Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Peanuts, two yu-Mmm-y ways.

First, my posts become erratic (to put in kindly). And now I'm going on a much-needed holiday, which means that there won't be any million-calorie food photos for you to wake up to, for another week. That needs to be made up for. How about two recipes, then?

You know, like on Top Chef. Lamb, two ways, jicama, two ways or whatever. Nothing weirdly exotic, though. Of all the ingredients I could work with, I choose peanuts.

Peanuts. Yeah. That little nitrogenous legume which everyone discards in favour of masala cashews, plump hazelnuts and Irani pistachios, at my household. I'd take peanuts any day. In any and every way.

The masala pori peanuts sold at the beach? E.coli, Psch.coli. For masala pori virgins, it basically is a disproportionate mix of boiled peanuts tossed with puffed rice, shaved carrots, chopped onions, a handful of furiously red masala, juicy tomato, twist of lime, deftly dropped into a paper cone. Best ten bucks of the day.

Reese's peanut pieces? Salty peanut filling and chocolate. OK, I'm not even going to go into the details, it's a little too intimate for me to share with the world. Not like I haven't been accused of food porn enough. Still. Chocolate and peanut. MMMMM. In fact, I've eaten so many kilos of Peanut M and Ms over the ages that I can't face them any more. At least for the next few months. It's that serious.

Another peanut delicacy is the roasted peanuts you get on the Suburban trains. Women selling various roasted grams, fried daal and peanuts, screaming their wares out to the world. Makes you feel like you're in Sarojini Naidu's poem when your day hasn't involved getting cussed out at and patients dying (aka a rare good day). On a bad day, you contemplate shoving them off the train at the next stop.

For those who don't take the electric train, there's another option. The wholesale merchants who have hole-in-the-wall shops with mechanical weighing scales. We buy our wholesale peanuts, aval (beaten rice), pori, jaggery-candied pori balls from this little shop at Amjikarai and they are just unbeatable.

And while Madras is choc-a-bloc with stores of that kind, other peanut-based goodies are a little harder to find. Like authentic honey-roasted peanuts. And The Peanut Butter factory's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter.

So I leak the two recipes that have given me such joy. A Nutella-like concoction made out of peanuts that I got from LA Times. And the other is honey-roasted peanuts you can munch on during game nights! Go nuts.

Dark chocolate Peanut Butter.

1 cup raw peanuts
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tsps peanut oil (I used Saffola)

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil. Spread the peanuts evenly over the sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes, shaking them and turning the tray around halfway.
When they darken slightly, take them out.

It's easier to skin them after roasting. If you're using toasted peanuts, 3-4 minutes is more than enough.

2. In a mixie or food processor, pulse/blitz the cooled peanuts.

Some of it got too dark. Make sure you remove the over-ly burnt peanuts,
even a couple of them can spoil the whole thing!
 Keep pulsing them until the oil separates out. Scrape down the bits that have splattered on the sides of the food processor.

3. Add the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt and 2 teaspoons oil to the food processor and continue to process until well blended, about 1 minute.

That definitely needs the extra oil!

Scrape down the sides as needed. You'll notice that it's coming together.

The spread is ready.

If it isn't the consistency of Nutella, you might want to add a wee bit more oil in. Spoon it into a container. Or start eating right away. After the spread has cooled down to room temperature, store it in the refrigerator. It'll keep for at least a week. If it remains uneaten for longer than that, let me know.

Honey roasted peanuts


1 cup raw, skinned peanuts (I used roasted)
1 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C.

In a microwave safe bowl, mix the salted butter, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla. Microwave for 15 seconds or so.

Massage the honey-butter mix into the skinned nuts.

Spread coated nuts on aluminium foil in a single layer.

Bake coated peanuts at 350 degrees F for 5 minutes, then remove nuts quickly and stir them around to even the coating. Bake for another 5 minutes until golden brown. Do be careful, the difference between roasted and burnt is roughly 20 seconds!

Take them out, and pour it into a dry, clean mixing bowl. Sprinkle over the granulated sugar and salt. Taste. Add on salt and sugar more if necessary.

Transfer this to an airtight box and store at room temperature.

So. I hope the chocolate-peanut spread keeps you going for a while. Make the honey roasted peanuts and the corn syrup towards the end of the week. I'll come back and tell you how to make a caramel-brownie-cupcake-love child that tastes freakishly like Snickers.

Au Revoir.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Homemade Corn Syrup/Sugar, sugar.

How many times have you vetoed a recipe because you have no access to a particular ingredient?

Annoying things that'll have you running up and down the Fancy Food aisles of upmarket grocery stores. Cream cheese, sour cream, sriratcha sauce, masa harina, vanilla beans. You usually don't find it (or it costs roughly one-fourth of your monthly salary). Instead, you find yourself lusting over Quaker's Brown Sugar and Maple Syrup Oatmeal priced at ten times the price they're sold at the USA, and you just leave frustrated or poorer or both.

So if the mountain won't come to you... you make a mountain out of molehole-esque ingredients. That would be whipping cream turning into ricotta cheese, buttermilk made with milk and vinegar and hanging yogurt in muslin cloth in hopes of getting cream cheese.

Oh. And corn syrup. Don't get me started.

You know what that is, don't you? High-fructose corn syrup finds itself in everything from chocolate syrups to donut glaze; a direct aetiology for Diabetes and Cardiovascular diseases. Oh, come on. You know it. The puerile poison that gets ass-whupped by Orgo-moms? The one that gets whisked into shiny frostings by the voluptuous, gorgeous Nigella Lawson? She calls it golden syrup, instructing you throatily to add it to the kee-lo of chocolate and a litre of double cream, demonstrating how to sensuously massage it out of the Squeezee bottle. Which I find funny as hell. She's a sort of cooking guru, don't get me wrong. But after seasons of Nigella Feasts, Express and Christmas/Forever Summers, I've realized that spandex and semi-flattering cardigans probably find a place in my near future, too.

Back to corn syrup/golden syrup.

Yeah, a teaspoonful isn't going to kill you. If that's the only teaspoon of corn syrup you'll consume the whole year. Anyway, we're from the land of Gulab Jamuns... corn syrup is simply a malleable version of the sugar-syrup. And if you can have that, you can have this, and <insert similar nonsensical justification></insert similar nonsensical justification>

A teaspoonful might kill your allowance/PG college fund, though. A teeny bottle of the stuff is priced more than my monthly college-transport-allowance. First class train pass, that too.

So I googled and googled and came up with a simple, surefire way to make corn syrup. Sure fire can also be quite literally taken. Especially if you're rubbish at things like gas-rings and boiling sugar and steamy May Madras kitchens. Keep ice-cubes, Burnol and the phone ready.

However. If you're moderately adroit with a pair of tongs and the possessor of a calm temperament and non-heat-conducting wooden spoon, you'll make corn syrup sneeringly-easily.

Homemade corn syrup:

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
a pinch of cream of tartar*
a pinch of salt

*cream of tartar keeps the whole thing from crystallizing. I skipped it and it turned out fine.


In a small pan, mix together the water, the sugar and the salt. Bring it to a furious boil.

Turn the heat to Sim (low-simmer), close the pan with a lid. Wait for 2-3 minutes.

Take a small teaspoonful. Drop it into a glass of ice-cold water. If it forms a ball and sinks to the bottom of the glass, the syrup is done.

Use as required in your recipes. The consistency is that of... melted glass? So don't worry if it's all sticky on you, that's how it supposed to be.

 See? Corn syrup in a jiffy! Incidentally, jiffy=1/100th of a second. Who said sugar and sugar-related posts make you dull, any way?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Zucchini Bruschetta, Greek style.

When I announce I'm making things like Skordalia with feta and parsley for dinner, I expect my family to be just a teeny bit impressed. Definitely annoys me when they appear apprehensive, exchange looks and double-check to see if there's bread and jam in the refrigerator as a back-up plan. But that's mostly because mum goes and announces to the world I'm making Cornella (really, how the heck does she come up with these things?)

Skordalia is one more Greek thing that I'm positive I've tasted before, unaware of its identity and history. One hungry day (a.k.a dosai-for-dinner day), I typed a bunch of things that were languishing in the refrigerator into the Google search box to cook myself a merry little dinner, and a very promising website popped up. Souvlaki for the soul. Poetic or what? Souvlaki, for me, embodies soul food... the grilled chicken and salty fries wrapped with tzatziki in a fluffy pita... Life doesn't get simpler than that.

So I immediately opened up the website, and eye-feasted on Greek recipes I know I'll be trying very soon. The zucchini bruschetta was what I finally decided I had to eat ASAP... took me less than an hour from starting to photographing to eating. Just what one needs after a hard day's work. Pink grapefruit shower-gel, bruschetta, Dexter on TV. I'm happy.

The skordalia is a spread similar to Muhammara. Bread crumbs, garlic, olive oil and walnuts are blitzed to a smooth paste in a food processor. This can be stored in the refrigerator for a bit. Zucchini gets grilled, feta gets sprinkled on, and baguette slices (brushed with Extra Virgin olive oil) broil in the oven. All of this together forms a cohesively delicious appetizer/dinner.

And I hope this post appeases all the health-food fanatics who complain that all my recipes consist purely of butter and sugar and little else. This one is for you. You've no choice but to make it now and let me know how it turns out.

Zucchini Bruschetta:


For the bruschetta:

1 zucchini, cut into batons.
Extra virgin olive oil, for grilling.
1 baguette or french loaf.
1 small bunch parsley (or mint), chopped.
A few chunks of Feta
Salt and pepper to taste.
1/2 a batch of skordalia(recipe follows)

For the Skordalia:

1 cup of walnuts
1 cup of cut-up stale bread pieces
6 cloves of crushed garlic
2-3 tablespoons of vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


For the skordalia:

Dry roast the walnuts over medium heat for five minutes. Let it cool and set aside.

Soak the bread in water for a couple of seconds, then squeeze out the water and set aside.

In a food processor or mixie, blitz together the walnuts, bread, vinegar and garlic, until it resembles coarse sand. Then add in the olive oil, little at time, until a paste forms. Taste it, add salt and pepper to taste.

Needs way more olive oil than in the photo!

Scoop it out and stash it in the refrigerator, wrapped with cling film until you need it.

For the bruschetta:

Saw the bread into diagonal slices. Spread a teeny bit of olive oil and broil/bake/grill until crisp. Keep it aside.

Mix the zucchini strips with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill or pan-fry then. I used my panini press for convenience's sake.

Spread the skordalia over the toasted baguette slices.

Top with grilled zucchini. Sprinkle over some feta and chopped parsley. Serve.

These would make awesome appetizers or canapes. Or like I said, you can eat half a loaf for dinner.

As always, healthy food can also be loaded with calories (albeit nutritious calories) in form of nuts and olive oil. It is the only way you'll get your Omega 3s and 6s. Unless you can spend loads on Absolut 3G capsules (interesting name, huh? Like vodka they'd serve in a space shuttle). That was totally not a prescription. So now you have two options to avoid the fate of being a stick with no hair and toad skin.

But then again, who says food has to always about nutrition or hunger, anyway?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Prince William's Groom's Cake/Chocolate Biscuit Cake.

This post comes a little late, considering how the The Royal Wedding Show has finally drawn to a close. But some how, in the middle of all the Doctor-ing, I couldn't do a post on something quintessentially British, in commemoration. Yes, I'd do that even if I did not have a food blog.

I know the Royal Family gets a lot of flak... they are thought of as leeches sponging off on the average citizens' taxes. Probably even on a bit of the bounty acquired from various countries under the colonial rule. I love them anyway; the branches of the Queen Mother's family tree, at least. Does that make sense? It isn't the Post-Colonial Raj hangover. It isn't some inborn servitude gene to my older generations' white masters.

I think trust fund babies and trophy Plastic wives are worse (not that I have any God-given right to judge). These people have already lost a lot of what was "rightfully" theirs'. They even have to pay inheritance tax now! Let them have their titles, the last of the crown jewels and their dodgy history, eh? The populace gives back. And besides, they are a HUGE draw for tourists.

The royal family, ever since Diana entered it, has undergone a sea of change, anyway. Philanthropy, Prince Harry's stint in Afghanistan and Prince William (who did not let his mother down) marrying an unabashedly-common commoner, and treating her like a literal Princess. Some how, things like these make you believe in Fairy tale endings. And we could all use some of that belief.

It isn't just the Royal family. A few of my favourite things? Julie Andrews! And then some. Many.

I love the guards of the Buckingham Palace, my grandmother's rendition of God Save The King (which was the anthem when she was in school, this was the pre-Independence era) and my country's irreplaceable Koh-i-Noor on the Queen's crown. I love the way Audrey Hepburn and Colin Firth wave to the public (Roman Holiday and The King's Speech, respectively).

I love the curliculesque script on the wedding invitation and the stoic and the stiff-British-upper-lip-ish way in which the young Princes' followed Princess Diana's casket. I love Princess Di's frothy, old-fashioned wedding gown, Kate's Sarah Burton's period number and all the crazy Philip Treacy hats the glitterati wore.

I love Gordon Ramsay/Nigella Lawson/Jamie Oliver/Rachel Allen/Anjum Anand. The chefs who deserve their celebrity status, and who are working steadily to counter the bad rap British food gets. Which I've realized is way more than fried sausages and Smarties in a tube. Or Fish and Chips (which I can't have any more and sorely miss-beer in the batter!) and Chicken Tikka Masala (which I won't eat even if you pay me).

I love the colour red of the famous red telephone booths-the red of McVities Dark Chocolate Digestives, Kit Kats, Walkers' Shortbread and Twinning's English Breakfast Tea.

I adore Enid Blyton's (man, was she a Racist if there ever was one!) complete works and the original Madame Tussaud's at London. I feel Richmal Crompton is severely under appreciated, I'll stand in line to meet Jeffrey Archer, and Agatha Christie's whodunnits still manage to get my curiosity piqued. Sophie Kinsella, Helen Fielding and Meera Syal? Sounds like a fun afternoon to me.

I even like the Spice girls (I was ten. Aaaah tell ya what I want, what I really-really what, so tell me what you want, what ya really-really want), Westlife, Sting and U2, eventually becoming Duffy/ Adele/ Amy Winehouse (yes, talent down the drain, sigh).

All of this makes me sound like an Eighties product of a convent school and a thoroughly uncool semi-Anglophile, but that is how it is.

So, when it comes to cooking up something for High Tea, I had almost made up my mind to whip up scones to serve with clotted cream (Cliche Alert), but then I noticed Prince William's groom's cake making the rounds on the internet. It was a sign. A girl who weeps over I do's always, always believes in signs.

Dark chocolate, a couple of tablespoons of butter and crushed McVities' Rich Tea biscuits maketh the 'cake'. The Rich Tea biscuits can be substituted with Digestives, but I used Britannia Marie biscuits, because that's the closest substitute, and using something named Britannia blah-blah seemed apt.

Halved the recipe, because I didn't know if there would be many takers for something that is 70% butter, but shockingly, it was well-received, so I'm posting the untouched original. And I like it better when it's frozen; the original recipe says to refrigerate, but the biscuits get a bit deflated that way. Oh, heck. You can't really spoil something with chocolate and sugar and butter.

Royal groom's cake


240 g/8 oz. Britannia Marie (1.5 long Maries) or McVities' Rich Tea Biscuits.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
360 g or 12 oz. dark chocolate
1 egg, beaten


1. Grease a small (6-inch) cake ring or springform pan with butter. Place on a parchment-lined tray.

 I used a biscuit pan so I could get smaller portions.

2. Break each of the biscuits into 4 bits; set aside.

Blitz the sugar once or twice in the food processor or mixie so that it's not powdery, but definitely not too crunchy.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy.

3. Melt 120g or 4 ounces of the dark chocolate in a double boiler.

Take it off the heat. Beat in the butter-sugar mix. Beat in the egg.

 Make sure the hand-mixer is always running, so that the egg doesn't get cooked.

Fold in the biscuit bits with a spatula, so they get fully covered.

4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Refrigerate, at least 3 hours.

5. Scoop the cake out of the tin. It's OK if it gets a bit damaged, because you're going to smooth it over with melted chocolate.

Melt the remaining chocolate in a double-boiled or microwave.

Smooth the melted chocolate over the mini cakes. I froze my cakes after this, so the biscuits remained nice and crunchy.

Serve straight out of the freezer.

Cut into triangles, maybe, so you can enjoy a little at a time, without the biscuits de-crisping and the chocolate making an almighty mess.

There isn't tea in the pot or sugar in the sugar bowl, in case you're wondering. Mum loves any opportunity to show off her wedding cutlery, and if I'm going to do cliches, I'm going to go all the way. Curtsey, and exit Stage Left. Cheerio.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rosogollas/Gorging over split milk.

Milk, in India, comes in three forms.

One is the tetrapak form. Like in the civilized world. You have Whole Milk and Slim Milk in allegedly-hygienic-and-definitely-expensive sealed packs. It is a luxury, or a backup plan when regular milk is unavailable.

The age old format is the milkman bringing his Aluminium cans filled with fresh, unpasteurized milk. He may or may not have a couple of cows he keeps tending to, as he drops the canisters off at doorsteps. This sight has become practically extinct at Madras; they disappeared around the same time Sparrows did.

The form that is rampant are the Aavin polythene bags of milk. Homogenized/toned milk at Government subsidized rates. Delivered promptly from the co-op, right after the paper boy deftly flings your newspapers into a puddle of murky rainwater.

And in the Summers, inevitably, at least one to two litres of milk curdles each week. Unfit for a morning cup of chai. Usually thrown down the drain, curdy lumps and all. Or given to the stray cats, who inhale it all up with zero gratitude.

Not if I have a say over it (the throwing down the drain bit, the cats I like).

When life gives you split (as in curdled) milk, you do what? Make rosogollas, of course. So obvious.

Maybe you can't make that cute boy like you, maybe you're crap at making your boss see sense (your version of sense IS sense, sweets). You can, however, make rosogollas out of curdled milk, and that's a true and real feat.

And if Life does not give you curdled milk, make your own by pouring a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice/vinegar/yogurt to a litre of scalding hot milk. In less than two minutes, casein coagulates to give paneer/ricotta/chenna that are the base ingredient of rosogollas.

You don't need much else. Cardamom, sugar, and the ability to consume these yummy calorific concoctions
with no qualms. That's all.



1 litre milk, curdled.
2 tsps ground cardamom.
1 cup sugar.
3 3/4 cups water.
1 tsp rose water for the syrup (optional)
Saffron, for garnishing (optional).


1)Hand the curdled milk to drain in muslin/cheesecloth/ chiffon dupatta. You can use the whey in roti dough.

When you're sure it has been drained completely, take the paneer out and knead with the ground cardamom.

2)Pinch out twelve equal portions of the paneer.

Use your thumb and fingertips to massage the paneer into submission.

3)Shape into balls, and set them aside.

4)In a pressure cooker or a large pan, add the water and the sugar and stir. Bring it to a boil.

Drop in the paneer balls carefully. Fasten the lid of the pressure cooker(allowing a bit of steam to escape-keep the "weight" off), or cover the vessel . Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes in the pressure cooker(the first whistle should be blowing now) or 10-15 minutes for the pan with the lid.

5)Take it off the heat. Open the lid after the cooker has cooled down a bit. Spoon out the puffed-up rosogollas and syrup into a glass bowl.

Serve chilled, adorned with a couple of strands of saffron.

Source: BV's adaption of a few Youtube recipes.

You might have a few glitches in the beginning. The first time I made these (I'm serious about the milk curdling thing happening way too often!), they didn't puff up at all and I got little hard paneer balls (that still were delicious). My sister-in-law, the artist, took over and hand-crafted these little beauties with infinitesimal patience, and they turned out to be stunningly fabulous.

Make it. If you're in sweltering Madras right now, you know you've got motive/rhyme/reason to.