Monday, November 17, 2014

Things I've Been Learning, Making, Doing from the Internet

Like most other people, I used to call them pomegranate seeds. Only when I started blogging did I learn they were called arils. I knew a lot about food and ingredients but when I discovered blogs, I found myself telling bloggers 'I never knew you could do that' or 'Oh, I do it this way, I haven't tried it your way'. Then one day someone told me something which gave me the impression that to even say, conversationally, 'Oh, but doesn't X ingredient go into it, usually?' could be seen as criticism so I stopped saying it in some blogs. I thought it was just conversation, I know I wouldn't be affected by a comment like that. What do you think?

But I digress. One of the few things I did in my baking-only days were brownies. Like I've mentioned earlier, I was quite famous in my family for them. I had only one recipe - from a cookbook for a gadget called the Twink Inframatic Cuisinette which my mother had bought years earlier. It was an all-in-one, all you had to do was change the plates as required and you could turn out waffles, sandwiches, brownies, cakes, and quite a lot of other stuff in the little baking tray that came with it.

Recently, I went to lunch with a friend, we decided it would be a potluck and I would take a salad and dessert. I decided on brownies and wanted a recipe that would help me finish the dark chocolate and drinking chocolate I had at home. I came across BBC Good Food's recipe for the 'best brownies ever' and replaced the cocoa with drinking chocolate and golden caster sugar with ordinary caster sugar. I must have put it in a smaller pan than recommended because only the top baked and the bottom didn't. Even when I baked it again for 10 more minutes. It stayed gooey, so I just put a lid on it and went to bed, hoping it would somehow solidify by morning. (It didn't, of course.) But it was terribly tasty.

It had to be. That recipe seems to be written with so much love and enjoyment it has to work. Well, I took some of it to lunch and to work, and it was a big hit. I put the rest in the fridge. The greatest surprise was the evening - I took it out and it had solidified quite a bit. Unexpectedly, my kid brother, who lives in another city, visited and when he tasted some, he raised his eyebrows appreciatively and said it was great. He had it with all the meals he had. He didn't make fun of my cooking, as he was wont to, and lapped up every morsel. To look at him, the thought of mocking me didn't even cross his mind. He's grown up, I thought, and my brownie is really, really good! He even had it for brunch. Here's a picture which I took during the making of it, I don't have any of the finished product.


Here's a recipe for flourless brownies.

 One of the other things that I used to try my hand at was apple pie or strudel. The pastry would fail me but the fruit mixture would come out fine. Later, I discovered an apple crumble. Last week, I had one lone apple sitting in my fruit bowl and I thought I'd make a quick dessert if the sweet craving hit me at night. Well, it did and I put it together quite easily.

I remembered something from those days about rubbing the flour into the cold and hard cubes of butter such that it resembles bread crumbs and sprinkling it over the apple. I even remembered reading that you only had to let your fingertips do the work otherwise it would become too warm and not work out. So I did that. I used about 4-5 tsps of flour with the little butter that I cut from a hunk of it so I can't tell you how much it was. I started with the butter and 1 tsp of flour and went up to 5 tsps. I consulted the Internet to check the oven temperature and confirm I was on the right track with the rest of the recipe. Cut the apple into pieces, with the skin, toss a tablespoon of sugar into it, a teaspoon of flour and a teaspoon of cinnamon powder. Mix. Top it with the flour-butter mix and pop it in the oven for 25 minutes at about 180 C.


Months ago, I chanced on something called Dhuska, a recipe from Jharkhand and Bihar, which was described as a kind of puri, eaten with chickpea curry. I tried it but I have to say it came out nothing like a puri and everything like a pakoda, and I didn't think the curry suited it either. It was interesting enough on its own. Pickle made a nice accompaniment, though!


Then, those of us - and I'm at the top of the queue, I'm sure - who have been agonising about dwindling readership on our blogs, can read this post for a fresh look and well-articulated reasons on why we keep blogging. The comments are equally interesting.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Clean, Mean, Crisp And Crunchy Capsicum and Apple Salad


When I meet friends that I don't see often, I rarely go without taking lots of photographs. Apart from holding on to the memories, there are other reasons that are quite selfish. It is in the quest of the perfect Facebook profile picture where I look as slim and as happy and as put together as possible. Needless to say, only how I look reflects in my picture so I end up being disappointed with a lot of the pictures I take. This is the first time I went without taking pictures at all when my friends and I met a couple of days ago. Instead, I took pictures of the salad I had made because I was so in love with its looks.


I even managed to take decent 'arty' pictures of half-empty plates, something I have always wanted to do. Whenever I've tried, those plates would look like gory battlefields and I would abandon them. Ah, how important it is to appear perfect if not actually be perfect!


I somehow end up not liking my own salads because my dressings never seem to achieve the right balance of tastes and I felt the same way with this too. However, this time I did things the right way and tossed the salad only when it was time to serve it, and my friends lapped it up. One of them, H, said that the taste of the capsicum had adhered to the apple and she found it interesting. That was because I had cut up the fruit and vegetables and chilled them in the serving dish before taking them over to V's place where we ate. I had mixed the dressing too ahead of serving time and let it sit for a while so that the flavours could meld.

The ultimate result was my dream salad: The others liked it, so did I, it looked beautiful, stayed crisp, was light and had clean, uncomplicated flavours. Incidentally, did you see this article in the kitchn? Until I read it and the comments it attracted, I had always thought 'clean' meant light, straightforward flavours that came through without the diners having to wonder what they were. Turns out it could mean different things to different people, and even gets their goats.

Here's the recipe for my clean, mean, fruit and vegetable salad.

Capsicum/bell pepper - 3, diced
Cucumber - 1, de-seeded and diced
Golden apple -2, sliced
Juice of 1 lime

Toss the apples in lime juice, mix with the capsicum and apple and chill. 

Dressing
Juice of 2 limes
An equal volume of olive oil
1/8 tsp of minced ginger
2 pinches each of cumin powder & red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar substitute
1 tsp iodized salt

 Put all the ingredients in a small dish, 'beat' well with a fork and then store the dressing till you need to use it. Pour over salad at serving time, toss salad. Enjoy!

 

When I asked for critical evaluation, after some consideration, H said that maybe I could use fewer capsicum because not everyone might like more of those in relation to the rest of the components. She herself liked it, she said.

 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

How To Make A Mixed Gourd Salad




Someone always gets there first. Almost always. And I say this with a smile and a sigh rather than pique. I had been thinking of a gourd salad for a long time. However, I didn't search the Internet for it till I bought a variety of gourds a couple of days ago and was surprised to find several results for it. Most used one gourd, and those were mostly bitter gourd and snake gourd.I rather thought I'd be the inventor of the gourd salad but no, several people have beaten me to it, so let me call myself the inventor of this mixed gourd salad.

Most of the components of this dish are gourds, most of them are green and I'm quite pleased with myself at how I went about building and dressing the salad. The previous night, I had decided to bunk yoga class yesterday morning to spend more time in bed. I went to bed late, breaking my rather new rule of no-Internet-on-big-screens-at-night (my beginner-size, low-tech smartphone is the exception). I surfed and surfed - "yoga for weight loss", "yoga to prevent diabetes", Facebook (why had a schoolmate accepted the school rowdy as her friend, what had he made of himself - I couldn't find out) and several pages of results for gourd salads.

Despite all this, I couldn't sleep beyond my usual quota. (Why did I think yesterday would be any different from other days?) After spending a couple of wide-awake hours trying to solve the day's cryptic crossword, I found myself cutting and steaming vegetables for an hour. I whizzed a few ingredients to make a dressing and sprinkled it over the salad. Then I added - nay, squished into it - some bocconcini which was past its best-before date and immediately regretted it because I didn't think the flavours would go together and took out as much as I could. Live a little, Sra, my heart told me, so I added it back in. I did not add any salt because the cheese had some. Nor did I add any oil at this stage. I thought the fat in the cheese would coat it enough. (See notes below.)

For the salad
Snake gourd, peeled, chopped into strips: 1.5 cups
Ash gourd/white pumpkin/winter melon, peeled and diced
Tender ridge gourd: 1.5 cups
French beans: 6-8, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
Onion, sliced: 1

For the 'dressing'
Shredded coconut, fresh: A handful
Roasted peanuts: A handful
Green chilli: 1, chopped
A pinch of salt

 Lime juice: From two limes
Bocconcini: 5-6 balls

Cook the snake gourd and French beans in the microwave with a little water for two minutes on High. (I did not treat the other vegetables the same way as they were very tender and juicy.)

To make the dressing, pulse the coconut, peanuts, salt and green chilli just once to make a coarse mix that can be sprinkled over the vegetables.

Put the vegetables in a dish, mix the bocconcini into them, pour the lime juice over and sprinkle the mixture on top of the salad. Chill.

Notes: At lunchtime, I served myself some of the salad and decided it needed more salt. However, I added the salt to my portion of the salad and not to the entire dish lest it got all watery. It also seemed a bit dry so I added a spoon of plain oil to the salad on my plate, mixed it in gently, and then it came together. However, the Spouse had none of these complaints and liked it as it was.


I am sending this off to No Croutons Required, hosted this month by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sanwin Makin - A Little Bit Of Burma



Senwei mekei or senway mackay - that's how my friend's family, where I was introduced to a selection of food from Myanmar/Burma, used to pronounce it. Years later, when the Internet came to India I would type in those words and get nowhere. I don't remember how I finally found out - maybe I searched for 'Burmese dessert with coconut milk' or something like that, maybe my friend told me- but I realised it was spelt 'sanwin makin'. I think I tried it once before and failed, or maybe I haven't - I'm not remembering a lot of things right at the beginning of this post! But that aside, when my friend's mother made it, it would look so lovely. It was a translucent brown, and puddingy, rather like a China Grass dessert than like cake. Aunty would set it in a plate, cut it into diamonds and sprinkle poppy seed over it.

As a student of marketing strategy for the last 15 years, I have picked up some jargon from the field, including the words 'pull' and 'push'. They mean one thing in marketing but in this post, they mean quite something else! Sometimes the pull of a memory is so strong that it's almost a physical sensation, but this is not why I attempted this dessert. It was push - I needed to push out some brown semolina (brown sooji/godhuma rava - I had the fine variety) from my kitchen. A good way to exhaust it is to find things to make with it other than upma with vegetables, which seems to be the most common use for it. You can use ordinary white sooji/semolina.

Then I did something that marketers, especially retailers, are unhappy about. When I went to look for the coconut milk cartons that I usually buy, I saw that they were dated April. And this was September. I scrabbled further into the dark recesses of the shelf and found some packed in July. I took all half a dozen of them and paid for them. (One retailer actually protested when I said I always look for the most recently packed ones - he said I had a duty to pick up the oldest ones which were at the front because if everyone did what I did, the old ones wouldn't sell. Well, I'm not having any of that!)

I had been looking at various recipes for sanwin makin and finally followed this. It was like making a rawa porridge with coconut milk, adding the eggs after the mixture had cooled and then baking it. There were two differences from the original method: I used coconut milk instead of coconut cream and I did not manage to separate the eggs as the whites and yellows just plopped into the bowl one after the other. I ended up beating them and adding them to the pan after it had cooled, at Step 4. For about 25 minutes after I put it in the oven, it stayed flat. Then it rose gloriously.


Then it went back to normal after a while, and came out as a dense cake, moist, mildly sweet and even mildly coconutty - that was because I used coconut milk instead of coconut cream, I suppose. It was a hit at work, and someone who was on a strict diet and had lost 8 kg took it home because it was only mildly sweet.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Don't You Read Me Anymore? Some Questions on Turning Eight

This blog turned eight a few days ago, over the weekend. This is the first time I didn't put out an anniversary post on time. I did not feel like it. Given what my statistics tell me everyday, I did not think many of you would see it, let alone read it. I am more curious than sorrowful as to why so few of you visit here these days.

I'm not asking why you are not commenting. Oh no! I've gotten better at accepting that - but I am interested in knowing why my readership numbers are falling. I have never been wildly popular in numerical terms. If I were to borrow a leaf from a friend who worked in PR, I would call this a "niche blog", a "boutique blog". (But I won't borrow it - I confess that I do want to be wildly popular and wildly successful.) The readers are not many, but they were regular. They come/came for the stories, the discussion, the chat, not the photos, not even the recipes, I would guess. There would be a decent spike in readership as soon as I put out a new post and it would slow down to normal till the next post came up.

But this has changed over the past one year. Readership has plummeted, and the spike has lost its sharpness. And I am trying to understand why.

Is it because I do not blog as often as earlier? Are my posts less interesting? Is it me? Is it the death of Google Reader, because that's when I began to notice the drop in visitors. Had frequency of posts been the reason, the numbers should have started falling earlier as I had not been blogging frequently for a few months before that.

The one bright spot in recent times was this post - A Pox on Plagiarists - which took the first day's readership to an all-time high. And plummeted only on the third day, instead of the second. Of course, it touched a chord in the blogging world.

As I said, I am more curious than sorrowful, so let me know, will you, why my niche is shrinking. As much as I love blogging and want to continue it forever despite everything, I would be grateful for some cheering.

As always, thank you, dear readers, for helping sustain my blog all through these years.