It has been almost three weeks since we returned from India and I cannot believe that I haven’t made any desserts yet. I have chocolate bars in the pantry, cream cheese and mascarpone in the fridge and enough butter and sugar to make pretty much anything I want, and yet, I haven’t. I am a little astonished at my own self restraint!
This is not to say that I haven’t had any sweets; I single-handedly polished off an entire kilo (just over 2lbs) of kaju barfi (cashew fudge) that I had brought over from India and had more than my fair share of Halloween candies. (It didn’t help that we live in an old fogey neighborhood, which meant that very few kids showed up at our door, making just the tiniest dent in the gigantic stash of candies that we had bought for Halloween). The number of empty candy wrappers accumulating in my room was getting positively embarrassing, when The Professor decided to take the bulk of the candy to school and give them away to his students. Spoilsport!
So now there is no candy in the house; not a single piece of cake or pie, nor a morsel of cookie or brownie. Please believe me when I say that this situation is entirely new to me and I am utterly m-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e!. All I can do now is look at pictures of dessert I made before I left for India (and I had made quite a few) and drool, and wish I had the foresight to save a few pieces in the freezer.
These fig turnovers or hand pies, as you may call them, were a hit in my house when I made them a few weeks ago. Figs have such a short season, I tend to go overboard when I see them at the store and buy way more than I should. But they look so pretty, how you can not buy a bunch? And they taste positively divine, so I am more than happy to stock up!
This was the first time I actually tried to make the pastry look good – I crimped the edges, cut little vents on top to let the steam out, put on egg wash and sprinkled raw sugar on top for a crunchy, sparkly effect, just like I had seen on TV a hundred times. The extra effort was so worth it! This batch of pastry was by far the most professional looking one I had ever churned out in my kitchen!
Fig has steadily become one of my favorite fruits to work with – it is so versatile both in sweet and savory preparations! Since they pair so well with cheese, I stuffed the turnover with my all time favorite fromage, Brie, which oozed and melted into the most delightful pools inside the puff pastry. And since I love a little crunch in my dessert, I also scattered some pecans. Figs, Brie and pecans, all cocooned in a buttery, flaky puff pastry package – what more could you want out of a sweet ending to a meal?
Although these look as if they came straight out of a bakery, they are surprisingly easy to make! Let me tell you how I made these. Here is the recipe –
2 puff pastry sheets, thawed (1 package)
8 oz Brie, cut into 8 equal pieces
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup fig jam (preferably home made)
raw/turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top
Preheat oven to 425F.
1) On a lightly floured surface, gently roll out the puff pastry to smooth out the creases. Do not stretch the sheets too much. Cut each sheet into four equal pieces.
2) Leaving a 1/2″ border, place a heaping tablespoon of fig jam in the bottom half of the puff pastry square. Add a slice of Brie on top of it. Scatter some pecans on top of the cheese. Gently fold the puff pastry square. Repeat for all 8 pieces.
3) Using the tines of a fork, gently press down on the edges, sealing each pouch. Whisk the egg with a splash of water and using a pastry brush, gently coat the top of each turnover with the egg wash. Take a paring knife and make little slits on top for the steam to escape. Finally, sprinkle some raw sugar on top. Transfer the turnovers to two baking sheets lines with parchment paper or silicone mat.
4) Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top. Enjoy!
I made my own fig jam after looking up a few recipes online and it was super easy to make! I just threw together some figs, honey and lemon juice in a pot and simmered it until it was thick and jammy! You will not believe how incredibly delicious it was! I had made quite a big batch of the jam, so we had it on crackers, in these turnovers and I used up the last bit to make a fabulous braised pork in a fig and red wine sauce! Want to know the recipe for that? Stay tuned!
I am not one of those who mourn the passing of summer come the middle of September. Having spent most of my life in the sweltering heat of India, where the weather oscillated between hot and rainy and not so hot and muggy, I relish the end of summer.
No more of the blinding sun beating down on you every time you stepped outside! (Living at high altitude has many perks, but the blazing sun crisping up your skin is not one of them).
No more wildfires to lose sleep over! How nice is that?!
Oh, and we don’t have to jockey for the best position in front of the fan! (Helo ALWAYS wins). We can actually sit like civilized people (and dog) on the couch and watch football. Super duper nice.
I say, bring on the cooler weather!
The only time I feel the tiniest tinge of sadness is when I think about all the abundant summer fruit and how I have to wait a whole another year to have them. Why can’t we have peaches grow all year round?! Why do figs have to have such an incredibly short season? Oh, and don’t even get me started about mangoes. My heart bleeds for those.
I am also going to be quite wistful about this melon chaat. The fresh, sweet watermelon and the fragrant cantaloupe are going to be much missed in the deep freeze of February, when the freshest produce are the bitterest chicories (which I hate with all my heart).
So I say, make this, before the season is over! Go on, do it! You are going to love the sweet and tangy pairing of the melons, the lime and the chaat masala powder; the heat from the Serranos will be just right and what’s not to love about the crunchy peanuts strewn throughout?
Here is the recipe –
4 cups diced cantaloupe
4 cups diced watermelon
1/3 cup finely minced red onion
1 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
1 Serrano pepper, deseeded and minced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced (could need more if the fruits are too sweet)
1-2 tbsp chaat masala powder
1) Add all the ingredients for the salad in a big bowl. Start by adding a tablespoon of the chaat masala powder, taste and then, if needed, add a little bit more. You might need to add a pinch more salt or add some more lime juice. The chaat should taste sweet and tangy and spicy, all at the same time! You can have the chaat as it is or for some extra crunch, serve it with pita chips or tortilla chips. Enjoy!
Dulce de leche chocolate tart
I fell down the stairs yesterday.
Well, “fell” might be too strong a word for the thump, thump, thump that happened as I slid down the stairs on my butt, mouthing, “Oh?? Oh??? Oh????!” You see, the carpet at the top of the stairs is sort of loose at the edge and I was sort of anxious as I was coming down the stairs and I was sort of clutching my cellphone in my hand, which meant that I wasn’t holding on to the handrail. Anyway, I slipped, landed on my bottom and then slid down some more. The Professor was at my side in a second and Helo was most distressed to find his mommy coming down the stairs in a highly unusual fashion.
I don’t know why I had the reaction that I had, but I felt MAD. Like, really, really, mad. It didn’t really hurt that much physically. Just a couple of little bruises – no big deal. I went about the rest of my day feeling just fine. But I just couldn’t shake off that feeling of being really, really angry about the fall. Now, I am no klutz. In fact, I am pretty sure that this is the first time ever that I have fallen down stairs. Ever. But the whole episode was just so stupid, so random, so bizarre, so utterly unlike me, that I was left fuming inside.
If this had happened, say, twenty years ago, given how skinny I was back then, I am pretty sure I would have hurt myself quite badly. But it is a different story altogether now. With the pounds I have piled on in the past few years, I had ample, ample padding to cushion my fall.
So, I made dessert, because obviously, everyone needs a little more fat to accumulate on their backside! Besides, it is the perfect thing to do when you are feeling mad! Make more dessert, people! You’ll feel chirpy in no time !
Seriously though, this delicious, rich tart was the perfect salve after the tumble. It was smooth and creamy, intensely chocolatey and so luxurious! It only has a handful of ingredients but they all work so well together! An added bonus is that it doesn’t need to be baked and it comes together really quickly! Since this recipe produces a tart big enough for 12 slices (at least), I froze half of it, because obviously, no one wants that much fat to accumulate on their backside. The reason why I am telling you this is because, I think both The Professor and I like it better frozen. It tastes great as it is, but that cream cheese and dulce de leche filling in the middle was absolutely incredible when we had it cold! Try it sometime!
Dulce de leche chocolate tart
Here is the recipe –
Dulce de leche chocolate tart
Makes one 11″ tart
25 Oreo cookies
8 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp honey
pinch of kosher salt
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
13.4 oz dulce de leche
6 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli, 60% cocoa), cut into small pieces
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1) Put the Oreo cookies, butter, honey and salt in a food processor. Process until the mixture looks like wet sand. Press the mixture into the tart pan, making sure to get a smooth and even layer all the way up to the edge. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
2) Whip the cream cheese and dulce de leche together in a stand mixer until the mixture is very smooth and well mixed. Scoop it out and evenly fill out the tart. ( An offset spatula works great for jobs like this!) Refrigerate for at least an hour.
3) Add the chocolate and heavy cream into a small bowl and microwave for one minute. Stir vigorously, until the chocolate is all melted. Add the corn syrup and whisk some more. This is going to make the chocolate ganache really shiny ( Ina’s tip – it never fails!). Spread it in an even layer all over the tart. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Enjoy!
Given how notoriously bad I am at following recipes, I have never really been into cookbooks. Sure, I had a few of them; the heavy, hard bound ones that were stacked high in the discount section of a bookstore (remember those?); the ones that promised to teach you everything about soups, cookies, Thai cooking and low-carb recipes. I would take them out occasionally, mostly just to ogle at the pretty pictures and promptly put them back in their shelves. When it came to looking up recipes, I almost invariably surfed the web or got inspired by a TV show and then put my own spin on it in the kitchen. That’s how I have learned to cook and that is still my preferred method of rustling up a dish.
However, of late, I am getting increasingly fond of buying cookbooks and actually following through with the recipes, (with just the slightest bit of tweaking, of course!). I bought Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking just after we moved into our new house and I absolutely love the recipes in there! They all seem approachable and not too complicated and I love the ease with which the dishes come together.
Since The Professor could not have the pork vindaloo that I made a few weeks ago, I decided to adapt the lamb vindaloo recipe in the book and use tofu instead. This vindaloo is quite different than the one I made earlier – while the previous one had an intense vinegary spice paste as its base, Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe uses a lot more mustard and is cooked in coconut milk. Now, I have never had vindaloo in Goa, so I have no clue which one is more authentic! What I can tell you though, is this – it tastes a gazillion times better than the “vindaloo” you get in US restaurants. Seriously, make either one of these recipes and you’ll know exactly what I mean!
Tofu is quickly becoming one of my favorite proteins, especially now that you can buy the “super firm” variety in the grocery store. They hold their shape when you saute them, get nicely browned at the edges and have a lovely chewy texture when they soak up the sauce. In fact, this texture is very, very similar to paneer and I am pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy having them! The tofu in this dish soaks up all the flavorful sauce that comes from combining a fabulous spice paste and coconut milk and ends up deliciously soft and chewy in the center with a crusty outside! Don’t be worried about the tablespoon of cayenne that this recipe calls for – vindaloo is meant to be a spicy hot dish! Besides, the coconut milk and the heavy cream both mellow it out quite a bit, so if you are feeling adventurous, go for it!
Here is the recipe -:)
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking
14 oz. organic super firm tofu, gently pressed and drained of excess moisture, cubed
3 tbsp grainy mustard
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper powder (this will make the dish quite hot, adjust according to taste)
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
8 cloves of garlic, passed through a garlic press or smashed into a smooth paste
1/2 tbsp ginger paste
13.5 fl. oz. full fat coconut milk (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Kosher salt, to taste
1) In a large saute pan, add enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom and turn it on to medium heat. Saute the cubes of tofu until it gets lightly browned on all sides. Take out the tofu cubes with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2) In the same pan, add a bit more oil (if needed) and saute the onions along with some kosher salt until they are nicely browned. Be patient, this is going to take a few minutes!
3) While the onions are sauteing, get the spice paste ready. In a small bowl, add the grainy mustard, cumin powder, turmeric powder, cayenne pepper, white vinegar, garlic paste and ginger paste and a big splash of water and mix well. When the onions are browned, add the spice paste to it and saute for a couple of minutes. Don’t let the spices burn! If needed, add another splash of water in the pan and keep sauteing.
4) Add the coconut milk along with a little bit of water and mix well. Gently simmer the sauce on low heat for about 15 minutes or so, until you cannot taste the rawness of the vinegar in it. Add the tofu and simmer for another 5-10 minutes on low heat, until the sauce gets the desired thickness. Add the heavy cream, if using. Check for seasoning. Add the chopped cilantro and immediately serve with steamed rice. Enjoy!
Mango Italian soda
Italian soda was my favorite drink to get on campus when I arrived in the US to attend grad school. I am not sure if there was anything remotely Italian about it, but it tasted so good! It was a sweet, creamy, fizzy drink and you could get a bunch of different flavors. Whenever I was on campus and needed a little pick me up, I would always head straight for the cafe and order my favorite drink.
And then, one day, when I ordered my strawberry Italian soda, I saw the guy making it at the back of the store. This is how he did it. He dumped some strawberry flavored syrup in a glass, added some ice, poured some fizzy water on top, added a dash of half and half, sprayed a mound of whipped cream on top, put the lid on and handed me the glass. The whole thing had not taken more than 60 seconds from start to finish. My jaw dropped at what I had just witnessed. I had been paying $4 a glass for that mix?! I could do w-a-y better than that!
So for the next few months, I made Italian soda at home using my own flavored syrups, making tall, frothy glasses, sipping at it blissfully and feeling quite smug about all the money I was saving – and then a bulb went off. Why was I using artificially flavored syrups, when I could use fresh fruit puree?! Wouldn’t that taste a thousand times better?!
And that’s how this drink went from being laden with sugary syrups to fresh and clean tasting. The fruit puree indeed tastes a lot better and I have never gone back to using the artificial stuff. You could use any fruit you want; I happen to be particularly fond of strawberry and mango.
Here is the recipe –
Mango Italian soda
Makes 2 tall glasses
4 ripe Ataulfo mangoes, pureed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tbsp honey (more if the mangoes are not sweet enough)
Seltzer water, chilled (about 2-3 cups)
2-4 tbsp heavy cream, chilled
1. Mix the mango puree with the honey. Pour equally into two tall glasses. Fill up the glasses with the seltzer water. Add 1-2 tbsp of heavy cream into each glass. Stir. Add a few cubes of ice if you want. Enjoy!