Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I Baked my Baby's First Birthday Cake!

I guess I'm the baking kind of mum. I love it :) I baked my baby girl's first Birthday cake. I knew I wanted a cake that would A) taste delicious and moist B) look elegant, girly and cute C) feed about 40 people. So I decided on a layered cake with classic chocolate and moist vanilla, with a light whipped cream filling. The frosting was something that had me thinking for a while. I wasn't sure if the whipped cream would hold in room temperature and since I was planning on making the cake the night before, I wanted something that would still look and taste as good on the morning of the party. I pondered over fondant, but somehow wasn't very keen on it. And then one morning as I woke up, the idea of a white chocolate ganache came to me, just like that :) Maybe because I always knew that I wanted  something white(ish) with a sprinkling of colour on it, or something. And I ended up making a (pretty) tall cake frosted with decadent white chocolate ganache and topped with Smarties in the colours of the party. I was rather happy with the result, although it did look very homemade, which I think is quite endearing :)

Ganache is not something difficult at all! I can say it quite confidently now. When I started looking for recipes on the Internet, I read a lot about how tricky it is, how it can go horribly wrong, etc. But I must admit, I found it actually very simple and foolproof. Either that or I was very lucky :) Here's how I made it -

I used -

  • 1 part heavy whipping cream
  • 3 parts white chocolate chips (roughly chopped so they melt quicker)
Method - 
  • Place chocolate chips in a large mixing bowl (preferably either stainless steel or a microwave safe one)
  • Heat cream in a saucepan on a low flame until you start seeing tiny bubbles around the edge.
  • Pour heated cream over the pulsed chocolate chips and let sit for a minute or so.
  • Using a spatula, gently stir in everything, until the chocolate and cream turn into a smooth paste. It will be quite runny at this stage. If you feel the cream wasn't hot enough to melt all the chocolate, stick the (microwave safe) bowl into the microwave for about 30 seconds. Be careful not to burn the chocolate.
  • Once you're happy with the mixture and there are no lumps, leave it (preferably uncovered) on the counter to cool down completely.
  • Now you need to wait for this ganache to 'set' to a nice, soft spreadable consistency. If the room is cool enough, you could leave it out on the counter overnight. If not, simply cover with cling wrap and pop it into the fridge.
  • When you're ready to frost your cake next morning, take ganache out of the fridge and reheat in the microwave in short 30-second bursts until the desired spreadable consistency is achieved.
  • Frost away!
This mixture holds well and I did not have any problems with it considering the frosted cake was left on the table all day! You could even store remaining ganache in an airtight container to use later.

If you want to make a dark chocolate ganache, it's 1 part heavy cream to 2 parts dark/semi-dark chocolate. The procedure is the same.

Oh another thing I saw on the Internet, if you're using  heavy whipping cream, like I did, you could even whip the ganache just before frosting for an even lighter and creamier texture. I didn't this time, but maybe will try it the next time.

I'm still very much an amateur when it comes to cake decorating and I had quite a hard time trying to get a smooth finish on my cake and getting the sides 'straight'. I tried for a bit, but then decided I was quite happy with my homemade look :) The cake tasted good and that's all that mattered, well, to me!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rain Gods, bring it on! We're sufficiently armed!

This post is way too late, the rains have gone, the cold winds have stopped and it's now beautiful spring time here in Aussie! But I still want to post this classic, quintessential Indian Monsoon snack.


The easiest, most sought after snack when dark clouds loom over the skies. And as the first faint pitter-patter of the raindrops begins, there's frantic running to fetch the washing hanging on the clothesline out in the backyard (or terrace). Someone puts a saucepan full of water on the stove and starts crushing fresh ginger and elaichi to make steaming cups of chai. Meanwhile, onions are finely chopped and tossed into a bowl with besan, salt, chilli powder and turmeric. Indoors is suddenly decked with half dried washing, almost like buntings! And when the chai and pakoras are ready, everyone finds a cozy little spot to sit, legs tucked under their bottoms. The rain outside and the warmth inside...aaah! The familiar sights and smells of 'home'!

Easy and satisfying Crispy Onion Pakoras

  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup besan (chickpea flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • oil for deep frying
  1. Toss into a large bowl chopped onions, red chilli powder, turmeric and salt.
  2. Use your hands to mix everything well. Leave aside for about 5 minutes.
  3. The onions will start to release some water when combined with salt. Now add besan and again, mix well using your hands. Using your hands, instead of a spoon, will help you judge how much water you need to add in. The secret to crispy pakoras is a nice, stiff dough, not batter. Too much water and the pakoras will turn out soggy and limp. So simply sprinkle some water and continue to mix until the mixture holds itself together. Basically, you don't want any dry besan in the bowl and neither do you want a runny batter.
  4. Heat oil in a wok and when hot, drop in small portions of the onion-besan mixture and fry until golden brown and crispy.
  5. Serve hot with tomato ketchup and green chilli chutney.
We had a sudden bout of rain here in Sydney the other day. So it was the perfect setting :) Diet-shmiet! Everything flew out of the window when it was time for pakoras!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Here I am!

So, yes, it's been like decades since I posted something here! What can I say? Still, to the point of sounding very cliched, I do have to say that too much has been happening in my life lately. For starters, we had our baby, then got totally into the 'what-just-happened' phase where everything was so overwhelming! Then when I slowly started getting it, we moved house. Then there was more of that overwhelming feeling with at least a few dozens of cartons waiting to be opened and things inside to be put away, all while managing to maintain the routine that we had painstakingly set up for our Little Miss. Phew! Talk about growing up, it kind of suddenly happened in our lives I guess :)

In the midst of all this, I still cooked. And sometimes made some yummy, really nice things. But as usual, I did not take pictures and write down recipes. Like I had the energy and patience, didn't I just finish whinging? And then slowly, the strong creative juices, bottled somewhere deep inside my soul, started oozing out to the surface and I did make it a point to take some impromptu pictures on my (new buddy) iPad. 'I'll blog about it later', I'd say to myself as I clicked a few pictures before things went on a plate and into our (waiting) tummies.

Here's something I made when we had friends over on a Saturday night - Black Forest Cake. I'd never thought I'd attempt to make it at home, something we always bought from a bakery for Birthdays and Anniversaries. But then I thought I'd try it myself when I saw how easy Madhura made it look. Actually, I had stocked my pantry with everything I needed and had planned to make it when a good friend had come to stay with us with her little darling kids. But sadly, the big baking project was doomed right at the beginning when the base chocolate cake gave way and cracked right in the middle as my heart let out an exasperated sigh. So we just salvaged the crumbly cake and ate it as is.

But the next time I was careful. I started by baking two round chocolate cakes, then carefully sliced them into two, so ended up with four layers of basic chocolate cake, waiting to be transformed into the much-loved Black Forest cake. You could make the chocolate cakes from scratch, but I cheated and used cake mix. If I can do it, so can you. Here are the other things you'll need -

  • Cherries in syrup (or fresh cherries and then some cherry liqueur, mmmm)
  • Thickened cream, the kind suitable for whipping
  • Icing sugar
  • A bar of chocolate
Once your layers are ready, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of cherry syrup all over them so they turn nice and juicy.
Next start assembling your cake, preferably on a cake pedestal.
Whip cream and icing sugar until fluffy and stiff enough to spread. The amount of cream and sugar is entirely up to you and depends on how much you want to slather on your cake (yum!). I used about 2 jars of 300mls thickened cream and about 3/4 cup icing sugar.
Now simply layer all the slices with a generous spread of whipped cream between each layer.
Once you put the last layer on top, cover the entire cake with whipped cream. Top with cherries and grated/shaved chocolate. You could go all over the cake, the sides and everything with grated chocolate, but I couldn't get how to do it without it looking messy. Then again, who cares right? Messy or perfect, chocolate and whipped cream? You could never go wrong :) As you see in my picture, I do need some serious cake decorating lessons :) But the cake? Oh-so-delicious! And the gooey feeling in your heart that it is home-baked is absolutely awesome! This turned out to be a rather tall cake with some really gigantic slices, but no one's complaining :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Classic, all-time favourite!

There are some dishes I can eat every day of my life, if I have to. Classics that never go off the 'favourites' list. One of them is this simple, really quick Balekai fry (sauteed cooking bananas, the green ones). An all time favourite and for me, best eaten with hot plain rice and ghee. Maybe some clear rasam (Indian lentil and tomato soup) as well...Just like it used to be at Amma's :)

Here's how I make it. Try it and chances are it'll creep into your 'favourites' list too, if it isn't already there :)

Get a couple of green cooking bananas. Pick fairly firm ones and avoid the ones that have a slight yellowish tinge to them (which means they're probably ripening). If you live in Aussie land, you can find them at most fresh fruit 'n' veggie stores or your local Indian store.
Then, wash and peel them. Try not to take off too much of the insides while you peel. Just lightly run your knife down the sides and get rid of the fibrous green skin.
Now slice each banana in half and then quarter. Next, slice into bite sized wedges, neither too thin nor thick. Make sure the pieces are somewhat similar sized to ensure even and fast cooking.
Then heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan or wok (non-stick works really well). Once the oil is hot, add 1/2 a teaspoon of mustard seeds and let them crackle. Next add 1/4 teaspoon whole cumin, a pinch of hing (asafotieda) and a pinch of turmeric. Also add in some fresh curry leaves (yum!). 
Tip in the sliced banana and give it a good mix so that they are coated well with the tempering.
Saute, uncovered until the bananas are well cooked. Somewhere in between the cooking process, add salt and chilli powder to taste and mix well. You should be aiming for them to turn out sort of crispy, sort of tender, well cooked and well flavoured. This really shouldn't take very long, say about 10 - 15mins.
You could cover the pan to speed up the cooking process, but I don't like to do that as the whole dish tends to get a bit soggy.

Do make sure it is well cooked. Under cooked green bananas are notorious for not-so-pleasant tummy issues :)

This is a great dish to serve on the side if you're cooking a south Indian feast.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sweet Potato Fries (in the oven)

Hey there! Trust everyone's been cooking well and eating well :)
As you may already know, can be a serious addiction! I may have to sign up for Pinterst-aholics Anonymous soon. (Of course, someone is bound to come up with that soon!) Meanwhile all is well at the inspiration land, so much to see, so much to admire and quite a bit to try as well. Like these super awesome sweet potato fries. KFC had them for a limited time and I was in love. And there was this one time we ate at a nice cafe-restaurant kind of place and we ordered their hand-cut sweet potato fries which were really delish. So it's small wonder that I tried them at home the same evening I saw it on Pinterest. Got to love Pinterest! They turned out so great! (Unfortunately, I don't have a record of the blog I found the recipe from).

It's super easy. All you have to do is get yourself a sweet potato (or two) and wash it thoroughly. You'll be leaving the skin on so it's important to clean it very well and get rid of any dirt on it. Then simply cut them into sort of chunky slices and place in a bowl. Drizzle a wee bit of olive oil all over it. In another little bowl, prepare your spice mix - now I used paprika, salt and cumin powder. You could use anything you like, although my spice mixture tasted really good in the end :-)

Now place the chips on an oven tray (you may want to line it with foil first) and put into a preheated oven at 180 deg. Leave to cook for about 20 minutes, but keep checking on them as oven temperatures and cooking times may vary. When you take them out after they're done, they should be kind of crispy, kind of soft, kind of sweet 'n' salty...mmmm, you get the idea!

We had ours with home-made pizza, yum!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An exciting medley of flavours!

Baby in bed - check
Movie to watch - check
Yummy dinner with minimum effort - check
That Friday night was a treat for us! 

It all began over coffee 'n' scone late that afternoon. Having just come back from India, husby and I were rambling about all the eating we had done there. Our (at least mine) taste buds hadn't yet accepted that the holiday was over, and the scone wasn't doing anything for me. I needed something tangy, something with that punch, you know? And husby was not willing to drive me all the way to Parramatta, 'just for a plate of chat', in his words. He tried reasoning it out, pointing out that the traffic would be mad that time of the day and most importantly the (tennis) match would begin at 7 something. Pah! Anyway, he did promise to take me there the next day though. But 'tomorrow' wasn't good enough for me, I wanted chat and that was it.
So then of course we stopped by at the Indian store, picked up a couple of things so I could make it all at home and headed back home with a happy and convinced husby. And that's how that Friday night was a treat :) I made bhel puri and papdi chat for dinner and we watched Nanban, while baby slept peacefully, oh bless her!

Not that it is a very elaborate procedure for me to actually blog about's just a simple assembly once you have all the ingredients ready! Everything, you should be able to get easily at an Indian grocery store. Also, there is no set quantity/measurement or anything, just go by what you like. Easy peasy :) Here's what I used -

  • store bought papdi
  • store bought tamarind chutney (you could make your own)
  • store bought green chilly chutney
  • I'll stop saying 'store bought' :-)
  • fine sev
  • yogurt
  • finely chopped onion
  • finely chopped tomato
  • grated carrot
  • finely chopped fresh coriander
  • finely chopped cucumber (optional)
  • boiled and mashed potato
Method (like there is one, sheesh!)
  1. Take out your favourite plate (how big or small is up to you)
  2. Arrange (whole, undamaged) papdis in one layer, all over the plate
  3. Top with rest of the ingredients, starting with onion, boiled potatoes, carrot, tomato, some tamarind chutney, green chutney and yogurt. 
  4. Finally sprinkle chopped coriander and a generous amount of sev.
  5. Enjoy!
And the best part is, all the stuff you bought will last for at least a couple of more chat episodes :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I found time to bake!

Hello hello! I'm still cooking, so I'm alive :-)
With Little Miss' arrival I have hardly been in the kitchen for more than 15 minutes at a stretch, during which I manage to cook some one pot wonder to keep the hard working husband (and myself) well fed.
So the other day I was mighty pleased with myself 'cause I baked this yummy fruit cake/bread. With Little Miss napping peacefully, I was surfing the Internet and generally looking at some recipe videos when I stumbled upon this. So easy! And I had all the ingredients at home, yay! So I baked it right away and when husby darling called out 'Honey, I'm home' that evening, I was super excited to serve him a nice big slice with some hot coffee. Of course, saving a couple of slices was quite a challenge as I'd already started gobbling up pieces of the hot bread, straight out of the oven! I say pieces because I had no patience to let it cool before I could make, how shall I say...civilised slices of it. So I just literally tore it off and popped the still hot pieces into my mouth. A serrated knife works best, by the way and wait it cools down before you slice it. If you want it to look pretty, that is. If you can't be bothered then just do what I did. I'm pretty sure you will :-) Okay, enough said. Here's the recipe. You don't really need to have a degree in aeronautical engineering or something to figure out that this recipe has five cups of something, duh! So here's what you need, a cup of each -
  1. self raising flour (I only had plain flour, so I just added 2 tspns of baking powder to it)
  2. sugar
  3. milk
  4. chopped fruits 'n' nuts (I used sultanas, cashews, almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds)
  5. dessicated coconut
Actually, you only need about 1/2 a cup of sugar or so, but you know, '5 cups recipe' sounds too cute. I mean '4.5 cups fruit cake' would only sound silly :-)

So then, you sift the flour (and baking powder if you're using plain flour) into a large bowl and add all other ingredients. Mix well with a wooden spoon and pour the (rather thick) mixture into a loaf tin and bake in a preheated oven at 180deg (oven settings may vary) for about 40-45 minutes. That's it, really :-)

So go on, bake this super easy cake, cut a nice chunky slice for yourself, make a nice cuppa and sit back and enjoy! Ah, a blissful moment for me indeed!


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