Thanksgiving dessert- With Love....

Its two days too late to write a thanksgiving dessert post. I really missed thanksgiving this year- first time in 9 years but the plus side was Diwali with Mom and Dad. What I love about Thanksgiving is all the wonderful food to cook for your family and friends. My first couple of Thanksgiving were spent with my aunt and uncle in Alfred, New York. My aunt Darshana is a fabulous cook and probably makes the best parathas on the east of the Mississippi.  She taught me the tricks and methods of cooking a huge 22lb bird and cooking for large groups of people.  Over the years I started to host Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment in Chicago. Anyone who had nowhere to go was invited- friends, neighbors, lost souls.

I would cook turkey marinated in tandoori masala for a whole day, stuffed with winter vegetables such as onions, potatoes, radishes, ocra, eggplant, whole garlic, chilies etc. I would make baked sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, pumpkin pie stuffing and cream cheese rolls, baked cauliflower (my mom's recipe), bacon wrapped shrimps. butternut squash stirred with garlic and oregano, caramelized onion pie, mash potatoes, warmed bread rolls and green bean casserole. Others would bring with them pecan pies, pumpkin pies, chocolate cakes and we would all indulge in the festivities with rounds of wine, beer, whiskey and my favourite Jagermeister over ice.

Why do I not have photos of these dinners. Well simple, when cooking for 20 people you dont have a moment to step back and take photos.
Well that was a different era. A different life.

A few days back I had the opportunity to meet Chef Faure of the famous culinary school Le Cordon Bleu at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai. The Chef was in town as part of the 10 day French Pastry festival and was giving demos on pastry making and working with other Chefs and Souschefs in the Oberoi kitchen.

How to make dessert truly Masterchef style:
Chef Faure explains:
Designing a special dessert for your loved ones takes emotion, color & technique.
Conceptualise with the main ingredient.
The chef picked truffles as his ingredient for dessert for us.

Truffles! truffles! those delectable beautiful warm smelling expensive mushrooms. I've had it once before on a beautiful chicken dish but never in dessert. How how will it work? I could not wait to see this come together.

So truffles goes well in brown sauce on chicken, froi gras, so how will it work on dessert.

Well it has to be a warm sauce- it should be a caramel sauce! On some fruit like pears. The pears should be poached in sugar syrup. Leave the stem on so that it does not look like its from a can.

The soft texture of the pear contrasted with something crispy and light.
Puff pastry ofcourse!

Puff pastry with fresh pastry cream, a generous drizzle of caramel sauce with truffle bits served with a dollop of ice cream.

What a beautiful idea. If only I had the skills to bake as well. But I did photograph the chef putting it together. The chef explained the dessert in half French and half English- animated with his hands clearly passionate. After all he did make dessert for the Prince of Monaco.

Presenting Chef Faure:

The truffles
Avanika enjoying the dessert
I gave the chef a hug.. it was a beautiful dessert.
Mumbai! The view from the Oberoi
The pastry was fresh and crisp. The chef told us that puff pastry is good only for 20 minutes and hence the dessert has to be put together fast.
The sweetness of the pears and the pastry cream went smoothly with the sweetness of the caramel. The bits of truffle were earthy, crumbly that spread a warmness behind my ears.
Every bite I took I felt like Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds as he sat across from Shoshanna chomping on the freshest strudel with the freshest cream. Coffee for himself and milk for poor poor poor Shoshanna.
Click here for the recipe.

I wanted to add something before I sign off. Two years back on Thanksgiving day I sat horrified in front of the TV as I was getting dinner ready for friends watching the 26/11 carnage unfold on the news. But today the city seems to be back to normal. It was constantly in the back of my mind, as I sat at the Oberois- the events that unfolded two years back.

I think of where I am today. I have a lot to be thankful for. I miss the wonderful friends I left behind in Chicago, New York, Texas- best friends- unconditionally for life-  many of whom I may never see again. (I hope thats not true and atleast we have skype).

Today I have a new life with new people in it- school friends, college friends, blogging friends, design friends, Ogilvians, Landorians, Wabi Sabi Women, neighbors, cousins, mom and dad, Janu and Pepper.
I have a lot to be thankful for.

Pear ‘Feuillantine’ with truffle flavored caramel sauce

Recipe as prepared by Chef Faure of the Le Cordon Bleu.

Puff pastry
300 g flour
6 g salt
50 g butter, melted
150 ml water
- - - - - - - -
200 g butter, for the tourage

Poached pears
3 pears
Sugar syrup
300 g sugar
1 litre water

Pastry cream
500 ml milk
1 vanilla bean (pod)
4 egg yolks
125 g sugar
30 g flour
30 g cornstarch (corn flour)

Truffle flavored caramel sauce
100 g sugar
20 g glucose
120 ml whipping cream
truffles, cut into brunoise

Creamy vanilla ice-cream
400 ml milk
13 g powdered milk
50 g egg yolks
90 g sugar
20 g Trimoline (inverted sugar)
1.5 g stabiliser
1 vanilla bean (pod)
70 ml whipping cream (35% fat)

Crispy tuile
100 g banana
70 g flour

1. Puff pastry: Make a classic puff pastry with 6 turns, chill until needed.

2. Roll out the pastry and cut out pear shapes. Bake in the oven preheated to 170°C for 20 to 30 minutes.

3. Poached pears: Make a sugar syrup with the sugar and water. Peel the pears, brush with
lemon juice and poach in the sugar syrup; drain and cool. Cut the pears in half lengthways,
slice and fan each half. Sprinkle pears with sugar and caramelize in a frying pan.
4. Pastry cream: Put milk and vanilla in a heavy-based saucepan and bring to a boil. Set aside.
Combine egg yolks and sugar in a large heatproof bowl and beat until pale yellow and thick.
Whisk in flour and cornstarch. Remove the vanilla bean (pod) from the milk and then whisk the
milk into the egg/sugar mixture and return to the saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat,
whisking constantly, simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and spread pastry cream in a
shallow pan, cover with plastic wrap, leave to cool.
5. Truffle flavored caramel sauce: Prepare a dry caramel with the sugar and glucose. Stop the
cooking by adding boiling cream. Add half the truffle brunoise, set aside.
6. Creamy vanilla ice cream: Prepare the creamy vanilla ice-cream mix, churn in an ice machine
until frozen.
7. Crispy tuile: Use a metal spatula to mash the banana on a marble work surface. Incorporate
the flour. Spread the batter onto a greased silicone mat and bake in the oven preheated to 190-
200°C. Shape on a rolling pin while still hot.
8. To serve: Spread a little pastry cream onto pear shaped puff pastry, top with a caramelized
pear half. Place a quenelle of vanilla ice cream to one side and pour truffle flavored caramel
sauce onto the other. Place a crispy tuile above the pear and sprinkle with remaining truffle

Eat Love Pray and Bake Bread

There is nothing like fresh baked bread straight out of the oven. A slice of warm bread with a shmear of butter and you are as close to heaven as possible. A couple weeks back I had the honor of hanging out with two baking goddesses- Pooja Dhingra- Le15 Patisserie of the macaron fame and Maria Goretti who writes a beautiful baking blog called eat, love, pray, laugh n hug. 
I was very excited to hang with these two ladies again. First off- I grew up watching Maria Goretti on MTV back when MTV actually prayed music that was cool. Second off- I think her husband is a fantastic actor and my younger sis Miss Cultured Purl is a big fan of his. And lastly I love hanging in the Le15 Patisserie kitchen. It is a space I love to unwind in and watching the baked goods being made in bulk is really fascinating. The smell in the kitchen is heavenly of sugar and butter and chocolate and watching Pooja work is a pleasure.
Pooja and I were both excited to learn to make bread from Maria. I for one cannot bake and was really curious to see the process. I was surprised at how simple the bread making was. And why wouldn't it be after all it is the most consumed food product in the world.
Maria - without referring to a recipe put together a fabulous basil, onion and garlic bread. Her energy was infectious and my camera loved her. She kneaded and kneaded and kneaded and slammed the dough and rolled it and let it rise and kneaded it more and slammed it and folded it and shaped it and let it rise before it went into the oven and magically became bread. Warm, soft, flaky, garlicy on the inside and a thin crunchy crust on the outside.
So here is the recipe. It is also available on Maria's blog (I think her cute 6 year old actually baked this one)

250 gm flour
15 gm fresh yeast
125-150 ml water (but i mostly use an approximate amount, depending on how its going)
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
Pinch of Sugar
2 small onions sauteed
15 garlic cloves also sauteed
handful of basil (torn)
red chili flakes

 Start with the flour, yeast and salt and sugar.

 Pour the water slowly kneading the bread.
 Knead and knead

 Flattend and knead
 Roll and knead
 Knead till the surface is smooth like so and then roll it into a perfect ball.
 Sprinkle some flour and cover with a muslin cloth and wait 40 minutes for the 1st rising.

 Preparing the basil for the filling
 In olive oil, saute the onions and the garlic. Put aside to cool. The stuffing should be at room temperature.
 The flour almost doubled in size
 Flatten it. Keep some flour handy so that it is not too sticky.
 Place the stuffing on the flat circular flour and knead again.

 In between a hundred catering orders, Pooja picking up the tips on bread making.
 While we waited for the second rising of the bread- another 40 minutes. Maria, Pooja and I hungout with some lovely Japanese tea.
 The bread was in the oven and I could not help but photograph these beautiful babies.
So after 45 minutes at 220 degrees - this is the beautiful bread. The smell of freshly baked bread is incredible.
Aaaaaah yes! Bread & Butter. Simple but mindblowingly delicious. Nice crusty bread on the outside and beautiful warm melt in your mouth buttery goodness. The onions, basil and garlic make fantastic stuffing to the bread. On Maria's blog she has also sprinkled rosemary to the surface just before baking. I'm sure that would be wonderful.
I was also amazed with the ease with which Maria cooked in Pooja's kitchen considering the space was unfamiliar.

I took the remainder bread home with me as Maria had to leave. My mother ablsolultely loved the bread.

Before I arrived, Maria and Pooja designed this cake. I got to see the cake going out it was adorable and beautiful.

Thankyou Maria Goretti.

Of Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs and Love

Oh! I fell in love with her macarons. I was very thrilled to connect with Pooja Dhingra of Le15 Patisserie a few weeks back when I tasted her macarons at a dinner hosted by the lovely Rushina of A Perfect Bite. I think she liked my post and I definitely loved her macarons. So I was more than happy when Pooja called me over to her kitchen to photograph her ice 3000 cupcakes for an event. Yes you heard that right 3000 cupcakes. 
When I showed up at her kitchen in Elphinston, I was amazed. It was a fully equipped professional baker's kitchen. When she mentioned to me over the phone that she lives in her kitchen- I honestly thought she lives in her parent's kitchen baking. I had not comprehended the seriousness of her business. This charming, soft-spoken entrpreneur is all but 24 years old who went to cullinary school at the Cordon Bleu in Paris before moving back to India and opening her own Patisserie. The name Le 15 Patisserie represents her address is Paris. How charming. More so Pooja has a retail outlet in Worli and next week will open her second one at the Good Earth in Parel. Wonderful!
So why was she icing 3000 cupcakes you ask? Well for a charity event for Salman Khan- Being Human (oh yes! totally yummy). The cupcakes were going to be a thank you for coming kinda thing. As we hung out, I photographed her staff (around 5-6 people) and her all icing cupcakes, we talked a lot about food ideas, experiments, orgainic foods and ingredients. What I loved about her process was that every thing she baked was from scratch. Every ingredient was picked out so much so that the fruits that she uses are grown in local farms around Mumbai. Its the essence of her baking. Its why the passionfruit macaron tasted so amazing.
 She even mentioned that in one of her interviews someone asked her what cake mix she uses for her sponge cake and she answered quizzically that she actually uses butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Makes sense why would you not make it from scratch if you are going to make the yummiest sponge cake.
As the evening went on, I watched her staff work quietly and efficiently making fresh icing for each batch of cupcakes, measuring the temperature of the cream, mixing in the ingredients and applying it on the cupcakes. They worked neatly and quickly. Even her dad dropped in to check on her. You could see how proud he was of his young daughter's accomplishments. She told me that he was the big factor where she was today- he always wanted her to be an independent entrepreneur, to take risks and to build herself up on those experiences.
I asked her what her work week was like - she worked in her kitchen 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. (On Friday when I was in the kitchen with her she intended to work late into the night and get back really early next morning). She gave her staff a day off, but she was there everyday. I suddenly felt really silly whining about coming to work one Saturday last month. She seemed incredibly calm for someone who had a huge event the next day catering for the likes of Salman Khan and opening a brand new outlet within a week. No frantic calls, no yelling, no Hell's Kitchen. Every one worked calmly and methodically. Occasionally she would tease her staff that they can't run away since I was taking their photos.
Pooja likes to experiment, using fruits and liquor. Her favourite new discovery was an apple amaretto macaron dedicated to her best friend (favourite drink I believe). What fun! We talked about more food experiments and why we loved what we did. We talked about possible collaborations and such.
Soon mom and dad came to pick me. I invited them in to see her kitchen. Clearly they were impressed. They tried her macarons (their first) and they were also in love. Mom and dad are always proud of young folks doing their own thing and showered Pooja with their blessing. I was also very proud of her. I was happy to be part of her process. And it was a delicious, gorgeous process. A complete joy to photograph.

Spotted Dick!

Anand is a dear friend, super talented designer, voracious reader and a hedonist cook. Sometimes we have late night Facebook chats on mascarpone cheese, lady fingers and his crush on Ree Drummond. On one such late night chat Anand mentioned wanting to make Spotted Dick. My initial reaction was to giggle and call him a pervert. But he was serious and I was obviously unaware of the existence of this steamed pudding with dry fruits. It even has a Wikipedia page of its own. Very intriguing.
So after a fluster of facebook chats, messages, and Gchats between Anand, Lahar (my other designer friend who runs these fabulous tree walks) and me- we decided upon a fantastic Sunday lunch menu that Anand graciously decided to host and cook. Of course, Lahar and I were just very curious about spotted dick.

So armed with my camera and its lenses, a bottle of wine and bottle of whiskey, I headed over to Anand's bachelor pad. I'm sure you are curious about the lunch menu. Well it was fantastic sounding:
Pepper Chicken curry, Malabar Prawns curry, Chocolate Mousse with Sesame snaps and of course the star of the show Spotted Dick! Ooooooh! And yes Anand was cooking it all. Of course we volunteered to help but he seemed like he had it all down.

While blogging about this lunch I consciously thought of keeping all four recipes in one post - after all Anand did cook it all in one meal. However I will give links to the individual recipes.

Well due to the lack of burners there was an order in which the food had to be prepared so that we used the right no. of dishes (see I told you he was smart).
Note: All recipes are courtesy Anand.

So without wasting much time let me present to you the first recipe of the day.
In Anand's own words-
We started with the sesame snaps 

200gms sugar
100gms sesame seeds

1. In a skillet, caramelize the sugar till its a light golden brown (or if you like your caramel a little bitter, like I do, a dark golden brown) and stir in the sesame seeds.

2. Let this cook for a little over a minute and pour onto an oiled tray or large sheet of foil. 
 3. Use a knife to spread this thin (2/3mm ideally) over the surface. Once cooled, snap off pieces big enough to scoop with and stick into the mousse.

The sugar starts to harden very fast, so spread the sesame on the foil as quickly and thinly as possible. 
Anand and Lahar working fast with a spoon and a knife-

Silky soft and full of love Chocolate Mousse
Till I actually saw it being made I had no idea that the rich fluffiness of the chocolate mousse comes from beaten to death raw eggs. Harini of Tongue Ticklers told me that it is very possible to make a vegan version replacing the egg with silken tofu. I will ask her what the replacement for the double cream should be. Note: Double cream- not single or whipped. Apparently Lahar procured some double cream from a shop in Dadar- one of those little shops that sells everything. Chocolate, butter, double cream, honey, whiskey - you just can't go wrong. I closed my eyes and sighed- there goes my month's worth of workout out of the window. Oh but what can you do about foodlove!

The Ingredients

350ml fresh double cream (preferably unsweetened)
200gms dark cooking chocolate
70gms butter
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons whiskey/brandy/rum (as per preference of poison) 

1.Batter the chocolate into tiny pieces, by smashing it violently against the kitchen counter or on/against/with a very hard object. Put this into a double boiler with the butter (or any vessel in a bath of very hot water....not on the flame) to melt till smooth and liquid.
 2. Beat the fresh cream till to soft peaks consistency. When you pull your beater or whisk out of it, it should leave pointed peaks that retain their shape. Ideally the cream should double in size.
3. Pour the honey into another bowl with the eggs and beat till light. I prefer to whisk the whites separately and then add in the yolks, so I can get more air into the mix that way.

4. Fold the egg, alcohol and melted chocolate into the cream. Its important to fold and not stir, because you don't want to lose the air in the mix, or you won't have a very fluffy, light mousse.

5. Pour into pre-chilled glasses and refrigerate for at least an hour.  
P.S. Pre chilling the glasses helps to cool the mousse down faster.

Lets talk about the main course. Once the desert was made and set aside for refrigeration we started with the pepper chicken and Malabar prawns.
Pepper Chicken
For the marinade:
1½ teaspoons of ginger garlic paste
1½ teaspoons of freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons of coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
Pinch of salt
2 chicken breasts cut a little smaller than bite size (or four thighs, as per preference)

For the curry:

2 tablespoons cooking oil (olive or sunflower)
1 large onion, finely diced
1-2 green chilies (as per spice threshold) cut into three pieces and slit along its length
100ml coconut milk
½ large lime/lemon

1. Mix all the ingredients of the marinade and put it aside for at least half an hour. (Anand the fantastic host had everything prepped before we came in - onions chopped, chicken marinaded, house cleaned, music playing etc. etc.)

2. Once the chicken has marinaded, heat the oil in a skillet or wok and sauté the onions till they are translucent, on the verge of turning golden brown.

3. Add the chicken with the marinade and cook till the chicken turns a light golden shade. Drizzle a little coconut milk on it (just enough to moisten the meat) and add water, enough to submerge all the chicken. Cover and let simmer for 25 minutes.

4. Once simmered, add the remaining coconut milk and stir for another 5-8 minutes. Squeeze in the lemon/lime juice, taking care to avoid dropping the pips into the curry. Stir and add salt to taste.

5. Garnish with chopped coriander, if you're into that sort of thing.

6. Peppercorns can also be added at the onion sautéing stage, but I prefer not to because I don't like hard peppery interruptions in the texture of my curry. 

 Followed by a quick and easy Malabar Prawn Curry (my absolute favourite)
100-200 gms fresh, deveined prawns
1 large onion
1 large tomato
1-2 green chillies (again, as per spice threshold) cut into three pieces and slit along its length
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
1½ teaspoons of ginger garlic paste
100 ml coconut milk
2 tablespoons cooking oil (olive or sunflower)

2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon red chilli powder

1. Sauté the onions and chillies in oil, till tender and translucent. Add the masala powders and cook till the aroma of the spices fill the kitchen (taking care not to burn it).

2. Add the tomatoes and stir till cooked. Dissolve the tamarind paste in half a cup of boiling hot water and stir it into the onions and tomatoes. 
 Let it simmer till it thickens a bit. Add the coconut milk and stir. Let this simmer for ten minutes and add the prawns.

If you like the prawns tender, cook for 2½ minutes. If you want them well done, and not hard, cook for 3½ minutes.

Add salt to taste and serve.

(Curry leaves can also be added with the onions and chillies in the beginning, if inclined towards curry leaves)

Now for the star of the show. Tataratara Tada:
Presenting Spotted Dick

100gm flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100gm breadcrumbs
100gm butter (one Amul butter pack)
100gm white sugar
100gm apricot, dry
420gm raisins/sultanas
1 egg
½ nutmeg, powdered
2 tablespoons grated ginger
Orange zest from one orange
140ml milk
Pinch of salt

1. Chop the apricot very very fine.
2. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar and breadcrumbs.
3. Add the ginger, orange zest, apricots, butter and nutmeg and stir to a smooth consistency. 
 (The house is smelling amazing by now. The orange zest and ginger).

4. Add the egg and milk and stir in. Add the raisins and mix till the sugar is completely dissolved.

5. Butter a mould and pour the mixture in, smoothing it down flat. Cover the top of the container with foil, and place in a pressure cooker or crock pot with enough water.

6. If using a pressure cooker, let it cook for 15 mintues without the whistle/weight on, and then for 30 minutes with.

7. If steaming, it'd take between 2-3 hours.

8. Make sure there's enough water to last this duration of cooking.

9. Upturn the mould on a plate and cut into pieces. Serve with fresh custard. (Though we did not eat it with custard).
The drinks- A spontaneous Sangria 
White wine, plums and oranges

The Star Performers- Pepper Chicken Curry, Malabar Prawn Curry, Chocolate Mousse with Sesame Snaps and Spotted Dick.
The Guests: Lahar, Sid, Sangeeta, Hemant, and me.
The Chef: Anand
Anand finally taking a break and sitting down to eat
Hemant and Anand cleaning the last bit of the prawn curry

Oh yes! The food was as tantalising as it looked. The curries were tangy and coconutty and spicy. The chicken and prawns was cooked to perfection (thanks to all the timing that Anand had us keep). With rice and the onions it was a perfect meal. However we had to keep room for dessert. After all we all wanted a piece of Spotted Dick.
 The chocolate mousse got darker after refrigeration. I did not want to think of all that butter and double cream. it was silken and smooth and dark chocolatey. (note: I am completely incapable of remembering to take a photo- after a couple of bites I remembered to take a picture).
 Lahar and Sid in the pictures above. Eating the mousse with the sesame snaps as spoons.
Every bite of the spotted dick was infused with orange zest and ginger. Two of my favourite flavours. The raisins were warm and oozed with sweetness. I personally enjoyed the spotted dick with the mousse but I can see how a vanilla custard can make a wonderful pairing. The photo does not do justice to the preparation but it was lovely and the house smelt amazing.
 Oh! And it is definitely spotted! For steaming in a pressure cooker- that thing sure turned out well.
 After this meal I was in a food coma but Sid was eagerly showing off his yoga skills. 
Sitting on his haunches on the window sill as Sangeeta slips into food bliss.
The lovely Lahar doing the dishes. (Note the spotted tights).
And finally a thank you to Anand for cooking up this intense meal. It was delicious - cant wait to try another experiment of yours- squid curry or tiramisu maybe!