Category Archives: baked

Inviting Light & Prosperity into our homes – Happy Diwali.

 Ever notice the best festivals & feasts usually occur towards the end of the year? I think it has everything to do with the days getting shorter. In South India the season kicks off with Krishna Jayanti in September, followed by Navratri, Diwali, Karthigai, Combined with Labor day in September, Halloween, Thanksgiving , Christmas & New Year celebrated in the US of A, thats a lot of festive days to look forward to. No wonder it gets dreary once January 2nd comes around, but then by that time, the days begin to stretch out longer again.

The concept  probably precedes religion, or co-evolved along with it. With the end of harvests, It was time to huddle up and and spend the cold months waiting for the seasons to change again. Festivals must have been a natural social response in the absence of  much to do and of course to dispel the invariable fright that darkness brings.

Well, I’m certainly not complaining, the plethora of opportunities to indulge in kitchen capers, the shopping spree for ingredients, whats not to love?
At home there are traditional dishes and then there are the creative ones, and the ones I like best, the healthy creative ones, the stuff that you can scarf down without having to worry too much about the amount of fat that went into it. This year the confection list included the decadent ‘T-B-A shortbread’
 

and a baked granola like chivda which I’ve been gulping down by the handful. This snack is common throughout India and has more than one name depending upon which state its made, Chivda, chevdo, chanachoor, mixture. Each state adds its own flavoring and ingredients. Raisins are common in the Maharashtrian version, plantain chips & curry leaves in the South Indian Mixture, Sugar in the Gujarati version and so on. The common thread in all these versions is that the final mix is invariably deep fried.Growing up in India, one of my favorite things about Diwali was savoring all the different versions that were exchanged between the neighbors and to this day, I cannot think of any one version that stood out. I loved them all with equal delight!

This weeks Diwali post combines all my favorite aspects of the chivda variants and makes it healthy to boot. The only deep fried part is the addition of broken purple potato chips. they make a beautiful contrast to the dried cranberries added to the mix.

Baked Granola Mixture

You need:
2 cups puffed brown rice cereal (the unsweetened type, I used Arrowhead Mills)
1 cup Rolled oats (Bob’s Red Mill has a great product)
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries or dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
4 oz kettle cooked potato chips (the thick ones)

For the tempering:

4 tablespoons sesame or peanut oil
1 heaped tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 sprigs curry leaves finely cut into a chiffonade
1/4 teaspoon asafetida powder
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons molasses

Line 2 cookie sheets with Aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 225 F.
Combine the puffed rice, oats, sweetened dried cranberries, ginger, pumpkin seeds and almonds in a large bowl.

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. once it begins to shimmer, add the mustard seeds. Once they’ve ‘popped, add the cumin seeds. (Cumin fries much faster than mustard and thats why I add it after the mustard). Once the cumin seeds ‘split’, lower the heat and add the curry leaves. Stand back since they tend to sizzle and spatter oil around, thanks to the inherent moisture. Turn off the gas or remove the pan from the heat  and then add the cayenne, salt and asafetida. Last, add the Molasses (it helps to use a spoon coated with oil, to ensure that all the molasses just drips off the spoon without sticking).

Pour out the mixture into the center of the bowl with the other ingredients. Fold gently to coat evenly.

Distribute the mix evenly between the two baking sheets into a thin uniform layer.

Place into oven and bake for 20 minutes, making sure to stir the mix every 10 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, increase the heat to 250 F and bake for 10 minutes more. This ensures that the almond slivers get nice and crunchy. remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool completely. Crush the potato chips lightly and blend into the mix. Store in an airtight container once cooled completely.

Wishing everyone prosperous times ahead. Happy Diwali!

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Croissants, South Indian style – Pain au ‘Poornam’


Ahh the lingering enduring pleasure of taste memory..Its been almost three weeks since I tucked happily into these buttery pastries and here I am already getting set to start making plans for an encore. I'm planning to experiment with a different filling but before I add that to my repertoire of croissant flavors, I just have to write this recipe up before the details gradually fade away, like the spice notes of cardamom & saffron  that completely had me under their spell.
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Countdown Day 6, and Food52’s Secret Santa Swap!

When it comes to gifts under the tree, I think I morphed into a child as much as my kids, if not worse.. (I ‘m officially guilty of tearing open into my secret Santa Gift on Christmas Eve, rather than the next day morning). My gift was from my Secret Santa ‘gingerroot’ from Hawaii. She is a Food52 superstar, having contributed some timeless classic recipes to their two volume book.
For the past two years, ‘Enbe’ a graduate student from Tuscon has been instrumental in organizing a wonderful Secret Santa food swap amongst members of the Food52 community. She sends us each a name amongst those who’ve signed up and we have the privilege of sharing foods (mostly cookies and condiments) and little gifts with someone with whom we’ve forged a bond online through Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs’ unique venture.

I loved each and every thing that gingerroot had so thoughtfully put together in my box.  A bag of the biggest & best Macadamia nuts, Native Hawaiian raw honey, chocolate a ginger citrus soap (which my 7 yr old laid claim to and immediately ran off to jump into the shower, just so that he could use it!) , home made cookies which my three yr old went for even before she opened her presents from Santa, and a bottle each  of Yellow tomato/pineapple & eggplant preserves. Thank you so much Jenny, for making this holiday season so special!

It was love at first taste with the pineapple preserve. So much so, my head cannot decide on how many things I should use it on . For starters, I made a batch of ‘easy peasy’ thumbprint shortbread cookies that really showcased this delectable jam. This is also my birthday recipe gift for my Aunt, Lakshmi Ramanathan (Chithi as I call her) who turns a young  60 today.

A shout out is also owed to Perfect purees of Napa Valley for their awesome Caramelized Pineapple concentrate . A tablespoon of this excellent ingredient in the shortbread dough, really highlights the preserves.

Thumbprint shortbread cookies with Yellow tomato & pineapple preserves (makes about 30)

You need:

1  cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Caramelized pineapple concentrate ( or 1 tablespoon of orange zest)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
 Your choice of  preserves

 Preheat oven to 300 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour along with the concentrate/  zest. Using your finger tips, gently work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Bring the dough together into a ball. Using a cookie scoop divide the dough into little spheres of about 1 inch diameter. Place on the baking sheet 2 inches apart from each other,  gently press down with a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon to make a little well.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes (at this time, the cookie would have risen, obliterating the well. remove and press down with the same spoon to make the indentation before turning the sheet around and placing back into the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove and cool for 5 minutes on the sheet before  spooning 1/4 teaspoon of the preserves into the wells. Allow to cool completely.

Here’s wishing you a fabulous 60th Birthday, Lakshmi Chithi!


As American as.. (Cardamom, Ginger & Saffron flavored) Apple Pie!

As much as I look forward to the finished product, Pies are something I never seem to get around to trying. Its always been the fear of the pie crust, what if its too soggy, too lumpy..and until last week, these niggling doubts have always sent me packing to the supermarket freezer aisle in search of a great frozen pie crust that did not involve lard.

Turns out, it was Food52 to the rescue again. I came across this ultra simple recipe for pie crust . So unbelievably simple, I kept pinching myself as to the usual, what? how? and ‘no way’ threads of pleasant surprise that were swimming through my head while I cut up the apples for this years Thanksgiving dessert. The inspiration for the filling was a trip to Terhune Orchards in Princeton  to pick up some fabulous organic apples and the consequent reminder of the fabulous Kashmiri Chai style mulled apple cider I had cobbled up.

Cardamom, Ginger Saffron flavored Apple pie
For the pie crust: (From Food52.com)

1 cup (2 sticks or 1/2 lb ) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8-10 tablespoons ice water

Combine the butter, flour and salt in the food processor, and pulse lightly until the mixture appears to resemble bread crumbs . Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing a couple times after each tablespoon. Continue adding water by the teaspoon until the mixture just comes together into a ball of dough. Transfer into a large mixing bowl and gently massage into a ball. Split the dough in half and place each into a re-sealable plastic bag, pat each into a disk. Let the dough sit in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the pie.

Spice blend
1 2 inch piece cinnamon
5-6 cardamom pods, just the seeds
6-7 cloves

Pulverize the spices in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. Using a tea strainer, sift the blend to remove the gritty bits. Measure out required amount.

For the filling
2 apples each of Granny Smith and Jonathan varieties, peeled, quartered and sliced.
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
12 – 15 strands of saffron, crushed.
1 teaspoon spice blend .

Combine the apples, crystallized ginger, almonds, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, saffron and the spice blend in a large mixing bowl and  gently toss to coat the fruit evenly.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove one of the discs of dough from the refrigerator onto a floured surface and roll out into a 10 inch circle. Carefully place the  dough onto a buttered pie dish and gently press down the sides. Spoon out the filling into the dough evenly.

Roll out the other  half of the dough and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter. Gently place the shapes over the pie filling to cover the surface of the pie. (& yes, Finn McMissile & Lightning McQueen are perfectly legal!)

Place the pie dish over a large baking sheet covered with Aluminum foil. This ensures that the liquids from the filling do not ooze onto the oven rack and below. Bake the pie in the oven for about 40 – 50 minutes until the crust turns a golden brown and the filling is bubbling.


Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve warm alongside whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Bon Appetit!

Delicata Squash Chips

 Its right in the midst of fall, and my slacker self still lingers on  it seems, for the Panfusine posts alone. My daily blog A Dish a Day  steadily marches on towards the finishing line, hovering around the 300th post as I type this up. It was a great creative 8 days of making as many different ‘Sundals’ , (a South Indian Sauteed bean / lentils dish ), for the Festival of Navratri, The ninth day (today) having tragically cancelled due to the passing of a beloved cousin. Its hard to think of anything else today but the memories of  my loving caring brother. But force myself I must.
With the change in season comes the bounty of squashes & pumpkins, one of them being the diminutive delicata squash. With a skin so fine that it slices effortlessly under the sharp blade of a mandolin, this variety of squash is perfect for tempura, bhajias and roasted salads.

With thin slices, it was delicious to discover that the squash transformed itself into healthy chips, crisped up in an oven seasoned simply with a dash of salt, paprika and a splash of olive oil. The Sugars in the squash tend to caramelize and crisp up rather than the starches frying up as is the case with potatoes and yams. Net result, the delicata slices get a lovely fried texture at lower temperatures and practically no oil. (most of oil used I in the chips, stayed behind as blobs on the baking sheet.)

Delicata Chips

You need:

4 smallish delicata squash
2 tablespoon olive oil
salt and paprika to taste

Heat the oven to 225 F.

Slice the blossom end of the delicata squash (with the scar) and scoop out the seeds. 
Slice the  squash using a mandolin (the thin setting). Toss well in a large mixing bowl with the oil,salt and paprika  so that the seasoning coats the slices evenly)

Line 2 baking sheets with Aluminum foil and add the slices in a single layer. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, taking care to rotate the trays at 10 minute intervals. At about 20 minutes, some of the slices will have crisped up to a light brown. Transfer these slices onto a dish.

From this point on, keep inspecting the slices at 5 minute intervals and removing them once they’ve changed color.

 As for the seeds.. I simply add them on a smaller baking tray lined with kosher salt and pop them into the oven along with the squash. They toast up to a delicious nutty snack.

Out of Africa – Eggless Cherry Amarula Muffins

It was around this time 16 years ago that I had my most memorable swig of Amarula ever. I’d just obtained my F-1 Student visa from the American consulate at Cape Town. It was such a contrast to the marathon queue  sessions at the Mumbai consulate. I breezed in, handed my papers and was asked to come and collect the passport 3 days later. That night, It was a well deserved break from my crazy thesis work that I was trying to race against time to complete. A shot of ice cold Amarula Liqueuer and being toasted by friends at the Medical Residence to the tune of  Stings ‘I’m a legal alien’ playing on the radio (How perfectly apt was that, considering that I was headed to NYU a month later)

If there is one cream liqueur that I’m partial to over the others, its definitely Amarula. It fits the description of the stereotypical exotic liqueur and is made from the fruits of the wild Marula tree, which in itself is steeped in legends.
Maybe because it was the very first cream liqueur I had ever tasted.. or because Its etched in my memory as the harbinger of a new step into the future.. who knows?. I tried so hard to find some in New York in the nineties, but everywhere I asked, the reply was always “Oh you mean ‘Amaretto”? No , no & no..

Thankfully, times have changed and this superb cream liqueur is now easily available all over the North East. (although the bottles are much smaller than the ones from South Africa).

Using Amarula in a muffin wd probably not have popped up into my head if it had not been for a lovely surprise from Oxo. A new cherry pitter and a fabulous Ice cream scoop to test. I’d never tried any device for pitting cherries but this was pure love at first try. It was hard to put the tool down until the entire bowl of cherries had been pitted.

The tool is angled ever so slightly to ensure that it pushes out the pit perfectly and has a tiny cylindrical guard that protects against splatter.

This is a must have tool if you plan to use the fruits for baking. Which is exactly what I did. I’d been meaning to test Flax seed powder as a substitute for eggs, (there is a wonderful reference for how to do this on Chefinyou’s page. ) and this was the perfect opportunity. Except for the fact that I only had the sweet cherries on hand, rather than the tart variety, this was such  a fabulous breakfast muffin (albeit a grown up one, considering there’s about 6 oz of liqueur).

 

Cherry Amarula Muffins (Makes about 16 – 18 muffins)

 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
1.5 cups sugar
2 tbsp flaxmeal (finely powdered flax seeds)

6 tbsp warm water
3 tbsp baking powder
2 cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup amarula liqueur
1 cup pitted chopped cherries, quartered

Sugar glaze (optional)
1/2 cup Icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Sliced almonds for garnishing

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 muffin tins with paper baking cups.
Sift the flour and baking powder.
 Mix the flax meal with the warm water in a bowl. Mix well & set aside.
Combine the butter and sugar and cream until fluffy, using a handheld mixer. Gradually add the viscous flaxseed mixture keeping the mixer running. Gradually add the vanilla, cream and Amarula liqueur.
Add the flour along with the cherries in small installments and fold in till combined.
Spoon the batter into  muffin tins lined with paper cups.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the tops have turned a golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.

Mix the icing sugar and the milk and stir until completely mixed. Drizzle or brush the mixture over the muffins and garnish with sliced almonds.

Bon appetit!

Avial Terrine

A Terrine is basically a French dish traditionally made from scraps of meat pressed down and baked into a loaf. This pressed down technique lends itself beautifully to starchy potatoes bound by cream. When pressed down and cooled, the sliced up loaf can be pan-fried to yield a crisp texture. The end result is a decadent side dish that may be served with your choice of entrée & a simple green salad.
Such techniques however never feature in Indian cuisine. Ever. First and foremost, because baking is not a preferred means of cooking, and foods cooked and served the next day are generally frowned upon. This is primarily because of the weather conditions in most of India. Heat & lack of refrigeration do not lend themselves well to edible dishes that are meant to be served the next day, least of all terrines.

I settled on ideas from some of my earliest posts on Facebook, pre – blog days. The classic  dish  from Kerala, Avial coupled with a French terrine recipe. The original inspiration was posted on Food52.com by blogger activist Perennial Plate, a.k.a Daniel Klein.

This  Avial terrine has been through a test run that was tasted & approved by senior family members visiting from India. Although it was tempting & would be great, I stuck to using just two vegetables for the sheer simplicity & beauty of the cut cross section of the loaf.  I advise using canned coconut milk primarily for its consistency with respect to the recipe.
Avial Terrine: (Makes one standard loaf tin)
You need:
5 medium sized carrots (~ ½ Kg)
4 Large potatoes (~ 1 kg)
1 can Coconut milk (14 oz)
3-4 small green chiles (as per your heat tolerance)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons Cumin seeds
Coconut or sesame oil for pan frying
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the outer skins of the vegetables & discard. Using the same peeler,  peel strips of the carrots & potato  and add them to a large mixing bowl.
Combine the coconut milk, cumin, green chiles and salt & blend to a smooth liquid. Pour this liquid out into the mixing bowl containing the potato & carrot strips & toss to coat the vegetables well.
Line a 4 x 8 inch loaf pan with Aluminum foil, leaving enough foil sticking out from the sides to completely cover the pan. 
Using clean fingers layer the potatoes & carrots in alternating layers all the way to the top of the loaf pan (~ 2.5 inches deep). Begin & finish with a layer of potatoes.
Cover with the extra foil flapping over the rim and bake in a 350 F oven for about 1 hour. At this point a sharp knife inserted into the center of the potatoes should sink in with minimal resistance.
Remove from oven and cool. Cover a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil and place over the top surface of the terrine. Place a heavy weight such as an unopened  can over to press down on the terrine. Place in the refrigerator overnight to cool, compress & set. At this point you can even freeze the terrine after its pressed down well & store for about 2 weeks.
When ready to serve, remove the terrine from the fridge (or thaw if frozen). Cut into ½ inch slices. 
Heat a non stick skillet and add drizzle about a teaspoon of oil. Gently lay the terrine slices on the pan & fry each side for ~ 3 minutes. Remove from the skillet and place on plate.  Garnish with wedges of lime, and serve along side a plate of a creamy  Pongal or Bisibele.
Bon appétit!

Crunchy Granola Suite – Desi Version!

No prizes for guessing.. I confess, I’m a ‘Diamond head’, I unabashedly listen to Neil Diamond, and have the whole set loaded onto my IPod.  Music is so intrinsically woven into memories, that simply listening to a familiar tune can give one a happy high, or have the opposite effect with equal probability. (& this is the neuro-scientist in me speaking). For some reason, Neil Diamond was high on my listening preferences way back in 1995, when I enrolled at the University of Cape Town, South Africa to pursue a Masters in Biomedical Engineering.

Fast forward 18 months and I was headed to New York City, after quite possibly the best, most successful stint of my stint in academics, a completed Master’s thesis, the results of which were good enough to be published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. And through all this, Neil D. kept me company! I somehow associate his songs with good things to come.

And sure enough, quite by chance, they were buzzing in my ears, (courtesy my husband who really had no clue about my special bond with the songs) as I worked on my finalist video for the ‘Perfect 3’ competition.

Its been 15 + years, and I’m once again headed to New York City, a quasi-newbie food blogger, who has been given this wonderful opportunity by Cooking Channel to present one of my recipes on ‘The Perfect 3’ show. Yes, its  my first brush with the big leagues and I definitely feel the self imposed pressure of executing well. And I have my security blankie  firmly clamped, playing in the repeat mode, over my ears the whole time as I made this weeks recipe. A ‘desi’ (Indian) spicy granola chivda, or as we South Indians call it, ‘Mixture’.

A chivda is basically a mix of deep fried ingredients, predominantly poha (flattened rice), deep fried chickpea batter, fried peanuts or cashew nuts & shoestring potatoes. Mamra (puffed rice) is added in some versions. Each state in India probably has its own variation, each with its unique mix of ingredients

This version is purely a healthy baked version, & although its perfectly acceptable to ‘add on’ deep fried morsels such as potato or plantain chips, its addictive enough as it is.

Spiced Granola ‘Mixture’

You need:
1 1/2 cups organic puffed rice (NOT rice crispies)
1 cup steel rolled oats (I used Bobs Organic)
1/2 cup broken cashew nuts
1/2 shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raisins OR Craisins OR Dried Cherries
1/2 cup finely diced crystallized ginger

For the tempering:
1/3 cup sesame oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 sprig curry leaves (12 – 15 leaves) torn
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 – 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1/8 teaspoon asafetida powder

Preheat the oven to 225 F and line 2 large cookie sheets with aluminum foil.
Combine the puffed rice, rolled oats, pumpkin seeds and cashew nuts in a large mixing bowl.

In a small skillet, heat the sesame oil until near smoking and add the mustard seeds. when they begin popping, add the cumin seeds. Add the curry leaves (stand back, the inherent moisture will make them sputter violently), followed by the salt, cayenne powder, and asafetida. lower the heat. Add the molasses and stir to thoroughly combine. Remove from heat and add this viscous mix to the cereal & nut mixture. Fold to coat the ingredients thoroughly.

Spread the mix into a single layer on the cookie sheets and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, stirring the granola at 10 minute intervals.

Check at regular intervals to make sure that the mix browns evenly.

The mix is ready when the cashew nuts turn into a very light brown color. Allow to cool completely and add the raisins/craisins/dried cherries and the crystallized ginger.

Store in an airtight jar. Tastes great by itself or eaten as a bar snack with a chilled glass of Beer!