chocolate milk in a pair of Louboutins

Well look at that! Apparently it is possible to be in heaven and hell at the same time. Because that is exactly where I am right at this moment.

Labor Day arrived in a hurry and left in a hurry folks, and the holiday fell smack between a busy week. It just sat there brazenly, between a surly Tuesday that was and a huffing-puffing Thursday that promises to be. And that to me was heavenly. I would choose a fondant au chocolat as my idea of heaven any day, but yesterday I was happy to settle for a mid-week holiday.

Alas, that is all there is to heaven let me tell you. As much as I wanted to pack a picnic bag with coleslaw and ham sandwiches and crack open a few beers with friends at the banks of the Ganges (which, incidentally, was what I did last weekend), the sun has been interfering with our plans (and wishes). Its burning up outside. This city has basically lost its war against summer. Balcony doors have been bolted tight, the air-conditioning is running overtime, the refrigerator is heaving under a million ice boxes. And for the last few nights, we haven’t been turning on the lights while watching TV, because even emission from even one measly CFL has become unbearable. And although there aren’t any iron pitchforks around, this is the closest I’ve been to hell so far.

It is too hot to cook. It is too hot to bake. Just looking at my red-lacquered oven makes me turn around dunk my head in the refrigerator.

But I do hope you know that I love you very much.¬†Because a couple of days ago I did flip through my recipe journal. The one that’s filled with promises I never keep. And I did find something that’s been on my mind for quite a while now. At least since last summer.

OK, no. I’m lying. Its been on my mind since I fell upon it about a million years ago by which I mean three summers ago. Yes, that long.¬†It was just the photograph I was attracted to at first. That sounds shallow, I know, but the line between beauty and personality sort of goes blurry when you see such specimens on blogs like that of Keiko’s.¬†I know you’re familiar with it.

I, being faithful to everything chocolate, took a print-out and its been stuck in my journal ever since, hanging right next to a churros recipe from Leonor. Its a recipe for chocolate milk. At least that’s what I’ve decided to call it and trust me, its not as public¬†as chocolate milk. It’s chocolate milk in a black teddy and a pair of Louboutins.

Chocolate is melted with milk and water, poured into ice trays and put in the freezer. And there it waits till a tall glass of vanilla milk requires its services. You put a couple¬†(or four)¬†cubes of chocolate ice in a glass and slowly pour the milk on top. A second later you watch the dark brown lose itself in the pristine white. If you’re doing it right then this will make you feel like downing the whole thing in one brain-freezing gulp.

But don’t. Wait for a minute. Carry the glass to your couch, or if you’re one of those who believe that going out in the sun is the¬†funnest thing you can think of¬†(damn you, in that case)¬†then carry it out to the patio. Lift your legs up on the PVC table and bliss up.

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Glaçons chocolat d’été
adapted from Keiko Okawa at Nordljus

What you need:

for the chocolate ice cubes

200ml milk
50ml water
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
70g dark chocolate (finely chopped)

for the vanilla flavoured milk
600ml milk
1 vanilla pod (seeds scraped out) or alternatively, you could use 1/2 tbsp of pure vanilla extract
40g sugar

How-to:

For the chocolate ice cubes, place the milk, water, sugar and cocoa powder in a pan and bring to the boil. Take from the heat, add the chocolate and leave to melt. When cool, pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

For the milk drink, place the milk, vanilla pod & seeds and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. Set aside and cool, then chill in the fridge (preferably overnight). You could use vanilla extract in place of the pod. In which case simply mix it in while heating the milk and let the milk mixture steam instead of boil.

The chocolate cubes are soft and not like true ice-cubes, so you might need to poke the back of a spoon into the sides to loosen them up a bit. To serve, place the chocolate ice cubes into the glasses and pour the milk over. Serve with some whipped cream and shaved chocolate on top. Or, like me, you could settle for another helping.

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OK, so…

…we’re well into the new year. 3 and a half months to be precise.

And here I am, yet again, standing shame-faced in front of you, fiddling with an egg beater and shuffling my feet.

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I know what you’re expecting.

You’re expecting great news. You’re expecting life-changing acts.

You’re wondering if I’ve changed jobs, changed cities.

You’re expecting me to spill the beans on some new man in my life. You’re wondering if you’re about to hear wedding bells. You’re thinking that it may all be bad news.

But….alas. The truth is that I’ve been up to nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing. I have been working till 10 at night. Does that qualify as “paying my dues”?

I have baked a lot and got a promotion at work. Neither of which are related to either.

I have lost about 10 pounds…give or take a few and the loss of which has made, I’m sad to say, absolutely no difference to my appearance.

I have turned 28 and am well on my way to facing a crisis-filled 30th Birthday bash.

I have survived a Nigella-Lawson’s Christmas-cake-filled Christmas and my soul sister’s wedding on 12.12.12.

shreya_wedding

My blog inbox dolefully reminds me that I have 1200 unread emails. Apparently I’ve led some people to believe that something horrible has happened to me.

It’s just that all I seem to do lately, is work. That’s it. That is simply it.

I’m working before I get to work. I’m working on my way to work. And I’m working even on my off days. And yes, I know that a burn-out is looming up somewhere in my near future. My way of preparing for it is to bake at least a dozen spinach and bacon quiches, whip up as many magic chocolate cakes as possible, blitz up a few gallons of mocha frapp√©s and freeze them all in batches, ready till the time they’re needed. I have also been training my mother to serve me the right amount of pie and frapp√©¬†when I finally do fizzle out. And I have also stocked the drinks cabinet with Bacardi and cheap port.

Am I sounding too much like a pessimist? Well, at least I’m planning to go out on a full-belly.

Meanwhile its been sweltering out here, considering the fact that India always seems to be one season ahead than anywhere else. My colleagues in London are gushing about spring while we wipe sweat off the back of our necks and turn the air-conditioning on at full blast. Rain does come. In a stingy, stuck-up, Scrooge-ish manner.

rain

And amidst all the bottles of chilled water, lemon squashes and sweat-soaked tank tops I decided to come visit you and come clean about what’s been going on. I do hope you understand. I do hope you’ve missed me and I do hope I’m able to come back pretty soon again. Between all the embarrassing shuffling of feet I’m offering you my sincerest apologies……and a glass of mocha frapp√©.

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Mocha Frapp√©¬†for¬†when you’ve been working too hard

What you need:

1 tsp and a half of good-quality instant coffee (I realize that that’s an oxymoron, but humour me)
1 tbsp of white rum
3/4 cup of whole milk
1 tsp of unsweetened natural cocoa powder
2 tbsp of granulated sugar (or like me, you could use 2 tbsp of runny honey)
Ice cubes

Method:

Seriously?
Oh well. Pop everything, including a couple of ice-cubes in the blender and whiz for about a minute. Pour into a glass and listen to the froth on top fizz and sputter before drinking it.

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‚Äôs 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?

of massages and iced coffee

Sometimes a Sunday can start out bright and promising and then go horribly horribly wrong in the middle and then end on a magnificently wonderful high.
One of those days in which Karmathe eternal b**** – lies to you, teaches you a lesson and then decides compensate you for all your troubles.

It started with a craving for pie which, as you must know, is difficult and¬†sacrilegious¬†to ignore. And my mind wasn’t hovering around just any ordinary pie. I wanted a cheek-puckering lemon tart and for additional gratification a chocolate shortcrust. I deliberately won’t go into the details because promising a tart like that and then refusing to share the recipe is gastronomically painful. I wouldn’t do that to you, dear readers.

*Also, the photograph above is not really the Sunday I wanted you to see. It’s of the last time a little setting sunlight came in through my apartment window…and that was last summer.

All I would say is that the tart wasn’t worth it. The lime curd was disappointingly too sweet – usually that’s a good thing where I’m concerned, but not when it comes to lime tarts. And the pastry was disastrous. It was laid on uncharacteristically thick. It dried out within five minutes of spending time in the oven when I tried to blind bake it. And then it turned soggy as I filled it with curd and tried to bake it into settling. I then went a step further to spoil the damn thing – by adding cracked black pepper on top. Which, to be honest, would have tasted great if the curd hadn’t curdled.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here. More precisely, there’s a lesson that I learnt here. Don’t try baking with dry skin and a broken back. Two things I’ve been ignoring for the last couple of months.

Let me elaborate.

Unlike the versatile skin conditions of most Indians anywhere in the world, my skin has only one job to do. Be dry. Stretchy, pull-y, parched as ash, floor-of-the-Gobi-dessert type dry. As you can imagine, my mother wisely instilled in me the importance of moisturizer in my life from a very young age. And now a little less than half my monthly salary during the winter months go into buying the best skin rehydrating products there are. ¬†As a result I adopt a heart-breaking yearly routine – eating frugally during winter. I may not sit here with a full stomach after a great meal, but¬†I will have the most gorgeous skin you’ve ever seen.

And then comes my broken back – a by-product of my choice of profession. Hours spent bending over drafting boards and building models. Nights spent crammed onto a University-Issue single bed with four other girls trying to catch a few winks before a presentation. And now, days spent either sitting in front of a computer or traipsing around a construction site. Gives new meaning to the mostly American phrase¬†“can’t catch a break”.

At times like these one needs closure from all this pie-baking-back-breaking-skin-scratching nonsense and take my word for it, a traditional Swedish massage does the trick.
One of my colleagues, a German girl with a crown of curly blonde hair and the gift of making mind-blowing Simnel cakes once gabbed about SPA London. And while she was all about their facial treatments, I decided on the massage and promptly made arrangements for Aru, Polia and myself. Needless to say, we were not disappointed. After walking into a serene waiting lobby we were each assigned a therapist and then whisked off to a shared parlor. A mere hour later we walked out of the spa shiny-skinned and overcome with bliss, fully functional backs and with considerably lighter wallets.

The day ended early in the evening with pizza and iced-coffee. I went to sleep with that coffee on my mind. And we all know how I feel about coffee.

Iced coffee is a fairly simple concept. Its deeply brewed coffee with sweetened milk over ice cubes. But this fairly simple concept isn’t always the success it promises to be. More often than not I’ve ended up with watery coffee with a few floating ice cubes. There are times when the milk is just too sweet or the coffee’s not strong enough. And the worst of them all comes in two vivid layers of milky coffee and icy water.

I knew that Ree Drummond has a recipe for iced coffee on her blog The Pioneer Woman. I’m sure you already know this but I have to say it – that woman has her game down pat. She talks of watery iced coffee and goes on to adopt a method covered by Imbibe magazine. The recipe uses ground coffee, steeped in room-temp water and strained over cheesecloth. The result can be dispensed as required, and in any amount required, over a glass stuffed with ice cubes. To be taken with sugar and milk or condensed milk ala Vietnamese ca phe sua da.

I knew I had a Vietnamese coffee filter somewhere in my utensils cupboard, a farewell gift from Hana, my ex-housemate, when I was leaving Nottingham for the last time. But the bag of ground coffee that had accompanied it had been dumped long ago past its expiration date. Given that I had just come back from a sleep-inducing experience like a Swedish massage I was going to need a lot of convincing to hunt for a coffee filter hidden behind years of accumulated kitchen junk. So instead, I settled for the stir-plain-instant-coffee-in-mug version. Its a hybrid really. The recipe uses room-temp water, a scant quantity compared to the amount of instant coffee granules, condensed milk or sugar and ice. Then, if you prefer, you may spoon some milk over the ice cubes.

I have a piece of advice for you readers: the next time you slip and trip on the kitchen front, just make iced coffee. Also get a Swedish massage, but that is optional really.

Pamper-Yourself Iced Coffee

The amounts of ingredients used in this recipe depends completely on your taste and preferences. Even though I have included measurements, you’d be better off using this as a guide rather than following it word to word. Condensed milk can easily be replaced by sugar. In which case, add about 2 tbsp of sugar and increase the amount of whole-milk to 5 tbsp. This recipe makes one small tumbler – single serving – and can easily be multiplied as much as you want.

1/4 cup of water, at room temperature
2 1/2 tbsp instant coffee , because I like it strong
2 tbsp of sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp of whole milk
Ice cubes

In the serving glass, stir water and coffee together till the mixture is smooth. Fill the glass to the brim with ice cubes. Spoon condensed milk and whole milk from the top. Give everything a stir with a straw or the back-end of a spoon and you’re done. The photograph above shows my undisturbed and unstirred pot of iced-coffee, so don’t panic – it won’t layer like that when you’ve stirred it.