Pita Bread – Fresh from the Oven June Challenge

It is an honour to host Fresh From the Oven’s June Challenge. I would like to thank Michelle Rice of UtterlyScrummy and Claire of Purely Food for giving me this opportunity. It has been wonderful attempting challenges with yeast and each month I wait eagerly to know what the month’s challenge is going to be. For the month of June I would love everybody to participate together in make these easy-peasy pita bread. The details for how to participate are here and link to
http://purelyfood.wordpress.com/fresh-from-the-oven/ and the round-up for this ( for the month of June) will be done by Purely Food.

I have been living an expat’s life in Bahrain for the past 2 years and the food of this region fascinates me more than others. The addictive tastes, the rustic textures, the haunting flavours, the clever methods of cooking, the influences that this part of the world takes from other cultures shines through from the Arabic Cuisine. In my time here, I have enjoyed cooking these Arabic dishes as much as I have enjoyed eating a hearty meal outside in restaurants. The food of this region inspired me to do a full-blown article on the Food of Bahrain called Bahrain: A culinary Oasis which got published in a compendium of sort called, My Beautiful Bahrain.

An excerpt from the book would tell you how fascinated I am with the food of this region. I went food-hunting literally, to write this article and the this insightful journey is the one I will cherish for a long time.

“About the famed bread making- Khuboos shops of Bahrain:  It is fascinating to watch a queue build up by nightfall outside these traditional bakeries. A burning clay hearth and experienced pairs of hands slap the dough to make khuboos, the most popular flatbread that the country eats every single day of its life. This hearty bread forms the base for almost all the food that is served at homes and in restaurants. A freshly baked Khuboos emanates an aroma that tantalizes the senses with its simplicity and flavor. Khuboos comes in a lot of sizes, shapes and flavors; sesame, melted cheese, honey brushed, to name a few.  My personal favorite is the plain khuboos that I love devouring bit by bit with some vegetables and Hummus (chickpea dip).

Below are some photos of how Arabic bread is made traditionally in these Khuboos -houses.

Charmed by this, I have replicated the Arabic bread baking process in my oven very, many times. Pita “Pocket”  bread, in this part of the world is also called Lebanese bread though there is no evidence proving that this bread originated from Lebanon. This bread is popular all over the Arab world and the Mediterranean region.

 To make these, I usually use a combination of wholemeal flour and All purpose flour but for the challenge, I used All purpose flour entirely. You are free to experiment with different types of healthier flours to make your pita. You can follow my lead  with step by step pictures for your better understanding:

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 Tablespoon sugar or honey

1 packet yeast (or, if from bulk, 2 teaspoons yeast)

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water, room temperature

2 tablespoons olive oil

(I apologize for missing out the proportions of ingredients as I have made this so many times and remember it by heart. It just made me focus more on the method of preparation than the quantities. )

Mix the yeast in with the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the olive oil and 1 1/4 cup water and stir together with a wooden spoon. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour will not stick to the ball, add more water. Once all of the ingredients form a ball, place the ball on a work surface, and knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes. If you are using an electric mixer, mix it at low-speed for 10 minutes.

When you are done kneading the dough, place it in a bowl that has been lightly coated with olive oil.

Form a ball out of the dough and place it into the bowl, rolling the ball of dough around in the bowl so that it has a light coat of oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.

When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into any number of pieces depending how big or small you like your pita. Roll each piece into a ball, cover the balls with a damp kitchen towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the dough to relax so that it’ll be easier to shape.

While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to preheat as well. If you do not have a baking stone like I don’t too, then just use a normal baking tray, like I did.

After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, spread a light coating of flour on a work surface and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough and use a rolling-pin or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough. You should be able to roll it out to 1/4 inch thick approximately. If the dough does not stretch sufficiently you can cover it with the damp towel and let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before trying again.

Open the oven and place as many pitas as you can fit on the hot baking surface. They should be baked through and puffy after 3 minutes. If you want your pitas to be crispy and brown you can bake them for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, but it is not mandatory. I did, because that is how we like pita bread; a little brown and crisp. Not all my pita puffed up but some did and it was a delight to see them puff up.

It is advisable to have pita bread as soon as it is out of the oven with hummous ( chickpea dip) or labneh dip ( yogurt dip) or even with meat or vegetable curries. It can be stored for many days in an air tight container and can be microwaved to soften them ( by sprinkling some water before putting it in a microwave)

Hope everybody who attempts this finds it easy and tasty an endeavour to try again and again.

My Beautiful Bahrain & a No-Bake Blackberry Cheesecake

5th of May, 2012, is a date that shall go down as one of the most defining days of my life. This day, a book was launched by the Bahrain Writers’ Circle, called My Beautiful Bahrain.  I am one of the co-authors along with Namit Bhatia, whom you all recall being mentioned on this blog innumerable times. Our article – Bahrain, A Culinary Oasis got accepted as one of the 40 articles written by 50 authors, all of different nationalities.

Co-authors of Bahrain: A Culinary Oasis

My Beautiful Bahrain is the brain-child of Robin Barratt, who is the founder of Bahrain Writers’ Circle, the first of its kind – writers’ club in Bahrain. He encouraged every single one of us, members to give out our story that talked about Bahrain and how beautiful this island is. He kept at us for months together when members like me thought, we weren’t good enough to have our names printed as authors in a book. He motivated, compelled and even bullied to have us write. Finally the book is out and we can’t be proud enough. Atleast for me, it means the world to have my name in print for the very first time. I was over the moon when Robin asked me to read out a passage from the book at the Launch. I was filled with trepidation but I practiced my speech couple of times and felt prepared.

Robin Barratt presenting us the copy of My Beautiful Bahrain
Reading a passage from my article
With Hubby..
A baby who didn’t care about the book launch

My Beautiful Bahrain in Robin’s own words,

With lots of fascinating personal ‘life’ stories, quite a few tourist-type information and fact based contributions, some wonderful poetry, an occasional piece of fiction (set on the island) and a mixture of other diverse and captivating prose, with fifty contributions from forty writers from fifteen countries (almost 300 pages), My Beautiful Bahrain is both varied and unique, and an undeniably indispensable guide for travellers and visitors to the island, as well as a ‘must-read’ book for people living here, doing business here, or just interested in what life is like living on this tiny, tiny island in the Arabian Gulf. 

The aims and goals of this book are to show the world that; firstly, there are a great many terrific and talented writers on the island that most definitely should be read and heard and secondly, for most people here, Bahrain is a wonderful place to live!”

As simple an agenda as that wasn’t the easiest to manage since finding a publisher who would do it for absolutely nothing was a tough task. But Robin persisted for everybody’s sake and the result is for all to see. The first edition is already sold out and more are being printed as I type this post. To download, you could check this out.

My parents were able to attend this mega-event of my life and that makes me feel super -blessed. My husband, my daughter and friends – Namit ( co-author ), Pooja Rajpal( who has her own article in the book called ‘Newbie’), Gayathri( who came by to wish me luck) made me feel so special.

My Beautiful Bahrain has given me the confidence to not stop with it but to continue writing to be published in the future. It was just the right sort of nudge required.

To celebrate, I made a No- Bake  Blackberry Cheesecake with some blackberry sauce. The cheesecake looked devastatingly gorgeous ( coming from the creator, it seems narcissistic, but it was stunning to look at). I am in love with the deep purple colour and now I know what color I am going bring into my wardrobe soon. The cheesecake is entirely my concoction, ingredients, proportions and all. I just kept adding ingredients whilst mentally noting down the proportions in order to write down the recipe later.

Mimi has special fondness for dessert in Ramekins and thinks of them as ice creams. So I spared some from the total batter to fill her ice cream -ramekins

The biscuit base was crumbly, just the way we like it.We aren’t a big fans of the snappy sort of base that usually comes with bakery cheesecakes. As for the cheesecake, the flavour was spot on.  The tart blackberry flavour and the smooth creamy texture on my tongue reminded me of a purple satin dress that I had once and how it felt against my skin. It is indulgent, celebratory and gorgeous ( did I mention that already?) to look at.

From here on, as I dip my dessert spoon into a heavenly slice of the blackberry cheesecake, I reflect on how My Beautiful Bahrain is just the beginning. There is so much more coming in the near future.

I can see it.

Nutella & Peanut Butter Palmiers for Me and You

Do you fancy something sweet? Then do you crave for something salty? Sweet again? Salty?

That is the kind of craving I go through certain days of the week.  For starters, I begin with something  like an apple or pear and then reach for some salted peanuts. Then I have a handful of raisins and then some salad with good drizzle of tangy dressing and so on.  This irritates my hubby no end. He would beg and plead to me to have a proper meal so that I don’t go yo-yo-ing on my diet like that.  Regardless, I carry on.

Peanut Butter for my better half and Nutella for me

My hubby on the other hand, is very disciplined about his food habits. He eats a set portion of food every day and at a set time. He prefers eating home cooked meals over having to eat out. He is not a fan of fried stuff or anything that is synthetic tasting or remotely snack-able.

He is a night person and I, the early morning sort.

He has a fantastic sense of direction and I find it difficult to find my way around the locality wherein I have lived for years.

He is a skeptic and I am a believer.

He adapts and I resist.

He is water and I am earth.

I love nutella and he peanut butter.

I hate peanut butter and he hates nutella.

That is why we are made for each other.

That is why I made these Nutella and Peanut butter Palmiers

 

 

 

 

Baguette Bread Pudding for Mother’s Day

I realized how lucky I am when I was browsing through all my old photographs. My parents have inevitably been a part of every milestone of my life.  Be it my first singing performance in front of a large audience, Annual sports day, or  my graduation day ceremony, my wedding (ofcourse), at the birth of my daughter, her first birthday, the launch of my first book ( a post coming up soon with the details) and so on. I feel blessed and so loved by a set of parents who have helped, guided and supported me in all my life’s decisions. 13th May being Mother’s Day, I take this opportunity to tell them how infinitely lucky I feel to have them in my life and how much they mean to me.

These days, they are visiting us in Bahrain and it has been the most relaxed, stress free period in a long, long time. Mimi had a small accident where she fell of the sofa and broke her right elbow. The impact of the fall was quite severe and her right arm had to be plastered for 3 weeks. I was at my wits end when I couldn’t figure out how I was going to manage her, my work, home and everything else. I do have the most dependable nanny in the world but I was still apprehensive considering how Mimi was going to spend her whole day at home when I was at work.  So I asked my parents to come down and they obliged without a thought. They had a lot of pressing commitments back home but when it comes to their grand-daughter, they pushed everything in the back burner and hopped on the first flight to Bahrain. They have been here for the last 3 weeks and we have another week with them. I feel sad already thinking that they would be leaving soon and soon there will be  heart-shaped void for a long, long time before things get back to normal. Mimi’s cast is off and my parents have been a great influence when it comes to teaching her new things, our language and every little detail. Mimi has started speaking a lot more and expresses herself more clearly. When my parents leave Mimi will miss them more than ever.

While they are here, I made sure I  made every day count, especially the weekends. My dad is extremely fond of baked goodies so I made him an apple cake, raspberry brownies, the chocolate cherry cupcakes, Palmiers ( post on the way), hopefully a cheesecake and some fruit cake before he leaves. My mother is passionate about cooking and loves to watch me in action so that she can go back home and try some of it on her own. She gives me ideas on how I can improve something or change ingredients. She has a creative streak in her which she unleashes effortlessly in the kitchen. My father has a way with words and he gives me ideas about how I can write new posts on my blog on varied topics. Both of them read my blog with great interest and give me their honest opinion about it.

So you see, it is a win-win.

I know I am going to miss them terribly when they leave and I cannot wait to plan my next trip to see them in Kerala. Though it is Mother’s Day tomorrow, I would want to wish my dad also because they are a team; my mom and dad. They have do things together, take decisions together and there not a single instance that I recall where they haven’t stuck together during the thick and the thin. These are the values they have passed on to me and my brother – Family always comes first.

 I made them some baguette bread pudding and they loved it more than all the other baked goodies. Bread and butter pudding has been my eternal favourite as long as I remember. My mother used to make a non-baked version of the bread and the butter pudding which I used to love. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember how to make it after all this time. That is the reason why she encourages me to detail it all down on my blog for posterity.

The baguette was a few days old and that really enhanced the flavour of the pudding. Also, it is important not to be stingy when it comes to butter because bread and butter pudding requires loads of butter-love. I added cranberries because I wanted their tartness to shine through the dull sweetness of the custard. I remembered to soak the cranberries in rum overnight and in the morning they had soaked in all the alcoholic goodness.  I blow torched the bread pudding to give it a brownish-black crust because my hubby loves a little burnt taste in his bread pudding. Burnt sugar on the top provides the much needed textrue to the otherwise ooey-gooey bread pudding.

Though Mimi doesn’t know it is Mother’s Day tomorrow and what it means to our relationship, I know for a fact that she would run to me when I come back from work. The delight on her face is beyond compare and lights up the dreariest day. I look forward to that reaction every single day after I come back from work. A few years down the lane, I am also looking forward to the hand made beautiful cards she is going to make for me 🙂

Wishing all mothers a very Happy Mother’s Day because this day like every day is  a testimony of the fact that we are the moving force in our child’s life. We have the power to mould them into the individuals that they are today or would be in the future. To carry out this  immense responsibility I wish from the higher power to give each one of us enough strength and determination.

Raspberry Brownies (Birthday Post -2)

I am a bit embarrassed about posting stuff about my birthday when my birthday was more than 2 weeks ago. But I love the recipe and can’t help but share the wonderful time I had with my family and friends on my blog. So this is the second installment wherein I would talk about a lovely brownie recipe, nothing more. Promise.

It looks divine

What would one do, if one falls in love with one’s on creation? Is that terribly narcissistic? I hope not.

Ofcourse the recipe was adapted but the effort was all mine so it is okay to call it my creation, isn’t it? I love this brownie for its simplicity. The ruby pink-ness against the barren brown-ness and the burning candles against this gorgeous expanse looked like  the stars that are shining down. Maybe I imagine too much and try to draw parallels to where there are none.  But beautiful looking food almost always evokes strong images in my mind and this brownie did just that.

Just before I popped it into the oven

The brownie was asked for a generous amounts of  chocolate but that sweetness was offset by the tartness of the raspberries. The recipe was adapted from the latest issue of the BBC GoodFood magazine. It had made it to the cover of the magazine for all the right reasons. Looking at it, there was little reason not to bake this on my birthday.

Do try this brownie and I am sure you’d be as crazy about it as I am. Apart from the lovely brownie which was my birthday cake, I had another wonderfully scrummy cake to cut gifted by Anamika Arun of Taste Junction. It was a delicious, full of chocolate goodness, one my utter favourites – A mud cake. I was spoilt for choice. I also was gifted another eggless version of a gorgeous chocolate cake by Gayathri of Food & Fiction which was divine. I couldn’t help but finish most of it myself since they were so good and made for me with such thought and care. Now you know why this birthday was the best ever ( I can never tire of announcing this every now and then)

The mud cake- thanks Anamika
Gayathri’s Yummylicious chocolate cake with nutella buttercream frosting

Some more photos from the dinner party at my place.

The children had a lovely time blowing off candles on both the cakes. The food was an Italian spread with bruschetta, spaghetti and chicken balls, salad, vegetarian pizza and Salad. Fun, cheer, conversations and laughter filled my home that evening making it so memorable.

the party people

With this I end my birthday post saga with great memories and with a realization that birthdays can be fun. It is just not about getting older but also about trying to spend time with the people you love and cherish and making memories for times to come.