Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Fruit Cake

Christmas is the time of gifts, family, laughter, holidays, baking and fond memories.

I remember as a child, celebrating it with family members at my maternal grandparents place. My grandmother used to make many Christmas sweets and savories. But cakes, the fruit cakes we always bought from the local bakery, and we bought dozens & dozens of them. The bakeries work tirelessly in the nights baking Fruit cakes and other pastries which will get sold out in a jiffy. It's called Plum cake rather than fruit cake and it's baked with green, red & yellow tutti frutti (candied raw papaya). I love the smell of baking pastries.
What is Christmas without a Plum cake, so we thought. Grandma carefully places the whole one pound fruit cake on a platter and decorates it around with her homemade sweets & savories. Once its ready, she calls us little elves, the grand-kids, to deliver to our neighbors. We visit many neighbors and they give us some treats. Our platters never returned empty, but with our neighbors homemade delicacies. It was the most exciting time for us kids.

I can recall, every Christian home we visited, had Plum cakes served on the table.

Christmas is grand in our own traditional ways. The Church carolers visit parishioners at midnight singing carols like thunder, the whole house reverberate in their music and the hearts pound with every drum beat of the musicians. The musicians accompany their guitar, keyboard, drums, bongos, a beaded instrument that looks like African cabasa and tambourine. I wonder did they sing so loud to keep us awake or to keep them awake throughout the night. But we enjoyed those carols and they had to eat the Plum cake & tea served for them at every house through the weeks. I'm sure, they would get sick of the cake by Christmas.

Another fond childhood memory is enjoying Christmas holidays in my hometown, Kerala. When we are there, we must visit all our relatives. If we miss even one family, we have offended them. So our entire trip goes visiting our relatives, at some homes we stayed and some we dropped-in by the day, for lunch or for dinner. And wherever we go, if its during Christmas time, we get to taste different varieties of Plum cake. Served with tea for adults, and with orange juice for kids.

I enjoyed the myriad flavors of the Plum cake at each house and the tradition of sharing these cakes with our neighbors.

As I look back, I feel there is more joy in giving. And if its something that is made by you, it fills your heart.

I wanted to share this Christmas joy and make memories in my own simple way for me and my daughter. Through baking. I hope my daughter would enjoy distributing the Christmas platter to our friends and neighbors, like I did.

Here's the recipe for the traditional Plum cake (Fruit cake), although with a mixture of various candied/dried fruits and nuts which makes it more rich.

This recipe makes a 4 pound cake.



Ingredients:

Dry Fruits for marinade:
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1.5 cups dried raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried apricot
  • 1/4 cup dates
  • 1/4 cup dried pineapple, mango or apple
  • Peel of one orange
  • Grated rind of one lemon
  • 1 cup chopped mixed nuts (almonds,cashew,walnut,brazil nuts,hazelnuts,pecans)
  • 1.5 cups dark rum (I used Bacardi smooth spiced rum)
Other ingredients:
  • 3 cups(1.5 pounds) butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups dark brown sugar
  • 6 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup 100% orange juice
Dry ingredients:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp salt

For the spice powders (grind them all together):
  • Caraway seeds: 1 tsp
  • Cinnamon : 1 inch stick
  • Powdered Nutmeg : 1/2 a piece
  • Ginger powder: 1/4 tsp
  • Cloves: 1
  • 1/4 cup dark rum to drizzle over cake

Method:
Fruit marination:
1. Chop the fruits and nuts.
2. Put them in an airtight container and pour the rum over them. The fruits should be well soaked in rum, add more rum if required.
3. Prepare this marinade a week in advance or overnight at room temperature. Do shake the jar once in a while. I prepared this marinade 48 hours ahead of baking.)

Mixing & Baking:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degree C.
2. Sift the dry ingredients, mix spice powders and keep aside.
3. Separate egg yolks from the whites. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks with vanilla.
4. Whisk egg whites till it forms peaks.
5. Cream butter and sugar together until well combined and fluffy.
5. Add the egg yolk mixture little by little into the butter cream alternating with a tbsp of the sieved flour and combine till smooth.
6. Add Orange juice and the remaining flour in small quantities and fold in .
7.Gently fold in the egg whites to the cake batter till well combined.
8. After mixing well, drain the soaked fruits. Dredge half of the soaked fruits in 1/4 cup flour and set aside; add the rest of the fruits to the batter and gently fold them into the batter.
9. Grease the cake tins and line with parchment paper. Pour batter up till half of the prepared cake tins. Just before leveling the top add the fruits tossed in flour and then level the top with a spatula, making sure that the fruits are coated well with the batter. 
12. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until a tooth pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
13. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.
14. Prick little holes on top of the cake with fork and then sprinkle two or three tablespoons of Rum over the cake, let it sink in for couple of more minutes and unmold them

Tips & Notes:
1. The cake stays longer without spoiling when dry vessels and spoons are used to mix the batter. The container used for soaking the fruits should be completely dry and free of any dampness.
2. The Fruit marinade can be made 2-3 months ahead too. Do shake the jar once in a while. Longer the fruits steep, better the flavor. 
3. You can substitute rum/wine with apple juice or pineapple juice.
4. Beating egg whites separately makes a big difference.
5. Dredging the fruits in flour prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
6. Adding orange peels to cake batter enhances the flavor a lot.
7. Place the cake on top of plastic wraps or parchment paper. Sprinkle top and sides of cake with rum. Wrap the cake well. Place it in an airtight tin or aluminum foil and age for atleast one week for better taste.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thai Prawn Red curry and Thai Fragrant rice with Prawns




Thai Red Prawn Curry

Ingredients:

  • Prawns – 1kg
  • Red Curry Paste - 3 Tablespoons
  • Fish Sauce or Oyster sauce - 2 Tablespoons
  • Prawn head & tail – ground and juice strained
  • Brown Sugar - 1/2 Teaspoon
  • 100 ml thick Coconut Milk
  • 50 ml Water
  • 2 Red Chillies – chopped diagonally
  • 2 Kaffir Citrus Leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Red bell pepper – one chopped into big pieces


Method:
  1. Fry the shrimp in oil for 30 second and remove onto a plate. (I removed 15-20 prawns to use for the rice.)
  2. Into the same pan, put the red curry paste and oil and fry for a few seconds to release the flavours.
  3. Add the coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce, prawn juice and water and fry on a low heat while mixing, it only takes a few minutes to make.
  4. Add the chillies, bell peppers into the frying pan.
  5. Add the prawns into the curry sauce. Garnish with slices of the kaffir leaves.


Thai Fragrant Rice with Prawns

Ingredients:
  • Basmati rice - 1 cup
  • Spring onions with greens  - 5 to 6
  • Coconut milk - 1 cup
  • Vegetable stock  - 2 cups
  • Lemon rind grated  - 1 teaspoon
  •  Lemon grass roots - 1 inch
  • Ginger - 1 inch piece
  • Salt  to taste
  • Cooking wine – 3-4 tablespoon
  • Garlic – 7 to 10 pods chopped fine
  • White Onion – half sliced into big pieces

Method:
  1. Fry onions, garlic for 2 mins and add cooking wine and add the fried prawns. Stir for few secs,  remove & keep aside.
  2. Trim the spring onion greens and reserve. Roughly chop the stems and quarter the bulbs.
  3. Heat a deep non-stick vessel, add a tablespoon of oil, stir in the spring onion bulbs and stems.
  4. Now add the drained rice, coconut milk, vegetable stock and lemon rind. Stir for few secs.
  5. Add sliced lemongrass root and ginger.
  6. Add salt and mix. Cook till the rice is done.
  7. Chop spring onion greens and garnish the rice.
  8. Add the fried prawns.
Serve hot.

Red pumpkin cake

Ingredients:

  • All-purpose flour / maida - 1¼ cup
  • Powdered sugar - 1 cup
  • Butter  -  1 cup
  • Baking powder - ¼ tspn
  • Corn flour - 1 tbspn
  • Pumpkin puree - 100gms
  • Eggs - 3 nos
  • Salt - a pinch
  • Cinnamon powder - 1/2 tspn
  • Nutmeg powder - 1/2 tspn
  • Vanilla essence - 1/2 tspn

Method:
  1. Mix all-purpose flour, corn flour, baking powder and salt
  2. In a bowl mix butter and sugar, until sugar dissolves. Add eggs one by one and beat it until the mixture becomes light and fluffy
  3. Add the flour mix, pumpkin puree, spice powder and vanilla essence. Stir it well so that it becomes a smooth batter
  4. Pour the mixture into a greased microwave tray and microwave for 20 mins on medium power
  5. Serve hot with cherries & chocolate sauce or just plain with Tea

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Inspired by~
Stefano's Buttermilk Fried Chicken - In the Kitchen with Stefano Faita


INGREDIENTS
  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 to 10 pieces 
  • 3 cups buttermilk 
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce 
  • Hot sauce, as per taste 
  • 2 1/4 cups flour 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, as per taste 
  • Pinch of cayenne, or as per taste 
  • Canola oil or any oil of your choice for shallow frying

PREPARATION
  1. Take buttermilk in a large bowl. Add Worcestershire sauce and drizzle a little of hot sauce. Mix well. Add the chicken to the buttermilk mixture and coat it well. Cover and let it marinate in the fridge overnight or for at least 6 hours.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat in large cast iron fry pan. Add enough oil to come up about 1-inch to 2-inches up the side of the pan.
  3. Combine flour, salt and pepper and cayenne in a shallow dish. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture and coat well. Double dredge the chicken and dip back into buttermilk and then once again in the flour. Shake off any excess flour.
  4. Add chicken to hot oil. Shallow fry over medium to medium low heat. Cook chicken until juices run clear and no longer pink, flipping once during the cooking. Depending on thickness of chicken pieces, total cooking time should be about 20 to 30 minutes. 
  5. Remove chicken and place on a platter covered with paper towels to drain off excess fat. Serve hot or cold.
  6. Alternatively, shallow fry chicken until golden brown, about 7 to 8 minutes per side. Finish in preheated 350 degrees F oven until juices run clear and no longer pink, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Tips:
  • Marinating the chicken in buttermilk makes the chicken tender and juicy. 
  • For crispy coating, double dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Taralli - Italian snack


Taken from David Rocco's recipes
I've been watching Fox traveller and taking down few recipes. One particular show I wait eagerly to watch is David Rocco's Dolce Vita and have come to become a fan of his recipes. In today's show, he shared some simple and easy to make ilalian sweets and snacks with ingredients you'd already be having at home. One that I'm planning on trying is Taralli. It looks like a donut.

(Picture By Marco Leogrande via Wikimedia Commons)



Ingredients:
  • 2.2 lb (1kg) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (250 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • a splash of red wine
  • 1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm water, or as much as you need

To start your Taralli:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place flour on a worktable. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add olive oil, wine and water. Combine together and knead until the mixture becomes an even dough. If necessary, add a little more water and continue kneading. 
  3. Cut off a small amount of dough and roll into a 1/2 inch thick log. Cut the log into 5 inch long pieces. Then form a 'doughnut-like' shape by pinching opposite ends together. Repeat the above process until all the dough is used up.   
  4. Place the taralli in a pot of boiling water for about a minute or until they float to the surface. Stir to prevent from sticking together. Remove the taralli from the water with a slotted spoon and dry off any excess water with a dishcloth.   
  5. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until golden brown on one side. Turn the taralli over to cook the other side. Serve with wine.

Yield: Several dozen servings

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Avial - mixed vegetable stew in coconut


Ingredients:-
  • Yam cut in cubes -  1 cup
  • Sambar Cucumber cubed -  1 cup
  • Snake gourd cut into 1 ½" length pieces - 1 cup
  • Carrot sliced into into 1 ½" length pieces - ¼ cup
  • Long runner-beans sliced into 1 ½" length pieces - ½ cup
  • Drumstick cut into 2" length pieces - 2 nos
  • Potatoes cubed - ¼ cup
  • Raw bananas sliced into 1 ½" length pieces - 1 no
  • Mango pieces or tamarind juice or sour curd (to give a little tangy taste)
  • Turmeric powder -½ tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Grated coconut - ½ quantity
  • Green chillies - 5 nos
  • Cumin seeds - ½ tspn
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Coconut oil - 3tbs

Method:-
  1. Coarsely grind the coconut, green chillies and cumin seeds. Keep it aside.
  2. Heat 2tbs coconut oil in a thick bottom vessel. Add the vegetables and cook in a low flame.
  3. Check if vegetables are cooked. Now add turmeric powder, salt and mix it well. Remove the vegetables from the middle and put sliced bananas and mango pieces /tamarind juice /sour curd and cover it with the other vegetables.
  4. Add the coconut paste and stir well. Add some water if too dry and cook till vegetables are soft but not mushy. Remove from fire. Mix the remaining coconut oil and curry leaves in the avial.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chena Theeyal - Yam in fried coconut curry


Ingredients:

  • Elephant yam(Chena) cut into small cubes - 1 cup
  • Onions - 1 cup 
  • Tamarind juice (juice extracted from a lemon-sized tamarind soaked in water) -1/3 cup
  • Salt to taste

Masala (to be roasted & ground):
  • Grated coconut - 1 cup
  • Coriander powder -1 1/2tbsp
  • Cumin Powder - 1/2 tsp 
  • Chilli powder -1 tspn (you can add more if u want it spicy)
  • Pepper powder- 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder - 1/4 tspn
  • Asafoetida - 1/4 tspn
  • Oil - 1 tspn

For tempering:
  • Mustard seeds -1/4 tspn
  • Fenugreek seeds - 1/2 tspn
  • Dry red chillies - 3 nos.
  • A sprig of curry leaves
  • Oil (coconut oil will give the authentic taste)- 2 tsp

Method:

1. Heat oil for roasting the masala. Add coconut first and roast until dark brown (a minute short of burning). Then add all the powders, fry for few seconds and remove from fire. Cool the mix and grind it to coarse powder and then add some water and grind to a smooth paste.
2. In a kadai, add the tamarind juice,  one cup of water, onions and the yam. Bring to boil and add the ground masala paste. Simmer for 10-15 mins until gravy thickens.
3.Add salt and mix well. Remove from fire.
4. Heat oil for tempering. Add the mustard seeds and once it starts spluttering, add the remaining ingredients. Pour this into the curry. Mix well.


Serve hot with rice.