Citrus Olive Oil Cake

I am not sure how many times I have said it before, but I really do not like spring break. The air is not crisp and cool, but is chilly from the unrelenting winter.  If you dream of spending your break in the warm sunshine, you have to plan and fly somewhere deep in south. This year not only was it cold and damp where I live, but it snowed every single day of the week in the vicinity. Finally, we had a small break from snow on Saturday, and I dragged my family out of the house on to a city excursion.

A couple of museums later, I found myself perusing racks of Sur La Tab. I must confess that I was more excited by the display of shiny cookware, fancy chef tools, and expensive cooking accessories than the art in the museum. I lingered in the shop casting longing glances at everything and buying some much needed serving spoons. The shop was offering free samples of espresso and lemon olive oil cake reminding me of the tea time in India.  I had seen citrus flavored cake recipes made out of olive oil in Italian cookbooks before, but I have always shied away from them.   However this was the first time that I had an opportunity to taste one. A bite of it and I was a convert; I also found my family eating the cake with same gusto. So I picked up the recipe card to try it the same night. I didn’t have any lemons on hand, but had plenty of oranges and I went ahead with them. The cake was luscious with a soft and moist crumb; it was simply melting in the mouth without any hint of olive oil.

 Below is my adaptation of the original Sur La Tab lemon olive oil cake recipe

Orange Olive Oil CakeIMG_8022

Ingredients

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups sugar

2 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

I tbsp. orange zest.

1/2 cup milk – I used 1%

¼ cup orange juice

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp vanilla

4 eggs

Glaze

½ cup orange juice freshly squeezed

3 tbsp powdered sugar (original recipe called for 1 ¾ cup)

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.IMG_8031
  2. Grease 12 cup Bundt pan with olive oil and dust with all-purpose flour. Shake off any excess flour.
  3. In a big bowl combine all the dry ingredients.
  4. Add zest, milk, orange juice oil, vanilla and eggs.
  5. Beat on medium speed till well combined.
  6. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35- 40 minutes till golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Mix orange juice and powdered sugar for the glaze. Original recipe called for 1 ¾ cups powdered sugar which I thought was a lot;  I was  also using orange juice instead of lemon which is much sweeter and mixed only 3 tablespoons of sugar instead. My glaze was very watery but it made the cake really moist and not overly sweet. If you stick with lemons, you might want to increase the sugar in the glaze but I wouldn’t go with the full amount.
  8. Top the cake with the glaze when right out of oven and still in the pan.
  9. Cool the cake and invert it on a cooling rack. Spoon rest of the glaze over the cake and enjoy.

I also made lemon cake a week later and went with a cup of sugar for the glaze. My kids preferred orange cake over lemon as they found the citrus flavor sublime and not overpowering.

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Boiling Brownies

I have been awakened from my blogging hiatus by a brownie phenomenon. Recently we had food day at work and everyone showcased their best dishes. I of course took the easy way out and bought a vegetable tray, and was told in no uncertain terms that it was pretty lame of me to do so. The problem is nobody understands that I do so out of sheer modesty; I don’t like to outshine others and hurt anybody’s feelings.

On  food days or whenever someone from the department gets sweets, I find myself having a lot of inner dialog .To eat or not to eat, to eat the main course or to head directly to the dessert corner, to hover near  the snack table for mid-morning snack or save the appetite for lunch – such decisions torment me.  Needless to say, I don’t get much work done on these particular days. I am a sucker for baked goodies and  have to take extreme measures to watch my intake. I step away from my desk only for emergencies and then also take detour to avoid the treasure table. This time however, when I saw my friend parading with pan full fudgy, cakey brownies, I was enthralled. I was in love, and after one bite, I was a lifelong slave. I visited the dessert corner numerous times  ignoring dirty looks and sidelong glances from my co-workers. I begged for the recipe, and was blown away by its simple ingredients and ease of preparation.

On the next free evening, I set about with the task. I skipped dinner or rather decided to go on a brownie diet. However, when the brownies were done, I was astonished with the yield. I knew I had to share them, so I took some to work, I kept a box in the fridge and ended up freezing the rest. This is a perfect recipe for a potluck dinner, or for a birthday party or for a post baseball or soccer game treat. I have to warn though; these melt in your brownies are not for a weak at heat; one look at the amount of butter used, and you would know what I mean. So share, share , share. Everyone will praise you, thank you and plead you for the recipe. The recipe is named as boiled brownies or boiling brownies by my friend’s kids.

Brownie Ingredients

2 Cup Flour

2 Cup Sugar

2 Stick Butter

1 Cup Water

5 Tbsp baking Cocoa – I used Hershey’s natural cocoa

2 Eggs

½ Cup Milk – I used 1%

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Vanilla

  1. In a saucepan boil butter, water, cocoa for 2 minutes.
  2. Add milk, eggs, soda and vanilla. You do not have to wait for the mixture to cool down.
  3.  Stir well.
  4.  Add the sugar and flour. Use whisk to get the lumps out..
  5. Pour into greased big jelly roll pan. I used half size sheet pan ( 18 ” X 13 “)  lined with parchment paper.
  6. Bake at 350 degree Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.

Frosting:

1 Stick Butter

6 Tbsp Milk

4 Tbsp Baking Cocoa

1 LB Powdered Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla

Nuts(optional)

  1. In the same pan, put the butter, milk, cocoa.
  2. Boil for 2 minutes.
  3. Then add powdered sugar, vanilla, and nuts(optional).
  4. This can be poured on cake brownies right out of the oven. Keep the pan open till brownies cool down and frosting sets.

If you are like me, after feasting on a plate of brownies, you would feel guilty the next day and would want to counterbalance by eating healthy. The following recipe is an ideal candidate for that purpose. It is my Indian version of cooked grains. I used Trader Joes Harvest Grains Blend which contains Israeli style couscous, orzo, baby garbznzo beans and red quinoa. You can use the ingredients as a guideline and tweak the recipe to suit your taste buds.

Ingredients

Half packet of Trader Joes Harvest Grains Blend about 1 ¼ cup

1 cup chopped onions

1 ½ cups chopped mixed peppers

1 small tomato chopped

Salt to taste

1 tbsp cayenne pepper

Quarter of a lemon

Cilantro to garnish

3 tbsp olive oil.

  1. Cook the grains. Cooking instructions on the packet state – bring 1 ¾ cups water or chicken broth to a boil . Add 1 tbsp butter and stir in 1 ¼ cup of blend. Brink back to boil, reduce the heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes. I, however, had to increase the water to 2 ½ – 3 cups, so start with 1 ¼ cup and add more if needed. I also substituted olive oil for butter.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet.
  3. Sauté onions, peppers and tomatoes for couple of minutes on medium flame.
  4. Add cayenne pepper and salt. Cover briefly and cook till peppers are soft but not mushy.
  5. Add cooked grains, stir well.
  6. Squeeze lemon juice and garnish with cilantro.
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American Upama

On most weekday mornings I have to drag myself out of the bed to get ready for work. I stumble like a drunkard missing a step or two, desperately seeking a drink, which in my case is a steaming cup of Indian tea. Only after a few divine sips, I start focusing on the banal tasks that lay ahead of me. I brush off any thought of a hearty breakfast, rush to work and nibble on a bowl of cold cereal while going through scores of emails.
I have yet to meet a person who jumps out of his bed with utter joy at or before the first wail of his alarm, fixes himself a satisfying platter to welcome the new day, tidies the kitchen and prances into his workplace to face the exciting challenges. I believe that existence of such a person in an urban myth, although I do have a friend who defies routine and routinely spices up her breakfast and spoils my mornings with her creativity. Both her head and the breakfast creation that she had dictated the cafeteria staff to whip up for her, held high, she passes my cube. With a victorious smile, she casts a contemptuous glass at my cold breakfast. I abandon my work and sneak into her cube to partake the tasty treat. She generously shares the recipe with me and the creation then makes regular appearance in my lunch box. One of her simple yet satisfying fusion dish is what she calls an American Upama – cooked cream of wheat cereal topped with grilled vegetables and jalapenos. This friend also brings for lunch mouth-watering Andhra chutneys and curries that look dangerously spicy and are daringly hot. I am currently listing down excuses to camp at her house for a month or two to note down all the recipes, but in the meantime you will have to be happy with the following two.

American Upama

2 cups cooked cream of wheat cereal
2 cups total chopped green bell peppers, onions. You can add mushrooms for an earthy flavor.
1 small tomato chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Pickled Jalapenos
1 or 2 tbsp olive oil
1. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet .
2. Sauté vegetables till they start losing their crunch adding salt and pepper halfway through. Do not overcook them.
3. Stir in chopped tomato and cook for a minute or two.
4. Warm the cereal and mix in vegetables.
5. Garnish with jalapenos.

Pumpkin Chutney

Andhra vegetable chutneys are part of everyday meal and they sure add zing to any meal. They can be eaten with paratha, chapatti or rice. I made couple of changes to my friend’s recipe by adding toor dal and cooking garlic with pumpkin. She always uses raw garlic for extra flavor.

1 Tsp Toor Dal
5 green chilies
6 garlic cloves
1 ½ cups chopped pumpkin
2 tbsp cilantro leaves. You could use mint leaves instead for a different taste.
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
Salt to taste
Mustard seeds
Pinch of Asafoetida
Sprig of curry leaves

1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan.
2. Sauté toor dal, chilles and garlic cloves for 1 minute.
3. Stir pumpkin pieces and salt, and cover and cook till tender.
4. Let cool, add cilantro leaves and grind to a coarse paste.
5. Heat 1 tsp oil in a sauce pan, add mustard seeds and curry leaves.
6. Add asafetida when mustards seeds start popping and stir in the paste from step 4.
7. Add tamarind pulp, salt and cook for 3-5 minutes on low heat till the flavors blend.
8. Serve chutney with parathas, chapatti or rice. This will be a great spread for sandwiches too.

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Love is in the Air


Last week when I went to the popular mall in our town, I almost got run over by the enthusiastic crowd shopping for Valentine’s Day. Majority of them were young people who were trying hard to buy presents for their loved ones, the female portion of the lot was drawn to the shops promising beauty and artistry and the diamond business was at its peak. The air was thick with anxiety, doubt, anticipation, promises and frustration – love was definitely in the air. Having passed all these phases and stages, I was happy to plop down on the nearest bench and soak myself in the fountain of youth. The problem was, I was accompanied by a smartly dressed friend, who after taking one look at my dowdy clothes had advised me to develop some love for the fashion industry. She had now made it her mission to change my “mom” wardrobe to one of a fashionable career woman.


As we were going through racks of clothes, I kept catching snippets of conversion and was surprised to find that many ways of courting still remained the same. By now, love had possessed my mind. After arriving home, I asked my family what love meant to them – my husband rolled his eyes, the tween made gagging sounds and my youngest son gave me a big hug. Of course everyone has their own way of expressing love, some bestow gifts on their partners, some cook a grand meal, and some foot a large bill at an expensive restaurant while others thoughtfully offer acts of kindness.


I steer clear of restaurants on Mother’s day and Valentine’s day, the long waits at the restaurants hamper any plans of an enjoyable meal. We prefer a sugar-free meal in the evening after the onslaught of sugar high parties at school and work. A bowl of tomato soup, freshly baked baguette and side salad will perfectly fit the bill tomorrow night; incidentally I did discover a recipe for baguette (with a crackling crust) on the King Arthur Website and oh, that is one of the finest breads I have ever eaten. I have now bade my farewell to the supermarket baguette, and Valentine’s day or not, you are sure to enjoy this recipe. I followed the recipe closely extending only the rising times as we had sub-zero temperatures last week.

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My Big Fat Shadow


I look outside the window
And catch a glimpse of a ghastly shadow
Snow glitters on the ground
My dreams have no bounds


Do I see a turning point
Or is it shadow’s ugly footprint


My ambition has no limit
My fantasies are running wild
I am feeling high
And now I remember
That no bird soars too high


The shadow keeps pouncing
It works hard on intimidating
I fight it with strong will
I am exhausted from the tough drill


But I realize it’s a shadow of my doubt
I need to crush it flat-out
Till I conquer it fully
It will be my biggest bully


Should I settle down with a beer can
And start devising a project plan
Do I develop test cases
And try to cover all the bases


Oh, do they ever finish on time
They are like partners in crime.
I decide to work solo
And in no time get rid of that slimy shadow

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Potpourri

In the last few weeks I tried a couple of new recipes, noted down exact quantities of all the ingredients for a few tried and improved recipes by my mother and made them, dutifully took their pictures and never found inspiration to write about them and post them. Was I a  victim of winter blues or did I lack the discipline required to gather my thoughts and put them on a piece of paper or was I overworked and tired or was I just being lazy and opted to sit back and relax and catch some tube time.  In fact, it was a combination of everything. Today however I decided to fight the winter blues and present a potpourri of recipes.

The first recipe comes from Ruth Reichl’s ‘Gourmet Today’.  I am a big fan of her writing and have read all her books. These toasts are simply addictive; I made them over Thanksgiving break and my kids chose them over pumpkin pie.

Toasted Anise Seed Cake Slices

 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 ¾ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

3 eggs

¾ cups white sugar

5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 ½ tsp anise seeds, finely crushed. I put them in a ziplock bag and ran a rolling pin on them.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit.
  2. Lightly butter and flour a 8 1/2 X 4 ½ inch loaf pan.
  3. Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a bow.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar in a mixer till tripled in volume,
  5. Stir flour in the egg mixture in three batches mixing after each addition.
  6. Stir in butter and anise seeds.
  7. Pour the mixture into loaf pan.
  8. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or till the top is golden brown.
  9. Cool for five minutes in a pan and then invert the loaf on cooling rack and cool it for 35 minutes right side up.
  10. Preheat the oven to 400 degree Farenheit.
  11. Trim the ends of the loaf and cut into ½ inch thick slices. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for about 5 more minutes till the toasts are golden brown.

I have tried my hand at puris quite a few times, but mine were never picture perfect and never soft like my mom’s. So during my mom’s last visit I noted down the ingredients and whipped a batch of impeccable puris.

Puris

1 cup wheat flour

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

2 tbsp besan

2 tbsp thin rawa

2 tbsp Rice Flour

2 tbsp. oil

  1.  Mix all the ingredients except oil in a medium bowl. Add as little water as possible to make a firm dough. Knead till it becomes soft adding oil in the end.
  2. Keep aside for 30 minutes.
  3. Make  balls little bigger than marble size and roll the puris in into 4” circles.
  4. Heat enough oil in a kadai to submerge puffed up puris.
  5. Fry the puris one at a time, holding the puri down till it puffs up, turn it up and fry for few more seconds.

 

Basic Buttermilk Muffins from Deborah Madison’s -Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It is one of my favorite cookbooks and I have hadd 100% success rate with all the recipes. 

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

1 1/3 cups buttermilk

1/3 cup oil or melted butter.  Butter yields a moist crumb.

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit.
  2. Butter the muffin pan.
  3. Mix all the dry ingredients a bowl.
  4. In a medium bowl beat the eggs lightly.
  5. In a measuring cup pour the melted butter and add buttermilk stirring at the same time. You will find the buttermilk curdling to a consistency of a cottage cheese.
  6. Now Add this mixture to eggs,
  7. Add sugar and vanilla and add dry mixture stirring just enough till everything  is mixed together.
  8. If desired you could add cupful of chopped fresh fruit or dried fruit or chocolate chips. My family always votes for chocolate chip muffin.
  9. Fill muffin cups to the top with prepared mixture and bake for approximately 25 minutes.
  10.  

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Fall Impressions

 
Simmering soups on the stove top
Time for some lemon cough drops
A trip to the doctor for Stinging flu shots


A pile of leaves in the back yard
A row of pumpkins near my doorstop
Apple cider and pumpkin patch


Halloween candy and aching teeth
Scary monsters and creepy goblins
Doors adorned with orange wreaths


Thanksgiving turkey and tasty stuffing
Football game with huffing and puffing
Long lines for Black Friday shopping


Light sweaters and knee-high boots
Body covered in colorful wool
Fashionable scarves and belts too


Waiting nervously for snow and sleet
City fixing messed up streets
While I nurse my whisky neat..

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