Sunday, March 27, 2011

Daring Bakers March Challenge: Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

All ready to eat!

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

This is my first Daring Bakers Challenge that I participated in and to be honest, I was kind of intimidated when I saw that this month's recipe used yeast. Baking with yeast always freaks me out since I always hallucinate that the dough is never going to rise. And I always have the impression that it's going to take aaaaaages to prepare.

Anyways, the recipe was extremely fun to make and was quite quick for yeast (and TWO rises)! I started around 2 pm and by 4.45pm everything was ready. The BEST part was the part below: spreading the meringue on the cake and sprinkling walnuts, chocolate chips, cinnamon, and sugar. Rolling it up was quite amusing as well.. since I had never done something like that before. 

The second rise before it was baked

 The smell of the kitchen as it was baking was HEAVENLY. And the smell of the actual cake was even better. Everyone was trying to stick their noses into it to get a full whiff of that cinnamony, chocolatey, sugared goodness.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Corn Muffins

Light and Airy Corn Muffins
These corn muffins were a breeze to prepare. 10 minutes tops. And 20 minutes in the oven. Perfect for a snack if you're hungry and great for breakfasts! AND picnics (which was where I took these muffins to). 

Oil, for greasing
175g plain white flour
1tbsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
115g medium polenta
2 medium eggs
250ml milk
6tbsp sunflower oil
175 frozen sweetcorn kernels

Preheat oven to 200C. Grease 12-cup muffin tin. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and pepper into large bowl. Stir in polenta. 
Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl then beat in the milk and oil. Make a well in centre of dry ingredients, pour in beaten liquid ingredients and add sweetcorn. Stir gently until just combined. 
Spoon mixture into prepared muffin tin. Bake in oven for 20 minutes until risen and golden brown. 
Serve warm or cool. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Results of Baking at Midnight: A Wedding Cake

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Last night at about 11.30PM, I was so frustrated with writing- or should I say not writing- my paper that I had this intense urge to de-stress in the kitchen. I wanted to make a cake. But not just any cake. I wanted to use equipment I had hardly handled before- fondant smoothers, imprint mats, edible glitter, egg white as glue, and most importantly: a tiered cake. OK a tiered cake isn't exactly equipment but you get what I mean.

And so I made a wedding cake.

Or what I hoped looked like one anyways.. although it was a little on the small side..

That's so typically me. Deciding to do something small and relatively trivial and ending up overdoing it. Like take the instance of me wanting to cook a dinner, not just everyday suppers, but a dinner that's slightly "formal" although only with family. No, I won't just make one starter, one main course, and one dessert. I will make 2 starters, 3 main courses, 2 desserts, and maybe 2 side dishes..

I happen to pile up so much (in any aspect of my life) that at times it exhausts me. But I enjoy it. It makes me feel fulfilled and accomplished. I guess we're all different. Some people like to take things nice and slow and others like to go on turbo speed.

Yes, that was my idea of a mini adventure.

And so I went buzzing around the kitchen and lining up ingredients that I wanted to use. Butter? Nah. Self-raising flour? Definitely. I came up with a recipe whose result surprised me. Not too sweet but just perfectly moist.

2 cups self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup skimmed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup fresh raspberries

Grease and lightly flour two cake tins: a 5 inch one and an 8 inch one.
Sift flour in bowl. Add salt. Beat together oil, sugar, and eggs. Add flour to oil mixture, alternating with milk and vanilla. Stir well. Add the raspberries and fold in. Bake at 160C for 30 minutes.

Once cake is done, roll out fondant onto a surface dusted with icing sugar. When you get the appropriate size needed to cover the entire cake, gently lift fondant and press onto cake. Trim off edges. Smoothen with your palms. Decorate as you like.


It was my third time to use fondant. The first time I used it was when I placed it on top of a regular vanilla cake. I also cut out little flowers and colored them yellow for that cake.

The second time I made some cupcakes with a good friend and used fondant as icing. It was quite fun and we were extremely happy with the result.

I wasn't tooooo happy with the cake since it didn't look absolutely PRO. The fondant was dimpled thanks to my fingers and the ribbon was smudged with too much egg white. And I didn't trim the edges of the fondant as well as I would've liked to. But hey, practice practice practice.

The little pearls were a later idea of mine. I rolled little balls of fondant and then sprinkled some edible glitter on them and then stuck them on the cake using a little egg white.

And I got the fondant imprint right on the second try. The first time it The fondant wouldn't lift from the sheet. Perhaps because I placed the sheet on top of the fondant. Second time I tried it, after rolling up the same fondant, I placed the fondant over the mat. Then I lifted the mat and placed it (fondant side down) on the cake. OH, also remember to brush your cake with cooled boiled jam before applying fondant. :)

Galeries Lafayette Gourmet: Dubai

I love my major. In retrospect, when thinking back to the time when I was fifteen or sixteen and deciding what I wanted to study in college, I think I have made the best choice. I can’t even remember all the other things I wanted to study. Was it business? I think I wanted to study business for like a day. It was law at one point, and genetic engineering at another. And for a couple of months, I was torn between the two. And one day during the summer of 2006, I realized it was international relations. My family and I were in Malaysia and after having spent hours perusing through all the books at Kuala Lumpur’s Kinokuniya (the Dubai one hadn’t opened as yet, and that bookstore to me was unlike anything I had ever seen), I bought a book called “The Big Book of Majors”. I remember sitting down next to my mother in the hotel room and peeling off the plastic wrapping (all Kinokuniya’s books have plastic wrapping for some reason- although they voluntarily open it for you if you want to read a book there). I started flipping through all the majors and was fascinated by the sheer score of choices. Every major had its own page and there was a little subsection called “Good if you like….”. That section listed various interests and if you happened to like most of them, then International Relations (or whatever major it was) would be a choice to consider for you.

All the listings in that section applied to me. Traveling, check. Geography-related trivia, check. Social issues, check. And on and on the list went. I excitedly showed the page to my mother and after reading it she exclaimed that everything on that page applied to me. I then knew then it was International Relations which I wanted to study. What I didn’t know was that WHY didn’t I think of it before? Sometimes all you need in life is a tiny push in one direction…. And the rest is you and your merit.

So now, three years into university, I do think I’ve made the right choice. I love reading different opinions about things, I love being able to apply them to day-to-day life, and I love that the main focus of international relations is PEOPLE. Human beings. I don’t think I’m the type of person who would be able to work in a field where the main object would be machines or numbers or anything of that sort. I sometimes joke around by saying that all we’ve ever studied are just opinions.

Reading through politics articles, books, and essays, you realize that there could be a thousand explanations for one occurrence, and a hundred ways to go about something. You want to open up your economy? Sure. That’ll be a great chance for foreign investment and it would increase productivity. But what about domestic markets? The infant industry argument? Or, you want to transition a state to democracy? Do you start off with votes and then establish the institutions or do you delay votes till all the mechanisms and institutions are stable? You get the picture. Every one of these arguments can be and are valid. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt in IR, it’s that it depends. Nothing is ever universal. There’s always a unique set of characteristics and events at play that a certain solution might work under those circumstances only. That’s why we see states who imitate other successful economic models fail miserably sometimes. And unfortunately, mistakes made in foreign policy can often have devastating consequences.

It’s quite like life, isn’t it? No two people are alike, and neither are their lives. You can’t judge and you certainly can’t give the best advice or make a good decision by applying what worked in one situation to another. In life, just as in international relations (which arguably is life, or the greater workings of it), everything depends. But depends on what? Depends on each other. Life is a series of consequences. But that gets me thinking about that whole great debate on whether you make your own decisions in life or whether everything is sort of predestined. I love that discussion, but for some reason it always ends up in spirals. I’d like to think that it’s a sort of combination, that you make your own decisions but ultimately your path in life is set. It’s confusing to understand how that works, but I like to think of both opposing mechanisms working in tandem….somehow…

OK by now you must be wondering what place all of this has in a food blog. Well, I went off topic.. like I do in everything.. but I was talking about my major and how I love it.

Sometimes, I don’t love it. Like right now. Sometimes I get tired of all the reading and writing and analyzing and repeating. Sometimes I wish that all I had to do was cook. And cook and cook and cook. And feed people. And animals. Feed family, feed friends, strangers, children, beggars, lawyers, architects, entrepreneurs, artists, cats, dogs, stray animals, sick animals…

I want to be able to wake up in the morning and have no idea what I’m going to do that day. I want to create masterpieces in the kitchen and attempt all sorts of things I had never tried before. I want to travel the world, live in small towns around France and Italy, meet the locals, develop my own cooking style. But more than all of that, I just want to make food. Makes me sound like a glutton doesn’t it? Meh. I have a whole list of things I want to try making and I want to be able to make them without other interruptions- like getting a Bachelor’s degree.

A few days ago, I was thinking about just this. How I’d like to be a “freelance cook” as I call it. I then realized that that meant a housewife. Well, kind of. Not to undermine it or say that homemakers don’t have other responsibilities- they’re often the very foundations of our society- but for some reason, I think that housewife was the most accurate word to use when thinking of freelance cook. No business deadlines to meet or to menu orders to churn out at the speed of lightning- just you and your kitchen, making three meals a day and maybe some snacks. Mostly up to your creativity. That came as a little shock to me. I don’t think I’d like to be a stay at home mom. Not for long, anyways. But I think I’d always like to cook. If only life could be such that you could glide, at whim, in and out of corporate profession to uninterrupted domesticity. Maybe you can do that. It all depends.

So my love of food, and the desire it has sparked in me to devote my life solely to exploring all its wonders, has led me to be more creative in the kitchen. It’s a slow process, but one that’s certainly progressing. Earlier on, I’d only invent savoury dishes. Stir-fries and pastas. But now I’m inventing recipes in the world of baking. Which can be scary. Baking is just like chemistry; get one measurement messed up and there goes your experiment. As I type this, I actually have a cake in the oven- a cake whose recipe I developed. Major yay factor for me there. And it’s midnight. Almost 1AM. I’ve been getting these creative urges at nocturnal hours of the day. Quite surprising since I pride myself on being a morning person… but there’s something very different about night. Perhaps the perceived solitude which gives rise to creative energy.

But no, this blog post isn’t about the cake. It’s about Galeries Lafayette’s Gourmet section. I visited it yesterday and as I was browsing through the aisles I got all these wonderful ideas for things I could make. Mediterranean things in specific. Complete with backdrops of azure sea, white-washed buildings, bougainvilleas, and cobbled streets.

I bought olive oil with sage, green olives with Pronvencal herbs, a tomato sauce, an artichoke sauce, and red habanero peppers.

I ate habanero peppers stuffed with cheese at the restaurant called Olives in DFC’s Crowne Plaza. It was heavenly. Since then, I’ve been wanting to make my own but I never found habanero peppers anywhere. I bought them as soon as I saw them and this afternoon, I sliced the top off, removed the seeds and stuffed them with spoonfuls of Philadelphia cheese, since that was the only cheese we had at home that I thought would work. I roasted the whole thing in the oven for about five minutes…. The Philadelphia cheese started oozing out of the peppers and OH MY GOD, the peppers were the spiciest thing I have ever eaten. Spicy to the point that I had a nano-bite and my tongue was on fire. It was horrible. What happened to those sweet, juicy, SLIGHTLY spicy habanero peppers at that restaurant? I started thinking that maybe I got the pepper’s name wrong. Maybe they looked like habaneros but weren’t. But then what’s the explanation for all these habanero peppers stuffed with cheese recipes that I see everywhere? Needless to say, everyone had a tiny, tiny bite and gave up. I can’t believe how spicy they were. WORDS do NOT describe them.

On a good note however, I used my olives with provencal herbs in a little salad I tossed together for myself. Roca leaves, semi-dried tomatoes, olives, red and yellow capsicums, some balsamic vinegar and that sage olive oil. Worked perfectly. And was very, very appetizing.

Galeries Lafayette Gourmet is definitely worth a visit. What I find odd though is that they sell things that you find in all other supermarkets… Chocos and Nesquik cereal, local canned pineapple juice, 7up, Pepsi… It’s a full fledge supermarket with a very gourmet flair. I think they should have focused only on the things that you don’t get elsewhere. For one, all the regulars things that you get elsewhere were extremely overpriced, and second, not many people (according to me, anyways) are going to go to the 2nd floor of Galaries Lafayette in Dubai Mall to do their monthly grocery shopping. Or even pick up something that’s run out in the house. I think they’re trying to emulate the great food halls in departmental stores around Europe, but it isn’t really working. Don’t get me wrong- the food selection of things that you don’t get in regular supermarkets in the UAE was fabulous- amazing. But I really think tissue boxes and detergents were slightly out of place.

Oh, on a totally random note, what was totally cool was that their shopping baskets were little gold things. Oh, and the vegetable section is amazing. Habanero peppers and artichokes and all other ingredients you rarely find in some mainstream chain supermarkets around Dubai.

On another note, I just wrote 1826 words in around an hour. Why isn’t it this easy for me to write an academic paper of the same length? SIGH.

Recipe for my epic salad:

1 cup roca leaves
1/2 red capsicum, sliced
1/2 yellow capsicum sliced
1/4 cup green olives
1/4 cup semi dried tomatoes
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Feta cheese (I didn't use it but it would be great)

Place leaves, capsicums, olives, and tomatoes in bowl.
Mix well.
Add one tablespoon (or to taste) of balsamic vinegar and an equal amount of olive oil. Toss salad together with cubes of feta cheese, if using.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Forever Nigella: Ciao Italia

Nigella's shows are extremely fun to watch. And up until today, I didn't know how extremely fun it would be to make her recipes..

I'm taking part in Maison Cupcake's Monthy Blog Challenge called "Forever Nigella". The theme for this month was "Ciao Italia" - to make anything Italianish from Nigella's recipes.

I found this love one called "Italian Chicken and Pasta" at and decided to use that. Partly because apparently the it had all the colours of the Italian flag. And since, Italy's 150th birthday was a few days ago, why not celebrate one's patriotism. (No I'm not Italian no matter how much I'd like to be). It also reminded me of a triple layer sandwich that we make at home.. which reminds me of the Italian flag.

I changed some things around from the original recipe. Here's my version:

Boil 150g of pasta.
Fry half a red capsicum, and half a green capsicum in olive oil.
Add tomato pasta sauce (as much as you'd like!) and stir well. Allow for the mixture to boil.
Toss in some whole black olives.
Add the pasta and stir well with a handful (yes!) of chilli flakes.
Garnish with chopped coriander and mozzarella cheese and serve!

I didn't use any chicken because I thought I had some boiled chicken leftover from lunch.. which I didn't.. And instead of bechamel sauce I used tomato pasta sauce because I'm trying to be healthier.

It tasted really good and was very, very light.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Random Recipe #2: Brownies

Dom's blog challenges are fun! This month's Random Recipe challenge was to pick out our 18th cookbook and make something randomly from there.

Luckily for me, I organize my cookbooks according to cuisine/course etc.. So my first forty or so are just desserts or baking cookbooks. My 18th cookbook happened to be this lovely little one called "101 Chocolate Treats" by BBC Books/Good Food magazine. I love the 101 series by BBC Books/Good Food.. The books are very cute and tiny and the recipes are extremely simple. Plus, there are pictures for every recipe! Which I love. Anyways, my random recipe turned out to be brownies.

After that I started flipping through the cookbook and came across a recipe which used brownies. It was a trifle with layers of brownies, strawberries, and mascarpone and cream. I wanted to use some of the brownies and make the trifle... but alas, academic responsibilities prevented me from doing so... (you can sense some of that academic feel through my pictures....)

The recipe is fairly simple- I adapted it slightly from the original:

190g dark chocolate, chopped
190g unsalted butter
3 eggs
275 caster sugar
85g self raising flour
45 cocoa butter
60g milk chocolate, chopped
50g white chocolate, chopped (the supermarket was out of white chocolate [!] so I used Cadbury milk chocolate buttons.. luckily I bought two packs since I ate one entire one before I even attempted making the brownies....)

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
Melt chocolate with butter.
Whisk eggs and sugar until thick and creamy.
Pour over chocolate and fold together.
Sift flour and cocoa and fold into chocolate mixture.
Stir in chopped chocolate.
Pour evenly into tin and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from tin when completely cold and cut into individual squares.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Think Pink Blog Challenge: Glacé Cherries with Raspberries and Rose Milk

I came across this month's Monthly Mingle challenge at Maison Cupcake's blog- who was hosting it. The theme was wonderful: it was make anything with a pinkish ingredient! (Check out the rhubarb, raspberry and white chocolate pavlova on Maison Cupcake here.)

I LOVE pink. It's kind of a rekindled love as of late. At five, it obviously was my favourite colour. My room was pink. My clothes were pink. My Barbie dolls' dresses were pink. But at around 10 I grew out of it and went on a yellow/orange/red phase. Now, ten years later, I'm back at pink. And pink food is just so pretty. Pink cakes, cupcakes, macarons, biscuits, icing, frosting, fruits, sugarcraft flowers, you name it! Oh, and pink napkins, candles, and plates....

I chose to make two items for the blog challenge. The first was a rose syrup drink.

I have memories of this since ever. It's a drink that we usually make during Ramadan- our month of fasting. After a day of no food and water, this drink is especially refreshing. It's extremely simple to make. This rose syrup is like a cordial. You add four-five parts milk to one part rose syrup. And make sure to stir really well. Recently, we've taken a twist on this and started adding water to the rose syrup. If I'm not mistaken, rose syrup is a South Asian/Persian ingredient and is drunk primarily countries around that region.

The second thing I chose to make was a cherry cake. I've made this cake only once before- and to amazing reviews!

210g glace cherries
30g plain flour
90g unsalted butter, softened
160g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g self raising flour
80ml milk
A handful of raspberries

-Icing: 125g icing sugar
20g unsalted butter
pink food colouring

Preheat oven to moderate 180C. Grease a 20cm ring cake tin. Dust with flour and shake off any excess. Rinse and dry the glace cherries and cut each in half. Toss them in a little of the flour.

Cream the butter and sugar in a small bowl with electric beaters until light and fluffy. Add the eggs gradually, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl. Using a large metal spoon, fold in the sifted flours alternately with the milk. Stir in the cherries. Spoon the tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into centre of cake. Leave in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool.

For the icing, combine the sifted icing sugar, butter, and 1-2 tablespoons water in a small heatproof bowl. Stand the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, ensuring the base doesn't touch the water. Stir the mixture until the butter has melted and the icing is glossy and smooth. Stir in a couple of drops of food colouring. Drizzle over the cake. Fill the centre of cake with raspberries. Serve with toffee syrup, if desired.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cappuccinos and Cupcakes

Or both in one.

The minute I spotted these adorable silicone cupcake cases by Fred at Selfridge's, I snatched them. I could just imagine all the different scenarios I'd create with these teacups: elegant garden parties, a breakfast snack, an optical illusion..

Last week, I got this idea to make cupcakes in them and frost them in a way so that they look like the froth on a cappuccino. I was extremely adamant to capture them in natural light and so I baked the cupcakes last night and made the frosting this morning. Well, I didn't make the frosting. I bought the frosting. Shocking, isn't it? I had a huge internal battle with myself over that. But the pros outweighed the cons and so I crossed over to the dark side. Just for today though. I didn't have much time, and I really wanted the frosting to be perfect.. so I opted to use ready frosting. The idea of it is so appealing to the time-constrained.. Just frost it on! No mess, no dishes to wash, no consistency to get right. But no, I will not use ready frosting again. SIGH. Anyways, I frosted the cupcakes with Betty Crocker's rainbow chip frosting.. The pastel multicoloured quality of the frosting made the cupcakes look super cute.

I sort of compensated for using ready made frosting by using a recipe that I had developed myself.

Here's the recipe:

120g butter
120g caster sugar
120g self raising flour
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons cocoa powder.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Sift flour into mixture and fold in. Add vanilla extract, stir. In a small bowl mix cocoa powder with milk and stir (not thoroughly though... do not dissolve the cocoa entirely..) Add cocoa/milk mixture to batter and stir well. Yields about 9 cupcakes.. (five regular paper cased ones, and four silicon cupcake mould ones) Baking time around 12-15 minutes at 180C.

I had a lovely time styling these today though. Sorry if the pictures are repetitive.. I'm really proud of them though! There's nothing like using unobstructed natural lighting! Whenever I manage to take pictures of food it's always at night.. or outdoors with sunlight that's too harsh.. or in rooms where the sunlight enters but isn't that bright. I used the window of my bedroom for these shots today. I didn't add a diffuser with a soft sheer curtain either. I just positioned the table in such a way it caught the best lighting. And I experimented a lot with shutter speeds, ISOs, exposures, and apertures..