Grilled zucchini slices


I love nifty gadgets and I've had this wavy knife sitting in my kitchen drawer for sometime now. Never used it all this while and the other day when I was searching for something else, this little tool caught my eye. As if on cue, I remembered a zucchini I had bought a couple of days ago now chilling in the fridge so I decided to make the two meet.
The wavy knife

Slicing the zucchini was so easy-the knife was sharp. Now what to do with a pile of zucchini slices?
A quick browse through Google showed umpteen recipes for  grilled zucchini. Some were downright easy so I decided that would be my route. Into a glass bowl went three cloves of minced garlic, some olive oil, salt, pepper, a bit of sugar, lime juice, some thyme and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The sliced vegetables got a good rub, the wavy cuts trapping bits of garlic and thyme leaves. And then it went back into the fridge for a short stint. Because of the salt, the zucchini released quite a bit of water. Remember to drain it before grilling.
At dinner time, I heated my grill pan. When it was nice and hot, the zucchini slices were placed on it. Amazing aromas filled the kitchen, then a quick turn to cook the other side.
Absolutely yummy!
Here's the recipe:

Grilled Zucchini   
1 big zucchini
3 cloves garlic, minced
A pinch of sugar
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Slice zucchini into 1 cm thickness.
In a glass bowl, add all the remaining ingredients.
Mix well and toss the zucchini slices through.
Cover and refrigerate for about 4-6 hours.
Heat a ridged grill pan till it is really hot.
Place zucchini slices on the grill.
Press down slightly so that grill marks can char the flesh, then turn over and repeat on the other side.
Serve hot.

Grilled zucchini slices

Easy Lamb Pulav


Lunch on Sundays is usually a special meal. So easy to pack the family into the car and drive to a restaurant. All you do is sit back and order and let someone else do the cooking and cleaning up. But more often than not, a meal cooked at home can be much more satisfying. Particularly, if a part of the preparation can be done ahead.
Everyone has a favourite way of making pulav.
I made this lamb pulav on Sunday. It took me all of 20 minutes to do it because I had cooked the lamb the previous day.
It has a long list of ingredients, most Indian recipes do!!
Here's how it works:

Ingredients (Serves 3)
Lamb with bone      500gm
Cinnamon               2"
Cloves                    4
Cardamom pods     3
Bay leaf                  1
Big onions              4, sliced
Ginger garlic paste  4 teaspoons
Tomatoes               2, chopped
Green chillies          4, slit
Chilli powder          1 tsp (or to taste)
Yoghurt                  1/2 cup
Coriander leaves     1/3 bunch
Mint leaves             1/3 bunch
Juice of 1 lemon
Ghee                      4 tablespoons
Basmati rice            500 gm
Cashewnut halves   1/4 cup
Raisins                    1/4 cup
A few strands of saffron
Salt to taste
Oil                          4 tablespoons
Get the butcher to cut the lamb into chunks.
Heat oil, chuck in the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and bay leaf. When it all begins to spit and sizzle, put in most of the sliced onions and saute till they turn golden brown. Add in the ginger garlic paste, slit green chillies and chilli powder. A good stir later, add in the tomatoes and the lamb pieces. After a bit of stirring around, add in the yoghurt. Mix in coriander and mint leaves and salt to taste. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.
At this stage, you can cool the lamb korma and refrigerate it and finish the dish the next day.
If not, wash the rice gently and place it in a colander to drain well.
In the body of a medium sized pressure cooker, heat the ghee, fry the raisins and cashewnuts till golden, then remove onto kitchen towel to drain excess ghee. Add in the remaining onion slices into the ghee and saute till golden, remove and keep aside. Put the rice into the pan and saute it over medium heat till the grains turn translucent.
Pick out the lamb chunks and put them over the rice. Measure the gravy and top up with hot water to measure about 800 ml, pour into the pressure cooker. Add in lemon juice, season to taste with salt and add in saffron strands. As it comes to a boil, place the lid on the pressure cooker. When pressure builds up, put the weight on, lower the flame and cook for exactly 2 minutes. Switch off the flame and leave the pan undisturbed for about 30 minutes.
Open the lid, stir the pulav gently to mix the contents and dish out onto a serving plate.
Garnish with the fried raisins, cashewnuts and golden onions. Serve with raita.
Enjoy your lunch!

Bread Class


Years ago, I went with my aunt and uncle to Bhutan. Their daughter and son in law were working there as doctors.
I loved Bhutan. After the heat and dust of Madras, as she was then known, Bhutan was a complete contrast. Wind swept mountains, sparse vegetation, a peasant or two here and there, the freezing mountain air and clear, ice cold streams of water full of rainbow trout. How the fish could survive in that freezing water is a mystery.

One morning, I woke up to the aroma of freshly baked bread. I went to the kitchen to find my cousin shaping loaves and buns. I was hooked instantly. That morning, we had the buns with cheese, butter and marmalade; I don't think I have ever had a more splendid breakfast in my life.

Over the years, I have tried making bread but with unsatisfactory results.
Then, about 8 years ago, my mother sent me a bread machine. One puts the components of bread - flour, yeast, sugar and water into this gadget and then it is switched on. The machine does its job and at the end of about 3 hours, out comes a loaf of bread.
That inspired me to learn more about bread making. Plenty of trial and error followed; after all, the path to success is strewn with failures!

I will be teaching a 2-day bread class "Bread of Life" on April 14 & 21 and a second batch on April 17 & 19. The classes are from 10.30am-2.30pm.

You will learn to make herb focaccia, mini brioche, lite wholemeal seed bread, sesame seed rolls, cheese bread, Swedish tea ring and the shaping of buns.
The classes will be held at Kottivakkam.

Mini brioche buns

Focaccia with herbs

Happy Easter


How did you celebrate Easter?
I'm sure you went to church, devoured Easter eggs, sat down to a wonderful Easter lunch with family and
friends and then had a good snooze?
I had been busy a couple of days before Easter with cake and cupcake orders.
And a couple of dessert orders.
One of them was this lattice cherry pie. As usual, I forgot to take a picture so I  had to ask the recipient of the pie to take one for me.
Here’s wishing all of you a blessed Easter.

Lattice cherry pie

Aubergine macaroni layer bake


 The aubergine is a curious vegetable. At some point in its history, it must have looked like an egg, hence one of its other names, eggplant. It is related to the tomato, the potato and tobacco.
The numerous seeds in an aubergine classify it also as a berry.
The aubergine is a star in many cuisines, South Indian sambar, baingan bharta, Chinese stir fries, Japanese tempura, Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, baba ganoush from the Middle East and the Turkish imam bayildi among them.
Almost every country has a popular recipe featuring the aubergine.
Me, I don’t like aubergines. The only time there is one in my vegetable basket is if I’m making moussaka. Otherwise, this aubergine macaroni bake:

  • 250 gm aubergines (purple brinjal)
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 500 gm tomatoes, blanched, skinned and chopped
  • 5 basil leaves
  • Pepper and salt to taste
  • 250 gm macaroni
  • 50 gm grated Parmesan cheese
  • 100 gm Mozzarella cheese slices
  • Olive oil as needed
Slice aubergine into thin slices, sprinkle a little salt over the slices and leave for about 1/2 hour.
Squeeze out water from the aubergines.
Heat oil in a skillet and fry half the slices till golden, drain on absorbent paper and keep aside.
Repeat with the remaining slices.
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the oil; sauté the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaf and thyme.
Add in prepared tomatoes and torn basil leaves.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cover with a lid and simmer till thick.
Discard bay leaf and thyme stalks.
Cook macaroni in boiling salted water till done, drain and keep aside. 
Heat oven to 200oC.
Grease an 8” oven safe dish.
Spread a couple of spoonfuls of the tomato sauce, put half the macaroni over it.
Spoon half the sauce over, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over this layer.
Arrange half the aubergine slices over, then half the mozzarella slices.
Top with the remaining macaroni, aubergine slices and mozzarella slices.
Spread over the remaining sauce.
Bake for 20-30 minutes.

Vodka and vanilla


Vanilla is a flavouring that I use a lot of. It goes into many of my cakes, icings, cookies and desserts.
I have not been able to source vanilla extract in Chennai, so I have to use essence.

Recently, I came across a way of making homemade vanilla essence. I’m not sure if one can call the end product an extract but as a kitchen experiment, it was worth a try.

All I needed were a few vanilla beans and some vodka. I did a Google search and found many sites that recommended booze like rum and brandy, but I went with vodka because (a) it is a neutral spirit and (b) it has a higher alcohol content.

A couple of years ago, some kind soul had brought me a few vanilla pods from Kerala. I hadn’t used them as they were a bit too dry. I didn’t have the heart to throw them out so I stored them in a bottle at the back of the kitchen cupboard. So out they came.

Fortunately there was also half a bottle of vodka lying around.

What I didn’t have was a quarter bottle-the 180ml bottle that you get at TASMAC shops. Luckily that was not too much of a challenge- I got an empty one from the waste paper boy’s shop. You know these shops- the ones that buy your old newspapers, old textbooks and go by the name “waste mart”.

Back home, the bottle and cap got a good wash with soap and boiling water. And when it was clean and dry, in went the vodka.

6 vanilla pods (I told you they were dry) went in next. I made a few slits on them before popping them into the bottle. Then a little more vodka went in so that the level was just shy of the rim of the bottle. A good shake and then back it went into the kitchen cupboard.

Every 3 days, I would give it a shake. In the space of a month, I found that it was developing a nice golden brown colour with a faint aroma of vanilla.

About 3 weeks ago, I had to use a couple of vanilla beans for a class. I had brought a few beans back after a recent trip to Singapore. So after scraping out the pods, I decided to put the scraped out pods into my vodka infusion.

The change was dramatic- the very next day, it had darkened into a deep mahogany and the aroma had also become stronger. However, I think I will have to sacrifice a couple more of my “imported” pods to be able to take the flavour to the next level.

Vanilla beans

Glazed chocolate doughnuts


Chennai is a hot city. We are only in the month of March but the weather is becoming unbearable. The daily two hour power cuts are a pain, the only thing that preserves my sanity is living near the beach. My home has good cross ventilation so life has not reached a crisis point as yet.
One thing this heat is good for is making yeasted doughs. In this temperature, fermentation is a breeze, excuse the pun!

All one needs to do is to mix the ingredients, knead well and within the next 30 minutes, the dough is ready for shaping.

I love working with yeast. There’s something soothing about combining flour, sugar, yeast and liquid. Then the workout begins, the more you pound, pummel and stretch the dough, the softer and more malleable it becomes. Once the dough has completed the first rising, shaping is the next fun activity.

I had to make doughnuts as a friend was coming over for a visit. My usual doughnut recipe needs an egg for enrichment, but as this is the Lenten season, I omitted it.

These doughnuts are good only on the day they are made.

Glazed chocolate doughnuts
350 gm flour
70 gm sugar
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp instant yeast
90 mls milk
90 mls water
50 gm soft butter
Sift flour onto a worktop, mix in sugar, salt and yeast. Make a well in the centre.
Pour the milk and water to the well, add the butter and combine the ingredients.
Knead, first using fingertips, then as the flour is drawn into the liquid, use the heel of the palm.
Don’t worry if the dough is quite sticky at this point, it will tighten up as it gets kneaded.
On the other hand, if the dough is dry, add in a tablespoon of water at a time and keep kneading till the dough is smooth, springy and soft.
Knead for about 5-10 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball, place in a 2 litre greased bowl. Cover with cling wrap.
Keep aside for about 30 minutes or till well risen and doubled in size. Remove the cling wrap, punch down the dough and knead briefly.
Lightly dust the worktop with flour, place the dough on it, dust the top of the dough lightly with a little more flour and roll it out gently to 1/2 inch thickness.
Cut out circles using a 3” cutter. Cut out holes from the centres and place doughnuts on a sheet of plastic.

Cover with a second sheet of plastic and leave undisturbed for another 20 minutes or till doubled in size.

Heat a pan with oil, slide 2 or 3 doughnuts carefully into the oil.

Turn them over when they reach a deep golden colour.
When the second side is also done, scoop them out onto kitchen towels to drain excess oil.

Chocolate Glaze

60 gm melted chocolate
40 gm melted butter
150 gm sifted icing sugar
 ¼ tsp vanilla essence
A little hot water

Mix chocolate and butter. Add the icing sugar, a little at a time and then the essence.
Add a little hot water at a time to thin it down.
Dip each doughnut into the glaze and place on a wire rack.
Decorate with sprinkles or use melted white chocolate to pipe lines across the doughnut.

Makes 12.

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