Thursday, 28 February 2013

Tips & Tricks on Baking - Chocolate Cake!

This post is a very special one to me, because of the lessons I have learnt from a dear friend, which I would like to share with others. This post will have no music, because it will be dedicated to something and someone very special. I would like to start this post by thanking a very close friend to me - Chitra. I admire her for many reasons, and one of them is her patience.

I've baked in the past, but it never turned out perfect. Sure, it tasted good, but it was never that crumbly and soft consistency, that just melts in your mouth. Chitra helped me achieve that on the weekend, by teaching me how to bake properly, and patiently. We made a mouthwatering eggless chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.

This eggless cake recipe was simple, but there are a few rules that we must always adhere to, as I've learnt.

We followed this online recipe from Tarla Dalal, but made just a few tiny changes to it, as I will explain. We made a two layer cake, with chocolate frosting. Some people bake one large cake, and cut it in half, but we baked two thin cakes and put them together. I wanted to spread something different into the middle, so I put some chocolate frosting on the bottom of the top base, and some toffee sauce on top of the bottom base. They went together beautifully!

The recipe we followed by making a few changes, was this:
For 1 thin cake (make two batches of this to make the large cake) -
1 cup homemade Cake Flour (explained in Method)
2 tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Bi-carb Soda
1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
3/4 cup Condensed Milk
4 tablespoons of Melted Butter
1 teaspoon of Vanilla Bean Paste (if you don't have this, you can use Vanilla Essense, but the paste makes a HUGE difference!)

Here is where I will explain the tricks and rules along the way.

The most important things Chitra taught me about baking, are to be very precise and accurate with your measurements, follow the recipe closely, and never to add or swap ingredients. The recipe is given in the way it is for a reason, and you don't want to change or add things, because it will make changes to the end result that may not be favourable, even if you think otherwise. Compliance is key!

Let's start!
Homemade Cake Flour is something Chitra introduced to me, and boy does it make a difference! Cake Flour is where for every 1 cup of Plain Flour, you remove 2 tablespoons and replace it with 2 tablespoons of Corn Flour. Why, you may ask? Because corn flour is what gives it that crumbly consistency in the end, and it makes all the difference in the world!

We used this home made cake flour, and to properly make it, you must put the plain flour and corn flour in a bowl, and seive it 5 times! YES, 5 times! Why? As Chitra explained, it is the only way the flour and corn flour will really blend in properly, because they are both different densities and textures. Seiving is an extremely important part of baking, that many people, including me, have missed before, thinking that it doesn't make that much of a difference. When I tasted the end result, I realised how much difference it made! I used to just put it all together, and use a hand-held electric whisk to leaven the dough, but this is not the way to do it, as I've discovered. Sieving is très important!!

So, once you've sieved your 1 cup of cake flour 5 times, add your  1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon bi-carb soda, and 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the same bowl. Sieve the entire mixture another 2 times! It may seem unnecessary, but I can assure you, it is worth it! Once you have done that, leave this dry mixture aside.

In another large bowl, add your 4 tablespoons of melted butter and whisk it gently until it is one consistent colour throughout. Then add the 3/4 cup of condensed milk to the butter, and whisk it gently. It will look curdled at first while you are whisking it, but eventually, it will blend/come together and look beautiful. Condensed milk is our substitute for egg.
Add the Vanilla Bean paste. This paste gives the cake a much richer and more authentic vanilla taste, than adding Vanilla essence. Whisk it gently again till it comes together. Now, add 3/4 cup of water to this bowl and gently mix it.

Now add the dry mixture in 3 equal batches. You must mix/fold them in together gently with a spatula. Don't use a whisk or anything electric. The mixture should be gently handled, and added in small proportions. Use a spatula to break up the flour, and push it to the sides of the bowl to blend it in so there are no dry bits left in the flour. The key is to be gentle.

Once you have added all the flour, and mixed the dough together, run your spatula gently through the mixture, and listen closely - you will hear the air bubbles. This means the mixture is well aerated, and will mean your cake will rise and be soft and crumbly! 

Now, preheat your oven to 170ºC (Degrees Celsius).

While the oven is heating, leave the cake dough aside and start preparing your baking pan. It is important to oil your baking pan with either a brush or with an oil spray, and placing the baking paper correctly, as displayed below:
Pour the batter out into the baking pan, and level it out gently with your spatula. 
Now when you place it into the oven, place it on a low rack. The reason we do this is so that it has enough time to cook inside while the outside is slowly browning. I've had my share of deflated cakes, and having to leave the cake in the oven for some more time because it's still not completely cooked even though it's browned perfectly outside. To prevent this situation, place the pan on a low rack, further away from the heat source, so that the cooking and browning is even and consistent.

Cook for 20 - 25 minutes. IMPORTANT: Once you have placed the cake into the oven, do not open it again for at least 20 minutes. Chitra says that you need to retain the temperature in the oven while the cake is baking, so you can peek at it from the oven window, but resist the temptation to open the oven. 

After 20 minutes, open up the oven, and poke a butter knife into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean and does not deflate, it is well cooked. Otherwise, pop it back into the oven for another 5 - 10 minutes. It won't rise again, but it will cook at least. Once, done, allow the cake to cool outside for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan, and taking off the baking paper.
The cake looked beautiful! It had risen perfectly in the middle, and had cooked all over evenly and perfectly. It was such a happy moment :)

So, I went home and tried the bottom layer myself, and it turned out very well because I followed all the guidelines that Chitra had taught me. I put them together with some rich chocolate frosting, and presto! The cake was soft, delicate, crumbly, sweet and divine! 
Thank you Chitra for teaching me how to bake properly!


Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Simple Tofu Veggie Stir Fry

Sri Om.

I absolutely love every stir fry of every kind, pure vegetarian of course. They're so easy to make, so delicious, and so versatile in that you can add anything and still make it awesome. Stir fry is my number one choice for dinner, because it's brilliant that something so delicious is so healthy! My husband wasn't a fan of it before after trying thai food, but these days, because I add some spice into it, he loves it just as much as I do!

Tofu + Veggies + Sauce + Peanuts = Heaven!

 I'd like to share a few lines from a classical carnatic keerthanai that I inevitably think of and start to sing every time I make a stir fry (wierd, right?!). It's completely inadvertent, and I start singing this wonderful melody subconsciously. Next thing I know, I'm taken aback by myself, because I've just become predictable to myself! Oh dear...

Both the song and the lyrics are absolutely mesmerising. I first heard these beautiful lyrics sung by Mahanidhi Shobana Vignesh, and she has done a tremendous job in her rendition. There is a small aalaap in the Pallavi, which awakens my soul every time I hear it. She sings it with so much ease! I just gawk at her in awe... She's brilliant. I'm sure you'll enjoy it too -

Ragam : Tilang
Tal : Adi (Tisram)
Composer : Ilangkamban

"Chinnanjiru kuzhandai onru kanavil vandhadhu,
Singaara punnagayaal, ennai kavardhadhu.

Vetri tharum adhan kayil vel irundadhu,
Villum adhan vizhiyum endan mel irundadhu.
Nettri thiruneeru paalai pol irundadhu,
Neela mayil meedhu adhan kaal irundadhu!

Vanna mani marbil muthu malai kidandathu,
Vantha kinkini osai kaadhil thodardathu.
Ponnana athan mugamo poovai vendrathu,
Potrum endhan peyar yethuvo, Murugan endrathu!
Kangalai naan thirandhen kaatchi maridadhu,
Kanda andha kaatchi edhelaatchi viradadhu.
Mann urangum edhilum, endhan manam urangavillai,
Mayakkam andha mugathai thavira vera edhum theriya villai!

Isn't she brilliant?

Off to today's recipe -
Total Time Required: 30 minutes
Serves: 2 people

1 block (200 grams) of hard/firm tofu or firm beancurd
1 large capsicum
1 large onion
10 beans
10 mushrooms (I used Shittake)
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds (jeera)
1/2 teaspoon of crushed ginger
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely into tiny pieces (optional)
2 green chillies, chopped in half (optional)
2 tablespoons of oil
3 tablespoons of Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons of chilli sauce/peanut sauce/any other spicy sauce of your choice)
1 handful of slightly crushed peanuts
2 shallot shoots, sliced finely

NOTE: You can add other vegetables too, such as broccoli, cauliflower, edamame, bean shoots, water chestnuts, pineapple pieces and shredded cabbage. I tend not to add vegetables like pumpkin, eggplant and any type of gourd as it makes the dish a bit mushy, and ruins it for me. But if you like them, cook them carefully so they don't fall apart.

Chop the onion into medium sized strips. Chop all the other vegetables in a similar size. The reason we do this is to promote even cooking across the wok.
Take paper towels and pat your tofu/bean curd dry. Wrap it in paper towel and place a weight on it for 10 minutes to remove most of the moisture, so that it is dry enough to soak up the stir fry sauces. Cut it up into thin strips.

Heat your wok. Add the oil. Once it is hot, add the jeera (cumin seeds) and wait till they crackle. Add onions, chillies, ginger and garlic. Saute till the onions are translucent. Don't let them brown! We want them to be tender.

Add the tofu, and saute it for 5 minutes, till it is tender.
Now, add all the other vegetables, mix it well, close the lid and allow to cook for just 5 minutes.
Add soy sauce. Stir in well. Leave for 2 minutes on high heat.
Add your sauce of choice. I used Sambel Chilli Sauce, which is nice and spicy, just the way we like it!
Stir it in well, and allow it to cook for 2 minutes.

Sprinkle crushed peanuts on your serving plate, and top with some finely sliced shallots. DONE!

Serve hot with rice!

NOTE: There's a reason why I did not add salt to this. Soy sauce is very salty, and provides more than enough salt for the entire dish, and you will make it very salty if you add salt on top of that.



Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Karamani Vadai (Black-Eyed Pea Fritters)

Sri Om.
I was once told that the best thing to do when you wake up in the morning, and before you go to bed, is to hear the voice of and look into the eyes of a baby. Such a pure and innocent soul can emit only good vibrations to you, and radiate nothing but happiness. I absolutely agree! But since I don't have any kids, the second best that everyone has at the tip of their fingers is....... music! I've lately gotten into the habit of listening to some soothing music before going to sleep, to calm myself down at the end of the day, and to relax my mind and soul. It's proven to be very effective for me internally.

The movie, Kadal, has recently released worldwide. This Mani Ratnam film's music was, of course, directed by A R Rahman, and I'm loving every note. I especially love Nenjukulle, sung by newcomer, Shakthi Sree. Her voice is a unique one, because she brings about a certain olden-style, village-girl, vibrance to the song and it's absolutely mesmerising. Her voice flows like the Ganges, and just makes me smile. My husband always teases me that every week I have a new song that I get hooked to and listen to 100 times before moving on to the next song, but this song will be around my mind for a lot longer. Rahman and Vairamuthu have outdone themselves!

"Nenjukulley Omma Mudunjirukaen
Inga Ethisayil En Pozhapu Vidinjirukum
Vella Paarva Veesiviteer Munadi
Intha Thangatha Manasu Thanni Patta Kanadi
Valla Maniyaram Valaruga Gediyaram
Aana Puliyellam Adukkum Arigaram
Neer Pona Pinnum Nizhal Mattum Pogalayae Pogalayae
Nenju Kuzhiyilae Vanthu Vizhunthiruchu
Appa Nimunthavathan Apuramma Guniyalayae Guniyalayae
Kodakambi Pola Maram Kuthi Nikkuthae"
Humming this tune, I decided to make something interesting for some guests one evening. My mother told me once that she visited someone's house, and they made these amazing Karamani Vadais, that were so simple. She gave me the recipe, and I had to try it! They cooked really fast, and didn't absorb too much oil. They were delicious appetizers, and easy to prepare.

2 cups of Karamani / Black eyed peas
2 tablespoons of chilli powder
2 strands of curry leaves
3 tablespoons of flaxmeal (optional - this helps the vadais bind, but you can make without)
Salt to taste
Oil to fry 

Soak the peas for about 3 hours in boiling hot water:
Then put it in small amounts in a food processor and grind only a little for it to be coarse, and put it all in a bowl and add the salt, curry leaves and chilli powder and mix well. Then add flaxmeal and mix well:
Mix it well, and squeeze them into little balls:
 Fry them in hot oil (on a medium flame) till they are golden brown:
Ensure you fry them on a medium flame, because if you fry them on a hot flame, then it will become brown on the outside, but be uncooked on the inside.

Dry them on a paper towel, and serve hot with mint chutney or any other sauce of your choice. 



Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Easy & Healthy Vegan Mild-Chocolate Pancakes

My father recently introduced me to a beautiful melody, Nain Dwaar Se Mann Mein, sung by Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar, and I haven't been able to get my mind off it! The beauty behind this melody, lies in it's ability to shift back and forth from a slower tune to a faster beat, yet still maintain it's overall rhythm and raag. Lata Mangeshkar brings to it a level of sweetness and humility that is hard to find with any other singer, even today.

This melody, to me, is one I could listen to in any mood. Very few pieces of music have the ability to invoke emotions in absolutely any mood and bring about a calm, yet jittery sensation within one's soul, and this goes to the top of the list. What a render, what a composition! You're guaranteed satisfaction, reassured of a world of authenticity, and left resting peacefully...

Amazing, HUH?

Now, off to today's delicious breakfast recipe - to enjoy healthy pancakes whilst listening to heartwarming melodies on a sunny Sunday morning, with a delightful glass of mango juice. It's worth the effort taken you see, because as they say... have breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper..

I've always wanted to host a really big fancy breakfast with lots of varieties and goodies, like what you get in the First Class Airline Lounges! You could sit there for a good 3 hours just slowly devouring the pastries, pancakes, cutlets, waffles, fruits and juices. What more could one want to start off a day, aye?

So on Sunday, we had a big, big, BIG breakfast with a my close friends. On the menu, we had Vegan Chocolate Pancakes with Blueberries and Maple Syrup, Buttered Toast, Museli and Dried Fruit Cereal, Assortment of Fresh Fruit, Potato and Quinoa Patties, and Mango Juice. Are your mouths watering? :P

The food went so fast that I didn't get a chance to snap clicks of everything together, but I did manage to get a few good snaps of the pancakes later on...

These pancakes are so easy to make, and can be whipped up in just 10 minutes.
What's better? THEY'RE VEGAN.
What's EVEN better? THEY CAN BE MADE HEALTHY!! The secret is adding some flaxmeal to add an element of protein and fiber.
What's SUPER? You can store them in the fridge and have them the next morning AND THEY'RE STILL SOFT! SCORE!!!!

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 - 10 minutes (depending on how many you're making; takes 2 - 3 minutes per pancake)
Yield: With my measurements, you can easily make about 15 - 20 decent sized pancakes.
2 cups of self-raising flour or plain flour
2 cups of Chocolate flavoured soy milk (or any other milk; it doesn't have to be soy or chocolate)
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of flaxmeal
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1.5 tablespoons of oil
A tiny pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the soy milk and mix it really well.

Add the sugar, vanilla essence and salt.
Mix very well with an electric mixer to make it a smooth batter with no lumps.
Add baking powder, salt and oil. Blend for a whole minute till the batter is smooth and silky.
FINALLY, add the flaxmeal powder and mix in well into the batter. Flaxmeal thickens the batter, so add an extra tablespoon of milk if you want.

Heat a pancake griddle/pan/saucepan/tava/whatever. When it reaches optimum heat, lower the heat to simmer and pour two small circles of pancakes about 1 cm apart so they don't stick together. Spray a tablespoon of oil around them to absorb and cook. Cover the pan and allow it to cook well for a good 2 minutes. Flip it over, and close the lid again on it.

[NOTE: The reason you lower the heat and cook the pancakes on a low heat is because you want it to slowly become brown on the bottom while the pancakes cook wholly. If you keep it on a high heat, your pancakes will burn at the bottom and still not be totally cooked before you flip it over]

When cooked well on both sides, serve it hot with some butter, maple syrup and blueberries or any other fruit of your choice!



Sri Om

Friday, 8 February 2013

Edamame Subzi (Soybean Curry)

As vegetarians, we're always out on the hunt for healthy foods to keep up our protein levels, and reduce our carbohydrate intake. One of the best ways of doing this, as I've recently discovered, is by eating this wonder bean - Edamame. It's delicious as is, but it's also versatile, in that you can create many dishes with this bean, that you would ordinarily create with something less healthy, like potatoes, red kidney beans, or chickpeas.

Fact: Peanuts boiled and salted are ADDICTIVE. Cracking the shells one by one, and snacking away at it for hours, go completely unnoticed. By the time you're snapped back to reality, the whole packet's gone, and you're wondering how that ever happened? But with Edamame, that guilty conscience doesn't kick in, because we can snack on something just as tasty and addictive, that's way healthier than boiled peanuts, for a fraction of the fat and carbs, and double the protein! I couldn't possibly ask for a better snack, and I've been addicted to it since I discovered it 6 months ago.

I've tried many dishes with shelled edamame and yesterday, I tried a simple curry with it and it was delicious! We had it with some parathas and were full pretty quickly! Quite a simple recipe...

1 packed shelled edamame (150 grams)
1 large onion
2 tablespoons of tomato puree/crushed tomatoes/diced tomatoes
5 - 6 curry leaves (karuvapellai)
1 teaspoon of jeera (cumin seeds)
1 teaspoon of kadugu (mustard seeds)
1 tablespoon of garam masala
1/2 teaspoon of (manja podi) turmeric and perungaayam (asafoetida)
1 teaspoon of chilli powder (add more to make it spicier!)
1 cup of low fat milk

NOTE: I had some cooked Toor Daal (Thoram Paruppu) left over from the morning, so I threw that in too! It was just as good!

Slice onions into small long pieces.
Heat oil, add jeera and mustard seeds. Wait till they turn golden brown. Add asafoetida, turmeric, onions and curry leaves.
Stir till onions are translucent and fragrant.
Add garam masala and chilli powder. 
Add tomato puree and allow to cook for 5 mins. Add a tiny bit of water if necessary to maintain gravy.
After 5 mins, add shelled edamame and stir in well. Let it cook for 5 minutes.
Now add the 1 cup of low fat milk. Stir in well, and close the lid. Let this cook for a good 15 minutes on a medium flame.
After 15 minutes, check the consistency, if it is too thick, and a few spoons of water and stir well.
Add salt to taste. 
Mix well and serve. Goes well with rice, paratha, roti or even by itself! We loved it with some cold curd rice :)

Enjoy :)

This healthy and delicious snack was devoured while listening to another classic beautiful tune - Aye Hairathe from Guru. 

"Aye hairathe aashiqui, jagaa math,
Pairon se zameen zameen, lagaa math
Aye hairathe aashqui..
Kyun urdu faarsi bolte ho?
Kyun urdu faarsi bolte ho?
Dus kehte he, do tolte ho,
Jhooton ke shehenshaah, bolo na...!

Kahiin jaako meri aankhein, 
Sunaaye ek daastaan,
Jo honton se, kholo na!"

What a cute way to tease other, lovingly! Simply brilliant! 


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Giant Custard Cupcake with Nutella Frosting for International Nutella Day!

If ANYONE knows me even remotely well, they would know that once someone shows me a tub, or even a spoon, of Nutella, I'm sold. Genius of a creation. As my friend Jason would say, it's proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!

It was International Nutella Day yesterday, and to celebrate the occasion, I really wanted to use my new giant cupcake baking pan. Exciting times! I got a bit bored of same old basic cake with chocolate, so I searched around and found a nice custard flavoured cake and decided to add some awesome Nutella to it! It's a fairly simple recipe that didn't take me very long, and of course it's eggless. I adapted my recipe from here. Thanks for the great recipe RK!

1.5 cups of self-raising flour (or plain flour)
1 cup of yoghurt
1 cup of fine sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of vanilla custard powder
1/2 cup of oil (I used olive oil)
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

1 cup of Thick cream
1 cup of Nutella

- Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celcius.

- Take the yoghurt in a bowl and whisk it really well. Add sugar and whisk for another 3 - 4 minutes till it is dissolved. Add baking powder and baking soda and fold in. Wait 5 minutes till this becomes frothy and starts to bubble. Add the oil and the vanilla essence. Mix well.

- Now, sift the self raising flour and vanilla custard powder twice in a separate bowl. Add this in small amounts to the yoghurt and sugar, and mix it very well.

- Once the mixture is thick with no lumps and well incorporated together, set it aside for two minutes.

- Prepare your baking tray by brushing a little oil on it. Pour in the cake batter and cook for about 20 - 25 minutes in the oven on a low tray. I realised from previous experiences, that even if you keep the temperature low so as to not burn the cake, if you keep it too high on the rack in the oven, the same result will appear. So keep it on 150 - 160 degrees Celsius, and don't keep it too high near the heat coils.
- Turn off oven when a knife inserted comes out with a few crumbs and no liquid.

- Cool for half an hour. Then take both pieces out, and spread nutella on top of the base piece. Stick both pieces together.

- Take the thick cream and first spread this on top of the giant cupcake. Then take the nutella and start spreading it on top of the cream. You will find that you will get a marble cake type texture on top. It looks lovely, and tastes even better!

Serve ASAP.


It tasted delicious, and whilst happily baking away, a particular song came to mind; a particularly favourite one by Shreya Ghoshal -

"Faslaa thaa durii thii, thaa judaai kaa aalam,
Intezaar mein nazrein thi aur, 
Tum wahan the, tum wahan the, tum wahan the,
Jhil mila the, jag magaa the, khushiyon mein jhuum kar.
Aur yahan jal, rahe the hum, aur yahan jal, rahe the hum....

Phir se badal garajaa hai! Garaj garaj ke barsaa hai,
Jhuum ke toofaan aaya hai, par tujhko bujhaa nahi paaya hai,
O piya, yeh diya, chaahe jitna sataaye tujhe yeh saawan,
Yeh hawa aur yeh bechainiyaan...

Mere piya, ab aaja re mere piya,
O mere piya, ab aaja re mere piya..."

Context: She sings to her love, and of the fire lamp that she lights for him and guards with her life in significance of her love and devotion to him.
Translation: Between us was space, distance and a world of separation. All along, I was here, and you were there, swaying happily, shimmering and gleaming with happiness. All along, here I was, burning with jealousy. The clouds raged with thunder and lightning, and it stormed and rained to put out the lamp that I religiously light for your return. The forces tried to put our the fire, but they could never succeed. Oh, my lover, no matter how much this lightning, wind and rain tortures you, it will not be able to stop you; it will not be able to separate us. Come now, my love, embrace me.

I'm going to do something pretty brave for the first time, and put up a clip of me singing these verses. This blog is after all, to share my love of food and music, and no matter how good or bad my singing is, I thought it was time I shared something! Here goes...
Do leave your comments guys :)