Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Crostata di Marmellata - Raspberry Crostata

The last year ended and the new year started on a good note for me with cute awards galore from plenty of blogging buddies. I had no idea blogging would entail all this when I started to blog. Last week I was really thrilled and happy to know that Sudha of Wit, wok & wisdom had passed on the Triple cute awards and the Cherry on Top award to me. Thank you very much for the awards, Sudha. I'm posting a sweet recipe here to celebrate the sweet surprise.

I recall first hearing the word crostata when I was watching one of the Australian "Masterchef" episodes. Though it lingered on my mind, it wasn't until much later that I looked up the word on the Internet. I searched and found, to my sweet surprise, that crostata is a sweet, Italian tart. I *heart* pies and tarts. So this was bookmarked to try sometime in the future and now finally I have the reason and the energy to make this sweet tart.
Obviously, there are many different types of crostatas. The one I have made is called a crostata di marmellata, which is a jam crostata. Since I have a buckload of lovely Croatian raspberries lying in the deep-freezer, I naturally decided to make a crostata with raspberry filling. Traditionally, a crostata is made panless like a large cookie, resembling a galette, but since I did not want to take any risks, I made my crostata in a 9" cake plate.

The most difficult part of making a completely new dish is always finding a recipe that you wholeheartedly want to follow. This search was made really easy for me because the standard crust used to make a crostata, is called pasta frolla. The recipe for this is pretty much standard. Pasta frolla is a very versatile, sweet crust that is not only used to make crostatas but also pies, cookies, holiday cutouts, Dulce de Leche Crumb Bars, and Sicilian Twists. The recipe for the pasta frolla I found here and it has been modified. The baking powder is optional, and is added to make the crust lighter. As I understand, in traditional recipes deriving from Artusi, you don't add any baking powder. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Masala Chai - Masala Tea

Sometime back, when I was grocery shopping with my mother, she was looking at the ginger-flavoured Lipton tea packages. She typically only drinks green tea, apart from the regular tea. I spontaneously asked her why she wanted to buy ginger tea when she could make it at home? She then placed back the ginger tea. I suddenly felt awful for having dissuaded her and said "No, no. You buy it if you want to", to which she replied "No, it's better to make fresh ginger tea at home after all".  


I am actually the only one in my family who doesn't drink tea at all. Well, I do but only once in a blue moon and when I do, I always opt for flavoured teas like strawberry tea, blueberry tea or so. The idea of drinking a cuppa of warm tea is rather inviting when you have a runny nose in this harsh winter cold. So I decided to give it a shot. In addition to the ginger, I also added other spices and made a masala chai or spiced (masala) tea. I gulped down two cups of masala tea with a baguette for breakfast and quite enjoyed it. 

1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp black tea powder
2 cardamom pod
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 clove
1 tsp fresh chopped ginger
1 1/2 tbs honey or sugar (adjust)

Chop fresh ginger finely. Lightly crush the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon with a mortar and pestle. Add all the spices and the tea powder in a cooking pan and boil with water. Then add the honey and the milk and allow to boil for another minute, while stirring. You can use sugar instead of honey, if desired. Remove the cooking pan away from the stove and strain the tea with a tea strainer. Pour the tea into mugs or cups and serve the tea warm!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cheesecake Brownies - Chocolate cheesecake squares

Last week, I was taken by surprise when Taruna of Easyfoodsmith gave me the "Versatile Blogger Award". I am really flattered, that too, to be sharing this wonderful award with the likes of Sonali of Onlyfishrecipes, Jay of Tasty Appetite, Amy of Food Corner et al who are all my seniors in the blogosphere. Thank you so much for sharing your award with me, Taruna.

To celebrate the occasion, I'm posting this cheesecake brownie or chocolate cheesecake square recipe. It's a two-in-one recipe. The bottom consists of fudge-like brownies and the top layer consists of cheesecake with chocolate swirls. Initially, I was hesitant whether to make them or not. But I had some chocolate and a cream cheese box that I wanted to empty and I must admit that I'm glad that I made them because were deliriously delicious. This is one of the best bakes I have ever made. These sinfully delicious cheesecake brownies take some time, effort and precision to make but are well worth the effort in the end. The thing about brownies is that, unlike cakes, they will remain just as succulent on the second day (and after that) as they were on the day you made them.
115 g semisweet chocolate (chips)
85 g salted butter
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

200 g soft cream cheese
1 large egg
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Prepare a 9*9 inches (23*23 cm) or slightly smaller baking pan. Line the bottom of the baking pan with aluminium foil or lightly buttered parchment paper and the sides as well.

Heat 1 inch of water in a bowl at below medium heat. Place a heat-proof bowl on top of it, that doesn't touch the water underneath. Melt the butter in the bowl first and then add evenly chopped chocolate. Keep stirring until it becomes completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat. Mix in the sugar and vanilla extract. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the flour and lightly whisk until the batter is smooth. Try not to incorporate too much air into the batter. Put aside about 1/3 of the chocolate batter. Now spoon in the remainder of the brownie batter evenly in the baking pan.

Prepare the cheese cake now. In a bowl, whisk the cream cheese until soft with a handmixer. Add the sugar and the egg and process until creamy, smooth and well-blended. Spoon in and spread the cheese cake batter evenly on top of the brownie batter. Now, take the brownie batter that you put aside and spoon small dollops of brownie batter evenly over the cream cheese batter. Then with a table knife or wooden knife, swirl the two batters (the cream cheese and the chocolate dollops) on top. Bake the cheesecake brownie in the middle part of the oven at 175 C (350 F) for about 25-30 minutes or until they look baked and the edges of the brownie are beginning to brown.

Remove the brownies from the oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack. Cut them in squares once they have cooled down completely. You could also refrigerate them (after allowing them to cool to room temperature) to get a firm chocolate cheesecake squares. Keep them in an airtight container, in the fridge or at room temperature.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to make tomato sauce?

I love Italian cuisine and their ingredients, especially the herbs, pasta, cheeses... well the list is endless.
Pizza is an all-time favourite in our family. Since pizza is also very convenient to refrigerate and heat in the micro when you feel hungry, I was preparing pizza over the weekend to bring to work next week.
Ever since starting this blog, I have started to show some interest in making certains basic dishes from scratch that I hadn't earlier. Tomato sauce was one such thing we used to buy from the stores when we made pizza. But I have since sometime back discovered how easy it is to make tomato sauce completely from scratch. It is not only easy, it's also healthier in that homemade tomato sauce does not contain any preservatives. You can use this tomato sauce for pizzas, pasta, and parmigiana. Ever since we discovered how easy it is to make tomato sauce at home, we have stopped buying ready-made sauces from the store and I'm sure you would too.
In addition to be below mentioned ingredients, some people also add sugar and others also add some chili powder to balance the taste. Since everyone's tastebuds are different, I would recommend you to taste and adjust spices. If you find the tomato sauce a little acidic, add some sugar to balance out the taste. If you want some heat, you could add some chili powder. I personally like herbs a lot, especially oregano, so I add a large quantity of it. You can certainly reduce the amount if you like.
3-4 tomatoes
1/2 cup water
3 tsp tomato purée
3 garlic cloves
2 tsp olive oil
1 tbs dried oregano
1/2 tbs dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional ingredients:
Sugar (if needed and as required)
Chili powder (if needed and as required)
Prepare the tomato sauce ahead of making the pizza dough. The sauce should not be warm when you spread it on the pizza. To make the sauce, begin by slicing/cutting the tomatoes finely. Finely chop the garlic. If you want a really smooth tomato sauce, you could mash the tomatoes with a handmixer or mix them in a mixer, with the garlic, before cooking them. In a large pan, cook the tomatoes, water and oil. Mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix and cook on medium to below medium heat, until the sauce reaches your desired level of thickness. That's it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Plantain fritters - Vaazhakkai bajji

I hope everyone has a dandy day and I want to wish everyone a Happy Pongal! I saw this recipe for vaazhakkai bajji posted on Tasty Appetite sometime back and the bajjis have been haunting me in my dreams, literally everyday since I saw them. Plaintains are a popular commodity at our home. As a matter of fact, ever since I told my family that I am going to make vaazhakkai bajji (which was about a week ago), every time I go into the kitchen to prepare something, they come into the kitchen and ask longingly whether I'm going to make bajjis. Today, I finally made them and they came out tasting good. Thank you, Jay, for this wonderful recipe.
1 plantain (vazhakkai/vaazhakkai)
1 cup chickpea flour (besan/gram flour)
1 1/2 tbs rice flour
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp chili powder
A pinch of asafoetida
3/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
3/4 cup water
Oil as required to deep-fry

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Carrot Cake

I'm trying to empty and clear the fridge and the pantry of some food stuff, which is a much welcomed move by my family who have been nagging that "my" food items were taking up so much space in the fridge. Among the things, I had an unopened small box of cream cheese and some tablespoons of hazelnuts, and the first thing that flashed through my mind when I saw these ingredients was carrot cake. I haven't had carrot cake in years now, so I decided to bake it. I made it with frosting but it is tasty without frosting as well (perhaps even healthier).
2 cups grated carrots
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbs fresh grated ginger
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Sunday, January 8, 2012

American Pancakes

Pancakes. Doesn't that single word conjure up fond memories? It is the ultimate comfort food to many of us. When we make pancakes at home, we always make Swedish pancakes, which are very similar to French crepes. Even though I'm very fond of pancakes, I have never had American pancakes and thought it's about time I had one. I'm sure readers from across the Atlantic must be giggling at this post. American pancakes are something of a novelty (!) here and many are frustrated over not being able make these. I was able to whip up these for breakfast yesterday with the help of Mahi's pancake recipe and her virtual assistance. Thank you Mahi, they tasted really good! :)

This recipe yields about 10 small pancakes.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup milk
1 egg
Oil or butter (to bake the pancakes)

First, mix all the dry ingredients, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and add and mix the milk. Sieve the dry ingredients in the egg-milk mixture. Mix carefully. If you whisk too hard, the pancakes will turn out stiff. Make sure there are no big lumps left in the pancake batter, some small lumps are ok. Heat some oil or butter, on a griddle or a pan, at medium flame. Pour about 1/4 cup batter on the griddle. Let it bake and then flip and bake the pancake. The pancakes should be golden brown on both sides. Serve them warm immediately with a slice of butter and maple syrup or honey, the American way, or with jam, fresh fruits, whipped cream or anything of your choice!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anchovies Fish Fry - Nethili Meen Poriyal

I remember having anchovies or nethili/netholi, as we call it, occasionally while growing up. Nethili kuzhambu or anchovies curry cooked with potatoes was a favourite dish while growing up. But since fresh anchovies are hard to come by where we live, my mother used to cook with the sun-dried anchovies that are more saltish in taste and smaller in appearance. A couple of years ago, I got the opportunity to eat these large fresh anchovies and I have to say - what a difference! These fresh anchovies were perfectly seasoned and fried with utmost care. They were served with hot and spicy prawn curry (which is my most favourite seafood by the way), but even the spicy jumbo prawns paled in comparison to the anchovies. I never thought anchovies could be that tasty until then. Ever since eating that dish, I have been to wanting make some myself and the situation only presented itself recently when we got some large, frozen anchovies from a store in a nearby city.

Anchovies are a good source of calcium if eaten with the bones. You can also replace the anchovies with other small fishes, if anchovies are scarce in your area. Learning how to prepare anchovies is good step for beginners like me, who are daunted by the herculean task of cleaning a fish (scaling, beheading, gutting, cutting and/or filleting). This one is relatively easy to prepare in that sense. So let's begin. :)

20 fresh or frozen large anchovies
1-2 garlic cloves
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp red chili powder (adjust)
1/4 tsp (or a pinch of) turmeric powder
1 spring of curry leaves
1/2 egg
Salt to taste
Water as required
Coconut oil for deep-frying

Clean the anchovies and pinch/remove the head and make sure the gut comes off as well. Cut and grind ginger and garlic finely. Make a smooth paste out of all the ingredients, except the egg and the curry leaves, by mixing with a little water. Add the paste to the anchovies, the curry leaves and mix well. Allow the anchovies to marinade for one hour. If you want to marinade the anchovies for longer, keep them in the fridge. Beat and whisk an egg. Add half of it (or less) to the anchovies and mix carefully, prior to frying the anchovies. The egg mixture will help giving the anchovies a more crispy exterior, if well coated. You can exclude it, if you want to.

Heat some coconut oil for deep-frying at medium heat. The oil needs to be really hot to get crisply fried anchovies. If the oil is not hot enough the anchovies will get all greasy/oily and soggy. It will also absorb more oil if it is not hot enough. So don't rush and let the oil get hot. I can't help you with the temperature, as I do not have a thermometer. Drop a curry leaf or an anchovy to check if the oil is hot enough. The curry leaf should turn out crispy. Fry the fish in small batches. Fry until brown and crispy. Drain the excessive oil by placing a tissue paper or an absorbent paper underneath the fried fish. Serve them crispy with anything of your choice!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fruit frangipane tart

This tart is similar to the pear tart that I made earlier. I prepared this tart with a different crust and decorated it with different types of berries and fruits, which gave it more acidity and freshness. You could, if you want to, give the fruits an apricot jam wash on top.

Crust (pâte brisee):
1 cup flour
100 g unsalted cold butter
3 tbs cold water
1/2 tsp salt

Almond filling (frangipane):
125 g unsalted butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup ground almonds
1 tbs flour
1 tsp vanilla extract/vanilla sugar

Kiwi, strawberries, nektarines, raspberries, etc. (anything of your choice)

Apricot jam or gelatine-water (optional)

The crust should be made first. In another large cold, steel bowl, mix the flour with salt. Slice cold butter (5-6 pieces) and cut it into the dry ingredients with a fork or use your hands. Make sure all of the flour is mixed with the butter. Pour cold water and use your hand to pat together the crust. Wrap it up in a plastic sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Alternatively, you could use a store-bought tart/pie crust.

Meanwhile prepare the almond filling. You can either buy blanched almonds or blanch them yourself to prepare the almond filling called frangipane. If you are going to blanch the almonds, it is best done a day ahead. To blanch the almonds, bring some water to boil and boil the almonds for a couple of minutes. Keep the almonds in the water because it's difficult to peel off the skin when they become dry. Peel of the almonds with your hands. Let the almonds dry up on a towel or some tissue paper overnight.

Slice the almonds before grinding. It will be difficult to grind them coarsely if they are whole. Grind the almonds together with the flour, to get the right coarse consistency. Put the ground almonds aside. Beat butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat in between. Lastly add the ground almond and the vanilla extract/sugar and mix with a spoon. Place the filling in the fridge covered (so that it doesn't pick any smells).

Roll out the crust on a well floured, preferably cold surface with a floured kitchen roller (this is very important, otherwise the dough will break and get sticky easily). The cold surface is also necessary so that the butter does not start to melt. Don't roll it out too thin. Carefully lift the tart bottom with the roller and place it over the pie plate. Cut it neatly and press the crust carefully so that it is steady. The tart crust has a tendency to "shrink" in the oven, so don't cut the edges too short. Stick the pie bottom with a fork and place a baking paper over the tart crust and fill it with beans to help the tart keep its shape. Place the tart in a preheated oven and bake at 150 C (around 300 F) for about 20 minutes, in the lower parts of the oven.

Take the crust out of the oven. Let it cool. Spoon in the almond filling and level it out with a spoon or knife. Bake the tart in the lower parts of a preheated oven for about 45 minutes at 160 C (around 320 F). Let the tart cool. Spread some apricot (or some other) jam over the frangipane. Decorate the tart with berries and fruits of your choice. I used blackberries, raspberries, kiwi and plums. Before serving, you could brush the fruits with some apricot jam. Alternatively, prepare a gelatine mixture, as per instructions, and spoon it over the fruits to preserve them. Keep this tart in the fridge. Good luck!