Monday, May 28, 2012

Pioneer Woman's Potato Parcels / Potato Bundles (Video Recipe)

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 OK!  I will give up on saying something very nice, just look sheepish and admit that I am one of those people who can't resist trying taters when it comes to appetizers /side dishes. Can't help it as potatoes are so versatile and I don't normally need to rush out to buy them. This month for Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned Cyndi's blog . I almost baked her coconut tart and chocolate cobbler but then I saw these delicious and easy Potato Bundles, Pioneer Woman's recipe. Yes!! Too simple for words and an easy guess, these are cubes of par-boiled potato tossed in herbs and seasoning, butter and cream ( yet another indulgent recipe from Ree Drummond!), wrapped in pieces of aluminum foil and baked in the oven till tender. Served steaming hot right in the foil, makes for an interesting appetizer / snack as well. See it as a nice fuss free accompaniment to your simple week-day meal or a delicious after school treat for your kids or for entertaining. These taste great warm and good even cold. So this could go in the school snack-box as well!

 Me and kids went on a short trip to our home-town recently and I baked these potatoes on a whim late in the evening. For those travel hunger pangs which are triggered by the sight of food stalls on the platforms at the railway station, not to mention the sight of co-passengers who eat their meal in the train. Predictably, my just-fed kids were 'starving' the moment the train started to move. Since I did not want to delay their sleep time, I had to give them the snack. How I would have loved to wait for folk to open their tall dabbas filled with all sorts of delicacies before I opened my little snack. Kind of revenge you see - just to see if their noses twitch at the aroma of oregano, garlic, potatoes and butter.  In case you are interested to know, I had no co-passengers with dabbas that day :(. But my kids enjoyed the potatoes, who wouldn't unless its someone who hates potatoes?

Here is the very simple recipe, play around with the herbs, fresh or dried, use your choice of spices to make variations. You can find Cyndi's recipe here and Ree's recipe here  I have generally adapted the recipe, so the quantities Ree uses may be different. I guess these will taste good anyway as long as the potatoes are well cooked with enough seasoning and you do not skimp too much on the butter, so feel free to alter the quantities of the ingredients. A bit too much cream and longer baking time may make the potatoes a bit too soft, but they will certainly taste good! The quantities below worked well for me and I shall be using the same again. I have omitted the onion, par-boiled the potatoes briefly and then carried on with the rest of the procedure.

Ingredients: to make 4 modest servings
Potatoes - 300 grams, peeled and cubed ( about 2 cm cubes)
Grated fresh garlic - 1/2 teaspoon
Fresh cream - 2 tablespoons ( I used Amul)
Butter, softened - 2 tablespoons
Oregano seasoning or any dried herbs - 3/4 teaspoon
(If using fresh herbs you will need more)
Chilli flakes  and OR freshly ground pepper - to taste
Salt - to taste

Pre-heat oven to 190 degrees C / 375 degrees F. Boil the potatoes for about 3-4 minutes on high heat. Your potatoes will be fork tender, but not cooked. Drain. Cool. In a large bowl, mix together the cream, butter, garlic and the seasoning. Mix in the potatoes ensuring they are evenly coated with the cream-butter mixture. Cut pieces of aluminum foil. Place the potatoes in a single layer in the middle of the foil pieces, wrap very well (with an overlap of foil on the top), secure the ends well to make parcels. Bake for 45 minutes or till very tender. Serve in the foil. Open after about 5 minutes as there will be steam inside.

The potatoes were tender, light golden at the bottom and very tasty! Thanks to Ree Drummond and to Cyndi, this will be a recipe I shall be making again and again!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chocolate Truffles - From The Truffle Lady!

                                     Forget love - I would rather fall in chocolate!

Chocolatier, author and pastry chef  Alice Medrich is today world famous. Do you know she actually began her career with a hand-written recipe for cocoa dusted truffles given to her by her landlady in Paris, Madame Lestelle? She says, it was pure intense bittersweet pleasure which left her momentarily speechless.  Back in Berkeley, CA, USA, she introduced truffles, even as she continued her post graduate studies. She made French cakes and truffles at home and sold them at Pig-by-the-Tail Charcuterie. When her business grew too big for her home kitchen, she went on to open her own chocolate dessert shop, Cocolat., which eventually became a chain of 10 stores! Alice is credited with introducing truffles to America, creating a sensation, delighting her customers with the tiny chocolate dessert.

The original Cocolat recipe contains raw egg, but here is Alice's recipe for her favorite truffles. The egg here is heated adequately to prevent any risks associated with raw eggs. Just what I love - the richness eggs bring, but perfectly safe, not to mention delicious! I have tried the egg less ganache-like versions with chocolate and cream a few times, but I must admit, I found these truffles a fantastic and luxurious way of enjoying some bittersweet pleasure!

Do you know truffles are made mis-shaped to simulate real truffle fungus? The cocoa powder the truffles are rolled in are to simulate the dirt in which real truffles grow in. ( Not the most appealing of comparisons I would say!). However, truffles are also rolled in nuts, coconut or tempered chocolate. The flavoring used could be vanilla, espresso, herbs, spices... limited only to your imagination.

The recipe is fairly simple and quick, but an instant read thermometer is necessary equipment. A little bit of careful handling and your truffle mixture will be chilling in your fridge before you know!  I have made half the recipe given below.

Ingredients:( To get about 30 bite sized truffles)

Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped - 225 grams / 8 oz/ (read note)
Unsalted butter - 6 tablespoons / 3/4 stick / 84 grams aprox
Egg yolk, at room temperature - 1 / 18 grams
Boiling water - 1/4 cup
Pure vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon

Cocoa for dusting - 1/3 cup, preferably Dutch process
A note about the chocolate : You could use any domestic bittersweet or semisweet chocolate that does not have a percentage on the label (Thankfully!) or any brand marked 50-62%. If using chocolate marked 64-66%, use 6 0z chocolate. If using chocolate marked 70% , use 5 1/3 oz, dissolve 2 teaspoons sugar in the hot water before adding it.

: Mise en place. Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl (if using a microwave to melt the chocolate). Place the egg yolk in a small heat-proof cup ( I used a tallish steel tumbler). Make sure the water level comes halfway to the cup you would be placing in the skillet. At the same time, the cup should not be low enough for any hot water in the skillet to get in accidentally. Measure 1/4 cup of water and keep it ready on the stove to boil when needed. Do not try to add directly (as you measure at the same time) to the yolk as stopping stirring in between caused the egg to curdle when I made this the first time. Ouch!). Have a fine strainer suspended over a clean bowl. ( You will be refrigerating the truffle mixture in this bowl). Have a pair of tongs ready to hold the cup in place as you whisk. A fork to stir the egg, a spatula. Of course, your instant read thermometer.

Place the skillet of water on the stove, bring it to a gentle simmer, leave it on the lowest heat. Melt the chocolate and butter till smooth in the microwave or in the skillet of simmering water. Set aside. Slowly and gradually, stirring constantly, add the measured boiling water to the egg yolk in the cup. Set the cup in the skillet, stir constantly with the fork till the mixture thickens slightly  to the consistency of light cream. About a minute. Your instant read thermometer should register between 160 F and 165 F. Remove from the heat immediately and scrape the yolk over the chocolate.( which will be almost room temperature by now). Add the vanilla extract. Stir gently, without whisking or beating, just until the egg is completely incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Pour through the strainer. Cover with cling film and refrigerate until firm - 2 hours or more.

To form the truffles, take a melon scooper or spoon, dip in hot water, wipe dry and scrape across the mixture or scoop out the mixture and form small 1'' balls. ( My mixture was not very hard, so scooping was fine, not sure if it had to chill more. If the mixture is very hard, keep it out room temperature till it softens a little) They must not be perfectly round. Take the cocoa in a large shallow bowl, drop the shaped truffles in them and shake to coat the truffles. Store the truffles tightly refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 3 months.

 Again, am not sure if the truffles I made were as firm as they are meant to be, but they sure were yumm and had a very nice mouth feel, almost disappearing quickly on the tongue! I am going to be making more of these and try more variations.

If chocolate is your pleasure, you must make these truffles!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Saffron Mango Kulfi - With Saffron Extract ( A Product Review)

Mangoes are perhaps the most loved and awaited fruit, at least in this country. And much before they start appearing, we are ready with a list of desserts to be tried during the season. From the very common but beloved aamras and puris to exotic, layered, set desserts, from the luxurious mango mascarpone cakes to the diet friendly froyos we want to try them all. Oh, why did this so very delicious fruit have to be seasonal? Perhaps, nature's way of helping us keep our (over)weight in check? :) The surprise but very welcome showers here are a great relief from the heat, but when did rains ever take the pleasure out of enjoying  ice creams and cold desserts?

Saffron is worth its weight in gold, pretty much a rich man's pantry ingredient, this luxury spice has been traditionally used in Indian cuisine since ages . Probably one of the few spices sold in packs of as less as a gram, saffron gives a wonderful aroma and rich color to food. I would have loved to use more of this and more often if not for the prohibitive price. Come to think of it, good quality saffron is not very commonly available either. So when Maitreyee Ghosh of VAV Sciences  sent me an email asking if I would like to try their saffron extract (something really new to me), could I really refuse?

As per the information provided on the VAV site, saffron extract is food grade extract of saffron where it is treated to enhance the natural flavor. You would need less of this liquid extract as compared to dry saffron strands to impart the same amount of flavor, hence making it relatively economical. Saffron extract can be stored for up to 24 months without loss of flavor. As this flavoring is in liquid form, its easier to measure as compared to saffron strands. As the saffron is in liquid form you could use it directly without having to soak in any liquid. I have tried using it in a cake too and it gave a lovely flavor, I would have loved to post a cake here and would have done so if I were not unhappy with the texture.

Kulfi is an all time favorite, being the easiest, fuss free and quickest in the ice-cream category. With the mangoes in season and with the saffron extract waiting to be used, it had to be Saffron Mango kulfi of course! With a half used tin of condensed milk and a bit of fresh cream to be quickly finished, this recipe seemed to be the one to try! The kulfi turned out to be creamy and dense and delicious of course, making this a recipe to be tried again.

Recipe adapted from Tarla Dalal . I have used fresh cream in place of milk powder and reduced the sugar. In the original recipe, all ingredients (except the mango pulp) are combined and simmered for 10 minutes, then the pulp is whisked in, cooled. I have simmered and reduced the mixture, then carried on with the recipe.

Ingredients ( to make about 6 kulfis)

Milk - 500 ml / 2 cups plus 4 teaspoons to be precise!
Fresh cream - 1/4 cup ( I have used 25%, Amul)
Sweetened condensed milk - 1/2 cup / 120 ml
Unsweetened thick mango pulp - 1 cup ( I used fresh)
Powdered sugar - 2 to 4 tablespoons ( vary to taste and sweetness of mangoes)
Saffron extract - scant 1/2 teaspoon ( please read note)
Toasted sliced almonds - 1/4 cup (optional)

Procedure: Take the milk in a heavy bottomed pan and boil on low heat till it is reduced to 1 1/2 cups. (Approximately 15-20 minutes, depending on the heat given). Whisk in the condensed milk and cream. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Take off the heat. Cool completely. Whisk in the saffron extract and the mango pulp.  Taste and add powdered sugar if needed, remember  kulfi will taste slightly less sweeter when frozen. Whisk till it is homogenous. I whizzed it in the mixer for half a minute just to make sure the pulp is mixed well. Stir in the nuts if using. Pour into moulds and freeze till set and firm. Mine took about 5 hours.

To serve, dip a kitchen towel in hot water and wipe the mould with it for a few seconds. Invert and tap it sharply on the plate. Let stand for about 5 minutes if you like your kulfi slightly creamy when you dig in!

Please note: Hubby felt that the saffron flavor was a wee bit more, probably because of this, the mango flavor was relatively less. I will add less of saffron next time. Make sure you use good quality ripe mangoes for maximum flavor. Use cardamom and / or saffron for flavoring or omit the saffron and cardamom altogether. You could also add 2-3 tablespoons of unsweetened khoya/mawa when you simmer the milk mixture if you wish.

For more details on the saffron extract please get in touch with Maitreyee Ghosh at logistics at vav dot in

Thursday, May 10, 2012

How To Tell At A Glance If My Bread Dough Has Doubled / How Do I know if My Dough Has Risen Enough

How To Tell At A Glance If My Bread Dough Has Doubled / How Do I know if My Dough Has Risen Enough. Watch my video!

Making your own dough rising bucket - big deal, hardly the greatest thing since the wheel! But I 'made' my dough bucket and thought its a very nice, if not really necessary thing to have. If you are new to baking yeast breads, yeast dough needs to be proofed till it has doubled, almost doubled etc. Since I am not a veteran bread baker (if you are one, please don't laugh!), what I normally do is place the dough in a container, stick a scale inside near the wall of the container, read the level. Then mark the level up to where it has to rise in order to double, proof till it reaches the mark. Works fine for me.

But when I saw dough rising buckets on some bakeware sites, I wishfully thought it would be really nice to have one. Then, made my own, one of those uber simple things which make you wonder why you did not do this before. Nothing very ingenious, but again, if you bake yeast breads, here is a nice, inexpensive but useful thing to have. Transparent food grade containers with lids, a permanent water-proof marker which works on plastic surfaces and a scale is all you need. And uh, maybe broad transparent adhesive tape to cover what you write, just in case the permanent marker turns out to be a temporary one.

So we first go to the nearby departmental store, buy a couple of suitable boxes. Maybe 2-3 sizes, for varying amounts of dough. I got 2. Naw, am lying, I got 3. I was scared I would probably draw a slanting line on the box and I would not be able to erase the 'permanent' mark. But my fears were completely unfounded. Nope, I did not draw a perfect straight line! I was able to easily erase the slanting line :(. So much for the permanent marker I got! Alright, slow me got another marker which read as water-proof, suitable for plastic, glass metal blah blah. The small ones for 1 1/2 cups of flour dough kind and a bigger one for more. Need enough space for dough to rise till double and still have more space left.

So wash and dry the containers. In the worst case and the poorest marker, we can use the markings at least once when we take pictures. And re-write with a better marker later! And cover with tape. Just to be sure.

I like to read the dough level in centimeters, so have marked accordingly, 1/2 a centimeter and 1 centimeter readings. Suit yourself. A straight line first.  My Math teacher will be proud of me (hopefully) - I start marking from where the scale reads 0 centimeters, then go on till the rim of the container. Allow it to dry, resist from testing the quality of the marker. Pictures first. Hardly a life-threatening situation, but take the risk later.

In goes my dough, press down gently to make it flat. Reads 4 cm. Either mark level (unbelievably, people like me actually tend to forget simple single digit numbers like 4!) with colored insulated tape kind of thing or make a note somewhere (avoid scribbling on your palm), preferably in a nice place like your baking book or recipe print-out.  And yeah, cover the lid. Keep in a warm place.

Now, when my dough reaches 8, yeah, 4+ 4 its time to put it in the pan! You could actually laze on the couch and ask your kids to tell you the reading. For all the holiday stress, this this the least they can do for you ;-). Its such a pleasure to not be in doubt whether the dough has doubled!

Please note : Let the dough proof covered with the lid closed slightly ajar, keep the bucket in a warm spot or in the refrigerator as specified in the recipe. Note down the time your dough takes to double. After you shape the bread, your dough will take approximately the same time to double again, sometimes a bit earlier too. If you press your fingertip into the dough and the indentation remains, you know it has doubled. Always follow recipe instructions. 

Now that I have shared my hi-tech bucket idea with you, could you please tell me fool-proof ways or things to permanently mark plastic with? Indelible ink? May be next time I go to cast my vote, I should bribe someone there to give me just 10 ml of that ink? How about black nail polish? Tell me!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Granola Bars (Eggless) - With Video

Sweet and nutty being just our kind of thing, granola  is always a welcome snack. The sweeter version of granola, granola bars can only be more welcome as a delicious, on-the-go snack .But of course, I must be vain and tell you that I don't care much for the ready sugar-loaded 'health' bars with a dis-proportionate amount of rice krispies, almost no nuts, sometimes slathered with milk chocolate.

There are imported brands which are good but burn a hole in the pocket? Honestly, I haven't cared enough to search or splurge on these. Like a lot of us, I would rather make my own. Even if just the nuts burn a small hole in my pocket. We love nuts, so please don't even tell me you have a recipe for granola bars without nuts, I would not enjoy that as much. But I do wish baking 16 bars of nutritious bars don't feel like  luxury! Oh yes! just when you thought you have heard all my pet-peeves - power cuts, small ovens, elusive baking ingredients and impish kids, I am now cribbing about how expensive baking nut-loaded goodies I find. Specially when the goodies are easy to bake and don't last very long!

 I have baked these chewy granola bars from Deeba's PAB a couple of times, once with less nuts, more of oats. Once by mistake added double the amount of oatmeal specified in the recipe. And once almost the same recipe proportions. And each time, the texture was different, but they were always tasty! The bars with more of oatmeal gave me slightly crunchy bars, the bars with the original amount of oatmeal were soft and chewy, think the texture of coconut fudge ( traditionally made on the stove-top).

Lending itself to a lot of variations, these bars are great to play around with. I have used more of nuts, less of dried fruit (chopped dates) and some unsweetened coconut flakes. I prefer less of dried fruit as I wanted the bars just about sweet without tweaking the amount of other sweeteners. I had once used raisins in my granola and granola bars, but did not like the way they tasted after they were baked.  I shall be trying the bars with chocolate chips on popular demand (from  the kids of course!). But I shall then leave out any dried fruit to maintain the same level of sweetness.

Chewy Granola Bars, adapted from PAB , recipe from SK original recipe from KAF .Whew, but three of my fav sites in one post!

I have halved the original recipe as I wanted thinner bars, used less of dried fruit. The rest of the recipe proportions are the same as Deeba's, except for the omission of peanut butter. The texture and taste again being a matter of personal taste and preference, you may need to experiment a bit to find out what you like best.


Oats ( I have used Quaker quick cooking oats, read note) - (1/2 + 1/3 cup)  70 grams
Ground oats - 15 grams (aprox 2 tablespoons)
Chopped nuts - 90 grams
Chopped dates - 50 grams
Unsweetened coconut flakes - 40 grams / 1/2 cup
Powdered sugar -  50 grams
Honey - 2 tablespoons
Corn syrup - 1 tablespoon (or use 1 tbsp more honey, skip the corn syrup)
Vegetable oil - 3 tablespoons
Vanilla extract - 1/2 teaspoon
Water - 1/2 tablespoon

Procedure: Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and line a 8'' square tin with baking parchment leaving an overhang. Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Whisk together all the wet ingredients in another. (Measure the oil first, then honey and corn syrup for ease) Combine the two, mix with a spatula. The mixture may appear to be dry when you begin to mix, but will gradually come together. It will be wet but still crumbly (If you use peanut butter, it may be less crumbly).

Transfer the mixture to the baking tin, move the mixture to cover the pan, press down firmly with the spatula. Bake for about 20 minutes, till the edges turn golden brown and the top slightly golden. The center and a bit of area around the center will feel soft and you may think its undercooked, but the bars will set as they cool. If using PB, and if using butter in place in place of oil the baking time could be more. Goes without saying, if doubling the recipe and baking in an 8'' square pan, your baking time will be more (30-35 mins) and the bars thicker.

Cool the bars in the pan on a rack for about 5 minutes. Cut the bars when they are still warm as they will be difficult to cut when they cool, set and harden slightly. Use a dough scraper to help cut easily. Cool the bars completely on the rack, store. You could store them wrapped individually or in a single layer in a box. If storing in layers, use parchment in between. The bars are best stored in the fridge in humid weather, these freeze very well.

My notes:
Nuts: I have used different combinations of cashew, pistachios, walnuts and almonds (I just put them all in a a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin) sunflower seeds, melon seeds. More suggestions as given in the original recipe are chopped dried apricots, chopped pecans, sunflower seeds, walnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries or apples, or even chocolate chips.
Oats: I like to put the oats in a colander and shake off the almost floury part and then weigh/measure.

Corn syrup - I have used light corn syrup, you could try getting this at Nilgiris, the Brigade Road outlet had this. Or try substituting with liquid glucose (available at GFA) . The recipe on the KAF site uses sticky bun sugar, the suggested close substitute is a mixture of sugar, corn syrup and melted butter, Deeba has changed the recipe accordingly.

Thanks Deeba for this recipe, my oats-disliking daughter loves these bars, son keeps hinting that he can eat something  'healthy, quick and delicious' before he goes to plays cricket! My mother loved these as they remind her of Antina Unde (Gaund Ke Laddoo) .. may be the combination of coconut, nuts and dates at work?