It is my blog’s 7th anniversary today and funny enough I almost forgot about it. Like relationships that we take for granted as time passes by, I have started to take my blog for granted. Hardly giving it the attention and care it deserves. How easily I forgot that this was where it all started – my creative life, the food journey, the writing and ultimately the digital business. In all the years that I wrote my blog regularly, I never suffered a writers’ block or never felt the lack of creative ideas. Now that I am doing it lesser and lesser, pool of ideas is growing shallower and for the first time since my birth as a writer ( or atleast I would like to think so about myself) I am struggling to form sentences. Feelings that are trapped inside have difficulty finding expression in words.
I don’t know if I am in a position right now to make any blog related resolutions but I hope to be more regular at blogging and baking ( another joy of my life).
The skillet orange & chocolate brownies were supposed to be a Valentine’s special post but as usual, I couldn’t blog about it then. So I take this chance to share with you recipe of the Skillet Orange and Chocolate brownies which are fudgey and is child’s play to whip up. Literally.
Mimi made this on-the-go with little guidance from me. I couldn’t be prouder.
Recipe is as follows-
100 gms butter
100 gm dark chocolate, broken into pieces
2 large eggs at room temperature
175 gm sugar
1 large orange, zested
50 gm all purpose flour
25 gm cocoa powder
half cup chocolate chips ( milk or dark chocolate)
Beat the egg and sugar till the mixture is pale and doubles its volume
Heat the oven at 180 C
Warm the chocolate, butter and orange zest in a non-stick sauce pan and gently melt the contents. Do not over heat it else the chocolate will burn and give a bitter taste. Let it cool.
Once the chocolate mixture is cool, add it to the egg and sugar mixture by folding it in gently.
Sift the all purpose flour and the cocoa powder to the mixture and mix well with gentle hands.
Pour it in a greased iron skillet and generously add chocolate chips on it.
Bake for 30 mins at 180 C and 10-15 min at 160 C
Serve it hot with some vanilla ice cream or it is deliciously gooey just by itself
An exciting opportunity came my way when I was asked to be a guest judge for an Italian Masterchef competition. This competition was being hosted by Cucina Italiana in Bahrain. I have always enjoyed Cucina’s food and drinks and this was an opportunity I really looked forward to.
It was alright being invited to be a judge and all but I was completely ill prepared. Come to think of it, I didn’t really know how I could prepare myself. I ran myself some youtube videos of Masterchef Australia and observed a few judging scenes for the kind of questions to ask. I reached the venue dot on time to meet the participants and to understand the format of the competition.
The participants were to choose from the fresh ingredients provided by Cucina within 10 minutes and prepare a main course in 45 minutes in the restaurant’s kitchen. Most of the contestants, including me have never been inside a commercial kitchen let alone cook in one of them. It did feel daunting to me and I was wondering how the contestants were going to cope with the task. But the restaurants Head Chef (who was also one of the judges for the evening) gave all the contestants a good brief about how to use the various appliances and some safety guidelines.
The contestants looked very confident and well prepared. They seemed determined to get past this ‘heat’ to go to the semi finals. I wouldn’t wonder at their eagerness because the grand prizes were that alluring. The prizes included a splendid trophy, a Masterchef apron, 6 months of free cooking classes at Cucina, the winning dish was to be added on the 2014 menu of Cucina Italian and much more.
It turned to be a lot of fun with the host of evening Peter Lyons (also a judge) at his sarcastic and funny best. He asked all the contestants difficult questions and put them in the spot a lot of times.The kitchen, where the contestants were busy working was being video shot so that the diners, guests and the supporters of the contestants could see them all in action on a big screen display in the dining area. I was thrilled to see the participants preparing different kinds of Italian style dishes which meant sampling and judging was going to be so interesting. The dishes that were being prepared included:
1) Stuffed chicken breast with sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella with a side of blanched spinach in lemon and orange zest, garlic bread etc
2) Baked hammour (fish) and spaghetti Alfredo
3) Pumpkin rissotto
4) Tagliatelle pasta in tomato sauce and minced bacon
The judging was to be done on the parameters of presentation, authenticity, balance of flavours, taste and portion size.
The stuffed chicken with sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella won the contest for the day. It was heartening to see the crowd cheer for the winners as the competition drew to a close. As a judge, perhaps I learnt a lot more than the contestants themselves. I appreciate their guts and their wits to be able to draw out a dish of such high calibre in 45 minutes. It is no easy task and I have observed it first hand. It would be interesting to note who goes through to the finals to win the grand prize. I sure hope it is one of the contestants from the qualifying rounds that I judged.
All this excitement wouldn’t mean anything without something as spectacular- sounding as a flour-less chocolate orange cake. This beautiful and truly beautiful cake has been unjustly languishing in my drafts for a long time. I thought there was no better time to bring it out to celebrate the glory of the culinary arts. Being flour-less renders this cake light and slightly guilt free. But then I shall back track and say that some things in life ought to be outright indulgent. This cake is indulgent from all the wonderful Valrhona French cocoa and baking chocolate it uses. It makes me so so sad that I used the last of them few months back and I can’t seem to find them anywhere in Bahrain. Flour is replaced by almond powder which gives the cake a generous nutty flavour which is oh-so addictive.
And, I almost forgot to mention that this beautiful, beautiful cake is a creation of my favourite cookbook author – Nigella Lawson. Only she can come up with techniques which sound dodgy— like boiling whole oranges and then pulping it all up to incorporate in the cake. Yet the outcome of such drastic actions is beyond amazing and then you realize that after all it is Nigella’s recipe and it can’t go wrong.
I made this cake for my husband’s birthday in July this year ( and hence the candles in the pictures) and it is a pity that it has seen the light of day only through this post. Well it was destined to be posted with a special event as far as my culinary adventures go. Judging a Masterchef competition is certainly a feather on my culinary cap. I wish to participate in this competition as a participant in the near future to see what it takes to be a Masterchef.
But it was only fair to include every ingredient that made this cheesecake so special. It was my friend, Namit’s birthday a few days ago. He is practically family after 2 years of our friendship. On his birthday, I invited him to come home and have dinner of dum aloo, boondi raita and parathas with us. Knowing Namit, who likes everything to be very simple; no fanfare, no loud celebrations for him. I have also realized that he likes subtle flavours so I thought cheesecake may fit the bill perfectly.
Making this no- bake version of a cheesecake is what I prefer when I am short of time but want to impress too. I referred plenty of cheesecake recipes and couldn’t put my finger on any one of them so I combined two or three of them and came up with an amalgamated version. It was really exciting to put it altogether, praying fervently that it should set and not fall apart when I try to loosen the springform pan around the sides.
This Cheese cake is special because it has the deep, satisfying flavours of the cinnamon infused oranges that take it to the next level. The fresh golden orange slices bubble and sizzle in a sugary syrup with cinnamon to bring out the exotic in them. The flavours are subtle but vibrant in parts. That makes this cake a class apart. Whenever I have someone coming home for dinner etc, I like to prepare a bit in advance so that I don’t feel harried in the end. Bits and pieces add up in the end to make a spectacular event.
All this talk about preparation makes me recall my experience on the first day at work. As I had mentioned in my previous post about having joined work, I felt underwhelmed by my lack of confidence on the first day at work. I felt my nerves giving away every time I had to pick up the phone to talk to people. I stressed and prayed for the day to end quickly. It wasn’t the most memorable experience. The same evening I had my writers’ circle meeting to attend. I met my dear friend Pooja, ( also a member of the writers’ circle) after work and we took off to attend the meeting. By some divine design, the session was about how to feel confident and excel at public speaking. Mr. Mohamed Isa – A distinguished Toastmasters speaker and a speaking coach gave us a wonderful insight into how one can excel in their personal and professional life by being able to speak confidently.
It was so apt for me and I thanked my stars as the session was most useful. He shared his ideas through plenty of funny anecdotes from his life that had his audience in splits. He emphasized on BEING PREPARED and GAUGING THE AUDIENCE for an effective and confident performance. All my life, I have never underestimated the importance of being prepared. Be it exams or some presentation at work, I have always prepared well. His session only reiterated what I had known all along. It was time to get the focus back and take things in my control at work. I made mental notes for the next day and surprisingly enough I was able to sail through the day. Hopefully, I should be able to build up on this confidence to be able to tackle anything that is thrown my way at work.
So I made this cheese cake a day in advance so that in case it flops for any reason, I would have enough time to put together another cake for the d-day. But preparing well ensured I put in sufficient time and energy into it – which basically meant, I was able to give it my best shot. I put this cheesecake in the refrigerator to set overnight and set it did. I arranged the golden slices on top of the cake and inhaled the divine concoction. It was stimulating to say the least.
Recipe for White Chocolate and Cinnamon Infused Orange Cheesecake
For the infused orange slices
Oranges – 4, large
water -2 cups
sugar – 300 gms
cinnamon stick – 1
For the Cheesecake Crust
Digestive biscuits – 180 gm
butter – 75 gm, melted
For the cheese cake
White Chocolate – 400 gm
Cream cheese – 300 gm
Double Cream – 200 ml
1. Crush the biscuits with a rolling pin to fine crumbs and add the melted butter and mix well. Tip the mix into a 20 cm lined, loose bottomed cake tin/springform cake tin. Smooth the top of the crumb+butter mix with a spoon and put it in the fridge to set for 30 minutes.
2. Peel and slice or keep the peel on like I did for the oranges and place them in a bowl. Use 3 oranges for this. The last orange has to be grated and the zest kept in a separate bowl.
3. In a saucepan, bring the sugar-water and cinnamon to a boil until slightly thick and syrupy. Pour the syrup over the sliced oranges and the zest (half and half or to cover both of them completely in their separate bowls) and cover for 30 minutes. You can do this in the morning and keep aside. The flavours will get more time to infuse and the scent of orange and cinnamon will give you a heady feeling. That’s a fantastic feeling to have, trust me.
4. Melt the white chocolate in a microwave and then allow it to cool slightly.
5. Beat the cream cheese and double cream until soft and thick., then stir in the white chocolate. To this add the cinnamon-sugar syrup infused orange zest and mix well. Don’t allow too much of the sugar syrup to fall into the mixture. We have to keep the mixture dense for it to set.
6. Pour this batter on the biscuit base and push it into the fridge to set overnight.
7. Once ready to serve, layer the orange slices on the cheesecake in concentric circles.
The birthday cake was enjoyed by all of us but soon we realized that even a thin slice of this cheesecake goes a long way. It was filling, flavourful and beautiful to look at. So I took Mr. Mohamed Isa’s words to heart – preparing well in advance by making cheesecake ahead of when it was needed and gauging my audience who was none other than Namit. The birthday boy definitely seemed very happy.
What do you think of when you read Chocolate chunks +Toasted Almonds+Orange zest + Brown sugar?
Food has the power to capture our imagination.
It transcends us through the Space – Time continuum ( I am watching a lot of Star Trek!) and bring to us memories from the past. It transports us to the good time shared with people we love (or loved). But at times it is potent enough to make us see sights of places that we may not have been to. Olive Oil Muffins, this Monday did just that.
Early morning baking has it’s advantages. With my daughter still sleeping and my hubby already on his way to work, leaves me all the time, to create, innovate, adapt, photograph, think, write and most importantly bake without any disturbances. Sip-fulls of coffee in my system and playing with beautiful ingredients such as olive oil, orange zest, chocolate, toasted almonds can warm up the imagination. I could see pristine blue beaches of the Mediterranean, stocky white buildings, seagulls, the sun, the sand and bare feet. These homely and unpretentious muffins can do this to you.
This Monday, Anuradha of BakerStreet called us to bake together these fabulous muffins and dare I say, it cannot get better than this. It got an overwhelming thumbs up from family too. I know in my heart that I haven’t seen the last of these gorgeous muffins because they were good to the last crumb.
The Recipe for Olive Oil Muffins with Toasted Almonds and Chocolate
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar ( I used 1/4 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of muscovado sugar)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons lemon zest ( I didn’t add any)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons whole milk
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup of chocolate, chopping coarsely ( my addition)
Powdered sugar, for sifting ( forgot to do this)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin.
3. In a medium bowl, blend together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Using an electric mixer beat the sugar, eggs, and zest in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
5. Beat in the vinegar and milk. Gradually beat in the oil.
6. Add the flour mixture and stir just until blended. ( used a spatula to mix manually until just blended)
7. Crush the almonds with your hands as you add them to the batter and stir until mixed ( added chopped chocolate at this point)
8. Fill the muffin tin almost to the top of the paper liners.( crucial for lovely dome shaped tops)
9. Bake until golden on top and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.
10. Remove the muffins onto a platter and let cool for 5 more minutes. Sift powdered sugar over the muffins and serve
Muffin Monday is an initiative by Baker Street. A culinary journey of sharing a wickedly delicious muffin recipe every week. Drop in a quick line to join her on her journey to make the world smile and beat glum Monday mornings week after week.