Vegetarian Concoctions

May 15, 2007

Fondant cakes

Filed under: Cakes — Hema @ 10:45 am

These are the two cakes I baked recently. The first one for my daughter’s birthday and second one for her party the following weekend. This was my first experience with fondant icing…actually any kind of icing. I have hopelessly tried royal and buttercream icing with tips and have decided that it is not my piece of cake:) Fondant seemed so much more forgiving and easier to work with. I made the marshmellow fondant from here and baked up this cake on my daughter’s birthday.

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I messed up the writing and did not like the orange color for the fonts after it was all done. My reference cakes
– for the daisies was this (scroll right down).
– and the border was this.

I got a little more courageous with my second venture and took the idea from here.

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Frankly, I did surprise myself with the way the animals turned out. The trees gave me a hard time, so I turned them into bushes:) No points for guessing why they are behind the animals and why the candle is on top of the bushes:)))

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If you are wondering what the sticks are, they were supposed to be the trunks for the trees, but ended up in the trash can prematurely.

On the whole I did enjoy making the animals and Ananya loved the fact that I actually gave her the eeefant, jeeba, beea and yanon (elephant, zebra, bear and lion) to play with after the party was done.

As Asha suggested, I am sending my first cake to Coffee’s MBP, Something Sweet

April 11, 2007

Black Forest Cake

A peek at the cake I baked for H’s birthday last weekend!

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I got the recipe for the icing and filling from here:
Few changes I made:

1. I used the Betty Crocker german chocolate cake mix and baked according to package instructions. The mix called for 1 1/3 cups of water. I used 1 cup of cherry syrup and 1/3rd cup of water instead.

2. I could not find bing cherries. So, i just substituted them with he cherries I got at my local grocery store.

3. Used cherry syrup that comes with the cherries instead of Kirshwasser for sprinkling on the cake, the filling and the icing.

4. Added chopped cherries in the filling.

5. Added 2 tsp of Milk Powder while whipping the cream (A tip from the reviews on the cake).

6. Used Hershey’s milk chocolate for the garnish.

VACATION TIME!!! Will be back right in time for a tamilnadu entry.

March 29, 2007

Bread sticks

Filed under: Basil, Breads, Cheese, Garlic, Snacks and Appetizers — Hema @ 11:04 am

Horrible horrible week. The past week was sick….literally. First the kiddo, then me and then H. The only silver lining was that all of us did not fall sick at the same time. Getting better was no fun either. Disinfecting three whole baskets of laundry and cleaning up the mess we called our home took up another 3 days. I was dragging myself to work in the morning. Getting back home in the evening was worse…just thinking of all the work that lay waiting. If this was not enough, TEAM-INDIA added to our misery*. We played against Sri Lanka and the rest is history that I hope will never be repeated again. It took me quite some time to digest the fact that we did’nt even make it to the top eight teams. Half way through our innings I switched off the TV. What a shame!

What better way to vent out my anger and frustration than cooking?…and thats what I did. Baking, actually. Since my sourdough bread success story, I have been tempted to experiment with various breads and bread sticks seemed to be the simplest to start off with. I had made some a week earlier and they turned out soft and delicious. Here is my second attempt captured for records:

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What you need:

All-purpose flour – 2 1/2 – 3 cups

White unsalted butter – 1/2 stick (4 tablespoon)

Commercial yeast – 2 tsp

sugar – 1 tsp

Salt – about 1 1/2 tsp

Water – as required

Cheese sticks:
Cheddar cheese – 1/2 cup

Garlic sticks:
Garlic – 1 clove
Garlic salt and dried basil to garnish

Combine sugar and yeast in warm water and let rest for about 10 mts till bubbly. Add the flour, salt and butter. The butter should be at room temperature and softned when added. Incorporate the butter into the flour with your hands and then add enough water to get a soft and workable dough but not sticking to your hands while kneading(see tip 1 below). Add extra flour if needed. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes while pushing the dough away from you with your palms. Brush some olive oil on it and let this rise for about 1 1/2 – 2 hrs in a warm place till it doubles in size (tip 2). Punch back the dough and now add your flavourings (tip 3). I made two kinds: cheese and garlic. To half the dough I added shedded cheddar cheese and to the other half minced garlic. Then I shaped them into sticks and garnished the garlic one with garlic salt and dried basil. You can really get creative with the flavors and shapes here. I placed the sticks on baking trays 3-4 inches apart and let the dough rise one last time – about 1 – 1 1/2 hrs (tip 4). This went into a 375 degrees preheated oven for about 25 minutes till the crust is golden brown. Brush some butter on the crust as soon as they come out of the oven (tip 5) and serve with your favourite soup or marinara sauce.

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With the few tips I learnt about bread making from an expert bread-maker, I guess I should send it to Sushma’s Monthly cooking tipology:

1. After the rise, the bread gets softer and hence stickier. So, the dough should not be too soft when you knead it in the first place.

2. If you don’t have a pilot lamp or a light in your oven or a warm corner in your kitchen to help rise your dough, you could place the dough in a small enclosure close to a saucepan with boiling water. This also helps in keeping the crust soft.

3. Some herbs and spices seem to inhibit growth of yeast. Hence, it is best to incorporate the flavors in the bread during the last rise.

4. The more number of times you punch back your bread and let it rise again, the finer will be the pores in your bread. If you want your bread to have big pores, just let the dough rise once and bake.

5. If you want a soft crust, like our bread sticks here, always brush the crust with molten butter as soon as they come out of the oven. If you want the crust to be hard/crisp, like in sourdough bread, skip the butter on the crust.

*CRICKET – the sport. The ICC world cup games are on in West Indies.

February 20, 2007

Vegetable pot? pie???

Filed under: American, Cheese, Mixed Veggies, Pie, Puff pastry and phyllo sheets — Hema @ 12:05 pm

What would you eat when hubby is not in town for a weekend and you are at home looking after your toddler? Left overs? Maggi noodles? Yeah, thats what I usually do especially since he does not travel that often. My attitude – ‘Why cook for one person?’. And then the little one keeps me busy. So, it is not like I have nothing to do.

This was one of those occasions, H was out attending a conference. (BTW, I have no idea why they need to start registration on a Saturday and have the key note speech on a Sunday. What are weekdays for?) Anyway, I was at home craving Italian and actually decided to make some pasta for myself.  But guilt pricked at the wrong time…how could I eat something he likes and then enjoy the meal? And worse still – I couldn’t believe I was thinking like my mother.  I had always made fun of her about being too sentimental over such things.

Now with the pasta plan ruled out, I was still craving something interesting. I did what was most logical under such a circumstance. Cook something that I love and hubby detests. And, that was easy – eggplants, paneer(yes, paneer! can you believe it?), molten cheese, white sauce…..I had quite a few options. I was not in the mood for Indian food. The thought of having white sauce as a base made my mouth water…that day. Right now, as I write this sentence, I am thinking paneer…yummmm:)

I always wanted to make my own vegetarian version of chicken pot pie and this was the day! I scrambled through each shelf in the refrigerator and brought out some veggies, including eggplant. Milk, butter, cheese and a pack of puff pastry sheet came out too. I did not have an oven safe circular bowl of the right size to make it look like a pot pie, but this is what I ended up doing:

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Mixed veggies – eggplant, shredded carrots, onions, bell pepper, celery – about a cup

Milk – 1 cup

Shredded pepper jack cheese – 1/4 cup

Butter – 1 tbsp

Olive oil – 2 tsp

All-purpose flour – 1 tbsp

Puff pastry – 1 sheet

Salt and pepper to taste 

Start with the veggies. Add the olive oil to a pan and then the veggies. Saute for 3-4 minutes and transfer it to a bowl. In the same pan, Add the butter and once it melts the flour goes in. Roast it till the raw smell goes and then add the milk. Let this thicken up and then add the cheese, salt and pepper to the simmering white sauce. Add the veggies, give it a stir and switch off the stove.

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Let this cool down and fill it into a puff pastry sheet. Poke some holes on it and bake according to manufacturer’s instructions on the puff pastry carton.

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What I made was actually nothing close to the classic pot pie. The pot pie usually has a biscuit crust and I substituted it with a puff pastry sheet. There was no cream, mushroom or potatoes in it. It was something I seeked refuge in for the day but I did have a meal that was not just delicious, but utterly filling too! I loved it and now, I am waiting for my husband to attend another conference:) The next time, I would cut the quantities in half and also use the oven-safe bowl that I bought soon after.

February 13, 2007

Sourdough bread

Filed under: All-Purpose flour, Baking, Breads — Hema @ 11:00 am

It was a cold, lazy weekend afternoon early last year. The little one was happily tucked away into her blanket for a nap and dear hubby was watching football. I was flipping through one of the baking books I had bought recently and a recipe caught my attention – Sourdough bread. We both love this bread and always bought it from the store. Can it be made at home? Then, began an extensive research for methods and ingredients on the internet.

What I found was quite fascinating. You mix all-purpose flour and water and leave it in a warm open place for a few days with frequent monitoring. The batter picks up yeast and bacteria from the environment, starts bubbling and turns sour. This would be the starter. The quality of a starter would depend on where you live and whether the batter picks up the right guys. San-Francisco starters are supposed to be the best. Also, once someone has a starter going, it is fed periodically and kept alive for a long, long time – for generations sometimes.

I tried. The first time, nothing happened. February was a cold month (Yeah! sometimes, even in Florida) and so, I decided to wait for the spring. I gave it another shot in March. This time it looked like things were happening and I saw some bubbles on day 3. It was exciting! I added half a cup of all-purpose flour and warm water everyday, for the next 4 days. It got bubblier. It was time to try out my very own bread….or so I thought! I mixed more flour, sugar, salt and waited for it to rise to twice its size. I waited, waited and waited even more! It rose but not to the extent described in the cookbooks and internet sites. With a heavy heart I punched it back in for the second rise. Waited for 3 more hours for the rise and baked it. What came out was a shame. The crust was too thick, the inside was no-where close to being called soft and the taste…I had…ahem…added a little too much salt.

Totally frustrated with my first attempt, I put off the thought of baking bread for a while. I still kept the starter alive for a few more months. It was not before June, that I made my second unsuccessful attempt and dumped my starter in disgust and decided not to venture into the bread making business anymore.

Then, in September,  THIS happened! I read through the post at least 3 times before I left a comment. Few days later, she baked her first biscuits. Now, this was exciting. I left another comment and she replied ‘Thanks, Hema! If you want to give it a shot, I’m more than happy to pass along some starter anytime’. Really? I wrote back to her with my mailing address and sure enough received this package with some dried starter and a lovely little note with instructions. She actually took time and dried some starter for me. Yes, she is our very own ‘Out of the wor…garden – Linda!’.

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Thanks Linda! You are awesome!
I stored the dry starter in the refrigerator for over two months before I got a chance to get working with it. I followed Linda’s instructions and pretty soon the starter was bubbling with activity.

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A day before I decided to take the plunge, I added a cup of flour and half a cup of warm water to the starter. Next morning, I took a cup of starter for the bread and stored the rest in the refrigerator. With it went in ½ tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt. Then, I cheated (blush). Well, you see I have had horrible sourdough experiences in the past and really wanted soft bread this time. So, I added some commercial yeast…just a pinch, actually (blush, blush). Dissolved it in a tbsp of warm water and added it to the dough after 5 minutes. Then I added flour(about 1 cup), one spoon at a time till the consistency felt right – soft and workable, but not sticking to your hands. I brushed some olive oil on it and let it rise in a warm place (oven with lights on).

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It rose to twice its size in about 2 hours! YAY! I punched it back in and this time put it into my loaf pan for the second rise. 2 hours later, I made a slash on the top and popped it into the 425 F preheated oven for 8 minutes and then reduced the temperature to 375 F and baked it further for another 20 minutes till the crust turned golden brown.

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Out came my precious bread, with my home smelling like a bakery:) I let it cool and gave hubby the honour of cutting my first bread and taking this picture.

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It was soft and tasted almost like what we get at stores..a little less sour, but that maybe because of the extra yeast I added. Now, I can proudly say baking bread is not a big deal’. Thanks Linda. Could’nt have done it without your help.

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