Thursday, 23 May 2013

Go Green!

I need to justify the name of this blog - two recipes and both of them are indulgent desserts. So this one is going to be about green veggies, healthy grains... and eerrrmmm... just a little bit of cheese.

But before we move on to wholesome goodness of my salad, I have to share photos of a Chocolate Kahlua cake that a dear friend baked following the recipe I posted. Damn good job for a first time baker! The fact that my blog post sent her in to a cake-baking frenzy is extremely encouraging, and I was so happy to see the photos.
Yes, my friend is such a romantic.

Half eaten cake, loaded with chocolate-kahlua sauce.

We now shift focus to an equally tempting salad (who am I kidding?) that's chock-a-block with wholesome ingredients that are good for you. It made for a quick-fix, tasty and healthy dinner a week ago. We've already established that I'm not an accomplished recipe writer. Unless I'm baking, I prefer to do without measuring spoons and weighing scales. I just keep tasting as I go along. And with salads it's easy. You can adjust the quantities of the different ingredients, depending on what you like and don't like as much. It's easy to make substitutions or dump in additional yummy stuff. Getting down to business - this one's not a recipe really, I'll tell you about all the stuff I threw together and what else I could have used, and hopefully it's inspiration enough to get you to put together some creative salads.

A Very Green Salad

I started with -
A big bunch of lettuce leaves act as solid base for my salad. I've learnt the trick to keep the salad leaves fresh and crispy. Start by washing them under cool running water. Then soak them in a large bowl of ice-cold water for a  few minutes (there shouldn't be any solid ice in the bowl or your leaves could bruise). Take the leaves out of the cold water and give them a good shake so you get as much water out as you can. Dry them on clean kitchen towels, and then put them back in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them. (If you live in a country where you get bags of pre-washed salad leaves, them I'm as green as spinach with envy!).
Low calorie, heart healthy, high protein lettuce.

Some carbs to fill me up -
I'm very anti-carb, especially at dinner time. But I was particularly hungry and had an early start the next morning, so I thought I'd add a little quinoa to my salad. I cooked a little less that a quarter of cup of quinoa, with a pinch of salt. Once cooked, I fluffed it with a fork, very vigorously, otherwise I'd end up with little clumps of quinoa. For those of you who have not caught on to quiona-craze as yet, read this. It's a superfood! Don't have quinoa? You could always use brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or cous-cous instead. You could even go down the "beans" route and use chickpeas or kidney beans or any lentil that you have on hand.

Veges of course -
I went with some blanched broccoli. I chopped up a small head of broccoli, dunked it in some boiling water for a 3-4 mins and then quickly drained the hot water and ran some cold water over it. This cooks the broccoli just enough that it's not hard to bite, but allows it to retain its crunch. I was in a hurry, so I just stuck with broccoli. But there are so many other vegetables that would have tasted good - sauteed mushrooms, crisp capsicum/green peppers and grilled zucchini to name a few.

All the ingredients, except the almonds

Dress it up -
Keeping with the green-theme, I used some store-bought pesto. I'm crazy about pesto, and this freshly-made pesto was much better than the bottled kind. The bottled pesto has this strange chemical-like, artificial, metallic taste. Pesto is easily available these days. Otherwise it's easy to make at home too (I have a few home-made pesto experiments in the pipe line, using herbs and nuts other than the regular Italian basil and pine-nuts).
When it comes to salad dressings, less can be more. A simple olive oil and lemon vinaigrette can be very satisfying. Or just a few drops of good quality balsamic vinegar.

So that they don't feel left out

Some crunch and cream -
Accessorize - while I don't necessarily believe you need a pair of statement earrings to make an outfit, I firmly believe that some accessories can make your salad go from wow to WOW! Toasted nuts and seeds make a lovely addition to any salad, breaking the monotony of the leaves and veggies. I toasted a handful of almonds in the oven for 7-8 mins until they were fragrant, and then allowed them to cool before chopping them up. And then of course, the highlight of the meal, some creamy goat's cheese. I found this locally produced goat's cheese (produced by Flander's dairy) and was very pleased with the taste. Feta cheese tastes great in salads too. As does some grated parmesan. But my refrigerator is not well-stocked, I can even make do with some grated processed cheese (you just have to love cheese as much as I do!).
I wish I had had some sundried tomatoes to throw in to the mix.

Hope you're itching to go stock up on some fresh veggies and fix yourself a salad for dinner! Would love to hear about your experiments in the kitchen.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Summer has arrived

I think there are exactly four things I like about the summer in Delhi - swimming, melons, watermelon and mangoes. It's not surprising that 75% of the things I like are edible. Anyway, moving on...

It's been a few weeks since I made this Baked Yogurt and Mango tart, but I haven't had the time to write about it on my blog. As an avid reader of food/baking blogs I have learnt that the first rule for writing a successful blog is writing regular posts. Full-time bloggers update their blogs everyday. Others try and update them every 6-8 days. Based on the two recipes I have posted so far, it looks like I'm a once-in-30-days blogger. Anyway, moving on...

The first time I ate baked yogurt was at a lovely high tea event, catered by Delhi-based "my little food company". It was such a revelation! I knew I had to try and make it, and then EAT it! After much googling, I found a recipe shared by a chef at a London-based Indian restaurant, and decided to give it  a go. Baked Yogurt is essentially a mix of thick yogurt, condensed milk and cream. Once baked, it's a lot like cheesecake, but there's also something about it that reminds me of mishti doi. Baked Yogurt is very versatile, and goes with so many different flavours. Here's a photo of one baked yogurt tart with fruits (wrapped in cling wrap) that I had made for a friend's grandmom's birthday.

Back to the Baked Yogurt and Mango tart - I made this for a dinner party that my neighbours were hosting, and then again a few days later for a dinner party my aunt hosted. The second time, I had to triple the recipe since it was a much larger do. The base of the tart is a digestive biscuit crust, the filling is baked yogurt and the topping is fresh diced mango and a mango-mint sauce. This recipe allows for a lot of improvisation - you can do without the crust, or you can make a yummy buttery pie crust; you can change the topping to any other fruit or a decadent chocolate ganache; you could even add some fruit pulp, juice or choco chips to the baked yogurt mix. The recipe below fits a 9 inch pie dish.

200 grams digestive biscuits, crushed
100 grams butter, melted

Baked Yogurt Filling 
200 ml cream
300 gms thick yogurt (the original recipe calls for greek yogurt. I used store-bought regular yogurt, which is thicker and creamier than yogurt set at home)
100 ml condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract/seeds from 1 vanilla bean

4-5 large mangoes

1 mango
2-3 tbsp sugar, preferably castor or icing sugar
4-5 mint leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C

To make the crust - Place the digestive biscuits in a large zip-loc bag and pound away with a rolling pin or any other heavy hard dangerous weapon you can lay hands on. Pound away - great stress release! Transfer the biscuit crumbs to a bowl and mix in the melted butter. Line the bottom and sides of your dish with this mix. Place in the oven for about 10 mins.

Crushed biscuits and butter... this makes a great crispy buttery crust.

Pie dish ready for the oven... yes, the small baking tin is my "tester"

For the Baked Yogurt filling - Place all ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until you have a smooth mixture. Make sure there are no lumps of yogurt in there.

Yogurt, Cream and Condensed milk - waiting to be measured and whisked
Filling the pie dish with the baked yogurt filling and place in the oven for 30-35 mins. You'll know it's done when the centre of the tart has a very slight jiggle.

Let the tart cool. I usually put it under the fan to speed up the process. Once it's a little cooler, you can move it to the fridge. I'm not a big fan of moving my baked goods straight from the hot oven and in to the refrigerator.

The mango sauce - the mango sauce is optional. If your mangoes are sweet, you can skip the sauce. Unfortunately, because I made this fairly early in the season, the mangoes were still quite sour, and I felt the need to sweeten the topping. For the sauce, you need to chop up one large mango and puree it in the food processor. In a saucepan, over low heat, mix the mango puree with 2-3 tbsp of castor sugar, until the sugar dissolves. You can throw in a few mint leaves for a slight kick. You want to cool this sauce completely before you use it as a topping.

Finally, peel and dice 4-5 mangoes to top your tart. Drizzle with the cooled mango sauce, and dig in on a sultry summer night!

A chilled slice of baked yogurt and mango tart
Because I delivered the tarts and the toppings and sauce separately to my neighbour and my aunt, I don't have any photographs of the tarts once they were assembled. I'm glad that one dinner guest thought her slice was worthy enough of a photo!

Monday, 8 April 2013

A few of my favourite things...

This is my first real post, since I actually put a cake together and I'm going to take you through how I did it. Even before I started I was thinking to myself "this blogging is hard work". I had to wash my hands again and again so that I could take photos. I had to keep the mess in the kitchen to a minimum. I have a DSLR but I was scared the whole thing would be coated in a layer of all-purpose flour by the end of this exercise. All the photos are taken with my iPad (which has been coated in a thin layer of flour and cocoa since the day I got it), in my poorly lit kitchen, at night. 

If you're one of the few people who's actually decided to stay on to read this post (thank you thank you, a 1000 times over), here's a cake with a few of my favourite things! 

A few of my favourite things - chocolate... coffee... booze... what's not to like?
Monday morning blues were creeping up on me on Sunday night, and I thought I'd bake a simple chocolate cake for my colleagues - a "morale-boosting cake" I call it. It was 11pm, and I wanted to be in and out of the kitchen and in bed my midnight. I went to my go-to chocolate cake recipe. It's a vegan chocolate cake recipe, on one of my favourite food blogs - Joy the Baker. My version here is not vegan.

I've made this cake several times - it's quick to put together. You don't have to take out your hand/stand mixer, rinse it, wipe it and then wash it again at the end. In fact, you could mix it straight in your baking tin if you wanted to. It tastes great as is, but it's also very easy to jazz-up. The intention was to keep it simple, but I ended up jazzing it up quite a bit. It all started when I realised I was out of vanilla extract. When that happens I usually substitute with a teaspoon of rum. This time I reached out for the bottle of Kahlua instead. 

Once the cake was out of the oven, I decided I want to drench it in a rich chocolate sauce, spiked with a generous glug of Kahlua. 

The cake recipe is simple and very forgiving, and it's perfect if you're new to baking! No fancy ingredients, no complicated techniques, and no special equipment. You'll need two bowls, and a baking tin - 

The Baking Tin 
The recipe calls for a 9" bundt tin. Bundt cakes look very pretty, but I kept it simple and went with a 9" round tin. I greased it with butter and dusted it with a little cocoa. If you decide to add the glaze, then you will want to use a springform tin. 

Steps 1 and 2
Turn on the oven and set it at 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C.

Once you've done this, boil some water in a kettle or on the stove top. Measure out one cup of water, and mix-in a teaspoon of instant coffee. Let this cool, while you get on with the rest of the recipe.

The Big White Bowl
Sift and mix with a fork - 
1. 2 1/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
2. 1/2 cup cocoa (the recipe calls for dutch-processed cocoa, but if you have regular cocoa, that works fine too)
3. 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (that's castor sugar)
4. 1 tsp baking soda
5. 1/4 tsp baking powder

The Small Glass Bowl 
In the small glass bowl I measured out and then whisked - 
1. 1/2 cup of melted butter (the original recipe is vegan, and calls for any flavourless vegetable oil. I've made it with canola oil several times and it tastes super. This time I went with butter instead, because all I had at home was EVOO, which isn't exactly flavourless. Also, I used regular salted butter. If you use unsalted butter or oil, add about 1/4 tsp of salt to the flour-cocoa mix.)
2. 3 tsps Kahlua (the original recipe calls for 2 tsps of vanilla extract)
3. 1 cup cooled coffee

One Final Ingredient 
50 grams of chocolate chips (these are optional)

The Home Stretch
Take the liquid mixture, dump it in to the dry mix, and use a fork/whisk/spatula to mix everything together. At this point I added in about 50 grams of chocolate chips. You could also mix in some toasted nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or a combination of these). 

Be sure to reach to the bottom and the sides of the bowl as you mix, so that you don't leave any flour-cocoa mix out of the batter. When you pour your batter in to the tin, you can give it another stir to bring everything together. 

The batter is quite thick. I don't think you can make out from this photo, but anyway - 

Pour the batter in to the tin, and bake for about 30-40 mins (The time can vary from oven to oven. If you don't know your oven too well, set the timer at 30 mins and then check for done-ness by inserting a toothpick or knife through the centre. If it doesn't come out clean, you need to bake it a little longer. But be careful, you don't want it to bake too long and dry out).

Once the cake is done, let it cool before taking it out of the baking tin, and serving.

Or if you want to add a little extra oomph, you can do what I did and leave the cake in the tin while you make a rich gooey chocolate-Kahlua sauce to use as a glaze. 

You can tell I'm new to this blogging business, because I don't really have a recipe for the sauce. I know the ingredients I used, but not how much. I just threw in a bunch of stuff that I knew had to taste good together. I took a saucepan and emptied a 200 ml tetra-pack of cream in to it, added 3-4 big pieces of cooking chocolate, some chocolate chips, 2-3 tbl spoons of cocoa, 2 tbl spoons of sugar and about third of a cup of Kahlua. I put the saucepan on a slow flame, and kept stirring until all the chocolate melted. I then took it off the heat, tasted a spoon full, and then went ahead and added a couple of more teaspoons of Kahlua. Remember, the alcohol evaporates when you cook it, so it's not thaaaat much booze. 

I poured the chocolate sauce over the cake, and let it set in the fridge for a couple of hours, and VOILA!

This is an egg-less cake, and is slightly denser than your usual cakes. But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. However, the star of this post is not so much the cake but the sinful, rich, Kahlua spiked chocolate sauce that just takes the cake to a whole new level. The next time I'm too lazy to make a complicated dessert (I can assure you it will be sooner rather than later) I'm just going to make this sauce, and drizzle this warm sauce over some vanilla ice-cream and garnish with chopped toasted nuts. 

Chocolate-Kahlua cake sitting on my desk, in the office, under bright white light. Please imagine it on a pretty table, in soft yellow light, with a cup of frothy cappuccino sitting next to it. Please!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

My first post!

Welcome to Salad and Scones!

Another food blog? Yes. But what does one do when there's so much good food around... waiting to be tried, tasted and recreated? I hope this blog works like my "Dear Diary" for experiments in the kitchen - successful ones and those gone wrong; restaurant reviews - I'll try to catalog all the hits and the misses; and any other culinary adventures that I might have while I'm grocery shopping, or traveling or just trying to find the next miracle meal that tastes good without packing the pounds. 

Why the name "Salad and Scones"? I love to bake - maybe because I have 32 sweet teeth, or maybe because it's difficult to go wrong when you're cooking with that much sugar and butter. Friends and family love sampling my cakes and cookies. But when I'm cooking for myself I try to be practical - throwing together easy, healthy dinners. I'll include dishes and recipes from both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between!

Ideally my first post would have been about a complicated and delicious looking dish. But I started this blog on a whim this afternoon, so unfortunately I'm not able to share that first-impression-is-the-last-impression recipe on my first day. Instead, I'm going to post photographs of a few of my past successes. Poor substitutes I know, but at least they prove that I can cook. They also prove that I'm a terrible photographer... but let's focus on the good stuff! I hope this attempt at blogging helps me improve my photography skills. 

Lemon meringue cupcakes - inspired from Junior Masterchef

Panna cotta with mango jelly and toasted coconut
Gotta-love-crust Blueberry Cheesecake 
Spinach, mushroom and cheddar quiche