Friday, July 4, 2014

Baked Eggs ‘n' Mushrooms


Baked eggs or eggs en cocotte is a rustic French preparation that is very versatile. Your imagination is the limit here. If you, like me, can't resist butter, cheese, eggs (among other goodies in life!) then this recipe is for you! I used my favorite mushrooms-on-toast recipe for this.

This is usually made in individual servings, baked in ramekins. You can use any other single-serve baking bowl too. I am providing the quantities required for a single ramekin here, which you can then increase according to the number you want to bake.

This is ideal for breakfast, even if you have a large group to feed, as preparation takes just a couple of minutes and then 10 minutes for baking.

  • 2 teaspoons butter (or use a spray)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 large button mushroom
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Dried oregano/thyme/mixed herbs
  • 1. Preheat oven to 180 C.
  • 2. Heat up a skillet and let 1 teaspoon butter melt in it.
  • 3. Immediately add the garlic and mushrooms.
  • 4. After a minute of sauteing, add the milk, salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 minute.
  • 5. Remove from heat.
  • 6. Spread 1 teaspoon butter around the inside of the ramekin.
  • 7. Pour the mushroom into it.
  • 8. Sprinkle the cheese on top.
  • 9. Crack the egg carefully into another bowl.
  • 10. Tip the egg into the ramekin, on top of the mushroom.
  • 11. Sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper.
  • 12. Sprinkle more cheese on top, if you like.
  • 13. Take a baking tray, pour water in it, and place the ramekin in the tray. The water should reach half-way on the outside of the ramekin.
  • 13. Bake for 10 minutes. The yolk should look runny but the whites should look set
  • 14. Serve with toast or garlic bread.
1. You can use anything as a base for the eggs-from spinach (saute first) to tomatoes (sundried too, maybe?) bacon, corn, leeks, etc.
2. You could use cream instead of milk.
3. Add chilli flakes for an added punch!
4. Vary the herbs you use-how about some coriander leaves as a garnish?

Would love to hear from you about the variations you tried!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Idiyappam/String Hoppers with Eggs

String hoppers or idiyappam is a noodle-like delicacy that is made in the South Indian state of Kerala as well as in Sri Lanka. Its usually served for breakfast, but it is so versatile that you can even make a biryani out of it! It is made using powdered rice which is then mixed into a soft dough with hot boiling water. This is then pushed through a mould that has a plate with tiny holes in it. It comes out as strings which is then steamed. This is usually served hot with coconut milk and sugar or as an accompaniment with stew.

Nowadays, what with a fast-paced lifestyle, someone had the smart idea of making "instant" idiyappam. No more mixing and pushing and steaming like our mothers and grandmothers did. Oh no! All we have to do is buy a packet of the instant stuff (Double Horse is a reliable brand) and immerse it in hot boiled water for just a minute or two, strain, and serve! Whew! So of course this is one of the things I brought with me from India when I came to Bangkok.

I used it recently in quite a different way, using a recipe I found on Archana's Kitchen

You can substitute this with any kind of thin rice noodle or vermicelli. Its pretty to look at as well as quite healthy too. Serve it as a breakfast or snack.

  • 200 gram cooked or readymade string hoppers/idiyappam or vermicelli
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 5 curry leaves
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 green chillies, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
  • Salt, to taste
1. Break the eggs into a bowl, pour in the milk, season with salt, and beat. Keep aside.
2. Heat up a pan with the oil.
3. Throw in the cumin seeds and curry leaves and wait for them to crackle.
4. Now tip in the onions and green chillies. Fry till translucent. Shift these to one side of the pan.
5. Pour in the egg mixture, sprinkle the turmeric powder on top, and wait for a minute until it coagulates a bit. Now break it up into large pieces.
6. Mix in the idiyappam at this stage. Try to mix everything together without breaking up the eggs or the idiyappam.
7. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bombay Toast

Bombay toast is everyone's favorite snack. It holds a spot in our childhood memories, having filled innumerable tiffin boxes and our tummies. There must be a hundred different ways of making it, in each family. This is just the way my family likes it with a few of my add-ons! This recipe is for 2-4 people.

  • Bread-4 slices, cut diagonally into triangles (day-old bread is better).
  • Egg-1
  • Milk-1 tablespoon
  • Onions-1 small one, chopped really fine
  • Green chilles-1, chopped fine. You can deseed if you want less heat or increase the number if you like it hot!
  • Cilantro-2 tablespoons, chopped fine
  • Pepper-To taste
  • Salt-To taste
  • Turmeric powder-A pinch, optional
  • Garam masala powder-A pinch, optional
  • Butter/vegetable oil-4 tablespoons or enough to shallow fry (but as Julia Child said, “With enough butter, anything is good.")

Crack the egg into a bowl.
Beat it with a fork.
Add the rest of the ingredients, except bread and butter/oil.
Heat butter/oil in a frying pan.
When it is hot, but not smoking, dip one bread slice in the egg mixture, making sure to turn both sides and get it well coated with the onions, cilantro, etc.
Place the slice in the pan.
Quickly repeat for the next slice.
Flip the slices over and fry till golden.
Serve hot with ketchup.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Quick Kheema (Meat mince)

When you get back home from work with a tired and famished child in tow, who could fall asleep at any moment, you have only an hour or so to get dinner on the table. So you hunt down recipes that are nutritious, tasty, and quick. I got this one from the book Fat Free Indian by Shehzad Husain and Manisha Kanani.

  • Minced meat-350 grams
  • Ginger-garlic paste-2 teaspoons
  • Turmeric-1/2 teaspoon
  • Chilli powder-1 or 2 teaspoons
  • Onions-1 large, chopped fine
  • Green chillies-3
  • Curry leaves - 10
  • Tomato-1 large, cubed
  • Coriander leaves-A handful, chopped
  • Oil-2 teaspoons
  • Salt to taste

In a bowl, combine the mince, ginger garlic paste, turmeric, chilli powder, salt.
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Tip in the onions with the curry leaves and whole green chillies.
When it changes to light pink, tip in the mince and saute for 5 minutes till the water comes out.
Add the tomatoes and coriander leaves.
Leave to simmer until cooked dry.
Serve hot with accompaniments of your choice.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Thai Cooking Series#2-Pad See Ew--Step by Step

In my second installment of the Thai Cooking Series, I'm going to show you how to make delicious Pad See Ew. This basically means "stir fried (pad) with soy sauce (see ew)". This is a very popular dish in Thai restaurants, both here and abroad. It is made with flat rice noodles, veggies, egg, and meat of your choice. It is by far my favorite Thai dish. There could be differences in the way it is made, though. The version I am sharing here are the step by step pictures and recipe as cooked in the kitchen of Paa Oot, a very gracious Thai lady who runs a popular restaurant here. One difference I find in her recipes (compared to others) is that she adds a lot of veggies (good thing, right?)

Ideally, to get this recipe right in your home, just remember these:
  • It is very important to get everything prepped and ready before you start cooking-don't go chopping the veggies while the garlic is frying! Trust the French to come up with a name for this-mis en place :-)
  • It's nice to do this in a big wok which you can cook on medium-to-high heat.
  • Flat, broad rice noodles are available either fresh or dry. Obviously, using the fresh ones are easier, but if only dry noodles are available, cook according to instructions on the pack and follow the recipe.
  • Dark/black sweet soy sauce is used for coating the noodle. This is more viscous and made from palm sugar molasses. Do not use light soy sauce for coating it!
  • Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli (Kai-lan) is what is usually used. I have seen recipes where broccoli florets have been substituted for this.
  • It is always better to make smaller portions of this, maybe for two people at a time, and repeat if you have more people to feed...this is because these noodles are quite complicated at first to get right in large quantities!
Here we go....

To serve one person:
Flat, broad, rice noodles (called Sen yai), fresh, or cooked and drained-200 gm (or just take 2 big handfuls!)
Garlic-5 fat cloves
Chinese kale/broccoli-2 stalks with leaves
Carrot-1/4 cup
Cabbage-1/4 cup
Snow peas-5-6
Chicken (boneless or fillet)-100 gm (or pork or prawns)
Sweet dark/black soy sauce-2 tablespoons
Oyster sauce-1-2 tablespoons
Cooking sauce-1-2 tablespoons (Maggi or Golden Mountain, etc)
Fermented soybean paste (Tao-jiao)-1 tablespoon (this can be optional-see Healthy Boy brand)
Black pepper  powder-1 tablespoon or to your taste
Sugar-1 tablespoon
Vegetable oil-4-6 tablespoons (usually palm oil is used in Thai cooking)

Chop up the garlic.

For the Chinese kale: First separate stalk from leaves. Peel off the skin of the stem using a peeler. Then cut the stalks into diagonal strips. Chop the leaves roughly into large pieces (they will wilt away, don't worry!).

For the carrot, cut into diagonal strips. For the cabbage, chop up roughly into large pieces. Leave the snow peas whole. Put the kale, carrot, cabbage, and snow peas in a bowl and sprinkle sugar on top (presumably it keeps them crisp).
Break the egg into a bowl. Do not beat.
Cut the chicken into strips.

Spread the flat noodles on a plate. Its okay if some are clumped together. Mix the dark soy sauce on them nicely with your hands.

Everything 'mis en place'!

1. Heat up your wok and pour in the oil.
2. When it is hot, put in the garlic and let it sizzle.
3. Put in 1 tablespoon of pepper.
4. Add the chicken strips and fry for 5 minutes. Then put in the fermented soy bean paste.

5. Move the chicken to the sides and pour in the egg. Scramble it up a bit.

6. Now add in the noodles.
7. Pour the oyster sauce and cooking sauce.
8. Stir around gently for 5 minutes or until it changes color like this. This must be on medium-to-high flame.
9. Now add all the veggies.

Keep stirring for 5 or more minutes, on high heat, till the leaves are wilted and the veggies and meat are cooked to your liking (the snow peas must still be crisp!). Do not add any water at any stage. It is more delicious if you actually burn it a bit, turning the egg brown and crispy. If you have to scrape it off the pan, you know you've done a good job!

Transfer to a plate and serve and eat hot!

For Thai stir fried vegetables with prawns, see Pad Pak Luam.

Do let me know if you tried and liked this and any other suggestions for other recipes you would like to see!

Until next time, Sawadeeka!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thai Cooking Series#1-Pad Pak Luam-Stir Fried Vegetables (but with prawns!)

In this new series on my blog, I hope to share with you all recipes, notes, photographs, and vignettes from my study of Thai cuisine. This is rustic, simple, authentic Thai cooking straight from the kitchen of a Thai lady called Paa (aunt) Oot. These recipes and cooking methods are so interesting to me because, apart from looking so appetizing and tasting so aroy (Thai for delicious!) and being perfectly balanced nutrition wise, they take such a short time to cook and get ready on the table! Perfect for a blog named 'effortless cooking', don't you think?

This is my first post since I moved to Bangkok six months ago. Admittedly, settling down and getting used to the new place and language and food and people took time. We have taken to the food here like fish to water. There are a lot of elements that are common to the cuisine from our home state in South India, Kerala. These are true especially with the desserts which make use of coconut milk, bananas, etc. Bangkok is a place where it seems there is food at every nook and corner, so much so that I wonder if anybody even cooks at home when there is delicious, hygienically made food so easily available everywhere!

Of the many little places we have enjoyed eating, there is one place that stands out. This little eatery, run by an elderly lady at the side of her home, is remarkable for its food that is as tasty as it is a delight to the eyes. From the first time I ate there, I noticed that she took a lot of care in cooking and presenting the dishes, making sure there was a good balance of colors. She also made sure to balance out all the meat with a good dose of vegetables. Her vegetables are always cooked to just the right amount and retain their crisp freshness. Sometimes the medley of oranges, greens, yellows, reds is so pretty that I just have to stop and look before digging in! That she takes all this effort is all the more remarkable because it is a one-woman show. This invariably causes food to be slow in reaching your table sometimes, but I noticed that everybody waits patiently and she never does anything in a hurry, no matter how many people are waiting!

Over the last six months, I have been able to strike a rapport with her, beyond the language barriers that exist between us. Whenever I have time while waiting for my meal, I used to ask her permission to watch her cooking (since she has an open kitchen cum dining area). She was always gracious with her answers to my various questions and showed real interest in sharing her knowledge with me. I think anyone who is passionate about what they do will be only too happy to share their knowledge with others. Even when we met by chance at the local farmer's market, she took it upon herself to show me the different herbs and leafy vegetables and tell me their Thai names and uses.

So when I asked her (through a common friend) if she would teach me Thai cooking, I was delighted that she accepted. I was also surprised and touched when she refused to accept a single penny (or satang!) from me for this. In fact, she said I could come and observe her in her kitchen every Saturday afternoon, watch her cook, take photographs, write down recipes, ask her questions, the whole deal! Of course, I felt I had to make her time worth while somehow, so I decided every week to buy one dish that she makes to take home. When she said, looking at my son, that she would like to give him something "as a grandmother", it was a moment where I felt that we made a bond that went beyond all the differences in our language, culture, names, food, etc.

I am thankful to her for sharing her experience, passion, and knowledge with me and I hope I will do justice to her cooking through these photographs that were taken in her kitchen. She is the kind of cook that does not go by measurements, just cooks "andaaza se" (a little bit of this, a little bit of that) and that makes for the best cooks, don't you think? So I am not in a position to give exact measurements for these recipes, but have tried to approximate the ones she used. Hope you can wing it and learn, just like me!

This recipe, Pad Pak Luam means Stir Fried Mixed Vegetables. But you can add chicken, pork, shrimp to it if you wish. This was made with shrimp and served with rice.

1. Vegetable oil-2 tablespoons (usually palm oil is used for Thai cooking)
2. Garlic-3 fat cloves, chopped fine
3. Prawns-A handful, cleaned and whole
4. Cooking/Seasoning Sauce-1-2 tablespoons*(see Notes)
5. Mixed vegetables of your choice-1 cup (carrot sliced, broccoli florets, baby corn sliced, snow peas whole, etc). These should be soaked in just enough water to cover them, sprinkled with sugar on top, and left for a few minutes.
6. Oyster sauce-1 tablespoon* (see Notes)
7. Water-1/4 cup

1. In a wok, pour the oil and wait till it heats up.
2. Add the chopped garlic. Let is sizzle and the aroma waft through.
3. Add the prawns and stir till it turns a pinkish red.
4. Now add all the veggies along with the sugary water they were soaked in.
5. Tip in the oyster sauce and Maggi cooking sauce. Stir. Add 1/4 cup of water.
6. Wait (or if you can't wait, stir!) for 5 minutes or as long as you think the prawns and veggies are to be cooked for your liking.
7. Remove and serve on top of a bed of cooked rice.

You can, of course, use only mixed veggies or substitute the prawns for boneless chicken or pork mince.
*Cooking/Seasoning Sauce-This is a staple in most of the Thai kitchens I have seen. It is made of soybean sauce, vinegar, sugar, but has a flavor enhancer that gives it a savory taste. You may be able to substitute it with light soy sauce+vinegar+sugar. The brand used in this recipe is Nestle Maggi. Another popular brand here is Golden Mountain.
To buy or order, Nestle Maggi or Royal Thai Supermarket (and no, I don't get paid for this!)
*Oyster sauce-There are different brands, but if you are in Thailand and are interested, this seems to be the most popular one and used by Paa Oot too (again, I'm not getting paid for this publicity!)

So what are you waiting for? Try this out and give me your feedback and suggestions. Would love to hear from you about what you think about my new series. ..until the next recipe, Sawadeeka!

Friday, June 28, 2013

For Emreen

This is a post that has come in just too late...I don't think the saying "better late than never" even makes sense in this context. For the procrastinator in me, there cannot be a bigger lesson from Life-never put off until tomorrow what you must do today. Never think there will be enough time later to show or tell someone what they mean to you. Posting this today will not make a difference to my dear friend Emreen, about whom I am writing this, unless I believe that she is up there reading this and smiling the way she usually does...but I have to do it, for myself, if not for anybody else, before I can even begin to think about blogging again. There are just too many memories, so much joy, and yet too much pain even now for me to record everything about what Emreen means to me, so I am not going to even try. But this is a post that I had intended to do long before, so I am going to go ahead and do it anyway.

This is dedicated to my best friend, my confidante, my co-conspirator, my soul sister, my blogger pal, my 3 a.m. friend...Emreen Xavier. She passed away on May 18, 2013. She was a person of many talents, but above all, she knew how to be a true friend, a friend who was always there for me, no matter what. 

Emreen and I met 10 years ago, when I was working in an IT park in Trivandrum and she came there to do her project for her bachelors in engineering. We shared the same room in hostel. She went on to do her masters in engineering, being a star student through her academic life. Even though she settled in a different state and city from mine, she kept in touch with me through email, chats, phone calls, sms, cards, thoughtful little gifts, throughout the 10 years since. We saw each other through getting married, me having a baby, us changing jobs, changing cities, changing friends, changing houses, all of it.

Emreen and I started our blogging journeys almost at the same time, she a few months after I started my blog. She had a passion for all things beautiful in life. She had a knack for bringing beauty into everyday spaces. She loved interior decor. Even when working as an engineer and lead in a tech company, she took the time and made the effort to study for a course in interior design, another course in ikebana, a course in baking....She used to make lovely jewellery just for her friends. She loved flowers. She always had beautiful flower arrangements in her home.  Her dining table would have interesting centerpieces made by her almost all the time.  She was artistic and created many crafty things with her hands and heart. Her Pinterest boards are full of collections of beautiful things that show her passion for interior decor. Each collection has been neatly organized according to spaces in a house-dining, kitchen, bedroom, outdoor garden, indoor garden, etc. Her last blog post was just less than 24 hours before she passed away and it was full of beautiful photographs that she had taken herself. This is her blog-Liven Things Up. Just before she passed away, she also became a featured writer on the well-known website Magic Bricks. Her articles were all about home improvement and interior decor and you can read them here-Decor Posts by Emreen Xavier

Emreen was a huge inspiration for me not just in life, but also specifically for this blog of mine, so that is what I want to talk about here. She loved giving me suggestions and advice on different aspects of my blog. The "Timesavers/Tips" section on the tab above is her idea, for example. She used to search the net and find me classes to go to to further my interests in baking. She used to share pics and links of beautiful things that she found when browsing the net and I could expect at least one email a day from her on this-from fashion to recipes to kitchen gadgets to children's toys, everything of interest to me. We used to share with each other the latest blogging trends, widgets, sites, tips and tricks, etc. When I accidentally deleted all my blog comments a few months ago, she was the first one I called and cried!  Her last email to me was that she wanted me to start a new section on my blog. These are her words, 

"Hi kary,
I really want you to start a series about cooking utensils ( say ‘ I heart’) that you would like to have at your kitchen… That way you need not even try it out or write a review about it…
I am sure it will be a big hit….'

So yes, Emreen, wherever you are, you will have your wish...I will be starting it soon!

Emreen used to send me numerous recipe books and recipe magazines that she felt I would like. Knowing that I like Italian cuisine, she sent me two books on that. She also sent me beautiful white porcelain serving platters, specifically to present and photograph food items for my blog because "a white background will make the food look more beautiful!". That was how thoughtful she was...

I had always intended this post as a kind of surprise for Emreen, with recipes and pictures of foods cooked from the books and photographed on the dishes she sent me. I had wanted her to see this, knowing that it would make her very happy. All along, I kept postponing it to after I completed the course I was studying for, as I would get more time on my hands after all the coursework and exams got over. Emreen passed away barely a week after my course got over and the results were announced. I never ever imagined that this post would come too late, that I would be talking about her in the past tense, that she would never see all the recipes, all the photographs I had taken with her gifts. All this while, I was keeping it as a surprise for her and now, it really wouldn't matter whether I post this or not, but still I have to, for her memory sake at least....

Some of the books Emreen sent me.
She would also enthusiastically cook recipes from this blog, plate and prop them up stylistically, photograph them and send them to my blog's Facebook page...These were so much more beautiful than the ones I took and showed her artistic flair...She was the only one who used to take the effort to do all this and it meant the world to me...These are some of her pictures...

And these are the pictures taken by me using the dishes she sent me, specially for this blog..

The only thing I can now do now in Emreen's memory is to do as she always wanted me to do-follow my heart and my passions...and I will try to be the kind of friend Emreen was to me, to others I may meet as life goes by...always there and always smiling!

Emreen surrounded by her favorite flowers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

5-Ingredient Mango Crumble

I have been missing my blog as much as it has been missing me...I don't have any illusions that anyone out there has been missing my blog though! Anyway, I'm back with something sweet, to celebrate a very sweet achievement in my life.

I baked this delicious mango crumble for my dad and mom because of whom I have been able to follow my passion and interest in the Montessori educational philosophy. They supported me to study, with a 3-year-old in tow, having to travel 60 kms daily over 1 year (ensuring that we were comfortably chauffeur driven!!). They looked after both my son and me while I gritted my teeth and worked my way illustrating, writing, studying, re-writing, re-drawing 5 folders, each about 200 pages....some nights I have not even slept (especially the day before folder submission!).
Because of them, I am now the proud holder of a diploma in early childhood education, from the AMI in Netherlands. Because of this, I now have a renewed interest, passion, and direction in my life. So, even though both my parents are (borderline) diabetics (!) I baked and dedicated this mango crumble to them!

This is also for my (sweet!) husband who has never stopping me from following my heart and dreams!

Mangoes are in season now, especially in a state like Kerala which has a tropical climate. I love having mangoes in any form but in desserts have only made them in the form of a mousse. A mango crumble was news to me when I saw this recipe in the latest issue of "Vanitha", a Malayalam magazine. I put this together in no time, just 10 minutes needed to have this going in the oven. So this is perfect for the general theme of this blog-effortless cooking easy baking! Hope you too will try this out and enjoy it like we did!

  1. 1 cup mango, cut up into thick slices (midway between ripe and raw)
  2. 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder
  3. Sugar-to taste, depending on the sweetness of the mangoes
  4. 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  5. 50 grams butter + 1 tablespoon extra
  6. 1 tablespoon sugar (for sprinkling on top)
  • Preheat oven to 180 C.
  • Combine the mango slices, nutmeg powder and sugar (to taste) in a saucepan.
  • Cook it on a low flame until the sugar is just dissolved.
  • Transfer the mango mix to a baking dish.
  • Cut up the butter into small pieces and mix it into the flour with your fingers until it becomes like breadcrumbs.
  • Spread this on top of the mango mix, flattening it with your fingers or the back of a spoon.
  • Dot the top with the extra 1 tablespoon butter, randomly.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the top becomes light brown.
  • Serve plain or with a dollop of cream or vanilla icecream.
  • Enjoy the summer!

Linking this to two events:
Mango Delights

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Puddina-Chocolate Bread Pudding

This is originally a recipe from Malta and I'm guessing it was their take on the classic English bread pudding! It is a very useful recipe to have in hand when you get unexpected guests or even when you're suddenly hit with a craving for dessert...Any self-respecting cook will have all these ingredients in their pantry/fridge already, so there's no special shopping involved. 

This caught my attention one Sunday while idly watching the Fox Traveller channel, on the Italian Food Safari. It seemed so easy and the name was intriguing enough that not only did I google it immediately but also sprinted to my kitchen and had it all ready to go into the oven in barely 15 minutes! It turned out tasting chocolatey, dense on the inside and crusty outside, with all the crunch of the nuts and sweetness of the dried fruits adding to an overall satisfactory dessert, considering how easy it was to put together! 

I didn't get time to write down the measurements so this is something I'm just approximating, which means you too just have to wing it and see.

  1. Bread-1 loaf or 10-12 slices (preferably a day old)
  2. Eggs-2, beaten
  3. Sugar-6 to 8 tablespoons
  4. Custard powder-2 tablespoons (vanilla flavour)
  5. Cocoa powder-2 to 4 tablespoons
  6. Cornflour-2 tablespoons
  7. Vanilla essence-1 tablespoon
  8. Dried fruits-1/4 cup (I used dates)
  9. Almonds-1/4 cup, slivers or flakes
  10. Rum or brandy-1 tablespoon (optional)
  11. Cherries-A few, cut into half
  • Preheat oven to 180 C.
  • Crumble the bread slices in a bowl and pour water over it enough to submerge everything. Keep aside for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Transfer to a sieve/colander and drain out the liquid.
  • Transfer to a shallow baking pan and just add in all the other ingredients one by one and mix it all well.
  • Place the cherries on top, alternating with some of the almond slivers or flakes.
  • Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  • Cool and serve.
Personally, I think it would go really well with a dollop of ice cream or fresh cream :-)

If you dig bread puddings, then you mightalso  like these that I've blogged about before:
Marmalade Bread Pudding
Shahi Tukra-Baked and Royal As Ever!

I am sending this over to the Tea Time Treats event hosted by Kate at What Kate Baked for this month's theme which is "The Perfect Pudding"

Until next time, ciao!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lasagna with homemade pasta-in the oven in one hour!

My love for anything Italian obviously had to include the quintessential lasagna. Although I used to order it at any given opportunity, I never thought of making it at home, thinking it was a hassle (even with storebought lasagna sheets!). Traditional recipes require the sauce to be thickened for hours to get the full-bodied flavor. Also, if making fresh pasta sheets, they need to be first cooked for a bit in boiling water, drained and used.

Then I chanced upon a recipe that while having to make the pasta sheets fresh at home, still made me want to take the plunge and make it. This recipe, from the blog Veg Bowl is what inspired me to try it out and I have to thank the blogger Mallika for that! Seeing my family, and especially my 3 year old son enjoying it and asking for seconds, and my dad preferring this over many other choices for his birthday dinner, inspires me to make it many more times in the future.

The first time I made it, I followed Mallika's recipe to the T for the dough but made some additions like chicken to her vegetarian filling recipe. The second time, I modified it with a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen and one given by my friend Renisha, also adding my own spur-of-the-moment touches. Yes, a mishmash of recipes this is, but it can hold its own with the best of them. Even though I was initially intimidated by the classic version, this experience has taught me that once you've got the basics right, you can just follow your heart and add, subtract, multiply, whatnot, and still come up with a winner of a dish. It is deliciously comforting and satisfying, both for the body and soul!

I absolutely love this recipe because it takes only one hour from the time you start kneading the dough till you finally put the dish into the oven (with a bit of multitasking, of course!). The filling is entirely up to you, depending on if you are a vegetarian or nonvegetarian. Vegetarians can use carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, etc.  Nonvegetarians can use chicken, lamb, pork (I made this once with luncheon meat). I use a combination of both veggies and meat.

Serves 4 (generously)

For the pasta
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons water (only if needed)
For vegetarians:
Substitute eggs with 4 tbsp oil and increase the amount of water to 1/4 or 1/2 cup, like Mallika does).

For the Bechamel sauce
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
500 mL milk
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the Bolognese sauce filling
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium size carrot, finely chopped
1 medium bell pepper, finely chopped (or a mixture of different colored peppers)
1 cup button mushrooms, finely chopped
1 cup tomato puree
1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs (or just thyme)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil (or other neutral tasting vegetable oil)
Red wine (if no children are involved! and as much as you like!)
Nonvegetarian filling:
To the ingredients above, add 250 grams minced chicken or minced mutton or minced pork or a tin of luncheon meat

To layer:
1 cup (plus a bit more if required) Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese, grated

Start off with making the dough first:
1. Beat the eggs with a fork.
2. Combine the flour and salt well.
2. Put the flour either into a large bowl or on a clean surface and make a well in the middle.
3. Slowly pour the eggs or oil into the well and mix with fingers, bringing it all together into a ball.
4. Knead, adding more flour or water if needed, until you get a smooth but stiff ball.
5. Let it rest, covered with a cloth or plastic wrap, for about 15 to 20 minutes (this is the time to start off on the sauce)
6. After 20 minutes (by this time, the sauce should be at step #5-see below), divide into 4 balls.
7. Dust your work surface with flour and roll out each ball into a sheet that is as thin as you can get. Either cut each sheet into smaller rectangular sheets to overlap and line your pan or roll it out as 4 large sheets. Keep aside.

Now start making the Bolognese sauce:
1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan (or nonstick).
2. Add the garlic and when the garlicky flavor wafts out, add the onions and fry till it turns pink.
3. Add all the veggies at the same time and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add the minced meat (if using), salt and pepper.
5. Cook on high heat for 5 minutes, then cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes or until the meat is cooked through (now is the time to start making the Bechamel sauce and grating the cheese and rolling out the pastry sheets!).
6. Add the tomato puree and mixed herbs. Simmer again for 5 minutes.
7. If required, add some water (or red wine) and simmer again for 5 minutes.
8. Take off the heat.

And the Bechamel sauce:
1. Heat the butter in a saucepan.
2. Before it starts smoking, add in the flour and stir until it turns a light brown..
3. Add in the milk, a little at first to mix it with the flour, and then add the rest gradually, whisking it well until it becomes thicker.
4. Add salt and pepper.
5. Simmer and stir for 5 minutes.
6. Take off heat.

To assemble:
1. Preheat oven to 180 C or 200 C.
2. In a rectangular baking dish, first spread the Bechamel sauce
3. Carefully place the first lasagna sheet over this (or overlap and place 3-4 sheets).
4. Pour enough of the Bolognese sauce to cover the sheet.
5. Top with the Bechamel sauce.
5. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.
6. Repeat this twice: the pasta sheet-Bolognese sauce-Bechamel sauce-grated cheese.
7. Lastly, cover with the last pasta sheet, pour some Bechamel sauce, and top with grated cheese (you can finish off with a pasta sheet and cheese alone to get a crunchier top).
8. Bake until the top becomes brown and the cheese has melted and bubbles over, about 25 to 25 minutes, depending on your oven.

PS: Try your best to wait for at least 10 minutes before plunging in!
I am linking this to Bake Fest which this month is being hosted at Anu's Kitchen.

Until next time, ciao!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Butter Chicken 'Chak Le India' Style and book review

Aditya Bal's show on NDTV Good Time's, called Chak Le India, was a "don't-miss" one for me back when I was in Hyderabad. But here in Kerala, it's not part of the local cable network so it's been a while since I watched it. So obviously I jumped at BlogAdda's book review program to review his first cookbook. I was thrilled when I was one of the 10 bloggers to get copies of the book. So far, I've cooked one of the dishes-butter chicken. This is one dish that is my favorite (but which self-respecting Indian doesn't like butter chicken?!). Surprisingly, I haven't attempted to make it even once in my kitchen because most of the recipes required elaborate grilling or tandoorifying the chicken and I wasn't up to it. This recipe, though, charmingly lures you into trying it out, making the process seem simple. No need to grill the chicken, just sear it on high fire and make the different bases for the curry and combine them and you're done! The flavor was restaurant-style (if I may humbly say so myself!). Even though I was in a hurry and didn't give any time for marination, this dish got done in about 45 minutes and still the taste was spot-on. Do try this out! I'm going to review the book now. The recipe is given at the end.

If you buy this book, you have to read the introduction section at leisure. I have read many an introduction to many cookbooks, but I felt this was the one that was written from the heart and because of that, really struck a chord with me. It has been written in a heartfelt, genuine way that makes you feel you know Aditya on a first-name basis! He also gives detailed notes in "The Indian Pantry" section, that touches on everything from aromatics to dairy, herbs, spices, oils, and everything in between. Coming from a guy who has not professionally studied the culinary arts, this knowledge base struck me as really indicative of his passion and interest in all things food related. After all, I've been cooking for almost a decade and a half now but I never thought of researching stuff in such depth! The main sections are divided into the usual suspects-meat, chicken, seafood, vegetarian, snack, and sweets.

Thumbs up:
Aditya Bal's television program showcased a lot of traveling and food from different parts of India, so it follows that this cookbook has diverse recipes from a variety of states, from Kashmir to Kerala. Every recipe has a small note introducing the dish, with a little bit of its history. The photographs are mouthwatering. Aditya gives thorough instructions in every step. The unique thing about his descriptions, which I think is missing from most cookbooks, is how at the end he describes how the dish should look and taste once its cooked. Super like!

Thumbs down:
This is something very subjective. I'm a person who likes to spend minimal time in the kitchen, even though I'm a foodie and enjoy cooking and baking (yes, I'm contradictory that way). After all, that's why my blog is called effortless cooking easy baking. So for a person like me, this book seemed to be full of recipes that required a lot of time and effort. This could also be an illusion stemming from the fact that most of the recipes had about 15 steps on an average. While this could be the other side of the coin (since I praised his thorough instructions in the previous paragraph!) I feel it could have done with some tighter editing, leaving only the really essential details in the recipe so as not to put off people like me who are lazy gooses! And for the photographs, I really would have liked to see less of close-ups and more of some elegant food styling with great props that gave off a whiff of the dish's ambience (for amateur food photographers like me, this is something that I still can't achieve, so I expect it from the best blogs and cookbooks!)

One more thing, especially since I'm from Kerala-his recipe for Kerala Chicken Stew on page 52, was frankly, something that I had never come across in all my years of making stew in Kerala. This is not the way I've seen my mother, grandmother, aunts, or anyone I know make stew! Basically, its a very complicated version of a recipe that's essentially so simple that it should not take more than 20 minutes to make and not more than 5 to 6 steps! Here is the Kerala chicken stew which is the way we make it in our family:
Swift Chicken Stew

I wish Aditya all success in life....would love to see him come up with even better cookery shows and cookbooks for us as the years go by!

Enjoy the butter chicken recipe, which is a keeper, and note Aditya's description in the end, which I have highlighted.

Butter Chicken Chak Le India Style (as in the book)

500 gms boneless chicken
1 tsp salt
A few drops of refined oil
50 gms butter
1/2 tsp sugar
Juice of half a lime

The marinade
3 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 an onion, pureed
4 tbsp whisked curd
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric 
1 tsp hot red chilli powder
Juice of 1 lime

The rich tomato gravy
7-8 ripe red tomatoes
A few drops of refined oil
50 gms butter
1/2 inch ginger, chopped fine
2 green chillies, chopped fine
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp hot red chilli powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar, to balance the acidity of the tomatoes
4-5 tbsp full cream

The garnish
2-3 tsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
A knob of butter

  1. Wash the chicken and trim it.  Cut it into tikka-sized chunks.
      The Marinade
  1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.  Put the chicken into a large glass or plastic bowl.  Add the marinade and mix it well into the chicken with your hands.  Cover and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
  2. While the chicken is marinating, prepare the rich tomato gravy.
     The Rich Tomato Gravy
  1. Blanch the tomatoes, peel them and puree the flesh.
  2. Heat a medium-sized saute pan and add the oil and butter. Keep the pan on medium heat, till the butter is foaming. The oil prevents the butter from burning as it has a much higher smoking point.
  3. Once the foam subsides somewhat, add the chopped ginger and green chillies and saute for a couple of minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add the spice powders and saute till they are aromatic and richly coloured.
  5. Now add the fresh tomato puree and stir to mix with the spices. Simmer on low heat, till the tomato gravy is thick and has a rich, deep red colour and the oil rises to the surface.
  6. Season well with salt and add the sugar. Stir through and simmer for a few minutes longer. Turn off the heat and set the gravy aside to mature.
     To Cook The Chicken
  1. Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Season with salt and mix well.
  2. Heat a heavy nonstick frying pan and add a few drops of refined oil and the butter.
  3. Once the butter is hot, add a few chicken pieces at a time and sear them on high heat, till they develop a rich caramelized crust and are slightly charred around the edges. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining pieces.
  4. Now, return all the seared chicken pieces to the pan and fry them all together. Add the sugar, lime juice, and any remaining marinade. Continue to fry the chicken, till it is almost fully cooked and turns a lovely, charred, golden brown.
  5. Add the thick, spicy tomato gravy to the chicken and deglaze the pan to lift up those intense pan deposits. Cook on medium heat, stirring well to make sure the chicken is fully submerged and coated in the delicious gravy.
  6. Simmer uncovered to reduce the gravy.
  7. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the thick cream. Stir through to combine and cook for about 5 minutes to blend well.
  8. Check for a balance of flavours; the gravy should be rich and buttery, bursting with the spices and concentrated tomatoes; the chicken, perfectly tender and packed with the rich flavours of the creamy tomato gravy.
  9. Sprinkle some coriander leaves, add a knob of butter and enjoy this home-style butter chicken with naan or tandoori roti.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Until next time, ciao!