Monday, September 28, 2009

Pistachio Cardamom Cake - and a Review of "Eat Cake" by Jeanne Ray

This is the type of cake that makes you want to climb into it, wrap yourself in its warm buttery layers and fall asleep in sweet cardamom-scented pillows.
Then you wake up and realise you need a new pair of pants, because the old ones ain't gonna fit no more.
Blissfully rich, sinfully decadent and perfumed with exotic cardamom, this cake has the power to invoke world peace, because the only fighting thats going to be going down is for the last slice. And crumb...
If I would change anything the next time I make this cake, it would be to reduce the butter content, because the pistachios release their oils while baking, making for a very buttery and heavy cake. The cake is best eaten warm out of the oven too.
But lets forget about weight issues, and move back to the source of this recipe - which was the book "Eat Cake" by Jeanne Ray - the September choice of the Books That Make Us Cook club - an internet band of cooking rogues, who like to cook their books.
Ruth, the protagonist, likes to distance herself from reality by invisioning herself in cake. INSIDE cake that is.
It is her innovative escape mechanism from the troubles of her world, that start to alarmingly multiply as she struggles with her rebellious daughter, recently laid-off husband who wants to ditch his worldy woes and set sail around them instead, her cantankerous absentee father and wholly dependent single mother. The weight of the world falls on Ruth's shoulders and her profound solution - bake more cakes.
Ruth is not a strong woman. She meekly sidesteps all her issues by baking, and baking, and baking (while providing recipes for us readers for some decadent cakes - Score! The book comes complete with 13 recipes) . Carrot Cake as a vegetable side dish, anyone? She doubts herself throughout and at a point in her life when she could make a change and promote positive change in all the negativity around her, she does a double-take and succumbs to her lack of self-esteem.
"Eat Cake" is a light read, and there is a silver lining to all the doom and gloom portrayed above. Everything magically comes together like whipped cream, old wounds heal, new relationships foster, and Ruth finds herself at the helm of a successful business venture. No guesses there as to what that venture might be. Pass the napkin please, I have some buttercream to wipe off....
I didn't quite resonate with Ruth's character. She's weak and suprememely unconfident. But she is a loving daughter, and concerned wife, but so much so that it seems to be at her own expense. The book relies too heavily on several Cinderella Fairy Godmother type personalities who suddenly appear, transforming situations and themselves for the sake of Ruth and paving a path for all. If only things were so sweet in real life.
But for now, at least take a slice of this cake, and dream on.
For more reviews and spin on cakes that featured in the book - visit
Simran - who did a twist on the pista cake, and chose almonds and coconut for hers.
Jaya - who wisely chose to stay away from the cakes, but was the first to do a review of the book.
Curry Leaf - who smartly took a healthy route and made a carrot cake in the microwave.

Pistachio Cardamom Cake (Gourmet Magazine 2001 and featured in "Eat Cake" - a Novel by Jeanne Ray)3/4 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease or spray a 13 x 9 inch cake pan with non-stick spray
3. Pulse pistachios in food processor till finely ground (do not grind to paste!). Add flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt and pulse till just mixed.
4. Combine milk and vanilla in separate dish.
5. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl till pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Alternately add pistachio flour and milk in batches until just combined.
6. Spread batter into prepared cake pan, bake about 20 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
7. Best served warm!
I would also like to send this lovely, decadent cake to Meeta's Monthly Mingle - this month the theme is "High Tea Treats". The event is hosted this month by Aparna @ My Diverse Kitchen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bifteki - Feta Stuffed Beef Patties

The old adage "the world is your oyster" couldn't have been more true, especially when it comes to food bloggers far flung across the Net. The evidence?
I was poring over the web looking for a recipe for Spaghetti Pie.
Because Carmela had just served it to her dysfunctional family, and I was getting hungry watching them eat it. So I had to have it.
Enter Google, who safely deposited me in the Netherlands where a Dutch Girl was Cooking. Not in New Jersey, far from the Garden State to be exact. And I subsequently forgot about Spaghetti Pie (even though she makes a mean one too). Because I discovered Bifteki. Which ironically , is Greek.
And I've been making it religiously ever since. My dad likes it so much, he even requests it "You know that one, the meat, with the cheese inside, can you make it!". Which is more of an order, and not so much of a request.
And it just occurred to me that I'd never posted it yet. But here goes a shout out to Kay, who is the brilliance behind Kayotic Kitchen. Check out her mad photo skills in her step-by-step tutorials. I've caught myself trying to reach into her kitchen and grab some of that food via my computer screen. And since I'm no Oprah, all 5 of you who read this blog, hurry on over and check out the other wonderful recipes she has on board, 98.7% of which I've bookmarked. Don't go crashing them servers, now!
Bifteki is ridiculously simple to prepare, and is essentially seasoned ground beef, with a shard of feta cheese in the center. I make them stove-top on a grill pan because I'm not so great around real fire. Long story.....
And they are wonderful with potatoes or on pita bread along with a huge dollop of tzatziki. I've tried making them with goat cheese and gorgonzola, and I prefer the feta version hands down, I like how feta doesn't ooze as much while cooking, and yet loses a little of its tartness to the meat.
Bifteki (adapted ever so slightly from Kayotic Kitchen)

1 lb ground beef
1 small red onion - finely diced
1 heaped Tbsp Greek dry seasoning (I have a pre-mix of dried oregano and spearmint - I love this stuff)
1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (I make 'em hot!)
1 egg - beaten
2 cloves garlic - grated
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste (~1/2 tsp each)
Feta cheese - cut into shards or crumbled - as needed (individual taste)

1.Mix beef, onion, garlic, dry spices, egg, garlic and breadcrumbs together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Let the meat rest for about an hour in the fridge to let the flavors blend.
3. Form patties ( I made about 8). Place a patty in the palm of your hand, depress the center and add some feta cheese, I like to work with crumbled feta. Add as much as you like, then close the patty by pressing the sides all around (feta will now be in the center of the meat patty).
4. Heat a grill pan, and cook patties on both sides.
5. If necessary, leave in oven with broiler on low to keep them warm and to complete cooking before serving.
Great with roasted potatoes and a Greek salad and tzatziki.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taste of Kerala - Potato Mussakhan (Fried Spicy Potatoes)

So the whole blogging trip is to educate myself and increase my repertoire so that my family is not eating the same chicken dish everyday.
OK, that was an exaggeration.
We eat the same food every other day.

So I made up a little do-lally here called Taste of Kerala where I wanted to personally explore dishes from God's Own Country - other than the three dishes that I currently know of. So why Kerala? I grew up eating typical Kerala fare because my parents were born there, however I have never lived there and have only gotten to visit on several short vacations. The food I had experienced as a child was a slightly watered down version of the original, given the lack of authentic ingredients and the gradual adaptations to the recipes that my parents would make.

The picture above was taken last year when we went on a houseboat tour down the backwaters of Kumarakom, Kerala - a recent tourist draw (some may call it a trap) - which I always refuse to take part in, but end up going on and enjoying anyway.
But I digress....

I've gotten a little excited about trying my hand at other dishes from Kerala and wanted to record them here, hits or misses.

So announcing Potato Mussakhan, a dish from the Malabar region of Kerala which has a heavy Arabic/Muslim influence.
The name of the dish itself sounds very Muslim, so I asked my colleague, a Mr. Khan himself, if he knew what it meant. Other than having an uncle who was actually named Mussa Khan (!) - he couldn't quite figure it out, and then proudly announced that it must be derived from the Urdu word for "complicated" or "difficult".
So I had just made "Potato Complicated"?

Far from it.
This is a simple tangy side dish of par-boiled potatoes doused in lime juice and lightly fried with some piercing spices and fragrant ginger, garlic and shallots. This is no ordinary potato bhaji to be callously stuffed into dosas or lopped up with bread. This potato has attitude.
Potato Bada$$.

Potato Mussakhan (adapted from "Malabar Cuisine" - Rasheed, Roshna Khader, Reshmi Joseph, Salim Pushpanath)

3 medium-sized potatoes
1 Tbsp grated/crushed ginger
1 Tbsp crushed garlic
4-5 medium-sized shallots - chopped
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp oil (coconut or vegetable - I used vegetable)
Optional - 2 small green chillies, sliced

1.Peel and cube potatoes. Boil in water to which salt and a pinch of turmeric has been added. When slightly cooked (should not be mushy), remove from heat and drain.
2.Make a paste of red chilli powder and turmeric in lime juice, pour onto potatoes, mix to ensure potatoes are coated.
4.Heat oil in a frying pan. Add shallots, followed by ginger and garlic. Fry lightly.
5.Add curry leaves and green chillies (if using), followed by potatoes. Fry on medium heat till potato cubes get a golden crust or color. Add salt to taste if necessary.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Curried Couscous

I'm not sure if this feature is still in place, but a while ago, the BB group decided to do Backtracking - which meant you could post an old BB recipe that you may have missed. Since I missed a lot of summer, I wanted to feature the recipe for Curried Couscous which I had approached with a lot of trepidation, but it turned out so well its going to be a staple side chez nous.

This recipe jazzes up couscous by adding a host of veggies, and the addition of curry powder gives it a nice spicy kick. I can't stand plain jane couscous, to me, it has the equivalence of eating beach sand. I tinkered around with the store bought versions which have add-ins, most of the time, they were terribly salty and you ended up with 5 limp dehydrated mushrooms withered on a bed of couscous.

I deviated slightly from the original recipe .
First, I opted not to add the yogurt into the couscous at the end. Reason being, the couscous looked and tasted great at this point, and I was worried it would reduce to "glop" with the addition of such a wet ingredient.
Secondly, I added homemade garam masala instead of the ubiquitous "Curry Powder" because sometimes the store bought curry powders are too pungent. I also cooked the couscous in chicken stock to add more flavor. Watch the salt though!
Thirdly, I did a light saute of the veggies that I added because I had mushrooms in the mix, and did not want to eat them raw.

This is a fantastic side with Mediterranean dishes, and as I said before, I'm definitely going to repeat this again as it is such a flavorful spin on plain couscous. Hats off to the Barefoot Contessa for the recipe, and to Ellyn of Recipe Collector and Tester who chose this recipe back in June ‘09.

Curried Couscous - (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups boiling water - I used chicken stock
Optional - 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I omitted this)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon curry powder or garam masala
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup small-diced carrots
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup dried currants/craisins/raisins (I reduced the amount originally called for)
1/4 cup blanched, sliced almonds
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms -
sauted till cooked through in a little olive oil2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup small-diced red onion

Place the couscous in a medium bowl.
Melt the butter in the boiling stock/water and pour over the couscous.
Cover tightly and allow the couscous to soak for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, curry, turmeric, salt, and pepper.
Pour over the fluffed couscous, and mix well with a fork.
Saute the carrots and mushrooms in a little olive oil. Add to the couscous, mix well.
Add red onions, parsley, currants, almonds, scallions and season to taste if necessary.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blueberry Scones with Orange Glaze

I've had a hankering for scones and with a pint of blueberries languishing in the fridge, everything started to come together when I saw Brown Eyed Baker post these beauties recently.
Scones are strange little fellows. Coquettish like biscuits, but with a steely exterior and somewhat dry interior. I remember the ones from childhood being awesome straight out of the oven and slathered with butter. I wanted something with a little sweetness to it, so I decided to try Tyler Florence's version of blueberry scones, and do an orange glaze instead of his lemon.
His scones have that authentic taste I was pining for, though I feel they were a little soft and pillowy, rather than the crumbly and slightly hard crust that I was used to. These scones are a breeze to prepare, and I used a shortcut for the buttermilk. They would be a treat for a late brunch or breakfast. They were fantastic straight out of the oven, but got a little moist and too soft the next day.
Blueberry Scones with Orange Glaze (adapted from Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze - Tyler Florence - Food Network)
2 cups AP flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk (use cream for an even more decadent scone ;-))
1 egg
1 cup blueberries miced with a little flour
Optinal - 1 beaten egg for egg wash before baking

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
3. cut in butter into the flour mixture and rub in til mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
4. Mix buttermilk and egg.Add to above four mixture and lightly combine.
5. add blueberries and gently fold in. Fresh blueberries are likely to "explode" during this step and while baking.
6. Drop spoonfuls of batter on greased cookie sheet. Brush with eggwash (optional).
7. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes

Glaze (Optional)
Mix 2-3 Tbsp orange juice with 4 Tbsp icing sugar until sugar dissolves. Add 1 tsp of butter, heat over low heat or microwave. Drizzle glaze over scones.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Zaara = Ann <> Zaara

Hello people - and all you 4 wonderful beings who read this blog (love you , muah!).

Before I go further, I just wanted to change my moniker on this blog. I started off using a "pen-name" of Zaara - but have decided to change it back to my "real" name of Ann.

Because frankly it didn't make any sense (I'm blogging about food for crying out loud!), and I must have been delusioned by grandeur when I started this all.

Which proves why I prolly will never pull off a million dollar heist, because I'd be the twit that hands the bank teller my ID card in the first place.

Cheers and Happy Blogging,

The Real Me.

Lemon Coconut Yoghurt Cake

I first made a Gateau au Yaourt (yoghurt cake) after seeing it on Clotilde's blog Chocolate and Zucchini. I was intrigued by its simplicity, and mesmerized by the tale that this is the first cake that French children learn to bake.
Before they become Jacques Pepin, Paul Bocuse, or more recently Eric Ripart (insert drool here).
Jokes aside, a yoghurt cake belongs in everyone's repertoire.It is a light, not too sweet, simple little cake which can be dressed up with fruit and elaborate sauces to snazz it up a little. However, due to my insane sweet tooth, I'm always left feeling like something was lacking, mainly because yoghurt is essentially bland and a little tart.
And so that is how flavoured yoghurt jumps in to the rescue, substituting this for plain yoghurt satisfied my sweet tooth and didn't rob the cake of its character. It's no pound cake, but at the same time, it has a richness of its own.
The inspiration for this recipe arrived in my inbox from my cousin who claimed it was her new favorite and a no-brainer to put together. Just what I needed the day I was hankering for some cake.
I decided to add some coconut flakes to balance out the lemon, and used a vanilla flavoured yoghurt to boot. There wasn't too much clash of flavors, and I loved the crisp crunch that the coconut added.

Recipe (adapted from Lemon Yoghurt Cake -
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
Grated rind of 2 lemons
2-3 tsps of lemon juice
3/4 cup oil
6 oz flavoured (store bought) yoghurt + 2 Tbsp natural plain yoghurt
2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup dessicated coconut flakes

1.Preheat oven to 350degrees F.
2.Mix rind, sugar, oil and sugar with a fork.
3.Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
4.Pour into a greased cake tin and bake for 40 mins.
5.Leave to cool and dust with icing sugar