Thursday, 29 December 2011

Nigella's triple chocolate cookies

The husband came back one day after a conference at some fancy hotel and kept raving about the double chocolate cookies they served with tea. I didn't really care for it much, since I don't have the hots for chocolate. A couple of days later he brought home some chocolate cookies which he claimed came close to those he had, but still not there yet.

It lay on my kitchen counter till one day I got back after my swimming session so totally hungry and since there was nothing in the house I could eat (without preparation) I opened one cookie packet (they came in individual tiny packs) and popped into my mouth.
It tasted good, not divine or absolutely awesome, but good. I thought, why not make some for Ro since he keeps begging for chocolatey things all the time. I scouted around the net for a while and landed on Nigella's recipe. Its weird that I say this, but somehow all Nigella's chocolate based recipes have turned out pretty decent for me. This one didn't fail me either. It was as chocolately as Ro wanted and disappeared in 2 days, like I wanted, win-win situation if u ask me.

I love any kinda cookie straight out of the oven and after that don't really care for it that much. This too made its way through to my stomach immediately after it was taken out of the oven and after that it was all left for Ro. Its not the crunchy cookies, its more like a cakey, slightly chewy cookies which are so easy to make and as per Nigella, you can even freeze the dough for later use. She says you get 12 large cookies out of the measurements, but I halved it and made smaller cookies which are much easier to handle. Feel free to double it and make huge chunky cookies if you please.

On another note, I'm thoroughly enjoying my time at home doing absolutely nothing. Tried to bake some cupcakes but i seriously had no patience. Hats off to you guys in India who manage to bake well. I hated the fact that there was no brown sugar available, no ready made confectioners sugar, hated the heat which caused the frosting melt etc...wayy too much trouble to go through for a batch of cake. So I just decided it I shall never be baking if at all I get back to India. The convenience of UK has spoilt me, there I said it.. :)
Hope you all have a fabulous New Year with your loved ones. I will NOT be spending NYE with the husband this year, instead we are heading to two different parties. What fun :)
Recipe halved from here
Dark chocolate- 62 gms
Plain flour- 75 gms 
Cocoa powder- 15 gms
Baking soda- 1/2 tsp
Salt- 1/4 tsp
Butter- 62 gms (softened)
Dark brown sugar- 38 gms
Caster sugar- 25 gms
Vanilla extract- 1/2 tsp
Egg- 1 small
Dark chocolate chips- 125 gms
Break the dark chocolate into smaller pieces and melt in a double boiler or in a heat proof bowl kept over simmering water.
Keep stirring till the chocolate has completely melted. Keep aside to cool a bit.
Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
Into another bowl add the butter and cream it along with both the sugars till light and fluffy. A good wire whisk would do the job with a bit of an effort.
Pour in the melted chocolate and stir well to combine evenly.
In goes the vanilla extract and egg and beat it in to combine well.
Tip in the dry ingredients and using a wooden spoon combine well, making sure there are no traces of flour seen.
Finally fold in the chocolate chips.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper and using an ice cream scoop, scoop out the dough and place at least 2 inches apart. (if you are making large ones, you would get about 6 of them).
Bake in an oven pre heated at 170C for about 10 minutes. 
Get a tooth pick and gently insert it into the centre of a cookie, if it comes out clean (without any wet batter sticking to it) then you are good to go. If you have accidentally punctured a chocolate chip, then try again in another part of the cookie.
leave to cool for about 5 minutes on the tray and then transfer to a rack and cool completely before storing in containers.
Notes: The original recipe called for about 175 gms of chocolate chips, but I thought that was a tad too much, although next time I may try it out that way.
As per Nigella, make the dough as per instructions, scoop them into the baking tray as mentioned above and freeze just so they become hard enough. Then remove them from the tray, transfer to freezer bags and stash it back into the freezer till you are ready to use. I guess you can then bake directly from frozen, just that it might take a tad longer than usual.
Add some raspberry liqueur to the dough and I'm thinking it would be heavenly, or all spice for that matter.
Replace caster sugar with granulated sugar, I don't see that much of a problem there.
Kept them out for Santa on Christmas Eve and there was none left. He definitely loved these with his glass of milk, I hope you do too :)
Sending these to Forever Nigella: #10 Christmas Presence hosted by the lovely Sarah of Maison Cupcake

Friday, 23 December 2011

Chicken stuffed buns

Here is something to take centre stage on your Christmas table, something I absolutely love, thanks to Ria's easy recipe. I have tried this a couple of times and love it. You can play around with the stuffing and what's even better is, you can freeze them and bake as and when required.

Ria's recipe yields absolutely soft and spongy buns and although they are a delight to feast on, Ro keeps complaining about them sticking in his mouth (which I agree, but he's all dramatic about it). So I now make a whole wheat-plain flour combo which still yields soft buns and doesn't have the sticking problem. I would like to think its more healthier as well :)
Recipe adapted from here & here (yields around 15 medium sized buns)
For the dough
Plain flour- 1 1/2 cups (plus enough to dust the work surface)
Wholemeal flour- 1/2 cup
Active dry yeast- 1 tbsp
Sugar- 1 tbsp
Warm water- 2 tbsp
Warm milk- 1/2 cup
Oil- 1/4 cup
Egg- 1, lightly beaten
Salt- to taste
Egg white or milk for wash
Sesame seeds- to sprinkle on top (optional)

For the filling
Minced/ shredded chicken- 400 gms
Onion- 1 large, finely chopped
Ginger paste- 1/2 tbsp
Garlic paste- 1/2 tbsp
Green chillies- 2, finely chopped (optional)
Tomato- 1 large, finely chopped
Kashmiri chilli powder- 1 tsp
Coriander powder- 1 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder- 1/4 tsp
Potato- 1 large, diced into small cubes
Garam masala- 1 tsp
Coconut milk- 1/4 to 1/2 cup
Coriander leaves- a couple of stalks chopped fine (optional)
Oil- 2 tbsp
Salt- to taste
Whisk together both the flours along with some salt and keep aside.
Take 1/2 tbsp flour from the mix and combine it with 1/2 tbsp sugar and yeast.
Add the warm water to that and mix well till the sugar and yeast has completely dissolved.
Keep aside for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. You would know its alive by the bubbles that form.
Into a large mixing bowl pour the milk, oil and remaining sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
Tip in 1 cup of the flour mix and using a wooden spoon mix well till you get a paste like consistency.
Add the beaten egg followed by the yeast mix and stir it in.
Finally add the remaining 1 cup flour and stir vigorously till everything comes together. You can do this entire process using a mixer with dough hook attachment.
Otherwise, knead it well on a floured work surface for at least 10 minutes, till the dough is soft and pliable.
Oil the same mixing bowl lightly and keep the dough in it. Cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place to rise. I preheat the oven to 100C for about 5 minutes, turn it off and then place the dough inside.
While the dough is proofing, get the filling ready.
Heat oil in a large frying pan and saute the onions till they turn a light golden brown in colour
Add the ginger and garlic pastes and stir for about 2 minutes or till the raw smell disappears.
In goes the chilli, coriander and turmeric powder. Stir for a minute or so for the spices to cook
Throw in the diced tomato/ paste and cook till the oil starts separating. This could take about 6 to 7 minutes on medium heat.
Add the diced potato followed by minced/ shredded chicken, season with enough salt and stir to bring all the ingredients together.
Cook till the chicken and potatoes are done and the water has completely evaporated. 
When it is more or less dry, add the coconut milk and stir well. Cook further till you get a semi-gravy like consistency. It shouldn't be too watery, nor too dry.
Sprinkle the garam masala and coriander leaves and give one final stir. Do the taste test, add more if required.
Once done, transfer into a bowl and keep aside to cool completely.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down gently using your hands, give a couple of gentle kneads and divide the dough into 15 equal parts. (If you have an obsession like me, then weigh each ball to get the exact size)
Take a dough ball, make a small disc shape (either using your rolling pin, or stretch using your hands) and place 1 tbsp of the filling into the centre.
Wrap it up by bring all the edges together and pinch the top gently to seal the filling.
Try and reshape them into a perfect ball and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
Continue doing the same with all the dough balls and keep them aside for about 30 minutes to prove again.
Towards the end of your proving time, preheat the oven to 200C.
Just before you chuck them into the oven, whisk the egg white a bit and brush generously on top of the buns.
Sprinkle sesame seeds (if using) and bake in the middle shelf for 10 to 12 minutes or the tops are golden brown and glossy.
Take it out of the oven, cool for about 3 to 4 minutes, arrange them in a bread basket and serve with all the Christmas charm you can muster up :)
Notes: If you cant get hold of chicken breasts, then get chicken breasts, slice them into small chunks and precook in a saucepan along with a pinch of turmeric powder, salt and 2 tbsp of water. Once cooked, shred them and use that instead.
If you plan on making the buns only the next day, then place them in the refrigerator overnight. Bring it to room temperature before proceeding with the filling.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Curried carrot and lentil soup

Its absolute soup weather here, and since this year winter came in a lil late (thank god for that) we haven't really had much of a soup thing going on. The other day Ro got back from home craving for a bowl of hot tom yum soup and even insisted we head out to a Thai restaurant to have some. I shrugged it off saying I slogged in the kitchen for one whole hour (yes too much time) to come up with dinner and also left overs in the fridge make me uneasy. I love an empty fridge as opposed to others who love an over filled fridge :)

Although I love a good bowl of soup on and off, I am not really an expert at making them. In fact I honestly suck at it. So its all soup sachets and canned soup jazzed up with veggies and all sorts of stuff. If it wasn't for some carrots I needed to get rid of from the fridge, I wouldn't have made this soup either. Carrots are not really a favourite of mine, and other than eating them raw, I really cant handle them. This soup however was a welcome change. The sweetness actually was a good thing, since it matched perfectly well with the lentils and Indian flavours.
On a completely different note (although those of you on FB will already know), we are off to India, tomorrow, for 3 weeks (rather unexpectedly) and I am super thrilled that I get to spend Christmas and New Years with family and friends. This time, unlike last year, I shall just be resting and relaxing and watching loads of mallu movies and harassing my brother and sis-in-law. Although I have promised mom a lot of baking and this and that, I am pretty sure I WILL NOT be doing any of those. Good thing my mom doesn't read the blog :)

I wanted to fix up a couple of guest posts by a few of my favourite bloggers in my absence, but then a one week notice to all of them is rather unfair and so I have just decided to go ahead and schedule a couple of posts while I'm away. So if I don't visit y'all for a month, please do pardon me, its only because I'm either sitting in front of the TV, or prop shopping (plan to do loads of it) or sleeping, or eating, in Kerala. But do drop in, as I have a couple of interesting recipes making its appearances here.
Onion- 1 large, roughly chopped
Garlic- 4 pods, peeled and roughly chopped
Carrots- 200 gms, peeled and chopped into cubes or rounds
Red lentils- 1/4 cup
Cumin powder- 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder- 1 tsp
Red chilli powder- to taste
Pepper powder- to taste
Soup cube- 1 small (vegetable or chicken)
Water 500 ml
Salt- to taste
Oil- 1/2 tbsp
Milk- 1/4 cup
Heat the oil in a pressure cooker and throw in the onions and garlic. Sauté for about five minutes on medium heat till wilted.
Throw in the cumin, coriander and chilli powders and cook till the raw smell of the masala's disappear, about a minute or so.
Add the lentils and carrot and stir around, making sure all the masala catches on to them.
Add the soup cube, water and bring to a boil.
Place the lid on the cooker along with the weight and cook for about 15 minutes or 3 to 4 whistles.
Once the pressure dies, open the lid, add the milk, season with enough salt and pepper and bring to a gentle boil.
Take it off the fire and wait for the soup to cool a bit before using an immersion blender to make a smooth mix, or if you prefer to leave it chunky, go ahead and serve it with some herbed garlic bread (I adapted Shabs recipe, just that I used chopped parsley instead of basil)
Notes: Freeze the soup in an air tight container and use it later on a rainy day
Replace the masala powders with about 2 tsps of curry powder
The soup cube makes all the difference, so don't omit that

Sending these over to the Christmas Carrot Competition over at Love the Garden.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Caramel pear (upside down) cake- A guest post for Monsoon Spice

The great thing about blogging is the fact that you can make so many friends in the virtual world, and somewhere along the way you are itching to meet them face to face and talk about all things food and photography related. Sia of Monsoon Spice is one person I'd like to meet some day and if lucky, get to taste some of the amazing food she makes as well. Although Monsoon Spice had a permanent position on my bookmarks bar, it was only recently that I got to befriend the gorgeous person (with the gorgeous hair, if I may add) behind the blog. Thanks to facebook, I now not only wish to see Sia, but also her lil dumpling who is simply the cutest.
Monsoon Spice is nothing short of perfection and her recipes are all worth devouring into. Her moong and spring onion dal, one of my absolute favs, still saves me on a rainy day and I have bookmarked quite a few other recipes to try, with the mirch ka achar (seriously, I'm drooling just thinking about it) topping the list. So imagine my delight when Sia asked me if I could do a guest post for Monsoon Spice while she was holidaying in India. Of course I wasn't gonna pass and so here I am with a delicious caramel pear cake which is divine in taste and EASY to make.
The base is a French yoghurt cake which is so easy to put together, even an amateur baker can do it. Trust me when I say that because this was the first cake I learnt to bake on my own. It has never failed me and no matter how hard you try to goof up, the end result will always be good. The cake is also my base for any fancy cakes, and adapts to almost any flavour, fruit, topping and frosting. I particularly like the upside down cake combo because the caramel kinda bubbles up when it is baking in the oven, causing an overall caramelised effect and the cake becomes more like a sponge pudding which you can never say no to.
So without rambling further, here is an utterly delicious cake you can whip up this holiday season. Head over to Sia's space to check out the recipe, and enjoy more pics. Once again thanks a bunch Sia, for this lovely opportunity.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Crème Brulee

I always thought making a crème brulee was such a big task since I didn't have the fancy schmancy blow torch and such. So I'd given up even thinking about them until a while back we were at a French restaurant and I had the most yummiest and creamiest of crème brulee's. It was so good I decided to tackle the task as soon as possible.

Just like a million other 'plans' of mine, this too was forgotten and life went on. But the food gods had other plans. I was again put forth with the option of trying a crème brulee at yet another French restaurant and this time, although it was not as fabulous as the first experience, it pushed me well enough to make it at home.
And so I did- the research and the recipe search and how to go about doing the caramel topping without a blow torch etc. Now to make things clear, the crème brulee (which means burnt cream) is a tad different from caramel pudding/ custard. The procedures are different, obviously, but other than that the textures are completely different. While the caramel custard is more jello/wobbly-like, the brulee is rich and dense and much, much creamier. I also think the brulee is much easier to make as opposed to caramel custard where you have to first make the caramel (watch it like a hawk), swirl it around in a bowl blah blah, whereas here, the grill does the job for you, and probably an even BETTER job.

Now if you have a blow torch, you don't have anything to worry about. But for people like me who don't own one, the oven comes in handy, and fetches the same result as a blow torch. I must admit, however, that the first time I tried it, I managed to literally burn the cream. I turned around for a couple of seconds to clear my kitchen counter and there I could already smell the burnt caramel and it was torturous trying to get it off my pretty ramekins. The second time I watched it like a hawk and came up with beautiful, even caramel topping. So here I shall explain in detail how to go about the process (since I'm kinda jobless right now) :)
Recipe halved from here (makes 3 servings)
Double cream- 250ml
Vanilla extract- 1 tsp
Caster sugar- 50gms + enough to sprinkle on top
Egg yolks- from 3 eggs
Pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring continuously so that it doesn't form a film on top.
While that's happening, pre heat the oven to 150C, separate the eggs and whisk the egg yolks with caster sugar till light and fluffy. I just used a wire whisk for this. Its pretty easy to work with.
Increase the heat a bit and bring the cream to a boil.
Then take it off the flame and stir in the vanilla extract.
Immediately pour it over the egg mixture, bit by bit, whisking well continuously.
Keep whisking continuously till the mixture becomes a bit thick. This happens because the eggs have begun to cook slightly.
Using a ladle, pour in the mixture into 3 individual ramekins/ crème brulee dishes, till it is more or less full, leaving maybe 1/2 an inch on top (refer notes)
Gently tap each dish on the work surface to remove all the air bubbles and place them into a large roasting pan.
Fill the roasting pan with hot water, making sure it comes up at least half way up the sides (bain-marie its called) and gently place on the middle shelf of the oven.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until they are just about set. Its OK if it is a bit wobbly in the middle and looks a bit under done, as it will set in the refrigerator.
Remove dishes from the water bath and cool on wire racks.
Chill in the refrigerator till you are ready to use.
About half an hour before serving time, take the dishes out of the refrigerator and sprinkle caster sugar on top, as evenly as possible. Twirl it around to distribute them evenly.
Place the oven rack right on top and pre-heat the grill/ broiler for about 7 minutes.
Once the time is up, place the dishes (one at a time) under the grill for 2 minutes (approx.). Watch it carefully, it doesn't take long to mess up.
Once you see the top bubbling and getting caramelized, take it out and keep aside to cool. Hold back the urge to touch it, it can burn your fingers (yes, been here done that)
Repeat the procedure with the remaining dishes and once the caramel has hardened, chill in the refrigerator for a further 20-30 minutes and then serve.
Notes: The flavour options here are endless. Infuse the cream with cardamom pods, orange zest, lavender, coffee etc while the cream is boiling and then strain it before segregating them.
The first time, I made double the quantity and made them in proper ramekins. What I noticed was that the cream was a tad too much whereas the caramel topping was not enough to balance the creaminess. That's why i used a shallow dish this time. If using ramekins, don't fill right to the top, instead fill only 2/3rds.
I baked the crème brulee the night before and grilled it just before serving. I had one leftover and so I stored it in the refrigerator for a day and the caramel topping became soggy. Not a great idea, so grill it only if you are going to use it in the next half hour or so.
A friend mentioned that when she put the ramekins under the grill, the custard started cooking further, which is not a good sign. Its because the grill is not hot enough to caramelise the sugar fast. Its for that reason that I preheat the grill and first try with one ramekin to check if temperatures are right (if you notice the pics, one of the dishes have a lighter brown colour and you can even see traces of caster sugar). If you feel that the rack is not really close to the grill, place an inverted baking dish on the rack and the ramekin on top of that. Be extremely careful while removing the dishes.
Also turn it around if you see only one side browning.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Aromatic chicken pilaf

I have realized that I should just stop making biryani altogether. Other than the few times I have succeeded, its all been a bad experience. I mean we still eat it with gusto even if it turns out a little less like biryani and more like a sadam, but I cant entirely depend on it to fetch brilliant results. Its simply because I still haven't mastered the art of cooking rice to perfect consistency, chicken to perfect gravy amounts and then doing the dum. Most of the time I have a very impatient husband whining in my ear about 'the damn dum' method saying its been kept for too long, and its ready to eat now, and we don't even need to really do the dum method. By that time even I'm impatiently waiting to dig into the biryani and fall for everything Ro has to say.

So to sum it up, my biryani expeditions are rather funny and so I've resigned to making pilaf which is much much much easier, more or less the same flavours (although connoisseurs in the field would beg to differ) and most of the time quenches my biryani craving.

Remember me telling you about an unassuming cookbook a friend had gifted. Well that book is called 200 curries by Sunil Vijaykar and it has sooo many amazing and super easy recipes, perfect for a lazy bum like me. This pilaf recipe has been adapted from the book and can be whipped up in no time. The ingredients list may look massive, but really, it can be whipped up in a jiffy. Its also kind of like a one pot meal, perfect for those winter nights indoors.
Boneless chicken breast or thighs- 350 gms (approx 4 large chicken thighs/ breasts)
Basmati rice- 200 gms (1 cup)
Yoghurt- 2 tbsp
Coriander powder- 1 tsp
Chilli powder- 2 tsp
Curry powder- 2 tsp
Cumin seeds- 1 tsp
Cardamom- 2 pods
Cloves- 2
Cinnamon- 1 1/2 inch stick
Bay leaf- 1
Onion- 1 large, thinly sliced (preferably red onion)
Garlic cloves- 4, roughly chopped
Milk- 1 tbsp
Saffron threads- 1/4 tsp
Frozen green peas- 1/2 cup
Chicken stock- approx. 500 ml (or 2 cups)
Salt- to taste
Oil- 1 tbsp + enough to fry the shallots
English shallots- 2 small, sliced lengthwise
Coriander leaves- 1 tbsp, chopped finely (for garnish)
Clean and slice the chicken thighs into small bite size pieces and marinate with yoghurt, coriander powder, chilli powder and curry powder for about 1/2 an hour or if you have time, longer in the refrigerator.
Wash the rice till water runs clear and then soak in warm water for a while (optional)
Warm the milk a bit and soak the saffron threads in them.
You can go about getting all your other ingredients ready while the meat is marinating.
When you are ready to cook, place a deep, heavy chefs pan on medium high heat and pour in 1 tbsp of oil.
When the oil is really hot, add the marinated chicken and cook, stirring continuously, for about 5 minutes or till the chicken is cooked 3/4th. (I went ahead and cooked the chicken completely)
Once cooked, drain and keep aside.
Into the same pan (add more oil if required) throw in the spices- cumin seeds, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaf- and wait for it to sizzle and release all the aroma.
Throw in the onions and garlic and sauté till the onions wilt and turn a golden brown.
In goes the frozen peas and the precooked chicken. Sauté well on medium heat, just to thaw the peas.
Add the drained rice and stir it in gently, so that all of the ingredients are well combined.
Into the chicken stock, add the saffron milk and give a gentle stir. Colour would change, but that's fine really. Also do a taste test to check for salt as you don't want to over do it while adding salt to the rice.
When the rice becomes a wee bit glazy add the chicken stock, season with salt and give a final stir.
Close with a tight fitting lid and simmer for 15 minutes or till the rice is perfectly cooked.
While the rice is cooking, heat some oil in a sauce pan and fry the shallots till crispy and brown. Drain on paper towels and keep ready.
When the rice is cooked, take it off the flame and leave it covered for a further five minutes.
Then fluff the rice using a fork and transfer to a serving bowl.
Garnish with the fried onions and coriander leaves and serve with some cucumber raita.
Notes: The original recipe called for dried apricots/ sultanas (125gms) but I don't like to bite into those and so didn't bother adding them. If using, stir it in with the chicken stock.
I dissolve a chicken cube/ bouillon in 2 cups of boiling water just before adding to the rice, which starts boiling on the hob top almost immediately. I then close with a tight fitting lid and cook on low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, checking half way through with a fork, if the rice is cooked or not.
If you don't want to marinate the chicken before hand, then throw in all the masala powders after you cook the onions and garlic and then add the chicken and cook completely. Continue from the step where you add frozen peas.
You can replace the oil with ghee if you prefer it that way.
Also, adding the spices (cardamom, cloves and cinnamon) are completely optional. 
Add paneer instead of chicken and also slice a bell pepper and add along with the onions if you want a veg version.
Replace curry powder with any meat masala.