Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pumpkin & Walnut Spiced Squares - Hiding Veggies With The Daring Bakers!



 Hidden veggies - a common conspiracy mommies often resort to in a bid to get the kids to eat some veggies and fruits which are otherwise considered 'YUCC..KKY' no less! These despised fruits and veggies haunt you from the aisles of the veggie store or cart and the mommy scheming mind starts contriving ways to camouflage these in goodies which will hopefully be seen as 'YUMMY!' The treat is served with a louder than usual 'tadaa!' which puts the kids' antennae on alert mode. Suspicious, hesitant little bites at first and then bigger bites, more helpings. And then its confession time. Treading on ice, dreading delayed rejection you tell them, 'Guess what, there is a surprise in this. The name starts with C/B/P.  Yes, carrots/bananas/pumpkins etc etc. Isn't it so good? Umm..think we can make this now and then? Yes?'' Grin, grin!

Ruth from Makey-Cakey was our March 2013 Daring Bakers’ challenge host. She encouraged us all to get experimental in the kitchen and sneak some hidden veggies into our baking, with surprising and delicious results!

 Sneaking in veggies into food is something I often do, but not as often in sweet baked treats, so this was going to be a surprise for the mommy as well! Carrot cake did sound super tempting to bake, then zucchini cupcakes and bread and pumpkin pies! The Daring Bakers were turning really adventurous, some of them using spinach, avocados and peas too in their bakes! Being a not-so-daring Daring Baker, I thought sweet pumpkin should be a good start.  A very common vegetable used in baking, ever so often seen in pies, scones, doughnuts, muffins, cookies and breads. But then, not so common in our country in baked goods, canned pumpkin puree unheard of.

I made pumpkin puree for the first time, its really quick and easy. It stayed well in the refrigerator the next day (supposed to stay good for a week). But a part of it frozen turned out to be so much more watery when thawed than the fresh, thick, smooth one.


These light, tasty squares from All Recipes , spiced with cinnamon and cloves make a nice tea-time snack or a kiddie snack box treat. You could omit the spices and use vanilla and nuts or just vanilla and chocolate chips. My kids loved them! And I see myself experimenting with the vegetable puree more often!

The reviews mention cakey squares, but I did not want them very cakey, so I have reduced the amount of baking powder. Also have replaced part of the oil with yogurt. Below is the original recipe halved.

Ingredients:
Eggs - 2 large
Oil - 1/4 cup / 60 ml
Yogurt - 1/4 cup
Pumpkin puree - 1/2 cup
Vanilla extract - 1/2 teaspoon ( use 1 teaspoon if omitting spices)
Sugar, fine - 200 grams / 1 cup ( Will reduce next time by a tablespoon or so, even less if using chocolate chips)
All purpose flour - 125 grams
Ground cinnamon - 1/2 teaspoon
Ground cloves - 1/4 teaspoon
Baking powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Baking soda - 1/2 teaspoon
Salt - 1/4 teaspoon
Toasted chopped walnuts - 1/3 cup

Procedure: Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F. Grease, line and flour a 9'' square tin. Keep aside.
  • Sift together the flour, spices, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Take the eggs, oil, yogurt, sugar, vanilla and pumpkin puree in a medium sized bowl. Whisk to combine thoroughly. 
  • Stir in the flour mixture with a spatula. Stir in the walnuts or the chocolate chips. The batter will be the consistency of brownie batter. Spread in the baking tin, smooth the top.
  • Bake for about 22-25 minutes or till the top is light golden brown and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes on a rack. Remove from the tin, cool completely and then cut into squares.
To make the pumpkin puree. I have followed the general procedure of making this in the pressure cooker, after reading several common methods. About 1/2 kilo of pumpkin with skin made about 1 1/4 cup of puree.

Remove the skin and the fibrous, seedy part of the pumpkin. Cut into cubes. Place the cubes in a vessel in the pressure cooker. Do not put water in the container. Pressure cook for 2-3 whistles. Switch off .Let the pressure drop. Allow to cool. Drain any liquid left with the cubes in a mesh colander. Mash thoroughly and process in the mixer till completely smooth. Use just enough water (2-3 teaspoons) to facilitate the motor.

Measure the needed quantity of puree and use.


I liked this basic recipe and hope to experiment and play around with different purees and amounts of leavening for varying textures.

Thanks Ruth, enjoyed the hidden veggies!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Creamy Carrot Kheer


Hubby, kids and I relish almost all kinds of desserts, but the rest of the clan can be a bit finicky at times. My sisters and sis-in-law are not as much in love with chocolate as I am, while my brother does enjoy the food of the Gods occasionally. When I wanted to take a dessert for him recently,  it had to be something which was neither a cake nor chocolate and without eggs (for my mother). I had little time on my hands to search and make something which would meet all criteria. Yet it had to be something delicious and new. Aren't good old Indian desserts best at times like this?

Carrot halwa is a familiar dessert and one I profoundly love, but carrot kheer? I had my first taste of this at a friend's place and it was so good! Incidentally, this friend of mine is not a desserts person at all but this pudding has the honor of being among the 2 sweets she loves... but then you have to try really hard not to love this dessert. Creamy, rich, aromatic with saffron and cardamom...and so easy to make!  A must have recipe in your books!


The recipe is friendly, and like most desserts of this ilk, can be tweaked to suit your taste and availability of ingredients. I have made this based on  Pratibha's recipe and it was an absolute delight! The taste of the carrots is almost indistinguishable allowing the creamy, nutty, milky richness to take center stage. Depending on the kind of milk and the presence or absence of condensed milk or cream and the quantity of nuts you would add, this can be made more rich or less rich.

I wouldn't recommend attempting a really low fat version of this kheer though, as you run the risk of it tasting more like baby food than the amazing kheer it is meant to be! But of course, making it rich translates to keeping the serving size on the stingy side.

Ingredients

Grated carrots - 1 1/4 cup, packed ( from about 3-4 carrots, I used the regular orange-ish ones)
Whole milk - 1 liter
Low fat cream (or sweetened condensed milk) - 1/4 cup
Sugar - heaping 1/2 cup or to taste (you may need very little or none if using condensed milk)
Ghee - 2 teaspoons
Almonds - 10
Cashew - 8-10
Saffron - a generous pinch
cardamom powder - about 1/4 teaspoon or to taste

Procedure:
  • Soak the almonds and cashews for about 2 hours or more. Take the milk in a heavy bottomed pan. Once it boils, turn the heat to low, allow the milk to simmer till it reduces to almost 3/4 liter. Stir occasionally. Once reduced turn off the heat. 
  • Soak the saffron in about a tablespoon of warm milk. 
  • In the meantime, heat the ghee in another medium sized heavy bottomed pan. On low heat, toast the cashews (meant for garnish) till light golden in color, drain, keep aside. 
  • In the same pan, keeping the heat low, saute the grated carrots for 3-4 minutes or till the raw smell is gone. Take about 1/4 cup of the hot milk and add it to the carrots. ( If you haven't had more time to soak the nuts, you can add them with the carrots and steam, says Pratibha) Cover and cook on low heat, till the carrots are soft. Turn off the heat.
  • In the smallest jar of your mixie, process the cooked carrots along with any milk left with them, the soaked almonds and cashew till very smooth. Take about a cup of the reduced milk in a medium sized bowl, whisk in the cream (or condensed milk) and the ground paste. Ensure there are no lumps. 
  • Mix this into the remaining milk, add the sugar (if using). Stir in the soaked saffron. Simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes. Check and adjust the sugar if needed. Turn off the heat. 
  • Once cool, add the cardamom and the toasted chopped nuts.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature or chilled. Check the consistency before serving, adding a bit of milk if needed. I prefer this at room temperature or chilled.

Thanks for this delectable recipe Pratibha, carrots will henceforth tempt me even more!

And do tell me what's your favorite, fail proof dessert which is no chocolate, no bake, egg-less and quick to make?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Double Chocolate Granola


From the great revolt of 1857, to the states of matter, to decimals and fractions and finally back to obsessing over my neglected blog and less used oven. Am feeling elated and so liberated!! We are done with the final exams but still need to attend school for a few days - bliss! No exams, no homework, kids out of my hair for a few hours ...but only to come back home together and create double the trouble and bedlam as if making up for all the lost time. Sigh! You can't really have your cake and eat it too!

The pandemonium of the holidays comes with restless kids and their never ending hunger pangs...a common manifestation of very frequent, little big bursts of boredom. Heavens! What do I feed them all day! Needless to say, there is always a desperate need and demand for chocolaty somethings which never fail to make them happy! Though granola is one of my favorite things to have in the jar, my daughter normally wrinkles her little nose at the sound of the word. But wait, a chocolaty chocolate granola could be one of the answers!

Scouting for a recipe for chocolate granola, I landed here and made this several times since! A little less cocoa, a little more chocolate, and then I found what we liked! Being a low fat, non-sugar loaded snack which keeps well for days, you can tweak and experiment endlessly with granola till you figure out what you like best! Small batches in my microwave for experimentation and then a large batch in the big oven...so that we always have a bit of chocolate goodness in the guise of granola!

This granola is quite chocolaty no doubt, but mind you this is not meant to be dessert! But then you can always make it more chocolaty, as it is just a matter of  heating the liquid ingredients and dark chocolate together, mixing it with oats and baking them till crisp. Mix in more of the almost powdery chocolate to it when still warm so that it coats the oats, and then some more little chunks when its almost cool, but very slightly warm. Let the chocolate melt just enough to get the granola into little chocolatey clusters. Finally stir in toasted nuts of your choice. Friendly granola allows me to divide the whole batch into a lesser chocolate and no nuts part for me and add more chocolate to the rest. Hubby wants to keep a box of this with a tiny spoon in his office to eat as a bite of dessert when the sugar craving hits!


Here is how we go. The below recipe makes enough to make one small batch in your 8-9'' round tin. Double if using a much bigger tray or pan. But remember, make it just one single thinnish layer.

Based on the recipe from the The Wannabe Chef, with modifications.

Ingredients:

Quaker oats - 95 grams (please read note)
Granulated sugar - 2 tablespoons
Cocoa powder - 3/4 tablespoon
Dark chocolate - 3 tablespoons / 40 grams approx
Vegetable oil - 1 tablespoon
Water - 1 tablespoon
Honey - 1 tablespoon
Pure vanilla extract - 1/4 teaspoon
Grated dark chocolate ( or tiny bits of it at the bottom of your chocolate tin) - 2 tablespoons

Add ins
Dark chocolate chunks - 2 -3 tablespoons
Toasted walnuts or almonds - 1/4 cup or more

Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees C / 320 degree F (read note). Line your baking tin with parchment. Weigh the oats, keep aside. Measure the rest of the dry ingredients and put directly into a medium sized heavy saucepan. Then the rest of the liquid ones, again directly into your saucepan. The oil first, then the honey (slips out of the spoon like a dream), water and vanilla. Heat the ingredients in the saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly juts until the chocolate melts. Take off the heat. Tip in the oats. Mix well to combine. You will have a moist but crumbly mixture. Spread this on your prepared pan in a single layer.

Stirring thoroughly every 10 minutes to re-distribute the mixture, bake for about 30-35 minutes (or may be 5 minutes more) or till the oats turn crisp. To test, take your granola out from the oven, take a spoonful of it, it will still feel soft. Allow it to cool for 3-4 minutes and taste. It should be crisp. If its not crisp enough, bake again for about 3-4 minutes, check again.

When done and the granola is still on the tray right out of the oven, add about 2-3 tablespoons of grated chocolate and stir. It will melt coating the granola. Allow it to cool further and when barely warm, add about 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chunks of chocolate. The chocolate will melt just enough to clump some of the granola but still remain as bits of chocolate. Stir in the toasted walnuts when the granola is completely cool. Store in an airtight container.

Here is some oats and chocolate goodness for you!


Please note: When I bake granola, I first sieve the oats to remove the fine powdery part and reserve it for another use. The oats here are first sieved, then weighed. You could alter the quantity of sugar and honey to your taste. This is not very sweet. I personally like eating granola as is, but my kids love to eat this as is and with chilled milk too.

I prefer toasting nuts separately and adding them at the end. Sometimes, if the granola takes longer to bake, the nuts would have got over toasted. If adding dried fruit, add that to the cooled baked granola.

I have baked this at 180 degrees C / 350 degree F as mentioned in the original recipe for about 20-22 minutes. This works fine too, but baking at a lower temperature for longer will give you crisp granola with lesser chances of it getting a burnt taste within minutes. And remember, its tough to see the color change when its chocolate.

This is now another staple in my home and shall be made regularly, so more updates here if any!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How To Use A Convection Microwave For Baking / How To Bake In A Convection Microwave





How To Use A Convection Microwave For Baking / How To Bake In A Convection Microwave. Watch my video! Please follow my page on Facebook for updates on new videos for beginners in baking, every Monday! Click here to subscribe to my You Tube Channel. Click to subscribe now!


When I started writing the series for beginners, this post should probably have been the very first! Very naturally of course as buying an oven or knowing how to use your existing microwave (if suitable for baking) is the foremost step in getting one started with baking. Some of us have purchased microwaves when they first hit the market, been using it for heating and cooking a few things. Now you suddenly have the urge to see if you can bake in it too! If you are like me, most likely the manual is misplaced, if you have a hubby like mine, there is at least some hope of retrieving it. In any case, knowing the oven type, the accessories that came with it or trying to replace them is a good start. So shall we get started on this rather rather lengthy post on How To Use A Convection Microwave For Baking? Sorry, could not help it!

Please note, I use an LG  convection microwave (MC8040NSR), and the information I have given below is mostly with this one in mind, though I have included a bit about Samsung too. This again is just sharing my personal opinion from my experience in using a convection microwave for about 2 years.

  • Basic microwave functions : There are three basic functions a microwave can perform - cook, bake, grill. 
  • Microwave function for regular cooking, de-frosting, re-heating and even some instant mug cakes (more below). 
  • Convection function to literally bake anything - from cakes, cookies, breads, pizzas - I mean everything!
  • Grill  for grilling vegetables, meat and the kind.
Microwave Accessories : You get these along with your oven depending on the type of the microwave you have (given below) : A glass turntable, a short metal rack for baking, a high metal rack for grilling.  You sometimes also get a non stick large round tin for baking pizzas.

Microwaves fall in 3 basic categories, a  basic microwave, microwave cum grill and then the convection microwave. There are more too, but to that later.

1. A solo microwave / a basic microwave - All of us know how to use this, but bear with me . One which comes with a microwave mode only. Allows you to set the time and the power level of cooking - high, medium, low power, defrosting food and some auto menus. Comes with a glass turntable on which you place your dish.

This kind of microwave can be used for re-heating, cooking and defrosting frozen food. Period. But no you can't bake anything in this, but can certainly cook some kinds nice instant microwave browniecinnamon crispsfat free potato wafers  and even some types of regular cakes and brownies. These get cooked really fast, as in a minute or two for single serve portions and around 8-10 minutes for other kinds of cakes and brownies, depending on the size of the pan and quantity of batter.


Be aware that  instant versions of brownies and mug cakes are good consumed immediately though some cakes and brownies may keep well.  But yes, you can very surely try these, I do quite often as they are life-savers! Am not crazy about using this mode for the regular cake kinds etc or maybe I haven't tried the right recipe. If I do, you will surely find it here !

What you could use : Any good quality microwave safe containers, your coffee mug, Borosil kinds of glassware, Tupperware. You can't use metal tins and pans as it will cause arching.

How to use : By default, your microwave will set on the highest power, you can see it as either HIGH, MEDIUM, LOW etc or 900 (watts), 700, etc. Set the time and power levels as needed. You will need to consider the 'standing time' i.e, the time after the microwave is turned off, but during which the food continues to cook with the internal microwave energy in the food. Useful to keep this in mind while cooking instant cakes and brownies. Overcooked food tends to burn ..sometimes along with your Tupperware!

2. Microwave cum grill : Apart from the basic microwave functions above, this type of microwave has a grill function also, allowing you to grill vegetables, cottage cheese and meat, sometimes with the combination of both modes working simultaneously. Apart from the glass turntable, this must come with a tall circular metal rack on which you place the food to be grilled. Has function knobs or buttons indicating Microwave and Grill, and a combination of both.

3. Convection or combination microwave: Now, we talk baking! Microwaves in this category come with it all! Microwave, grill and convection modes. It has function knobs indicating microwave, grill, convection, a timer, temperature setting buttons and power setting buttons for use in microwave mode. This microwave comes with the glass turntable, a low circular metal rack for baking, a taller one on which you grill food and a motorized rotisserie for cooking meat again. Irrespective of what mode you need to use, the turntable and the roller wheel beneath it need to remain in place at all times, except of course when you clean the microwave.


Microwave mode : So when you have this type of an oven, you normally keep the metal racks under the table till you need them for baking. Otherwise use the microwave for mundane but essential purposes. Using this mode in a convection oven is the same as given above.

Grill mode:  To use this, place the tall metal rack on the turn table and the food on the grill, press 'Grill' (you can’t set the temperature here, at least not in mine) and set the timer.  If you do not grill a lot, this rack can still be put to use as a cooling rack.

Convection mode : This is the mode used for baking where you need the low metal rack to place your baking tray on. 

In this mode your microwave works just as an OTG works. So you can use aluminum baking tins and pans, glassware,silicon and ceramic ware like ramekins and other oven safe bake-ware.


My oven sets at a minimum of 40 degrees C and a maximum of 250 degrees C. The temperature in your convection microwave sets in certain intervals say 10 degrees, eg, 180 C, 190 C, 200 C and so on as in LG microwaves or in intervals of 20 degrees eg, 180 C,  200 C, 220 C and so on as  in Samsung microwave ovens.

Pre-heating:  You need to pre-heat your oven just as you pre-heat an OTG. Pre-heating is getting your oven to the desired temperature before you put your cake pan with the batter / cookie sheet  in it. For example, the recipe says, pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C. Your microwave takes about 5 minutes or less to pre-heat as compared to the 20-25 minutes in an OTG. So you can pre-heat the microwave even when you are just 5 minutes away from getting your cookie dough/ cake batter ready.

  • Place the short metal rack inside the oven on the turntable, make sure its stably placed in the center (hold on, you will not place the cake tin inside right now), close the door, press ‘Convection’.  The display will show 180 degrees temperature by default. 
  • Your oven will have buttons to increase and decrease the temperature. So you now keep pressing ‘Increase’ till you see 200 degrees (in this example) in the display. Now press ‘Start’. The turntable will start rotating and your oven begins to heat, the display shows as “PRH’ meaning pre-heat. 
  • Once the oven reaches 200 degrees , it will sound a beep (a series actually) and the display shows 200 C. Now, do not press ‘stop’ or do anything other than just opening the door of the oven. Put your bake in, close the door. Set the timer as needed, say 30 minutes. Press ‘Start’. Now your bake cake is baking at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. 
  • I prefer to write down the time and the duration for which I have set my oven in my recipe book - just in case of power failure or re-setting the timer by mistake - when you lose track of how long the cake has been baking.

If you need to pre-heat the oven to a temperature less than 180 degrees C, then use the decrease button to set the temperature needed. In case you press “stop’ or leave the oven turned off for more than a minute,  start the pre-heating process all over again as given above.

In my friend's Samsung oven, you press Convection, then press the pre-heat button. The same pre-heat buttons allows you to move the temperature up and down, once you see the desired temperature in the display, press ‘Start’. Your oven starts pre-heating and sounds a series of beeps when heated.

Please note, the microwave once pre-heated will automatically turn off after a certain point of time if you do not proceed with baking. Microwaves don't like being ignored!


Changing the temperature while baking: Some recipes need you to change the temperature while baking, that is, bake say at 190 C for 20 minutes and then at 160 C for another 20 minutes. In this case, pre-heat the oven to 190 C and bake for 20 minutes, then press Stop. Immediately press the convection button, set temperature to 160 C , set the time for 20 minutes and press ‘Start’ again.

Always remember to take the cake /cookies / bread out from the oven once the baking is done.  Do not leave it inside the oven (though the oven turns off by itself, the heat still remains, over baking your cake) unless the recipe specifies you to do so.

After you bake, and the timer goes off, the oven switches off and then does 'cooling'. Wait for sometime if you wish to use it on microwave mode before you use it again.

Capacity of your microwave :  Your microwave, could be anywhere around 20 and 38 liters depending on the brand. Knowing this helps to have a rough idea about the sizes of tins that can fit in your oven and gift yourself a new bigger one if needed!


  • If you own neither an OTG nor a microwave and just begun baking, it makes sense to buy a convection microwave as you could use it for both cooking and baking. Helps economize on space too. Buy a big OTG too later (like me).
  •  Convection microwaves come with a fan for even circulation of hot air inside. My old 14 liters Morphy Richards OTG does not have a fan, but my new 40 liter one does.
  •  A microwave pre-heats in about 5 minutes as compared to an OTG which takes 15-20 minutes. Really useful for quick small batches of baking, seriously useful when you have your batter waiting and there is a power cut!
  • Microwaves also come with digital settings for the temperature and time, so more accuracy and less guess work here.
  • If you are an occasional, small batches only baker, this will work very well for you! When you turn an obsessed baker wanting to feed all you know, think about buying an OTG too!


  • Even microwaves with higher capacity,  say 38 liter ones can't fit in big trays and tins as the turntable needs to rotate as it bakes and the sides of the tin touching the walls of the microwave will cause a lot of disturbance or the turntable may not turn at all. But a 40 liter OTG will be more accommodative as the tray remains in place as it bakes.
  • Also you can use only one level of the microwave for baking whereas you can use both the top and bottom racks of an OTG simultaneously.  If you bake for commercial purposes, a microwave is not for you as you will not be able to bake in big batches at one go.
  •  When you place heavy pans its a little tricky as the light weight metal rack may tilt with the weight of the pan. Even worse when you place a pan with ramekins surrounded by hot water for baked custards and the kinds!
  •  My microwave sets at the lowest setting of 40 degrees and then next to 100 C. An OTG will be more lenient here.
  • The space inside a microwave will allow you little room to put your hands in and do anything like re-distributing your granola for example as your hands will touch the hot walls or the top element.
  • If you melt your chocolate in the microwave, then learn to melt it on the stove top too as you can't melt chocolate while your oven is pre-heating!


 Buying a microwave: Choosing a good brand first naturally -  I use an LG microwave and its worked really well for me, no complaints on the quality. IFB and Samsung (except for the temperature interval constraint) is supposed to be good too, though I have no idea about the after sales services. Check if your city has good after sales facilities for the brand you choose. A brand new in the market is not very likely to have great after sales services.

Check if the highest and lowest temperature you can set your oven to and the intervals its sets at, 10 degrees is fine, but 20 is a little hard to digest! Also most ovens here come with a maximum temperature setting of 250 degrees C which in itself is low for baking pizzas, so make sure the maximum temperature is at least 250 degrees C.

I would personally prefer microwaves with digital controls as compared to the manual ones for greater accuracy and consistent results.

Having used an OTG first when I started to bake, I had my own reservations about using a microwave for baking. But I must say, I have not found a great deal of difference between the bakes done in either. 

Please do watch the videos in this playlist for more tips for beginners. Basic baking tools, baking tins, measuring flour, using yeast, how to use eggs, separating eggs, simple techniques, recipes and more!