Magnum Masterclass


Ever eaten chocolate covered vanilla ice cream on a stick? Remember taking a bite of the chocolate and finding the coating cracking? And while you ate the ice cream, you would have to hold it upside down so it wouldn't drip down your hand?

Magnum ice creams from Unilever made its maiden journey to Chennai's Hyatt Regency hotel on March 27th. Yes, the same company that makes Kwality Walls in India. Unbelievable, right? Bloggers, photographers, ice cream aficianados and wannabe ice cream makers of the city got together for a masterclass cum tasting session of this delicious ice cream.

Chef Abhiru Biswas of Barry Callebaut and Chennai's funny man/RJ/VJ Cary Edwards started off the show with an introduction to Magnum ice creams and a chocolate taste test.

We were seated at tables which had 3 bowls of chocolate buttons, taste the contents of each bowl and identify the country of origin. All three chocolates were delicious, soon it was revealed that Bowl No. 1 contained the perfectly balanced Belgian chocolate, Bowl. No 2  milky Swiss chocolate and Bowl No. 3 dark, bitter French chocolate.

We then were given the task of tasting a stick of Magnum's Classic. The first bite was sheer bliss- the snap of well tempered chocolate that enrobed creamy, dreamy, vanilla ice cream. And the chocolate coat stayed on the ice cream till the last bite.

Asked to articulate our thoughts, adjectives like smooth, flavourful, creamy and delicious, floated around the room. Cary then got down to making a sundae with ingredients ranging from orange cake, chocolate sauce, fruit slices and Magnum bars.

Next, occupants of each table were instructed to make their own sundaes using ingredients like cake, strawberries, kiwi, pepper, star anise, grapes, celery, basil and strawberry, white and dark chocolate sauces. Only 5 ingredients could be used along with a base and a sauce.  The combination of chilli and chocolates is the latest craze in Chennai. As there was no chilli among the ingredients, almost all the sundae makers used pepper. And star anise.

Pepper, star anise, kiwi, almond, basil & chocolate sauce-my table's choice!

We also had to use Magnum's Classic- chocolate coated vanilla ice cream,
Almond- almond and chocolate coated vanilla ice cream and
Chocolate Truffle- truffle sauce mixed through chocolate ice cream and coated with Belgian chocolate.

And this what it looked like after assembly:

We then had to taste our own creations- a smart move by the Chef! The basil tasted weird in that melange of flavours, the saving grace of the evening just had to be the wonderful Magnum bars.

Chef Biswas ended the evening with a Q&A session. And with the promise that Magnum bars would very soon be available in the city at a very affordable price of Rs. 75/.

Which should give ice cream parlours in the city something to think about.

Photos courtesy Bhagirathy Samudram and Madan GC.

Hot cross buns


Hot cross buns - yummy, soft, sticky buns studded with raisins or currants, redolent with spices and marked with a cross on top are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. You can make them any time of the year- no one's going to chop off your head or put you in prison if you do.

I like to use a mixture of currants and raisins and this time, I didn't have any mixed peel so I omitted it though it's included in the recipe. Along with the clove, cinnamon and nutmeg powders, I used lebkuchen powder. You can use a little allspice powder instead. Also, I do not use eggs in this recipe.

Make your bun dough either in your processor or bread maker or on a worktop, knead in the currants, raisins and mixed peel by hand so you don't pulverise the dried fruit. Since it's a sweet dough, it will take a little longer to proof. While the buns bake, make the glaze.

Some years ago, we had new neighbours and their little girl was very fond of coming over especially when I was baking. That day, I had a pretty large order for hot cross buns and she wanted to watch me pipe the crosses. I hoisted her up onto my worktop and started piping. I finished the first rack and moved on to the second one and when I finished, was surprised to see some of  the crosses on the first tray of buns were no longer visible. Wondering why they had disappeared. I piped the crosses again and then I saw it- a little finger reaching out and scraping off the icing. Caught the culprit red handed!!

Hot cross buns 

450 gm flour
1 teaspoon gluten
2 teaspoons yeast
60 gm sugar
2 tbsp milk powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
60 ml soft butter
About 1.5 cup water
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg powder
1/8 teaspoon clove powder
1/8 teaspoon lebkuchen or allspice powder (optional)
1/2 cup raisins or a mix of raisins and currants
1/4 cup finely diced mixed peel

Boil together 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons sugar.

Sieve 1/2 cup icing sugar, mix with 1-2 teaspoons water.

Shaped and ready to bake

Sieve the flour along with the spice powders.
Put the flour, yeast, gluten, sugar, milk powder, salt and butter into the processor.
Switch on the motor to combine the ingredients, slowly add the  water till the dough forms lumps.
Run the machine for a minute more to mix the dough well, take the dough out and place it on a floured worktop and knead it briefly. When it is soft and springy, knead in the dried fruits and peel.
The fruits will fall out, so just push them back into the dough.
Place the dough into a large, well greased bowl, cover the top with clingfilm and place it in a warm cupboard to double in size. It may take an hour and a half.
Punch it down and shape into 12 equal pieces, shape into buns and place on a baking tray with enough space between the buns.
Proof for a second time, about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 190°C, bake the buns for about 12-15 minutes or till golden brown.
While the buns are baking, make the glaze by boiling the sugar and water.
When they are done, take the buns out of the oven and brush them with the glaze, move them to a wire rack.
Combine the icing sugar and water to a thick paste, fill a paper cone with the icing, cut the tip and pipe crosses on top. 
Makes 12 buns.

Happy Easter to you all.

Prawn and mushroom roll


It's getting to be that time of year in our city- summer. The trees in front of my house have shed their leaves, the nests that crows have built in them are now exposed to the blazing noon day sun.

Summer is of course a great time to bake bread. A friend called up to say that she would be dropping in. I'm always so happy to see this young lady and thought I would entice her to stay for lunch as well.

Good time also to try out a new bread recipe. She's a vegetarian so that would be 2 rolls that I would make - veg for her and prawn for us, for our dinner.

To save time, I made the filling for both rolls together. Onion, mushroom, lots of garlic, spring onions, cheese, vinegar, thyme and rosemary. And some chopped up prawns for one of them.

Veg roll

How easy is it to make dough in a food processor? I've gone through 4 bread machines. That's how much dough I've made in the last so many years. So till I get my hands on BM No. 5, my trusty FP has to do the job. It's pretty easy and when mixed and proofed, the dough is rolled out, filling studded on and the whole thing shaped. A few slashes with a knife and then it's ready for the second proofing and the oven.

Prawn roll

And then............................ta-da...........................

What a fantastic combination. Soft bread, the savory flavour of the prawn and cheese that complement each other, the taste of herbs that hum in the background.

So then, all who love bread, roll up your sleeves and bake on...

Prawn and mushroom roll

Ingredients for roll
200 gm flour
1/2 teaspoon gluten
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
10 gm soft butter
About 1/2 cup lukewarm water
A little extra butter for brushing

Prawn and mushroom filling
1 onion, sliced
1 head garlic, chopped finely
100 gm mushroom, halved and sliced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 sprig rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
Salt (with caution) and lots of fresh ground pepper
100 gm prawns, chopped coarsely
1/2 bunch spring onion, sliced
50 gm cheddar cheese

Put all the ingredients for the dough, except the water, into the food processor(or, if you have a bread machine, lucky you, follow manufacturer's instructions).
Pulse it till all the ingredients get a good mix, then add in the water, a little at a time, letting the motor run till the dough forms lumps. This means there is enough water. 
Let the processor run a couple of seconds more, then scrape out the dough onto a floured worktop.
Now, feel the dough. If wet and sticky, add a couple of tablespoons more flour and knead till no longer sticky.
If the dough is dry, wet your palms and knead till the dough is smooth and soft.
In case you prefer making dough the traditional way, do follow the method here.
Form the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl, cover the top with cling wrap and allow the wonderful Chennai weather take over.
My dough took about 45 minutes to double in size.

While the dough is rising, make the filling:
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a non stick pan, saute the onion slices for a minute, add in garlic, the herbs and cook for half a minute.
Add in the mushrooms and saute till almost dry, add in prawns.
Cook till most of the liquid evaporates then remove from from heat, season then add in the chopped spring onion.
When it cools to room temperature, mix in the cheese.   

When the dough has proofed, remove the cling wrap, punch down the dough, knead it briefly and put it on a flour dusted worktop.
Roll out into a 10"x 8" rectangle, brush a little butter over the surface. 
Sprinkle the filling evenly over the top, then roll up. 
Pinch the edges closed then rock(!) the roll gently back and forth on the worktop to even it.

Prawn roll

With a sharp knife, make shallow gashes on the top.
Place it on a lightly greased baking tray and leave to prove for about 20 minutes.
Bake in a preheated 190°C oven for about 15-20 minutes.
When it comes out of the oven, brush with a little butter.

General Tso's chicken


A couple of years ago, we went to Sparky's. Remember that little restaurant on Spur Tank Road decorated with American kitsch? They are closed now but they used to have some interesting food. One of the dishes was General Tso's chicken. Apparently there was a real life General Tso in China but this particular dish never made his acquaintance. I guess it is as Chinese as Chicken Manchurian.

Googling for more information, I found that General Tso's chicken is popular in Chinese restaurants in America. Cubes of chicken are deep fried then tossed in a spicy sweet sauce. Since all the ingredients were at hand, I got right down to making my version of the General's chicken.

And it was yummy. I did wonder if it would taste like kung pao chicken, as the ingredients are somewhat similar, but while kung pao chicken is a Sichuan specialty and uses peanuts, General Tso's chicken supposedly originated in the Hunan province. It is best served with steamed rice or even fried rice.

General Tso's chicken

450 gm boneless chicken breast (or thigh)

1 egg white
1 cup cornflour
1 tablespoon light soya sauce
White pepper powder

1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons dark soya sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese wine
2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar (white vinegar can be used instead)
1 teaspoon sugar ( I don't like it too sweet)
1/4 cup tomato sauce

 Other ingredients
6 dry red chillies, cut each into 3
1" ginger, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 spring onions, sliced

Slice the chicken into 1" x 1.5" pieces.
Mix the marinade ingredients and coat chicken with it.
Keep aside for half an hour, then heat a wok with 1/2 a cup of oil.
Deep fry the pieces in 3 or 4 batches, drain well on kitchen towels.
Mix the ingredients for the sauce.
Remove most of the oil from the wok, heat it again and fry the chillies.
When they turn a deep red, add the ginger and garlic.
Stir it around, add the sauce.
When it starts to boil, add the fried chicken.
Stir well till the chicken is coated with the sauce, add the spring onion slices. Dish out and serve with steamed rice or plain rice.

General Tso's chicken is garnished with toasted sesame seeds. I had made this dish for a friend who was allergic to sesame seeds, hence only the spring onion garnish. To do the authentic presentation, toast 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds in a dry pan over a medium flame. When the seeds start to pop, remove and sprinkle over the chicken.

Prawn and spinach not really au gratin


Sometimes, it's the simplest of ingredients that can make a great dish. Staring at a bunch of spinach that the vegetable vendor had brought the other day, I couldn't think of anything particularly interesting that I could do with it. The usual spinach and potatoes, maybe?

The idea of a gratinated dish began to take shape. Perhaps with a white sauce? Flipping through an old cookbook, I found a recipe for a fish and spinach bake. A call to the nearby fish shop revealed that they had  not got any pomfret that day. But they could send me large prawns.

And within the hour, I had some really fresh prawns at hand. And with the potatoes, milk, cream and cheese, the makings of a great dish (imho) began to take shape. The spinach was still a little wet after being sauteed and with the remainder of the milk and cream mixture (left after boiling the potatoes) poured over the top of the potato layer, I wanted to dry off a little more of the liquid, hence the need to bake the dish rather that pop it under the grill to brown the crust.

Prawn and spinach not really au gratin

1 bunch spinach
250 gm shelled and deveined prawns
500 gm potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped very fine
250 ml milk
150 ml cream
100 gm grated cheese
50 gm mozzarella cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Remove spinach stems, wash well to remove grit and chop roughly.
Peel potatoes and cut into thick slices.
Heat the butter, saute the garlic then toss in the spinach.
When it wilts, remove with tongs and place in an 8" greased oven proof baking dish.
In the water left over from cooking the spinach, cook the prawns till all the water evaporates. Do not overcook the prawns.
Arrange the prawns over the spinach.
Bring milk and cream to a boil in a pan, add in the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook till the potatoes are almost done.
Sprinkle half the cheese over the prawns, arrange the potatoes over them so the entire top of the dish is covered.

Pour over the remaining milk and cream mix, sprinkle the remaining cheese over and bake at 180°C till golden brown.
Serve with fresh bread and a salad.

If you don't like prawns, you could substitute it with cubes of any white fleshed fish.  

Coq au vin casserole


There's nothing like a casserole baking in the oven for dinner. Because once the prep work is over, you can bung it in the oven, clean up the kitchen and go read a book for about an hour. And at dinnertime, there's a hot casserole waiting to be served with some garlic bread.

And if you really like your greens, a salad.

This casserole was meant to be a coq au vin - chicken cooked in wine. Then there was a change of direction. The shop I get fresh chickens from is run by a very nice man. Brings my order on time and just the way I want it- dressed chicken and skin on. The only problem is that the meat is quite tough if it's used to make a curry, but when roasted or casserole-d, the meat is tender, almost falling off the bone.

Classic coq au vin is cooked on a stovetop so that's how I started mine. Along the way, carrots got added. I love carrots in casseroles, they add a touch of sweetness and enrich the gravy. You could leave out both the bacon and the wine, in that case, remember to use more stock to make up the liquid component.

Here's the recipe:

Coq au vin casserole  

1.5 kg chicken
1 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 rashers bacon, sliced into strips
10 shallots, peeled
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 carrots, cut into 2" lengths and quartered
1 cup red wine
1½ cups chicken stock
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 sprigs rosemary
5 sprigs thyme
200 gm mushrooms

Cut chicken into 10 pieces, wash and pat dry.
Mix flour, salt and pepper, coat chicken pieces well in this mixture.
Heat oil in a large pot, cook batches of chicken till light brown on both sides, remove and drain on paper towels.
When all the chicken has been fried, remove most of the oil then saute the bacon.
Add in the whole shallots and garlic, stir till onions are golden, then add in the carrots.
Put the chicken, wine, stock and tomato puree and give it all a good stir.

Check seasoning, cover with a lid, bring to a boil and then cook on a low flame for about 15 minutes.
Transfer contents into a casserole, add the rosemary and thyme, cover with a lid and place in a preheated 180°C oven for about 50 minutes.
At the end of this time, remove from the oven, add the mushrooms and give it a good stir.
Replace in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes more.

And voila - the coq au vin casserole. Flavourful, tender chicken with the wonderful aroma of herbs. 

Fried kuay teow


Till a few years ago, every time I returned from Singapore, my luggage would be filled, not with clothes, but with cooking and baking ingredients. Bread flour, sauces, curry pastes, dried herbs, spices...And I used to hoard them, pulling them out when we wanted a taste of home.

Thankfully, many of these condiments and sauces are now easily available at Chennai. Even pak choy. The other day, I had gone to one of the Kovai Payamudir shops and was quite surprised to see a pile of pak choy. I was picking out one when a lady asked me what it was. Before I could reply, one of the salesmen answered, "Chow chow." So I told him it was pak choy. There ensued a discussion between him and a salesgirl and finally they agreed it was pak choy! Then the lady wanted to know how it was cooked- they told her to make it like a poriyal- chop it up finely and cook it with grated coconut! Oh well!

With my precious pak choy in hand, I went to the shop next door and got a pack of cotton tofu and rice sticks. It had been some time since I made kuay teow.

Pak choy( pic courtesy

Rice sticks (pic courtesy

Cotton tofu (pic courtesy

I wanted to make a "mixed" kuay teow with chicken, prawns and squid. And Chinese sausages and shrimp paste. I couldn't get bean sprouts which are so essential in a dish like this so the pak choy had to do. Also, an onion, some garlic, dark soya sauce, chillies, oyster sauce, spring onions and a couple of eggs.  And the tofu.

Here's the recipe:

Fried kuay teow 

500 gm flat rice noodles
300 gm boneless chicken, sliced
150 gm prawns, peeled and deveined
150 gm squid, sliced
1 Chinese sausage, sliced (opt)
200 gm tofu
1 onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic
4 red chillies
2 teaspoons shrimp paste (opt)
1 pak choy, separate leaves and stems and slice stems long
2 tablespoons dark soya sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
4 spring onion stalks, chopped, reserve a few for garnish
2 eggs made into an omelette and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Marinate the chicken, prawns and squid separately in a teaspoon of dark soya sauce and pepper.
In a blender, process the chillies, garlic and shrimp paste with very little water into a fine paste.
Slice tofu into cubes, wash and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Deep fry in a wok till golden, keep aside.
Soak the rice noodles in a big pan of water for about 20 mins.
Drain through a colander. bring a big pot of water to the boil, put the noodle in it for about a minute then drain through a colander.
In 4 tablespoons oil,  fry the ground paste. Add in the sliced Chinese sausage and onion, saute for a couple of minutes.

Add the chicken and prawns, then the pak choy stems. Cover and cook on high heat for about a minute.

Add the sliced squid, cover and cook for a minute then add the pak choy leaves.

When the leaves wilt, add in the sauces, the fried tofu, spring onions and the noodles.
Stir well, check seasoning.

Dish out onto a serving platter, garnish with omelette.
Enjoy with chilli sauce.

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