Thursday, 24 March 2011

Spring is in the air!!!

Happy spring to all the readers in Europe!!! Finally,  its time to come out of the winter hibernation and get outdoors to enjoy the long, bright and sunny days. I am so excited about spring this year not only for the reason because I have already started dreaming about not having to wear the heavy winter jackets any longer or because my recently cleaned balcony looks very inviting to me but also because of the fact that I am glad to have more of daylight now, which means I shall now be able to photograph the things I cook in a much better way.

As I was passing by the fresh farmers corner near our house the other day, all the beautiful rich shades reminded me of the colourful salads that I had made during the last summer. Since its just the beginning of spring, there´s actually a mixed variety of vergetables and fruits available at the supermarket, i.e. a bit sour strawberries, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, spring onions, rhubarb, lemons etc. And I love mixing fresh fruits and vegetables with savoury herbs and dried nuts in my salads. And this is exactly what my todays recipe is about. A colourful mixture of winter leftovers with a light springy touch.

On opening my freezer, I found broccoli, green peas and some forzen herbs. By the way, I prefer frozen broccoli over the so-called fresh one that is lying in your fridge for over three days, tastes neither fresh nor looks green anymore. Also, frozen parsley and dill taste equally good in currys or pasta salads as fresh from the garden ( this, however, is not recommended for all herbs). So, I took these out of the freezer, bought some dried apricots, chicken legs and a few other ingredients from market and added a few from our pantry and here is what I ended up making for dinner.





Herby Penne with Apricot-stuffed Chicken



Apricot-Stuffed Chicken


Ingredients:

4 Chicken leg quarters
salt and pepper
zest of a lemon
10-12 dried apricots
4 tbs flaked/chopped almonds
1 tbs cumion powder
1 tbs turmeric powder
5 tbs yoghurt
chili flakes (optional)


Remove skin and extra fat from the chicken quarters. Using a sharp knife, separate bone from the thigh piece.
Pull the meat away from the bone as you do this and cut out the thigh bone carefully. This is not difficult as it sounds :)










Using the flat side of a mallet or a rolling pin, flatten the deboned chicken thighs to about a quarter of an inch thick.






Sprinkle with salt and pepper and lemon zest. Place in the dried apricots and flaked almonds and secure with the help of toothpicks. 






Take yoghurt in a bowl and add in the turmeric powder, cumin powder, salt, pepper and some chili flakes.
Coat the chicken pieces with this mixture. Place on a baking tray and bake at 190 C for 35-40 minutes. (Drizzle with little oil after 30 minutes).




Meanwhile, make the salad.



Herby Penne Salad
  
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups boiled penne
2 tbs oil
1 carrot (peel and cut into slices)
1/2 cup green peas 
1/2 cup broccoli
200 g red kidney beans (boiled)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1 apple (optional)
1/2 cup cucumber slices (optional)
2 tbs mustard paste
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tbs lemon juice
(if you have those ready made salad dressing sachets available around you, try using 1 sachet instead of all the above seasonings, it tastes remarkably good)
4 tbs sunflower seeds (roasted)


Peel and cut the carrot in slices. Take 4 tbs water and 1/2 tsp lemon juice in a pan and cook carrots and broccoli in it on high until the water is dissolved. Dont overcook, the vegetables should retain their slight crunchiness.





Add Oil to these and the green peas, too. Fry till peas get soft. Add in the kidney beans, penne, salt and pepper, mustard, seasoning mix and the herbs. Toss everything together and place aside to cool. 








Meanwhile, cut the cherry tomatoes in halves and incase you are using fresh fruits and vegetables like cucumber, apples, oranges etc. add once the pasta has completely cooled. But I havent done it this time as we wanted to enjoy it warm. So the moment my chicken pieces were done in the oven, I added tomatoes and sunflower seeds to the pasta and served. nom nom nom!!!



Éclair mit Flair

I´ve got a whole lot of savoury things that I've made lately, sitting and waiting for me to type their recipes and put them up but the demand for desserts and cakes was so high that I had to request the prepared dishes to sacrifice their turn and let me please your sweet tooth first.

Yesterday I made pate a choux -  its the basic dough for eclairs, cream puffs etc. Idea was actually to make savoury cream cheese and chicken balls for appetizers but the moment I took out the baked puffs out of the oven, that tempting aroma of baked eggs and flour screamed to my ears that they wish to have a sweeeeettttt treatment instead. (And as my husband says, if theres anything in life that gets me convinced without much argument and hesitation, then thats a call for desserts.) I didnt even bother to resist the temptation for a second and easily gave up in favour of a Crème pâtissière (vanilla pastry cream) filling and chocolate topping :p

And as always, the more I indulged myself in the sweet world, the more I wanted to do new things. And once again, I started with a thing and then deviated to something else.

Here's my version of cream puffs with a vanilla pastry cream filling and chocolate glaze...







First, make the choux pastry!



Ingredients:

150 ml water
60 g butter
12 tbs flour
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt

Boil water with butter and salt in a pan until it starts bubbling.





 Baby bottles are ideal for measuring liquids


Take off from heat and add flour. Mix well with a whisk until it leaves the sides of the pan.







Keep aside to cool a bit. And then start adding eggs one by one. You can now use the electric mixer with the dough hooks for kneading.



It will be a sticky dough




Take a baking tray, oil it and then sprinkle some water over it. You can either use a normal spoon to form the small balls or pipe out small swirls using a pastry bag.









Also pipe out some of the sticky dough in a hook-shape.










Bake in preheated oven (200 C) for about 30-35 minutes. Don't open before they turn golden brown on top.
Take out the tray and place aside to c


Crème pâtissière



Ingredients:
 2 eggs

4 tbs fine sugar
2 tbs cornflour
300 ml milk
2 drops vanilla essence





Beat sugar and eggs for 10 minutes. Bring the milk to boil and remove from heat. Add cornflour to the egg sugar mixture and mix. Start adding milk gradually while stirring continuously. Place on low heat again and keep on stirring until it forms like a thick sauce. Remove from heat and place aside to cool.



Chocolate Glaze


Ingredients:

25 g butter
1 tbs milk
1 tbs cocoa powder
100 g powder sugar


Melt butter with milk in a pan, remove from heat and add in cocoa powder and sugar. Mix well.


Ive tried to explain rest of the procedure through pictures.



Decorate the plate using a small fork and sieve some cocoa over it






Cut the puffs horizontally with a knife and then cut the tops vertically till the middle (for making wings) using scissors.


Spoon two tablespoons of vanilla cream onto the base and cover with the top wings (brushed with chocolate cream). Put the neck/head of the swan in place.






I forgot to dip the wings in chocolate, so I did that later with the help of a baking brush:)


Monday, 21 March 2011

For the two of us...

I actually wanted to continue with the baking tips and techniques this week and also had a few things in my mind to bake over the weekend in order to take enough pictures for all of you. So, we did the groceries accordingly on Saturday. And as I told earlier, Sundays at ours are usually ideal for tinkering with recipes and playing around in the kitchen. I was pretty much sure that theres going to be plenty of time to devote to baking but then my husband started with this long-pending project of balcony cleaning because spring is finally upon us. And the thought of finally being able to spend some hours lying outside in the hammock, reading and relaxing in the beautiful weather with beautiful food to match the atmosphere was convincing enough to help him with the cleaning business.

The entire cleaning project consumed half of my day and the new look of our balcony was so inviting and comfortable that it was almost impossible to hold back the desire to savour a delicious meal out there in the sunny weather. Sorry folks, but I had to postpone the baking project for another day. But, I am sure, my todays recipe will equally delight you.

Here is the sensational Garlic Chicken with Orange Sauce that we enjoyed on weekend.








Garlic Chicken with Orange Sauce:

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts
25g butter
2 cloves garlic
3 tbs chopped fresh corriander
1 tbs oil
zest and juice of 1/2 orange
1 tbs brown sugar
salt
white pepper


Flatten each of the chicken breast between two sheets of clingfilm with the flatter side of a mallet (if you dont have a meat mallet, use a rolling pin or even the back side of your frying pan would also do the job). Mix butter with chopped corriander and crushed garlic.





Sprinkle salt and pepper on each chicken breast. Spread the butter mixture and roll carefully from pointed end and secure with toothpicks.





Heat 1 tbs oil in the skillet and place the chicken rolls into it. Cook on medium low for 4-5 minutes on each side. Take out on kitchen papers.

Mix salt, orange zest and brown sugar in orange juice. Add a pinch of salt and crushed pepper. Pour it in the hot skillet containing remaining juices and oil from chicken. Cook on high for 4 minutes until the sugar begins to caramalise a bit.


Prepare your serving plate. Squeeze a line of tomatoe ketchup and spread it with the help of a cake decorating comb (you may use a zig zag scrapper that we use for cleaning freezer but make sure to use a new one). The icing tip shown here is for piping out the mashed potatoes.








Cut the breast rolls into slices, pour over the orange sauce (do strain the sauce first for a finer texture and look) and serve with potatoe purree and slices of fresh orange.


I cant imagine having a perfect meal without a dessert. So here is how we rounded up the scrumptious treat.






A fresh Kiwi-Yoghurt Mousse!!!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Baking cakes without dome in the middle






I took this picture for a friend of mine to explain that baking doesn't necessarily have to be started through expensive means. If you don't have wax, parchment or any other paper to line the baking pan, the plain white papers, i.e. those used for printing, are now available in almost every home and Ive used them quite often in my early baking days. (However, I would strongly recommend to stay away from brown grocery bags or news papers because the ink, colours or toxic materials to make these might not be very healthy).

Similarly, you need not buy a complete range of baking pans to start with baking. Good baking pans are surely helpful in getting perfect results but it makes no sense to invest the whole lot of money in buying pans of each size that you would probably never use later. The baking pan in the picture is nothing else but a normal cooking pan that I don't even remember when I used the last time, so I removed the plastic handles, simply line it with baking paper and ta-daaaa, here I have my new 8" cake pan.

I think, I should probably write my views on this in a separate post, lets first talk about what the post title is about, i.e. how to bake level, domeless, even cakes:)

In the beginning, my cakes often used to dome in the middle while baking, and trimming that in order to have a smooth top for icing was such a fuss to me because I never used to get a balanced and flat surface even after cutting almost half of the cake and then I came across this great tip of using the bake even strips .

These are long thin strips of aluminum-like cloth that you wrap around the baking pan. And the result is simply marvellous. The cake gets a very nice and even top that almost no cutting is necessary. But since I bake a lot and baking surely is not a cheap hobby for the reason that there is always a long list of products to buy, I kept looking  for some cheap yet safe alternative (Check this link).

There is basically a science behind the doming. This mainly happens because the high temperature in the oven makes the metallic sides of the pan absorb the heat very quickly, making the sides set earlier before the centre portion and the expanding batter has no where to go but up. Now its your personal choice how you want to fix the heat distribution issue. One way is to place something metallic in the core of the batter that will conduct heat in there, helping the batter to rise more effeciently. (Check this helpful tutorial).

Another alternative is to prevent the sides to absorb heat quicker than the centre. For that, we try to wrap the metallic sides of the pan with something that generates moisture, and cools down the temperature a bit allowing an even heat distribution. Some people use damp towels for this purpose. That doesn't look very neat to me and you also need to cut the cloth to fit the pan size. So, here comes my favourite method for securing the cakes against doming :


The foil-pack technique:

Aluminium foil
Kitchen papers / old news papers / cheese cloth
A safety pin
Baking paper or silicon sheet etc. to line the inside of your pan.


Cut the foil as well as the kitchen papers according to the size of your pan .





Fold the kitchen paper twice to get a long strip.





Dampen the kitchen paper.





This may increase its size, cut off the extra length and place on the foil. Fold and make a pack.






Wrap around the lined and greased baking pan (also check the post on how to line the baking pan) and assure by using a safety pin. Dont overlap.





Here is another picture.







The moisture in the strips keeps the sides of the pan cooler for a nicely even and moist cake. See for yourself.





This all might sound a bit messy but takes no time to prepare in real. And the result is always very satisfying. I have been following these steps for a few months now, and my cakes are always fairly even with almost no cracks. Also the sides are very moist without having any dry crust.
 




For more baking tips and tricks, follow the latest blogs!


Happy baking friends!

Friday, 18 March 2011

La bella torta..

Its only a year ago that I rediscovered my passion for cake making.

We wanted to do a sponge bob theme for our son´s first birthday party, so I and my husband decided to make our first themed cake. It was an experience that will probably never be forgotten because the entire project of baking, cutting, shaping and frosting kept us stand on our feet till midnight, and the result was something that I myself would probably not spend too much money on when buying from a super market. But to me and the guests, it was simply awesome because we had made it for our son all by ourselves!!

I have no formal training or baking type qualifications, had only once had a pleasure to watch a professional cake decorator working on his project in a hotel´s kitchen. It was very impressive and inspiring!!! I remember myself then standing in my mothers kitchen for hours doing baking experiments and then pleading my brothers to finish up on them all before our refrigerator would've started overflowing with icings and cakes. It was indeed a lot of fun!! The passion, however, seemed to go into hibernation once the busy university life started.

The sponge bob cake with all its unprofessional looks was a hit amongst our friends and family and their response gave me such a great feeling of accomplishment. I felt so motivated to improve on the blunders that we made with our first attempt. So this is how it all started. I found some really great magazines in the library and loads of fabulous tutorials online. Within weeks, our electricity bills went through the roofs from having the poor old energy-inefficient oven on all the time, and the new grocery bills were definitely way out of whack. But my baking skills also grew to new, tremendous levels.

The baking started to get better with each attempt and so did the deorating skills. My biggest problem was, however, the choice of icing. After watching a number of online tutorials and trying on them at home, I realised that the most easiest medium to get the neatest and finest finish to themed cakes is fondant. It provides the perfect canvas for a smooth baking artistry. But since I am not really enamoured of too sweet cakes and it surely hurts watching half of your effort go waste in the bin, its one of my least favourite mediums to work with.

Buttercream has an acceptable sweetness but its very rich and is, therefore, best for using on light cakes. My preferred medium is, however, light icings such as whipped cream, fruity icings, mousse and puddings. For the reason that I have to devour most of my baking alone as my husband is not really a sweet tooth, that´s also a minimum favour I can do to my waistline. Anyways, enough of the jibber jabber, here are pictures of some of my cakes alongwith the pitfalls..


My first attempt at a themed cake.

The cake was a soft sponge with coconut, vanilla and chocolate whipped cream icing.You can see how unrefined and rough the edges are, its because at that time, I didnt even know that there exist terms like leveling, trimming or "crumb coat" in the dictionary of cake making..:)




Its been over an year now (definitely more that two meanwhile) and with each cake Im learning new techniques and getting better at avoiding the disasters. And I must admit, this obsession is the sweetest of all activities that I have indulged myself in of late.





Carrot cake with cream cheese icing topped with mixed red berry purree.
















A rich dark chocolate cake is an all time favourite!
(Even here you can see the cake dome which is a very common problem for most of the beginners, but believe me, this can be prevented. I will show that in the next post)






This plain yellow cream cheese flavoured cake is without a dome.





And trust me, I havent cut off any top from the cake below, but its clearly overdone with icing...





Another proud effort that couldve turned out alot better if I were a bit more patient and focused whilst playing with the cream is this Barbie Cake. Nonetheless, I was very happy to do this for my best friends daughter.



I so regret not taking pictures of all the cakes I have made during this one year, but who knew I would ever start with writing a blog. Here´s a picture of one I made on my sons second birthday party.




The choo choo cake had a dark chocolate engine followed by red carrot cake and blue lemon cake carriages.


And here is the picture of one Ive made a week ago, just a day before starting with this sharing activity.






There are hundreds of ways to support your passion for baking through inexpensive means. I will soon try to explain how to save money on trays, cutters and other baking stuff.

Please note, its an older post from the very early days of my baking and blogging attempts:) The series continues here with various icing techniques, step-by-step baking and decorating tutorials and a lot more on caking that Ive shared meanwhile ..

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Go nuts about nuts!!!

Sunday meals are usually quite elaborate and sumptuous at ours. Since my husband can take care of our little son, I get enough time to devote to my favourite activities in the kitchen. Cooking on a holiday is, however, quite risky as well, e.g. when you are really desperate to try on some new recipe but are short of a necessary ingredient and all stores are closed. So, what I have started doing lately to avoid frustrating moments like these is that instead of following a recipe, I now try improvising with whatever I have on hand by using a little imagination.

The same happened this weekend as well... I had this nearly full jar of peanut butter resting in the fridge for a month and I wasn't just coming up with any idea about what to do with it. One thawed whole chicken was likewise shouting for my immediate attention. So, I grabbed my cooking notes and found a fantastic recipe of grilled satay chicken with peanut butter sauce....

Unfortunately, the size of the chicken breast was not enough to replace a meal for the three of us, and there were no fresh salad greens available either, so I decided to make rice to accompany it. But the thought of having plain boiled rice was somehow very underwhelming in my vision of an exquisite dinner. The entire confusion led to a very productive outcome which you can see in the picture below:




Grilled Chicken with Peanut Butter Sauce and Mixed Spice Rice:

For the chicken I used:

2 small chicken breasts
2 cloves garlic
4 tbs chopped fresh coriander
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp dry coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1tbs white sesame seeds
4 tbs oil
1 tbs soy sauce
1 green chili (deseeded)
salt and pepper

wooden skewers soaked in water for at least half an hour in order to prevent burning in oven





Cut the chicken breasts lengthwise in strips (6-7) and thread the strips onto the skewers working the skewers in and out of the meat in a snake like form. Tip: In order to get a more finer finish, do this step after having the chicken meat been marinated for two hours.

Combine together rest of the ingredients and blend in the mixer to make the marinade. Place the chicken strips/skewers in the marinade and toss well until coated on all sides. Cover the dish and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Grill the chicken at high for about 4 minutes on each side until the meat is well cooked from inside.


For the Peanut butter sauce, take

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 green chili, deseeded and chopped
2 tbs oil
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coconut
7 tbs peanut butter
7 tbs water
1 tbs fresh cream




 Heat the oil in a small pan and add in the chopped onion and chili. Cook for a minute till onions get their transparent look. Add coriander and cumin powder and cook for another 30 seconds. Add in rest of the ingredients and cook on very low for 5 minutes. Cover and keep warm until you serve.


Mixed spice rice:

2 cups basmati rice
1 tsp vinegar and 1 tbs salt for boiling rice

2 onions
4 tbs oil
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped/flaked almonds
3 tbs pine nuts
174 tsp yellow food colour

For the spice mix, grind together

1/2 tsp cumin
2 cloves
1 black cardamom
2 green cardamoms
a pinch of mace
a pinch of nutmeg
1 tbs sesame seeds
6 black peppercorns

Boil rice in 5 glasses of water with vinegar and salt. To determine when it has reached that stage that you require, remove a few grains from the pot and press between your thumb and forefinger. The rice should mostly mash but will have a firm whitish core. Strain and keep drained aside.

Fry onions in hot oil until they get a nice golden - brown colour. Add in the raisins, pine nuts and almonds and fry for a minute.





Now start assembling the layers by spreading 1/3 of rice at the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle 1/3 of spice mix and 1/3 of fried onions and nuts. Repeat the procedure twice and finish by sprinkling food colour on top. Immediately after this step, cover the pan with a tight lid and place on very low heat for another 7-10 minutes.




Carefully toss the rice after opening. Serve hot.



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Gerhard St.
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Monday, 14 March 2011

Soft as they look...

Last week, a bengali neighbour of mine was seriously ill. Getting unwell with two toddlers to deal with, especially when the husband cant take off from work and theres no one around you can count on, is certainly hard. My little son has made me realise this helpless situation quite often during the last two years.

At first, I wasnt sure whether offering a help in the kitchen would do her any favour, but her excited and happy voice on phone right after having the meal finished was a clear indicator that we can continue with this mutual favour even in the future as well :)

I had made seekh kebab curry, black white-eyed beans and ghulab jamun for them. And her husband was so smitten with the taste of the sweet balls that she could hardly wait to try on them in her own kitchen.

So, here comes the recipe for you, my dearest Nazneen :



Ghulab Jamun


Ingredients:
1 cup dry milk powder
1 tbs plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1 1/3 tsp samolina
2 tbs oil
1 egg
Oil for deep frying

For syrup:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water

To garnish (optional):

grated coconut
silver leaves



For making the syrup, stir sugar in water and then cook on medium heat for 15 minutes until completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and cover the syrup with a lid to keep warm.
Heat the oil on low-medium. Combine together the milk powder, baking powder, flour and samolina with hand. Add the oil and then fold the beaten egg as well. You will get a bit of sticky dough. Tip: DO NOT overmix or knead.


Make a small ball ( depending on what size you want to have - one tsp of mixure is enough to have a smaller jamun but if you prefer the bigger ones, one tbs will do the job ) with greased palms.
Slip in the ball immediately into the hot oil. Continue doing the same with rest of the dough. Make sure your pan is big enough to fry all the balls at once.
Tip: My experience of making all balls at once and then frying them in two shifts was not successful. Make sure to tranfer each dough ball immediately into the oil.

Fry the balls on medium heat and keep on rotating them with a frying spoon until evenly golden on all sides.
Tip: Temperature plays an important role here as this will ensure that the jamuns are completely cooked from inside and get an even browning outside.


Transfer immediately into the prepared warm sugar syrup and cover the syrup pan with a lid for 5 minutes. Transfer into the serving dish and garnish with grated coconut or silver leaves.  I usually serve them a day later (love the texture they get after a days rest). They can be served warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!!!

On learning cookery....

There´s a commonly held belief: "Cooking is an art".
Cooking surely is an art but even if not everyone can perform it with the required finesse, cooking is also not a natural born talent; it can be learned.
There is hardly any artist who has never borrowed style and methods from other artists. They are also influenced and motivated by certain schools whether contemporary or historical. They have their materials and the working environment. Same applies for cooking and baking. There is imagination, motivation, material, an institution (could be your mom, neighbour, friend, a cookbook or perhaps a renowned chef). All you need to do is...put the fears aside and let yourself go - There´s really no need to worry yourself out. Cooking is not something you should dread - it can be learned!!!

But nothing can be mastered by reading books only, you need to practice it - not just once or twice but over and over again until you get the sense of it. One should keep one thing in mind that even the most talented chefs had to learn to cook by mastering all the basics when they were starting out and.... they too had once made mistakes. Hence, there is no need to get demotivated if your pizza dough doesnt rise or your salad has gone soggy, all bad experiences can be taken as lesson for the next time.

Figuring out how to follow the recipes and how to measure the ingredients is not a big deal any longer. It is unbelieveable how you type in a single word in google and immediately get a vast array of information to solve your queries.

Try and try again... Even if the result doesnt come up to your expectations, dont give up and try again.The more you practice, the better you will get at playing with the food. The more you play, the more comfortable you will feel about dreaming up your own recipes.

I myself never knew I possessed this passion for cooking until I started with it. At first, it was merely a necessity and enforcement. Which then later developed into more of a hobby and today I proudly confess that I am addicted. No other activity brings me greater joy and satisfaction than experimenting with food. Planning and preparing a complete meal for my loved ones, presenting it in an appealing manner and later, looking at the satisfactory and happy looks on their faces and how they rave about the flavors make the entire effort pay off.

The world of culinary arts is so vast that it never lets me get bored. Each time I come across something new, it makes me feel that I may not even have a chance in my life to sample all of the wonderful, full-flavored dishes that there are to explore. Sizzling of steaks, caramalizing of onions and the magic of fresh herbs to the sweet sensational aroma of baking chocolate...it all makes me hungry to go deeper into this limitless world of cooking.

And I also believe in sharing recipes and that I wont be losing anything nor will my food start tasting bad if I have to share my cooking secrets with anyone. And this is perhaps one of the reasons for staring with this blog. I find it much easier to type in my culinary experiments than explaining each step to a friend on telephone. I am not a pro neither I know everything, but only if my love for food can make someone find the way to a heart then thats what it is all about :)

Happy cooking friends!!!