 8-9″ round tin and line with parchment paper. Grease the paper as well. Toast the walnuts and coconut dry in a non-stick skillet till the coconut is light brown in colour. Cool the mixture and in a medium bowl mix it with flour, salt and baking powder. Lightly mix with a fork. In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs with electric beaters till frothy (for about a minute or two). Gradually add the sugar while whisking till fully incorporated. Dump in the walnut-flour mixture and stir a couple of times with a whisk. Pour in the lemon juice, milk and oil and gently fold with the whisk till just combined. Do not overwork the batter. Pour it into the tin and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour till the center is springy to the touch and the toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely in tin on rack before taking it out.

Heat the tamarind pulp, water, cardamom and honey till the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes. Strain the mixture into another bowl and let it rest in the refrigerator till it thickens into a syrup. Pour on top of cooled cake and serve.

And while I’m doling out thank yous, I should add a big thank you to Gabriella of Indulge & DevourDon’t you just love a blog name like that?

She’s awarded my blog with the Liebster Award [gulp]. I’m nothing short of flattered and here comes the ecstatic-but-embarrassed-but-grateful laugh. Actually right now, its more like a high-pitched nervous sound that’s somewhere between a giggle and a squawk. Thank you Gabriella. No, I mean THANK YOU. Now I know, I’m supposed to pass this on to other bloggers who I think deserve it, but here’s the hitch: they’re already awesome, accomplished bloggers, already fantastic cooks who in fact, have already received accolades. So instead, I’ll include my current blog-reading list that keeps me inspired:

Frugal Feeding – sharp sharp blog with an eye on the wallet.

The Bite House – Brian and his maple, apple and  pecan turnovers, his corn chowder gratin and his roast beef grilled sandwich. Sigh.

Casa Yellow – Beautiful photos and records of a beautiful life.

My Fancy Pantry – Shari’s enthusiasm for Indian food surpasses mine. No, really. Her blog and recipes put me to shame and makes my mother wish I was more like her!

Eats Well With Others – Lovely food with a generous side of funny.

Take care guys! Happy weekending!

caramelized in ghee

I’m a woman of my Word. Well, most of the time.

There are times when my Word falters a bit. And then there are those times when it just trips and falls flat on its face. These usually include times when either one of the following are involved: chocolate, broken china, last slices of cake, scratches on my dad’s car and remembering to share recipes.

But I come here today to redeem myself. Armed with not one but two recipes. Two, people. Two infuriatingly easies that have been previously tried and tested at least a million times in all my kitchens. All 12 of them.

The first one is something I’ve promised to you before – a pile of something that looks very questionable on a plate. Caramelized onions. The other jam. The almost-condiment that sweetens a tart and adds depth to a soup. The second one is an application of the first. A heavily hybrid dish that kept me well-fed during my student years.

As much as I would like to rhapsodize about the kind of pleasure you can get from slowly cooking the pungency out of onions, I simply cannot. I’m sleep-deprived, facing a long day at work and I’ve already had a bit of a hard time getting here today. And as much as I would like to spend quality time with you teaching you about  how to feel like a grown-up spreading this onion jam on your sandwich bread instead of mayonnaise – believe me, that’s what I want more than anything right now – I must keep it short today.

caramelized onions in ghee and braised chicken

Onions Caramelized in Ghee and Braised Chicken

Note on ghee: Good-quality ghee can be found in the ‘Indian’ aisle of any supermarket or in Indian grocery shops. The ghee is what’s special about these caramelized onions, but if you can’t find it at all, you can substitute it with unsalted butter.
Note on wine: It’s not like there are no caramelized onions without port or anything. But I find the use of Tawny port here adds a considerable amount of mellowness to the onions. I used a cheap Ramos-Pinto but I’m flexible on the brand or type of port that you want to use. For a much lighter flavour try Rosé wine. Here’s a great discussion on port wines.
Note on saltiness: The braised chicken dish already used soy sauce and fish sauce which add saltiness, hence the use of salt to season the dish at the end is completely optional and up to taste.
Note on cooking time and consistency: Secondly, the amount of stock you add initially (1 cup) is the liquid the chicken cooks in. The end result of this dish can be manipulated by adding more stock. If you want the gravy to be broth-like I suggest adding a cup more of stock. In which case, add the stock and cook for 5 more minutes. If you want the gravy to be sticky and thick, boil off the juices on high heat in the end, after the chicken pieces are fully cooked.

For the Caramelized Onions:

2 tbsp of ghee (see head note)
5 medium-sized red onions, sliced
1/4 cup of port wine (see head note)
1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
2 1/2 tbsp of granulated sugar
Salt, to taste

Heat ghee in a pan and wait for it to melt. Add the onions and sauté for a minute. Turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add wine, vinegar and sugar. Stir to mix. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Check to see if there’s too much liquid in the pan. If there is, keep the lid off and turn up the heat to medium. Season with salt. Keep stirring taking care that the onions don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. They’re done when the mixture sticks together in a loose lump and deep amber in colour.
Caramelized onions are best on galettes and tarts or spread slightly warm on bread. In an airtight container, these will keep for a 8-10 days in the refrigerator.

For the Braised Chicken:

2 tbsp of vegetable oil
500 gms of boneless chicken pieces
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
3/4 cup of caramelized onions (recipe above)
3 cloves
1 tbsp of fish sauce
1 tbsp of honey
3 tbsp of dark soy sauce
1 cup (240ml) of chicken stock + more, if needed [if unavailable, substitute with plain water]
Chopped coriander or red chillies, to garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional, see head note)

Heat the oil in a pan and saute the minced ginger and garlic for a minute just to take the rawness out of them. Add the chicken pieces and saute on medium-high heat till the edges start to colour. Stir in the caramelized onions, cloves, fish sauce, soy sauce, honey and stock. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, uncover the pan and cut the biggest piece of chicken in half. If it’s cooked – no sign of pink in the centre –  then take the pan off heat and season with salt and pepper. If not, then return the chicken to the pan, add more stock if needed – you don’t want  the bottom of the pan to be burnt – and cook for 5-10 more minutes or till the chicken has cooked through. Season with salt and black pepper. Keep in mind that the soy sauce and fish sauce has already made the dish salty. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves or red chillies and serve over steamed rice.

 

a peanut butter milk tart that came to dinner

There are a few questions that when asked can make one deliriously happy.

“Will you bring dessert?” is one of them.

And if you’re anything like some of us over here, it is just one of those questions that grabs a handful of ants and shoves them into your pants.

Questions like these either send you running for the cookbooks or groping for your laptops. And I’m more than happy to oblige. They make you feel like life is going to be just great.

The weekend before last when I was dreaming of lemon tarts, my father’s friend, whose name could twist your tongue easily and hence will be known as Uncle D, expressed his excitement that I was going to be in Kolkata for our Bengali New Year’s celebrations. Yes, we Bengalis have our own Calendar. And yes, we celebrate our own New Year’s. With new clothes (!) and believe it or not, more food.

Now, by every standard in the book, Uncle D is an accomplished home cook, a lawyer, an aspiring guitarist, an expert celebrity impersonator and an incomparable biryani maker. He is another one of those people who make my parents’ social circle ten times cooler than mine. And for him to ask me to bring dessert is nothing short of flattery really. He told me he’d made up his mind while digging into Meghna’s birthday cake and decided that a two-week notice for the New Year’s dessert was only fitting. I have a big grin on my face as I’m typing this. That’s how much I love taking dessert along with me for a party.

As a general rule, parties involving hardcore Bengalis always involve Indian sweets or ice-cream rather than full-on desserts. Cakes are called upon for birthdays and anniversaries. Tarts and puddings are not even considered. So naturally, I started off by holding an audition for cakes. Always a good place to begin.

First came the coffee cake that had made everyone coo. Then came thoughts of berry-infused cakes and upside-downs. Wizenberg’s banana bread looked promising for sometime. Under the pressure of all my kind-heartedness [and a secret desire to make boiled pastry again] I decided to give tarts and pies a chance too. A chocolate ganache tart popped into mind. It seemed like a safe bet. Gordon Ramsay’s Chef’s Secrets lay on my table offering up a suh-weeet looking orange and passion fruit something-something. I even resorted to my well-practised hobby — returning to the refrigerator at regular intervals, opening its door and staring into it, hoping that some interesting fruit or flavour would materialize out of sub-zero air. And it did. After about three or four failed attempts. Peanut butter.

Technically this is a tart with peanut butter in it. Even more technically, it’s a PB & J tart. PB & J is a reasonable sell as far as the best of us go, but I’m afraid that it might not sound as intriguing as it tastes. So let’s just be fancy and call this a Peanut Butter Milk Tart with a Blueberry Preserve Glaze. Oooooh.

It’s not your normal heat-peanut-butter-and-spread-it-onto-a pastry-base kind of simpleton. I wouldn’t do that to you. Instead, it starts with a peanut butter custard, made out of a hot milk-PB mixture that’s whisked into eggs and baked till set. Slap on a thin layer of your favourite jam, blueberry in this case, and huzzah!

But apart from normal tart behaviour, this one also teaches you something – hot peanut butter and milk do not taste good. And I don’t know about you, but in my world, that is a life lesson I learnt the hard way.

Peanut Butter Milk Tart with Blueberry Jam Glaze

I forked into the tart before it had a chance to cool completely and was immediately hit by disappointment. It was warm, of course, and tasteless. I could taste the peanut as if it were a ghost of itself. Faint and almost non-existent. I smeared a bit of jam on and took a second bite. It tasted only marginally better. Faced with such heartbreak and the need to hatch an emergency plan, I shoved the tart back into its tin and into the refrigerator and shuffled off to relieve my cranky mood. A couple of hours later I returned to the tart trying to think of a way to salvage it, which I was half-hearted about. But I was in for a surprise. The filling had set beautifully. It melted on my mouth like butter and delivered a well-placed punch of peanuttiness! All it had needed was some chill time.

Peanut Butter Milk Tart with Jam Glaze

Peanut Butter Milk Tart with Jam Glaze

This tart definitely definitely needs at least an hour of chill time in the refrigerator. Try to keep yourself away from digging in while the tart is warm.

For the tart crust I used this.

For the filling and glaze:
3/4 cup of smooth Peanut Butter
1 cup of whole milk
1 tbsp of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup of your favourite jam  or preserve [I used a Bonne Maman blueberry]

Pre-bake the tart crust and let it cool.
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Keep aside. Heat peanut butter, milk and sugar in a saucepan till the peanut butter has melted and combined well with the milk and the mixture starts to bubble up. If it looks grainy, don’t worry, it’ll come together when mixed with the eggs. Remove from heat and whisk the mixture into the eggs. Whisk continuously so the eggs don’t scramble. Let the mixture cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Pour the PB-milk mixture into the tart crust. Make sure to pop any bubbles that might appear on the surface. Bake for 15 minutes or till the filling is set. The centre won’t be too soft to the touch and the edges will have puffed up very slightly. Cool the tart completely in its tin.
Warm the jam/preserve slightly and spread over the filling.

Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour or ideally 2 hours before serving.

  

nosy neighbours and hot pasta sauce

Somewhere in the middle of 2005 I moved into what was “my first apartment”.

Roasted Tomatoes

A double-bedroom apartment that had a balcony overlooking one of Baroda’s busiest crossings. It was an open plan with a kitchen-cum-dining-cum-living and the kitchen was anything but. It was lined with pink granite counter-tops on two sides and the sole appliance it housed was a double gas-burner. The rest of the space was used for storing mounds of sheets and rolls of paper. The roles piled one on top of the other formed a mountain that almost reached the ceiling, short of a feet or two. They threatened to topple down on our heads at any moment, but their threats fell on deaf ears.

My half of the apartment included a single bedroom that was airy in summer and warm in the winter. It had an attached bath that was approximately the size of a small bento box and a large window that occupied an entire wall. The window overlooked a large courtyard and a common corridor that was always drenched in rainwater during the heavy monsoon months.

The corridor was also my nosy neighbour’s favourite hangout apparently.

She would take a stroll through it, up and down, every hour or so, pausing near my window every time she crossed it and then extend her long neck to take a peek inside. It was her regular routine. For the first year that I lived in that apartment, this habit of hers was torture. I would look up from my work and jump in panic as I’d spot her face floating on one corner of my window. After working long hours through the night, I’d take a long nap. And as I would open my droopy eyelids and turn my head, there’d be her face. Floating at my window. Again.

I spent that entire year arguing with her, starting with politeness and ending in sharp words, as I would try to make her see how she was invading my private space. I tried sarcasm. Then I moved on to anger. I resorted to contorting my face into ugliness as I spoke to her, hoping that my expressions would scare her off. I even tried threatening her with letters to the building management. And I also started to keep my curtains drawn at all times blocking out all the daylight, which, was not fun. But in my entire comparatively short-life I have never met any woman with such great will power as hers.

By the second year, I was used to her nosiness and too tired and busy to complain. But silently kept looking for a solution to the problem. The solution arrived sooner than I expected. In the shape and form of a man – a half-Goan-half-Portuguese curly-haired student of commerce. We had met over a roadside chai stall frequented by students of the University and an episode of puppy-love had followed. And besides all the drama and petting-rituals this relationship demanded, it also kept me watered and fed. We used to share our evening over episodes of How I Met Your Mother, bowls of spaghetti in watery tomato sauce, pressure-cooked chicken and tuna sandwiches from Subway. There was also the incident where we were too busy exchanging affections to notice that the apartment had started to flood due to a leaky faucet. Um…I’ve grown since.

I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this. In fact, I’m positive that you’ve already guessed how I scared off my neighbour. Oh well. Let’s just say, her floating head disappeared permanently from my window since that fateful evening when my friend showed up.

He did show up with another packet of supermarket spaghetti and another jar of watery tomato sauce and we never really got to eat much, but in retrospect that was a price I was willing to pay for revenge on a nosy neighbour.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Indianised salsa di pomodoro
inspired by Gordon Ramsey’s tomato soup in Chef’s Secrets

Any kind if tomatoes will do for this one, but try it with tomatoes on the vine as well. In that case, don’t remove the vine before roasting them. We like it hot and spicy over here, and if you do too, notch up the heat to two chillies instead of one. As an alternative, try roasting the tomatoes for 1 1/2 hours at 150 deg C. To turn this into a lovely tomato soup, just heat the sauce along with 1 1/2 cups of chicken/vegetable stock. The soup can be served with a dollop of crème fraiche and a toasted baguette. The recipe doubles easily if you require a larger batch.

5 medium tomatoes, in thick slices
2 medium red onions [or Spanish onions], sliced
1/2 head of garlic, skin on
1 red chilli [we keep the seeds intact, but remove the seeds if you prefer]
1 tsp of dried basil
1 tsp of dried thyme [or 2 tsp of fresh thyme leaves]
1 tsp of turmeric powder
1 tsp of ground coriander
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil, as needed
Juice of 1 lime [or half a lemon]
2 tbsp of honey
2 tbsp of barbecue sauce [store-bought is just fine]

Pre-heat oven to 170 deg C. Scatter tomatoes, onions and garlic on a baking tray. Sprinkle basil, thyme, turmeric, coriander over and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, about 4-5 tablespoons, all over the ingredients. Roast for 45-50 minutes till the tomatoes start to fall apart. Let everything cool in the tray for 15 minutes before squeezing the garlic out of its skin. Blitz everything in a blender or food processor till smooth. Add lime juice, honey and barbecue sauce and stir well.
The sauce will keep for a week in an air-tight jar kept in the refrigerator. Use it as a dip or as a pasta sauce. To use with pasta, heat it up in a pan before adding cooked pasta along with fresh basil leaves and a handful of grated parmesan.