Friday, December 24, 2010

Project Party


The last 2 days have passed in a flurry of juggling dishes, stirring, tasting and looking at the clock to see how much time I have left! By the end, I was exhausted but it was all totally worth it.

To begin this story I have to rewind a couple of days to the 18th, when over a lunch of keema and pao, we decided to throw Bappa a surprise party for his birthday (the 21st).

Since I’ve been going through this mad cooking phase, I decided to cook. The kamath kaboodle (with a splattering of shenoys) worked out to roughly 16 people. I had cooked for this number before, but it was usually one meal wonders (either kori-rotti, khow suey, appam and stew and stuff like that) and for bunches of VERY happy college students. I decided to do it anyway and that afternoon, amma and I planned out the menu.

It was: Spinach and Ricotta (I used paneer) Cannelloni, Sausages cooked in wine, a fish mousse, a tiramisu and Bappa’s most favorite thing in the world Chocolate Cake.

We made detailed lists of what ingredients we were buying where. Amma even emailed mine to me! (Sheeeee! This blackberry generation I tell you!)

Farhad and I were the pali market volunteers – to buy fresh herbs, pasta, and nice plump red tomatoes from the veggie sellers. Also, we needed cooking chocolate which we got from santé. The friendly pali market vegetable lady had a lovely large avocado (the size of a person’s head as aditi later put it) so I bought that and the idea for guacamole was born! Armed with a carload of supplies and a tummy full of spicy pani puri we trundled back to 602 Karan – the chosen kitchen of execution.

Amma went shopping the same day – to hypercity and then came back to Karan, armed with 3 casserole dishes, an icing set, some wine, and all the ingredients on her list.

I started the process on Monday – the task of the day was to make the cake (and ice it), buy the fish, boil it and flake it, make the tiramisu (since it has to be made a day before its eaten so the flavours sink in) make the tomato sauce and prepare the palak for the cannelloni stuffing.

Project Party Day 1 and a Monday Morning:
I woke up with a dreadful stuffy head, a cold and a mild temperature. The best cure for that? To bake a cake! So I started with my favorite failsafe cake recipe, from the yellowed pages of an old cookbook!

I took 2 eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla essence, about 2/3rd cups cocoa mixed with ½ a cup of hot water to form a nice thick smooth paste, 1 cup of sugar, 1 ¾ cups of flour, a cup of milk with 2 tsps of vinegar mixed in ( so that the milk curdles) 1 tsp of baking powder and of baking soda, a pinch of salt and 125 gms of butter.

First I beat the butter to make it creamy.

 Then I added the sugar, which had been ground once.

 And then the eggs

 And finally, the cocoa mixure.

 Once that was done, I added the sifted flour with the baking powder, the soda and the salt – alternating with the sour milk.

 I had preheated the oven to 180 degrees, and initially put the cake in for 30 minutes (according to the book!) but it was wrong. I panicked when the cake came out 30 minutes later all wobbly and looking very unhappy. So I popped it in again at 200 degrees for another 15 minutes. A tense 15 minutes later, the cake came out looking fine! Once it had cooled, I cut it horizontally in half so that it could be iced in the middle and bunged it into the fridge.

Meanwhile, farida (the cook) and sangeeta (the maid) showed up. Both of them tsk-tsked about my cold and gave me their own advice! I asked farida to start with boiling the tomatoes for the sauce, and washing the palak – an arduous but very important task!

The 2 kilos of tomatoes were put into boiling water, so that they could be skinned and chopped.

The palak (about 10 bunches) was washed, de-stemmed and laid out on the dining table to dry.

After Farida left, I minced about 5 cloves of garlic and 2 big handfuls of fresh marjoram.

Then in the trusty big pateela, I put some butter and fried the minced garlic and marjoram until the garlic turned a very light brown. 

To that I added the palak leaves turning them quickly over so that I could add more as they cooked.

Once all the leaves had wilted (and the table stopped looking like a forest) I drained the palak and kept the water.

Once this was done, Farhad and I made a quick trip to the market where we picked up the fish (filleted and deboned) and a couple of other things that we needed.

I bought 1.3 kilos of fish, which became about 750 gms once it was skinned and the rest. I cooked that in half a cup of milk, a little water, a few peppercorns, a bayleaf and some butter.

Since it was quite a hectic kitchen-y day, Farida volunteered to come again in the evening.  When she showed up, she flaked the fish while I started on the tomato and basil sauce.

I drizzled some olive oil in the pateela, put in some minced garlic and added chopped up stalks of the basil leaves. Once they had browned a little I added the roughly diced tomato some salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. I let simmer for about half an hour. Once the sauce had thickened I added 4 handfuls of basil leaves and let it cool.

 By the time I started on the tiramisu it was 10pm. I wanted to make something that I was completely familiar with before going into the unchartered waters of icing the cake.

Alok was over (with his coffee) and it was Farhad’s and Alok’s job to get the coffee just right for the tiramisu. Somewhere in the middle I also went to the doctor and got medicines for my disastrous cold. When I came back they had proudly brewed 2 cups of coffee and had started on a third. Two trays of tiramisu were ready by 11:15 with no major hang-ups. The coffee (as always) was the difficult part, but Farhad and Alok made it much easier!

I decided against icing the cake the same day, since I was too tired and feeling too eww to deal with it.

Project Party Day 2: A Tuesday and Getting down to the Crunch

I woke up feeling much better and started on the Fish Mousse.
I decided to decorate the bottom of the mould first, before I started on anything else. So I carefully sliced pimento stuffed olives, oiled the mould and then arranged the slices at the bottom.

 I minced about ¾ cup of celery, 1 cup of green capsicum, and about half a cup of spring onions. I added 1 cup of mayonnaise (the fat content was killing me, but I tried to justify it to myself by using mayolite!) some salt and pepper and mixed the whole thing up. The mixture looked too dry to me.

 And since I had never made this thing before, I was nervous. I called Amritakka (one of my many gastronomically advantaged aunts) and asked her for advice. The mixture was fine, but the olives were not. Urgh. 20 minutes of my time wasted. She said I had to make something called aspic first, set the olives in that and then pour the mixture in.

Aspic. Its gelatine with a bit of salt and lime. So I made the gelatin (which is fairly simple; sprinkle some over cold water so it doesn’t clump, then put that bowl into another bowl of hot water and stir the gelatin so it melts!) added the salt, lime and set it into the mould with the olives.  I put the mould into the freezer and got on with the rest. I made the gelatin for the mixture – which was basically 1 ½ tablespoons of gelatine, sprinkled over ½ a cup of cold water and then melted and cooled. While the gelatin was cooling I started whipping about half a cup of cream. I mixed the gelatin into the mixture, then folded in the cream and then (finally!) put it into the mould. Phew!

 It was time for Farida to come again ( YAYY!!) so she chopped the palak ( that i had squeezed all the water out of the night before) and crumbled 1 and a half kilos of paneer into it. 

We mixed that with the water from the palak(since its also got all the nutrition and the taste in it!) 
3 handfuls of parmesan and some salt and pepper. Farhad did what he does very well, grated the cheese. 

This we filled into the cannelloni tubes using the reliable amul milk packets (washed of course!) with Farida holding the tube, and i filling it. Bit messy, but it worked. 

Farida whizzed the tomato sauce that i had made the day before in the mixie and then left for the day. 
I had 3 casserole dishes in fit in, I needed 6! Geetakka ( another of my gastronomically advantaged aunts) came to the rescue with 3 more! She asked me if all was well and if I needed help and I proudly said that I had everything under control. I thought I did, until I went upstairs again. I filled another 2 dishes, and then realised I was out of my tomato sauce!! Farhad was out, so i panic called him and asked him to pick up a bottle of ready sauce. He came back with Jamie's tomato and Basil sauce. So yes, i cheated to make the last casserole. SOB. Eventually, that didnt get eaten and its now frozen in the fridge but thats another story. 

With the pasta out of the way, i decided to quickly finish the sausages in wine. Unfortunately the quality of the sausages that one gets in India aren't as good as the ones you get abroad. So the flavours arent as subtle as I would like. Nevertheless, its a fairly simple recipe and turns out well.
I chopped up 2 onions, and washed a big bunch of rosemary. In our hunt for sausages, we couldnt find the type we wanted in the quantity so we had to mix cocktail sausages and the normal sized ones. I took about 45 sausages. 

I heated a pan, added a little bit of olive oil and browned the sausages for 2-3 minutes. Then i added a little water, so they could cook and become soft without burning. 

I scattered the rosemary and the onion on top let it cook for another 2 mins and then added the white wine. I used sula's sauvignon blanc. 

With that ready, there was no avoiding the cake. Since I HATE icing sugar – so I decided on a simple chocolate ganache covering. I took about 400ml of fresh cream (parsi dairy farm zindabad! – don’t even think of using that amul tetrapack cream – you can beat it for years and it wont get whipped!) and about 320 gms of chocolate. You're actually supposed to take the same quantity of both, but I decided to experiment anyway!

 I heated the cream until it was simmering gently, and then poured the cream over the chocolate. I mixed that with a spoon until it combined to form a nice dark chocolate smooth sauce.

I covered it with cling-wrap and put it into the freezer for about 15 mins – while I made a sugar-rum syrup for the cake.
Its easy! I took ½ a cup sugar with ½ a cup water and heated it on a pan until it all melted – to that I added a little bit of rum. I let the syrup cool a bit and then spooned it all over the cake.

 By then, the icing was done. I spread a little bit in the middle and then sandwiched the two halves together. Then I poured a dollop of icing on the top and worked on the cake – dipping my knife in hot water to smoothen it out.

 In the meanwhile, Farhad sliced and buttered the garlic bread. He kept calling out to me from the dining room to advise him on how to do it, but I couldn't leave the cake. When I finally came out, he had come up with an innovative idea of buttering garlic bread - by stacking it up vertically as he buttered it!
How it managed to stay straight, I have no idea. 

The icing had come out fairly well and i decided to decorating the cake with spun sugar, a very pretty edible dessert decoration that i had seen both in Ritu Dalmia's book and more recently on MasterChef. Spun sugar is basically caramel that is spun around something to create thin threads. I took a cup of sugar, and a cup of water and let it boil for 10 mins, stirring continuously. At a certain point, it will suddenly darken into a molten toffee - like colour. At that point, I took the pan and shock cooled it in a tub of ice and water. The temperature dropped drastically and we were able to spin threads around Farhad's hand. I dont have pictures of this, because it was so hot and we had to be really careful. Also once its shocked , it cools really quickly. The end product was quite worth the effort and my burnt finger. 

The cake done, I rushed for a bath and then Farhad and I put all the numerous dishes into the car. It was a 15 minute task - getting all the dishes from the kitchen to the car.

It was a crazy 2 days. But it was all worth it when we pulled the surprise off perfectly and Bappa was completely thrilled. I think the party was quite a success!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sausage Rolls and Plum jam!

Its been quite a week. The 2nd schedule of the film finished yesterday, and though i was cooking i hadnt had the time to blog about it. We had a mild disaster for dinner the other day i cooked -- the food came out fine, the photographs--are few!
Over the last few weeks ( ever since ive started blogging) ive realised that i like cooking stuff that i usually have fond memories of. Its usually connected to people that i love and the good times that ive shared with them. More than the taste of the food itself, i think it represents a time that i have shared with them.
The other day i remembered that sometimes amma used to take me to "hot breads" a bakery in chennai on my way back from school. It was in one of Madras' oldest malls ( then it was completely new and shiny) and it was the hippest bakery of its time. It was a place that totally fascinated me. It had a glass partition where you could see the bakers inside punching the dough and where you took a tray and could choose from an array of breads. The sausage rolls were my favorite and i would be quite disappointed if they didnt have it that day.
It was my day off from shoot, just before a really hectic couple of days. I figured that if i had made bread once, i could make the rolls. How difficult could it actually be? It wasnt.

So i made the dough ( halved it from the bread i had made earlier- with all the same steps) added some cheddar cheese and wholegrain mustard and then split it up according to the number of the sausages. Then i rolled each ball out into a snake, except it kept shrinking back to the original size. I had to roll it quite fast to keep it to the size i wanted. Once it was fairly long, i put some more wholegrain mustard on it and then rolled it around the sausage.

Sorry for the bad picture, but i dont have any more of it before it went into the oven. Anyway, since i was just playing around with these rolls, i decided to fuse the recipes that i had read for the baking temperature and the time. I brushed the top of the rolls with beaten egg ( for the glaze! the glaze!) and then baked it at 200 degrees Celsius for 15 mins, until the tops came out golden.

it was goo-ood.

Getting back to that lovely day in the kitchen. Farhad LOVES jam. The first thing he puts in his mouth in the mornings is something sweeeet. It doesnt matter whether its a biscuit, bread and jam, a mithai, anything. Im exactly the opposite. I dont like anything sweet in the mornings and its milk and cereal for me. The only jam i like is gooseberry ( not currently in season), and sometimes strawberry (in season, but too expensive to make jam with). Anyway, before i started blogging i decided to try and make some jam. It fig jam and it came out beautifully ( i also called mamama, amma and himani aunty for advice at various time of the jam making process!). While the dough was rising and then baking, i decided to try some plum jam.

I cut and pitted about 700 gms of plums ( about 4 cups, once you cut them). I left the skin on, since i love the colour that the jam gets when its cooked. I put that into a pressure cooker and added half a vanilla pod to them. The next time i make a jam, ill probably add the whole vanilla pod - was a bit nervous about adding the entire one this time. Vanilla tends to be a bit strong and can turn slightly bitter if overused.

I added a little bit of water, just enough to cover half the fruit and then cooked it on a medium flame until it became pulpy. Then i added about a cup of sugar.

I stirred until the sugar had combined and melted, and then stirred occasionally on a low flame until it had reached the thickness i was comfortable with. This is the stage thats crucial. Amma had made plum jam once and it was on the flame for too long. It came out as plum taffy. We would have to wrestle with it to get it out of the bottle! Once the jam had cooled i squeezed some lemon juice into it, bottled it and went to bed a happy person.