Tea Time cakes - a workshop


What kind of cakes are good with a cup of tea?

How about a slice of apple cake...

or a moist citrus drizzle slice...

or a slice of an apricot upside down cake...

or even coffee walnut cake with mocha frosting

and don't even think of turning down a bar of fudgy gooey brownie

All this at a workshop on Tea Time cakes on October 14th, 2017, from 10.30 am-2.30 pm at Kottivakkam.

Fish moilee


It was the day of the cookery practical exam. We were told to revise all the recipes we had learnt and warned that we might even be asked to prepare a dish that we had not done before in class. It would be a curry, to be served with plain rice. The protein and a few other ingredients would be provided by the school, but everything else would have to be brought from home.

It was a lousy morning, the sky as dark as my mood. Rushing around packing ginger, garlic, tomatoes, onions, chillies and grated coconut, wondering what I had forgotten. A hurried breakfast and finally the walk to school.

In the cookery kitchen, I found all my classmates also with long faces. We had all been hoping that we would be tested on cakes or biscuits or even curry puffs so the announcement that we had to make a curry was a huge disappointment. On the teacher's table, there were plates of sliced fish, a few sauces and curry powder.

Five minutes before the start of the exam, we were told to come up and collect our plates. All of us had 4 slices of tenggiri (seer fish). I arranged my ingredients on my table just as the bell rang to indicate the start of the exam.

We had been taught to make a beef ball curry in school but a fish curry? Mum wouldn't even let me stir a pot of fish curry, saying I would probably break up all the pieces and here I had to make a curry and ensure that the pieces remained whole when I was through. Suddenly, I could see the dark clouds moving away and the sun shining through. Fish moilee! Had seen Mum make it countless times and it seemed simple enough. The recipe was also in my cookery book and frantically I tried to remember the ingredients and the method.

Shallow fried fish

Mum's recipe asked for the fish to be shallow fried so I sprinkled turmeric powder, salt and pepper over the fish. I still remember I used too much turmeric, the fish was almost orange in colour. In the meantime, the onions, ginger, garlic, chillies and tomato were sliced. Thick and thin coconut milk extracted, the fish shallow fried.

In the remaining oil, the sliced onions, ginger, garlic, chillies were lightly sauteed, thin coconut  milk added and then the fish was gently placed into the gravy. Sliced tomatoes went in, salt and vinegar and then the thick coconut milk. Shaking the pan, as Mum had instructed, ensured the fish did not break. And finally, tasting it. Divine! I carefully ladled it into the serving bowl and that was when I realised that I had forgotten to bring rice!!

Fortunately, my benchmate had a little extra and that saved the day. Oh and I did pass with good marks.

Fish moilee (not my school recipe!!)

1/2 kg seer fish slices
Salt, pepper and turmeric powder
1 large onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, julienned
1" piece ginger, julienned
4-5 green chillies, slit
1 stalk curry leaves
1 large tomato, cut in wedges( optional)
1 cup thin coconut milk
1/2 cup thick coconut milk (I used canned coconut milk)

Sprinkle salt, pepper and a little turmeric powder over the fish slices.
Mix gently to coat, then shallow fry in a frying pan after 30 minutes.
Place the fish on kitchen towel to absorb excess oil.
Pour out all but 3 tablespoons of the oil, saute onion, garlic, ginger and green chillies till transparent.
Add in thin coconut milk (or 1/2 a can coconut milk and 1/2 cup water), bring to a boil.
Also add in tomatoes and when it starts to boil, gently put in the fish in a single layer.
Shake the pan around to mix the ingredients, allow it to simmer for about 5-7 minutes.
Add in about a teaspoon or so of vinegar, check seasoning then pour the thick coconut milk.
Shake the pan again to mix and just before it comes back to a boil, remove the pan from the heat.
Don't let it boil as the coconut milk will split.
Excellent with bread.

Wine roasted chicken with allspice and star anise


I was eager to try out the spices I had picked up from Kochi. Thinking up ways to combine them in a single dish was a challenge, not the vanilla beans, of course. It was tempting to go Chinese, then I decided to leave out the cashews as well and use just the star anise and pimento.

Pimento is also known as allspice, so called because it smells of a combination of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. A bit of a Geography lesson for me as I thought allspice grew only in Jamaica. Well, apparently not.

Star anise, with its licorice flavour, is used in a lot of Indian and Malay curries and also in Chinese dishes which need long, slow cooking.

My dressed chicken arrived soon enough and the marinade was a breeze- red wine, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, garlic cloves, bay leaves and the aforementioned allspice and star anise.

A good rub with the marinade and the chicken sat in its brown bath till roasting time.

Slices from 2 onions formed the cushion for the bird to rest on, the lemon halves were placed in the bird's cavity and the baking tray was then placed in the oven.

I do not like to use the rotisserie function in my oven so half way through  the bird was turned around and then popped back into the oven.

The aroma from the spices filled the house. And it tasted fabulous, the spices taking the flavour of the roast to another dimension.

Here's the recipe:

Wine roasted chicken with allspice and star anise

1.5 kg dressed chicken

1/2 cup red wine
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp mustard paste
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp sugar
4 tbsp olive oil
2 teaspoons lime juice
8 cloves garlic, crush lightly with the flat side of a knife
2 whole star anise
10 allspice
2 bay leaves
2 onions, sliced thick

Clean and pat dry the chicken with paper towels.
Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and rub well over the chicken.
Place in a glass bowl, cover well and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Line a roasting pan with foil, place onion slices in a single layer and place chicken on it.
Place one star anise in the cavity along with most of the garlic and the lemon halves, pour over the remaining marinade.
Place the remaining spices, garlic and a couple of onion slices on top of the chicken.
Roast in a preheated 200°C oven for about 30 minutes, when golden brown, turn over carefully and roast for another 20-30 minutes at 180°C.
Test for doneness by piercing a skewer through the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear, the chicken is cooked.
Remove from the oven and place the chicken on a wire rack, loosely cover with a tent of foil. Strain the gravy and keep aside the onion slices and serve with the chicken
Carve or joint the chicken, place on a platter and serve with gravy, a salad and bread. A garlic bread would be lovely.

If you prefer the skin to be crisp all over, put the chicken on a wire rack that fits into the roasting pan. Pour half a cup of light chicken stock into the pan and the remaining marinade over the chicken and then place it in the oven. As the chicken cooks, the juices will drip into the pan.  Baste the chicken with the pan juices every few minutes, following the timing and turn it over as indicated in the recipe.

Kochi tales


I had to make a quick trip to Kochi (formerly Cochin) to attend a wedding in the family. Only my second trip there, this time I did manage to see a bit of the city which is situated on the western coast of India.

Kochi, known as the queen of the Arabian Sea, was a centre of trade in days gone by. The Portuguese, Arabs, Chinese, French, British and Dutch traders have left their mark on the city. The sea front of the fort is flecked with Chinese fishing nets. Beside that are stalls selling fresh catch from the sea. One could even buy one's fish of choice, take it to a nearby restaurant, get it cleaned, coated with a marinade and cooked, at a nominal cost.

Fresh catch of the sea
The fellow on the right was a bit frisky  
The pearl spot is considered a delicacy
Flower crab, mullet, grey pomfret and pearl spot


Red snapper, seer fish, squid and tiger prawns

Vasco de Gama discovered the sea route from Europe to India. He died at Cochin in 1524 A.D. and was buried at the St. Francis Church. Fourteen years later, in 1538 A.D., his remains were moved and reburied in Lisbon. This church is the oldest European church in India and was originally built of wood. Later it was rebuilt with stone. One can still see Vasco de Gama's gravestone in the grounds of the church.

St. Francis Church

 Outside the church was this stall selling shell craft.

Mattancherry is the Jewish centre of Kochi. We were there on a Friday so most of the shops and the synagogue were closed. Still, we admired the lovely old building that housed the more than 400 year old Paradesi synagogue.

The synagogue

We passed shops selling spices, handicrafts shops and Kashmiri shops selling shawls and jewellery. We were fortunate to wander into a shop selling petit point, fine hand embroidery worked on baby clothes, bed spreads and table runners. Fabulous, exquisite needlework.

Strolling into a store selling handicrafts, we were amazed to see a vallom, a boat that is used in races during Onam. Also known as a snake boat, this huge boat occupied pride of place from one end of the store to the other. We were told that it could seat 85 people!!

One end of the snake boat or vallom

the middle

...and almost the other end

Our last stop was at a store selling spices, vanilla beans, cashewnuts, almonds and of course pepper. The air was heady with the aroma of spices. I picked up cashewnuts, some pimento, and star anise. And a few vanilla beans, of course.

Kochi is a lovely old city, full of history, yet modern and cosmopolitan. Definitely worth visiting again.  

The endive experience


New year resolutions.

Make them and break them? I guess there are many who make them and do not. Mine is to grab opportunities and move out of my comfort zone.  In culinary matters, I mean.

Did you know endives originated in the Mediterranean area? This ancient crop has been grown by the Romans, Greeks and even the Egyptians. In addition to amino acids, endives are a rich source of iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamins.

Endives belong to the cruciferous family. The thick leaves are arranged much like cabbage leaves, only endive leaves are long and oval. The core is bitter but when removed, the vegetable is quite pleasant to eat.

A friend at Fruitmarx had given me some Belgian endives and going through some recipes, I learnt that if baked with some honey or maple syrup, it would cut down the bitterness. That would be a first for me- combining a savory taste with sweetness. Unless we consider the sweet and sour sauces.

So the endives were washed, patted dry and quartered. The cores were removed, and in a small jar, I mixed some olive oil and butter, maple syrup, salt, pepper and crushed dried thyme and rosemary. The endives were coated with this mix, and then popped into a hot oven. 20 minutes later- sizzling hot baked endives.

 And they were good.

Roasted maple syrup endive

4 Belgian endives
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly milled pepper
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed

Quarter the endives, remove most of the core.
Warm the oil and butter, mix in the remaining ingredients.
Rub this all over the endives, arrange on a oven tray and bake in a preheated oven 180°C till edges start to turn golden, about 15 minutes.
Turn them over and bake for another few minutes.
Remove from the oven, place on a serving plate and drizzle a little more olive oil over.

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