Monday, February 23, 2015

(Un)Fruit Cake

I happen to like fruitcake.
Every year in December I make fruitcake. But I don't advertise this fact. The kids are all too aware of the baggage that fruitcake brings along. As I bake a lot around the holidays, a fruit & nut cake sneaks pasts them very easily!
So far I haven't been satisfied with the fruitcake doozies that I've churned out.
If making fruitcake was bad enough making a bad fruitcake would've ensured a mention in our hall of disasters.

A few Novembers ago, once again, I assembled a virtual who's-who of the nut and dried fruit world, chopped them roughly and soaked them in rum. Every couple of days I'd shake the contents then open the bottle and sniff! Goodness!!

Unfortunately I didn't get around to making any of recipes that I had bookmarked. The boozy fruit-nut remained in the fridge and my shake-sniff-swoon routine continued. Just as I had more or less given up on the idea of making fruit cake I came up this recipe for a Fig, Lemon, and Olive Oil cake. Such a glorious looking cake that was; I could almost taste the lemon & figs.
I just had to make it.

Here is the veganised version of that cake.

(Un)Fruit Cake

1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup sugar (see notes below)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup soy milk
1 tbsp lemon or orange zest
4 tbsp rum
3 tbsp orange juice or water
1 ½ cups dry fruits and nuts, chopped (see notes below)

If you aren't using previously soaked fruits and nuts, combine slightly warm rum and orange juice with the fruits and nuts and set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the over to 350F.
Prepare either a 8in or a 9in round pan or an iron skillet.
Mix the flour, baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl combine the sugar and the citrus zest. Rub the zest into the sugar.
Add the oil and milk. Mix well.
Add in the dry ingredients, stir to combine.
Fold in the fruit-rum mixture.
Do not over mix.
Give the batter a quick taste and add more sugar if necessary. The flavours will deepen and the cake will taste sweeter after a day or two. That is if it lasts that long.

Bake for about 20 minutes, till a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out mostly clean.
If using an iron skillet, you may need more than 20 minutes. Ovens will vary.

Once the cake come out of the oven, let it sit in the pan for about 10-15 minutes before inverting it on a cake rack.

Serve with a scoop of ice-cream, a dollop of lemon flavor whipped cream, or maybe just a dusting of powdered sugar.


I've made this cake several times now. Each time I vary the amount of sugar. The ½ cup sugar was slightly sweet, probably because of the sugar content added by the various dried fruit. If you make this cake with just figs, you'll probably need all of the ½ cup of sugar.
I used a mixture of raisins, golden raisins, cranberries, figs, dates, almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans, and walnuts.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me or tweet @cooker_baker. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Jampot In My Kitchen

Jamshedpur, aka Tatanagar, Jampot, the city that Jamshedji Nuserwanji Tata on the banks of the Suvarnarekha and Kharkai rivers. This is where my husband grew up and this is 'home' to him. Though Jamshedpur has changed in many ways, it has also remained the same. The slow and simple way of life and the quietness is much the same. Sure, there are way more traffic lights, cars, coffee shops, and the like but the charm of places like the Bistupur market remains intact.
My daughter created this Wordle to try to capture what Jamshedpur means to us and some of the places and people we associate with it.

RinaDidi's Tomato Chutney
Whenever I see recipes titled 'Matty's Scones' or 'Mrs. Johnson's Vegetable Stew' I can't help wonder about the people in the recipe titles especially since there isn't always any information about the people and the reason why we should care about these particular scones. In the case of this recipe, RinaDidi cooks in my sister-in-law's kitchen in Jamshedpur. She is more like a multi armed Goddess straight from Hindu mythology. Only this Goddess wields cooking utensils and operates kitchen gadgets. RinaDidi is equally at ease making Burmese khao suey as she is making maccher jhol, sattu-ki-roti, or varan-bhaat.

4-5 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
3-4 dry dates, finely chopped
2 tsp oil, preferably mustard oil
1 tsp panchphoran
1/4 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp grated ginger, loosely packed
salt, to taste
Heat the oil to the smoking point and add the panchphoran. If not using mustard oil, do not let it smoke.
When the mustard stops popping add the ginger. Cook for about ½ a minute.
Add the chili powder, tomatoes, and dates.
Cook uncovered over medium-low heat till the tomatoes and dates soften; about 8-9 minutes.
Add the salt.
The resulting chutney should be sweet, sour, and slightly spicy.
If the tomatoes don't bring in enough sourness, add just a bit of aamchur or tamarind extract.
Cool completely before before serving.

Idli Dosa Chutney
This chutney is a fixture in my kitchen after tasting it first in Jamshedpur.
The recipe is courtesy my sister-in-law.
½ cup chana daal
A small knob of ginger 1 tablespoon oil
Phodni kit (mustard seeds, turmeric, and asafetida (hing))
1 (or more) green chili
Juice of ½ a lemon
Salt to taste

3-4 stalks of cilantro (optional)
4-5 curry leaves

Roast the chana daal till it browns slightly.
Transfer the roasted daal to a bowl and add about a cup of water. The water should cover the daal so add more if required.
Let the daal soak for 2-3 hours.
Drain the daal but retain the water. Grind the daal, chili and the ginger using just a bit of the 'soaking' water.
The chutney should retain just a bit of texture and shouldn't be pasty smooth.
Make the phodni/ tempering: heat the oil, add the mustard seeds. When they stop popping adding the turmeric, the hing, and the curry leaves.
Pour the phodni/ tempering over the chutney. Add the lemon juice and salt.
Enjoy with dosa or idli.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Variations On A Theme

Though this is a recipe for a 'basic' vanilla cake, there is nothing basic about it. Sure it is easy to prepare and uses ingredients that you probably already have, but this is a flavourful and a deeply satisfying cake.
Over the years I have baked it umpteen times and each time with a slight flavor variation.
This post lists some of our favourite variations.
Here is a picture of a loaf baked by my daughter. She added grapefruit zest to the batter.

Basic Vanilla Cake - a template
(Minimally adapted from The Joy of Cooking.)
1 cup all purpose flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease a nine-inch round pan or a loaf pan and set it aside.
Mix together and then set aside the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, beat the the butter till creamy.
Add the sugar and beat on high speed for five minutes. You may occasionally need to scrap the bowl.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Beat in the vanilla extract and the lemon juice.
Add the dry ingredients and stir only till combined.
Pour the batter in the pan and spread it evenly.
Bake for 25 minutes (30+ minutes for a loaf pan) or till a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake come out clean.
Oven differ and so will the baking times. Regardless, do not open the oven to test for doneness before 20 minutes.

Spiced Apple Cake: 1
To the flour mixture, add ¼ tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, ground nutmeg, and ground allspice.
Add in one cup grated apples (Fuji, Cortland, or Golden Delicious).
Bake in a nine-inch round pan for 35mins or till a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake come out clean.

Reduce the quantity of the spices to suit your tastes; we prefer a heavily spiced apple cake.

Spiced Apple Cake:2
Replace ¼ cup of the all purpose flour with an equal quantity of oat flour.
To the flour mixture, add ¼ tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, ground nutmeg, and ground allspice.
Add in one cup apples (Fuji, Cortland, or Golden Delicious), cubed.
Bake in a nine-inch round pan for 35mins or till a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake come out clean.

Reduce the quantity of the spices to suit your tastes; we prefer a heavily spiced apple cake.

To make the oat flour, I run regular (not quick cooking) oats thru the food processor.

Lemon Poppy Seed
To the cake batter add in 1 tbsp lemon zest (packed) and 1 tsp poppy seeds.
Bake as directed above.

Orange Walnut
To the cake batter add in 1 tbsp orange zest (packed) and 1/3 cup finely chopped roasted walnuts.
Bake as directed above.

Upside down cakes
This batter can be used to make pineapple, apple, pear, peach, or plum upside down cakes.
Grease the bottom of the pan, sprinkle a little bit of sugar (about 1 tbsp), arrange the fruit slices, pour the batter and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
Sometimes I mix in flavors that go with the fruits, such as cinnamon & nutmeg with the apples, a bit of citrus zest to go with the peaches and plums. If the fruit is flavourful, I skip any additions.

Bananas Foster upside down In an 8/9 in iron skillet melt 3-4 tbsp butter, add in about 3 packed tbsp brown sugar, a splash of vanilla extract, some rum (optional). Cook this sauce for about a minute, turn off the heat, arrange the sliced bananas, pour over the batter and bake the cake right in the skillet.

Citrus loaf
Mix 1 tbsp citrus zest into the sugar. Use the back of a spoon to rub the zest into the sugar, applying slight pressure.
Any citrus zest will work. We've tried oranges, lemon, lime, pomellos, and grapefruits.

Fruit & Nut Cake
In ½ a cup of warm apple or orange juice, add a cup of chopped nuts and dried fruits. If you let the fruits and nuts soak overnight, the flavour will be deeper but an hour of soaking time will do.
Gently fold the fruit and nut mixture in the cake batter and bake as directed above.
For a boozy version, substitute part of the juice with the spirit of choice; think Grand Marnier, rum, etc.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Happy Medium

These are the results of my (seemingly) endless efforts to bake a decent loaf of whole wheat bread. Since replacing just one cup of the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour does not maketh a loaf of bread whole wheat I started by using only whole wheat flour.
We suffered through numerous loaves that were either too hard, too rough, or as the children called it too healthy before I came to the conclusion that all purpose flour was required (or kneaded, get it?). I did not experiment using bread flour as I hardly ever have it on hand.
The magic ratio, for me, was 3:2 of whole wheat flour:all purpose flour. The resulting loaf is gorgeous and it slices perfectly.
Making a PB&J using home made bread for the children's lunch boxes is such a joy!
2 cups (16 oz) warm water, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one packet of yeast)
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt

In a large bowl pour one cup of warm water (between 105-110F) and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let it bubble, about 5-6 minutes. If this mixture doesn't bubble, you'll have to start over with another packet of yeast. Sorry!
Stir in the second cup of warm water and two cups of all purpose flour and set aside for about ten minutes.

Add the whole wheat flour, wheat gluten (if using), salt, sugar, and the oil. Stir till just combined. The dough will be very sticky but that is okay. Set aside the dough for another ten minutes.

Knead the dough by hand or using the hook attachment of a stand mixer till the dough is no longer sticky; about 10-11 minutes. If the dough seems too sticky even after kneading for 6-7 minutes add just a bit of flour at a time, no more than a teaspoon at a time. When the dough is smooth, form it into a ball.

Oil the inside of the large bowl and place the dough in it. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm place or a warm oven. I usually set the oven on 'warm' as I start mixing the dough and turn it off before I start adding in the whole wheat flour etc. The oven by them is warm enough.

In about two hours the dough should double in size.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on your work surface and turn out the dough. Lightly knead the dough for about a minute. Divide the dough into two and shape each half into a rectangular log. When forming a loaf, stretch the top and tuck it under the loaf. Stretch as much as you can without tearing the surface.
Let the loaves rest for about 15-20 minutes.

While the loaves of dough rest, preheat the oven to 400F.
Place the dough into lightly oiled loaf pans and score the tops with a serrated knife. Three slashes per loaf should suffice.
Place the loaves on the middle rack of the oven and then reduce the oven temperature to 375F.
Spritz the inside of the oven with water. About 7-8 spritzes should be enough. This creates steam which helps keep the loaves soft.

Bake the loaves for about 30-35 minutes or till the top of the loaves turn a golden brown. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. If they don't, put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.
Remove the loaves from the pans and set them on a cooling rack.
Cool completely before slicing. Not an easy task, I know.

Notes: Replace one cup of water with a cup of milk (2% or whole) for a more tender and slightly richer loaf.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me or tweet @cooker_baker. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Airline Pulao

There was a time, when the kids were very young, that occasional meals were built around a rice dish (a pulao or a khichadi). Along with a yogurt-based salad, roasted papad, some steamed carrots & broccoli we had ourselves a meal.
It was one such evening and I was winging a pulao, literally throwing in things that caught my fancy. One of the things I added was a hefty pinch of cardamom and liberal amounts of kasoori methi.

My son had a spoonful of the pulao and exclaimed loudly 'Aai, this is just like the S- Airlines pulao.' He was too young to know that this was not exactly an compliment.

Since then this pulao has been made many times. Somewhere along the line I added in some paneer cubes and, thankfully, the name changed to paneer pulao. Sometimes my nieces refer to this as that pulao.
We don't eat much rice nowadays; a couple of times a week. And when we do have some, the quantities have gone down as has the size of the paneer cubes. A bit of paneer does go a long way. I've made this pulao with white, red, and brown rice. When using brown or red rice the quantity of spices and the onion and garlic definitely need to be increased to stand up to the robustness of the rice.

The quantities are mere guidelines.
1 cup rice, wash and set aside
½ medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ tsp jeera
1 tsp kasuri methi
½ tsp powdered cardamom
7-8 cashews, roughly chopped
1 cup paneer cubes
salt, to taste
1 tbsp oil
2 cups warm water

Method Over medium heat, warm the oil.
Add the onions and let then brown.
Add the garlic and cook a bit but don't let the garlic brown.
Add the kasoori methi, jeera, cardamom, and the chili powder cook for another ½ minute.
Add the rice and saute for a bit (less than a minute) before adding two cups warm water.
When the rice is half cooked, add the salt and the paneer cubes. Give it a good stir.
Cover and cook thru.
Once cooked, fluff the pulao slightly using a fork before serving.
(Do not overcook the rice.)

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me for stopping by.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Methi Times Three

I wish there was a clever or an amusing story to go with this recipe. But there isn't. No preamble. This is quite simply my favourite way of making methi-cha-varan/ methi-daal.
It has methi in three forms: slightly soaked methi seeds, methi seeds in the phodni (tadka, tempering) and finally glorious methi greens.

Methi-cha Varan

1 cup toor (arhar) daal, washed
1 - 1½ cup methi leaves, chopped
1 tbsp methi (fenugreek) seeds, soaked for a couple of hours in warm water
4-5 kadhilimba (curry leaves)
phodni kit (1 tbsp oil, ½ tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida, and ¼ tsp turmeric)
1 tsp methi seeds
1 tsp (or more) red chili powder
a couple stalks of cilantro leaves, chopped
a pinch of sugar
salt, to taste
lemon juice, to taste
warm water

Pressure cook the toor daal and the soaked methi seeds.
Heat the oil, when hot add the cumin seeds, the asafoetida, and the methi seeds.
Don't let the methi seeds brown.
Add the turmeric and then the methi leaves.
Give it a quick stir and cook uncovered for a couple of minutes.
Add the cooked daal-methi mixture, the curry leaves, the red chili powder, salt, and sugar.
Add a cup of warm water and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes.
Add more warm water if you want a thinner varan.
Add the lemon juice.
Adjust the salt and spice levels.
Serve with steamed rice.


If you have any questions or comments, please write to me or Tweet me @Cooker_Baker. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Orange. Oats. Almond. Love

The book was renewed till I couldn't renew it yet again. At that point I decided to buy a copy for myself.
By now I have lost count of the vegan recipes I have tried from this book. When I'm not baking from it, I'm simply perusing the recipes. A good read.

The primary reason for diving into the vegan recipes is the need to cut cholesterol for everyday foods. The other and equally important reason is that I can now easily make these for breakfast. On a weekday!
The previous night I mix the dry ingredients and then the wet ingredients (separately). In the morning while the oven preheats, I mix the wet and dry ingredients, spoon the batter in the muffin pan. In under 30 mins, start to end, the muffins are ready to be devoured by the sleepyheads ambling out for breakfast. When they are awake enough to ask 'You made them in the morning?' and I get to nod and smile beatifically. Thanks Camilla Saulsbury.

While I have baked several vegan muffins from this book, the recipe here is my own but definitely inspired by this book. I either use a mixture of all purpose flour and whole wheat flour or just whole wheat flour. I did not like batch made with just all purpose flour. I know it is fashionable to favour whole wheat flour, but in case whole wheat flour does indeed produce a wonderful texture and hearty muffin.

I'm digressing but recently at a party when the topic of discussion moved to preferences in chocolate, a friend leaned over to whisper 'I know it is not fashionable to say this but I really like milk chocolate'. This was such a what-the-football moment. The thing is that I, too, like milk chocolate and am not afraid to say it. In fact, I like it a lot. (I digress while digressing; very Inception-like...a certain blogger has been been gunning down people who use 'alot' instead of 'a lot'. So hopefully she notices the space between 'a' and 'lot'.)

Orange Oat Almond Muffins

½ cup regular oats, give them a quick spin in the spice grinder
1 ½ cups flour (a mixture of all purpose and whole wheat flour)
¼ cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup sugar (or more)
zest of one large orange (see notes below)
½ cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice of one large orange, add water to the juice to get one cup of liquid
1 ½ tbsp vinegar (cider vinegar is better but just plain vinegar is just fine)

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
Mix the dry ingredients and set aside.
Mix the wet ingredients and set aside.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until combined.
(Go ahead and taste the batter to see if you need more sugar. Vegan batter, it is safe!)
Spoon the batter into the muffin pans and bake for about 15mins (oven times will vary) or till a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out nearly clean.
Cool in the pan for at least 10 mins before removing them; the muffins are crumbly.

Notes: to get more flavour out of the orange zest, rub the zest with the sugar.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me or tweet @cooker_baker. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, May 9, 2011

So Many Fools, So Little Time

Dessert doesn't get any easier.
Berry fool: Crushed/ macerated berries mixed with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
An added bonus: the entertainment factor that comes with having the word fool in it's name, as in "Let's have some strawberry < insert the name of your favourite sibling/ cousin>."
Rather lame, I know.

Photo courtesy my daughter, A.

The proportions are a mere guideline.

10-12 medium sized strawberries (hulled)/ 1 cup blackberries, blueberries, or raspberries.
½ cup whipping cream, cold
1 tbsp (regular) sugar
1-2 tbsp confectioners sugar
a couple of pinches of salt (optional, but recommended)
1 tsp (or more) lemon juice
Mint leaves, for garnishing (optional)

Place the berries in separate medium bowls and sprinkle just a little sugar on them.
Using a fork or a potato masher, break the berries.
Add a pinch of salt and ½ tsp lemon juice to each bowl and set aside for about an hour.

Add the confectioners sugar to the whipping cream and beat still you get soft peaks.

Layer the berries and the cream in serving bowls/ wine glasses.
Instead of layering you could also fold the cream into the berry mixture.
Top with the mint leaves, if using.
Chill in the fridge before serving.
Serves four.

Note: the quantity of sugar largely depends on the sweetness of the berries and how sweet you like your desserts.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me for stopping by.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bread! hic.

My first attempt at making beer bread was an unmitigated disaster. The taste, texture, and smell: all awful. I blame the beer!
It took me a good couple of years before giving it another try. This time I made many changes to the original recipe and ended up with this lovely loaf:

As far as I know, the alcohol in the beer burns off in the 45 mins of baking time. What is left behind is the almost tangy bitterness.

Beer Bread

1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup oats, coarsely ground (optional but recommended if you like various textures in your bread)
3 tbsp oil
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
12 oz beer (I used good ol' Kingfisher)

Preheat the oven to 375F.
If using a pizza stone, place it in the oven.
Lightly grease a pan or an iron skillet and set it aside.

Mix all the dry ingredients.
Add in the oil, give it a good stir.
Pour the beer and keep mixing. The dough will be incredibly sticky.
Add more flour, a tablespoon at a time, if needed. Do not add more than 3-4 tablespoons.
When you are able to form the dough into a round-ish ball, place it in the pan or the skillet.
Bake for about 45 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Let the loaf rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me for stopping by.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A New Favourite

For years my favourite recipe for banana bread came from The Joy of Cooking. Moist, with a fantastic banana flavour, easy to put together; no reason to look elsewhere. Until now.

A recent Home Plates column had not one but two recipes for banana bread; specifically banana-orange bread. Sometimes one comes across recipes that you want to try right away. This was one such recipe. I even had three bananas well on their way to that ugh-I-can't-possibly-eat-that stage which is perfect for banana bread. Firmly ignoring the twinge of disloyalty I felt towards the recipe I'd used for years, I started to preheat the oven.

Picture courtesy my daughter.

As always I made some minor changes to the original recipe: what to do, I'm like that only.
I never tire of saying that and the kids invariably cringe in embarrassment when I do. All the more reason for me to keep saying that!

Here is the recipe with my changes:
Banana-Orange Bread

1 ½ cups sugar
5 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs
3 largish bananas (yielding about 1 ½ cups mashed)
¾ cup orange juice
3 cups flour (I used 1 ½ cup all purpose flour + 1 ½ cup whole wheat flour)
½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (pecans ok too)
2 tbsp orange zest (packed)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Grease two 8x4-inch loaf pans and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325F.
Using a food processor, mash the banana.
Transfer the banana-mush to another bowl.
In the same food processor bowl (rinsing not necessary), combine the sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla extract.
Mix well, till slightly light in colour.
With the motor running add in the banana-mush and the orange juice.
Add the dry ingredients and mix till well combined.
Add the nuts and again mix well.
Divide the batter between the loaf pans.
Place the pans in the center of the oven and bake for about 50 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes and then transfer the loaves to a cooling rack.

Such a lovely loaf!
This recipe makes two generous sized loaves. I was worried that the loaves would turn out dry, given the baking time and the considerable quantity of the batter in the pan, but I was wrong. But, next time I'll definitely divide all this batter into three.
I'll also significantly increase the quantity of the orange zest or skip the orange zest altogether and instead add a handful of chocolate chips.
If one makes three loaves from this recipe, you have less than one egg/ loaf. Immensely veganisable.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to me for stopping by.
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