Sunday, 25 November 2012


This week, I have no recipes to post. We are nearing the end of a rare break from classes for Thanksgiving, which is a major holiday in the US, and I have been out and about. As is appropriate for this time of year in the US, I have many friends to thank for the delicious food that I have been treated to this week.

I spent Thanksgiving day with my host family, who invited me home to be part of their Thanksgiving celebrations. We shared some delicious home cooked food and great conversation, making for a memorable evening. Tradition demands that roast turkey occupy centrestage on the dining table at Thanksgiving. Here are some pictures of the gigantic roast turkey at our Thanksgiving meal that disappeared far more quickly than I imagined was possible, and of the rest of the spread that we tucked into that evening.

Earlier in the week, I was at a potluck with some of my classmates. One of the nicest things about my program is the genuinely international nature of the student base. Potlucks with this bunch are always fun, not least because exotic ingredients and unusual flavours often make their way to the table at these gatherings. At this last potluck, the star of the show was arroz chaufa, a Peruvian-Chinese dish. Until I made my acquaintance with arroz chaufa, I had no idea that the Chinese constituted one of the biggest immigrant groups in Peru. If there is a community that beats us Indians in making it to the farthest corners of the world, it has to be the Chinese. My Peruvian friend mentioned that Indian food is yet to mark its presence in Peru in any significant way. How disappointing.  

I spent the last bit of the long weekend with family in Maine. It was great to get away from Cambridge, where I have been cooped up in the company of assignments and deadlines for the last four months or so, and to be reminded that there is much to explore outside what has now become familiar. I made friends with Misty and Sammy, two little dogs with tails that rarely stop wagging. When we came home in the evening after a day out, these two were there waiting, scratching the door, barking in excitement. When we got past the door, they were all over the place, giving us each a hero's welcome. Here is a picture of Sammy staring dolefully at his ball after I announced that I was done playing with him.

This post was meant to be a break from nostalgia, but here I go again. Mine was a pet-free childhood. There was no space, in our home or my parents' minds, for a pet. The only "pet" I have ever known is my grandfather's beautiful Golden Retriever, Julie, who we spent many evenings playing with as children. Like the rest of her breed, she had a shiny brown coat, melting brown eyes and floppy years. I have a distinct memory from when I was five years old. My brother and I were out in the courtyard, following a pattern of play-fight-play that characterised most of our childhood. At some point, we managed to get the ball under my grandfather's car. Our arms were far too small to reach for the ball. As the older, supposedly wiser one, I decided that a stick might help push it out. So I grabbed the longest stick I could find, stuck it under the car and poked away, not knowing that Julie had decided to catch a snooze in precisely the spot that I was jabbing violently at. She woke up with a growl and retaliated with a sharp bite on my knee. I still have a little mark from her angry bite to remind me of her, the pet I never had.

Much as I enjoyed Misty and Sammy's company, I had to leave to return to a familiar pile of assignments and submissions. When I got home, there was a delicious warm apple and cinnamon cake waiting for me, which my flatmate, A, had thoughtfully baked to say welcome back. Cambridge is starting to feel like home. I hope you have as much to be thankful for as I do.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Chocolate and Clementine Cake with Caramelised Clementines

Although my family does not have religious reasons to celebrate Diwali, it is among the festivals that I most enjoy. I love mithai, and there can hardly be an excuse better than Diwali to indulge one's weakness for Indian sweets.

Growing up in Delhi, I also enjoyed Diwali for reasons that had little to do with my sweet tooth. Typically, Diwali comes at an unusually pleasant time in Delhi's calendar. By Diwali, the summer heat is well on its retreat from the city, but the harshness of its winter is still comfortably distant. I remember Diwali as a beautiful time in the apartment block where I grew up, with blinking diyas and pretty rangoli designs marking the doors of most homes. My brother, like most boys his age, was particularly busy at Diwali, stocking up on crackers especially the deadly aloo bomb. Diwali day was inevitably a noisy affair with crackers going off across the city relentlessly. In the evening, children of varying ages, each accompanied by a (justifiably) nervous parent or two, would gather in the courtyard, gleefully demolishing their collective stock of crackers. I enjoyed the sparkly, less noisy crackers the most but the popular vote typically went in favour of noisy "bombs". Wisely anticipating that most children would prefer to stock up on crackers than attend school, our schools let us off for an extended break over Diwali, giving us yet another reason to look forward to it.
It has been years since I have been back in India at Diwali time, and I have to say that I miss the festivities surrounding it. This year, I had hoped to cook up a traditional mithai at home but a lack of imagination and ingredients prevented me from putting that idea into action.

My flatmate and I decided this weekend that it has been far too long since we enjoyed homemade chocolate cake. I have a trusted recipe for chocolate cake that I rarely deviate from. Making an exception for once, I tinkered with it to come up with a chocolate and clementine cake, mainly because far too many clementines had made their way into our shopping basket this week. We paired the cake with caramelized clementines and vanilla icecream on the side. My favourite bit was the caramelized clementines which were surprisingly easy to put together, and added much in terms of texture and flavour to the cake. 

Happy Diwali.

Chocolate and Clementine Cake
(adapted from this recipe)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup  cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed clementine juice
  • 3 tbsp clementine zest (be sure to avoid the white, bitter pith when zesting)
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

  • Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch baking pan. Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, butter, clementine juice and zest; beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for around 50 minutes to 1 hour or until wooden pick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from the pan to a wire rack. Cool completely. Serve with vanilla icecream and caramelised clementines.
    Caramelised Clementines
    I eyeballed this recipe, so please refer to the measurements below with a pinch of salt
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 cup freshly squeezed clementine juice
    6-8 clementines, thinly sliced
    Heat the sugar in a non-stick pan until it caramelises. Add the juice carefully and stir to combine. Next add the sliced clementines and cook for around 10-15 minutes turning frequently until the fruit is cooked on both sides. Tranfer the fruit and syrup into a bowl.