Thursday, August 20, 2015

White Sandwich Bread - My Little Rebellion

Everywhere I looked there was an obsession for what is perceived as healthy - recipes that boasted of being egg free, gluten free, fat free, no white flour, no sugar, no butter - only oil, and a zillion other 'healthy' claims. The sad thing is most people have no idea of what genuinely is healthy, or rather relatively healthy, and what is actually quite far from being good for anyone. That's not to say all things touted as healthy or good for you aren't - one just has to realise that blindly substituting and replacing, often with synthetic substitutes, is not the path to healthier or nutritious eating.

Tired of this I decided I had to have my own little rebellion. I was going to make that terrible. terrible thing - white bread. Made with no compromise to the all purpose white flour. No whole wheat flour or any other 'healthy' flour would even be allowed to come near. If the recipe asked for a pound of butter I was going to put in a pound of butter. If eight eggs were required eight eggs it would be. You get the drift...

I asked my friends to share tested recipes and I went looking around on my own. I read quite a few recipes and finally decided to use one by Julia Child. My main motivation to use her recipe was that I'd never made anything from a Julia Child recipe and this was the perfect opportunity. And the recipe was simple and straightforward, perfect for an amateur like me who needs a recipe to bake bread. Always. Even for breads I've made many times over. So I made my date with Julia and we made white sandwich bread from here.

I'm not rewriting this recipe as I didn't change anything in it. Just replaced the 1 tbsp Active Dry yeast with 2 tsp Instant yeast.

The dough for this bread is quite sticky and I was quite sure it was not going to work out. But it did. I was nervous because it took time to come together and I had to struggle not to add too much flour beyond what the recipe called for. Don't worry, this recipe works! And the stand mixer did most of the work ;)

Make sure you have a couple of loaf tins ready before you start. I didn't have two of the same size so I divided the dough accordingly instead of blindly halving the dough.

Make the bread the evening before and have it for breakfast the next morning. It tastes much better after resting for those hours. Don't slice the bread unless it is absolutely cooled. Patience is the key here.

As it turned out all this recipe requires is APF, yeast, and water, with a little bit of butter to help it along. Not so evil after all! So bring out the butter, Nutella, the jams, marmalades, honey, cold cuts, fry and egg or two and have yourself a feast.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Food Blogging. Quo Vadis?

Another popular food blogger got caught plagiarising.

A beautifully styled blog, well written posts, lots of attractive photographs, a wide variety of recipes and cuisines, and of course, a new post every couple of days - it isn't surprising that this blog caught the attention of many. 

A new blogger, just a year into blogging, she was under so much pressure she said, that she did the unthinkable. But it wasn't a single instance. There was so much plagiarised content on her blog we got tired of looking. Stolen content that spanned recipes, food styling on her photographs, 'How To' posts, quotes, and even a personal story from another blogger - and not a hint of credit anywhere. The thievery was not limited to the confines of the blog. A magazine was given plagiarised content, a DIY dessert kit was being sold using someone else's recipe. The rot was so deep it was appalling. 

Predictably, once she was caught there was a severe backlash and this blogger is now in a lot of trouble. As she should be. 

Many bloggers debated and outraged over this incident on a closed group on Facebook and over private messages that blazed for two days, as the plagiarist tried desperately to save her self, her blog, and her reputation. 

We all know plagiarism is wrong, we all frown on it, we all outrage loudly when someone is caught but most of us also wait for someone else to blow the whistle. We also look the other way because we don't want to be the one to make a scene. We worry about the plagiarist's reputation, family, children, and everything else. Sometimes I wonder if we're looking for excuses for the plagiarist. But no, we're not. We're just not motivated enough to get off the couch and do something about it, just like we are lazy about a million other things that should be changed but we rather someone else did the changing. 

In all the debate one question kept coming up - what's the hurry? Many of us have been blogging for several years and we see the blog as a personal diary or chronicle that we allow the world to read. It's all about passion, and dedication, and love, and warm fuzzy feelings. Because when we started blogging, that was all there was to it. You wrote what you liked and felt happy if anyone stopped by and actually read what you wrote. There was no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or StumbleUpon, and if they existed they were nothing like what they all are today. There was nowhere to broadcast the fact that you had written something on your blog. Your blog was not accessible to a zillion people at the click of a mouse. 

Today the scene is very different. Blogs earn incomes. They are marketing tools. They are platforms for selling opinions, information, advice, anything! A blog is supported with a myriad social networking tools to give it a larger audience. If you're successful at leveraging all this to your advantage and your blog begins to get noticed the fame and the followers grow, invitations to events, restaurant launches, product launches, etc., start pouring in. And let's be honest, it's bloody hard to resist all this seduction. You might even land some paid writing or photography gigs if you're good.

And this is where the temptation to grow fast comes in. You see others who have made it big and you want the same for yourself. And you want it fast. But for that you need the numbers. Followers on your blog, on the Facebook Fan page, on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, G+, and every other platform you can think of, and you have to write keeping SEO in mind. The pressure to post more builds up because you're worried about Google and Alexa ranks. And your worry is justified because you are looking at numbers, numbers which will convert to income eventually. Or a whole lot of fame, fans and freebies if not real cash. 

But all this takes dogged hard work, sometimes of impossible proportions. Let's take that Google ranking thing - you have to put up 200 posts in a year to get a good site rank. (See Addendum) That translates to four posts a week. If you're a recipe blogger that means you have to select what recipes you're going to blog, shop for all ingredients, cook the dish, sort out props and styling for the photographs, set up the shots, take photos, edit photos, write the post, add photos, publish the post, clean up your kitchen, put away your photo equipment and props, promote your latest post out there on social media which means Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, at the minimum, and as many food groups and blogger groups on Facebook that you can find that allow you to share your blog links. All this, at least four times a week.  And you still have a regular job, a family to look after, a life to live. 

Is it any wonder that you soon start looking for ways to make it easier? And before you know it you are stealing content. Blogging has changed from a personal hobby tool to an industry. Maybe it's not a job for one person anymore. And certainly not if you have a full time job. 

Think about why you blog. If like me, you blog because you like to and are not too concerned about followers and income, that's great. But you should consider growing and not stagnating. I've worn my refusal to grow like a badge of honour and I am ashamed of it. If you're blogging because you want the bigger things then think it through, plan how will go about it, think of the resources you can use (and no, I don't mean other blogs or sites you can copy from), and be realistic about how much you can do and how long you can sustain it. There's nothing wrong with earning money through your blog. But it is wrong if you are doing it by stealing someone else's work. 

We all have responsibilities as bloggers. There are many things wrong with food blogging today and they need to be set right. New bloggers need guidance and mentoring and older bloggers need to accept and learn the new ways. We need a community and a support system. We need to deal with the rot. Ignoring it makes us equally responsible for it. 

*** Addendum - I misunderstood Google ranking criteria to some extent. So it's not 200 posts literally but you have to really populate your blog with a ton of content so 200 posts a year is the sort of goal many bloggers blindly set themselves in a bid to get that high Google ranking. But prolific posting on your blog is not enough by itself. There are many other factors that in combination with prolific posting will get a blog a high Google rating. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Kahlua Chocolate Cake

I have great ambitions about baking cakes. I love cakes. I sit for hours on Pinterest looking (and drooling) over the myriad cakes that call out seductively. Some are so beautiful, in fact, that I don't even care that they're fruity cakes - I want to bake each one some day. Baking, like cooking, is something I find incredibly relaxing and today I really needed that therapeutic dance of measuring, mixing, and baking till a magical cake appeared.

Usually I simply throw together the basic sponge or pound cake that I learned when I was just a kid, and the most I do with that recipe is add booze soaked fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, preserved fruits, etc., to make it a little different. Today I needed more than that comfortable, familiar, and nearly mindless recipe. I needed to be involved. I needed to be wholly occupied with baking a cake leaving no room in my head to think about anything else. So went on to Pinterest to look for something that suited my needs and what I had in my pantry.

I found this Kahlua Chocolate Cake recipe and it fit the bill perfectly. A simple enough recipe with no branded ingredients that I would find impossible or expensive to procure, and with enough to do to keep me fully occupied, this chocolate laden cake was destined for me today!

I'm reproducing the recipe here with easier measurements and a slightly more detailed method keeping in mind the hiccups I had while making this beautiful cake. This recipe has several steps so read the entire recipe first and get your ingredients and equipment together before you start.

Kahlua Chocolate Cake

For the Cake

2 1/4 cup Maida
1/4 cup Hintz cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

110 gms chocolate

1 cup Kahlua
1 cup sour cream

125 gms butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup chocolate chips

For the Glaze

110 gms chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 or 2 tbsp fine sugar (if required)

Start with the cake -

Preheat the oven at 180C.

Prepare a 12 cup Bundt pan by greasing it with butter. To figure out the capacity of your Bundt pan simply pour in water using your cup measure and count how many cups fit in. If your pan is small you will have left over batter. No worries, make a small cake in a suitable cake tin or make cup cakes with the leftover batter.

Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. I zapped it in the microwave till it was silky and melted.

In a measuring jug pour a cup of Kahlua. Now add enough sour cream to take it up to the 2 cups mark. I used Amul sour cream and needed one full tub which I beat lightly with a fork before adding to the Kahlua. Mix the two with a fork till they have blended.

In a clean large bowl mix the maida, cocoa, baking soda and salt till all are well combined.

Place the butter in the mixing bowl of your stand mixer or in any mixing bowl and use your hand mixer. Use the paddle attachment if you're using a KitchenAid. Add the brown sugar and cream it well till the sugar and butter are blended, light and fluffy. Now add the eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Pour in the vanilla now along with the melted chocolate and continue to mix.

Get the boiling water ready.

Alternating between the dry flour mix and the Kahlua-sour cream mix add the two to the butter-sugar-eggs mix till everything is incorporated.

Now add the boiling water and mix carefully. Slow down the speed of the electric mixer as the water can splash out. It takes about half a minute to get incorporated so be careful. Add the chocolate chips and mix them in gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes till a skewer poked in comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely in the mould before you remove it. This is a soft moist cake and it might break. So be patient. Cool further on a rack before glazing it.

My cake had risen while baking so I had to trim it to get a flat bottom. It was easy enough, all I did was wait for it to cool and then went at it with a large serrated bread knife. We scarfed the scraps quite happily (there was no way I was letting anyone near the cake before I'd taken photographs, obviously!).

To make the glaze -

In a small pan bring the cream to a boil. Have the chocolate ready in a jug. Pour the just boiled cream over the chocolate and let it stand undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Mix with a spatula till you have a smooth glossy glaze. I added a couple of tablespoons of fine sugar as the chocolate I used was quite bitter. Add a tablespoon or two of Kahlua and incorporate fully till you have a satiny smooth pourable glaze.

Place the cooled cake on the rack over a tray to catch any drips and drizzle the glaze over the cake. I spooned the glaze over and 'helped' it dribble down the sides attractively ;)

Let the glaze set and your Kahlua Chocolate Cake is ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Goan Choriz in Instant Noodles - Comfort Food at its Best

If you've lived in a hostel it's more or less guaranteed that you've experimented with instant noodles. Maggi and other brands were the backbone of our meals, especially if one wanted options apart from Mess food! Assorted vegetables, ketchup, chilly and other sauces, spices, pickle masalas, anything and everything was pressed into service to add zing and flavour and even body to the basic noodles.

I spent many happy years living the hostel life and one of the best things that emerged from those years is my concoction of instant noodles with Goan choriz. Slightly soupy, the thick and spicy sauce coats every strand of noodle punctuated with chunks of the fat and meat of the choriz beads - heaven in a bowl!  The unique flavours of this local Goan sausage are the foundation of this dish. The cheese slices cut the sharpness from the spices of the choriz and give the sauce a wonderful roundness.

I made some for my lunch today and my friend M pinged me to ask for the recipe. I confidently told her to look it up here on the blog. And then I thought why not dig out the recipe myself and send her the link. That's when I discovered, much to my horror, that I haven't written about it. You cannot imagine my shock!

Anyway, let me fill this terrible lacuna right away. Better late than never, correct? So here goes...

Noodles with Goan Choriz

Instant noodles - Maggi or any other
Goan choriz sausage - approximately 15 to 20 beads, peeled
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 slices Britannia Cheese
tomato ketchup

In a pan fry the onions and garlic till just brown. Remove the onions to a plate.

In the same pan add enough water to cook the noodles. Add the flavouring spice that came with the noodles now.

Add the choriz and let it boil in the spiced water for a few minutes.

Break the noodles up a little and add to the pan. Let them cook fully.

Add the fried onions and garlic, a good splash of ketchup and the cheese slices. Stir to mix.

Reduce the liquid to the consistency to the consistency you like and serve.

I usually make a big bowlful and then get comfy in a big chair and enjoy it with a good book. The perfect dish for a solitary lunch.  No. I don't share. 

The Express Lunch Buffet at Asian Kitchen, Four Points by Sheraton, Vashi

Every once in while my gal pals and I meet up for a girly lunch and gossip in Vashi. We usually go to Inorbit and end up at one of the restaurants there for lunch and follow it up with a bit of browsing and shopping, and finally coffee and cake at the Starbucks there. With so many new places opening up in the area, and a few older ones remaining unexplored we decided to step out of the comfort zone today.

The Four Points by Sheraton at Vashi has three or four restaurants/coffee shops and they have a lunch buffet in one. I looked them up on Zomato and read rave reviews about the Express Lunch at Wrapped, the coffee shop. It sounded good and so that's where we went.

Confusion reigned. The lunch buffet turned out to be at the Asian Kitchen on the second floor, not at Wrapped. I asked at the Asian Kitchen and the staff seemed to have no idea what I was talking about, in fact, one person even called the coffee shop Wraps. Finally I managed to confirm that the Express Lunch had been shifted to the Asian Kitchen from Wrapped to accommodate more guests.

The Asian Kitchen is a lovely airy large space and a great venue for dining out. They also have an open kitchen allowing guests and the kitchen staff to interact. We were led to a nice table by the windows and we settled down for lunch. After ordering a glass of wine for myself we proceeded to check out the buffet spread.

To put it plainly - I was not impressed at all. This was one of the most lacklustre menus I have ever seen. And the selection of dishes seem to be made quite indifferently - there was nothing that piqued my interest or made me drool in anticipation. The selections included  assorted salads which had been portioned into small bowls (which I think is a great idea), a line of chafing dishes holding the main courses, breads and soups on one counter, and two forlorn looking dessert options on one side.

When you approach the buffet from the dining area the first thing you encounter is the dessert, opposite which are the soups. You walk ahead and high up on one side are the salads, and in front at a perpendicular are the main courses. The plates are placed awkwardly below these chafing dishes. Browsing the menu and serving oneself in this weirdly arranged buffet meant constantly going back and forth, bumping into staff and other guests while balancing the plate and trying to see what there is.

The salads included Red Cabbage and Apple Coleslaw, Corn and Bell Pepper Salad, Cucumber in Brown Garlic Yoghurt, Paapri Chaat, and a chicken salad tossed in some green sauce (I've forgotten what it was called). I like to see fresh salad at a salad counter. At least a basic one. And a couple of simple dressings or vinaigrettes. There was none.

This buffet has no starters or snacky things at all. Not a one. There were papads, however.

There were two soups on offer - a vegetarian and a non vegetarian one. We opted for the chicken broth which turned out to be a watery tomato based soup with a reasonably generous smattering of small chicken chunks. Low on flavour and eminently forgettable.

The main course options included -

Daal Lasooni which was nice enough, nothing very exciting.

Oven Roasted Parsley Potatoes. These were quite nice but didn't quite go with anything else on the menu. An Indian masala aloo would have been perfect.

Stir Fried Vegetables - I've never seen a stir fry like this.

Subz Hyderabadi. I didn't try this one so no comments.

Paneer Bemisal - I quite liked this preparation. The paneer was soft and had absorbed the flavours of the gravy quite nicely. It went well with the buttered tandoori rotis that were served hot at our table.

Murghi Lucknowi Masala. Another middle of the road preparation. Nothing spectacular but nice enough with hot tandoori rotis.

Plain Steamed Rice

and a Peas Pulao. I didn't see the sense of having plain rice and then this rice tossed with green peas and fried onions on the menu. A tossed pasta or noodles would have added much more value to the menu, and also would have given guests something to pair the potatoes or that 'stir fry' with.

The desserts on offer were Kiwi Mousse

and Doodhi Halwa.

If one was to compare this buffet menu with what's on offer in other restaurants in Navi Mumbai this buffet is trailing. However, it is probably one the cheapest ones around.

A big grouse I have with this menu is the paucity of non vegetarian fare. One chicken salad and one chicken main course is all that was on offer, along with the soup. Is chicken the only protein they could find? Compared with four or five vegetarian options among the salads, and the same in the main courses I felt non vegetarians like me didn't have much to choose from.

They have a huge open kitchen. A live counter offering freshly made pasta or a wok station doing stir fries or noodles would have been fantastic.

I spoke to the chef who came by to ask what I thought of the buffet and the food. I told him the same things I've said here. Their brief was to aim for the lunch-break crowd from the numerous offices that are nearby, which is why this is called the Express Lunch buffet and is priced at INR 450+Tax. Looking at the as good as empty restaurant, with just one or two other tables occupied, I think they've completely missed the brief. The nearly empty restaurant at peak lunch time seems to echo my sentiments.

I've had some awesome food at the Asian Kitchen (the hubby and I are huge fans of their Breakfast Buffet) and I was quite saddened by this lunch buffet. The place is usually packed for the breakfast buffet which has loads of options including live stations, a selection of cold cuts, hot options like poha, idlis, hash browns, bacon, assorted breads, cereals, eggs to order, tea, coffee, juices... it's awesome!

I'd rather pay a little more and get my money's worth from the numerous other buffet options in the area than pay less and yet come away dissatisfied. Navi Mumbaikars are hungry for good places to dine out and the Asian Kitchen is missing a great opportunity here. I really hope they make this buffet much more appealing.

Express Lunch at Asian Kitchen, Four Points by Sheraton, Vashi - INR 450+Tax per head. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Dinner Rolls and Friendship Day

The Hallmark holidays pop up every time you turn around and the latest one was Friendship Day. Social media was flooded with pithy sayings and mushy pictures celebrating friendship and a fair number of cynics wondering what the need for a special day was. Though I didn't post anything about Friendship Day I did think about it. And I felt grateful for the Internet where I have met most of my current friends and created some very close bonds that have taken us beyond the online space and deeply into each others' lives.

Among them is Saee who started me off on my bread making journey at a class at Rushina's Studio. Rushina is another Internet friend who is now among my close buddies. Her blog is the first one I ever read and where I discovered the concept of a blog. I have been a devoted follower of Saee's blog and YouTube channel for the bread recipes simply because they have never failed. What better reason does anyone need?!

No friendship related post can be complete without K, the centre of my universe, my best buddy. It's been a crazy few days, so busy he's barely had time to think... and as the day progressed I thought to myself, why not make some bread for the fellow. I remembered the dinner rolls we'd made at that bread class I'd attended with Saee and Rushina and decided to make those again. A Friendship Day gift for my bread obsessed best friend :)

I followed this recipe to the T barring the kneading for which I used my stand mixer. Take a look at the video and you will see just how easy it is to make fun shaped dinner rolls for the family. I topped my rolls with black poppy seeds which another very dear friend, my Santa Claus in London, Manish sent me.

Start at least three hours before you want to serve - the rolls must rest for an hour before serving. Of course, K refused to wait at all and scarfed down a few rolls hot out of the oven! But they do improve with the resting, so wait.

Serve with soup, with a curry or stew, or have them for breakfast with an assortment of spreads. Make a big batch and share with friends. So, Happy Friendship Day after all :)