10 Apr 2014

Chelsea Market, NYC

Some days, I just like to head out by myself, hit a random Google search to see what the city has to offer in terms of food and discover new things. A few weekends ago I ended up at Chelsea Market, a nondescript building in downtown Manhattan that you wouldn't dream had so many foodie joints tucked inside.

Anthropologie, a fancy-ish shop sold so much quirky cutlery! Anyone in for tomato scented jam, beautiful cookbooks and displays you absolutely drool over?

My next stop was Eleni's where I was utterly spoilt for choice with the selection of creatively decorated cupcakes, paint it yourself and conversation cookies and cake n candy houses!

I went into the Fat Witch because....who wouldn't?? Look at their logo and name! I sampled some delicious butterscotch brownies here.

Amy's Bread was definitely the best find of the day! Their semolina and fennel bread is out of this world.

I picked up a Cheddar and Fig Jam panini from Lucy's Whey and ate it by the window at a communal table.

There was Buono Italia, an Italian supermarket with at least 30 different kinds of pastas.

I stood by and observed a man making doughnuts.

I tried the famous creamy tomato soup at Sarabeth's.

I bought the funniest card at a bookstore.

What are your favorite food joints in New York City?

28 Feb 2014

A Beginner’s Guide to Setting up a Kitchen (in New York!!)

Setting up home…in New York! Wow – I cannot help adding the “in New York” bit just about everywhere. I was never a big fan of living in the States and when coming to New York was finalized, I earned a whole lot of flak from my sister and cousins about my blasé attitude. NOW though…quite a different story.

I got my first taste of New York when I got out of the subway straight from the airport. It started snowing that very moment - and I fell in love. I find that there is something so magical about viewing a city through swirling snow; it feels straight out of a storybook.  I now live with my husband in an apartment in Manhattan and as my mother-in-law keeps saying, it is very “Friends“like. I quite feel like Monica Gellar, being the boss of my own kitchen!

Though I have lived away from home in the past, I was never in a situation where I had to look after a house or be responsible for preparing my own meals. So, when I arrived from India to an apartment whose kitchen needed setting up from scratch, I was really intimidated. The Kitchen came with a four burner stove, an oven and a fridge but not much else. It took me a few weeks of using my kitchen to understand what exactly I was going to need. I wanted to be frugal in buying kitchenware as we are going to be here for just a year and I did not want to accumulate a whole lot of things. I did not find Google to be of much service when it came to starting up an Indian vegetarian kitchen (what?!) and was really confused for a while. Hence, I decided to put together this post of simple multipurpose kitchen  tools to help out those 20 something people out there who are just establishing their first homes. 

Kitchen Essentials (in no particular order)
1.       Pressure Cooker – this I bought in India and brought here. It is a long term investment for those who cook Indian food – the Royal Bengal tiger of the kitchen. It’s perfect for boiling vegetables, making rice and dal, cooking any kind of beans, and cooking meat.
2.       Karahi – this also, I bought in India. It is like a wok but Indian style made of steel and with steeper sides. I use it to cook all kinds of sabzis or vegetables and also for frying.
3.       Tava – a flat griddle used to make roti or flatbreads, and omelets or pancakes.
4.       Small saucepan – I use this to make tea, boil milk, melt butter or heat soup. It has two spouts which makes it easier to pour liquids.
5.       Medium and large saucepans – I use these for everything!  Cooking, steaming and making soups and sauces. Buy ones with  tight fitting lids.
6.        Frying pan – for stir fries or  sautéing
7.        Food processor – I purchased a simple one. Though you need to make sure that you buy one that has a normal big as well as a small cup. I was about to buy a processor that had only a 48 ounce / 6 cup jar but soon enough realized that I would need a small jar as well as I was going to be cooking only for 2 people. The small jar chops small amounts of vegetables, and purees and minces them perfectly. I use the large jar to make shakes or when I need to cook in large quantities.
8.       Jhariya – this is a round steel spatula with holes and again something that I got from India. I use this for frying as it drains out the oil well.
9.       Rolling pin – from India as well. I use this for rolling out chapatis or flatbreads. Someday when I am in the mood to bake, I will roll out some pie dough.
10.   Chimta – or quite simply, tongs. This is made of steel and flat rather than curved at the ends. I use this to turn over chapatis on the gas and griddle.
11.   Pot holder – for utensils, when they become really hot or when they have no handles
12.   Turning Spatula - can be used to flip, turn and stir
13.   A good knife – I do not think I need to elaborate on this
14.   Peeler
15.   Chopping board
16.   Pair of scissors – for when you do not manage to tear that packet with your hands. Also useful for cutting herbs and leaves.
17.   Oven mittens
18.   Oven safe dish (es) – two (one medium and one large) should be enough.
19.   Grater – a box grater is so much handier though tougher to clean
20.   Can opener
21.   Colander – I bought a metal one as it can go on the stove to steam vegetables. It can be used to drain rice, pasta, and boiled vegetables.
22.   Strainer – mainly for tea
23.   Whisk
24.   Measuring cups and spoons
25.   Microplane zester – a pure indulgence
26.   Cutlery – a basic set of knives, forks and spoons.
27.   Plates, glasses and bowls
28.   A Mug – when you want tea/ coffee/ hot chocolate. Hot drinks in a glass just feels wrong.
29.   Serving bowls and spoons- however I do not find this necessary unless you have guests over. We generally serve ourselves straight from the pan as it means less cleaning up.
30.   Storage containers (plastic, steel, stone, ceramic or whatever you like) – I recommend you buy these in a variety of sizes
31.   Zip lock bags – multipurpose! I use these to carry lunch and store things in the freezer.
32.   Dishwashing liquid, and sponges
33.   Kitchen paper towels
34.   Dustbin and trash bags – remember to separate the garbage and the plastic!

*A list of pantry essentials coming up. 

23 May 2013

Chocolate Fondant Cupcakes

I make so many chocolate cakes and cupcakes for personal orders that I rarely end up cooking with it for my blog. Somehow I seem to try out only fruity flavors with lemon being my favourite. This time however, my family insisted that I find a “good recipe for chocolate from your numerous cookbooks” and feed them an “old-fashioned chocolate cake.” 

I usually make these Cocoa Fudge Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting and they really satisfy all my sweet tooth cravings. But, since they are really heavy (all that frosting!!), I tried out the Chocolate Fondant Cupcakes from my go-to cupcake recipe book – The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days. 
The cupcakes have just the right amount of sweetness and are so light. The frosting is creamy and almost dainty, the way it simply floats and melts in your mouth. I was greedy and ate about four of them at one go – I just did not realize that I had eaten so many!

The Hummingbird recipes are perfect – the cupcakes always turn out to be light and fresh like the Dulce de Leche ones I made for my blog’s anniversary. I am always squeamish about adding so much milk to the bowl as it makes the batter runny and thin but I think this is the secret behind the lightness of the cupcakes. I also make half the amount of frosting mentioned in the recipe as I find that the quantity is way above what I usually require.

Using my precious vanilla sugar and pure vanilla extract also made these cupcakes super special (learn how to make this through this blog)!

Chocolate Fondant Cupcakes
Cake Days (USA / UK / India)
Makes 12 – 16 cupcakes

For the Sponge
80 gms unsalted butter (I used salted butter)
280 gms caster sugar (I used ground vanilla sugar)
200 gms plain flour
40 gms cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt (I skipped this)
1 tbsp baking powder
2 large eggs
240 ml whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Filling and Frosting (I halved this quantity)
400 gms dark chocolate finely chopped
400 ml double cream

1.       Preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F) and line a muffin tin with muffin cases.
2.       Using a hand held electric whisk, mix together the butter, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. Mix until the ingredients are sandy in consistency and no large lumps of butter remain. I find it useful to cut up the pieces of butter before mixing.
3.       Place the eggs in a jug, then pour in the milk and vanilla extract and mix together by hand. With the whisk on low speed, pour ¾ of the milk and eggs into the dry ingredients. When all the liquid has been incorporated, add the remaining milk mixture and mix again, now on a medium speed, until you have a smooth and even batter.
4.       Spoon the batter into the paper cases, filling them 2/3 full. Place them in the oven and bake for 18 – 20 minutes or well risen and springy to touch. With the Hummingbird cupcakes, I have found that the springiness in the cupcakes is a better indicator of the cakes being baked than a skewer coming out clean. In this case, the skewer will always have some crumbs in it, no matter how long you bake.  Leave to cool.
5.       Place the finely chopped chocolate in a bowl. Pour the cream into a saucepan and heat just to the boiling point. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, give it a stir and then leave until all the chocolate has been melted. Stir again until smooth and put aside to cool.
6.       Place the cooled cupcakes on a board and hollow out the centre of each cake using a sharp knife. Fill this hollow with the chocolate cream. Then top each cupcake with some of the cream and swirl it. 

22 Dec 2012

Candied Orange Peels

Hello, December.
‘Tis the season to be merry, to sing carols and eat copious amounts of candy. It’s the season when friends from all over world come home and the season when a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate can become your best friend. If I could, I would hug December. Its my favorite time of the year.

Christmas time calls for candy and this time I made some candied orange peels. I can imagine filling stockings with it, it is so Christmassy.

1.       First, cut 5 oranges into 4 segments each and carefully turn the pulp out.
2.       Next, cut each segment into 4 -5 strips depending on how large the segments are. Don’t worry about the pith – there will be no bitterness left after blanching the peel.

1.       Then, drop the peel into a pot of boiling water and blanch it for 2 minutes. Drain the water and rinse the peel with cold water. Repeat this process twice more.
2.       Boil 4 cups of water along with 2 cups of sugar and 1/4th cup lemon juice.
3.       Return the peel to the pot and simmer. Stir every now and then so that the peel doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook the peel for 1 ½ hours until soft and translucent.
4.       Once cooked, lay out the strips of peel on a cooling rack and leave them overnight. It will be very sticky.

1.       The next day, toss the peels in some castor sugar until well coated.

Tip: instead of coating the peels in castor sugar, you can melt some chocolate and coat the cooked peels in it to make orangettes.

Recipe from Baking: From my home to yours.

11 Nov 2012

Chocolate and Pear Cake

Sunday has become my bake-a-cake day. The planning for the Sunday cake starts a few days before when I scan my cookbooks and favorite blogs for a recipe that I might want to try out. Early on Sunday morning, my dad and I go to the market to shop for eggs, butter and whatever fruit I want to use in the cake that day. For some reason, some kind of fruit cake has become traditional on Sundays – I would never make a plain chocolate cake for example. Then, after breakfast, I get down to baking and by lunch time the cake is made. I photograph it when everyone is having a quick snooze in the afternoon and finally, by tea time we all sit down for a scrumptious feast.

The reason this cake appealed to me was because of all the brown butter that the recipe calls for. It was the first time I had to use this technique and was really surprised at the wonderful nutty smell that the brown butter gives off. Be careful with it – the butter foams a lot and you have to be careful to take it off the stove as soon as the butter has turned brown. It doesn’t become brown for a while and then quite suddenly a point is reached when the butter at the bottom of the saucepan starts scorching and all of it turns brown.
The eggs are whipped beyond fluffy. In fact you need a hand held mixer for this at the very least and beat it for at least 9 minutes until it becomes thick, increases in volume and becomes custard like.

The cake is so delicious – soft and airy, moist and light. You whip up the eggs and sugar, brown the butter, mix in the flour and pour it into the pan. Then you scatter the pears and chocolate pieces. I couldn’t wait for it to finish baking. I wanted the batter to enfold the fruit and chocolate and have it spread evenly throughout the cake and I wonder why it all sank to the bottom. It was fruity and delicate still, and as you can guess, didn’t last very long.

Chocolate and Pear Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice
3/4 cup chocolate chunks

1.    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with breadcrumbs (I used flour), set aside.
2.    Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.
3.    Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume)
4.    Brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
5.    Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
6.    Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.
7.    Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean.
8.    Serve it with slightly whipped cream or just by itself.

30 Oct 2012

Apple Crumble Bars

I found another way to use my favourite flavors! This time apples and dried fruits combine to make an apple crumble bar, very similar in flavor to the apple pear cranberry crisp I had made last year. I found the recipe in Cake Days (the one I made the salted caramel cupcakes from). This book is magical – even the colour of the cover (pink and white) transports me to the land of gorgeous cakes and cupcakes of different shapes and sizes with lip smacking buttercream and chocolate frosting. The recipes are absolutely fool proof, provided one reads their basic instructions at the back as well.  I had read somewhere that there are no bad cooks, only bad recipes and this book caters to that belief. The recipes are easy, not at all intimidating and you couldn’t fail if you tried!

 This apple crumble bar has been made keeping halloween in mind. The top and bottom layers are the bar which is absolutely crumbly and full of buttery goodness and there is a soft layer of cooked apples and plump moist dried cherries, cranberries and raisins in between.  The smell of cooked apples, cinnamon and nutmeg warmed up the house and brought the feel of autumn along.

The bar is made by combining all the ingredients for the crumble in one bowl and tossing together the fruits and spices in another bowl and then simply assembling the two.

Apple Crumble Bar
From Cake Days (USA / UK / India)
Makes 12 bars

200 gms flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
200 gms unsalted butter, softened (I used salted and skipped the salt)
250 gms light brown sugar
120 gms rolled oats
300 gms apples
4 tbsp cornflour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
175 gms mixed dried fruits like cherries, cranberries, raisins

1.       preheat the oven to 170 C (325 F) and line the tray with baking parchment.
2.       Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl, add the butter and rub together until the consistency of breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar and the rolled oats. After mixing, press half the mixture into the prepared tray, and set aside.
3.       Peel and core the apples, then cut into slices and mix together with cornflour and ground spices. Place the spice-coated apple slices in lines on top of the oat mixture in the base of the tray, the sprinkle over the dried fruits. Spoon the remaining mix over the apples and dried fruits and press down gently.
4.       Place in the oven and bake for 30 – 40 mins or until the mixture is golden brown. Allow to cool completely in the baking tray before cutting into slices to serve.