Sunday, January 31, 2010

No-Knead Disaster

Grade - Fail

There was no way to botch this up. At least that's what I thought. I had read Mark Bittman's article on Jim Lahey's revolutionary no-knead bread technique, I watched the video on YouTube and was 'theoretically' prepared to do some proper bread baking. Lahey said even a four-year-old could make his bread recipe. Apparently that rule didn't apply to 28-year-old amateur cooks like myself.

The previous day I enthusiastically convinced my dad to join the experiment. I would try a whole wheat loaf since Sean is only allowed whole wheat bread and my dad would mix the traditional version as written about by Bittman. We were completely stoked. Tomorrow was bakery day at home. Just imagine the warm kitchen, the aroma of fresh bread filling the house and warm slices slathered with salty butter once out of the oven - yum, yum, yum - NOT!

Since whole wheat is known to be heavier and create a more dense product I followed the instructions from a fellow blogger who had successful taken inspiration from Lahey's technique to create a 100 per cent whole wheat loaf. I increased the yeast to 1/2 tsp and started this batch at 12pm yesterday as the blogger indicated the longer you proofed the dough the more flavourful and lighter it was. As the whole wheat flour needed extra time to proof, I thought starting it earlier would be better.

Mixing the dough was a snap, although I did add a little extra water, which caused me  a lot of trouble later as I could not keep the dough together. My father mixed his batch six hours later and both were proofing effortlessly. We were on our way. Every couple of hours we peeked in to check on the two doughs and were excited that we seemed to be following the recipe to the tee. My dough was a mess before the second proofing but my dad's looked exactly like Lahey's on YouTube. "No problem", I though to myself, 'at least one watch was bound to be successful.

The only problem now was that we didn't have the proper bake ware. I don't want to be the case of  'the bad carpenter always blames his tools' but we didn't have any of the bake ware that Bittman had suggested. So we made do with what we had. Pans pre-heated we stuck in the whole wheat dough and divided the all-purpose flour dough into two as it couldn't fit into the other smaller container.

Then we baked, and we baked and we baked for two hours but there seemed no sign of it browning or even getting a semblance of the crisp crust that Lahey shows. Finally, my mother suggested we turn it off. This was clearly going nowhere and we were just wasting gas. We pulled it out and tapped the bread. It sounded hollow and had formed a crust but looked far from appetising. This was really disheartening - how did this happen?

My father seems to think the heat wasn't high enough even though we had followed the proper pre-heating instructions. Either way, we cut into the bread. It smelt faintly like sourdough and tasted like fresh bakery bread - not so bad but still not as aesthetically pleasing as we wished. It seemed to have taken on the character of a 'gutli', a local bread with a thin, hard crust and a pillowy interior. The only difference was the crust for these loaves was a whole lot thicker.

Honestly, my dad's batch tasted far better than the whole wheat one. Right now the score stands at Father:1 - Daughter:0. Without a doubt, I am going to try making the bread again, starting with the traditional recipe and then trying it with whole wheat. After all, that's what cooking is about right? You learn from your mistakes and play around with the recipe until you get it right. And I will get it right...just give me some more time.

Whole wheat mix.

After 19 hours of proofing.

The second proofing mess.

All-purpose flour mix.

After 13 hours of proofing.

The all-purpose dough was in much better shape.

The whole wheat was dense but tasted lovely with butter.

A finer and lighter crumb defined the white loaf.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Café Chocolatti - Breakfast and snacks

Lush greenery welcomes visitors.

Tucked way on the Fort Aguada Road in Candolim is the little outdoor eatery Café Chocolatti (they also have a venue in the capital Panjim). This was Sean's discovery on our trip and another very good find indeed. It's laid back with tables set under magnolia umbrellas in the garden and lounge music playing. The menu includes just breakfast and light meals like salads and sandwiches. They also have a couple of bakery items like cookies, cakes, brownies and of course a whole range of flavoured chocolate.

We stopped by with my parents for breakfast one day and got talking to the owner who said they had been in existence for the past eight years - exactly the amount of time that Sean and I had not visited for. We liked the fact that the menu excluded alcohol as it gave the place place a more wholesome, family-like environment that is hard to come by in the beach-side shacks in Goa. The place fills up fast during the late morning hours mostly with European expatriates. It is also a daily stop for some as we spotted chef Bawmra Jap grabbing a coffee on-the-go the morning after we dined at Bomra's.

Service is can take a bit of time but everything we tried was worth the wait from the French toast when we visited for breakfast to the pasta salad (this was extremely good) when we visited for a lunch. They try and use mostly organically grown seasonal vegetables and the water is purified using reverse osmosis. The pricing is also reasonable and they have a choice of local bread for sandwiches, either the white 'katré' or the whole wheat 'poiee', which was another plus point for Sean.

I would highly recommend stopping by for breakfast one day as it is far better than the popular Infantaria on the Calangute-Baga road. Don't forget to pick up a bag of their orange-infused truffles (they also have mine and chilli flavours, as well as, chocolate bark with either dried fruit or nuts) as it is a nice remembrance of the place when you get back home. Suffice to say, mine didn't survive the journey.

A relaxed outdoor ambience.

French toast with maple syrup.

Pasta salad with sweetcorn, olives, tomato and fresh basil. It had a spicy kick from loads of fresh garlic.

Chicken, lettuce and bell peppers with honey mustard.

Bags of truffles.


Ginger cookies - delicious but not spicy enough for me.

Chocolatti Special cake (triple chocolate) and carrot cake - both get two thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mexico via Kerala

Mexican vanilla and lime flan with macerated strawberries.

At least 12 years ago, I had actually never heard of vanilla beans. For normal baking purposes, the store-bought vanilla essence sufficed and I never bothered to question my mother whether there was anything else that could be used. Then I saw Planet Food Mexico.

Hosted by chef Tyler Florence, it included a tour of Papantla in Veracruz where they pay homage to this flavourful bean during a seven-day festival. As the second most expensive spice in the world, I realised that the little bottles of essence we were using obviously weren't being developed from the fresh beans as they were a cheap buy in the stores.
However, we couldn't source the fresh beans in Bombay. So I went ahead and made the vanilla and lime flan they featured on Planet Food Mexico using the same faux essence and put the case to rest.Then I went off to Canada to study journalism and managed to get my hands on a few beans at my sister's home in Vancouver.  

Deciding on making the flan with the proper ingredients, I slit the bean open and remember inhaling the aroma, realising that the bottled essence didn't even capture 1/10th of the potency or the sweet aroma. The little black specks completely transformed the flavour of the flan - this was vanilla like I had never tasted before. It then dawned on me that the Mexicans have every right to hold the spice in such high regard.  

However, the vanilla bean would elude me again as my student budget when studying in Ottawa wouldn't allow me to splurge. Once again in Dubai they were exorbitantly priced and now we had other things to take care of - like Sean's medication and a car loan - and expensive vanilla beans didn't make the cut. So again the flan was whipped up with vanilla essence for visiting friends and family whenever Sean was allowed a treat once every couple of weeks.  

Walking through the Mapusa Market a couple of weeks ago, it was Sean who spotted the beans (grown in the southern Indian state of Kerala) and immediately decided to buy me a couple. He managed to bargain for six beans just for Rs.100 (US$2.15). Ecstatic to be reunited with the beans again, I knew as soon as I got back to Bombay I would be making the flan again.  

Today we had my cousin Michele and her family over for lunch so it was the perfect opportunity to put the vanilla beans to use. They enjoyed the dense egg- rich custard full of vanilla seeds and a hint of lime. We served it with some fresh strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar and orange rind, which perfectly balanced the sweetness of the flan with the tartness of the balsamic. Try it and I'm sure your guests will be pleased as well.
My bounty from Mapusa Market.

Chilled over night and ready to turn out. Notice the vanilla seeds.

Moment of truth...

...and voila! 

Ready to serve.

Vanilla and Lime Flan Recipe by Esperanza Platas Alvarez

Ingredients for the caramel:
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons water

Ingredients for the base:
2 cups of condensed milk
2 cups of whole milk
3 limes
1 large vanilla pod
6 eggs
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
To make the caramel, heat together the water and sugar gently over a medium flame for about 10 minutes, ensuring the mixture does not burn.
Meanwhile, pour the condensed milk and whole milk into a pan. Add the zest of the limes. Slice the vanilla pod in half and carefully scrape out the vanilla seeds and add these to your milk mixture.
Simmer the milk slowly for fifteen minutes to let the flavours infuse.
Once the caramel is ready, pour into a cake pan and swirl it around to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
In a bowl, crack the eggs and beat together. Slowly pour a little of the warm milk , vanilla and lime mixture into the eggs. This will temper the eggs and prevent them from scrambling from the heat. Once the temperature of the eggs has been raised by the warm milk, pour in the rest of the milk. Pour all of the mixture into the cake pan over the caramel.
Cook the cake pan in a water bath by placing the pan inside a larger pan which is filled half way with water. Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes to an hour.
Once ready, allow to cool and place inside a fridge overnight. The flan is then ready to be flipped over gently and served.

Recipe from the Pilot Guides website.
Ruby hearts with a tart kick.

Macerated Strawberries
1 1/2 cup fresh strawberries, cut into quarters
Grated rind of one orange
1tsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2tsp agave syrup (or sugar/honey)

Mix all the ingredients together and chill for atleast an hour before serving. Feel free to add more agave, sugar or honey to adjust for sweetness. The berries also go well with vanilla-flavoured yoghurt, custard or vanilla ice cream. Sean loves it because it is a guilt-free dessert and has loads of antioxidants thanks to the fresh berries.
Agave Syrup on FoodistaAgave Syrup

Here's what we had before dessert:

Wedding rice, mutton curry, salad and boneless chicken.

Satisfied customer - and this was before dessert.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bomra's - Goa's little secret

The sign is easy to miss so look out.

I can't tell you how much I've been waiting to tell you about my little discovery in Goa - a restaurant called Bomra's. It was a serendipitous find and you can only imagine my delight when it turned out to be one of the best meals Sean and I have experienced so far. If you've noticed the blog being over active the past few days, it's only because I am trying to race through Goa-related topics chronologically so I can share the excellent dinner we had there. The place is owned and run by Burmese chef Bawmra Jap who does a fine job in using the local produce to highlight the flavours of his home country.

Basically Sean and I were wandering along the Fort Aguada road in Candolim looking for a place to have lunch when I noticed a menu posted outside an old house. Intrigued, I stepped up to it and beckoned to Sean to do the same. An opening quote explained that Bomra's served '...highly inventive Burmese cuisine...'. Several items caught our eye on the menu and with all the Goan food we had been feasting on we decided it would be a good place to try something different.

There were a few staff members on the premises but the place served only dinner so we returned that evening. The exterior with plain wicker chairs (like many restaurants along the strip) was now transformed into a romantic yet lounge-like atmosphere lit by paper lanterns. It was already packed with people sipping cocktails while plates of food were being hurriedly ferried from the kitchen to patrons. Although spoilt for choice with the menu we still managed to make some pretty good decisions. The whole account of what we ate is included below.

It was only later after we headily walked away completely blown away by the meal that we discovered the quote on the menu was actually published in the India edition of Vogue magazine. Few days later, a Google search revealed that Bomra's was quickly gaining a fan following and already had mentions in GQ India and the online Frommer's Guide. Now Sean and I were even more thrilled that the restaurant was getting the recognition it deserved. Best of all, we managed to get a first-hand experience ourselves. 

Bomra's Special cocktail.
Heady with ginger, lemon grass and lime, the drink came with a good glug of vodka, which was potent enough to carry me through the whole meal. There were also a whole range of wines and premium spirits on offer.

Spicy raw mango salad with groundnuts, fish sauce and dried shrimp.
My starter - A take on the famous Thai papaya salad, the mango was perfectly semi-ripe and its tart juice cut through the saltiness of the fish sauce. Crunchy peanuts and salty-sweet dried prawns were easily identifiable amidst the gold-green mango shards.
Crackling pork, pomelo and pomegranate salad.
Sean's starter - These flavours quite literally burst on the tongue and it was a real visual spectacle with the tumble of forest green mint leaves and ruby pomegranate seeds. I'd never eaten pork with mint before and could not believe how well the combination worked. Crisp pork, fresh mint, tart pomelo - this was a definite trumps over my starter.

And then the mains arrived.
The service is rolled out pretty quickly and is extremely efficient. You'll also get a glimpse of Bawmra from time to time as he steps out of the kitchen and takes a peek at patrons from the bar area.

Slow cooked belly pork cashew nut crust, lentils, spinach apple chutney.
Of course Sean chose pork for his main course again and was definitely not disappointed. The cashew nut crust was lightly broiled and the lentils provided an excellent textural balance to the succulence of the pork. Sean is a carb lover and ordered steamed rice on the side but it was completely sidelined since the dish worked so well on its own.

Snapper with lemon grass, chili, fish sauce steamed to perfection.
Perfection is an understatement here. I wanted something light and this hit all the right notes. It was moist, the silken leeks seemed to evaporate on the tongue and when you tasted the broth you could immediately taste all the infusing flavours. This went really well with the steamed rice.

Steamed rice.

Stir-fried seasonal vegetables.
Again, amazing. The vegetables were lightly sautéed and provided a hint of garlic and ginger. The broth it was sitting in also tasted great with the steamed rice. I honestly could not stop munching away on the tender vegetables even though I was almost full.

Tender coconut pannacotta with candied orange and passion fruit.
I'm a dessert freak and this was definitely the star of the meal. The pannacotta was sublime on its own but was taken to a whole new level with the silken pieces of candied orange and a spoonful of the tart passionfruit flesh. Sean was even lucky to get a whole piece of tender coconut in the spoonful he stole from me. I couldn't help getting territorial and I didn't want to share.

Lemon grass and ginger crème brûlée.
Sean's dessert (we were on vacation and obviously not counting sugar content). It was speckled with vanilla seeds but we unfortunately went through half of it before realising that there was a layer of coconut and ginger on the bottom. Once discovered, we were able to get the whole range of flavours and would highly recommend this treat as well.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A bad cake day

The intended cake.

I've been warned several times by my mother (and by Sean since we started dating) never to try out something new when having guests over or taking something over to a friend's place. I heed the advice quite willingly but have been stubborn on some occasions resulting in a cake that has gone completely deflated or a main course that even a dog wouldn't touch. I have to admit - today is one of those days.

Sean celebrates his 30th birthday today and and asked me to make him a plain sponge cake iced with whipped cream and pineapple. But no! I wanted to surprise him with a different  - and kind of elaborate - cake to help him mark this big milestone. So instead, I chose a recipe for a Brandy Snap Gateau from The Cook's Encyclopedia of Chocolate by Christine McFadden and Christine France, which Sean had gifted me for Valentine's Day a couple of years ago. He loves Brandy Snaps and obviously since they are off his indulgence list with the high sugar content I though it would be a nice way to treat him on his big day.

The cake seemed fairly easy to mix. The only substitute I made was using ground cashew nuts instead of hazel nuts because none were available at the store I get my baking supplies from. I had to bake the entire cake in a  single tin because my mother didn't have two separate 8" ones like the recipe indicated. I guess that was the first sign that things were going to go wrong. The cake baked like a souffle and came about a quarter inch up the sides. It looked great until I took it out of the oven and in a few minutes - poof - it deflated like a balloon.

Undeterred I carried on mixing the ingredients for the Brandy Snaps and placed the first batch in the oven. I then pulled them out and try to get them off the butter paper and that's when I started to mentally kick myself. It just wouldn't budge. I tried to be gentle, like a surgeon to carve it off with a palette knife - nothing. Same process repeated for the second and third batch. Trying to console myself (I was very annoyed by this point with my stupidity) I thought I could maybe crush up the brandy snaps and decorate the sides with it. However, the paper still wouldn't budge.

Still struggling fifteen minutes later I gathered all the broken snaps together in frustration and put them into the garbage. The bowl of ganache was waiting to cloak the cake and that was going to have to cover the crumbly mess that was sitting in front of me. I toasted some almonds, coated them in chocolate and stuck them on the side and now have the cake ready to go. Until our friends read the blog, no one will know this evening that the cake was supposed to be a lot more decorative. Keep your fingers crossed for me that it tastes better than it looks. If I had just listened and made the pineapple and fresh cream cake...

The cake started out okay. It baked almost like a souffle but then collapsed.

Extremely grainy but delicious from the crumbs I tried.

The paper would just not come off!!!

The final product - definitely not what I intended.