Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Flavour to the Season

“Cocoa, chocolate, candy sticks, raisins, nuts, sprinkles, glaces cherries….(something’s missing though..oh yes) and “marshmallows (three extra large packs)”….”

The above dialogues were a part of the conversation on the drive to the larger town for the purchase of this season’s must haves. With free hours, this sudden impromptu plan needed an emergency list, for visits to the nearest metro city was almost like going for a short tour to the nearest hill station, thanks to the present global scenario.

Essentially a confectionery made of sugar, a whipping agent (aerator) and water mixed with air; marshmallows have a history that goes as early as two millennial before the anno Domini ear. As the records go, the Egyptians were believed to be the first to make them. Surprisingly the first marshmallows were prepared from the roots of Althaea officinalis, a mallow plant species wherein the pieces of root pulp was boiled with honey till a thickened mixture was formed. This mixture was then strained and cooled before being added to the various preparations; both as a medicine to soothe coughs and sore throats or to the recipes of those days.

Towards the mid 19th century, the simple marshmallow reached the French confectioners to be remodeled into a fluffy candy mould, the “Pâte de Guimauve” which was made from whipping dried marshmallow roots with sugar, water, and egg whites into a white spongy desert. Later these mallow roots were replaced with gelatin to create more stability to the marshmallow. The present ropy or cylindrical marshmallow, a must-have for the winters and holiday seasons, was the brainchild of the Greek American confectioner Alex Doumak. In fact, no two brands (homemade or commercial) or varieties of marshmallows give the same flavour. Whether it be the difference in the concentrations of egg whites or gelatin (some include agar) or the ratios of sucrose, corn syrup or invert sugar, combined with the special flavours like vanilla or lemon juice; the marshmallow often lends a unique twist to the regular, especially the season favourite of hot chocolate.

All said and written, there’s something about the marshmallow that gives that little extra zing to the simple preparations or exotic ones like crazy snack pie, mini fluffernutter brownie cups, panini or even the s’mores latte. So into the cart, goes three extra large packets of them, for this season’s holiday cooking.

Posted in Daily, Food

An “In-dul-gence”

More than forty eight hours, still the excuse to indulge in a little of the delectable sweetness of “c” stays on. On a frank note, the gift from the simple cacao seeds don’t really need any special day to be enjoyed; yet on the need for a reason to binge on it, these special choclate based days are noted and celebrated. On such a note, a couple of us “chocolate-fanatics” decided to give the online chocolataire a whirl and oh what a visual treat was it. Though obsolete now, a chocolate themed social gathering gives a boost tot he low morale during these “locked in periods”.

“Chocolate Wine. Take a pint of Sherry, or a pint and a half of Port, four ounces and a half of chocolate, six ounces of fine sugar, and half an ounce of white starch, or find flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these together for about ten or twelve minutes. But if your chocolate is made with sugar, take double the quantity of chocolate, and half the quantity of sugar.” (The Cook’s Own Book: Being a Culinary Encyclopedia, Mrs. N.K.M. Lee, facsimile 1832 edition [Arno Press:New York] 1972 (p. 51))

From being processed, blended, conched, tempered and stored, chocolate has undergone a bit more changes, primarily to the percentages of cocoa solid, fats or both along with added ingredients, to give the many varieties of today. Interestingly cocoa can be combined with vegetable fat (tropical or hydrogenated fats) to give the confection of compound chocolate. Though not legally “chocolate”, it can be used as a dipping sauce, candy bar coatings or just to give the feel of chocolate to a simple dessert, biscuits or even pie. Alternatively for amateur home experimenters (like yours truly); melting chocolate with glucose, golden or corn syrup to make the modeling chocolate for homemade decorations to sponge cakes, cupcakes and the like brings a feeling of bringing a bit of the delicatessen home. On a very sweet and sour note, chocolate too has its’ own tune with the creation of Callebaut’s Ruby chocolate. Made from the Ruby cocoa bean, the distinct red colour gives a flair to the dramatic taste.

The quest to find a “cool and practical recipe” for the impromptu chocolataire has opened up a whole range of ideas and range of experimentation. With many recipes being borrowed, jotted and modified; chocolate will be one of the musts for cacao based desert crazy folks. As they say old is gold; with a little bit of “this and that”, it gives a good feel for the taste buds and an enjoyable ride for the memory cells especially as they age over time.

“Chocolate Fondue: Hot Dessert
2 squares (ounces) unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup milk, 1 cup soft breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 eggs separated. Add chocolate, broken in pieces, to milk. Heat till chocolate melts; stir till blended. Add crumbs, butter, sugar, salt. Beat egg yolks slightly. Stir in a little of the hot milk, add to milk mixture, cool. Beat egg whites till stiff; fold into cooled mixture. Turn into a five-cup greased baking dish. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F.) about forty minutes. Serve hot with whipped cream. Yield: Four servings.” (“Our Daily Bread,” Jane Nickerson New York Times, September 8, 1957 (p. SM46))

Posted in Food

An Oven, a Mug and Basics

Being in the downsides of having a craving of the “cacao plus” variety and no delivery options at hand, the need of the hour is to get resourceful in seconds. That’s when the old microwavable coffee sugar, a scoop of flour, sugar, baking soda and chocolate work wonders for the soul.

Of the many works of the ancient civilizations, especially in the culinary arena, which has been imbibed into the various indigenous cuisines and culture over the ages, perfected over the passage of time, is the dessert of “cake”. As the early records say of unleavened cakes, the last few centuries have created a huge and pleasant culinary surprises with the advent of baking soda. With assistance from modern technology, the cake making as come down to the bare minimum, with a shot of cake being ready in a matter of minutes.

Thus began the journey of the cakes. Interestingly the original “shots of cake” was baked as a cupcake in coffee cups, as “mini testers” to determine whether the oven temperature was right for a large batch. Though this trend had changed with the invention of the thermostats and temperature regulators for the oven, these mini testers took shape as the modern cupcakes, bringing in their own fleet into the kitchen. With creativity on the rise and the dawn of the “microwave era” resulted in the “mugs of cake of today”.

The microwave based “cake-in-a-mug” simply needs the flour, sugar, seasonings, baking powder along with butter or oil (some even use cream) in the right amounts. With the temperature heating up, the cake just fluffs out; being a perfect touch to have a piece of cake while on the go. The nest part is that a single ingredient to change the flavour is enough. From the essence of vanilla to cinnamon or honey, each cup can have it’s own special zing.

With the minimum requirement being that of a microwave at hand and basic ingredients, this recipe is a must for those days when the thought of cake flits in the mind. For the experimenters, this would be a lifesaver when the unexpected request of cake for dessert sets in. With this, there can be another header for that “book of kitchen experiments” to be enjoyed now and then, eventually handed over to the next generations making life beautiful with the sweet taste of such moments.

“Spice Cake in a Cup Ingredients: 4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar 2 teaspoons of spice-cinnamon or ginger (whichever you prefer) 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking powder 1 medium-sized egg white – lightly-beaten 3 tablespoons of either milk or soy-milk 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil 1/4 of a teaspoon of vanilla extract Directions: You will need 1 microwavable coffee cup Mix-together the flour, spice, sugar, & baking powder in the coffee cup. Now mix-in the egg white. Add the milk, vanilla & oil and mix-well Place the cup into a microwave set on HIGH & cook for about 2&1/2 minutes. (The cake should be done when it stops rising and sets)” ― Coleen Montgomery, Cake in a Cup, Mug Cake, Cake in a Jar and Pie in a Jar Recipe Cookbook. Collection of 60+ Recipes

Posted in Food

Airy, Sweet and Light

Being in the “work from home” phase doesn’t result in fulfilling the work targets especially when the kids are still in holiday mode, getting bored with the stability of routine. Which is why, an attempt was made to channel their energy in the culinary style. A few blocks of dark chocolate, plenty of eggs from the farm, a quart of milk with the recipe for homemade mousse at hand and and we were good to go.

Going by their French origins, “mousse” which means foam, is a dish with plenty of air in it, giving it’s soft, light and fluffy or soft, creamy and thick texture. Made both as a sweet or savoury dish, mousse has been an integral part of many recipes (primarily desserts) since the 18th century. With the little documented history that is available, food historians quote recipes of savoury mousse, followed by fruit mousse and then the dessert mousse (especially choclate towards the mid-19th century) which increased their popularity.

“Mousses. These are a go-between souffles and ordinary iced creams. They are lighter and more spongy than the latter, on which account they are often better liked. They have the further advantage of needing no freezing before they are moulded. The mixture is first thickened over the fire like a custard, then put in the mould and set in an ice cave until firm enough to turn out. A cave is a necessity for the proper concoction of these dishes. To ensure success they need great care in the preparation.” Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book, Lizzie Heritage [Cassell and Company:London] 1894 (p. 966-7)

Made typically with whipped egg whites or cream, or both; flavoured with chocolate, coffee, caramel, fruit purees or vanilla; sweet mousses are often had chilled to give a dense airy and soft texture. To give a richer feel, egg yolks may be stirred and beaten as well. Sweetened mousse also makes for a good filling between layers of thin cut sponge cakes or simply mixed between layers or onto cupcakes. Such preparations may need for the addition of gelatin into the mousse. Savoury mousse may be made from meat, fish, shellfish, foie gras, cheese or vegetables pureed and beaten. These hot mousse often get their light texture from the well beaten egg whites.

While many food historians often relate to mousse as one of the varied desserts made with whipped cream. The latter was often poured into the mixture or on top especially on preparations of coffee, liqueur, fruits to form the foam of simple to complex pyramidal shapes. Often known as crème en mousse (cream in a foam), crème mousseuse (foamy cream) or mousse ‘foam’, these recipes were there in the late 1760s. Though food historians largely believe that it was the experimentation with chocolate that lead to the rise of the new set of dessert recipes.

Early American dessert mousse recipes (as seen in the cookbooks) were often classified with ice-creams; wherein it was almost similar to parfait. What make the mousse different, is the four components that needed to be checked off, in the ingredient mix. First is the base (chocolate, strawberry puree, passion-fruit or even chicken), the binder (egg whites, gelatin) and the lightening agent or aerator (beaten egg whites, whole eggs, egg yolks or whipped cream). Some recipes call for specific flavouring agents or like extracts, liqueurs or spices, as per choice.

The difference in the mousse lies not only in it’s ingredients but also on how well the lightening agent is prepared and the folding. If there may more than one type of aerator, fold it in the order of most stable to least stable. On folding, too much of mixing will cause the aerator to be deflated, losing the soft feel of the mousse.
Which is why plenty of tiny hands do help in the making of the mousse. From the beating of the egg whites to licking the bowl well, it gives them a fun way to expend their energy. With the ingredients being mainly of the pantry type and plenty of time on hand; making mousse gives an added touch to the post-lunch dessert of ice-cream on the hot afternoons.

“Chocolate Mousse
Take four strips of chocolate, 1 quart of milk, 6 eggs and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, dissolve the chocolate in a little warm milk, put the quart of milk on to boil and stir in the chocolate gradually. Set the saucepan where it will cook slowly. Beat the eggs well, mix in the cornstarch and add to the milk and chocolate. Sweeten to taste and boil gently until smooth and thick, stirring until done. Flavor with vanilla and pour into a glass dish. Serve cold with sweetened whipped cream heaped upon it.”
—“Housekeepers’ Column,” Boston Daily Globe, March 16, 1897 (p. 8)

Posted in Food, Photography Art

In the “Or-e-o Craze”

“I need to go for a two day trainers workshop. Debbie has fallen sick with flu, so I am her replacement. Mom is coming to stay in for those two days. Rachel is coming too, she’s on study break at home; so don’t worry about the kids or anything else.” 

Before pressing the send icon near the above message, there were mixed emotions running through my mind. First thoughts were on the huge amount of pending office work to complete and the workshop preparation required, second the cleaning up chores required before I leave and the third, stocking up of the pantry.

As far as cooking is concerned, worries are less because not only their grandmother knows how to turn them around but with my cousin Rachel alone, it would be quite a chocolaty bribe. Knowing her fondness for anything chocolate and quick meals, her kitchen preparations especially in dessert area well loved by all. With physique never being a problem, her dinner revolves around a tub of ice-cream and a couple of Oreos. Which is why, I had to make a new shopping list, one with plenty of sugar on it.

“Oreos come in packages. Otherwise known as a gift. Cherish it.” Oreo Queen

Speaking of Oreos, there is something about them, which makes them a favourite. Whether had direct or as an add-on, Oreos provide a wonderful accompaniment to most desserts and even breakfast pancake batter, smoothies and summer shakes. Keeping nutrition and dietary restriction aside, Oreos are a lifesaver. When the breakfast cereal gets boring, it is those crushed Oreos that make the welcome change. When the groans surface at “dosa again for breakfast!!”, the added crushed Oreos to the batter make way for the change in their minds and the scramble for more.

Above all, like everything with chocolate, Oreos help to make bad days bearable. With plenty of happy moments, these biscuit sandwiches would occupy their fair share of the grocery list.

“Of course, that rationalization didn’t work at all. It would have helped if I’d had some Oreo cookie ice cream to eat that the same time. I’ve learned that self-delusion is much easier when there’s something sweet in your mouth.” Lee Goldberg

Posted in Food

More than Nuts and Chocolate…

Trying to get a stubborn toddler or a pre-teen to have breakfast is worse than negotiating a board meeting. In fact, getting the latter going is way easier than the former. For every parent, guardian or care-giver who has to battle this, there are plenty of antics up our sleeves.

Which is why every year, there is a rigorous scanning for coupons, online discounts and offers on the first week of February. Yes, it is the month for the best buys and hoard on Nutella. Be it an elder or the young one, Nutella can get most of them to get start and moving onto the breakfast table in the morning hours.

Though, Italian in origin, Nutella has put itself on the world map, may be because of it’s easy acceptability among the young and old. Though many similar brands and spreads have cropped up, there is something about this one that gets the most stubborn young mind to grace the breakfast table. More than the nutritional value it is the morning calorie intake, for the growing bones that one is worried about.

In order to stretch the tiny amount of Nutella, various indigenous methods have been attempted by yours truly. The sole purpose was to just get the flavour in, for the breakfast feel to kick in. From adding it to pancake (or even dosa) batter, including it in minimal amounts along with the sandwich filing, waffle mix, potato pancakes, idli (fermented rice cakes), cereals as well as oats; new indigenous methods are still underway like the nutella lasagna, nutella pasta or even the nutella burgers, rice and chicken. As for quick desserts (nutella mug cakes), a zing to the coffee, icing to the homemade cakes, impromptu anniversary or celebration cakes, doughnut dips and fillings; this hazelnut and choclate spread makes life a wee bit easier. Little wonder why this chocolate and hazelnut spread is till making waves in the kitchens and off the shelves.


Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Delicious, Simplified

“Kindly send 100gms of cereal preferably rice krispies, corn flakes or cocoa pops along with snack meal for tomorrow”.
(Note from the class teacher in the kindergarten diary)

Enrolling my toddler in kindergarten resulted in all of us learning a couple of things along the way. First thing was that we all experienced school again. From getting the paper cuttings of fishes for the “ocean project” to helping him gather stones, twigs and leaves for the “village project” to sending specific things (like rice crispies, cut vegetables, diced fruits) for the home science project; we parents got into the school mode as well. Second important fact, for which it was greatly appreciated was that home science especially involving ingredients, basic mixing and appreciating cooking in general saw no gender specification. In fact there was no “it’s a girl stuff” or “it’s a boy stuff” classification. Children loved to learn and all this was a part of their experimentation.

Coming back to the initial note, the trip back home involved detailed description of their chocolate treats. Known as chocolate crackles (or choclate bubble cakes in certain areas), this popular confection had originated from Australian and New Zealand schools, especially for school fetes and birthday parties (Australian Women’s Weekly, December 1937). Predominantly these are one of the few recipes, not requiring an oven, baking or any tough steps, especially when meant as an activity for young children.

With the basic ingredients of cereal (rice bubble, rice krispies, cocoa pops, corn flakes or crispy fried noodles), vegetable shortening, icing sugar, cocoa and desiccated coconut. First the hydrogenated oil is melted and then combined with the dry ingredients. This mixture is then split into portions, either placed in cupcake pans (within cupcake papas or just as is) and made to set in the refrigerator. The hydrogenated oil re-sets to give each cake its form without baking. To add a little zing to the simple recipe, variations include addition of raisins, chocolate chips, mini-marshmallows or peanut butter. Substitutions for hydrogenated oil include melted chocolate or non-hydrogenated coconut oil.

As these simple recipes comes to life during school hours, recreating those moments, adding new recipes and photographing them creates a memorable album for the rainy days as these young minds mature into the adults in the future.