Monday, 31 December 2012

The cake is in the oven...

Rich Fruit Cake

Looking at Christmas from the outside as a child, I always wanted to have a tree and make a plum cake! No, this is not a Dickensian story. We were far from that pathos, au contraire, perhaps a shade overfed and overindulged! These two festive trappings were just too symbolic of the good times and the season of happiness.

The first wish was lived albeit vicariously, by starting the tradition of decorating a tree when the girls were young. The second wish had to wait till this year, my 50th, to be fulfilled!

I was looking for a foolproof failsafe recipe, when Umita Venkatraman brought this Delia Smith recipe to my attention.  Having baked this cake for years, Umita patiently handheld me throughout the stages of wonderment, curiosity, panic and the long wait while it baked!

Thank you Umita!

And I had enthusiastic helpers who wanted to make me happy!  My daughters know very well how I love this cake, and so my younger one, who detests raisins and most dry fruit and the aromas of spices, helped me shop for all “her enemies” as she calls them. My eldest, a foodie after me and a master cake maker herself, patiently weighed ingredients and creamed the butter and added the eggs in an excruciatingly slow drip, while I cut out the various papers for the packaging and read the recipe a hundred times.

The three of us working in the kitchen and then impatiently lying in wait of the cake coming out of the oven after 4 ½ hours on a lazy summer day in Melbourne, was one of the highlight of our holidays!

I think for the first time I ever stuck so closely to a recipe, making just four changes- one in substituting some of the currants with dates, then adding golden syrup instead of the black treacle and 6 tablespoons of brandy to the fruit instead of the 3 tablespoon recommended by Delia Smith. Finally, I took a chance and soaked the fruit for four days instead of just overnight.

The result was stunning! Easily the best Chrissy Cake I have ever eaten!

Rich Fruit Cake

This makes an 8 inch round cake
Currants - 1 lb (450 g) (I used only 250g and added 200 g of chopped pitted dates)
Sultanas - 6 oz (175 g)
Raisins - 6 oz (175 g)
Glacé cherries, rinsed and finely chopped - 2 oz (50 g)
Mixed peel, finely chopped - 2 oz (50 g)
Brandy - 3 tablespoons ( I used 6 tablespoons)
Plain flour - 8 oz (225 g)
Salt - ½ level teaspoon
Freshly grated nutmeg - ¼ level teaspoon
Mixed spice - ½ level teaspoon ( used a mixture of cloves and cinnamon)
Almonds, chopped (the skins can be left on) - 2 oz (50 g)
Soft brown sugar - 8 oz (225 g)
Black treacle - 1 level dessertspoon (I used golden syrup)
Unsalted butter - 8 oz (225 g)
Eggs - 4 large
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Grated rind of 1 orange
Approximate Baking Times 4½-4¾ hours

Grease the tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1, 275 F (140 C).

The night before you make the cake, place all the dried fruits and peel in a bowl and mix in the brandy. Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave to soak for at least 12 hours. ( I soaked the fruit and peel for 4 days )

Sieve the flour, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl, and in a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture’s light and fluffy (this, in fact, is the most important part of the cake, so don’t cut any corners). Next, beat up the eggs and – a tablespoon at a time – add them to the creamed mixture, beating thoroughly after each addition. If it looks as if it might start to curdle, you can prevent this happening by adding a little of the flour.

When all the egg has been added, fold in the flour and spices (fold, don’t beat). Now stir in the fruit and peel that has been soaking, the nuts, the treacle and the grated lemon and orange rinds. 

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, and spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon. (If you are not going to ice the cake, at this stage you can arrange some whole blanched almonds over the surface – but do it lightly, or else they disappear for ever into the cake!) 

Tie a band of brown paper around the outside of the tin, and cover the top of the cake with a double square of greaseproof paper (with a hole in the middle approximately the size of a 50p). Bake the cake on the lower shelf of the oven, look at the table above for baking times, and don’t open the door to peek at it until at least 4 hours (3 hours if making the 6 in (15 cm) round cake) have passed. 

When the cake is cold, wrap it well in double greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin. I like to ‘feed’ it at odd intervals with brandy during the storage time. To do this, strip off the lining papers, make a few extra holes in the top with a thin darning needle and pour a few teaspoons of brandy in to soak into the cake. Repeat this at intervals for a week or two.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

My own North Star!

Roce Cookies

“See Mamma, I got a gold star for my cursive writing!”

“ Aai! I got the ‘star of the week’ award and had tea with the principal!”

A little plump hand is proudly proffered for inspection, “ Miss D stamped me ‘star student’!

My little stars came home with all kinds of stellar achievements throughout their school and college life. Whether it was for show-and-tell, elocution, yodeling or academics, each one was a proud moment- more for me than for them!

Now it is their turn to pat my back in indulgence, when my blog and posts gets so many cheering comments and affectionate appreciation.

When I started posting recipes and photos in the foodie groups on Facebook at the beginning of this year, I couldn’t have imagined how my curiosity would turn into a deep interest and further into an almost daily ritual that I follow religiously and enjoy immensely.

I have rummaged through memory and uncovered dishes from my childhood, showcased the usual fare at home, innovated and extrapolated and substituted- and learnt so many dishes and tips and gained knowledge about food from my fellows here.  

The food is almost incidental, for I have reveled in the plating, that last minute rush of creative ideas of presentation- totally unpremeditated, the photography sessions mostly with an iPhone 4s, and the posts of narratives that seem to spontaneously flow from memory or new stimuli!

Once a post is up, begins the wait for that rush of interaction, comments that are so educative and appreciative and occasionally constructively critical. These interfaces are my adrenalin rush, a shot in the arm, my daily dose of creativity –the little stars that I feel so chuffed about!  

Whatever direction my life and pursuits take in the coming year, each these stars will be my Polaris – guiding me and helping me navigate my way further into uncharted terrains, just like in this year gone by.

I thank my lucky stars for being in this space!

And I also thank a star foodie blogger, Hilda Mascarenhas of Hilda's Touch of Spice for her recipe of Roce Cookies!

I discovered that these cookies are also a part of the Chinese New Year celebration in Malaysia and some other parts of the world! So here's wishing everyone a very happy Chinese New Year 2013! 

I am submitting this post to Chinese New Year Delights 2013 roundup hosted by Sonia aka Nasi Lemak Lover!

You will need:

Roce/Rosette/Rose Cookie Iron mould/form
A wide and shallow bowl/soup plate
A balloon whisk preferably
A wide and heavy bottomed kadhai/wok
A slotted/meshed spoon/ladle

Ingredients for the Roce/Rosette/Rose Cookie Batter:

100 gms. Maida (Refined Plain Flour)
100 gms. Rice Flour
1 Egg (very lightly beaten)
200 ml. Coconut Milk ( I used tinned coconut milk)
70 gms. Caster Sugar/Sugar pwd.
1tsp. Vanilla Essence or ¼ tsp. fresh Cardamom pwd.
100 ml. Water
¼ tsp. Salt
Vegetable Oil for deep frying

Procedure for preparing the batter:

In a bowl, first combine the dry ingredients – maida, rice flour, sugar and salt.  Add the coconut milk and then a little water at a time to get a thick consistency. Use a balloon whisk to stir. Add in the egg and vanilla essence (if using) and stir to mix well. Do not agitate to form bubbles.

The prepared batter must be smooth and lump free and be able to stick to the mould. It should not be too stiff and thick and neither thin and runny.

Process of Deep Frying the Roce Cookies :

Heat sufficient oil till hot in a kadhai/wok on a medium flame.
The quantity of oil should be enough for at least 3-4 cookies at a time. It also depends on the size of your kadhai. Also the cookies should be able to float when you are deep frying. Dip the mould in the hot oil for about a minute or two.

This is a very important step or the batter will not cling/stick to the mould.
Lift the mould from the hot oil and drain on kitchen paper to remove excess oil. Do not drain for too long or the mould will turn cold.

Dip the mould very carefully in the batter until the batter coats the mould about ½ or ¾ way up. Make sure it does not cover the upper surface of the mould. If it covers the top then the cookie will not release in the oil.

It is also important not to leave the hot mould dipped for too long into the batter as the heat from the metal mould will cook the batter in the bowl. So be alert, quick and brisk. Be completely focused and do the steps in quick progression…

Once the mould is covered as mentioned above, shake off excess gently and immediately, carefully lower the battered mould in the hot oil.
The mould should be compeletely encased in hot oil but it should be suspended and not touch the bottom.

Adjust the heat if the cookies brown too quickly. Wait for a few seconds till the cookie cooks and retains shape. While it is dipped in the oil, gently shake in a tapping motion continuously. This helps the cookie to release itself from the mould and float in the hot oil.
Once the cookie is released in the oil, the process of frying and gentle browning continues.

In case it is difficult for the cookie to release completely then use a long tooth pick and pry the sides gently to release it. Repeat the process and allow about 3-4 cookies to fry in the oil. This depends again on how many can be accommodated in your kadhai.

Fry the cookies till they start to look lightly pale pink – golden brown.
Flip over and fry the other side as well. Do not over brown. Flip the cookies back to the right side facing up and lift them one by one with a slotted spoon.
Drain excess oil completely against the side of the kadhai and transfer on to a tray lined with absorbent kitchen tissue.

Prepare all the roce cookies in this way till all the batter is finished.
Cool the roce cookies completely and then store in an airtight container.
They keep well for about 2 weeks.

Friday, 28 December 2012

KulKul ho na ho!

Kulkuls/Sweet squares

Glossy pics of goodies like rich fruit cakes, cookies, gingerbread, egg nog from Mother’s Women and Home issues, infinite number of white Christmas stories with Father Christmas, elves and gifts in stockings over the fireplace, a real fir tree decked with baubles and candles – this was the Christmas out of the books.

Kulkuls, roce cookies, murkus, guava cheese, glorious rum and fruit cake, yellow rice and ball curry, a nativity scene set out in a manger cut out of cardboard boxes and a faux tree or a branch of a rare pine, Ashok or even mango tree decorated with fairy lights- this was the Christmas or Kissmiss panduga or Bada Din of my childhood.

We didn’t really celebrate this holiday at home, but went visiting and loved receiving the little trays or plates full of goodies that neighbours would send. Payback time for the Diwali trays!

A lot of goodies seemed similar to what we made at home, but only apparently- for we did not use egg in festive sweetmeats, neither did we use vanilla as flavour. Onion and garlic in savoury snacks was “abrahmanyam” - (unholy/taboo) while alcohol in cooking was wanton, though exotic!

Curious about the preparations in friends’ homes, I constantly compared the two Christmases, feeling delighted when a bauble here and a sweetmeat there matched its western counterpart. Anything less similar was a compromise stomached with the aid of wisdom beyond my years.

With age and experience came the understanding and ensuing marvel at the local adaptations – the jaggery, bananas, jackfruit sweets of Kerala, the use of coconut milk, cashew nuts, egg and rice flour in Manglorean or Goan Kunswar or festive sweets and the garlicky and hot chekka garulus and murkus of the Telugu folks’ kissmiss panduga.

Faithful folk celebrated with the available and the appreciated. The idea was to celebrate life, so it was but natural to venerate a ‘kalpataru’ (tree of life) banana tree or evergreen Ashok tree. The regional interpretations thus and then became more significant.

This year, what with the blog, I started to recreate the magic of Christmas by making kulkuls, the worm shaped treats aptly called ‘kidyo’ or silk worm according to my blogger friend Shirin Sequeira of Ruchik Randhap

I started out in great excitement by researching my favourite bloggers’ recipes and instructions, changing my mind about which recipe to use a hundred times, weighing all the ingredients on the digital kitchen scale that I knew we had somewhere at home. I even sourced BRAND NEW combs of various sizes and shapes (not - really - free airline and hotel amenities). Although the combs were all new, they were washed and dried under the vigilant eyes of my queasy girls. Combs are the best to make the kulkuls, for the tines of a fork are too big, as I had once discovered.

One batch of perfectly shaped kulkuls was painstakingly made, and we had to try them to see if they had an eggy smell, were sweet enough and had that pinch of salt. Some more needed to be munched on to see if they remained crisp after cooling slightly. Then we needed some tea to down these kulkuls to check if they gave that tummy warming feeling, and that’s when their fate was sealed. No one could be bothered to make those shapes.

“What’s in a shape Mom – a kulkul in any shape will be just as delicious! Weren’t we just talking about adaptations? “

So the curly kulkuls became straightforward squares, and I made another departure by sifting some cinnamon sugar on top of these squares.

And then I hit another wrong number by telling Shireen that I had tried her recipe, when really it was another Hilda’s recipe! 

So here are the kulkuls– that never really happened.  The recipe for the dough is by my fellow blogger Hilda Mascarenhas


2 cups Maida (Refined Flour)
½ cup fine Semolina/Rawa (optional)
2 tbsp. powdered sugar (I used four as I was not glazing them)
2 tbsp. Vegetable Oil
¼ tsp. Salt
1 Egg
½ cup fresh Coconut Milk (I used tinned)
Vegetable Oil for deep frying
2-3 tbsp icing sugar mixed with powdered cinnamon for dusting


In a sufficiently large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt & oil. Then add the egg and mix to resemble bread crumbs. Use a little coconut milk at a time & knead to a smooth, elastic & pliable dough. The dough should not be sticky. Turn out the dough on to your work surface or rolling board and knead using your fingers and palms to the desired consistency. You may use more coconut milk to achieve the right dough consistency.

Place the dough in a bowl and keep it covered for about 15 to 20 mins.
If using semolina/rawa, then you need to keep it longer about an hour or two for the semolina to soften.

After the dough has rested, make 4 equal sized balls of the dough roll it out uniformly on a board into a large circular or square shape about 3mm in thickness and cut it into small squares or diamonds.

In a kadhai/wok, heat oil till hot. Do not over heat. To test, just drop in a bit of dough into the oil and if it bubbles up and rises to the surface, then it is time to deep fry the squares golden brown in small batches.

Once they are done, drain them completely using a slotted spoon. Transfer them on to absorbent paper towels/tissue. Remember the squares will continue cooking for sometime once you drain them out from the oil.

Dust with icing sugar with cinnamon powder while the squares are still hot.

Store them in an airtight container.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


Vegetarian Thai Green Curry

As I sit here, typing this recipe I’d like to say I don’t really have anything special to say about this, except that it was nice, it was the first time I made it and that the family liked it very much. At last a straightforward recipe post, unencumbered by the excess baggage of a story.

Sigh! That is not to be!

For as I type, the words dance back and forth tantalisingly, and I try to pin an idea that began to take shape, kindled by the first two words of the title, vegetarian and Thai.

My first introduction to Thai recipes was through the veteran vegetarian chef Tarla Dalal. Hmmm, not bad- so many familiar ingredients, onion, garlic, ginger, chilly, lemon, tamarind, peanuts, coriander, cumin, turmeric, aniseed… and rice… Thai was almost like Indian cuisine. Except, how on earth will lemongrass taste in a curry? Lemongrass, or pati chaha as it is called in Marathi, was used mainly in tea, when one had a bad cold! I had never really liked it as it was associated with sickness or headaches and moreover, it seemed like drinking tea with an Odomos flavour!

And hadn’t I heard of all the horror stories of many a staunch vegetarian friend who had been served faux fare after removing the pieces meat or fish from the dish, or had been diligently served food without meat, but with fish or chicken – wasn’t that the definition of vegetarian? Then there was the Trojan beef or chicken stock. The most insidious of these urban legends was that ALL Thai food had to have oyster or fish sauce or anchovies ground into the curry pastes.

The trepidation with which we stepped into the dinner theatre venue featuring a Ramakien dance, while on a visit to Bangkok, was not unjustified. But one look at the menu that featured some vegetarian dishes, the known theme of the show and the Ramayan inspired costumes of the dancers ambushed us into that same old sense of familiarity. We sat back after going through the self-defence routine we had practiced – no beef, no lamb, no seafood, no chicken. Nods, smiles and bows assured us. Until, concentrating on identifying the pentatonic raag of the song that Nang Sida (Sita) was singing, I bit into something pink and chewy, an alien texture and flavour. Hark! This is not vegetarian!

It was rabbit.

It was the ensuing apology ceremony; the polite, almost obsequious bowing and fussing and the acute embarrassment of my teenage kids who were worried about mum creating a scene that thwarted a more dramatic reaction.

Then the decade long embargo on Thai food. Even travelling on Thai Airways, we would put in a request for an AVML- Hindu Vegetarian meal! But a chance lunch with work colleagues last year, weekend cookery shows featuring Asian food and my Facebook foodie friends displaying their prowess at Thai cuisine started the process of détente. At my terms, in my kitchen, with my definition of vegetarian.

Vegetarian Thai Green Curry

For the green curry paste

1 tsp coriander seeds
½  tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp white peppercorns
¼  tsp turmeric
3 tbsp chopped coriander (include stems/roots)
1tbsp lemongrass stems lighter part only- sliced
1 tbs fresh ginger or galangal, roughly chopped
2-3 green chillies, roughly chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves, spine removed, roughly torn
1 small red onion or 2 shallots
4 garlic cloves, chopped (we get really big garlic bulbs here)
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar or jaggery

Heat a pan and dry the roast coriander and cumin seeds with the pepper taking care not to burn them. Cool and grind to a fine powder in a spice jar or mortar and pestle. Add the remaining ingredients and grind into a paste in a mixer. Add some water or coconut milk to move the ingredients in the mixer. You can store this paste in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or so.

For the Green Vegetable Curry


2 cups vegetables - cut into large pieces /roundels- eggplant, zucchini, red peppers (you can use any other suitable vegetables)

2 cups steamed carrot, potato, green beans, pumpkin

1 cup thick coconut milk

2 cups vegetable stock ( I used home made stock)

1 tbsp lemon juice

5-6 tbsp green curry paste or more

1 whole kafir lime leaf

1 tbsp oil

Salt or soy sauce to taste

1 kafir lime leaves, sliced or torn or whole- and sliced red chilli for garnish


Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and then add the green curry paste. Sauté the paste in oil for a minute. Then add the eggplant, zucchini and red pepper in this order and stir-fry for a minute. Next, add the remaining vegetables and continue stir-frying for another minute. Add the stock and ¼ cup coconut milk the kaffir lime leaf and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to let the vegetables simmer and cook in the broth. Check the vegetables for doneness, and then add the remaining coconut milk and stir. Check and adjust the flavours and add salt or soy sauce or a squirt of lemon juice as required.

Remove from heat and garnish with finely shredded or whole kafir leaf. Add sliced red chilli if you wish. The green was enough for me to see red.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice.