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April 16, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies

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As a home baker, I tend to have many reservations that I am not so proud of. I have a hard hand at icing cakes or making layered gateaux that look fancy and presentable. I would love to make some, but then, that's a kind of patience I applaud. I have never dared to whip egg whites till date, so I am not close there yet! And oh my cookies, I bake them not so often as I should do!

I have a major problem when I am baking cookies. The one that threats me never to bake them again. Atleast for a long time till I crave some. Sometimes I wonder if I have a sort of leniency towards over-baking. But unlike cakes, where a nice crust is admirable, you cannot mess around with the baking time when it comes to cookies. It has to be perfect, where every hot blow of air from oven matters, every minute counts, probably seconds too. This I learnt the hard way over few failed, overbaked cookies.

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Overbaked cookies taste terrible. They can taste like cardboard, tough and crisp to an extent of being inedible. Moreover it's a shame to offer them. They don't make themselves good for tart crusts sadly. The only thing you can probably do is to brittle and mask them with good dose of roasted nuts to embellish ice creams. For some of those failed attempts that I stay put, here are a batch of some super delicious batch of cookies I baked last week. What matters most is a good cookie recipe, which I assume may not be too hard to find one, along with the perfect baking time and the right temperature, which I assume undoubtedly gets me testing.

Here's a recipe I have tried and tested multiple times. So you can be rest assured these won't fail. They were perfectly baked with a golden bottom, or just baked as I call. Any further may have ruined them. You can bring variations to this recipe. Add in coffee and make them Coffee Chocolate Chip cookies. Or add in some orange extract along with fresh striped orange zests that beautifully pairs with bites of dark chocolate, you'll have some sinful Orange Chocolate Chip cookies. They are addictive, I caution you.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies - Eggless and Vegan

INGREDIENTS

1 cup non-dairy margarine (can be replaced with vegetable oil)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (dairy-free for vegan)

DIRECTIONS

Beat the margarine along with both the sugars (brown and white) till it's light and fluffy. Next, add in the vanilla extract. Add the flour and salt, mix well. Dissolve baking soda in warm water and add to mixture immediately. Stir with a wooden spoon and bring the entire mixture to form a lightly wet dough. Next add in the chocolate chips and stir them in. Drop by tablespoonful on to an un-greased cookie tray. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 10 minutes. Don't over bake!

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Notes:

* The baking time for these cookies depends on the size and temperature of your oven. Hence test batch the cookies, if possible for the exact time. Large number of cookies of bigger sizes may take a minute longer. For this recipe, I used a tablespoonful of measure per cookie.

* I have replaced the quarter cup of warm water with orange juice and it works absolutely fine with the same results. You'll get similar results by replacing with any vegan milk or buttermilk too.

* 1 1/2 cups of sugar (3/4th cup of each sugar) is on the lower side and just about right for this recipe. The rest of the sugar is rendered by semisweet chocolate chips. However if you like your cookies sweeter, you may have to increase the amount of sugar by 1/4 cup.

* This yields a large batch of cookies, approximately 3 dozens. So reduce appropriately.

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April 7, 2014

Warm Spiced Raspberry & Strawberry Jam

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A week ago, last Monday we got a glimpse of the last snowfall for the season. It was mesmerizing and the first time ever for me. Over the past one month, I mainly spent all my time indoors doing all that would keep us warm and cozy. I come from a region with tropical climate, where warmth and sun are in abundance throughout the year. Experiencing the sub-zero degree temperatures, watching the world around enveloped in sheets of fresh white snow, the flaky drizzle has all been thrilling. Never have I draped myself in so many layers of clothes, yet each time I stepped out, my fingers went tangling numb beneath the gloves that were meant to hold the warmth of my palms, my legs and thighs felt bare and exposed, my feet felt cold and impassive as if they did not belong to me, my eyes watered and my nose went numb with each blow of windchill. Layers of thermals and winter jackets seemed insufficient for me to withstand these cold snarls. This is a kind of winter that I have never witnessed in the past.

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For a month long of freezing cold weather and home confinement, I was silently hoping to witness spring soon and I am glad its here. Its not because I don't love winters, it's because I would love to venture out and explore this place more. Its because I have very little time to spend here and lots I would love to travel, sightsee and explore over the next two months. I wish to carve some beautiful memories and take them back home with me. And this probably is not possible if I stay indoors concealed in blankets to shelter from the cold.

There is an innate silence in this part of the world. Its far from the hustle bustle of city life that I am so accustomed to. I don't wake up to stressful mornings of chasing my daughter to wake up, brush and get her and myself ready to leave home early. Instead, I gleam in joy as I watch her sleep till late mornings. It's the sleep she deserves for her childhood. As I draw the blinds on the windows, bare trees stand tall and far till my sight can see. There is peace and serenity that's soothing to my mind and body. Its got me health and time to appreciate nature that I had been long awaiting for. Over the past week after the last snowfall, the sun emerged out of its hiding. It spread its warmth slowly and casually, bidding farewell to the last few patches of snow melting away steadily, giving way for the dry leaves and twigs from the fall to emerge from beneath. Spring is here and soon the trees will bloom new leaves for the season. And hopefully, it will stay on till I am here.

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These winters made their way to some amazing recipes I managed to cook in my new home. Blessed with gas burners and a big oven, I used it fairly to cook and bake many dishes and wile away my time while indoors. Some pizzas and many pastas, some warm and comforting soups with grilled vegetables, perfecting some sinful chocolate chip cookies, trialing some delicious muffins and cupcakes, some that failed and I learnt, many I succeeded and won. Many of these I would love to share here with you all, as in case with this jam here. It's simple and easy to make and just under 3-4 ingredients. A bit of slaving over the stove many be intended, but its worth every effort.

For several years, Raspberry remained a fantasy fruit to me. Its not something we had seen or heard of in our part of the world. I had read them in books and novels as a kid where they appeared twined in stories - Noddy's love for raspberry and cream, the Famous Fives adventurous trips with their raspberry pops and tarts; often leaving me wonder if these were fancy meals that were made up for fantasy novels. I had little known then that Raspberries did exist in the real world and they indeed look dreamlike, beautifully pink and plump. Unfortunately, they don't store long. They mold easily and are subject to rot if not consumed soon. Instead, these jams make it up to trap their flavors and enjoy them over several meals. Addition of strawberries may be skipped totally and substituted to raspberries alone, but strawberries add deep pink hues and volume to the otherwise seedy raspberry jam.

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Warm Spiced Raspberry & Strawberry Jam

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup strawberries, quartered
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. of all spices mix (a blend of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg)

DIRECTIONS

Wash and clean the berries thoroughly. Combine the raspberries and chopped strawberries in a heavy bottomed pan and heat till they begin to release their juices. Next add the sugar and cook over low heat, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the spice mix and continue to cook over low heat for 20 minutes, until the berries become soft and mushy. Allow the mixture to boil slowly stirring very often. Cook and reduce until a small amount of the jam gels on a cold plate and you are able to draw a line across it with your finger. The jam will thicken further as it cools. Allow to cool partially and pour carefully into glass jars. Cool completely and then close the lid. Use immediately or store refrigerated.

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March 31, 2014

Review: Vegit Pav Bhaji Mix

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This review has been long pending, almost for a month now. It was the evening before we were about to leave India, our apartment watchman handed over a neat parcel to me. Scuffling through it in a hurry wondering what held beneath it, I was pleasantly surprised to unfold 3 packs of Vegit Pav Bhaji mix that was courteously addressed to me by the Madison Group. That promptly went into the suitcases along with the several other food items we were carrying with us, knowing well that it will not disappoint me.

Although for long I got busy settling down and setting up my kitchen, I did not open these packs and put them to use. Last week I got a good chance to make some delicious treats. While the weather outside was chill and freezing cold, this instant Vegit Pav Bhaji mix seemed the perfect dish for the day. I was able to whip this in minutes and serve hot at our dinner table alongside Pav and butter, bringing back fond memories of our comfort street-side food in India, all made and relished at the convenience of being indoors, well within minutes. Isn't that a comfort we all would love?

I would have loved making these Pav breads at home and feature them here for you today, but I regret these were not homemade. They are certainly on my to-do list. I have another pack of Vegit mix at this moment and I intend to bake some breads at home and feature them here alongside.

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Making Pav Bhaji at home from scratch is quite an elaborative process. Keeping in line with the tradition of offering tasty, nutritive food along with immense convenience, we enjoyed Vegit Pav Bhaji mix in it's classic Indian flavor with a preparation that involved only 10% of time and effort on cooking, without missing the taste of traditional pav bhaji. The Vegit Pav Bhaji mix also comes with an interesting booklet where recipes can be customized and innovative ideas added with these mixes. Priced at 60 Rs. per pack and be able to serve a family of 4-5 members is a good steal for a deal.

Alongside, Vegit is not limited to Pav Bhaji mix alone, but adds this convenience and pleasure of traditional cooking by bringing in an array products starting from their flagship product Aloo Mash (Potato Flakes) to mouthwatering instant Indian snacks such as Pav Bhaji, Burger Patty, Aloo Tikki, Aloo Bonda, Soya Rolls, Cheese Balls, Hara Bhara Kebabs, Shammi Kebabas and Veg cutlets.

Image courtesy Marino Group

Vegit is the agro division of Merino Group, spread equally between making of Potato Flakes and sumptuous Snacks Mixes and is committed to providing an international standard products that has been domestically produced. The integration of complete agri operations from tissue culture to food processing has assured the consistent supply of best quality products and has established a sustainable market for itself both with the domestic and international buyers.

Vegit offers a range of snacks mixes which are all simple, fast, neat and ready to make and also exports the products and reaches out to the retail sector and also the industrial catering units, restaurants and hotels. Vegit is ISO 22000, FSSC 22000, OHSAS 18001:2007, ISO 14001:2004, ISO 9001:2008 & HACCP certified.

For more information visit Vegit at www.vegit-merino.com

About Merino Group

Founded in 1968, the Merino Group is today a US$ 165 million group with diverse business interests which include Panel & Panel Products, Biotechnology (Agriculture & Food Processing) and Information Technology (IT). We are driven by our constant effort to maintain Economy, Excellence and Ethics in all our businesses. We export to 60 countries around the globe, and employ 3000 people across three manufacturing sites, 19 offices in India and an office in the U.S. To know more about the Merino Group, visit our Group Website at www.merinoindia.com


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March 24, 2014

Hasi MeNasina Kayi Avalakki


Its cliché that I call myself a diehard foodie, because there are many encounters I make from time to time when I tell myself “oh! I dislike that” or “it tastes gross…. this is yuck!”. I hated papaya always but ate them with no favour because my parents reminded me how much good they would do. I could never stand the sight of jalebis and jahangiris from the time I can remember. I dislike the smell of flax and eggs in my bakes. The smell of strong coffee nauseates me. Breads, doughnuts and croissants were never my favourites. Several years now, I still despise samosas. My tummy aches each time I relish the street-side Indian chat. Bread Puddings at restaurants always taste gross. I could go on with this list.


Those exceptions apart, I still assert that I am a foodie at heart. As a kid, my parents did not face problems feeding me with whatever was made in our kitchen. My mom quotes often that even as a toddler I relished bitter gourd juice with as much penchant I did with any other fruit juice. I loved vegetables and fruits with far little exceptions. I was known to sneak peek into the kitchen in mom’s absence at odd hours and do furtive tasting of what was cooked for lunch and dinners. Frivolous memories of digging spoons into the prepared palya, skimming off the spiced watery part that floated on top of the huli saaru, sipping tumbler full of tamblis much ahead of lunch time, and flicking the roasted cashews and raisins that dotted the prepared halwas, till mom worried where they had disappeared still stay fresh and warm.

There were some dishes that could not be made ahead of time. They were meant to be made instantly and served immediately. One that attests my love for our cuisine is this paper-thin beaten rice spiced with green chillies and coconut. It’s really simplicity at its best and revokes fond memories of my school days when mom would whip this up in minutes to forage our hunger with such easy evening snacks. So dead simple and tastes great!


Hasi MeNasina Kayi Avalakki

INGREDIENTS

1 cup beaten rice (paper-thin variety)
1 tsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
4-5 green chillies, finely crushed
1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
1 sprig curry leaves (optional)
1 tbsp. sugar
Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

Crush the green chillies in a mortar and pestle or by hand. It's a common tradition to crush the chillies by hand, however to avoid the heat getting to your fingers, you may use mortar and pestle for the same. Crush these chillies into the fresh grated coconut so that they release all their flavors.

In a small kadai / wok, heat the coconut oil. Add mustard seeds and allow it to splutter. Add the curry leaves if using. Switch off the gas and allow it to cool. Add the crushed chillies and coconut along with the tempered oil into the beaten rice, followed by salt and sugar to taste. Toss everything well so that the beaten rice takes in the flavour and spices. Serve immediately. Accompanies well with upma for breakfast or evening snack with tea.


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March 15, 2014

Completing 5 years of Blogging & Breakfast Knots


Today, Veg Bowl completes 5 years of blogging, crossing yet another milestone that I am immensely proud of. Ever since its commencement since March 15th 2009, the journey till here has been fabulous and entirely satisfying. Like in any relationship, in this journey too there were highs and lows, ups and downs that made it difficult to tread the path - yet the love, the faith and the passion endured and so it succeeded. It’s hard to believe that Veg Bowl is 5 years now with 250 posts.

When I sat down to put together this post I had a hard time to begin this post with. Words did not flow so easily. I was stirred emotionally. You see, over the several posts in the past, I have never thought over so much as much as I did for this one. Nor had I spent so much time reading through my previous blog posts. Nostalgic as I may say, each post reminded me of the time and effort I had spent over each dish, each post; some to create, many to photograph and others to draw a story for the board. Each has its own story to weave. Over these years I spent in blogging, I have learnt a lot and matured in the process. It bettered me as a cook, as a photographer, and as a story teller.


There were many moments when I assumed I would no longer be able to pursue blogging because I was so pressed on time, work pressures and personal demands of life that it felt almost impossible to chase this passion. These were times when I was pregnant and I hated food or its sight, when I became a mother and nurturing my baby was the most important, when I switched jobs and I was busy unlearning and re-learning at work, when I brought back tons of workload home and that kept me occupied for weeks and weekends, when I had to baby sit the toddler all by myself and manage home unaided, when my husband was out of town for weeks and our life demanded more attention to other important matters than just hobbies - these were times I put aside blogging for those whiles. But there was sincere love and an enduring faith that helped me succumb to this appetite of blogging as and when time permitted me. I pursued it not under pressures of being active as a blogger, but as a medium to catalyze my culinary creativity that would help me unleash the diurnal pressures of life. Even during these moments I cooked a lot, but I probably did not make time to photograph or post them. Yet with all these failing reasons, I am here because I just love being here and doing what I love the most. Cook. Click. Share.

Over these years, I have received incredible support from many. A special mention to my husband for all his patience and care shown towards me during the time I am shooting, processing or blogging. Its his constant support and motivation that has inspired me to come this far. My parents, family, friends and many near dear pals have always extended their relentless motivation, many being positively critical about my work. I geared a lot of love and respect from many known and unknowns. The mails, the requests, the thank you notes from you readers have always made me feel special. Your comments aspire me to do better. Keep them coming so that I can keep myself going. Thank you all once again for all your love and Happy Birthday to Veg Bowl.

For this special day, I have some warm and delicious Breakfast Knots for you all. These are buttery and delicious and one of the best breads I have baked recently. Bake them in your kitchen and share them with a dollop of butter or jam with your family over cups of steaming hot tea or coffee. I am sure it will bring in more love and warmth that will help your day going.


Breakfast Knots

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup warm milk
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 tsp. instant or active dry yeast
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 cups + 2 tbsp. all purpose flour; more as needed
1 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS

In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water and then add yeast. Let this stand for at least 10 min till the yeast is frothy. After 10 mins, the yeast should have frothed and bubbled up. Now add melted butter, salt and warm milk to this frothed yeast and stir well. Introduce the flour into this mixture and stir using fork till a coarse ball of dough forms. Alternatively you may use a stand mixer with dough blades attached for this purpose. When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add a tbsp. flour at a time and knead it gently. If it’s too stiff to handle, add a tbsp. of milk at a time and knead well. Place in a oil greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size. This takes about 2 hours. Once risen and doubled, punch it down. With little or no extra flour divide the dough to 6-8 equal pieces.

On a clean work surface, grease your hands with vegetable oil or butter. Next roll one piece into a 10-inch-long rope. Tie the dough into a loose knot with about 2 inches of dough free at each end. One free end of the dough will go over the knot and get tucked into the center, while the other free end will be tucked under the knot. Ensure they are securely fasted between the knots so that they don't open up while baking. Place them on the baking tray and allow to rise and double for another 1-1/2 hours. Brush milk over these bread knots and bake in a pre-heated oven of 180 deg C for about 15 minutes. Remove after 15 min and brush more milk on top of these knots and bake further for another 5 minutes. The knots will be baked to golden brown hues. Remove from oven and brush some warm melted butter. This helps in keeping the bread soft with a lovely soft, supple crust. Serve warm with butter and jam for your breakfast or with soups for your dinner.


Also, Happy Birthday to our dear little princess daughter who turns 3 today. You make our life so special and worthy! Wish you loads of love, luck and happiness!


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March 9, 2014

Ragi Biscuits


There has been a long silence on my blog. But that's with a reason. There has been a lot going on in the past few days. Remember I told you how I was caught between making productive decisions, weighing out their pros and cons and hoping for the best. A lot got sorted and matters did get clearer with time. I feel a lot better. There was a lucrative offer that I turned down unwillingly for a good reason. Instead, the daughter and me planned an overseas travel to join my husband for a holiday. It seemed dicey initially, but all fell in right place, the right time and we did travel as intended. So there was packing and unpacking, unsettling and re-setting, the jet-lag and weather change, an adaptation to a new country, a new home and new kitchen.


It's taken time to get into grooves of routine in a new place where I am vacationing for 3 long months. For these months, I am on a sabbatical from work, devoting my time wholly to the family; my husband and daughter. I had been looking forward to this personal time and space for a long time, particularly to spend some quality time with my growing daughter, hence this break was thoughtful one and a big welcome. Three months may be a too short period to justify the time spent, yet I wish to make every use of this and enjoy her company.

My recipe post for today and, may be, for next couple of weeks comes from my kitchen in India. In a bid to wrap up the pantry staples and close the kitchen before we moved out, I consumed the last batch of Ragi (Finger Millet Flour) to bake these biscuits. These Ragi biscuits (as they are commonly referred to in Indian bakeries) are gluten-free and delicious. If you are not gluten intolerant you may consider using equal qualities of millet and all purpose flour for easier handling. They are simple to make and easy to put together. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.


Ragi Biscuits

2 cups finger millet flour (ragi flour)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup clarified butter (desi ghee)
1/2 tsp. cardamom powder
1 tsp. baking powder

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven at 180 C.

Roast ragi flour in a thick bottomed pan / kadai on a medium heat, for about 5-10 mins till the raw smell goes away. Take off the heat and add the powdered sugar, melted ghee, baking powder and cardamom powder to it. Mix well.

Make small balls of the dough and keep it on a greased or (lined with parchment paper) baking tray. Poke an almond each into the biscuit dough. Bake at 180 C for 12 minutes. Allow them to cool completely. Store in a cool dry place.



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February 16, 2014

Walnut Mint Pesto Bread Rolls


I kind of cheated here. Some leftover delicious pesto was stuffed into the yeasted dough, then let it rise and baked it for our breakfast. That made up these delightful bread rolls paired with a cheesy mayo dip. When breakfast gets so simple and easy, there can never be a complain!

As I write, my freezer is loaded with walnuts right now. So do expect to see some walnut recipes back to back, which I hope you will love.


A while ago I was crazy to have an organic kitchen garden of my own. The kinds that could supply me few tomatoes, chillies, spinach, mint, curry leaves, and some greens. But I have given up on my tiny kitchen gardening now. Over these months I made frantic attempts to get my plants all the nutrition they needed in behest of keeping them organic. I aerated the mud, replenished them and fed them field fetched dungs. They grew well, but only for a part of the time. Then my life got so busy that pursuing the weekly routine of caring for them seized. Just watering did not help as they needed extra effort and care when gardened in pots. While many other plants failed to grow as much I would have loved them, it was the mint that surprised me the most. She spread wild and nice, her leaves bursting in depth of greens, the stalks emanating the peppery aromas of mint, making it such a delight to watch her each time I nutured her. I basked in the happiness of watching her bloom and contemplated on how much beauty she would bring to my dishes. Sauces, chutneys, desserts, and this pesto. Such small joys give bounty happiness.


So one evening this pesto was made; mint, some leftover dill and coriander stalks ground with walnuts and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper and liberally flavored with a dash of grated cheese. I've used the leftover dill and coriander stalks in making this pesto, but I recommend, you skip dill and only use coriander since both mint and dill have a unique strong flavour. Nevertheless, it's a comfort food that goes well with Garlic Spaghetti or into making these bread rolls for our breakfast.


Walnut Mint Pesto Bread Rolls

INGREDIENTS

For the dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm milk (maybe a little more or less)
2 tsp. active dry yeast (I used Baker’s here)
1/4th cup melted salted butter
1/4th cup powdered sugar

For the Pesto filling:

1 garlic clove
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup mix of dill leaves and coriander stalks
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely grated cheddar

DIRECTIONS

Dissolve 2 tsp. of active dry yeast in half a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of sugar. Keep it aside for 10 minutes till the yeast is active and frothy. If the yeast fails to froth, discard and start again.

After 10-15 minutes, in a separate glass bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dough; the frothy yeast, sugar, butter and flour, pouring just as much milk in small additions so as to form a sticky soft dough. The dough will initially be sticky, but later will begin to leave itself from the sides of the bowl. Knead into a smooth elastic dough with as little flour as possible. Stickier the dough, lighter will be the bread. Knead the dough for atleast 5-7 minutes so as to release its gluten which helps in a nice, light bread.Place the dough in a bowl, cover it and allow the dough rise until it has doubled in size (should take about 90 minutes in warm condition).

Meanwhile to prepare the pesto filling, grind all the ingredients except the cheese mentioned under pesto above. I like some bits of walnuts coming through, hence I used a mortar and pestle for this purpose. Set aside.

After about 45 min the dough should have risen. Give it a punch and knead it further for 5 more minutes. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to form a rough rectangular shape with uniform thickness. Spread the pesto filling all over the dough. Sprinke over the grated cheese. Beginning with the long edge closest to you, roll the dough into a tight roll. Slice the roll into 9 even pieces. Gently poke some more grated cheese into the rolls. Place them on the baking tray and keep them in a warm place for at least 1 hour, until they've roughly doubled in size. Bake them at 180 deg C for 30 to 35 minutes.


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February 10, 2014

Coffee and Walnut Struesel Tea Cake


February is here, much sooner than I had expected. The past month has gone by so fast like a blink of an eye, leaving me wonder what’s making life so recklessly fast paced and ridden. The weeks in January just galloped away, much before I realized that we had stepped into February and are soon half way through into it. Do you sense the same notion that I do? Really, I have no clue why.

I have been feeling too restless lately, my mind too busy, my emotions disparate and my body physically dissolute. Hanging between the pendulums of taking some important decisions, I am primed with making those choices that will bring about big change in our lives. Of taking a stance whether I should or should not. There are many at this moment, some long standing ones that need to be pushed off, some small yet important that cannot be ignored and some as big that they cannot be disregarded. The pressures to be decisive will increase as time clocks away and things will get clearer as I tick off each of these from my bucket-list. Time is a good healer and things will settle down soon. Soon I will come to a consensus to believe that - what happens shall be for our good.


While all of these have kept my mind busy lately, somewhere in the corner of my mind nests my dire desire to stay composed and stress free; of looking out means to get away from these chaos of life. On one such weekend, this Coffee and Walnut Strudel Tea Cake was made.

Coffee and Walnut has always been a winning combination for me, that being one of my favourite choices of cake whenever I order out. The Strudel with Oat topping gives this tea cake a lovely rugged, tough look, without ignoring the beautiful crunch in each bite. Hope you enjoy this cake as much as I did.


Coffee and Walnut Struesel Tea Cake

INGREDIENTS

For the cake loaf:

175 gm. plain flour
175 gm. salted butter
175 gm. brown sugar
1 tbsp. ground flax seed in 3 tbsp. water *
2 tbsp. yogurt *
1 tbsp. strong black coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
60 gm walnut pieces

For Struesel Topping:

20 gm. broken walnuts
20 gm. regular oats
40 gm. plain flour
25 gm. granulated sugar *
25 gm. cold salted butter

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 190º and grease a loaf tin with butter. In a large mixing bowl, sift all the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the walnuts and stir well. In another bowl, pour all the wet ingredients and mix well. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and mix well till just combined. Pour batter into the loaf tin.

To make the Sruesel topping, take the walnuts, oats, plain flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Gently rub in cold butter into this mixture till its crumbly. Top this crumbled mixture on the cake batter. Bake for 30-35 minutes till a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack and slice to serve.


* I strongly dislike the flavor of flax in my bakes. However I do realize that flax is one of the easiest and best replacement for eggs. Similarly I always had winning results with yogurt as replacement, hence I combined both of these to get the perfectly textured cake.
* I used granulated sugar for the struesel topping because I ran out of sufficient brown sugar. You may use brown sugar instead.


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January 27, 2014

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic, Mint & Walnuts


About 4 years ago when my husband made his first trip to the States, he had asked me what is it he could get for us from there. Like there was no tomorrow, I had requested bag full of goodies that he bought from there. My list ran long and seemed endless. That was the time I was hardly a year into blogging and baking and photography were the new fad. A large springform pan, the mezzaluna, a pie dish, few ramekins, many muffin cases, dried cranberries, blueberries, ounces of walnuts, almonds, artefacts, photography gears, and what not. He patiently went hopping shop to shop carrying my list around and satisfying my needs and wants. The bags were stuffed to their brim, as if they were about to burst out, crossing their baggage limits on his return back home. As he opened each suitcase, I was fascinated like a kid opening her birthday presents with excitement. Over the years, I have hardly used the springform pan. The pie pan worked best for cakes, while the ramekins made their neat appearance for chutneys, sauces and dips to be served when we had guests around. I used mezzaluna a couple of times to chop the greens, but it was too pricey was daily use and nothing seemed to work better than the good ol' kitchen knife. The only solace, I've used the muffin cases on couple of occasions and exploited the dry fruits and nuts in almost every dessert I made.


Last year, when my husband made frequent trips abroad, I asked him to travel light, partly because my home was brimming with so much clutter that I could not afford to add more to it, and mainly because what I assumed then to be unavailable in Indian markets is now widely available in most stores. From exotic ingredients to baking essentials, its far more simpler to fetch them now than it was long ago.

On his previous trip, he came back home with a pack of organic Quinoa to surprise me. Having never tasted them in the past I was quite apprehensive about what they would taste like. The first I made them, it wasn't best of those grains I had, yet over couple of recipes I have acquired their taste and quite like them now. My simplest way is to consume them as salad. They have a lovely crunch when lightly toasted. Balsamic adds a great depth of flavour and tang, while brown sugar counters it with a mild sweetness that I adore it. Simple, yet flavoursome.


Quinoa Salad with Balsamic, Mint & Walnuts

INGREDIENTS

1 cup / 150 gm Quinoa
1 tsp. Butter
1 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp. Brown Sugar
2-3 sprigs of Mint leaves
5-6 Walnut Kernels
1 Tomato, diced
Handful of Black Olives and Jalapeños (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Processed Cheese, grated (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Cook 1 cup quinoa in about 2 cups of water. Quinoa takes about 15-20 minutes to cook and is done when its translucent with a visible white ring around the center kernel. Remove the cooked quinoa from heat and allow to sit five minutes. Fluff them gently with a fork. Next, in a wok, add a teaspoon of butter and lightly saute the cooked quinoa till its slightly toasted. Add salt, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Saute the quinoa for a minute so that most of the balsamic vinegar is absorbed. Turn off the flame and add in the mint leaves, walnuts, diced tomato, olives and jalapeños. Season with pepper to taste. Serve cold and top with cheese and more walnuts before serving.


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January 18, 2014

Cinnamon Bread Rolls


Last month, my husband moved to the United States on a long term assignment, where he is expected to be stationed for atleast a year. With heavy hearts, we bid him a bye till we meet again next year. It wasn’t an easy decision for us to make collectively, to move or not to move with him. But we made a conscious decision and chose not to, at least till he settles himself to the new place and the biting chill weather. We will join him later, may be for a short term of a month or two, but that will have to wait. All through the last year, he had been frequently traveling to the States for work related, while our little girl and me made pace with the fact that daddy dear would be out of country, but be back soon with us for a good time.


This year will be a challenging one for me, to manage work and home single handedly. In his absence, I wish not to be torn between several things of our mundane lives, the intensity of which I did feel over the past one month since he left. I felt the forces that pushed me out of the comforts of living life of interdependence earlier to being an overly independent woman now. As a working mother, handling things singlehandedly doesn’t get easy – managing home, paying off bills, buying groceries, dropping off my toddler or taking her out for a walk, singing her lullabies, or greeting guests, waking up late nights to neaten my home (as that’s the only free time I get for myself), or taking official calls late evening after work. It’s not any easy, but life has to go on. At this moment, my life is mix of chaos and fatigue.


I never thought I would visit a dentist with a toddler in hand. But I did. She pulled out a few cables here and there while the doctor got busy drilling my tooth. I was prepared to face the doctor getting frantic pacifying my naughty girl while at work on me, but she amazed me by being a decent kid, except for pulling out the few cables of course!

In essence, I have learnt to stride with the new changes in our life. In this whirlwind of changes, I am learning to prioritize my time and being efficient, and yet be able to strike a balance in my life. There are no long drives or movies we can go now. These days our weekends and holidays are dedicated to pillow fights and teddy plays. The only movies I watch are in the noon on the television when my toddler is off to sleep for an hour or two. On a positive side, since I am home now on most weekends I get to bake.


I baked some rolls for breakfast recently. I probably realized that since my last post on Cinnamon Pretzels, I have never baked anything with cinnamon solely. Cinnamon rolls topped my to-do list of recipes for long. I kept pushing them for a while since I had no fondness towards anything pronouncedly cinnamon-y in my bakes. My husband often reminded me how much people in the West, particularly in the US consider cinnamon a staple and how popular cinnamon rolls are. I honestly thought these rolls would change my perception towards cinnamon, but oh boy, I was so wrong. I hated them and I still do.

These probably may not be my favorites for my aversion toward this spice in particular when used solely and paired with anything sweet, but that does not necessarily mean you will not love them. I think I was too desirous to add a whole lot of cinnamon to these. Probably I would have loved them milder. But then these are nothing less than delicious. The little one relished them in numbers. I camouflaged the cinnamon-y flavor with a vanilla custard. They taste delicious and can be great for a gathering.


Cinnamon Bread Rolls

INGREDIENTS

For the dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm milk (maybe a little more or less)
2 tsp. active dry yeast (I used Baker’s here)
1/4th cup melted salted butter
1/4th cup powdered sugar

For the filling:

2 tsp. cinnamon powder
2 tbsp. brown sugar
Butter for brushing the dough
Couple of walnuts

Homemade custard or melted chocolate to drizzle (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Dissolve 2 tsp. of active dry yeast in half a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of sugar. Sugar aids in providing food to the yeast and the warmth helps it breed. Keep it aside for 10 minutes till it turns active and frothy.

After 15 minutes, in a separate glass bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dough; the frothy yeast, sugar, butter and flour, pouring just as much milk in small additions so as to form a sticky soft dough. I use a fork to mix the ingredients. As you beat the ingredients, the dough will initially tend to be sticky, but later will begin to leave itself from the sides of the bowl. Knead into a smooth elastic dough with as little flour as possible. Stickier the dough, lighter will be the bread. Knead the dough for atleast 5-7 minutes so as to release its gluten which helps in a nice, light bread.Place the dough in a bowl, cover it and allow the dough rise until it has doubled in size (should take about 90 minutes in warm condition). Once risen, punch the dough down. Knead it further for 5 more minutes. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to form a rough rectangular shape with uniform thickness.

In a small bowl mix equal amount of cinnamon powder with brown sugar. Slather some melted butter on the rolled dough and spread this cinnamon sugar all over the dough. Beginning with the long edge closest to you, roll the dough into a tight roll. Slice the roll into 9 even pieces. Gently poke some walnuts into the rolls. Place them on the baking tray and keep them in a warm place for at least 1 hour, until they've roughly doubled in size. Bake them at 180 deg C for 30 to 35 minutes.



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