Coffee-Cinnamon-Vanilla Cake

vanilla-cakeA lazy Sunday afternoon provoked the cook (rather, baker) in me to try something. I was soon in the kitchen fixing up the ingredients and getting started. I ensured that the eggs and milk were at room temperature. Instead of a hand-blender, I used the juicer can of my mixer to whisk together the ingredients. It was less messy and a time-saver, while also giving the required creamy texture to the cake batter. Another oft repeated baking tip that I kept in mind, was to first whisk the wet ingredients, and add the flour after the creamy mixture was ready. Pre-heating the oven is another important tip to remember.

Ingredients:

  •  
    • 1 cup white sugar
    • 2 ½ table spoon butter or ghee
    • 2 egg
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 ½ cups refined flour
    • 1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
    • 1 teaspoon coffee powder
    • 1/2 cup milk

Method:

  •  
    • Preheat oven to 175 degrees centigrade. Grease and flour a 9×9 inch pan
    • Sieve flour, baking powder, cinnamon powder and coffee powder, mix well and keep aside as the dry mixture
    • In a bowl (or in the juicer jar of the mixer) cream together the sugar and butter/ghee
    • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then whisk in the vanilla
    • Add the dry flour mixture to the creamed mixture and whisk again
    • Stir in the milk until batter is smooth
    • Pour batter into the prepared pan
    • Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven (at 175 degrees centigrade).
    • Check with a fork to see that the cake is cooked inside.
    • Lower the heat to 160 degrees centigrade and bake for another 6 minutes.

To decorate the cake, try chocolate glaze.

Share and Show: bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark

The Sweet and the Savory

I have been working from home in the first half of the day, and the hubby is travelling over the weekend. I finished my work, caught a wink, and got up in the evening engulfed by the smell of flowers and the slight spring nip in the air.

Suddenly, I felt lonely and lost, and decided to get my act together and do some house-work. I attacked the refrigerator in order to clean it up of left-over veggies and prepare the grocery list. I had attempted this earlier in the morning also, using leftover bread and two boiled potatoes to make bread rolls for lunch.

My inventory of left-over veggies, included half a broccoli, one capsicum and three beetroots on the verge of losing their freshness. Having washed and set them aside, I logged onto the internet to gather some ideas on what I can do with these and came up with two exciting recipes on www.samai.in. I selected Grilled Broccoli and Beetroot Halwa for my experiments. Though I replicated the recipes with ease, I had to tweak some of the measurements in the Halwa and instead of grilling; I baked the Broccoli and also noted the exact baking time. So, here are exclusive pictures of my culinary adventures and the tweaked recipes.

baked_broccoliBaked Broccoli

The yellow and the greens of this dish are very pleasing to the eye. It can also be a healthier replacement of the besan pakora and veggies like cauliflower can also be used. 

  1.  
        1. Slit the broccoli florets into two and simmer the florets for 4-5 minutes in water to make them tender.
        2. Finely chop an onion and half a capsicum.
        3. Make one teaspoon of garlic-ginger paste.
        4. Take two tablespoons of gram flour, put in coriander powder, chilly powder, mango powder, salt, and mix in the ginger-garlic paste.
        5. Add the chopped onions and capsicum.
        6. Add one teaspoon of lemon juice, and half a cup of water to create a semi-thick mixture.
        7. Marinate the steamed broccoli in this mixture for one-and-half to two hours.
        8. Bake for fifteen minutes at 200 degrees centigrade. Alternatively, it can be grilled for five to ten minutes, till the broccoli stalk acquires a brownish tinge.
        9. Serve with grated cheese.

    beetroot_halwaBeetroot Halwa (Cooking time 45 minutes)
    It is a culinary delight to make this halwa because of the lovely tints of red that emerge during cooking.

          1. Heat two tablespoons of ghee and add three cups of grated beetroot.
          2. Stir and cook for 5-7 minutes, and then add 1 cup of boiled milk.
          3. Cook on high heat till the milk boils, then simmer and continue stirring.
          4. Put cardamom and cinnamon powder.
          5. Add another half a cup of milk and once again alternatively cook on high and low heat, stirring all the time.
          6. Add chopped walnuts, and cashew nuts.
          7. Mix three-fourth cup sugar and half-cup milk and add to the halwa, and continue to stir.
          8. When the milk has evaporated and the ghee is visible on the sides, the halwa is ready.
          9. Garnish with grated coconut.

    So, my dinner is healthy baked broccoli and I have set aside the halwa to be heated in the microwave for 30 seconds and served to the hubby when he returns.

Share and Show: bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark

Winged Memories

house_sparrowAs a child I remember, waking up to the twitter of little sparrows. The modest, brown-spotted, quaint birdies, had made the need of an alarm clock virtually redundant, filling the dawn sky with their sing-a-song tweets. As a student, whenever, I heard the truism – The early bird catches the worm – in my mind’s eye emerged this little sparrow with an earthworm in her beak! The sparrow was an integral part of my childhood, and my growing years.

They were always there – sometimes incurring my mother’s wrath, as they pecked on the wheat grains that she had spread out to dry in the sun. Or making her fret with the words, “It’s a bad omen!” when the electricity meter readers harshly tugged open the metal door that encased the meter, thus causing an egg to drop down from the sparrow nest built on the encasing. We used to be very unhappy with the untimely destruction of these eggs, but mostly we were greeted by tiny chirps that boasted the arrival of spindly-legged chicks.

When I moved to Delhi, I missed the house sparrows, but was greeted by another set of natural winged-inhabitants – pigeon1the pigeons. These were so different from the sparrows that I had grown up with – they were large, grey, and messy and didn’t exactly have a sweet chirp. But soon there omnipresence became a part of my life in Delhi. Pigeons were everywhere, and like the sparrows made nests on the window sill, and under the installed air-conditioners. As nature conspires to maintain the delicate ecological balance, we saw the unwarranted destruction of pigeon eggs also, and sometimes even baby pigeons. The house-cat would also be the culprit, stealthily making our domestic pigeons their prey.

In spite of getting used to having domestic pigeons as our regular visitors, my first love was reserved for the house sparrows. But this December, when I went to my hometown, the sparrows were conspicuous by their absence. The house sparrow seemed to have disappeared. When I went to Church, I was happy to catch a glimpse of a few sparrows pecking at the flower-bed. They were less in number, but the Church garden and surrounding greenery had at least given the surviving few of the species a natural habitat. It was disheartening to see that the little sparrows were becoming a prey to the expansion of the human civilization.

While I mull over the memories of my little winged friends, I came across an article on www.timesofindia.com that also asked the pertinent question – Where have all the sparrows gone? The article states facts and figures to instill public sentiments towards saving this avian species. Through this blog, I would like to endorse the suggestion given by K.L. Mathews, associate professor in Junagadh Agriculture University (JAU) who has done a thesis on sparrows for his PhD – “We can start by providing artificial nest boxes so that a sparrow can come back to roost.”

Incidentally, there was another shocking article last year on www.dnaindia.com about how Sparrows are on the menu to whet libido . It was a horrifying article on how local hakims “… have claimed to have prepared a potion from the bird’s meat which works as an aphrodisiac.” and to meet the market demands, “… the birds are trapped from various parts of the city using nylon nets.” After the matter came to light, the Volunteers of the Plant and Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) have taken up the cause to save this near extinct species.

As a reader of this blog, if you can relate to my winged memories of the endangered house sparrow, and want your children to see and hear this little birdie in real, instead of picture books, perched next to the already extinct Dodo, then do your bit to welcome a little birdie home. If not a bird house, then a water or grain trough may do the trick. Helping to expand the green cover around your house and locality and minimizing noise and air pollution can also be conducive.

Share and Show: bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark

Broccoli-Mushroom Steamed Rice

riceHubby has been experimenting with healthy eating, while as always I have been looking for quick-fix recipes. With Wednesday, a day of late evening concalls for both hubby and me, we agreed to try a quick meal of broccoli-mushroom steamed rice. It turned out to be tasty and filled the kitchen with a delicious aroma, and was a great timesaver.

Ingredients for a serving for two:

  •  
    • Rice soaked in water – 250 grams or half a glass
    • White button mushrooms – 4-6 depending on size
    • Broccoli – 10-12 large florets
    • Olive Oil – a table spoon
    • Ginger-garlic paste or finely grated ginger and garlic
    • Black/white pepper
    • Salt
    • Red Chilli flakes
    • Grated cheese for garnishing – one cube (optional)
    • Soya sauce – a tea spoon (optional)

Method:

  •  
    • Finely chop the mushrooms after removing the stock.
    • Snip the broccoli into smaller florets.
    • In a deep wok, or non-stick cookware, warm the oil.
    • Add the broccoli florets and stir-fry for 3 minutes, till the withering florets take on a light brownish color. Add the ginger-garlic paste and stir for another 1 minute till the aroma rises.
    • Add the finely chopped mushrooms and stir-fry for another 3 minutes.
    • As per taste, put in the pepper, chili flakes and salt.
    • Mix well and stir fry for a minute. If using soya sauce, then add to the fried vegetables and mix.
    • The vegetables are now ready, so add the soaked rice and a glass of water and allow boiling on high heat.
    • Cover the wok and then allow simmering for 2-3 minutes till the water dries and the rice is cooked.
    • Remove from heat and mix well with a spatula. Garnish with grated cheese.

Alternatively, you can separately prepare steamed rice and then mix the vegetables, or can even use left-over rice. All in all- this dish is ready within 15 minutes. Experimental cooks can put in a variety of vegetables like finely chopped carrot, capsicum, cabbage, peas and can also use Manchurian or oyster sauce.

Share and Show: bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark

In the realm of enchantment – Salman Rushdie’s Enchantress of Florence

encThe Enchantress of Florence is a potpourri of the magical and the adventurous – from pirates, to a strange yellow-haired traveler, to emperor and duke, warlords, women from pleasure houses and palaces, imagined women, and real women, painters, dreamers, commoners, statesmen, giants, young boys seeking mandrake roots, and the phantom of a secret that travels across the seas from Italy, and over 100 years, to reach the court of a Mughal Emperor. The Enchantress of Florence is a fairytale that blends history and fantasy.

The secret involves, Emperor Akbar’s great aunt, Qara Köz (“Black Eyes”), a “hidden princess” whose name was erased from Mughal history when she chose to marry the king of Persia. And the yellow-haired storyteller charismatically weaves an implausible story around Qara Köz and lays a claim of his own kinship to the Mughal Emperor. Magic and history are entwined to create a tapestry of love, lust, power, and “story that must be told.” The style is narrative, and Rushdie categorically talks about the power and enchantment of wordplay – “Witchcraft requires no potions, familiar spirits or magic wands,” Akbar learns. “Language upon a silvered tongue affords enchantment enough.”

“The Enchantress of Florence” is mostly set in the city of Fatehpur Sikri, built by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1571. Akbar is the real protagonist of the book, a ruler who manifests human follies and inconsistencies and is prone to the contemplation of his life’s paradoxes: a classic example being, whether he should refer to himself, as I or We; or his quest to understand the underlying necessity of religious faith, or the way he is allured by the excesses and eroticism of Florentine way of life, and his insecurities with regard to the ambitious Prince Salim, and the contradictions of living in an imagined and in the real world.

Nearing the end of the novel, his contemplation on the concept of “incest” also reflects on his brooding temperament – his desire to discern right from wrong. He may be the king, but he is still a man, wondering if what he thinks is right, whether his thoughts can be converted into the right action. Rushdie has painstakingly created a larger than life protagonist, who is no less mesmerizing as the female protagonist. Infact, more than Qara Koz, who is supposed to be the central theme, or Enchantress, it is the wonderful characterization of Akbar that dominates and drives the story. Akbar, who enchants the reader in this tale with all his human follies, and royal grandeur, is ultimately enchanted by the power of a woman, even if imaginary.

This woman is the legendary, long-forgotten, Qara Köz as “a woman who had forged her own life, beyond convention, by the force of her will alone, a woman like a king,” but who still has to strive to “remain on the winning side” by attaching herself to the most powerful man in the power play of the medieval military world. And here lies the irony, for Qara Köz is a supreme commander of men’s fantasies, of their erotic frenzy and an enchantress of sorts. The ability to create fact from desire is the central theme in this novel, for instance, the royal painter, Dashwanath deliberately imagines his obliteration when he falls in love with Qara Köz, his subject.

Another interesting character in the novel is Princess Jodhabai – the “nonexistent beloved” who has been conjured by the Emperor’s imagination, as the perfect woman, the ideal queen, the lustful consort and the intelligent counterpart. But Jodhabai soon relegates into the background, as the enchantment of Qara Köz permeates the abode of the Emperor – “Jodhabai has gone, because the emperor no longer has need for her. I will be his companion from now on.” One phantom replaces the other as Akbar’s imagination clings onto the charismatic image of Qara Köz as described by the story-teller, Mogor dell’ Amore.

The book falters in the middle – it begins on a vibrant note with a promise to “mirror” a secret, but it seems to lose much of its zest, beauty and free flow halfway through. There is a desire to rush through and reach the parts of the novel where Akbar remerges in the tale. Nearing the middle, the book is inundated by too many characters and keeping track of all becomes an exasperating exercise. The plot becomes mystically confusing, but the narrative retains its lyrical quality. The main characters are nearly pulsating with life and the reader can almost feel the taut throb of the emperor’s heart as he indulges in the mysterious deep recesses of his personal thoughts, misgivings, confusions, and restlessness.

It is a fairytale for adults and can enrapture you only if have the penchant to revel in the power of the imagined and the imaginary. The moment you start taking the book on its face-value, analyzing it realistically, the great Mughal Monarch, Akbar, will appear insane and unstable to you. The book is not about the obvious, the apparent or the real, but about the hidden, the mind’s play, secret desires and hopes, dreams and magic, and of child-like love for adventure, mystery and romance. It is a tribute to the madness underlying our most subtle suggestions.

Share and Show: bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark