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.

hello_again

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√©.

musambi

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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.

make our summer

There are a few things you are never allowed to do in my house. You never turn away a puppy who comes sniffing for attention. You never run out of chocolate. And you do not ever say no to a cupcake.

I don’t want to be too strict because I have been away from this place for sometime – a total of five days, to be exact. But¬†I do hope everyone’s OK with that cupcake-rule because that’s what we’re enforcing at breakfast today.

Actually those are what we had for Mothers’ Day yesterday. And we stashed a few in the freezer for inevitable next-morning-consumption. Even when¬†we’re mostly a family of salty-breakfast eaters.

Saturday afternoon I returned from work to a refrigerator chock full of Gulabkhas mangoes, so called because of its rosy flavour and blushing skin. Gulab is “rose” in Hindi. Now many people will tell you many things but believe me when I say that you haven’t had good mangoes if you haven’t had any from India. We are, after all, the fruit’s parentage. We’ve loved it, grown it, named it after ourselves and shared it with the world. We eat them skinned and whole, we slice them, cube them, juice them, puree them, stew them into chutneys, fire-roast them into drinks, dry them into pickles and in this case, fold them into flour and semolina to make cupcakes.

Mangoes basically make our summer.

OK. So I’m a messy cupcake-batter pourer. Read on please.

The cupcakes start innocently enough with softened butter added to whipped eggs and sugar. A mixture of flour and semolina is dumped in. And then shredded mangoes are folded softly into the batter. In the end, the cupcakes while warm get cloaked in a film of ganache. After a short spell in the cool, when the ganache pauses mid-drip, there’s nothing else left to do but to eat them. The semolina adds a bit of unexpected crunch to the cupcakes. Unexpected because I had expected it to bake as well as the flour does. It was quite a pleasant surprised punctuated only with bits of jelly-like mangoes.

The recipe also allows you to adjust the sugar content depending on the sweetness or tartness of the mangoes you use. Normally I would go with a whole cup of granulated sugar. But Gulabhkhas is sweet. Sweet with multiple e’s. And so I reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoonfuls worth.

Mango and Semolina Cupcakes with Chocolate Caps

Note:¬†Choosing mangoes can be a tricky thing for first-timers. Try choosing ones that have hints of red and yellow to them and those that smell sweet when you sniff their navels (the point where they’ve been broken from the branches). Be careful while blitzing the mangoes – you don’t want a pur√©e, you want shreds.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina
Pinch of salt
2 tsp of baking powder
3 eggs
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
120gm (or approx. 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
1 cup mango cubes (approx 1 1/2 to 2 medium-sized mangoes)
Try this for the ganache

Combine, flour, semolina, salt and baking powder in a bowl and mix with a fork. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric beater for 2 minutes till foamy. Add the sugar in three parts while beating constantly till the mixture has doubled and is pale. Beat in the butter till no lumps remain. Pulse the mango cubes briefly in a blender/processor till they’re disintegrated but not pur√©ed. Dump in the flour-semolina mixture along with the mangoes into the butter-egg batter. Fold till the mixture just comes together. Do not overwork the mixture. Cover the mixture with cling film and rest at room-temperature for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C. Line a cupcake tin with wrappers and using two spoons or an ice-cream scoop, divide up the batter into each wrapper. Bake for 20-22 minutes till the tops are slightly cracked and a toothpick inserted in the centres come out clean. Cool the cupcakes on the rack. Top with a thin layer of ganache and cool in the refrigerator till the ganache sets. Serve.

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.

  

heat, mushroom, weekend

Looking forward to lying low this weekend. Its only just March and the heat is already numbing my oral skills.¬†I know I should say something like “no pun intended” right here, but I’m feeling slow.

It’s hard to concentrate on anything with constantly having to wipe your sweat-drenched brow and I’d rather starve than spend time in the kitchen right now which has recently turned into a life-size walk-in oven. Every time Cook comes out of the kitchen I glance at her to check if her skin’s turned golden brown and crackly.

Spring, is it?¬†My foot, that’s what.

But I haven’t come here today completely empty-handed. Rio¬†(my banana-crazy brother…and yes, he is named after the city) has helped me plug in our portable mini-oven on the multipurpose counter, halfway between the dining table and the kitchen. And I’ve been happily chomping on roasted oyster mushrooms since.

To be honest, you won’t even need to bother with a proper recipe. Trust me. My brain is too fried to be making up lies.

All you need to do is pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Mix together 4-5 tablespoons of tomato ketchup with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Coat the mushrooms in this sauce and lay out on a greased/parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle sea salt, a teaspoon of dried thyme and a generous amount of black pepper over. Drizzle some olive oil on top and roast for 15 minutes. And at this point relax, have a popsicle if you can and try not to think too much.¬†At least that’s what I did.

Ciao and have a happy weekend you lot.