Tagged: winter

Squash, Sweet potato & Chickpea Stew

I love flying in the rain. That may sound like an odd thing to like. Most people have a problem with this, but not me. Sure, these flights can be tedious before take-off but in the rain, there is a slowing down of things. The little window shows you a shiny tarmac in a world washed clean. People in cheery neon raincoats scurry about their jobs working to get your flight going on its way, hardly minding the dull weather. The bright orange cones and yellow leader signs dot the grey landscape, firmly guiding the planes. They lie scattered amidst the large gleaming tubes that lugubriously lumber about like lounging whales. It seems impossible that any of them could get moving with any amount of haste, let alone take off the ground and into the air. I love the unfolding choreographed drama of it all.

The drops of rain steadily trickle down the  window reminding me as they always do now of the title sequence of the movie The Matrix. I turn to check my IPad to see if I have a copy of it on there. I don’t, so I continue to watch the rain. It will be time to turn off electronic devices soon anyway.

Despite having been on numerous flights, I still have that breathless moment at take-off when it feels like this tin can I am in is straining every nerve and will likely never manage to pull off the take off. But, slowly, then with growing urgency, it always does. The ground falls away along with all of the roads, buildings and people on it.

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Saveur’s Rainbow cookies

NaBloPoMo 2012. Thirty straight days of postings. We did it, you guys!

When the month began, we were fairly certain this could go either way. Work schedules can be unpredictable and life always is. The cooking didn’t worry us since we do that most days, but writing every day and worrying about things like daylight for photos; this did have us concerned. But we figured we’d give it a go.

So why did I sign up for this anyhow? For me, it was mainly to challenge myself to write under the constraints of time. I’ve been known to agonize and linger over posts for hours. One of the few reasons there was a lull on this space was because I just didn’t have that kind of time to devote to it after. But I knew I didn’t want to give up on our little world here, because even through the lingering, I enjoyed the writing. NaBloPoMo forced me to be disciplined about it. This may not be my day job, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some sense of ritual about it. Work and life are important, but so is this wish to keep writing. I also needed to find out if I just imagined I wanted to write or if in fact, I could write if it was required of me. It is the work that is put into it and the telling of the story that matters.  It doesn’t matter if I misspell words. (What nonsense are you talking, girl? Sacrilege!) Then there was the self-imposition I had about posting at least five recipes a week. That was the plan I stuck to, somehow it worked. But ultimately, what mattered was that I want to write and that I do it. Nupur said it perfectly. Writing allows you to work things out. You can be your own therapist and best friend. Most times you just need to be able to write your heart out. Write my heart out, I have.

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Mushrooms with Parsley and Garlic

It was back to work after a five-day break over Thanksgiving. Time off like that can really mess with your everyday routine. I found it hard to galvanize into any kind of action this morning. Of course, the fact that I ended yesterday with a raging attack of sinusitis didn’t help. I woke up this morning wanting to shy completely away from any sort of light. The fact that most of my job keeps me in front of a computer screen made most of today agonizing.

With the aid of alternating applications of soothing cups of hot herbal tea and medication, I managed to make it through a good part of the day. Then I had to get home, draw the curtains and tumble into bed. When I woke up, the light had already faded and the impending threat of an exploding head had receded slightly into the background. My stomach reminded me that I had missed lunch. I was ravenous, but disinclined to set foot in the kitchen. Luckily, that was when Amey got home.

The long but fairly busy weekend kept us from doing some critical grocery shopping, so all we had little in the fridge, aside from some mushrooms and a bunch of curly leaf parsley. It is days like this when I am very thankful for my obsession with spices and flavoured salts. They are more than worth their weight in gold.

With just those ingredients, Amey put together a dinner that we often have on other rushed or lean supply nights. It involved roughly chopping the aforementioned mushrooms, then massacring the whole bunch of parsley. He then minced a few cloves of garlic and was ready to cook.

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Rose and cardamom scented Truffle Brownies

Our garden is currently a study in schizophrenic behaviour. While it should be responding to autumn and preparing for a nice long sleep, it is frantic with activity.  The strawberry plant is turning out fruit like a plant possessed. The hibiscus has decided that now is the time to burst into riotous scarlet explosion. (I’m deeply thankful for this since no other flower reminds me of home more. We used to have several of these plants in constant bloom all around my building.) The Indian summer of this region has everything to do with this madness. The biggest surprise are the Gerbera daisies, which we thought had breathed their last gasp end of July. The plant had all but disappeared, but it then surprised us by bursting out in a brave show of health. It has begun throwing out several blooms a week.

The air is charged with a cold streak,  the kind that makes you reach for a jacket even though you look outside your window and see brilliant sunshine. Perhaps, it is because that sunshine is slow to show up and low in its bearings, its fiery gold reminiscent of early sunsets and late sun rises. Nevertheless it makes you want for the substantial things. The fresh fruits that were more than enough as dessert in their raw, unadorned form only recently simply won’t do now. I find myself reaching for the ghee or some spices to cook them into warm things. Those are the nature of dishes we’re starting to crave; the oozing unctousness of a spiced pie, the savoury headiness of a steaming bean stew, the joyous rich comfort of a perfect chocolate brownie.

I have a pan in my kitchen that I use specifically for brownies. It is a basic thing, made of cooking grade aluminium. We bought it on an impulse at a sale because of the fact that it came with a lid, making it a perfect cook-and-store utensil. This pan has proven its worth to me more than anything else in the kitchen. It has lost its sheen and has taken on scratches of careless cutting over the years, but it still bakes fantastic bread puddings and cakes. It excels at its primary purpose, rich brownies with a crisp-ish edge.
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Yogurt Cake with Candied Orange and Cardamom

What a mixed bag this summer has been so far! Days hitting the sweltering 90s have jostled around with days of rain. In May. And June! The synchronicity of warmth and rain reminds me of Bombay. Some days I wake up dreaming I’m back in India with our annual rainy season, something the denizens wait for in desperation to take the edge off the summer heat. Only in a place that experiences the monsoon would people understand and perpetuate the phrase “lovely gray day”.

It’s a start-and-stutter summer out here in the Bay area, which feels like winter and spring segued into a weird groundhog season. This makes it hard to decide how to dress for it, but I don’t quite mind that much. Sure, I love the bright golden sunlight and early morning warming rays of sun. I like summer for all that it brings: a rich plethora of colourful produce in the market, long walks on the beach to watch a rich orange sun set after 9 at night, ice cream cones licked in earnest to avoid drippage, little girls in sunny frocks followed by gamboling golden retrievers enjoying the sunshine, an impossibly blue sky set in an earthy brown landscape, embers flying out and dying into a star-strewn sky. But in truth, I hate heat. What I love most, more than anything about this city, is its mostly cool weather. When the sun turns all hot and terrible, the fog rolls in to soothe heat-stricken souls. I get to enjoy lovely gray days right here in San Francisco. Seeing the fog roll up into the Presidio off the coast is one of the prettiest sights in the world.

One of the perks of having such a summer is that while the rest of the northern hemisphere can’t be bothered with turning on the stove and would rather boil themselves before firing up the oven, I’m happy to do either. Baking a cake on a cool, foggy, summer day is just about the coziest thing you can do. You get additional cozy points if you find the cake you just made reflects this at-odds weather.

This gem-of-a-cake helps you score just that. It is sweet-and-spicy; a western dessert with an eastern twist. I’ve served it twice so far, once at a potluck and at another time as a planned ending to a very Indian meal, both times to stellar reviews. The tart citrus of orange, the sweetness of honey and the warmth and anise-like heat of cardamom amalgamate into a sensuous, sublime cake with gravity. It has a fine, moist (I’ve heard many have a problem with that word. I’m not one of them) crumb, a characteristic ensured by a generous dousing of orange infused syrup. There is no use of summer fruit and this is a deep winter warming spice, but just take a look at it. Did you ever see a cake that looked more capable of bringing sunshine to a table on a foggy day? The memory of this cake will stay with those who eat it. They love to figure out what’s in it. This is a cake you will be remembered for. In a good way. In an ‘oh-my-god-the-girl (or boy)-has-skillz’ kind of way.

Yogurt Cake with Candied Orange and Cardamom
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2011
Makes 12 servings.

For the candied oranges and syrup:
Sugar – ¾ cup
Orange blossom honey – ¾ cup

Green cardamom pods – 3 tbsps, crushed
Orange – 1, sliced quite thin

For the cake:
Semolina flour – ½ cup
All-purpose flour – 1 cup

Baking powder – 1-½ tsp
Ground cardamom – 1 tsp
Baking soda – ¼ tsp

Salt – ½ tsp
Sugar – ½ cup, divided equally
Eggs – 3, seperated
Olive oil- ½ cup
Yoghurt – 2/3 cup
Grated orange zest – 2 tsp
Vanilla extract – 1 tsp

Pistachios – toasted, unsalted, a loose handful.

To make candied oranges:
– In a saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, cardamom pods and 2 -1/2 cups of water together and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
– Turn the heat down to medium low and add orange slices. Continue to simmer for about half an hour, turning the orange slices over midway.
– Line a tray with parchment paper and arrange orange slices on it.
– Strain the syrup to remove pods and seeds.

To make the cake:
– Pre-heat the oven to 350° F.
– Whisk together the two flours, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom powder and salt.
– In a separate bowl, beat ¼ cup of sugar with the olive oil for about a minute. Beat in yolks, than the flour mixture.
– Add the add the yogurt and orange zest.
– In another bowl, beat the eggs whites with clean beaters until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla, beating until    firm peaks form.
– Fold half the egg whites into the batter, then the other half, both times until just folded in.
– Pour into a 9” cake or spring form pan.
– Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, for about 25 minutes.
– Once out of the oven, pierce the cake all over the top  and drizzle a cup of the syrup on to it. When that is absorbed, add another cup.
– Once the cake has cooled, take it out of the pan.  Arrange the orange slices on the cake. Sprinkle pistachios over.
– Cut into wedges and serve.

Cook’s notes:-
I’ve adjusted sugar quantities slightly the second time around and found it didn’t make too much of a difference. The recipe asks for you to serve the cake with an additional dose of  syrup, but I didn’t think it needed it. The cake was great right out of the pan. The candied orange keeps its lovely citrus tang, great just by itself but dynamite on this cake. The candied orange slices can be made a day ahead of time. Just cover the tray with cling wrap and place in fridge. Do the same with the syrup. Warm the syrup slightly before pouring onto cake.
Often I’ve wanted to end Indian meals with a non-Indian dessert that tied it all together somehow. I was never quite happy with things I tried, until now. This recipe is a keeper.
I’ve added powdered cardamom where it asks for whole, skipped steps or mixed ‘em up. The cake still turned out fine. People really love it, and you. Try it, you won’t be sorry!