Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Birthday Treats

A little someone turned 5 a few days ago. The celebration wasn't a big one but the anticipation was huge this year. It wasn't for the cake and goodies or even for birthday gifts but for the fact that she was turning **five**. I still don't know what the big deal about being 5 is, but the magnitude of relevance attached to the number is evident from one of several conversations overheard around here these past few weeks:

Daughter: "So, I'll be the mommy and you can be my two daughters"
Friend #1: "No, I'll be the mommy because I'm bigger than you : I'm 5"
Daughter: "Well, I'm going to be five next month so I can be the mommy"
Friend #1: "I'm five and-a-half"
Daughter: "You are not bigger than me. (stands next to friend so their shoulders are touching)We are the same size - see?"
Friend #2: "I'm also five! I want to be the mommy!"
Daughter & Friend #1: "No you are not. You're just three and-a-half. You're a baby. Babies can't be the mommy"
Friend #2 (beginning to have the-mother-of-all-meltdowns): "I'm not a baby! I'm not three! I'm five! I'm five!!"
Daughter & Friend #1: "You are NOT FIVE. You are JUST three-and-a-half"
Friend #2: "I AM FIVE!!!" 
Daughter & Friend #2: "Fine!! Then we are not playing with you!" (And they stomp off, leaving me to deal with a wailing, feet-stamping, miserable 3.5 year old)

Did you just get emotionally drained reading all that? Because I did, just retelling it. Imagine re-living this same conversation at least a couple of times each week. Do you think such unwarranted self-importance deserves a sweet celebration? I don't.

But I melt.

Because this is my little girl who is not a baby any more but also not quite the 'big girl' she would like to be. I am filled with amazement and pride as I watch this little person grow into who she will be one day and my heart fills up with love at the sight of her. Very much her own person from the moment she was born. I love how strong she is, how sure of what she wants. I admire that about her. There is no one quite like her: bossy, fiercely loving, thoughtful, compassionate, independent, deeply sensitive beneath her bravado, creative, silly, talented, funny ... on the move all day long. Being her parent is sometimes so challenging because we tend to lock heads: each of us as stubborn as the other. Some days I just want to throw in the towel and go hide in a cave. Parenting is just so hard. Why didn't anyone ever tell me that?

But it's so wonderful too. You know what they say about how having children makes you feel like you are watching your heart walk around outside your body - that is how I feel when I look at my kids. Literally, at times, it's a physical ache. I can't even get through a blog post about them without getting deeply emotional. So! Let's talk about tea parties and cupcakes!

The cupcakes I made for my girl are actually based on Ina Garten's highly popular Beatty's Chocolate Cake. I picked the recipe because my daughter is a big Ina Garten fan and watches The Barefoot Contessa on Food Network with an avid interest akin to which  most other kids watch cartoons. I left the recipe mostly untouched aside from omitting the egg yolk from the frosting and decreasing the amount of espresso powder in the frosting to only 1 heaped teaspoon. The cupcakes were for kids so I was uneasy about using a raw egg yolk in the frosting and I don't think it suffered from the omission. In fact, I believe it's the frosting that makes these cupcakes. It's quite delicious - especially after the reduction of the espresso powder as recommended in several of the 1589 (no, I did not read them all!) reviews on Food Network. I also consulted this comparison of chocolate frostings on the Crumbly Cookie blog while I briefly contemplated using a different kind of frosting for these cupcakes just in case I was unable to substitute/omit the egg yolk. It seems from the photos on Crumbly Cookie that the addition egg yolk must add more texture because her frosting seems to hold a better shape than mine did. But I don't mind because I did not intend to pipe shapes with it. That said, I'm intrigued to know if you have tried using an egg yolk in a frosting recipe? Does it make a difference? Is there a substitute?

Now because I subscribe to the 'less is more' school of thought, I had to make the birthday cake using an entirely different recipe. You might argue that I didn't need to make a birthday cake at all when I had 24 cupcakes on hand and only 7 guests (all family!) other than the one friend my daughter wished to spend her birthday with. But this is me we are talking about. And me at 3:30 a.m. when I'm faced with choosing between Beatty's Chocolate Cake and Dorie Greenspan's Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake. Ever indecisive and unable to risk shaking the husband awake or texting a friend at such an early hour to ask the quintessential 'what shall it be? Ina Garten or Dorie Greenspan?' question I had to just go with it and bake both. Madness, yes.

This cake - well, let me say I am not sorry I baked it. I read the P&Q on the TWD website and I saw that it (especially the buttercream) got mixed reviews but, honestly, I just love this cake. It's the perfect birthday cake. I especially love the buttercream - it's not saccharine like buttercreams tend to be and I did not find it to be either grainy or gritty. I had no problems at all whipping it up and it was fairly smooth with a very faint, but not unpleasant, crunch from the chocolate malted powder. The recipe asks for malted milk powder and I had chocolate flavored Horlicks on hand so that is what I used. I did add the optional melted and cooled chocolate in the cake batter and even though the cake was slightly on the drier side it would be just fine if made as a layered cake, with thick layers of frosting in between. I didn't do layers so each slice consisted of a whole lot of cake and not enough frosting. But, like I said, this is easily remedied. The cake improved while it sat around and was completely gone by the 3rd day so I can tell you that it keeps well, covered and placed on the counter, for 3 days. If it lasts that long. The recipe can be found on Page 256 of Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or here.

I was completely washed out by the end of the day. But you know what, she loved it all. The cake. The cupcakes. Her 'tea-party for two' with her best friend... so the lack of sleep, tiredness and everything else seems of little consequence.

The highlight of her day, though, seems to be this little snippet I overheard:

Daughter to her friend: "I'm 5 now. You can't tell me any more what to do because I'm the same age as you"

Happy Birthday, my lovely one. May you have many more.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Meetha Paratha (Sweet Flatbread)

My grandmother is an innate nurturer. After my grandfather passed away 27 years ago she latched on immediately to us, her grand children, as a coping mechanism to try and fill the gap he left behind. Every memory I have of her involves her being in her kitchen, her domain, where she would move around like a whirling dervish chopping, dicing, stirring, kneading - pouring out her love for us into the meals she prepared.

One of the special treats she made for us on weekends was meetha paratha - a fat, sugary, crunchy, flaky flatbread. She's almost 90 now but still welcomes requests and will lovingly roll out this delicious comfort food for my breakfast each time I'm back home for a visit. Two weeks ago I stood next to her and watched as she dipped a fat ball of dough into the flour bin, shook off the excess, flattened and spread it with ghee and granulated sugar. She then rolled it into a log, smeared it with more ghee and sugar, brought the ends together to form a disc and then rolled it out flat.

The passing years have not changed how swiftly her hands move, how her fingers look as she spreads the ghee on the dough, how she places the flattened dough on the griddle and rotates it before flipping it on to the other side. My grandmothers' meetha partahas are always thick, shaped square and are irresistibly delicious. They have crunchy, crispy edges while their insides are soft and almost syrupy-sweet. It may have been two weeks since I had one but I can still taste it so well. And, because I miss her so very much, I made this indulgent breakfast for myself this morning. My paratha is so lackluster in comparison, not half as thick or as sugary, not even a very good square. To add insult to injury it even has a few burned spots. I'm not sure she would approve. I always fall short. But it's okay. It's a tribute all the same.

Meetha Paratha (Sweet Flatbread)

2 cups atta flour
2-3 tbsp wheat bran (optional)
1 cup warm water
a large pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp raw sugar
3-4 tbsp ghee

Sift the flour, bran and salt together in a large bowl. Pour in the water, half a cup at a time, mix into the flour with your hands and then knead to form a soft dough. Cover and leave aside for half an hour. Meanwhile heat the griddle on medium.

Divide the dough into 8 balls. Dip a ball of dough into flour or dust with flour and flatten into a disc. Smear with ghee and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bring the sides up and roll the disc into a ball. Flatten and roll it out thick. Spread a tablespoon of ghee on the griddle and place the flattened dough on top. Spread the top with a layer of ghee and flip it over when one side is cooked. Serve warm. These parathas are delicious on their own, with a cup of milky tea.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Homemade Oreos

A chocolate cookie is like a warm hug. It can say "I love you" like nothing else. And so I left the house last night with a big box of I love you's in my suitcase and a song in my heart. I'm seeing my best friends after more than two years and going back home after well over one year. . . Not even a 3.5 hour flight day and the ensuing 6 hours spent at the airport have dampened my spirit. I'm beyond excited to see them and elated at the prospect of getting a brief break from expatriate life.

In the years that we haven't met each other new babies have been born, older ones have grown and lives have really evolved. I still have a hard time imagining them in their new mommy roles because we've spent such pitifully little time together since we all had children and, in my case, went to live on a different continent altogether. There is so much to catch up on despite daily chats on whatsapp and frequent photo exchanges. "Friends for twenty-five years" sounds awesome and truly is. .. More sisters than friends, these two are my best critics, strongest supporters and confidantes. There's nothing I can't talk to them about and can always expect them to give me the best advice, soothe my aching soul. I love them more than words can describe.

I could catch a nap on the plane but am looking at the clock instead, and writing this post, too excited to sleep. An hour away. Tick, tock. And our brief interlude will begin.

One sleepy evening this past week I was browsing through my Instagram newsfeed and came across a photo of TKOs (Thomas Keller Oreo Cookies). Intrigued, I looked up the recipe online and was completely sold when I saw that these homemade 'oreos' consist of a white chocolate ganache sandwiched between two sablé cookies. There could not be a better homemade treat to take along for my friends. So I got started on a batch right away. As soon as the dough was ready I knew I finally nailed it - several frustrating attempts at making World Peace Cookies (my dough is invariably always crumbly and the logs fall apart when I slice them) had made me lose faith in myself when it came to sablés. Not any more! These cookies had the perfect, formerly elusive, sandy texture and the intense chocolate flavor I was looking for. Unfortunately I cannot eat dairy at present so dared only a small bite of the sablé with a hint of ganache so I cannot tell you how perfectly paired they are. But from the aromas in my kitchen and the stamp of approval from my little (almost) 5-yr old gourmande-in-training tells me these cookies are pretty awesome. And I can tell you, based on the tiny bite I took, that they are better than Oreos. Now if these aren't the embodiment of love, what is? You can find the recipe here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yesterday marks the first time my son traveled without me. I made these cookies because the chocolate chip kind are his favorite, because I was going to miss him and because I wanted to surprise him by hiding a small tin of these in his carry-on luggage. I imagine he reached into his bag and found the tin sandwiched between his books. Then he smiled, pulled out one cookie, placed the tin on his lap and began reading...

This recipe comes from Nestle Kitchens and yields quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever made. I used whole wheat flour and substituted dark chocolate for the chocolate chips. If you like cookies that are crisp around the edges but perfectly chewy in the middle this recipe is for you. My son says these are winners so I may never make a different kind.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mango Cheesecake Ice Cream

Hello, Summer...

I've been missing from this space for months. It seems that writing dissertations takes up a lot of time. Even when there is lots of procrastination involved. In an ideal world I'd be telling you about the many, many new recipes I tested during this time. But not today. 

Looking through my archives I came across this photo from the end of summer last year. It was meant to make its' way into a post but somehow never did. How lucky to have found it now since it gave me a chance to do some more digging and come up with the recipe for this luscious ice cream. 

I first came across it when I was searching for ways to use up a large tub of Labneh (yogurt cheese) in my fridge. I had halved the recipe since I was skeptical and was in no way prepared for how delicious it was going to be. The addition of yogurt adds a smooth, rich flavor similar to cream cheese but contains far less fat making this a less guilty summery treat. I adapted the original recipe only in that I used  pureéd mangoes instead of strawberries. But having made it with both mangoes & strawberries and then just plain, without fruit pureé, we love all three versions equally well chez moi. 

I've got a batch already chilling in my fridge, ready to be churned. Meanwhile here's the recipe because I know you'll want to try it: 

Mango Cheesecake Ice Cream 
adapted from the recipe here

7.5 ounces (about 1 cup) Labneh or yogurt cheese (recipe here)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 whole milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup mango pureé

In a stand mixer, beat the cheese and sugar till smooth (around 2 minutes).

Add in the milk and cream and continue beating on medium till smooth. Mix in lemon juice and salt. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Churn in ice-cream maker, freeze at least 2 hours. 

Mango Pureé  :

1.5 Lb chopped, fresh mango
1/4 cup sugar (use more if your mangoes are not sweet)

Pureé the fruit and sugar together. Chill in fridge till ready to use. 

To assemble:

Add a thin layer of pureé on the bottom of your ice-cream container. Top with a third of your ice cream and gently swirl with a spoon. Repeat layers and swirl, ending with a layer of ice cream. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lemon Yogurt Cake

It's mid-March already. How did that happen? 

I've had a serious case of the lazies. This post has been sitting incomplete in my drafts folder for over a month. Aside from updating my blog I should be working on my thesis but instead I've been giving myself 'a break' spending my mornings in a pensive trance as I moved around my kitchen measuring, whisking, stirring, dreaming. 

I'd taken to sitting out for hours on my sunny patio observing my daughter and her friends do this:

and this 

and more of this 

When I began writing this post weeks and weeks ago the sunny lemon cheeriness of this cake was meant to be a reflection of the cool but sunny days we had been enjoying here. But we've been experiencing a lot of sand storms this past week. An unfortunate but recurring theme for this time of the year forcing us to remain stuck indoors. 

This gives me time to catch up on some projects, and reading. So there are books and my google reader, and copious amounts of Rooibos Tea. Which brings me to this lemon cake. I have been searching for the perfect lemon pound cake recipe for ages. And while that doesn't sound like a huge challenge, it was. Cakes I have tried in the past have been usually too dense with just a bare hint of lemoness. What I really wanted out of a lemon cake was an intense, zingy lemon flavor. I wanted it to be moist and light, zesty without being either too tart or cloyingly sweet. 

So let me just say I love this version by Ina Garten - demonstrated by the fact that I've made it three times in the previous month. Twice as a loaf cake, once as cupcakes. The second and third time I made it, I threw in extra lemon zest into the batter and once it was baked I lightly pricked the top of the loaf/cupcakes with a fork while it was still warm so that the lemon syrup would soak a little better instead of pooling at the bottom of the cake. The recipe calls for extra-large eggs, which I didn't have, so I just threw in an extra egg because mine were on the smaller side. 

This cake is all about the lemons - moist and tangy with just the right amount of sweetness. It actually tastes better the day after it is baked. If it lasts that long. 

Lemon Yogurt Cake
barely adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home, Pages 168-9 (recipe can also be found here)
Yield: I loaf or 12 cupcakes

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
grated zest of 3-4 lemons
1 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
4 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze: 
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8.5" x 2.5" loaf pan or line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. If  using loaf pan, line bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan. 

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold in the oil. 

Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes. Or 30 mins if making cupcakes. 

Meanwhile cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining sugar over low heat in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside. 

When the cake is done, let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove and place on a cooling rack placed over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar syrup over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool completely. 

Combine the confectioners sugar and lemon juice and pour glaze over cooled cake. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Whole Wheat Banana Bread

I know, I know. Another banana bread recipe. 

I'm sorry. It's just that lately I'm a woman obsessed. I wake up dreaming about fresh pineapples and banana bread.  And not necessarily in that order. I've tried to appease my cravings for the latter but so far it hadn't worked as far as finding a whole-wheat version was concerned. So I've been compiling a list of recipes to try out and, needless to say, we are going through plenty of loaves of banana bread at my house. Isn't there something so comforting about waking up to the homey fragrance of baked bananas on a winter morning? 

I think I have finally found a one-bowl recipe that is moist & delicious enough that you might want to leave your bananas to blacken on the kitchen counter just so you can try it out. I've made a couple of minor adjustments to this  recipe that I stumbled across on the King Arthur Flour website. Also, I baked mine as muffins instead of a loaf quite simply because its a less crumbly option for the kids' lunch boxes. The chopped dates are a last-minute addition because I wanted to sneak in some extra iron and fiber and also because I have at least a few kilos on hand and quite simply have no idea what to do with them. Any suggestions?

(Note: I've made this recipe several times over with great success substituting both canola oil and coconut oil for the butter. It works very well with both & I no longer make it with butter).

Whole Wheat Banana Bread
(adapted from King Arthur Flour)
Serves 18

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
a pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups mashed, very ripe bananas (I used 3 large)
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup chopped dates

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with 2.5" baking cups. 

Beat together the butter and sugar till smooth. Add in the vanilla, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and bananas. Beat till smooth. 

Beat in the honey and eggs. Stir in the flour, nuts and dates (I dusted my dates with half a tsp of flour so they wouldn't clump together). Spoon into lined muffin tray and let rest at room temperature, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Bake 30 minutes. 

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning muffins on to a rack to cool completely before serving. 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Nutella Hot Chocolate

Something warm and toasty for your winter mornings. In honor of World Nutella Day.

I've eliminated such things from my diet but that's no reason to stop inflicting my cravings upon my kids. So, if you don't mind, we're going to curl up here in our little corner of the world with some Nutella Hot Chocolate. 

Nutella Hot Chocolate

1 cup milk
2 tbsp Nutella
1 heaped teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
a good pinch of sea salt

Combine everything together in a saucepan over medium-low heat & stir until combined and warmed through. How easy is that!

World Nutella Day started in 2007 as the Brainchild of Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso. Don't forget to check out the Nutella Day Flickr Pool or the Nutella Day Facebook Page for lots of inspiring posts by bloggers from around the world. Happy Drooling!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar

Well, it's been a while. A very long while. Another year has gone by and here we are already well into the new one. What does this year hold for you? 

I'm in the middle of completing my dissertation, enjoying the relative freedom from the strict study regime the past years and appreciating the new balance that allows time to enjoy my family, cook, bake and get back to blogging. 

These days I wake to a tiny cold nose pressed to my cheek between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. and my daughters' little voice whispering, 'Wake up. I'm so, so hungry'. Hoisting myself out of bed and taking her chubby hand in mine, I stagger into the kitchen to fix her breakfast after which we snuggle together on the couch and watch Mickey Mouse Club House before the others wake up and it's time for all of them to start getting ready for school and work respectively. 

Which brings me to my daughters' lunch box. Each night since she started preschool a week ago, before going to sleep, she lists all of the 'so, so, many things' she wants me to pack in there. I think she thinks 'the lunch box' is a portable buffet and must contain infinite choices. When I pick her up from school in the afternoons I'm told how well she eats and how she really seems to enjoy her food. All of this is baffling for me when I consider that the same child has previously never wanted to sit down for a formal meal and would just eat sporadically out of the fridge when hungry. Think 10 mini-meals a day. A trail of half-eaten fruit and small bowls of nuts were left behind in every room of the house. Food always consumed while either bouncing on the chair, running around the dining table in circles, dancing to the tune of Higglytown Heroes, or sitting on the kitchen counter after 'helping' me with whatever I was making. 

Sandwich fillings were licked clean, the bread discarded. Pasta & Veggies consumed, chicken ignored or vice-versa. Curries either devoured or hated. And always a stronger preference for sweet treats. It wasn't possible to predict what she would or wouldn't eat. But as long as she was willing to try new things, I never pushed her. 

So this transition is pleasantly incomprehensible. Maybe it's the fact that she recently turned four. Big enough to be happy to go to school, assert her independence and enjoy things on her own, totally in her element, without me. I miss her boundless energy, her non-ending stream of stories, incessant chatter, our 'tea parties', her 'cooking' experiments in the kitchen and the silly singing. 

Last week my son had a day off from school so we made this banana bread before we picked his sister up. It's an interesting recipe from Orangette that uses no butter or oil and yet resulted in a banana bread that stayed moist for a couple of days and added a delicious sweet element to their lunch boxes. I urge you to try it. 

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar

3 medium to large ripe bananas
2 large eggs
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter or spray an 8" square pan. 

In a medium bow, mash bananas. Add eggs and stir to combine. Stir in the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and vanilla. Add 3/4 of the chocolate chips, stir, and reserve remaining chocolate chips. Pour batter into pan. 

Mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle them evenly over the batter, topping with remaining chocolate chips. 

Bake 35-40 mins. Cool on a wire rack for 15 mins before serving. 


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