True-Brown Aussie

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (1 of 3)

My first long haul flight was when I was just over the threshold of eight years of age.  I’m afraid my memories of it are scant, the strongest one being that I had the special job of carrying the mantapa, the small Hindu altar that my great-grandfather had carved out of rosewood.  A close second is the memory of the confusing emotions that each of us, myself and my parents, carried with us.  A healthy scoop of excitement stirred through a pinch of sadness and a heaped tablespoon of apprehension at the thought of starting a new chapter at our destination, Australia.

I had no appreciation of how brave my parents were then, leaping into a new life in a country they had never even visited.  Approaching with a few thousand rupees, a weak currency against the dollar even then, and a pocketful of hope, we were Sydney-bound with very little idea of what to expect.  As a family, we learnt our way around not only the Sydney streets, but also the Australian culture and vernacular.  We learnt fairly quickly that “How ya going?” invited an answer of “Good thanks!” or “Not bad!”, and not the reply “By bus!”.  It was a hard lesson when we realised that ‘Bring a plate’ meant a prepared dish, not what the phrase implies in a literal sense.

More than twenty-five years later, we are about as Australian as the average Australian.  We make pakoras on Christmas day, party on New Year’s Eve and go to the temple for Hindu new years.  When asked about our background we identify as Indian but while travelling outside Australia we are fiercely proud to declare ourselves Aussie.  We wear saris and bindis at Diwali to exchange gifts of new clothes, and gorge on chocolate eggs at Easter.  Rather than barbeques laden with meat and onions on Sunday afternoons, we spread dosa (south Indian rice crepes) onto hot pans and dunk them in chutney and sambhar.  On  Australia day, we have the added celebration of Indian Republic day, an interesting coincidence.  Some years, to be honest, it’s simply rest-day or spring-cleaning day!

The mantapa now inhabits my spare room, enclosing my small shrine.  It is where I pray before I go forth to conquer the day and before I sit down to a meal, whether Indian, Italian, Thai or Australian.  Like me, it is Indian-manufactured and Australian-developed, it’s wood as solid and un-weathered as my cultural identity.

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (3 of 3)

There are days when I feel not Indian enough and a few cents short of Aussie enough.  And other days when I know I am standing comfortably in the middle of the see-saw, perfectly balanced.  I am more a True-Brown Indian-Australian than a True-Blue Aussie, and this seems to work just fine.

Mangoes and coconuts are well-loved ingredients in both India and Australia and the Mango-Macadamia combination is a popular on in my adopted country.  These truffles pack all the flavour of mangoes, with the textural elements of coconut and macadamia butter.  They are vegan and free of refined sugar and gluten.

Happy Australia Day and Indian Republic day folks!

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (2 of 3)

MMC (Mango, Macadamia and Coconut) Truffles

Get:

100g dried mango, soaked in water for 1-2 hours
1/3 cup macadamia butter
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3 tbsp protein powder
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
2 tbsp quinoa flour (or another 2 tbsp protein powder)
1/4 cup shredded coconut + more for coating
Coconut oil (optional)

Make:

Drain the water from the soaked mango.  Pulse the mango with all the ingredients, except for the extra shredded coconut and the coconut oil, in a high-speed food processor, until a smooth mixture forms.  Roll into tbsp sized balls, adding a little coconut oil if the mixture is too firm. Toss the truffles in the extra shredded coconut and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours.

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Christmas Chivda (An Indian Street Snack)

Separating the beach from the road was a thickness of stalls that sold juice, tea, pav bhaji, fritters and other street snacks, the many-layered flavours of which could never be replicated in the sanitary conditions of a restaurant.  Rickety square stalls with torn calico coverings were stacked side by side, each a busily functioning unit within itself, much like cells in biological tissue.

Cries of vendors declaring the delights on offer were carried on the warm Bombay breeze alongside the scents of deep-fried chickpea batter, a myriad of masalas and the inescapable, faint undertone of sewage.  Juhu beach stretched beyond the bustle, less populated but still littered with vendors, children’s rides and sand artists with their temporary sculptures.

I would always ask for a paper cone, either filled with roasted peanuts or a dry street snack, Chivda.  They were portable, neat and most importantly allowed me to keep walking, the little girl trailing behind her parents.  They were also considered ‘safe’ to eat……not a drop of water or unwashed vegetable in sight.

Chivda (1 of 4)

When the lovely Claire of Claire K Creations organised the Foodie Secret Santa, I jumped at the chance to participate.  The idea is to make a Christmas treat and send it out to the three people you are allocated.  Soon enough, each blogger receives three treats from different bloggers.  So far I’ve received some moorish roasted peanuts and chilli jam from Claire herself, and some divine pecan balls that were reminiscent of a favourite childhood biscuit from another blogger who seems to wish to remain secret!

Chivda (2 of 4)

As Christmas is not a traditional festival for me, and I guessed that there would be plenty of sweetness in the air during this season as it was, I decided to make an Indian savoury street snack, Chivda.  This is my mum’s version, using flattened rice as the main ingredient.  We usually have a big bottle of this nestled in the pantry at any given time, to snack on with tea or to serve with cold drinks. The light, crisp rice flakes are dotted with crunchy peanuts and pleasantly interrupted by chewy coconut. A little salty with a suggestion of sweetness, it is naturally gluten free and vegan. Frying the poha (flattened rice) on a low heat does require some patience but after that, the process is fairly quick and uncomplicated.  This recipe makes a large quantity which can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a month or for longer in the fridge.

Here in Sydney the lead up to Christmas has been a sombre one, with the horrific tragedy of the Sydney Siege and news of other atrocities elsewhere in the world.  It seems all we can really do is pray for the human race and hope that the people affected can somehow go on to lead positive lives.  Despite everything, I wish you all, with all my heart, a Merry Christmas.

Chivda (4 of 4)

Chivda

Get:

 4tsp + 4 tsp vegetable oil
6 cups thin dried rice flakes (poha)
1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 cup raw peanuts
8 dried red chillies broken into large pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp asofoetida
25-30 fresh or dried curry leaves
1 cup coconut flakes
Salt to taste
3 tsp sugar

Make:

In a large heavy-bottomed frypan, heat 4 tsp oil.  Add the poha and reduce the heat to very low.  Toast the poha, stirring constantly to make sure the flakes are evenly toasted.  The poha should curl around the edges and gain a little colour very gradually over about 20 minutes.  When the poha has slightly browned and crumbles easily between your fingers, pour it into a large bowl and set aside.

Turn the heat up to medium and heat the remaining 4 tsp oil.  Add the mustard seeds and when they have finished popping, add the peanuts.  Take care not to burn the mustard seeds.  Fry the peanuts on medium heat, stirring constantly until they are a golden brown colour.  Add the turmeric, asofetida and curry leaves and fry, stirring, until the curry leaves have crisped.  Add the coconut flakes and fry, stirring, until they have browned a little.

Add the toasted poha back into the pan with the other ingredients with about 1/2 tsp salt and the sugar. Stir to mix well, but this time be gentle so that you do not crush the poha too much.  Taste and add a little more salt if needed, then stir again.

Transfer the chivda to a large bowl and allow to cool completely before packing into an airtight container.

Notes:

Poha, dried red chillies and spices are available at Indian grocery stores.

Chivda (3 of 4)

Tuscany in Transit

The man sat on a platform bench, directly in my line of sight as I peered out of the water-stained window of the train carriage.  His shirt hung completely open and the dazzling rays of the Tuscan sun reflected off the curves of his generous belly.  The equally reflective surface of his bald head was surrounded by a thick ring of dark, unkempt hair that spilled over the tops of his ears.  He held a brown glass bottle in one hand which he rested on his knee.  An unlit cigarette dangled from the fingers of his other hand.  It was lit as if on schedule by a passing man of about the same age who was, bafflingly, wearing a knitted beanie and sweater.  Large sunglasses were perched on the bare-chested man’s nose, heightening the sense that he should be the head of a crime ring in some Hollywood movie.  He held a grotesque fascination for me and before my train pulled away from Pistoia station, I fought the urge to take a picture, reminding myself that I was in his direct line of vision just as he was for me.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 1

The train I was on was headed for Lucca, a walled city about 140 km from Florence.  Almost three hours earlier, I had entered Santa Maria Novella Station after a brisk twenty minute walk along the sun-baked streets of Florence.  I had approached a small biglietteria, a stall selling tickets for the buses that stopped on either side of the city’s main station.  There, I met the very first impolite person I had come across in Florence, an insipid man who reminded me (in appearance but not in attitude) of my high school economics teacher.  He had set his mouth, sliced his hands through the air and in no uncertain terms told me “Lucca? NO!” promptly turning away as if I had just asked for his bank account details.

A more kindly man at another stall had told me that he too did not sell bus tickets to Lucca, but that if it was him, he would take the train.  I needed no more reasons to opt for the train, especially as I hadn’t been looking forward to the queasiness that I often experienced on drives along winding roads.

Through a combination of my suboptimal touristic Italian and my misreading of the train boards (who knew that they would have both departure and arrival information?), I failed to board one train and had to wait an hour for the next one.  It gave me the opportunity to explore Santa Maria Novella station.  The hub of the Florentine rail and bus networks, it’s imposing ceiling was what kept drawing my eyes upwards.  An intricate arrangement of criss-crossed steel beams supporting panes of grey tinted glass looms over scores of purposeful commutors and bewildered tourists. It’s cavernous underside houses a string of shops selling anything from cheap clothing, to mobile phones and gelato.  The shopping was not exactly a must-do in Florence, but an acceptable way to while away half an hour or so, if one happens to misread the train time signs.

All that speed-walking around a city and missing of perfectly good trains makes one hungry and so I picked up a pizzetta (mini pizza) at a nearby pasticceria.  The round of flaky puff pastry was smeared with pizza sauce and topped with good prosciutto, a puddle of mozzarella and sprinkling of herbs.  It was a simple but satisfying snack that proved to be worth the train mishap.  I picked up another for the journey and vowed to replicate the recipe in my own kitchen.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 2

Finally aboard the train, I settled into one of the comfortably cushioned seats and set my bottle of water on the tiny table.  In front of me was a young African woman who was engaged in a very loud and animated phone conversation, seemingly oblivious to the annoyed looks she was receiving from other passengers.  Across from me sat a middle-aged man in army pants, sporting a mohawk and impossibly dark sunglasses.  He left the train at a station midway to Lucca, with a chesty swagger that I couldn’t help but watch.  A young, slim woman, probably a gypsy, walked up and down the aisles using printed flyers to beg for money.  As always, I was mildly surprised that she wore jeans and a sweater rather than the flowing skirts and jangly bangles of storybook gypsies.

So it was that for the eighty minute ride to Lucca, I took in the undulating emerald green Tuscan hills, dotted with old farmhouses and historic towns.  At each station, I admired the bright scarlet poppies that grew like weeds along the tracks and around the stone buildings.  I peeped at the laundry drying out of windows and in balconies, guessing what kinds of people lived there and how many.  I observed the Italians that I saw on the many platforms that we passed.  Some were intriguing like the very proper little old lady dressed all in grey, others distasteful like the bald, abundantly bellied platform sitter at Pistoia.

I was surprised to find the train mostly filled with residents rather than tourists.  For me, the gentle rhythm of a train has always had a lulling effect, and it was a forced time-out in what had so far been an overly active holiday.  I sunk into my seat, chewed on my pizzetta and I people-watched.  The good, the bad and like that bare-chested gentleman, the downright unsavoury.

A recipe is probably more effort than a pizzetta needs.  You see, it’s as simple as an assembling of tasty, quality ingredients followed by some oven time.  When Spiral Foods sent me a few bottles of their Sugo (Italian Pasta Sauce), I started using this to smear onto the puff pastry and it worked a treat.  It truly is a fresh, homely tasting pasta sauce.  If you are vegetarian, swap the prosciutto for a few thin slices of flavourful tomatoes or red onions.

In other news, can you believe this is my 100th blog post?? I must admit I’m a little shocked that one with as limited an attention span as myself (ohhh…..look…..a butterfly!) would have lasted this long.  But here I am.  And here you are, reading each new post and supporting me with your presence, comments and encouragement.

Thank you!  Keep coming back, and enjoy the Pizzetta.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 3

Prociutto Pizzettas

Makes 8

Get:

4 sheets good quality frozen puff pastry, thawed
Olive oil
Melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup passata
1 tsp (3-5) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus a couple of leaves
Generous pinch salt
8 slices good quality prosciutto
150g buffallo mozzarella
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Quarter the pastry sheets.  Lay 8 pieces out onto oven trays and brush with melted butter.  Lay the remaining 8 sheets onto the brushed sheets, lining the corners up with the middle of the sides to form a star.

In a small bowl, mix the passata, basil and salt with a drizzle of olive oil, or use Spiral Foods Sugo straight up.  Taste and add a little more salt if desired, remembering that the prosciutto will be a little salty.  Spread the sauce over the middle of the pastry squares, leaving a 2 cm border clear all the way around each square.

Lay a slice of prosciutto onto each square and top with pinched off pieces of mozzarella, again leaving the border clear.

Scatter torn basil leaves over the top and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is fully cooked and browned.

Tuscany in transit 3

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, however Sugo product samples were provided by Spiral Foods.

 

Indian Tapas: Feta Pakodas (gluten-free, vegetarian)

Feta Pakora 2

This is it.  This is when we bring out the big guns.  I don’t do a lot of deep frying, partly because of the healthy eating angel on my shoulder, and partly because I’m secretly a little scared of the whole process.

I mean a vat of hot, spluttering oil that you drop cold, wet things into?  And once you drop each one in, you snatch your hand away from the hot popping droplets, only to go back for more?

It all seems a bit terrifying to me.  Like extreme sports for cooks.

As it happens, the bone-chilling, toe-freezing, stay-in-bed weather we’ve had in Sydney lately drove me towards the very thing I feared most in the kitchen.  When wrapping myself in a blanket and donning my fluffy slippers didn’t quite rectify the chill factor, I craved hot, spicy, deep-fried foods with a cup of tea to wash it all down.

Feta Pakora 3

Pakodas are a type of Indian fritter traditionally made with vegetables such as sliced potato or onion, or even pieces of chicken, coated in a spiced batter and deep-fried.  The pungent saltiness of feta cheese, and as it turns out, makes it an excellent pakoda filling.  For those of us turning into icicles, a plate of these with a hot drink is just the right medicine.  If you are up in the Northern Hemisphere and are lucky enough to be enjoying some warm weather, these pakodas work just as well alongside a cold bear or soft drink.  Use firm feta, like Greek or Australian varieties, as the softer Danish feta doesn’t seem to hold its own and makes the batter a little soggy.

They are best served a few minutes after cooking, so that they are still hot.  If you are anything like me though, the fun is in biting into them while they are still shiny with oil, cheesy innards scalding your tongue as you desperately blow at the burn on the roof of your mouth.  Spitting out the ball of fire would be the sensible thing to do.  You know it would be.  But the crisp, spicy batter embedded with sweet tender onions and filled with the salty-tang of the feta is somehow worth enduring the intense burn.  Honestly, just wait a couple of minutes, ok?

Feta Pakora 1

Feta Pakoda

Makes 20-25

 Get:

 150g firm feta cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
1 medium red onion
2cm ginger
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chick pea flour (besan)
3 tbsp rice flour
Small handful coriander, finely chopped
2-3 cups vegetable, sunflower or canola oil

Special Equipment:

A deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan
A heat-proof slotted spoon
A food processor

Make:

Cut the onion in half.  Cut one half into rough pieces and place in the food processor with the ginger, green chilli and 3 tbsp water.  Blitz on high until you have a thin puree.  Do not wash the bowl of the food processor yet.

Finely chop the other half of the onion and the coriander.

In a bowl, stir the flours, onion puree, salt and chilli powder.  You should have quite a thick paste.  Place 2 tablespoons of water into the unwashed food processor bowl and blitz again.  Add half of this liquid into the flour mixture and stir.  You should have a fairly thick batter that it is easy to move your spoon through, but it shouldn’t be runny.  Add the chopped onions and coriander and stir through.

Set up another bowl or plate lined with paper towels next to the stove.

Place enough oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan so that it is at least 5-6 cm deep.  Heat on medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking.  You could start this process before you mix the batter, however it should be watched closely.  You can test whether the oil is hot by dropping a little of the batter into it- if it is sufficiently heater, the batter will start to fry immediately and rise to the surface.  If the oil is too hot, the batter will cook and brown very quickly.  In this case, turn the heat down to really low for a few mins then test again.  If the oil is smoking, take it off the heat completely until it cools, then start again on low heat.

When the oil is at the right temperature, add a teaspoon of it to your batter and stir through.

Pat dry the feta cubes and drop 4 or 5 at a time into the batter.  With clean fingers, toss the feta cubes through the batter, making sure they are well coated.  If the batter is too thick for coating, add a little more water from the food processor.  Scoop up the feta cubes with surrounding batter and drop carefully, one by one, into the hot oil.  With the slotted spoon, turn over the pakodas every minute or so, until they are a darkish brown (but not black!).  If they are darkening very quickly, reduce the flame and wait a few minutes before trying again.  When the pakodas are done, use the slotted spoon to carefully lift them out of the oil.  Allow the excess oil to drip into the saucepan before lifting them out completely and placing them in the paper lined dish.

Continue to coat and fry the feta in batches of 4 or 5, adjusting the oil temperature as needed.

Serve hot plain, with tomato sauce or this mint yoghurt sauce.

Feta Pakora 4

 

Indian Tapas: Baked Samosa Tartlets

She felt his eyes on her for some time before she allowed herself to turn around. As nonchalantly as possible, her eyes scanned the crowd expecting to meet his. He was out of sight and she forced herself to turn back to the elderly lady who was giving an intricate explanation of the wedding preparations of her grand-daughter. She attempted a smile that indicated interest, but her mind bolted in a different direction entirely as she wondered where he had gone.

The champagne was going to her head now and the waitress drifted past with a tray of appetisers. Desperate for something to do with her free hand, Maya grabbed a samosa, took a bite and held it awkwardly as the lady finished her detailed description of each piece of jewellery that was given to her grand-daughter by the in-laws.

Samosa Tartlets 1

The lull in the conversation was exactly what Maya needed. She expressed the required niceties and broke away to scout the room for him once again.
And as she turned, there he was. Standing at her elbow, his dark skin luminous and his playful dimples twinkling.

“Can I get you another drink?” he smiled.

Maya tried her most alluring smile and taking that as a yes, he saw a passing waiter and reached for a fresh glass of champagne. As he turned away, Maya nervously took another bite of her samosa, wishing to make it disappear so that she could go back to elegantly sipping her bubbles and flirting with the beautiful stranger that inexplicably seemed interested in her.

Samosa Tartlets 4

To say that the triangular pastry destroyed all of Maya’s semblance of sophistication is more than fair. That second bite caused the pastry to crumble, and the spiced potato filling tumbled out of the belly of the samosa, bounced off her bosom leaving behind it a trail of yoghurt sauce as it fell to the carpet just in front of her………

Samosa Tartlets 2

To avoid similar samosa- related disasters, I have for you baked samosas that are in tart form. Two or three bites should do it and the thick, wonderfully flaky, sour-cream pastry minimises chances of such mortifying situations as poor Maya faced. Serve with the mint yoghurt sauce, as well as this tamarind and date chutney, dollops of which can be spooned into the tarts just prior to serving. I also used a combination of cauliflower and potato to reduce the carbohydrate content of the whole thing.

In other news, if you haven’t had enough of my babble in this space, or if you have somewhat let the fitness regime slip by over the holidays, head on over to Saute Magazine to read my thoughts on Exercise.

Samosa Tartlets

Pastry recipe slightly modified from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12-15 with leftover filling

Get:

For the pastry:
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ajwain (carom) seeds
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
115g chilled butter, cubed
1/4 cup chilled sour cream
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:
500g cauliflower, diced
2 small potatoes, diced
3 tsp oil
2cm ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder
1/2tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp amchur powder
Salt
Boiling Water

For the yoghurt sauce:
1/2 cup thick Greek youghurt
Small handful mint leaves
Small handful coriander leaves
1/2- 1 tsp salt

Make:

To make the pastry:
Roast the cumin and ajwain seeds in a small pan until fragrant.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and roasted seeds. Add the butter and use clean fingers to knead the butter into the flour until it is a smooth, crumbly mixture. A few larger chunks of butter the size of small peas are fine.
In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, lemon and iced water. Pour the mixture into the flour and butter. Uing your hands again, gently mix, then lightly knead the mixture until it is one mass. The kneading should be minimal and just enough to get the dough into a ball.
Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 20 mins. The dough can be prepared a few days early and refrigerated.
Preheat the oven to 200 C

To make the filling:
Boil the diced potatoes in salted water until they are cooked but still firm.
In a large non-stick pan, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and once they are popping, reduce the heat to low and add the ginger. Fry for a minute or so, then add all the spice powders except for the amchur and salt. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add the cauliflower and 1/2 cup of water, 1 tsp salt and amchur. Stir, cover and simmer until the cauliflower is tender but firm, stirring intermittently (6-8 mins).
Drain the potatoes and add them to the pan. If the mixture is dry, add a further 1/4 cup water. Stir through and taste- add a little more salt if needed. Stir and cook uncovered until the mixture is reduced so that there is no gravy.

To make the yoghurt sauce:
Place the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times until they are well blended. Taste and add a little more salt if needed, however the mixture should be on the slightly sour side.

To assemble:
Roll out the dough to 5 mm thickness. Using a large cookie cutter (I used a bowl that was 9 cm diameter), cut out rounds in the dough. Place the rounds at the base of tiny tart pans, a muffin pan or patty cases. The edges should turn up to form a shallow tart shape.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven until the pastry is cooked through, about 15 mins.
Cool and turn the cases out onto a plate. Spoon the filling into the cases. The tarts can be made in advance and warmed in a preheated oven (160 C) for 5 mins before serving.
Dollop with yoghurt sauce and tamarind date chutney just before serving.

Samosa Tartlets 5

Ricotta, Sweet Potato and Chilly spread + Happy New Year!

Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
-Les Brown

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 4

This year, let’s keep it simple, ok? Ok.
Instead of resolutions, let’s make a decision.  One single, easy decision.

This year we will make a decision to be good to ourselves, to understand when it needs to be about us and not those outside of us. An effort will be required, yes. To keep sight of what is in the best interest of our souls often doesn’t come naturally.

Know that it is an effort worth expending.

Let’s give ourselves only the best, without hesitation.  After all, life will only give us what we feel we deserve, no?

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 3

Twenty fourteen will see us treating ourselves with nothing but kindness, whilst never losing sight of our needs and goals.  It will be the year when we are true to us, when we don’t allow anything, least of all ourselves, to hold us back.

It will be the year we will move forward, shoot for the moon.  Because God knows we deserve it.  And along the way it will finally dawn on us that we do deserve it.

You know what?  Once we understand that, that we have every right to expect the best from the things we pour our hearts into, it will be so much easier to be kinder to ourselves.

And if we do shoot for the moon and land on a star?  Well, no matter……the stars are luminous, and we may just find that they are enough after all.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 5

In the interest of keeping things simple, here is a little spread I put together, on a day when the world was like an oven and spending more than ten minutes in the kitchen seemed the most unkind thing I could do to myself.  I had this for lunch, spread thickly onto crostini and with some finely sliced red cabbage and good anchovies piled atop it.  A few drops of white wine vinegar finished it off nicely.  And on that day? Well, it was enough.

You could really use whatever toppings you wanted, but I would suggest a combination of fresh, crunchy and salty with a drizzle of something acidic.

Happy New Year dear readers.  This blog has brought me so much fulfilment in 2013 and you, all of you, are instrumental in that.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 2

Ricotta, Sweet Potato and Chilly Spread

Get:

1/2 Habanero Chilly or 1 small red chilli
1/2 cup firm ricotta
1/2 cup boiled sweet potato
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small handful fresh coriander
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp salt

For the Crostini:
1 or 2 baguettes, sliced into 1cm slices
Olive oil

Suggested toppings:
Thinly sliced red cabbage, watercress, alfalfa sprouts etc.  Combine with anchovies, feta or olives and drizzle with a little vinegar of your choice.

Make:

If using a habanero chilly, roast it over an open flame or on a BBQ.  Place half of it, or a small red chilli in the bowl of your food processor with all the other spread ingredients.  Blitz until it is a paste consistency. Taste and add a little salt or olive oil if required, then blitz again.

Brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil and grill both sides until toasted to your preference.

Spread the crostini thickly with the ricotta mixture and top with toppings of your choice.

Get out of the kitchen quick and enjoy with something cold in front of the TV.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 1

Chocolate-Drizzled Macaroon Cookies for August SABH

I spend a lot of time in my own little world. Call it a Piscean trait or an only child thing that la-la land seems to be a second home for me.

It’s nice up there you know, and for the most part I have no complaints.  But being somewhat of a space cadet leads to some muddled and sometimes embarrassing effects.

Macaroon Cookies 4

There was that time during my primary school days in Mumbai.  It was a Tuesday and I somehow had it in my seven year old mind that it was a Wednesday, a day when school finished at noon.  So little me waited at the school gates for my mum, slightly puzzled as to why I wasn’t surrounded by the usual crowd of kids waiting and parents collecting.

To add insult to injury, despite normally being a perfectly angelic student, I was reprimanded for my confusion and wound up utterly humiliated!

Macaroon Cookies 1

Last week, the days of the calendar jumped around without any warning again.  I got my Mondays mixed up and posted this Indian spiced cookie recipe for Sweet Adventures Blog Hop, hosted by The Sticky and Sweet.  Seconds after I hit publish, I realised that SABH week was actually this week!

My embarrassment was significantly soothed with the realisation that two batches of cookies can only be better than one.  So I set about to put together another batch.

Macaroon Cookies 3

This is a macaroon like cookie- not the fancy schmancy high maintenance French macarons that are currently on a mission for world dominance.  No, this is like the much simpler coconut macaroon but with other good things added in.

Think of the egg whites as merely a vehicle for all the awesome nuttiness.   You can totally personalise these.  Add almost whatever you want- other nuts, dried fruit or chocolate chips.  The original recipe which is the inspiration for this uses chunks of marzipan.  If you want this to be totally fructose-free, leave out the cranberries and use unsweetened or fructose-free chocolate.

Chocolate-drizzled Macaroon Cookies

Inspired by these cookies from The Tiffin Box

Makes 20-25

Get:

4 egg whites
1/2 cup rice syrup and honey
1/2 cup almonds
3/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup cranberries
10-12 squares dark chocolate

Make:

Preheat the oven to 150 C.

Roast the almonds on a baking tray for about 15 mins.  Allow to cool and chop roughly.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks.  Fold in the syrup gently.  Sift in the almond meal.  Add the coconut, almonds and cranberries and fold all the ingredients together gently, being careful to preserve as much of the lightness as possible.

Line 2 or 3 baking trays with baking paper and grease the paper for insurance purposes.  Place tablespoon sized dollops of the batter on the paper with about 2 cm between dollops.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the cookies have browned a little.  Allow to cool.

Melt the chocolate in a Bain Marie or double boiler, or in the microwave in 20-30 second bursts.  Using a fork, drizzle the cookies with chocolate.

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Speaking of lemons….

…..there are still a few kicking around in my fridge.  They are a little softer than they were a week ago and I finally made myself throw out their leaves and thorns.

The thorns just amp up the coolness factor of all this.  Don’t think you can just reach in and grab the luminous fruit whenever it pleases you.  As lovely as they look, the tree doesn’t give them up without a fight and you are likely to get jabbed in the finger by that crafty defence mechanism.

You won’t see it coming of course, not with your eyes fixated on those shiny skinned lemons.  They will be yours eventually but don’t expect the tree to give in without a fight.

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I squeezed and zested as many as I could and although I can use the juice gradually, I was aware that I needed to use the zest pretty quickly.  Lemon zest, by the way, is my current favourite ingredient.  There is only so much lemon curd one needs to have in the fridge so that wasn’t an option.

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With perfect timing, the August Sweet Adventures Blog Hop was announced, hosted by Sophie from The Sticky and Sweet.  Cookies are the name of the game this month and I decided to try and make a biscuit that has been on my mind lately.

(Let’s just pretend for now that it’s perfectly normal to have baked goods on one’s mind.)

The biscuit in question is nankhatai, a traditional Indian cookie that is almost shortbread like in texture.  The chickpea flour gives it it’s richness and mouth-coating quality.  Semolina provides little spots of crunch and substance in an otherwise buttery crumbly world.  That lemon zest found it’s calling in my version and joined pistachio and cardamom to flavour what turned out to be a gorgeous tea-time biscuit.

I just love it when a plan comes together.

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Lemon and Pistachio Nankhatai

Modified from this recipe

Makes 28-30

Get:

180g butter at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
Zest of 1 1/2 lemons, finely grated
Insides of 8-10 cardamom pods
1 tsp white sugar
1 1/4 cups besan (chickpea) flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup coarse semolina
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup pistachio kernels

Make:

Preheat the oven to 175 C.

Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, powder the cardamom and white sugar together.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and lemon zest with the sugar and the cardamom/sugar powder.

In a separate bowl, sift all the flours, baking powder and salt together.  Grind the pistachios very coarsely so that there are still lots of small pieces rather than a powder.  Add this to the flours and stir through.

Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and combine with a spatula.  You will then have to get your (clean) hands in there to form a dough. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it is smooth.  If it is too sticky, put it in the fridge for about 10 mins. Knead again for a minute.

Form tablespoon sized balls.  Roll between your palms and flatten a little.  Mine were 3-4 cm in diameter and about 1.5 cm thick.  Press down in the middle with your thumb to make an indentation.  Lay the cookies out on baking trays lined with baking paper.  Leave 2-3 cm between cookies as they will spread.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 16-20 mins.  The cookies are done when they have spread a little and are browned at the top and bottom.  They will be soft initially but will crisp up after they cool.

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Fructose-free Baking: Coconut Cake Bars

Ok, it’s been just over a month since I finished the 8-week I Quit Sugar program (read about that here and here) and I have to say that I have slipped, like once…..or twice….or thrice.  I have had a couple of binge days where no amount of self cajoling has kept me away from the dark chocolate and nothing but a brownie will do.  And I have had those days where that gorgeous fudge that that client has brought in simply can’t be ignored.

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But you know what? I don’t actually feel that guilty. I guess firstly because I never intended to be completely sugar-free for life.  I always knew I’d re-introduce the S-word back into my life in the form of the (occasional) treat and while recently I seem to have stretched the definition of ‘occasional’, I have certainly noticed some changes in my attitude to sugar.

For one thing, my tastes when it comes to sugary treats has refined and while it seems nothing will cure me of my chocolate obsession, I seem to be able to resist the cheap, sugar-laden ‘confectionary’ type chocolate.  I previously would have crammed any cocoa-related substance indiscriminately into my mouth at break-neck speed, just in case all the chocolate factories in the world happened to burn down in the next five minutes.  But now, I seem to very partial to high quality dark chocolate……the good stuff, as any addict would say.

I can also quite happily walk past a bag of lollies or a pack of biscuits without turning into a human vacuum cleaner and have also been able to resist many cakes and such without too much drama.

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Then there was that weak moment, or succession of moments,  when I came home from a Saturday at work madly craving a chocolaty treat.

That evening, after discovering an Adriano Zumbo brownie packet mix in the cupboard, the mixture may or may not have met with a couple of eggs and some butter and made its way into the oven.

Thirty- five minutes later, about a quarter of the pan may or may not have disappeared.

It’s my word against the brownies’ so I guess we’ll never know how it all happened.

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Aside from struggling a little with the transition from ‘sugar-detox’ to ‘just treating myself to the good stuff every now and then’, the other thing I struggled with is not being able to bake while I was trying to detox.  So I’ve been playing around with some fructose-free recipes and hit up my stash of cookbooks to see if I could modify an existing recipe.

I dug out a squat, fat little book called ‘500 Cookies’ by Phillipa Vanstone and found a recipe called ‘Coconut Wedges’.  I tweaked some things, added some saffron (it’s the Indian in me) and came up with something that I will call Fructose-free Coconut Cake bars.  If you don’t mind the fructose, you can of course use any other syrup such as honey, maple-syrup or golden syrup.

These little dudes are like the anti-brownie.  While brownies are the good stuff, these bars have the stuff that’s good for you.

These are dense, crumbly little numbers, somewhere between a cake and a bread, that you could totally get away with eating for breakfast.  They of course, also make a great healthy snack which I suspect is their original intention.

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Fructose-Free Coconut Cake Bars
Makes 12-15
Adapted from ‘500 Cookies’ by Phillipa Vanstone

Get:

1/4 tsp or generous pinch saffron strands
1 tbsp milk, warmed
3/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2  tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1/2 cup rolled or quick oats
1 1/2 cup shredded or desiccated coconut + 1/4 cup extra
1/2 tsp all-spice
1 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3/4 to 1 cup rice malt syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Make:

Preheat the oven to 175 C.

In a small bowl, add the saffron strands to the warm milk and stir until the milk is coloured. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder and baking soda.  Add 1 1/2 cups coconut, the oats and all-spice and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the oil with the syrup.  Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and milk with saffron.  Pour the wet mixture into the bowl with the dry mixture and stir through gently until just combined.

Pour the mixture into a 30cm x 20cm baking tin and smooth out evenly.  My mixture didn’t fill the entire tin and there was about 2 inches empty at one end.  Sprinkle extra coconut over the top.  If using desiccated coconut to sprinkle, do this about 5-7 mins into the baking process so it doesn’t burn.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 12-15 mins.  Test by inserting a clean knife or skewer into the centre of the cake- if it comes out clean, it’s done!
Allow to cool and slice into bars, about 7 cm x 4cm.

Notes:

Ok, so the saffron is a luxury and very nice but probably optional.

Vanilla extract has a little sugar in it.  If you need this to be completely fructose free, use vanilla powder or the seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean.

If you don’t have coconut oil, a neutral oil such as vegetable oil should work.

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