Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rich Christmas Fruit Cake with Garam Masala / Kerala Plum Cake

Slowly and eventually we have reached at the end of 2014. it's the time to look back and reflect on our favorite moments, also to look forward with new hope and wishes. As some wise man said, 'Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one". It's been a good year for us. We finally visited India after two years of gap, which were being cancelled or postponed for a while. We had fun with our near and dear ones, both at home and abroad. Thanks to my San Diego friends for inviting to many memorable parties and get-togethers.  When it comes to my blog, I received huge appreciations and love from my readers. So my sincere thanks to all of you who made my year so colorful and exciting. 

During the last month I baked several types of Christmas Cake and cookies following different recipes.  Few of them are for our tea time snacks and others were for the parties in our friend's places. Both me and my family love to have these cakes. The Christmas time is a great excuse for preparing and having cakes. Today I will share the recipe of a Christmas Cake that I tried first time this season. What is special about this cake is that I have added garam masala with the traditional method of making a Rich Fruit Cake. The combination makes it more delicious. There was a time at our home on the Christmas day when my mom used to prepare a cake with the small electric cake oven and everybody used to be so delighted when it came out of the kitchen. I can't recall its taste now but can remember the smell which used to make the whole house aromatic. Other than that, Christmas in our childhood was not complete without orange and the Fruit Cake ordered from Park Street's bakery Shops. 

Christmas cake is a tradition that started way back in nineteenth century. Originally people used to eat a type of porridge on Christmas Eve. After a day's of fasting on Christmas Eve, it was the dish to fill their stomachs. Gradually people added dried fruit, spices and honey to the porridge mixture together. Christmas cakes are made in different shapes with frosting, glazing, a dusting of confectioner's sugar or plain. There are different variations with very little difference in the process. Christmas cakes are generally made in advance. Many people make the cake in November and keep it up side down in an airtight container, Then they poke the cake and brush it with sherry or whisky every week until Christmas. Interestingly the method is called "feeding" the cake. 

Recipe of Rich Christmas Fruit Cake with Garam Masala / Kerala Plum Cake ( one 8 inch round cake )

Ingredients :

Unsalted butter : 1 stick and 1/2 stick, at room temperature 
Brown Sugar or white sugar : 1 cup and 1/2 cup 
Eggs : 3
vanilla extract : 1 teaspoon 

All purpose flour : 2 cups
Salt : a pinch
Baking Powder : 1 teaspoon

Mixed dry fruits ( dates, cherries, orange peel, cranberries, tutti fruity ) : 1 cup
Chopped Cashew nuts, black raisins : 1/2 cup
Rum : 1/2 cup ( optional )

Spice mix ( garam masala )

Cinnamon : 1 inch
Cloves : 2
Cardamom : 2 
Grated nutmeg : a pinch

Method :

1. Chop all the dry fruits, raisins add rum to it. Cover and let it soak for a day or two and give stirs a few time during the day.

2. In a dry grinder, take the whole spices and grind it into a powder. Keep it aside.

3. Take a pan, add 1/2 cup of sugar and melt it slowly on medium heat. Keep stirring and let it change color into deep dark brown. Turn off the heat and add 1/4 cup of water. The sugar will harden. Turn on the heat again. Slowly heat it up until the mixture dissolves. It will take 5 to 8 minutes. Once done, set it aside. 

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 180 degrees C.

5. Sieve the flour, baking powder, salt and powdered spice mix. 

6. Take a mixing bowl, add butter and 1 cup of sugar and beat it until it becomes fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat again. Add vanilla extract and mix it. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. 

7. Add the fruits and nuts, add the caramel and gently fold in. 

8. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pan and decorate the top with almonds. Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

9. Remove from the oven and let it cool down on a wire rack. Once it is at room temperature remove from it from the pan and dust with icing sugar.

Note :

Use Rum only if you like your cake to have a boozy flavor,  Otherwise make it alcohol free. You may make the cake a month ahead and keep it up side down in an airtight container, Then poke the cake and brush it with rum / sherry or whisky every week until Christmas. 

You can serve the cake the day it is baked, better it is stored a day or two before serving, it helps to mingle the flavors.

You can cover and store this cake for about one week at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fried Hand Pies ( sweet and savory )

Very happy Christmas to all of my readers. Hope you have planned a grand celebration of this festive season with your family. These days I have become bit irregular but this time you can't blame my laziness. My laptop had a major technical issue and couldn't do any work until I bought a new one on cyber Monday. Hope I would be more consistent from now on. 

In last couple of weeks, I prepared few recipes in my draft but confused which one to share first. After giving some thought, I chose to share a quiet uncommon snack / dessert recipes that is called Fried Hand pies. 

Fried pies is a common southern specialty. These handmade, crescent-shaped, fruit-filled pastries are very popular in the South and are usually found at church picnics, crossroads country shops. It's a very common scene for the people from south that their moms and grandmas are serving fried pies by the dozens for church suppers and family gatherings. A fried pie is just the perfect size snack, compact and neat. 

The fat and crisp, half-moon shaped chewy dough is filled with spiced and cooked apples. The other traditional fillings is dried peaches. They can be filled with just about anything and fry up in just a few minutes. Try filling them with other fruits or something savory like taco meat, cooked up mushrooms and onions, or cooked sausage. These pies can be made days, weeks, even months ahead of time. 

When I came across to this recipe couple of months back, it was completely new to me. When I decided to make a fried pies, started experimenting with the filling, adding one ingredient or taking away another. I made dough at home and blended with the correct types of apples. Cooked them all together and then put the filling inside the dough. At the end I fried the pies and cooled them down. I served them in a Christmas potluck party with my neighbors and everybody really loved the crispness and taste of the pies.  

Recipe of Fried Hand Pies ( sweet and savory ) for 18 pieces 

Ingredients :

For Dough :

All purpose flour : 2 1/2 cup
Salt : 1/2 teaspoon 
Sugar : 2 teaspoons 
Shortening : 1/4 cup, chilled and cut into pieces
Unsalted Butter : 1 and 1/2 stick, cold and diced  
Ice water : 6 to 7 tablespoons 

For Sweet filing :

Apples : 2, peel, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Sugar : 1/4 cup or to taste
Cinnamon powder :1/8 teaspoon 
Lemon juice : 1 teaspoon
Butter : 1 teaspoon

For Savory :

Potatoes : 2, peel and cut into 1/2 inch cubes, boiled
Salt : to taste
Ground pepper : to taste
Butter : 1 teaspoon

Oil for frying 

Method :

1. Combine the four, sugar and salt together, you can use food processor or mix it with hand. Add the shortening and butter and mix it until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add the ice water, one tablespoon at a time and mix it nicely until the mixture comes together. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

2. For the sweet filing : Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium high heat. Add the apples to it. Saute the apples, stir it until it become soft. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Cook it until some of the apple pieces start to break apart. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and stir in. 

3. For the savory filling, add butter to a pan and heat it up. Add the boiled potato pieces and stir it. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely. 

4. Take a deep frying pan and add oil. Heat it up to 365 degrees F. Roll the dough 1/8 inch thick. Cut out eighteen circles. Place 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each circles. Make a half-moon shape and press out and seal the edges by using fork. Repeat the same for remaining dough. 

5. Fry 3 to 4 pies at a time until the both sides become golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Sprinkle powered sugar and serve warm.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Nolen Gurer Sandesh ( Cottage Cheese Fudge with Date Palm Jaggery )

Winter is here with all its beauty. It may not be that pleasant for our east coast friends who has to face the 6-inch tall snow walls right now. But here in San Diego we are having better time with slight colder breeze of winds and nice sunny afternoon. In our native land, winter is synonymous with some of its signature food and sweets. One of them is “Nolen Gur”-r Sandesh. Nolen gur or date palm jaggery - a key ingredient in most winter delicacies from sandesh to payesh and everything in between.

Today I will share the mouthwatering recipe of Nolen Gurer Sandesh. This is one more sweet that any Bengali can die for. The season starts immediately after Diwali or Kali Puja. Since we were in India this time during the festival season, we were lucky to get some good quality Nolen gur. Though it’s available nowadays throughout the year, it definitely tastes better during winters because of its freshness. Restaurants and sweet shops preserve nolen gur in its solidified form or as “patali gur” at freezing temperature and then serve it during other seasons of the year.  

In my recent trip, I also got some beautiful molds for making Sandesh.  Some of you already asked me about where you can find these molds in Kolkata. They are available in Natun Bazar near Girish Park, Kolkata. Since now I have the “gur” in my refrigerator and the molds to make the shape, then what to wait for ? I made the Sandesh that my readers were waiting for long time. I learnt making Sandesh in traditional way couple of years ago. Though the process is little time consuming but not so complicated.  Also off late, I learnt about an alternative process of making Gurer Sandesh that uses Ricotta Cheese. It’s hard to believe that both the versions taste alike. Using ricotta cheese in the place of home-made Indian Cottage Cheese (i.e. Chenna ) means the process is more simplified and it cuts the cooking time by half. So in the same post I will share both the methods. Try out whatever is convenient to you and pamper your soul!

(Traditional way ) Recipe of Nolen Gurer Sandesh : For 10 to 12 pieces 

Ingredients :

Whole Milk : 1 and half liters
Lime juice : of a whole lime 
Nolen gur : 6-7 tablespoon or to taste 

Method :

1. Boil the milk in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium to low heat, stir occasionally. Once the milk starts boiling, lower the flame. Pour the lime juice and stir in. Milk will start cuddling and change into chenna ( cottage cheese ) and greenish water. 

2. Remove the pan from heat and leave the chenna in this condition for 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Pour the chenna - water mixture over a cheese cloth or a soft cotton cloth and let the water drain away. 

4. Put this cloth with the chenna under cold running water for 2 to 3 minutes to remove the lemony smell. Then hang the chenna along with cloth on the kitchen faucet for around 45 minutes. 

5. Now once again squeeze the cloth, if there is any extra water. But note that the chenna should not get too dry. 

6. Put the lump of chenna over flat surface and knead it. Start kneading with the heal of your palm for about 4 to 5 minutes. Add Nolen Gur ( Date Palm Jaggery ) and knead again until jaggery is totally mixed with the chenna. 

7. Put a nonstick pan on low heat, add the kneaded chenna. Cook the chenna at low heat by stirring it continuously with a spatula for about 4 to 5 minutes.

8. Brush the inside of the molds with little ghee ( clarified butter ).Take out the warm Sandesh and shape with molds. If you don't have any molds just toss into balls. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

( Easy way ) Recipe of Nolen Gurer Sandesh : for about 20 pieces 

Ingredients :

(Part Skim)Ricotta Cheese : 32 Oz.
Nolen Gur ( Date Palm Jaggery ) : around 12 tablespoons if it is liquid 'gur' or If you are using 'patali gur', take little less than one ball or as per the desired sweetness.  
Ghee (Clarified butter) : 2 tablespoons.

Method :

1. Take a mixing bowl, add the ricotta cheese and the jagerry and mix it well. If you are using Patali Gur. Cook it in the microwave for few seconds. The jagerry will be soft. Mix it nicely until jaggery is totally mixed with the cheese.

2. Take a nonstick pan and add the cheese jaggery mixtureCook it at low heat by stirring it occasionally. It will take time, once mixture comes out clean from the side of the pan that means you are done. Don't make it too dry, because when it comes to room temperature automatically it will become tight. So avoid cooking for extra time. Otherwise it will turn out KodaPak r Sandesh.

3. Take it out from the pan and let it cool down. You can put it into the refrigerator for half an hour. Now warm up the ghee, add 1 tablespoon of it to the Sandesh and knead it nicely.

4. Brush the inside of the molds with little ghee ( clarified butter ) and shape with molds. If you don't have any molds just toss into balls. Serve warm or at room temperature. 


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mushrooms in Mustard Sauce

Hi there, I am back to my blog after a long vacation. We visited India after two years during the peak festival season from Durga Puja to Diwali. It was simply awesome time to roam around the city of joy with parents and my sister. Did plenty of shopping and gathered props from different antic shops in Kolkata. We indulged in our favorite street-side food so much that all of us returned with some extra weight. It would be bagful of good memories which we can cherish until our next vacation.

Once I returned, I have been wondering which would be my next post. Any fall recipe or winter special may be more appropriate but somehow after coming back I craved more for our Bengali cuisine. So prepared some traditional Bengali dish and thought of sharing the same with you. Today’s recipe is Mushroom in a Mustard sauce. It’s a simple preparation with basic ingredients that goes well with steamed white rice. It’s not only an easy preparation but also takes a little time to whip up.

Mushrooms remind me of very interesting-looking little 'creatures' that we used to call 'Banger chhata' (frog’s umbrella) in our childhood days. The name was due to its shape like an umbrella and grown together with frogs on hay stacks. They are also commonly known as “Poal chatu”. At that time mushroom was available only during the monsoon. Nowadays since it’s being grown by farmers like any other vegetables, we can get mushroom all through the year. The taste of naturally grown mushroom is little better though. But for the mushroom lovers out there, an array of edible mushrooms is always available in any supermarket.

Among all mushrooms, button mushroom, oyster mushroom and enoki mushroom seem to be very popular . Straw mushrooms and Portobello are also quite popular. You can use either oyster mushroom or Button mushroom with this recipe.

Among all the mushroom preparations this recipe is my favorite, hope you would like it. It is our family recipe that was used to cook “Poal Chatu” and later the same recipe was unchanged to cook packet mushroom.  Apart from its rich taste and delicate aroma, it has high nutritional value. This is one of the favorite vegetables for the people who tries to avoid non-vegetarian food.

Recipe of Mushroom in Mustard Sauce ( Poal Chatu r Jhal ) : serves 4 

Ingredients :

Button mushroom / Oyster mushroom : a big box, approximately 500 g, wash and chop into bite sizes 
Oil : 3-4 tablespoons, preferably mustard oil 
Nigella seeds ( Kalo jeere ) / Kalonji : 1 teaspoon
Green chili peppers : 3-4, slitted 
Ginger paste : 1 tablespoon
Turmeric powder : 1/2 teaspoon
Coriander powder : 1 and half teaspoons
Red chili powder : 1/2 teaspoon 
Yellow mustard seeds : 1 tablespoon 
Black mustard seeds : 1/2 tablespoon 
Salt :
Extra Green chillies and mustard oil 

Method :

1. Take the two kind of mustard seeds in a blender. Add a pinch of salt and 1 green chilli and few tablespoons of water and grind it to a paste. Set it aside.

2. Take a pan, add oil and heat it up. Once oil is really hot, temper the oil with Nigella seeds /Kalo jeere / Kalonji and 3 to 4 slit green chillies. 

3. Once the aroma comes up, add the chopped mushroom. Give some stirs, soon mushrooms release a lot of water. 

4. Once the water dries up, add ginger paste, add turmeric, coriander powder, red chili powder to it. Mix everything together. 

5. Add salt and again mix well. Add the mustard paste and stir in everything. Stir frequently and let it cook for couple of minutes or until mushrooms are done. 

6. Check the seasoning, add salt and chillies if needed. Drizzle few drops of mustard oil and switch off the gas. Serve hot with a bowl of steamed rice. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mango Lassi Popsicles / Mango Kulfi Ice Cream

Just before bidding goodbye to Summer, today I am going to share a perfect recipe for this season - Mango Lassi Popsicles. What could be more satisfying than a mango drink in this summer! This frozen Mango lassis is just too appropriate for beating the current heat wave of southern California. Specifically September and October are the hottest months here in San Diego.  When we came here five years back, the climate was very pleasant but in last three years, there was not much rain and summer is not pleasant anymore here. Good news is that we have only one more month before the winter starts.

We have been making ice pops, ice cream and ice cream cake for most part of this summer to beat this heat. This ice pop recipe is a nice after-school snack that your kid would love to have. It is creamy, smooth and has tart flavor.  It can send you back to your childhood days because in some parts of India, without mango or mango lassi, summer vacation was not complete. In India, Lassi is nothing but a traditional summer drink which is similar to fruit smoothie. On the other hand, many Indians keenly wait for summer only because of Mango. So a combination of these two is so perfect for them! Other than mango lassi, there are other kinds too like salty, sweet or bhang lassi. The last one is very popular in northern part of India during the festival called Holy. It is made out of “bhang”, a liquid derivative of cannabis. In Indian sub-continent, Bhang has been used as an intoxicant for many centuries.

Mango lassi is a blend of mangoes , yogurt, sugar and a touch of spice. I combined all of the above in a food processor and made it as smooth as it can be. You can swirl it into popsicle molds with some mango-less yogurt/milk mixture for a pretty smooth affect. Now Mango lassi in popsicles are ready to freeze.  Making popsicles is major fun and so easy that even a novice can make it. You don’t need to worry if you don't have Popsicle mold. You can use paper cup, take some glasses or muffin tins and pour the mixture into the same and then freeze. In terms of flavor, the options are endless. You can change the flavor as per your taste and choice. The yogurt makes the popsicles so tasty and creamy. If you like your pops icy, better to skip the yogurt and make it simpler.  

Recipe of Mango Lassi Popsicles : Makes 6 to 8 popsicles, depending on the size of popsicles molds

Ingredients :

Ripe Mango, chopped : 2 cups ( 3 medium sized mangoes )
Greek yogurt / Strained yogurt / plain yogurt : 1/2 cup 
Sugar : 2 tablespoon, or to taste. 
Ground Cardamom : a pinch (optional )

Method :

1. Combine mango, yogurt, sugar, ground cardamom in a food processor or blender and blend it until smooth. 

2. Pour the blended mango mixture into the popsicle molds or small paper cups and freeze for one hour. Then push a popsicle stick into the center of each pop. Place back in the freezer until solid. 

3. To unmold, place the mold up side down under warm running tap water. 

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Focaccia Bread

Off late I have been thinking about sharing a bread recipe instead of sharing same kind of dessert or curry recipes. Most of us get nervous when it comes to making any bread related stuff. I am not an expert either in this field. But when it’s something new, I get excited to try it out. So I went ahead and did the experiment with today’s recipe of Focaccia Bread. I tried couple of different recipes of Focaccia Bread and eventually decided to stick to below one. Hope you will like it.  

Before coming to the recipe, let me give a brief introduction of Focaccia Bread. It’s a flat oven-baked, very popular Italian bread. It can be used as a side to meals, as a base for pizza, or as sandwich bread. In style and texture, it’s quiet similar to pizza. If you want something simple and classic, try rosemary and sea salt toppings. But when I searched about Focaccia, I found dozens of different and delicious toppings. The ones I liked are caramelized onions, half olives, cheese and half jalapenos. If you prefer to make focaccia to be a simple herby bread, you may allow only olive and herbs besides sea salt.

It is best served when it is warm. The recipe that I have tried today is highly inspired by Lorraine Pascale's Focaccia Bread. Though I have changed a bit here and there. The process of making Focaccia starts by making a dough of flour, oil, water, salt, sugar and of course yeast. Then it’s baked in an oven. A common practice is dotting the unbaked bread to create multiple wells in the bread. It helps to preserve the moisture in the bread. As a next step, olive oil is spread over the dough prior to rising and baking. Here is the details of the recipe. 

Recipe of Focaccia Bread : One flat loaf , serves 6 to 8 

Preparation time : 30 minutes 
Cooking Time : 25 - 30 minutes 

Ingredients : 

Bread Flour : 500 g ( 2 cups and 1/4 cup )
Active Dry Yeast : 2 tablespoons / 1 sachet 
Olive oil : 80 ml (1/3 cup plus extra for drizzling ) 
Water : 150 - 250 ml ( 1 cup ), warm ( 105 degrees F )
Vegetable oil / oil spray / olive oil : 
Salt : Large pinch 
Sugar : 1 tablespoon
Cheese for topping :  as per your choice, I used a blend of  Mozzarella, Parmesan and Asiago, 1/2 cup,
Fresh Rosemary : 2 teaspoons, minced ( optional )

Method : 

1. Take a mixing bowl, add yeast and warm water and whisk it. Add olive oil, salt, sugar and the flour. Mix it well using a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff and sticky to mix. 

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough for about ten minutes by hand on lightly floured work surface.  The dough will feel stretchy when it pulled. To test if the dough is ready, make a ball with dough then, using a well-floured finger poke a shallow indent in the side. If the dough springs back, then it is ready. Or knead it for a few minutes longer. Total kneading time is about 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil into a large bowl, place the dough into the bowl. Coat it with extra olive oil. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil and let it rise in a warm place until the volume gets doubled. It will take 1 to 2 hrs.

4. Take  a baking sheet, coat with olive oil / oil. Turn the dough out into the prepared pan. Press gently into a rough oval or rectangular shape. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap.  Let it rest for 15 minutes. 

5. Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons more olive oil on the top of the dough. Poke oil-covered fingers deeply into the dough to make dimples all over the surface. Let it rise again until the dough becomes double, it will take approximately 45 minutes. 

6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F or 200 degrees C. Drizzle 1 more tablespoons oil on the surface of the dough, sprinkle cheese, rosemary ( optional ), or other toppings ( as per your choice), Sprinkle some sea salt over the dough. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread is well risen and light golden brown. 

7. Remove from the oven, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and brush it on the top of the loaf, leave to cool on the baking pan. Cut and serve.