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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Memories of a Malaysian holiday

Sunset in Melaka


As the summer drew to a close last year, I decided to take my mother on a little holiday to Malaysia. It was a natural choice of destination as we have family in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city. I asked my father to come along too, but was greeted with a "groan and grumble" attack (i.e. groaning about everything from aching joints and grey hair to an irritable stomach lining). So in the end, it was just my mother (who came with the excitement of a three year old) and me.

We had a great time in Malaysia as we travelled across KL, Melaka and made a short trip to the Perhentian islands. My mother and I both fell in love with Malaysian food. It was comfortably familiar to our Indian palate but also excitingly exotic in parts.

Our first taste of Malaysian food was a hurried meal of spicy mee goreng at a little joint at KL airport. It was a tasty introduction to the national cuisine. Eating out in Malaysia was surprisingly cheap, which we exploited as much as possible.

Pictures from my camera bring back memories of some of the interesting food that we encountered in Malaysia - skewered potato chips and yummy teriyaki chicken at a non-descript roadside restaurant on a rainy evening in Melaka.

The last leg of our journey was a short detour to the Perhentian islands - an excellent mix of serenity and natural beauty. I tried snorkelling for the first time and even managed to convince my mother to have a go at it. Seeing the richness of life underwater in all its magnificent hues is one of the most fantastic experiences I have ever had.
Can't wait to go back to Malaysia.
Potato chips on a stick


Teriyaki chicken


Perhentian islands

Top Class Chilli Chicken

My mummy's top class chilli chicken
Everyone loves their mother's cooking. In flashback anyway. I mean, I remember moaning and groaning about my mother's cooking as a kid. I was allergic to vegetables (a mild form of that old disease continues to haunt me) and so automatically shunned all the vegetarian dishes that her kitchen produced, I disliked her idli sambar breakfasts intensely and didn't have too many kind words for most of the other produce that her kitchen churned out.

Then, at 17, I moved to Bangalore for college and was treated to five years of hostel food by "Babu bhaiyya" (the girls' hostel's Mallu "chef"). Right after, I moved to London to start work as a corporate lawyer. Lunch was always in the office canteen - so lots of flavourless sandwiches, roast-chicken-that-tasted-like-cardboard and make believe Indian food (sagalooo, beef madras (that one still makes me laugh - I don't think anyone in Madras has ever come across the phenomenon that is beef madras) etc.). A combination of these experiences has made me an ardent devotee of my mother's cooking. Food-wise (and otherwise too I suppose), I have never been happier in London than I was when my parents visited me in the summer earlier this year.

My mother is a trickster of a cook. If she can use a shortcut and hoodwink her audience, oh yes, she will. But she is wise enough to desist from tricks for some recipes. Her chill chicken recipe is one of them. It is a sure winner in any dinner party. I am sure it would have been a sure winner at my place even if there were no guests, but this is the sort of recipe that involves a fair bit of effort (and quite a bit of oil) and was therefore usually reserved for external audiences.

These are pictures that I took of her critically acclaimed chilli chicken on one of my recent trips home. Enjoy!
Sauteed onion and green peppers/"capsicum" as it is called in India

 

The finished product bathed in Delhi's sunlight

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Bread Poha Breakfast


Bread poha breakfast!


In the Syrian Christian Mallu home that I grew up in, we were accustomed to a few breakfast staples - idli-dosa (or dosha, which is how we pronounce it at home) with coconut chutney and sambar, puttu pazham (shockingly, there is a wiki link on puttu http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puttu!) and so on. Bread poha was not on that list.

Many years later, when I hijacked a friend's apartment when I was apartment hunting in London, I was introduced to bread poha on a lazy Sunday morning. I fell in love with it instantly. There are many ways of making bread poha. Conversations with my north Indian friends suggest that each household has its own tried and tested method. Some throw in a tomato, other's don't. Some like the bread in the bread poha as crispy as possible, others like it soft.

I tend to make my bread poha in a south Indian inspired style with a tempering of mustard seeds, fenugreek/methi seeds and curry leaves. The aroma is delicious and although the base is bread, it brings back memories of more sophisticated south Indian cooking, all of which tends to use the same sort of tempering. 


Evergreen Chocolate Cake

We have a rare four day break here in the UK for Christmas. Though hectic in parts (owing mainly to last minute dinner party cooking and frantic online shopping), it gave me the time to visit this space that has been ignored since June!

After a long hiatus, I have had the time to potter around in my kitchen and cook up a storm. Cook up a storm is entirely accurate here - I am a seasoned mess maker and cannot whip up anything edible without making a complete mess of my kitchen. The first recipe I want to write about is a failsafe chocolate cake recipe, which I have written about before, the recipe is available here: http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/184/HERSHEY'S%20%22PERFECTLY%20CHOCOLATE%22%20Chocolate%20Cake.aspx.

This time, I went for a classic chocolate frosting (adapted from the recipe on the Hershey's website: http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/184/HERSHEY'S%20%22PERFECTLY%20CHOCOLATE%22%20Chocolate%20Cake.aspx) and used little handmade sugar rosettes to decorate the cake.

"Perfectly chocolate" chocolate cake!


Not long after, I attended a Christmas party at a friend's place. As usual, I volunteered to make dessert for the meal. On the day, I was torn between a lemon cake recipe which I had been itching to try out and my good ole chocolate cake recipe. In the end, chocolate won and I was whipping up another "perfectly chocolate" chocolate cake. This time, I decorated with some chopped pistachios and truffles that I had been gifted as a Christmas present. For the frosting, I substituted milk with chocolate liqueur for a more adult, alcohol inffused flavour. I also added a couple of teaspoons of concentrated black coffee as coffee tends to brings out the flavour of chocolate very well.

The coffee idea worked very well and ensured a very flavoursome frosting instead of a sugary sweet one. The chocolate liqueur flavour didn't come to the fore as strongly as I had hoped. Next time, I'll probably try with a stronger alcohol, whiskey maybe?

Dessert, Christmas eve 2011

Monday, 13 June 2011

A Month of Kerala Cooking

I have been living away from home for close to a decade now. The very first time I left home was to go to university in Bangalore, leaving behind Delhi, the city where I grew up and where my family continues to live. After five years at law school in Bangalore, it was time to move again. Work brought me to London which is where I now live.

I live in a one-bed apartment and spend much of my spare time at home during the working week by myself. I have grown to cherish my private space and the solitude. But every now and then, I miss the company of friends and family in India. And so it was with some excitement that I received the news that my parents had finally decided to come and visit me in London.

They finally arrived a few weeks ago. My mother showed no signs of jetlag and promptly took control of my kitchen, dishing out one Mallu delicacy after another. Suddenly, my little kitchen, that had so far been home to pan-Indian as well as some international flavours transformed into a naadan Mallu space. It produces puttu and pazham in the morning (although the shredded coconut comes from a packet, not straight from a hairy coconut) and other irresistables including Kerala fish curry and kappa-and-panni curry.

Much as I enjoy cooking, I found that I enjoyed having my mother take charge and treat me to a month of good Mallu cooking. As I write, there is an inviting aroma sneaking into the living room from the kitchen - chicken curry, Kerala style. For the uninitiated, Kerala style = lots of coconuts! The recipe of course, is not my own and will therefore, follow in a later post. 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Cake-athon

I've been on a baking spree over the last couple of weeks. I've always wanted to bake a coffee flavoured cake but never got around to executing the dreamy thought of an aromatic coffee flavoured cake with the crunch of walnuts.

It was a good friend's housewarming party a few weeks ago and I decided to bite the bullet and put my money on a recipe from the matronly Delia Smith (available at http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/type-of-dish/party-food/austrian-coffee-and-walnut-cake-with-coffee-cream.html). I omitted the coffee cream frosting, which in retrospect (mainly because I had run out of unsalted butter) was a cardinal error. I then went on to top that (put it down to laziness!) by substituting the frosting with a generous spread of nutella! The cake was moist and had a fine crumb but the coffee flavour simply didn't shine through. The "frosting" only masked the already faint coffee flavour. Having dissected the recipe (and the results) with a friend, I will make the cake again, but with freshly ground coffee beans and the original coffee cream to make sure that the cake smells and tastes like it should - coffee cake! Watch this space!

Ever since I came across this recipe on the charming Smitten Kitchen website, I have been dreaming about caramel cake. Eventually though, it was this recipe for caramel cake that I decided to follow. The frosting was, simply put, outstanding. What a fantastic idea to brown butter and use that as the base for the frosting. Brown butter has a characteristic nutty flavour that gives depth and flavour to this frosting. I have some leftover frosting sitting, waiting, in a Pyrex bowl in my fridge. I cannot even begin to describe how much self-control it's taking me to stop myself from licking the bowl clean. The cake itself was nothing great. Having followed the instructions as closely as possible, my cake didn't have the fine texture that Delia's coffee cake recipe yielded. More research revealed that I wasn't the only one to experience problems with this recipe. My research also took me to a link on Martha Stewart's (fantastic) website http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/caramel-cake. Turns out, the recipe is very similar to a recipe by Maya Angelou, a very well known American writer and poetess. More on her at good old Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_Angelou. The major difference in the recipes that I noted was that Maya's recipe uses quite a lot more baking powder for the same quantity of flour. That might explain why the texture of my cake wasn't as good as I expected. I've made a mental note to try Maya's recipe the next time I have a craving for caramel.

And then, I got caught up with some horrible flu-ey bug which meant I ended up at home on sick leave. I was bored out of my wits and couldn't get all that extra frosting sitting pretty in my fridge out of my head. I had to do something with it before it became green and mouldy. I decided to use it on my never-fail, idiot-proof chocolate cake recipe, which I discovered on a happy day a few summers ago on the Hershey's website. The magic ingredient is a cup of boiling water! It was with some nervousness that I poured the boiling water into the cake batter the first time I tried the recipe. The thought of chocolate flavoured scrambled eggs is, you will agree, not particularly appetising! The finished product was, and has been, on the many ocassions that I have tried the recipe, a great success. Thanks to all that water, the cake batter is quite thin - very different from the consistency that most other cake recipes yield. Nothing to worry about! Just follow the instructions as they are, and you will not be disappointed. To cut a long story short, I used the caramel frosting on the chocolate cake with great results. Great combination - highly recommend that you try!


Idiot proof chocolate cake recipe

Monday, 7 March 2011

A Meaty Post



I walked into the neighbourhood supermarket today with a craving a good lamb curry. On most weekdays, I am too exhausted after a long day at work for heavy duty cooking. But today was a little different. I've had a very relaxed time at work (I think Someone Important has decided to take pity on me after four consecutive weekends in my dreary little office and many, many billable hours). Coming back to the theme of this post, my relatively chirpy mood meant that I stocked up on ingredients for a nice, wholesome lamb curry and got to work right after in my kitchen. I decided to follow my mother's example and use a generous hand with the ginger and garlic.

To feel a little less guilty about the red-meat-excess on a Monday night, I decided to be a good girl and throw in a bagfull of spinach and a couple of tomatoes. As the pressure cooker did its job and whistled away, I got my trusty Tilda rice out and got it bubbling in a saucepan.

Work in progress

At the end of an hour, my meal was ready. To say the least, I was very pleased with the results and I settled down with a plate of rice, my spinach and tomato lamb curry and some greek yoghurt on the side. Heaven.


Spinach and Tomato Lamb Curry (my recipe)


Serves 2


Diced lamb - 300 grams
Onion - 1 large (finely chopped)
Tomatoes - 2 (finely chopped)
Spinach - 1 bag
Corinader powder - 2 tbsp
Kashmiri Chilli powder - 1.5 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Saunf - 2 tsp
Garlic - 5 to 6 cloves
Chopped Ginger - 3 tbsp 
Oil - 2 tbsp
Green chillies (deseeded) - 2
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt - to taste  


Marinate the lamb in the lemon juice, red chilli and turmeric powders and salt. Set aside. Skin and finely chop the garlic. Heat oil and add the saunf, ginger, garlic and chopped chillies. Fry on medium heat until the raw smell disappears. You should be able to smell roasted garlic and ginger. Add the chopped onion and stir every now and then until golden brown. Add a little more oil if necessary. Add the coriander powder and give it a good mix for a minute or two. Now, in a pressure cooker, combine the lamb, torn spinach leaves, tomatoes and the onion mix. Pressure cook for 25-30 minutes


Serve steaming hot with rice or chappaties

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Chicken Puffs


I recently returned from a trip to Kerala. Although we have lived in Delhi for over 20 years now, Kerala still feels like home. Of the many things that I miss about Kerala while growing up in Delhi and now, far away in London, food is on top of the list. Of course, my mother’s cooking is mostly Malayalee in content, and my cooking is also greatly influenced by Malayalee flavours, but there are flavours that aren’t often reproduced in home kitchens which I miss. Chicken puffs is somewhere around the top of that list. The crunchiness of the puff, which is a perfect contrast to the soft and spicy chicken filling inside is one of my more vivid memories of Kerala bakeries. So when I saw the recipe (and enticing accompanying photographs) on Ria’s website (http://riascollection.blogspot.com/2011/01/curried-chicken-puffs-with-homemade.html), there was no way I could have resisted!  

I didn’t go to all the trouble of rolling out my own pastry. It happened to be my birthday weekend and I wasn’t in the mood to spend too long in the kitchen, so I ended up using store bought pastry instead. I saved the hard work and creativity for the filling instead and came up with my own recipe, which was good but not as spicy as I would have liked it to be. The curry leaves though, were a good addition, and I think they really contribute to that unique Kerala flavour that I was longing for. I was out of garam masala and will add it next time round, hopefully, with better results.