the banana bread bandwagon.

Anywho, we made it. The bananas and I. We made it right into, and you may want to sit down for this, my first banana bread.

Yes, I know. I’ve been missing a lot in my life. I’ve missed out on boyfriend-made mix tapes, I’ve missed love at first sight, I’ve missed out on the last five bikini seasons and up until last week, I’d been missing out on banana bread. Mix tapes and bikinis I can make peace with but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed about the love-at-first-sight thing.

But a bit of bad news first, dear reader: It is not empty yet. That bag of coconut dust is not. Empty. Yet.

chocolate coconut banana bread

I dump cupfuls of it into baked goods and curries. My friends have started to greet my cupcakes with a tired “Does that have more coconut in it?” A couple of days back when I offered a spoonful of coconut crusted chicken to one of my friends, she actually semi-cringed. She loves coconut. She literally inhaled that cake I made three weeks back. And the chicken was definitely drool-worthy. And she cringed, only slightly though, before opening her mouth.

Continue reading the banana bread bandwagon.

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48 hours

it's been raining for 48 hours

Well obviously that’s not the most cheerful photograph you want to start your day looking at.  But I am sort of tired of complaining about the weather. Especially one as stubborn and angry as the monsoon we’re having. Today marks 48 hours of near-zero visibility, noisy drops (or arrowheads) of rain, pitch black rooftops and trousers hiked up to your knees wading through the water-logged wonderlands that are urban Indian parking lots.

But I’m hoping this might cheer you up.

saffron and coconut macaroon tart

I’m sure you remember THE BAG. The one that sat on the counter and gave me the stink eye. That went on for a long time till I responded with cake. Cake kicked that bag’s ass. Cake is not just a shoulder to cry on, it is also a fighter of crime and injustice.

And for that matter so is pie. Pie, if need be, can be the hero you’ve been looking for. Or heroine.

Continue reading 48 hours

to explain the coconut

rainy_day

So far August has been a month of revelations. Apart from being irritatingly monsoon-y, that is.

First there was the fact that I actually enjoy cookies. Quite an eye-opener. Then, Saturday at the office we found out that I can sop up eight whole chicken rolls in 30 minutes flat, when facing a bet.

Wow. I’m like this whole new person.

And it doesn’t stop there. Yesterday, after a particularly long evening at the supermarket, I came to the conclusion that I should not be let loose un-supervised in a supermarket. Because if I am then I’ll return home with half a kilo (a little more than a pound) of desiccated coconut, half a kilo of dried and pitted prunes and a jar of crystallized ginger for absolutely no reason.

I love supermarkets of course. I love that I can look at a shelf of canned tomatoes and think of making pasta. Or, I pick a head of cabbage and I know I might want to make a sabzi out of it. And that’s enough reason for them to end up in my cart. But a half a kilo of desiccated coconut? Where did that come from? If you’re raising your eyebrows at me right now, well then, save it. I can blame the candied ginger to my subconscious mind; I’ve been wanting to do a ginger cake for a long time without actually DOING anything about it. I can understand the prunes — I loved them when I made Nigella’s Christmas Cake last Christmas, so I knew I’d be half-happy snacking on them all day. But the coconut? I’m not even going to try and explain it.

For the rest of the day I sat with my legs propped up on the balcony railing checking out all that’s fugly while the rain thundered on outside. And all throughout, that bag of coconut sat on the counter giving me the I’m-waiting-for-you eyes. Stupid transparent bag.

In the end, when there’s a persistent bag of coconut waiting, there’s not much you can do except turn on the laptop and get out the old cloth-covered monster that is my recipe book. The bright screen and a couple of folded down pages threw up a mix of mind-boggling coconuttiness. It was like I was in a snowball fight. Except that there was no snow, only white sweet powdered coconut.

Continue reading to explain the coconut

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!

no easter nor’ westers. just boiled pastry

You guys sure know a good thing when you see one. And thank God for that because I have more.

I’m in Kolkata visiting my folks and the last time I checked, the bloody Nor’westers had blown us off our easy chairs.

We spent all of yesterday’s evening running around the flat, stuffing the sills of windows and bottoms of doors with old tablecloths, so the thunderstorm wouldn’t slip in. And last Friday at about 6 in the morning a persistent and unholy sounding wailing woke me up. It was the wind gushing through the slits of our aluminum window frames. I sat up on my bed to find the city swaying and thrashing about in the angriest storm I’ve seen in a long time. It then proceeded to scare away the sun, who stayed hidden for a further two hours. Wimp.

But it is hard to complain about thunder and storms when you’re one of those who actually gets all excited and tingly at the appearance of dark clouds. In the moments of a boring single life that revolves around reinforced cement concrete, wolfing down leftover potato salad at the sink and trying to make rent, the deep rumbling of a thunderstorm can induce the same kind of excitement that is associated with the anticipation of a first kiss.

Although London hasn’t really disappointed me over the years with her constant supply of dark clouds – she still has a lot to learn from Kolkata when it comes down to a proper at-Nature’s-mercy thunderstorm. And this year, the Nor’westers collided with Easter weekend.

Honestly, we’re not big on Easter. The rest of London is obviously very pro-Easter. But as far as celebrations go, over here they are as follows:

– we absolutely love Christmas. No. I mean, love it.

– we spend a lot of money on Boxing Day.

– we sleep till late and watch the telly on the Queen’s birthday.

– we devote an entire day to alcohol. Its called St Patty’s Day.

– we are close to indifferent about the Fourth of July.

– we know absolutely nothing about Thanksgiving.

– we would very much like to get to know Halloween, but haven’t actually had a chance so far.

– New Year’s Eve is another excuse for us to eat.

And then comes Easter. Our Easter celebrations were half-hearted at best when I was growing up in India and nothing has changed much. As kids we’d wake up early on the holiday, jump around because school’s off, pop a couple of Creme Eggs into our mouths and then end the day with lots of curry.

But you can’t really blame us. As Indians, and mostly Hindus, we have to get through celebrating more than 108 Gods and Goddesses before we can actually get anywhere close to anything to do with the last name Christ, on the annual list. And by the time we get to Jesus, we’re already exhausted and stuffed till here with food.

However, if you’re anything like us, you always have a little room left over for a little more food.

Especially if that food is a tart. A dessert tart. A coconut custard dessert tart. With chocolate. You can’t go wrong with this.

With all the coconut macarons that were flying through the air all throughout Easter, this tart does well when it comes to “sticking to the theme”. But I want to talk to you more about the short crust pastry than the custard filling. Because the pastry starts with boiling butter. You heard me. Boiling butter.

I haven’t had as much experience with tart shells as I’ve had with cakes and candy. I blame the idea of a “foolproof pastry recipe” that most recipes authors throw up. That idea is ridiculous. If its fool-proof then why, dear Sir/Madam, am I scraping it off my tart tin instead of cutting it? No wonder I’ve given up on homemade puff pastry.

Recipe authors need to realize that sometimes they have to deal with blatantly disobedient people like me who never get things right the first time around. But this tart dough à la française is something else. It comes from David Lebovitz and belongs to Promenades Gourmandes’ Paule Caillat. It’s not your typical rub-chilled-butter-nubbins-into-flour kind of dough recipe. It begins with browning butter in the oven, followed by dumping a sizeable amount of flour into the hot butter. The dough is then spread and patted onto a tart tin and blind baked without weight – no battling with rolling pins, cling film or dried beans. And best of all, no chill-time-in-the-refrigerator to wait around for. The result is a crisp and flaky pastry with a distinct butter taste [oh well, obviously] that is a far cry from temperamental and fussy, soggy and fall-apart versions that I’ve had to put up with in the past. And all that makes it – in my book – a keeper.

I am obviously no Jackson Pollock.

Coconut custard on pâte sucrée a la française
from Paule Caillat via David Lebovitz

NOTE: The custard has a base of coconut milk instead of cream or whole milk, which puts the exclamation mark after coconut[!]. And although the tart tastes good just by itself, adding a bit of chocolate in the end really helps. I made two versions of this tart – for the first one, I melted dark chocolate in the microwave and randomly splashed it over the baked tart, after it had cooled [in the photograph]. For the second one, I toasted some dessicated coconut [or freshly grated coconut] in a non-stick pan till they browned at the edges, and then sprinkled them over the filling before baking the tart. This results in a nicely caramelized – or macarooned – finish.

For the pastry:
90gm (3 oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tbsp vegetable oil (eg, sunflower, canola, peanut etc)
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup (125 gm) all-purpose flour

Pre-heat the oven to 210º C. Combine butter, oil, water, sugar and salt in a medium-sized oven-proof bowl. Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter starts bubbling and the edges start to just brown. Remove the bowl from oven (be careful, the bowl will be hot and the mixture might sputter a bit), dump the flour into the butter and stir it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a 8-9 inch tart tin with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, keep a small piece of dough – about the size of a raspberry – aside and pat the rest into the tin with the heel of your hand. Use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tin. You could pinch the edges against the tart tin with a fork if you want. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake the shell for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown. Remove from the oven and if there are any sizeable cracks, use the bits of reserved dough that you had kept aside, to fill in and patch them. The shell need to be cooled before filling.

For the filling:
1 1/3 cups (400ml) of coconut milk
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1 dried bay leaf
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
2 eggs
2/3 cup of freshly grated coconut
1/2 cup of dessicated coconut, toasted (optional – see head note)
Dark chocolate, to garnish (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 180º C. In a saucepan combine coconut milk, sugar, bay leaf and nutmeg on high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. In a large bowl, whisk the two eggs. As soon as the coconut milk mixture starts to bubble up take the saucepan off the heat and pour its contents into the eggs slowly, while whisking continuously so that the eggs do not scramble. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and let it simmer on low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 5-8 minutes, till the custard coats the back of the spoon. Strain the custard back into the bowl that initially had the eggs in it and stir in the freshly grated coconut. Let the mixture cool completely before filling the tart shell. If you opt for toasted dessicated coconut (see head note), then sprinkle these over the unbaked tart now. Bake for 30-40 minutes till the centre is slightly wobbly but looks just set. Cool tart in its tin completely. To garnish, spoon melted dark chocolate on top. Serve thick wedges with lightly whipped cream or all by themselves.

today, and for tomorrow

Yesterday was all about this store-bought chocolate butter-cream cake for a birthday.

Most of the time most of us here suffer from impatience to wait around for an hour for a cake to bake and cool. Store-bought cake at this point of time is heaven sent, a deliciously comforting treat that helps us to be lazy asses. It has been quite a lot about cake lately.

Today it is going to be about some shopping. Mostly food-shopping…..my favourite kind, unless there are shoes involved. December has always been a month when our social calenders start bordering on psychotic.

Ma has decided to host a Christmas Day lunch. Naturally, debate (read: argument) ensued over the menu as we put our heads together to come up with food that’s going to appeal to both her friends and mine. My mother and I get along well in most areas of daily-living including chocolate and scarves.  But its a labour of love when it comes to food. Compared to the whimsical eater that I am, my mother can be described as conservative. And when it comes to cooking….well, I cook and she doesn’t. The only exception would be a mouth-watering lamb curry that she learnt from my grandmother and buttery chicken sandwiches she used to pack for picnic lunches when we were kids.

But after quite a few hours of heated discussion over the merits of boozy tiramisu for dessert against melt-in-your-mouth french chocolate cakes, we’ve finally converged on something that sits well with both of us. She tried to convince me that most her friends, as also a majority of Indian, prefer no skin on the chicken – I brought on a mini Cold War, if we can call it that, when I mentioned that chicken roasted without its skin is not in any way authentic or will, in any way, come out tender. We also spent a considerable amount of time figuring out who would prefer pork and who chicken when it came to choosing sausages four our hors d’oeuvres. I do pride myself on knowing more about food than Ma does, but as a seasoned hostess and an unbeaten domestic goddess, my mother somehow always manages to get things done exactly the way she wants.

After we dragged our shopping back home and lay most of it out on the dining table. As we surveyed the spread, I knew it was not going to be another lazy Saturday. And as I got to work on the tiramisu, Cook was kind enough to hand me a small dish full of nadu, to make the sweet ordeal even sweeter. Soy sauce bottles waiting on the counter-top. Chinese roast chicken next on list.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Nadu (Coconut & jaggery balls)

The nadu  is quintessentially Bengali. It turns up mostly during the fall/end of monsoon, when the Bengals rev up for our religious festivities. But in our household, its a recurrence, especially if there’s any amount of leftover dessicated coconut available. Apart from the cardamom in it, different families go with different spices. On occasions, I have had nadu with ginger added to the mixture and I myself, out of wholesome loony-ness, had added a couple of tablespoons of dried red chili powder which produced a note of heat right at the end. The jaggery adds a smoky treacle-like sweetness to the coconut balls, apart from of course, making our house smell like toddlers’ playhouse.

200gm jaggery
Flesh of 2 medium-sized coconuts, scooped out and finely grated (alternatively use 100gm of dessicated coconut)
Seeds of 6 green cardamom pods, ground
2 tsp dried red chili powder, optional

On medium heat, in a heavy bottomed pan, break the jaggery into pieces and let it melt. As soon as it turns into a thick liquid bubbling at the sides, add the coconut, cardamom and chili. Stir to combine well. Reduce heat and keep stirring steadily, till the mixture turns a deep reddish-brown and just starts to come together. Take it off heat and cool. Wet your palms with water and make small balls out of the ‘dough’.

Note: If the mixture doesn’t hold together when you try and form it into balls, you would need to pop the mixture back on heat and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Cool and then try again. Also, wetting your hands with water after forming 2-3 balls, keeps the mixture from sticking to your palms. Try substituting water with edible rose water, for fragrant nadus.