Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Phew, I'm certainly being tested

A few days ago, while browsing through the lovely Nupur's equally lovely blog, I came across a reference to the Good Home Cookbook where she'd signed up to be a tester. That sounded interesting, so eventually I found my way there and signed myself up as a tester as well. It seemed like a fun way to get new recipes - and knowing that all testers will be acknowledged in print had nothing - nothing, I tell you - to do with it. Honest! :)

It was quite exciting, waiting to see what I'd draw as my "test" recipes... plus, it's the first time I've got involved in any such online food events. All those Sugar-High Fridays and EoMeoTes kinda scared me, although I absolutely LOVE reading everybody's blogs to see what they come up with - what imagination, patience, dedication and fun goes into each, by god! I'm always all admiration for the participating bloggers.

Anyway, when I got my three recipes (I didnt get overambitious and ask for 10 or more recipes to test, thank goodness), I had a mild panicky reaction - two of those involved baking! I'm not a particularly good baker when it comes to bread and pastries, although I could probably be classified under "hopeful" - as in hopeful that it will work at least THIS time... wont it?

Most worrying of all, one of the recipes was for peach pie, with the crust to be made from scratch as well. That recipe goes straight to the core of my fear of bread and pastry making - trust Fate to come up with just the thing!

So I decided to go first what seemed like the lesser of two evils - featherbed potato rolls.
I wont give the recipe here in case it's against the rules or a breach of copyright or some such unknown factor. (If somebody knows different, please let me know too!)

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The rolls turned out quite well (rose nicely in the bowl and browned to a lovely pale gold when baked) except that they were way too sweet for dinner rolls as far as Pete and I were concerned. I mean, the recipe specified 1/3 cup sugar for about 4 cups of flour. The texture of the rolls inside was soft and it smelt beautifully yeasty (I love it that way). I guess I will make this again, but with much less sugar, and possibly with some savoury herb added. Rosemary, probably. Or basil, which I like better.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Courgette chocolate cake

I did it! I actually made a cake with courgettes - otherwise known as zucchini. It's a boring vegetable if you ask me, with no real taste of its own. I guess that's a good thing in SOME ways, but if I come across any mushy pieces of courgette in anything I'm eating, I generally set them to one side under the "ick" category, to be avoided. That said, courgettes dont gross me out the way eggplant/brinjals/aubergines do.

I had a surfeit of courgettes thanks to one of the guys in the office who has a smallholding and grows his own vegetables. He must be a pretty good farmer, because he brought enough courgettes for everybody in the office to have at least 3-4 each. It must be nice growing your own veg... but it needs time and effort. Lucky for my colleague that he only works part-time, so I guess he's got both.

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Anyway, after ratatouille one day (forgot to take pix) and courgette-tomato pasta the next, I still had 2 courgettes left and, frankly, I was getting a bit tired of the darn things.

Then while going through my favourite food blogs (as usual), I suddenly remembered "Chocolate & Zucchini"... and that led me to wonder if courgette cake could really be edible. Well, the only way to find out was to make it - and I stuck by my decision despite the barrage of "bleahs" and yarking noises from my colleagues and family. It was a good decision, as it turned out, because the cake was worth it.

I guess the blandness of the courgettes worked in the cake's favour, because it totally took on the flavours of the cocoa and chocolate chunks - so much so, it was easy to forget that there was actual vegetable matter in the cake. All in all, the best way to use up any extra courgettes, in my opinion.

I didnt frost the cake this time, because I used a nut topping. But next time I make this cake, I think I will split it in two (or bake it in two tins) and sandwich it together with chocolate icing - that would be just perfect, methinks.

Recipe for:
Courgette chocolate cake

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2 cups flour
1/2 cup plain cocoa powder (I used Cadbury's)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2-1/4 cups brown sugar (I substituted 1 cup Splenda)
1/2 cup soft butter (I used margarine)
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated courgette (I left the skin on)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks

For the topping:
1/2 cup mix of chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts, brazil nuts and pecans)
1/4 cup brown sugar - (I prefer not to use Splenda here)


1. Heat the oven to 180C (350F). Grease a 9" round cake tin and dust with cocoa powder.

2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

3. In a bowl, beat the butter/margarine with the sugar/Splenda until fluffy and light. Add the vanilla extract.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions.

5. Reserving 1/2 cup of the flour-cocoa mix, fold in the rest with the egg mixture. The batter will be very thick and difficult to handle, but dont be tempted to add any extra moisture.

6. Once the flour has been incorporated well, toss the grated courgettes and the chocolate chunks with the reserved 1/2 cup flour, then fold it all in. The moisture from the courgettes will make the batter easier to handle.

7. Transfer the batter to the greased and floured baking tin and smooth the top.

8. Mix the topping ingredients together and sprinkle evenly over the top of the cake.

9. Bake for 40-50 minutes or till done (check by inserting a tester or toothpick in 2-3 places to make sure).

10. Take the cake out of the oven but leave it in the tin for 20 minutes. Then unmould and cool completely on a wire rack.

This cake can be split and iced, if desired, and it's also lovely served with chocolate or vanilla icecream.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Back to basics - whole green gram dal

If you have a pressure cooker, this is a dal that can be made easy as pie. Easier than pie. WAY easier than pie. Pie isnt easy, and whoever thought up that particular expression must have been exercising irony or sarcasm to the nth degree.

Not to get carried away, though, so I'll get back to the theme. Dal made with whole green gram.

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I discovered that these lentils, although bullet hard when dry, dont need soaking if you use a pressure cooker. And although very tasty, this dal is not a fancy dish - it's everyday fare, eaten with plain roti or rice. I know I wouldnt really include it in the main dishes if I gave a dinner party, for instance.

That said, I like dal made with green gram. Funnily enough, though, I dont much like it as "sundal" (a semi-dry cooked snack, seasoned or sweetened), whether sweet or savoury, although the savoury version is marginally better.

Recipe for:
Whole Green Gram dal:

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1 cup whole green gram dal
3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped fine
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
4-5 green chillies, slit (or to taste)
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
Two medium onions, sliced thinly
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 heaped tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp garam or chana masala (optional)
1 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
2 tsp oil
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves for garnish


1. Put the dal, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaf and three slit chillies in a vessel along with 1-1/2 cups water. Pressure cook till done. (I usually leave the heat on high and let the cooker get to the point where it emits one shriek - then I turn the heat down and let it simmer for 15 minutes, after which I let the pressure build up again. I turn the heat off after another shriek, and let the cooker be until the lid can be opened.)

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or saucepan, sizzle the cumin seeds. Then add the ginger-garlic paste, the remaining slit chillies and the sliced onions.

3. When the onions are half done, add the red chilli powder if using. Cook till the onions are soft and brown, adding a few tbsp of water if necessary.

4. When the cooker can be opened, discard the bay leaf and the chillies. Carefully mix the cooked dal with the onions, add salt to taste and as much water as required (if necessary) to get a thick but pourable consistency.

5. Let the dal come to a boil, simmer it for a couple of minutes, then turn off the heat. Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve hot over rice or with chapatis.