Ep3 : Mango Mia

Well, it’s mango season. Okay, nearly the end of it. So when Sahil suggested in April that we do a mango-themed potluck, it didn’t seem like a bad idea at all. The dinner was planned for almost a month and a half after our last one, and I wasn’t quite sure if people would be enthusiastic enough when it was time to cook.

It started off with 7 people signing up to attend and two backed out eventually, which makes me want to put some more rules in place, about attendance (among other things that I hope to get to later in this post).

Picking up from the numerous questions I’d asked at the end of our last potluck, I cannot stress enough on having enough dinner ware. We met at Raunaq’s home for dinner on May 27th, and as hosts or organizers, you will do what it takes to wash those extra dishes or spoons, when you run out. But a situation like that is best avoided, right? We ran out of quarter plates this time and had to do our dishes from dinner, to be able to serve dessert. As a host, I’d hate for that to happen.

Did we do a better job of serving our food differently/better and taking pictures well enough? Three cooks in, I’m not sure if we have a right answer to this. Our food went cold again, and we had only an induction plate and no microwave. Add to our woes, two of our dishes were pork and lamb. Even the slightest amount of overcooking could (and did) ruin what was cooked. Pranav, who was new to the ‘club’, made lamb chops. He came over to my place before we got to Raunaq’s, so that he could grill the lamb chops. They were perfect, hot off the grill. We were so paranoid they’d end up chewy when it was time to eat, that we took a shot at eating them at room temperature, instead of re-heating them on an induction stove. They weren’t bad at all, just not as awesome as they were hot! Raunaq’s pork went chewy because it was cooked twice (once when he made it and next we he re-heated it). And that was shame. The relish that went with the pork was so good, I imagine the finished dish would’ve been excellent had it not gotten chewy.

Mango Mia - Cookbook Potluck 3
Mango Mia – Cookbook Potluck 3

We started dinner fairly late this time around. We’d planned to meet by 9. But it was close to midnight by the time the last person got in. So we kept ourselves busy by drinking some kombucha that Raunaq’s been making. I’d also carried some Mango Mead from Moonshine Meadery, an upcoming meadery, here in Pune. We had only a sip of the mead and I’m not sure everyone liked it very much at all. I’ve enjoyed some of their other stuff and I quite liked how the mango mead tasted, but I guess it takes a little getting used to.

All of us ran into some prep-time issues, yet again.

I made three batches of pavlova and was happy only with one. I’ve baked pavlova before and the ones I made this time around seemed deflated and weren’t crunchy enough on the outside. Some of them didn’t crisp up at all. And that left *me* deflated. The one batch that did turn out marginally good was packed away in an airtight box and not opened until it was time for dessert because I was afraid it’d go soggy. The pavlova fared well, based on the feedback I got at the dinner table.

Pranav attempted cooking his lamb chops mid week and ruined them. He learnt his lesson and tenderised a fresh batch of chops with raw papaya the night before the final cook. He also thought the recipe didn’t quite work for an Indian palate, so he fixed the spice ratio on the rub he used for his chops. Both him and I LOVED the outcome. I wish everybody else had gotten to eat the chops hot off the grill and enjoy them the way we did. The chops were served with a mango and mint chutney, though most of us felt they tasted good even without a chutney at all.

Sahil was at a beer judging event for most part of the day and his fish and raw mango curry ended up being more of a dry dish. We’re not entirely sure what he did wrong, but I guess he fixed his dish the following day by adding some more raw mango and some coconut milk.

Jomy did a terrible job with timing how long his chicken might take him to cook. He started cooking at 7:30 pm and arrived at Raunaq’s close to midnight, by which time all of us were just plain hungry. The jus from the grilled bird was beautiful. The chicken itself, got mixed reactions. While the outside was great, the inside of the thigh I got was quite pink. Definitely not raw, but quite certainly not cooked all the way through either. The flavours hadn’t quite seeped all the way through and that made me a little sad.

Mango Marinated Roast Chicken
Mango Marinated Roast Chicken

Raunaq, who hosted us that evening, made a cold soup with cucumber and mangoes and also did pork tenderloin with a mango relish. The soup was refreshing and light. The pork, quite a downer. But I guess it’s all part of the game, as long as we learn not to make the same mistakes while cooking these meat(s) again.

Chilled Mango and Cucumber Soup
Chilled Mango and Cucumber Soup

We didn’t have very many leftovers – a handful of chops that Pranav took home, a small portion of the fish and some breast . meat from the chicken. So, I’d like to believe we did okay there.

All of us tweaked our recipes a little, mostly because we’re a bunch of Indians who enjoy cooking and are able to tell (to a small extent) that purely Western/American flavour profiles may not appeal to us. That said, we ended up questioning our choice of book. Indian authors writing for an American audience. We were hoping we’d have gotten an insight into the varieties of Indian mangoes and were also hoping we’d have gotten to use specific mangoes for specific recipes. All of the recipes just said “mango”, and not alphonso or totapuri or kesar.

We had a brief few minutes of pictures, when we laid the table out. But I really do want to do a better job of the pictures, I do. I’m just wary of coming across as obsessive in my attempts to do so.

I was quite pleased with how we went about the feedback for the food – asking questions, speculating why what went wrong and discussing how something was the right amount of sweet or why it was perhaps a little off.

And that brings us to the recipes:

All in all, dinner was fun – talking about what we’d cooked, making jokes and being terribly story tellers, discussing TV shows (where I just stared around blankly for the most part) and a helluva good time.

I’ll end this post with a couple of articles related to cookbooks, potlucks and cooking for people.

The first is an article I’d shared on twitter a couple of years ago and that showed up today while I was running a search for another tweet. It’s about making cookbook clubs work. And I think it’s delightful. Here goes: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/10/how-to-start-a-cookbook-club.html

A multicourse meal that's not all on you. [Photographs: Tara Austen Weaver]
A multicourse meal that’s not all on you. [Photographs: Tara Austen Weaver]
(Image source: the article linked above)

The second is something I read this morning. A Paella Cookout Competition (of sorts). I’m almost tempted to make the fourth cookbook potluck 5 or 6 of us cooking just 1 or 2 dishes. Not a competition, but an opportunity to see how different people cook the same recipe. Sounds fun?

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(Yoghurt) Cheesecake

February 28th, 2014 was the day I last posted to this blog. So much has happened, since. So so much. I’ve been really happy about it, mostly. But then, I never really got around to re-organizing life to make time for blog posts. And that’s not very nice, to be honest.

So, here’s me, trying to make a come back. With the hope that I’ll be more regular now on.

These seven plus months that I went missing, I was cooking. Cooking a whole bunch of good things. I also did a bit of travelling. And a TONNE of work (that’s my usual excuse, isn’t it?). And amidst all of that, I chanced upon a cheesecake recipe that uses Greek Yoghurt, instead of mascarpone. The couple of times I’d tried my hand at no-bake cheesecakes and regular cheesecakes when I was in USA, I’d ended up with fairly disastrous results. This one worked for me. So well! I did the one suggested in this recipe – a lemon blueberry cheesecake. I played around with it a little and did just a lemon cheesecake. Following that, there was a kiwi cheesecake. There was also a Black Forest cheesecake more recently. And a mango cheesecake when I went home for a bit this May. I also used the hung-yoghurt technique to make some pretty darned good tiramisu and I hope to be able to post that recipe soon enough too.

You can follow A Baking Girl’s recipe to the tee. But I’ll quickly go over the small changes I usually make – depending on what flavour I’m using.

Ingredients:
Must-haves:
For the Filling:
2 500g boxes of yogurt (I buy Nestle or Nilgiri’s), hung for a couple of hours until all the whey is drained out – results in 2 cups of hung yoghurt
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
For the Crust:
2 cups muesli, coarsely ground
2 tablespoons butter

Additional ingredients:
For the Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake:
3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup blueberries, whole
1/4 cup blueberries, crushed or roughly chopped (sieve out the seeds, if you like)
For the lemon cheesecake:
4-6 tablespoons lemon juice
4-6 tablespoons of sugar
A tiny bit of yellow food colouring
zest of 1-2 lemons
For the kiwi cheesecake:
1 kiwi, roughly chopped
1 kiwi mashed to pulp and strained
A tiny bit of green food colouring
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
For the mango cheesecake:
1 mango, roughly chopped
1 cup mango concentrate or mango juice (I used Paper Boat Aamras)
Extra sugar, if required.
A pinch of ground cinnamon
For the Black Forest cheesecake:
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
2-4 tablespoons of cherry liqueur (you can use vodka, in case you don’t have cherry liqueur)
A few whole cherries, to garnish

(General) Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Line the base of your springform cake tin with the coarse ground muesli. Melt the two table spoons of butter and pour over so that the muesli is evenly covered. Bake this for 5-7 minutes, until the crust just begins to brown. Allow this to cool down to room temperature, while you prepare the filling.
3. In a bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, yogurt and vanilla with a hand blender for 1-2 minutes, until you get a smooth mixture.
4. Add cornstarch, pinch of salt, and the added flavours and blend again, for another minute or two. Read more on this in the Specific Instructions section below.
5. Pour filling over the crust, now, and bake for 35 minutes. Check the Notes section below for done-ness.
6. Let the cheesecake cool down to room temperature, by which point the centre will have set and then release the springform.

Notes:
1. When the cheesecake is done, it will be a little jiggly in the centre, though the edges will have started to pull away from the sides of the pan.
2. The disadvantage with over-baking will be a cheesecake that tastes more like flavoured cottage cheese with this slight rubbery texture. 30-35 minutes of baking time will ideally ensure a good cheesecake.

Special Instructions:
For the Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake:
1. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
2. After Step 5 above, when you’ve poured the filling in, add the whole blueberries, the crushed blueberries and give the filling a little swirl for a pretty pattern.

For the lemon cheesecake:
1. Add the lemon zest in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
2. In a separate pan, cook the lime juice and the sugar, until the sugar has melted and the mixture reduces to a thick sauce. Add a small amount of yellow food colouring. Pour this over the cheesecake, when both the cheesecake and the lime syrup have cooled. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

(It’s worth noting that my best friend ate a couple of slices without complaining and I made it one more time, the exact same recipe, and this one was gone in 15 minutes flat, 5 people. So maybe it wasn’t *that* lemony, y’know.)
For the kiwi cheesecake:
1. Add the chopped kiwis zest in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
2. In a separate pan, cook a sugar syrup using the water and the sugar. When it has thickened to a sauce-like consistency (though not caramelized), add the strained kiwi pulp and the green food colouring. Pour this over the cheesecake, when both the cheesecake and the lime syrup have cooled. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.
(A few friends were over for dinner when I had made this and we were all too drunk to wait for photographs! Sorry!)
For the mango cheesecake:
1. Add the chopped mangoes in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
2. In a separate pan, reduce the mango pulp and the cinnamon to a thick consistency, adding sugar, if required. Pour this over the cheesecake, when both the cheesecake and the lime syrup have cooled. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

For the Black Forest cheesecake:
1. Soak the pitted, chopped cherries in the liqueur/liquor for at least 30 minutes.
2. Add the cocoa powder and the soaked cherries in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
3. Garnish the cheesecake with whole cherries.
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And because I’ve baked so many cheesecakes over the past few months, I’ve had some pretty random ideas too:

Bread Pudding

You know when you’re craving something sweet and you don’t have anything fancy at home to make into a good dessert? Until I was in Pune, I’d swear by the cake-in-a-mug. But moving to Bangalore, I could afford only either a microwave or am OTG. I picked the latter. And I’ve found my new go-to dessert recipe. Bread Pudding. Just as easy. And I promise you, this takes only 5 minutes to prep (though you must allow it about 30 minutes of bake-time).

If you remember my bread rant from an earlier post, I have an explanation for bread in my house. @surajmenon. I always end up with extra bread when he’s visiting. And then when he’s gone back to Pune or Jamshedpur or where ever it is that he’s headed, I have a good half loaf of bread in my refrigerator, that I invariably make into bread pudding.

Ingredients:
(Makes two bowls)
3 slices of stale bread
2 eggs
A couple of drops of vanilla essence
A handful of mixed nuts/dry-fruits (chopped almonds, chopped cashews, raisins, chopped figs)
4 tea spoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter

Method:
1. Beat the eggs, milk, sugar, spice and vanilla essence in a bowl and keep aside.
2. Cut the slices of bread into smaller pieces, I usually do a 3×3 grid, making nine pieces per slice of bread, and lay them out in ceramic bowls that you can put into the oven. Alternately, you can double the measures and set everything in a baking tin (and then eventually cut out squares of bread pudding while serving.)
3. Chop the butter into tiny cubes and divide them between the two bowls.
4. Add the mixed nuts and dry-fruits to the bowls too.
5. Now add the egg mixture into the two bowls. Dab the bread into the mixture so that the bread soaks well in the mixture.
6. Bake for 30 minutes in an oven at 180 degrees or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
7. Eat while it’s still warm.

Whole Wheat Bread

IMG_0113_edit

And yes, I mean brown bread. Whole wheat bread, in the truest form of the term. Made with the same flour that I use to make chapatis. And it was soft and cooked all the way through and except for the shape, it was every bit as good as store bought bread.

Ingredients:
(makes one loaf)
2 cups wheat flour (plus a couple of tablespoons, for dusting)
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon gluten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg

IMG_0108_edit

Method:
1. Add the yeast and the sugar to the water and let it sit for 10 minutes, so that the yeast can cultivate.
2. Sieve the wheat flour and the gluten into a bowl, for uniformity, and add the oil, salt, egg and the yeast mixture in and knead into a smooth dough. Continue to knead well for 5-10 minutes.
3. The dough should be smooth and not sticky. Add a few table spoons of flour to achieve the desired consistency, if required.
4. Oil a large vessel and place the dough in to to rest for a few hours, covering with a damp cloth (or until doubled in size).
5. Once the dough has risen sufficiently, pre-heat the oven to 180C and knead the dough into the shape of a loaf. If you have a bread tin, grease it and set the dough into it, else, you can work with a round mound of dough.
6. Brush the top of the mound of dough with some vegetable oil or a beaten egg, and sprinkle sesame seeds or dried onions or herbs and garlic and bake for 30-40 minutes.
7. Let it cool completely (20-30 minutes) before cutting it.

Notes:
1. I made the mistake of being hasty and trying to cut the bread while it was still warm. I ended up not being able to cut perfect slices.
2. Undoubtedly my best baked bread, ever! I made a portion of baked beans to go with it for dinner that evening. And cooked some eggs, sunny side up, the following morning because who doesn’t like dunking good bread in runny yolks and making the most of Sunday brunch!
3. Yes, I know using gluten isn’t the healthiest thing to do. But here’s the thing gluten is protein. Gluten is made by processing wheat flour and regular wheat flour is therefore, devoid of the extra protein content that gluten may have given it, had it not been extracted before hand. All purpose flour (maida) already has enough gluten content in it.
4. A little under 1% people are gluten intolerant – the most common symptoms of intolerance being tummy trouble and cramps.
5. Gluten helps bread cook better – it gives elasticity to dough and lightness to the bread, in itself.
6. There are enough people who think gluten isn’t healthy. But here’s my take on the whole deal. I don’t eat bread very often. In fact, in my one year in Bangalore, I’ve ended up buying bread only thrice. And I’ve baked some about 4 times. That still puts me at once a month, even if I stretch it. And I’m sure my system can handle that much gluten. People who claim gluten is unhealthy are probably the kind who live off bread diets. Well, that’s not very healthy to begin with, right?

Problems:
1. The crust of the bread was hard and non-shiny. I intend to fix that in the upcoming weeks, when I bake some more bread. The pleasure of baking good bread, is unparalleled.
2. I wish I’d used a bread tin. I don’t own one. But come February, and I will.

IMG_0116_edit

Like I mentioned, I made some baked beans to go with the bread Saturday evening.
Ingredients:
1 cup of rajma beans, soaked for 7-8 hours and boiled
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Tabasco, to taste
salt, to taste
1/2 an onion, minced or finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 large tomato, pureed or finely chopped
Oil, to cook
Chopped coriander, to garnish
Mozzarella cheese, to garnish
Wedges of lime, to serve
Small cubes of butter, to serve

Method:
1. Heat some oil in a skillet and cook the onions and garlic in it, until the onions are translucent.
2. Add the pureed tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes.
3. Now add the spices, tabasaco (add more, if you like it spicy), the salt and the beans (along with the water they were soaked/boiled in) and cook until the excess water from the beans and the tomatoes has boiled off, leaving a mushy mixture of porridge-like consistency.
4. Butter a few slices of bread (you may want to toast them just a little, if the bread is too soft, to prevent the beans from making the bread soggy).
5. Layer the bread with some of the bean mixture. Grate some mozzarella cheese over it and bake at 180C for 3-4 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
6. Garnish with coriander and serve with a wedge of lime and a dollop of molten butter over the beans. The dash of lime and that extra butter do wonders to enhance the taste of the dish as a whole, they do!

Yule Log

I had big plans to keep myself busy the weekend before Christmas. I wanted to make green, red and white cake-pops to take to work. I wanted to try my hand at working with white chocolate to make pretty shapes, snow-flakes for instance, freeze them and use them to decorate cupcakes. Reindeer antlers. Rudolph red noses. All that.

I also wanted to roast a whole chicken, stuffed with lemon and rosemary. And so much more.

But that weekend was a disaster. Sometime during the week I hurt my lower back and it got severely bad by Saturday morning. I spent all weekend in bed, pretty much unable to move.

Yes, I’ve seen a doctor. Yes, he has diagnosed it. Yes, I am working to fix this. But yes, I’m also quite hobbling around to get thing done by the end of the day. But then, my lower back has been a pain point, quite literally, for a few years now. And I try not to let it stop me from doing stuff. (Even if it means going overboard sometimes. Sigh.)

So, I baked a Yule Log. I had always really wanted to. And I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. I took it to Ketki’s house because she invited me over for dinner on Christmas Eve. Ketki is my best friend’s long time girlfriend. And he’s my long time best friend. And given that, I’m still surprised why we (girlfriend and I) never really met or held such awkward (and untrue) opinions of each other for close to eight years. But all is well that ends well. And yay! They’re official now! Parents and all! And I’ve been over the top with all of this. I cannot tell you how much I love them. Together. Gosh! I just really really want them to be happy! Forever! Because sigh. They’ve been through a bunch, just to be together. And they deserve every bit of this.

This is me, meeting my best friend and his girlfriend together. For the first time. EVER. (Which is, to say, since 2005). And she’s just about moved to Bangalore and is still setting up, so I knew dinner would be simple. He’d brought some wine from Bordeaux, on his way back from his student exchange program. And I wanted to make them a nice dessert to make everything feel amazing.

And that, dear reader, is the story of THIS Yule Log.

The real story of the Yule Log, however, has something to do with traditionally setting out a large-ish log of wood (called the Yule Log) in the fireplace and then cooking Christmas Eve meats over it’s flame (and heat). It is believed that the ashes from the log had magical powers and could ward off evil spirits, thus assuring people of all things good and a great year ahead.

I used this Nigella Recipe, to the tee. So, I won’t write it out again, here. I will, however, add everything else that I did to decorate it. And what I thought wasn’t quite right.

IMG_0021_edit
(no snow on this one, yet)

I’d intended to make some meringue mushrooms to decorate the cake. But back and all, I had to give up that. Instead, I quickly made acorns with melted chocolate and cereal.

And then, I made some berries: Parle-G biscuits, a teeny bit of milk and some red food colouring.

I’d also wanted to placed some candied rosemary on the log. I did need to step out to do groceries that weekend and I couldn’t find any rosemary (I went to four stores, broken back and all, yes, bad call). So I just picked up some greens from the florist, along with my usual weekly bunch of flowers for home.

And for the snow, just good old powdered sugar.

Right, that covers the acorns, the berries, the greens and the snow.

To get the effect of the bark, I ran a fork through the frosting when the cake had been refrigerated long enough.

The cake was immensely heavy. I couldn’t make it through a single slice, to be honest. It was delicious, yes. But too rich and chocolatey.

IMG_0026_edit
(bummer, you can’t see the text on the pictures, really!)

My biggest problem was the icing/frosting.
Notes:
1. I don’t like icing. It is invariably too sweet.
2. The recipe calls for confectioner’s sugar (or icing sugar). I use powdered sugar (ground to a fine powder, at home) on the few occasions I DO need to make icing. And it usually turns out very smooth and pretty delicious. This time, however, it didn’t. It was grainy and overly sweet. I guess I’ll just stick with the icing recipe I used for this cake. (Well, I used icing sugar here. So may be it IS my fault after all.)
3. Yeah, next Christmas, I should perfect this recipe.
4. Oh, the interesting part is that a colleague brought in a cake to work a couple of days ago, and she made a very very similar chocolate buttercream frosting and her frosting with a little grainy too! And we arrived at the conclusion that using icing sugar would’ve been a smarter move afterall.

I’ve cooked some amazing things in 2013. I’ve gotten my baking mojo back. I’ve even successfully started baking bread. I’ve consciously started taking better pictures of food and even fewer pictures of myself. Yes, I’ve had a few not-so-great experiments (case in point, New Year’s Eve burger buns about which I’ll blog later).

The one thing I didn’t do in 2013 was travel. Travel to travel, that is. But I hope to fix that soon enough.

I hope 2014 is awesome. I hope there’s tonnes more amazing cooking, feeding people I love, getting to be with them a lot more. I hope there’s a lot of good progress at work (the last couple of months were meh.) I hope I can travel this year to that place I’ve been saving up for. And I hope to read a few more books this year. And then, I hope everything is just the kind of right it has been these past few months and it only gets better.

Enough sap. I’ll end this post here, then! And Happy New Year!