Cracking a coconut for the NEW YEAR !

Kerala Mixed vegetable stew- for JFI Coconut

I have my fair set of resolutions ready for the brand new year, nothing too ambitious, just simple plans, no froufrou. Along with other targeted self improvements, I will roll out chapattis thinner and will try to make idlis from scratch again in 2007. But no matter what ever I do, I cannot let this year go off without THANKING ALL OF YOU, for the unconditional support and encouragement you have been giving to this blog. Thank you.
We wish you all a very happy new year !

Food for thought is one of my favorite blogs, and to make things even better Ashwini, the immensely creative writer of that blog cracked a coconut for this month’s JFI ! Thank you, I am going nuts already. My home state in India, looks like a coconut tree forest from above, there is no wonder that along with air, water, light and rice I consider coconut as one of the prime life sustaining forces! Oh, yes I am indeed exaggerating, but my pantry is always well stocked up with cans of coconut milk, dried coconut flakes, and frozen grated coconut. Yet, picking a recipe for JFI-coconut was not very easy; too many choices can be too much on your brain sometimes. Right from the mundane to the festive, it is really hard to think of a traditional Kerala recipe without that obvious hint of coconut. But there are certain recipes which underscore the taste of coconut itself, using a fresh coconut in such a recipe can be extremely rewarding. Kerala style stew is a celebration of the finest spices and ingredients abundant in that piece of land, freshly squeezed coconut milk, dashes of fresh ground black pepper, crushed cardamom seeds and curry leaves blend together so well creating a stew with a characteristic dulcet aroma too complex to even describe. This stew’s best companion is appam , but you can enjoy it with rotis or breads. Whatever you decide to do with your bowl of stew, do take a moment to enjoy the delicate scent of this dish.

Potatoes diced into cubes – 2 cups
Carrots cubed – 1 cup
Green beans cut into 1 cm length – ½ cup
Onions, cut square shaped pieces – 1 cup
Ginger chopped – 1 tbsp
Garlic minced – 1 tbsp
Cinnamon – 1 inch stick
Cloves – 3
Star anise – ½
Green chilly split lengthwise– 1
Black pepper, freshly ground – ½ to 1 tsp
Cardamom – 3-4 pods
Curry leaves – a sprig + 2-3 leaves
Oil (preferably coconut) – 1 1/2 + ½ tsp
Coconut milk (freshly squeezed or canned) – 1 ½ cups
Salt – to taste
Water -11/2 cup

Steam (~ for 5 minutes) or microwave (Mix with a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt) green beans and carrots till tender. Heat 1 1/2 tsp oil in a thick bottomed pan, add cinnamon stick, one crushed pod of cardamom, star anise and cloves and fry for half a minute. Add onions, ginger, garlic, green chilly and a sprig of curry leaves, sauté with a pinch of salt till the onions are translucent. Add diced potatoes, mix well and pour in 11/2 cup of water and ½ cup of coconut milk. Cook covered in medium heat till the potato pieces are tender. Open the lid, add steamed vegetables, and stir in a cup of coconut milk. Sprinkle with remaining crushed cardamom and ground black pepper. Cook covered for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat. In a small bowl coat curry leaves with ½ tsp coconut oil, and slightly crush it with hand. Add it to the cooked stew, and keep the lid on for 5 more minutes. Open the lid, mix the stew and serve hot with appam, or bread.

* Green peas, cauliflower and other vegetables of your choice can be added to this stew.
Making lacy appoms- here and here
A very merry Christmas to you !

We wish you all a merry and blessed Christmas, enjoy the holidays.
Diamond cuts- Dressed up for Christmas

At the beginning of this month, when there were 25 good days between me and Christmas I contrived elaborate plans for holiday baking, now I do not even remember what those plans were. Most of it is edited beyond recognition and some are even deleted from a non-existent list I so meticulously maintain! But there are some sparkles of accomplishment in a sense, it is true that fruitcake loaves are ready, and I did make my mother’s favorite festival treat which goes by the name “diamond cuts” in our family.
Many of you might know the snack I am talking about, most probably under a different name. The amount of simplicity involved in the making of this snack is well hidden under a glittering name and an equally appealing taste. The dough is an elementary mixture of flour, salt, and crushed cardamom, rolled out, cut into diamond shaped pieces and deep fried. A light tossing with sugar syrup is all you need to dress up this fried dough for any occasion. When I was thinking through and through to see if there was a Xmas cookie recipe which came rolling down my family tree (No there isn’t any, but I am not worried!)), somehow good old diamond cuts marched right into my head. Just to make it crunchier and puffier I added some baking powder and an egg to the basic recipe, made bigger dough cutouts, deep fried, and dusted it with confectionery sugar.

For the dough

All purpose flour – 2 cups
Baking powder – ½ tsp
Egg –1
Cardamom powder – Seeds from 4 pods powdered or ¼ tsp
Salt- 3 pinches

For dusting

Confectioners sugar – ½ cup
Cardamom powder – 2 pinches

Mix all ingradients together forming a tight dough; use just enough water to bring the dough together. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Roll out each piece very thin, and cut diamond shapes out of the dough by diagonally and vertically running a sharp knife over it. Deep fry the pieces in vegetable oil, and drain on paper towels. Mix cardamom powder with confectionary sugar and dust over the fried cookies. Store in an airtight container.
A tiny tree

A tabletop Burlap base xmas tree decorated with homemade dried orange slice ornaments.
Dry orange pieces at 150 degree for 2-3 hours.
Fruitcake – Yes please!

A mere mention of the word “fruitcake” during holiday season evokes strong sentiments among people, they love it or hate it, at least on this matter we all seem to have a decision made . Regardless of the sides we take on this cake, we are strong in our convictions, nurturing a love that grows deeper over the years or a loathing that gets rooted as time passes. I am from a part of India where fruitcake was a cake for all seasons once not too long ago, my first engraved cake visuals in memory are of these cakes covered in hard royal icing, decorated with icing or foil flowers and silver dragees. As a kid my tested method for relishing this goody during Xmas season was to first start with the inside of the cake reserving the candy like icing pieces and flowers for those increasingly uninteresting days leading to school reopening. Even though there are many trendy confections in vogue in Kerala right now, fruitcake still is a xmas time favorite. From the ceremonious soaking of dried fruits to hosting cake melas, bakeries big and small celebrate the goodness of this cake as holiday season approaches.

Baking cakes and yeast breads enriched in dried fruits and nuts is a long standing Xmas tradition spread across the globe with recipes reflecting regional ingredient preferences. Even though the exact place of origin of a rich fruitcake is a matter of debate there are certain elements tying all recipes for this cake together, a high fruit to flour proportion and an emphasis on aging the cake are the most obvious. An Indian Xmas fruit cake-Kerala style is not a dense candied fruit brick, there is more “flour space” (you know what I mean!) in the cake. Instead of candied peels, fresh grated rinds are used with an optional addition of marmalade or orange juice to enhance the taste. Allspice is a no-no in the recipe, but there are other usual fruitcake spices present along with hints of shajeera. Molasses is substituted with caramel, soaking in liquor is not generally practiced, although these cakes are aged for at least a couple of days.

Recipes from fellow fruitcake aficionados, RP and Annita
This cake needs to be aged for a couple of days. In 2-3 days, texture softens and flavors blend very well together. I usually bake this cake two weeks ahead of Xmas and forget all about it till Christmas Eve.

The following recipe is for an eight-inch round/square/loaf cake.

Soaking dry fruits

Golden raisins ¾ cup
Dried currants ¾ cup
Dried apricots chopped – 14 (optional, substitute with a dry fruit of your choice)
Dried cherries – ¼ cup
Orange juice – 1 cup
Nutmeg powder – 1/4 tsp
Cloves - 3
Honey (optional)- 2tsp
Rum – 4 tbsp
Grated orange rind – 2 tsp

Warm orange juice, add all the other ingredients and mix well, keep in an airtight container for at least 12 hours or up to 2-3 days

Making caramel

Sugar – 1 cup
Water – 1 tbsp + 4 tbsp
Butter – ½ tsp

Mix 1 cup sugar with 1 tbsp water, heat in a thick bottomed pan, till the color starts changing to a place shade of golden brown. Stir well from this point on, till the color turns to a dark golden brown (In this step you will have to go a little bit farther than a regular golden brown caramel stage)
Add ½ tsp butter and 4 tbsp water, mix very well, remove from heat, cool and store (refrigerate for up to a week).

Ingredients for the cake

Cake flour – 2 ¾ cup
Baking powder – 2 tsp
Confectioners sugar – 1 cup
Butter – 1 cup
Eggs, beaten – 5
Cinnamon – A pinch or two
Shajeera , finely ground- 3/4 tsp
Vanilla essence – 1 tsp
Soaked dried fruits – from step 1
Caramel – from step2
Cashew nuts chopped and coated with 1 tsp of flour- ¼ cup

Preheat oven to 300 degree F , butter and flour the cake pan ( PAM for baking saves time), line the bottom of the pan with parchment/ wax paper. Sift cake flour with baking powder and mix in spice powders. Cream butter with sugar, add eggs, vanilla essence, caramel, and beat well till the mixture is creamy. You can reduce the amount of caramel to get a lighter color for the cake. Add flour, half a cup or less at a time, and gently mix in. Stir in soaked dry fruit mixture and cashew nuts. Gently mix. Pour into the prepared pan and bake at 300 degree F for approximately one hour 15 minutes or till a tooth pick or tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (Start checking after 50 minutes). Cool on a wire rack and unmold. Cover the cake with foil and keep in a cool and dry place for a minimum of 2 days (If it wouldn’t be too much on your patience, keep for a week). Optionally (not all required) brush the cake with brandy or rum everyday for a week or two. This cake stays very well outside for 2-3 weeks and inside a refrigerator for 1-2 months.
Walnut-cheese tartlets

I can hardly imagine that one plump year flew by this fast, but there is no reason to complain, Christmas is close. We got our first Xmas card yesterday, every time we get one, I try to guess who the sender might be, and that for me is one joy of the season. A random delight may come to you throughout the year, yet when it is closer to Christmas, a season filled with expectations you are all the more excited about it. Figuratively, if I flex my lips to a joke on all the other months of the year I might go LOL or even rofl (what ever that might be) over the same during this season !

Here is a very flexible (use any nut and cheese combination of your choice) recipe for savory tartlets, simple and fast if you use a short dough for the crust.

Short dough crust- Recipe here.

For filling
2 eggs
1/4 cup cream
3 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded Gouda cheese
1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/3 cup finely chopped red bell peppers
½ tsp dried chives
1/3 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out the dough slightly thinner than you would do for a piecrust. Cut the rolled out dough into 12-14 squares. Keep each square on an ungreased tartlet pan (or use a mini muffin pan), and press to the sides and bottom. Remove the excess dough from the sides.
Whisk eggs, cream, flour, dried chives and salt together till the mixture is smooth and creamy. Divide the cheese and walnuts equally between the prepared tart pans. Pour the egg mixture on top of cheese and nuts. Sprinkle chopped pepper and parsley. Bake tartlets for approximately 20 minutes or till the edges slightly brown. Cool, unmold and serve at room temperature.
Christmas time !

A slice of cake for all of you,
for coming in today.
Happy times and lots of fun
as we ride the sleigh !


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