December 30, 2010

The Star Recipes of 2010

It honestly doesn't feel like a year has passed since my last recap for 2009. But it definitely has been a whirlwind year, full of ups and downs but mostly, I can remember only the good stuff, probably because they were that good!

The top recipe continues to be the Paneer Butter Masala - Restaurant Style Recipe. Most people have tried it with extremely good results and its a pleasure to see a new email or comment saying how much they loved it. If you haven't tried it yet, you should, really.


This is also the year I realised that most of you out there love easy snack recipes. The Bread Paneer Rolls definitely proved that. 


You know what? We love them too! Score!

This is also the year I realised I enjoy baking. A lot. I personally feel this is the year I baked the most and learnt the most. Enough to actually share with you through Basics of Baking posts. 

Some of my personal favourites and the ones that received the most number of thumbs up, both here and on the Facebook page


sticky date toffee cake

Garlic Pull Apart Rolls - and the first food post with pics from my new Nikon D90!

Eggless Garlic Rolls Recipe

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes - I really love how the picture came out too!

Molten Lava Choc Cake Recipe

Toblerone Candy Bar Shortbread - the first of the "candy bar series"



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Ok that's quite a sugar rush and a fantastic note to end the year that was 2010. Looking forward to a wonderful 2011 and wishing you all the same! Come back soon :)

December 27, 2010

Eggless Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins Recipe

Its strange how this lemon poppy seed muffins got into my head. Strange because I don't like citrus-y or lemon-y desserts. I am more of a chocolate person, or if not, I pick a Creme Brulee or a custard from the choices. Also strange because poppy seeds are not available in Singapore and I haven't seen the black ones in India either (let me know if you know where to find them in India).

lemon poppy seed muffin

I did manage to pick up two packets of black poppy seeds from Sydney and then the muffins started to haunt me until I baked them recently. I am still not a fan of lemon-y desserts or sweets but these were definitely tasty.

I realised I didn't have eggs when I reached the stage in the recipe where I was supposed to add eggs! So I just used yogurt as a substitute and hoped for the best. The muffins turned out super soft and yum, so here's an unintentional eggless adaptation of the classic lemom poppy seeds muffin recipe.

Eggless Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Adapted from: Baking from my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes: 6

Ingredients:
1/3 cup regular white sugar
zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon (use lesser if using Indian lime)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of baking soda
A pinch of salt
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream (I used sour cream)
2 heaping tbsp of yogurt (or use one egg)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) butter
2 tbsp poppy seeds

For Glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar mixed with 2 tbsp of lemon juice

How I Made It:

1. Preheat oven to 375F / 190C. Mould or grease a muffin tin and set aside.

2. In a bowl, rub the white sugar with the lemon zest until the sugar is lightly colored and scented with lemon. In another bowl, whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a third, whisk together the yogurt (or eggs), buttermilk (or sour cream) vanilla extract, melted butter, the lemon infused sugar, and lemon juice.

lemon poppy seed muffin

3. Add the wet ingredients to the whisked flour mixture and fold together (the specks you see in this pic are not the poppy seeds - which are added at a later stage - its the vanilla powder I used instead of extract)

lemon poppy seed muffin

4. When almost thoroughly mixed, add the poppy seeds. Divide batter between muffin cups.

lemon poppy seed muffin

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the tops are golden and a skewer inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean.

lemon poppy seed muffin

6. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before glazing. I didn't add lemon juice to the glazing, just a few drops of milk, since I didn't want an overpowering flavour of lemon in my muffins.

lemon poppy seed muffin

Note: my muffins turned out a tad under-baked. The baking time mentioned in the book was 15-20 mins and they passed the skewer test at that time but the top didn't turn a golden brown. I have adjusted baking time in the recipe mentioned here but look out for a golden top and you should be fine.

December 22, 2010

How to Choose an SLR Camera

Actually, this post should rightly be titled how I chose my SLR. I have been getting tons of questions from you guys about my new camera - a Nikon D90 - the type of lens I got, price, where I bought it and most importantly, how I came to the decision.



It was easy, really.

Step 1- Canon vs Nikon

When I started blogging, I bought a very very basic Nikon point and shoot (P&S) camera - the Nikon L10. It was 5 megapixels and had a 3x optical zoom (although I hear these numbers actually mean nothing), it still gave me good pictures. So my mind went and made itself up thinking "Nikon rocks!".

Then I became a Canon girl. It wasn't a conscious decision but I wanted a high-end P&S that will see me through until I saved up for an SLR. I decided on the Canon SX10 IS. I instantly felt the difference between that and the basic model. The pictures suddenly started looking better and it was great.

But.

I wanted an SLR and I wanted a Nikon one. Somehow it was etched in my mind that Nikon is better than Canon so I was stuck on that decision. That's the first decision you will need to make. I honestly don't think one is a better brand than the other, for most of the Nikon models out there, there's usually a Canon counterpart.

Step 2 - Price

Decide on your budget. You will most likely go over it by a little but have a rough range that you wish to spend on your SLR. This will directly influence the specs of your camera, especially the lens. My budget was about 1800 SGD / ~1400 USD.

Step 3 - Lens

There are a few ways to go about this. You can decide to invest in a cheap body and better lens. Or, you can go for a decent body and decent lens (both mid-range). Going for an expensive body and basic lens is not a good idea when you are starting out, I don't need to tell you that.

Most SLRs come with a kit lens. The D90 which I got comes with an 18-105mm Nikkor lens. Its important to understand what the numbers 18-105 mean. It basically stands for the zoom capacity of the lens.

Another whole different topic is prime lens. They are fixed lens, so you can't zoom with them. However, they are considered superior in terms of clarity. They are also lighter, cheaper, and easier to carry around.  Depending on what your primary subject(s) will be (family, kids, food, beach, portraits, etc), you need to pick out the right lens. Along with the D90 kit, I picked up a Nikkor 50mm 1.8 lens, especially for low light and food photography. This lens has a large DoF and so creates a wonderfully sharp subject with a blurred background, the ideal situation for food photos and portraits. You can see the first few pics taken with this lens in my Garlic Rolls Recipe page.

I researched a lot before deciding on what to buy. A few things I did (a lot) are:

- write to fellow food bloggers and friends who had a Nikon SLR, particularly a D90. Sig helped a lot with my questions and sent me Amazon links to make it super clear what exactly she was talking about.

- search for particular lens names and camera models on Flickr. You can see example shots taken with the lens you are interested in. This is immensely useful since it gives you an idea of what the lens is capable of. Of course, post-editing and expertise come into the picture too, but its still a useful thing to do. I pored a lot over the Nikkor 50mm night shots search results.

- research online of course. Some useful sites that explain concepts are DP Review and Ken Rockwell. You can also go through Flickr Forums. One conversation I found very useful is whether the 50mm lens does good landscape shots too. The lens are not ideal for landscape so its better not to buy that as the only one with your camera body.

- go to shops, hold the camera, try some test shots, see how it feels in your hands.

This post is getting too long so if there's any other info you'd like, you can leave a comment on the Facebook page or email me.

And btw, an SLR is totally totally TOTALLY worth the investment. Whatever people say, its just not possible to get the same quality with a P&S. If you are still undecided, I would say, Go.For.It ;)

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in this subject, just wanted to share my experiences during the hunt for the perfect SLR. I am super happy with the D90 so far. Also, I only considered Canon and Nikon as possibilities, doesn't mean you shouldn't look at Sony or Olympus or whatever. I just wasn't interested, that's all.

December 20, 2010

M&M Brown Butter Samoa Blondies Recipe

I have posted a recipe for butterscotch blondies before. They are super simple and usually a welcome change from chocolate brownies.

The M&M used in the recipe can be substituted with milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, or anything else that catches your fancy.

Brown Butter Blondies Recipe

M&M Brown Butter Blondies Recipe
Adapted from The Recipe Girl
Makes 12 large squares

Ingredients:
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp butter (total of 10 tbsp)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp regular white sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup desiccated coconut (fresh won't work)
3/4 cup M&Ms + few more to lay on top

How I Made It:

1. Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease a cake pan or brownie pan.

2. Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it browns and begins to smell nutty (watch it closely so it doesn’t burn - takes about 5-7 mins). Let the butter cool for a few minutes, until just barely warm.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the browned butter and sugars. With a wooden spoon, stir in egg, vanilla and salt. Stir in flour, coconut and M&Ms until batter is blended.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle a few additional M&Ms on top. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Let the blondies cool before turning them out onto a cutting board and slicing into squares (chilling them will make that process even easier).

Brown Butter Blondies Recipe

The brown butter gives the blondies a lovely flavour. The coconut gives a nice crunch too. I lowered the quantity of coconut a lot in my version, it really is enough without being overpowering.

December 13, 2010

Vermicelli Upma Recipe-Semiya Upma-Vegetable Upma Recipe

As I've mention before in my rava upma recipe post, we usually have breakfast food for dinner. Rice is made generally only on weekends and so, its a constant challenge to come up with quick, variety food over weeknights.

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Semiya or vermicelli upma is not a new recipe, but something we have atleast twice a month. I make this often enough but only on weeknights so have never taken pics for the blog. Now that the new camera has hit the scenes, I had to try some night shots. These are the first of many posts, hopefully. I haven't done much editing except to add some highlights and the watermark.

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Roasting the semiya or vermicelli before adding it to the upma enhances the taste and makes sure it doesn't end up in a sticky clump, so don't miss this step.

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I always store a bag of mixed frozen vegetables in the freezer for precisely this purpose - upma and pulao gets done so much quicker and no messy chopping and washing and peeling necessary!

Semiya Upma / Vermicelli Upma Recipe
Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:
2 cups vermicelli
3 cups water
1 small red onion, chopped
3/4 to 1 cup chopped vegetables of choice (carrots, peas, beans, corn, potatoe, etc)
2-3 green chillies, slit (I used dry red chillies since I didn't have any)
1" piece of ginger, grated
1 tbsp oil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp Bengal gram / kadala paruppu
A few curry leaves (optional)
Chopped coriander leaves for garnish (optional)

How to make Semiya (Vermicelli) Upma:

1. Roast the vermicelli in a dry skillet or pan until golden brown. This will take about 4-5 mins but keep an eye on it and stir frequently otherwise they will brown on one side only or even burn. Set aside when done.

2. Heat oil in the same pan and add mustard seeds, curry leaves, Bengal gram and green chillies. When the mustard seeds pop, add the chopped onion. When it becomes transparent, add the ginger and the vegetables. Mix well until well coated and cook covered on sim for 6-8 mins until the vegetables are soft. Sprinkle some water if necessary.

3. Once the vegetables are cooked, add the water with some salt and bring to boil. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, dunk in the roasted vermicelli stirring continuously so that it doesn't clump. Let it cook in the open pan until the vermicelli has cooked all over and there's no water left. Usually a vermicelli : water ratio of 1 : 1.5 works well for me.

4. Garnish and serve hot with chutney.

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Vermicelli Upma and Coriander Chutney

December 10, 2010

Guacamole Recipe-Easy Avocado Guacamole Recipe

I love avocados. Guacamole is something that regularly gets made as a sandwich spread for TH to take to work. In fact, I don't even think I have tried an avocado smoothie at home before, although I have tried some delicious ones all over Singapore. 

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Last weekend, uncharacteristically, I made these for brunch on Saturday and the lighting was just perfect for some shots for the blog. I Indianize the recipe quite a bit by using Indian green chillies and shallots in my guacamole. The flavour is amazing and we love it with some toasted bread!

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Guacamole Recipe
Serves 2 / Fills 4 Sandwiches

Ingredients:
1 ripe* avocado
2 shallots
1 Indian green chilli (or a chopped jalapeno)
Half a tomato, deseeded and chopped fine
Juice of half a lemon or 1/4 of a lime
Chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

How I Made It:

1. Draw a knife deep into the avocado all around it, length-wise. Gently twist it around until the two halves fall apart and the seed is exposed. Remove seed, scoop out the green flesh with a spoon and place in a bowl. Mash well with a fork.

2. Grind the shallots and green chillies in a pestle and mortar (for best taste) or in a small grinder until roughly mixed.

3. Mix with the shallot-chilli paste along with all other ingredients with the avocado. Taste-test to adjust the sourness, saltiness and spice level. I usually adjust the amount of lime and salt to make it just right. It largely depends on personal taste.

4. Serve with tortilla chips, toasted bread wedges, rolled into a chapati, as you wish!

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Notes

- to check if an avocado is right, press lightly near where the shoot end is see if its soft. If its hard there, its definitely not ready for use yet. Another trick is to hold it in your palm and see if it yields to squeezing.

- to make the avocados ripen faster, leave in a brown paper bag and don't refrigerate.

- to prevent browning, the lime juice will help. Some swear by leaving the seed in with the chopped avocados but I haven't tried this yet.

Enjoy this buttery, yummy fruit. Its high in Mono-Unsaturated Fats and apparently helps you lose weight if taken in moderation :)

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There were 104 comments on the $25 cooking.com giveaway post. The 2 lucky winners of the coupons are Kalyani and Sadhana Ginde. Ladies, I have contacted you already with the coupon codes so happy shopping and hopefully you share with us what you bought with them.

Disappointed that you didn't win? Please don't be! More giveaways and fun coming your way very soon!!

December 8, 2010

Chocolate Banana Hazelnut Crumble with Vanilla Custard Sauce

The chosen recipe for this month's Sweet Punch was Pear and Chocolate Crumble with Almonds. I wasn't too keen on trying baked pears so I decided to use bananas instead. Then I realised I didn't have almonds at home so used hazelnuts. Finally, the recipe got adapted quite a bit but the end result was amazingly delicious. Its quite light since they are individual portions and with the vanilla custard sauce that I usually serve with my apple crumble, this was was a sure winner. What's more, this is a super simple eggless dessert for those of you who don't eat eggs in any form!

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Crumble

With each spoonful, I kept asking TH, "isn't this delicious?" as if I wasn't responsible for the deliciousness. It really was that good. Its super easy to make and there are no exotic, hard to find ingredients either.

Check out more easy dessert recipes on Edible Garden.

Chocolate Banana Hazelnut Crumble
Serves: 6

Ingredients:
2 ripe bananas
1/4 cup brown sugar (white should work too)
1/2 cup hazelnuts (or almonds)
A generous pinch of powdered cinnamon (optional)
100gm chopped bittersweet chocolate (you can also use milk chocolate or semi sweet - choc chips not recommended since they are designed not to melt)
For the crumble:
100gm / 3/4 cup plain four (or, try atta)
55gm  / 1/4 cup chilled butter
10gm chopped bittersweet chocolate (I omitted this)
A pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter

Instructions:

1. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan until browned on few sides. Cool and chop into small pieces.

toasted hazelnuts

2. Chop up the chocolate.  I used these gorgeous Lindt bittersweet discs I got from Sydney and they were so delicious, all melted and gooey in the crumble.

lindt bittersweet chocolate

3. Cut the banana into small pieces and mix in a bowl with cinnamon, chocolate, sugar and the hazelnuts. Spoon equal portions into 6 ramekins (no need to grease) or one pie-dish, if you wish. Make sure you spoon in any juices and liquids too.

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Crumble

4. Add diced, chilled butter to the flour (+salt) and use fingertips to mix together, until it resembles bread crumbs. Add the chocolate (if using), and mix well. Lay over the banana mixture and press gently.

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Crumble

5. Bake in a 180C preheated oven for about 35-40 mins until the top turns brown and the mixture is all bubbly.

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Crumble

Serve with vanilla ice-cream or vanilla custard sauce, recipe below.

Vanilla Custard Sauce (with egg)

Beat with a fork, 1 egg yolk with 1 teaspoon cornflour and add 2 tablespoon sugar with that. Add one cup warm milk and beat well again. Cook on a low fire stirring constantly until pouring custard consistency. Add 1/2 tsp vanila essence, cool, chill and serve with warm apple crumble.

Vanilla Custard Sauce (eggless)

Blend vanilla flavoured custard powder with 1.5 cups of milk and 4 tbsp sugar (adjust to taste). Cook on a low fire until pouring consistency. Cool, chill and serve with warm apple crumble.

December 6, 2010

How to Pre-Heat an Oven

This is Basic of Baking - Part II - Pre-heating an Oven. Here's Part I - Getting started with baking.

I know it sounds silly that I write an entire post on this but check these stats out:

- Since I started blogging, I have received 134 emails in total, with questions, comments, suggestions, etc
- 88 of them are baking-related questions
- 32 of them asked oven-related questions
- 18 of them are about pre-heating an oven

So, how do we pre-heat an oven. Its really very simple, in fact too simple, which is probably why many people have questions about it.

Oven Clip Art

2 Steps to Pre-Heat your Oven

Step 1: Remove everything from the oven except the oven racks. Position them in the middle (where I leave them by default unless the recipe specifies otherwise). Turn on the oven and set the temperature to what the recipe specifies. Don't worry, nothing will explode! (Been there, feared that)

For eg: if it says "bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C / 350F" then that means you should turn your oven on to 180C / 350F. If your oven uses Gas, then there will be gas marks on the oven, just go online to get a conversion from centigrade or fahrenheit to gas mark.

Step 2: In most ovens, there will be a light or a "ping" indicator that changes colour or makes a ping noise when the oven has reached the desired temperature. This should take roughly 10-15 mins depending on temperature so turn on the oven mid-way through the preparation steps.

Most recipes call that as the first step but I usually find that too early so I do it mid-way through the preparation of the dough or batter or whatever.

That's it! Once your oven is pre-heated, place your item in and bake till done!

But wait, I hear some of you saying that your oven doesn't have a temperature knob. My mom has been using one of those for over 30 years. There's only an on-off button and absolutely nothing else, not even a light that goes green or orange. Its still okay, you can bake beautifully in this oven too. Just make sure you turn on the oven for a good 10 mins before placing the batter/dough in it to bake. Keep an eye on the time (as mentioned in recipe) and also the appearance of the baked item. For a cake, make sure you check if its rising, you can also try inserting a skewer to see if its coming out clean. If you need to, stop the oven for a bit, check and then re-start if its not done. Just make sure you are quick about it.

If you have any further questions, leave a comment and I will do an FAQ post :)

December 1, 2010

Basics of Baking - Baking Essentials for Beginner Bakers

Of late, I am getting a LOT of questions from beginner bakers on how to get started on baking, what are the first few essentials, ingredients and their substitutes, ovens and types of ovens, pre-heating, etc. This is a 2-part series on the basics of baking.

Needless to say, I am definitely no expert and these notes and observations are based on my personal experiences or what I have seen work for others. Feel free to contest, share, or add in your thoughts in the comments section.

Basics of Baking - Part I - Getting Started with the Essentials of Baking

Of course, the first thing you need to get is an oven. I have already done a lot of research and posted about it types of oven and how to choose an oven.

The next thing is definitely baking trays and pans. There are lots of variety here in terms of what you can get and it can get confusing. However, the basic must-haves according to me, are below:

- Square and round cake pans, preferably Springform Pans, since it's very easy to get the cake out of the pan after baking

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Round springform pans are easier to get and may be slightly more expensive than normal pans but its definitely worth it and you will find yourself reaching out for one of these most often. An 8" or  9" diameter is the most versatile.

The material for regular cake pans doesn't really matter but stay away from glass (pyrex type ones) as your first pan. The baking time will increase and the texture may differ too. Aluminium, non stick or silicon pans are your best bet.

- Baking trays or Baking Pans
Most ovens come with one of these, so you may not need to buy one. Very handy when it comes to baking cookies or potato fries. I have a round baking tray for pizza which has holes at the bottom for more even baking. If you plan to bake a lot of pizza, this may be handy. You can also lay a baking sheet or parchment over it and use it to bake cookies. Check out Baking Trays here.

- A good mixing bowl, whisk and rubber / silicon spatula

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You can definitely use the bowls you have in hand currently but there's something special about having one just for your baking. I have a regular steel mixing bowl from Ikea that I use only for mixing during baking and it's just fantastic. These glass mixing bowls are fabulous too and have been on my wish list for a while now (in case any of you feel like sending me some!)

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A whisk is very handy when you don't want to invest in an electric beater just yet. There are a lot of recipes that come out very well without beating your hands out of their sockets so don't worry about starting with just a plain old whisk. There are lots of options now for whisks too, like silicon, metal, or rubber. Browse whisks here.

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A silicon spatula makes life so so easy and I insist you get one. It scrapes the sides of the bowl very efficiently and spotlessly. I got my first as a gift and have since bought 2 more - very very handy during baking. Wilton makes some good ones and so does Kitchenaid. Browse them here.

- Measuring cups and spoons

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Baking is more a science than art. When you are a beginner, its better not to experiment too much with quantities because the first few failures may deter you from continuing. Trust me, I have seen that happen. Stick with simple, easy, no-fail recipes and soon you can start concocting your own. Buy a good set of measuring cups and spoons, you get lots of different kinds, find the cheapest ones if you are not sure if this hobby will stick. You can graduate to kitchen scales later. Even if a recipe you really like has measurements by weight, you can easily convert them online - Google has all the answers.

These are the measuring spoons I use and absolutely love.

- Ingredients

chocolate cupcake ing

Again, as a beginner, its best to start your journey with easy recipes that don't have hard-to-find ingredients or even expensive ones. Stick to the same ingredients as mentioned in the original recipe, once you get a hang of this baking thing, you can let your creativity run wild.

I started baking at the age of 10 and one of my first successes wast the Apple Crumble Recipe. Since its not an ordinary cake or cookie, there's a wow factor in spite of the ease of baking it.


 Here are some very basic and easy recipes you can start out with:
Eggless Chocolate Melting Moments
Easy Basic Chocolate Brownies
Toblerone Candy Bar Shortbread
Banana Bread

Part II - How to Pre-Heat an Oven