Balconies and Baked Yoghurts

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It’s the first night it’s been warm enough to sit out on the balcony. The city lights shimmer in the distance, a deceptively calm façade to the Friday night revelry within. To the right, the single red glow atop the harbour bridge winks in its rhythm, in conversation with its twin that adorns the tip of centre-point tower. To the left of the nightscape is the distinct neon green squiggle of the holiday inn, a fluorescent stairway to heaven that is another reference point. The lights merge into a softly shimmering veil on the water of the harbour, now still without even a moving boat to disturb its surface.

From across the road, a wall of jasmine sends tendrils of sweetness over the railing, a comforting reminder of spring.  Below, a couple enjoy an evening stroll, elderly dog pottering on a lead before them. Diffuse puddles of light created by street lamps briefly illuminate the tops of their heads as they make their way down the street. Somewhere in the distance, base notes of dance music are scattered into the neighbourhood breeze from a house party. It’s loud enough to remind me that someone, somewhere is on a dance floor, but far enough away to leave me glad that it isn’t me.

There are worse ways to spend a Friday evening.

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This dessert, if you get it right, is like scented silk.  The recipe’s simplicity is almost deceptive, and it almost seems unfair that something so divine can be so easy. It is an Indian dessert, but one I didn’t grow up with so when it was first made for me, I was in awe. While it is simple to make, it does take a little planning due to the hanging of the curd, baking, and chilling before it is ready to serve. Its’ texture is not unlike pannacotta if you get the baking time right. If you over-bake it, it will be a little coarser and more reminiscent of a cheesecake, and still lovely.

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Indian Sweet Baked Yoghurt with Cherry Vanilla Sauce

Makes 6

Get:
1 ½ cups full fat Greek yoghurt
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup full-fat milk
Seeds of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
Seeds of ½ a vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste
A few strands of saffron
Crushed nuts to serve

For the sauce:
200g pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice
Seeds of ½ a vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste

Make:

Place the yoghurt in the centre of a piece of cheesecloth (for those in Australia, a clean Chux cloth works well). Tie the opposite corners together and suspend the curd from a low height where the whey can drip out. Try the faucet or a wooden spoon laid across the top of a bucket. Allow to hang for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

If using saffron, warm a couple of tablespoons of the milk and add the saffron. Set aside for a few minutes. Place the thickened yoghurt, condensed milk, vanilla and cardamom in a large mixing bowl. Whisk or beat with an electric beater on low speed until combined. Add the milk and saffron milk (if using) and beat again until combined.

Divide the mixture between 6 ramekins or glasses. Place these in a deep oven dish and pour water into the dish and around the glasses so that the water level is ½ to ¾ to the level of yoghurt mixture. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the yoghurts are set but still wobbly. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

To make the cherry sauce, place the sauce ingredients into a thick-bottomed saucepan with the vanilla bean husk if you used a bean. Add a splash of water (about ¼ cup). Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low heat for about half an hour, or until the cherries are easy to break down. Allow to cool, then discard the vanilla bean and blitz the mixture in a food processor until it is a rough puree. Spoon the mixture into the glasses on top of the chilled baked yoghurt. Top with crushed nuts just before serving.

Diwali, Coconut & Quinoa Kheer and Win Flights to India!

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (2 of 5)

Of all of the stories that are associated with Diwali, the tale of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman has to be the one that is dearest to my heart.  It is a tale of honour, exile, self-control and eventually, triumph.  This part of the epic Ramayana begins with the self-imposed exile of Rama after an administration bungle involving his stepmother and the throne.  Despite the pleas of his father the King, honour drives Rama into the forest, where he is willingly followed by Sita and Lakshman to begin what is to be an adventure-filled, fourteen year camping trip.

And what of Sita?  Her adoptive father, also a King, discovered baby Sita in the fields (one assumes she was discovered by one of his staff as what King would toil the fields?).  He is delighted with his find, which if you ask me is a refreshing change in the attitude of that time, when female babies were generally considered a consolation prize to sons.  He raises her as his own and when she is of marriageable age, hosts the equivalent of a celestial weight lifting championship to filter out the men from the mice.  Thus, Rama is found.  He is known in Hindu mythology as Purushottama, literally the Supreme Being, or Perfect Man (thereby confirming that on Earth, one may find Mr. Right but can forget any hopes of finding Mr. Perfect).

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (5 of 5)

So after having to suffer through watching keen suitor after keen suitor attempt to lift the heaviest bow in the world, the Princess Sita finds her perfect man, marries him and is rewarded with a honeymoon of more than a decade in the woods with no mobile phone connection and barely a hairdryer to her name.  As if having to wander around in the forest with your husband and the third wheel his brother wasn’t trying enough for the poor lady, she manages to get herself kidnapped by Ravana, an obnoxious demon with appalling table manners.

So Diwali marks the return from exile of the trio, after Rama proves his perfection by slaying the evil Ravana, rescuing his wife and bringing her back to civilisation before she can get herself into any more trouble.  Known as the Festival of Lights, an important feature of Diwali is the lighting of lamps and of firecrackers.  The flames and bursts are a symbol of good triumphing over evil, of light obscuring the darkness.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (1 of 5)

In Sydney, the law dictates that we be content with the lighting of sparklers and of small oil filled lamps, or diyas.  When I was in Mumbai as a child however, it was a different story.  Weeks before the much anticipated festival, we would stock up on firecrackers of all shapes, sizes and colours.  Then the day would come and after the religious rituals were duly observed and obscene amounts of food eaten, all of the inhabitants would gather in front of the apartment block, the youngest kids hoisted safely onto their fathers’ shoulders.

We would often start softly, with flower pots that would spray a bouquet of light upwards and chakkars (wheels) that would spin madly when lit, spraying colourful sparks unpredictably in all directions.  Some of the braver boys would venture onto rockets, placing them in used soda bottles. These had to be lit quickly, legs in take-off position, so that the mad dash to safety could be done before they launched.  The grand finale would be strings of tiny ‘Dum Dum’ crackers, named so for the deafening cavalcade of explosions that began when they were lit, leaving ears ringing till Christmas.  When the boxes of firecrackers had all been systematically reduced to burnt paper and the air was heavy with the strangely intoxicating scent of over-done popcorn, we would all head back into our homes (or each others’) to enjoy a vast array of sweets for dessert.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (3 of 5)

Firecrackers and sweets jostle for first place among the highlights of Diwali and in Australia, where the law is limiting, sweets win every time.  There are no rules against sugary, milky gratification and indulge we do, with at least three different types of sweets every year.  This year, I played with a variation on kheer, a popular condensed milk and rice pudding.  In this version, the quinoa lends a nuttiness which cuts through its creamy, mildly sweet coconut vehicle.  There is a pleasant coating of the tongue of thickened coconut milk and the delicate balance of the cardamom, saffron and vanilla that it carries.  Jaggery lends a warm, caramel sweetness, but you could use brown sugar if you don’t have any on hand.  An abundant drizzle of toasted, crushed nuts is mandatory and gives the molars something to work on in an otherwise soft world.  I chose almonds and also used some Persian fairy floss that I happened to find strutting around in the pantry.  From a nutrition perspective, quinoa is mostly protein and therefore a healthier option to rice.  Also, the natural sweetness of coconut products means that only a small amount of sweetener is required.  Serve in small bowls, as both quinoa and coconut milk are filling entities and the last thing we all need is dessert fatigue*.

Now onto the competition! St.George Bank is giving away 2 tickets to India this Diwali (see the video below), and if I hadn’t spent my leave galavanting around Tuscany and the UK, I’d be entering.  To enter, all you have to do is snap a pic of some aspect of your Diwali celebrations.  Post the pic on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, with the #StGeorgeDiwali by 12 noon Sunday, October 26.  The best entry will win flights for 2 to India!  The competition is open to NSW, ACT and QLD residents.  For further info, including T & C’s, head to http://www.stgeorgediwali.com.au/

So whether your Diwali consists of Dum-Dums and squealing children, or quiet rituals and too much food, may it be filled with light, love and sweetness.  Happy Diwali!

Looking for other eggless sweet options? Try these chocolate burfi. or this raw mint slice, or these truffles or these ones.

This is a sponsored post, but words, opinions and ramblings are my own.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (4 of 5)

Coconut and Quinoa Kheer (Pudding)

Makes  8-10 serves

Get:

1/2 cup quinoa
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin coconut cream
50-70g jaggery, powdered, or brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
The insides of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/8 tsp (generous pinch) saffron strands
1/2 or 1 whole vanilla bean
About 1/4 cup crushed, toasted nuts of your choice

Make:

Boil the quinoa in plenty of water for 6-8 mins. Drain and rinse the quinoa well.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the drained quinoa, coconut milk, coconut cream, powdered jaggery or brown sugar, powdered cardamom seeds and saffron.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Place the seeds and the bean into the pan.

Bring gently to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the pudding has thickened to a porridge consistency.  Crush and toast the nuts in another pan while this is happening.  Serve topped with crushed nuts and whatever else happens to be serving a purely decorative purpose in your pantry.

 

Notes:

*We all know dessert fatigue is a myth, but the weak amongst us claim it exists.  Also, I may have made way too much of this and eaten it for breakfast 3 days in a row.

Jaggery is an unrefined Indian brown sugar that you can pick up at Indian grocery stores.

If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can substitute with vanilla extract or paste.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (7 of 2)

 

Six Ingredient Microwave Chocolate Burfi (Indian milk sweet)

Yes, yes I know….it’s been a bit of a dessert overload around here, hasn’t it?  I mean, there were these Pots de Crème and these feline Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars.  Oh OH! And this Crumble!

But let’s just think about that phrase…..dessert overload.

Is there such a thing, really?

No, no I thought not.

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Certainly not at this time of the year when the air is ripe with the cheer of one festival or another.  For Hindus, the one just gone by, Diwali, is a major one and surely not a time to be worrying about silly things like the waistline.

Diwali, or Deepavali is the festival of lights.  Yes you read that right- a festival named after me.  Or was it the other way around?  I’m not keeping track.

The lighting of lamps and the setting off of firecrackers symbolises an awakening.  An illumination by the light of truth to dispel the darkness of ignorance.

Diwali to us is like our Christmas and New Years rolled into one.  We pray to the Goddess Lakshmi for prosperity and exchange gifts of new clothes to symbolise fresh beginnings.

And after the prayer is done, lamps are lit and gifts are given, we do what we do best…….cook up a storm and eat ourselves into a food and sugar coma.

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This year, Mum and I put together several sweets in addition to the main meal.  I decided to try my hand at Chocolate Burfi, which it will surprise none of you to hear is one of my favourite Indian sweets.  There are two versions of this sweet that I have seen.  Many like to mix cocoa powder in with the basic burfi (milk sweet) mixture.  My preference is the way that the sweet shop down the road from me used to make it when I lived in London.

The base is a fudgy, milky layer and it is topped by a good thick layer of dark chocolate.  I like a chocolate to milk sweet ratio of around 1:2. You could use milk chocolate, but I enjoy the way the dark chocolate cuts through the sweetness of the bottom layer.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.  For those who celebrate, I hope your Diwali was filled with love and decadence, and was the fresh start you needed.

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Chocolate Burfi

Makes 32

The microwave milk sweet technique is also described here

Get:

For the milk sweet layer:
120g butter, cubed
1 can condensed milk
2 cups full-cream milk powder

For the chocolate layer:
200g good quality dark chocolate (I like Plaistowe 70%)
2 tbsp thickened or double cream
1/3 cup nuts coarsely ground (I used pistachios)

Make:

Prepare a tray.  I used a greased silicone 20cm x 20cm baking pan.  If you are using a non-flexible pan, I suggest you grease it and line it with baking paper.

In a large microwave safe bowl, place butter and microwave until melted (about a minute).  Add condensed milk and milk powder and whisk well.

Microwave on high for a minute, then whisk again till smooth.

Microwave on high for another minute and whisk again.

Microwave on high for 30 seconds, then 30 seconds again, whisking in between.

Spoon into the prepared tray and spread evenly.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

When the milk sweet layer has set, melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in 20-30 second bursts, stirring in between.  When the chocolate has melted, stir in the cream.  If the mixture starts to seize up, microwave for a further 20 seconds.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the milk sweet layer and spread evenly. Sprinkle with coarsely ground nuts and refrigerate until the chocolate is set (at least 3 hours).

With a sharp knife, cut into shapes of your choice. I went for squares that were then cut diagonally to make triangles.

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