Thursday, 31 May 2012

Banana Cake with Cinnamon and Walnuts

Bananas are something that we always end up having excess that goes over-ripened, isn’t it? They ripen quite fast that I have to add them to smoothies, pancakes etc to finish them up. This time, I decided to bake yet another banana cake. 

I adapted this recipe from one of my cake books Breads & Baking by Gina Steer. It is a straight forward recipe, but requires a bit of time and the method is different from the usual cakes which is why I wanted to give it a shot. Result was a nice cake, with beautiful aroma of banana and cinnamon throughout. The cake is also a bit high for my liking as I baked in 7 inch pan as mentioned in the recipe. You could also bake this cake in an 8 inch pan, by compromising a bit on the height.

The cinnamon in the cake marries very well with the banana flavour. The flavour of cinnamon doesn’t really come through, but the flavour of banana gets intense with the addition of cinnamon. It’s a soft cake with pleasant whiff of banana and cinnamon and not overly sweet. I haven’t added nuts as my son hates nuts in anything. But he loved this cake which comes as a surprise for me as he dislikes most cakes and bakes apart from anything that’s chocolaty.

About photography, here, I was playing around with the shadows to darken the certain areas of the picture to create a different style and make the food more prominent. I have chosen dark background for my pictures here to create a dark tone. You can see noticeable difference in the incident light on first and second picture. In both the pictures (1st and 2nd) I placed the food on a table next to a large glass door and the light is falling on the subject from the right. In both the pictures, I have also placed a reflector (I use a white cardboard box) on the left side of the picture to bounce some light that comes from the right, back into the subject. This reduces the heavy shadow caused by the food itself. In the second picture, I also blocked a bit of the light in the right corner by placing another cardboard on the right side, so that it blocks the light and creates heavy shadow. It was Soma who gave me this interesting bit of information and I would like to thank her a ton for that.

Banana Cake
serves 8
preparation time 10 minutes
Baking time 55 minutes
4 medium-sized ripe bananas, 400g
1 tsp lime juice
150g – 180g soft brown sugar
75g soft butter or margarine
1 ½ cups (250g) Self-raising flour
1tsp cinnamon powder
3 medium eggs
50g walnuts, chopped (Optional)
1 tsp each ground cinnamon and caster sugar to decorate
Fresh cream to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC 10 minutes before baking. Lightly oil and line the base of an 18cm/7inch deep round cake tin with baking paper.

2. Mash about 2 ½ bananas in a small bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice and a heaped tablespoon of sugar. Mix together lightly and reserve.

3. Gently heat the remaining sugar and butter or margarine in a small bowl until the butter has just melted. Mix well and leave it aside to cool slightly.

4. Sift the flour and cinnamon into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.

5. Beat eggs into the cooled butter-sugar mixture until well incorporated. Pour this mixture into the well of flour, and mix thoroughly.

6. Gently stir in the mashed banana mixture.

7. Pour half of the mixture into the prepared pan. Thinly slice the remaining bananas and arrange over the cake mixture. sprinkle over the chopped walnuts, then cover with the remaining batter.

8. Bake in the oven for about 50-55 minutes or until risen and golden brown. Allow to cool completely in the tin, turn out and then sprinkle with ground cinnamon and sugar.
Serve hot or cold with cream for pouring.

1.Towards the end of baking, if the cake starts to brown too much, cover it loosely with aluminium foil so that it prevents further browning.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Njandu Curry (Crab curry - Malabar Style)

Crab is something that I adore, but haven’t really got a great deal of knowledge about apart from relishing its intense and unique flavour. Iam not aware of the kind of crabs and never knew how to do the cleaning until I prepared it last time. It is a bit tricky to clean and prepare, I should say and it takes a while to prepare a crab.

I had prepared crab before this, but while preparing it this time, I watched couple of videos to make sure that I do things right. I then realized that I din’t do proper cleaning and I even dumped the large back shell into the gravy when I prepared the first time!! Check out this video here if you are not sure how to clean a crab. 

Now here is the kind of crab curry that my mom makes back home. It’s slightly dry or rather crabs smeared in spicy masala paste. I got the recipe from her the other day when I got hold of some fresh crabs from the fisheries. I bought three large crabs which weighed 1.5 kilos, and after I was done with the cleaning, it just weighed half the original weight!!Most of it had to be thrown away. Feel free to increase the amount of spices per taste. You can also add coconut milk towards the end if you wish.

Njandu Curry (Crab Curry)
serves 3 - 4

750g Cleaned crabs
3 Tbsp coconut oil
3 medium onions, 380g sliced thin – 3 cups
3 twigs curry leaves
2-3 green chillies, slit
2 medium tomatoes chopped, ~200g, 1 cup
salt – as required
3-4 teaspoons Kashmiri chilli powder
2-3 teaspoons coriander powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 ¼ - 1 ½ cups of water
¼ teaspoon garam masala

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan.
2. When hot, add sliced onion, 1 twig curry leaves, green chillies, salt and tomatoes. Cover and cook on medium heat until onions go soft and tomatoes are mushy and soft.
3. Add chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric powder and stir well.
4. Add cleaned crabs, stir well, cover and ook on medium heat until steam comes through.
5. Add water and keep cooking on medium heat until the crabs are smeared in thick gravy.
6. Add garam masala and remaining curry leaves and stir.
7. Serve along with plain rice or chappathi, porotta etc.

1.You can add more spices if you want. I add a mixture of paprika and kashmiri chilli powder to balance the heat.
2. Also you may add coconut milk towards the end of cooking.

This post also goes to Kerala Kitchen event hosted by Jehanne who blogs at the cookingdoctor.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Nan Khatai (Cardamom Flavoured Indian Biscuits) & Exercises in Food Photography 1 - Aperture and DoF.

Nan Khatai is a popular delicate and melt-in-mouth Indian cookie, similar version of the shortbreads. This is my mother’s recipe that she’s been baking ever since I remember. Instead of butter or the regular ghee, my mother’s recipe uses pure vegetable Ghee, which comes in the famous brand label – Dalda in India. Here we get brands like Aseel, etc which you may substitute with. You may also real ghee like RKG, but it would give a different taste as ghee is one key ingredient that contributes to most of the flavour. So, the kind of shortening you use, decides the flavour and taste of your Nan khatai. The unique and distinct flavour of my mom’s nan khatai comes from the vegetable ghee that she uses. 

Every food blogger would want to present his/her food beautifully to make the food more appealing. So, if anyone of you wants to improve your photography skills or learn something extra, Aparna of Mydiversekitchen is doing little exercises on food photography every month. Apart from the great tutorials she has written on photogrphy, this is one great idea that could be useful for anyone who wishes to learn more on food photography or improve their photography skills. Check out the link here.

Her first exercise is based on Aperture and depth of field(DoF). In the exercise, she asks to shoot two pictures with same composition and setting but at different aperture settings to show the depth of field (DoF).

I don’t own a 50mm lens, but a wide angle lens. I use 18-200mm lens for photos and the maximum aperture it provides is f/3.5-f/6.3. I shoot my pictures in manual mode, and usually at 50mm focal length and above else I would have lot of cropping to do to avoid the unwanted bits.

Below is a diptych of one set of pictures that I shot for this project. The picture on the left is shot at f/5, shutter speed 1/15 sec, ISO 100 and picture on the right is shot at f/8, shutter speed 1/8 sec, ISO 100. Unlike 50mm, f/1.2 lens, the depth of field is not as shallow when you shoot in 18-200mm f/3.5 – f/6.3 lens, which means you will not get the background as blurry as you would get with f/1.2 lens. The photo is shot next to a large French door, with light coming from the right and a reflector placed on the left to reflect the light back to the food and to mellow down the shadow.

Left Image: f/5, shutter speed 1/15 sec, ISO 100.   Right Image: f/8, shutter speed 1/8 sec, ISO 100

But still, when you shoot the pictures at a significantly different aperture, you will be able to make out the amount of blurriness in both the pictures. You could see that the background is more blurred in the first one than the second one. The greater the aperture, blurrier the pictures will be. The aperture used in the first picture is 5 and the aperture used in the second picture is 8. Shutter speeds is adjusted accordingly to get the correct exposure – brightness.

When I asked my mom for the recipe, she told me the amount of ghee and sugar that she use, and then she told me to add enough flour to get a nice soft dough and nuts as per my wish! Typical of her when she gives me the recipes. She gives me just rough measures for her recipes and I can't believe she din't even have proper measurement for her regular cookie as well!! So I added flour little by little until I got a nice, soft dough. 

Nan Khatai (Cardamom Flavoured Indian Biscuits)
Makes around 20-22 small cookies
Recipe Courtesy: My mom

½ cup Vegetable ghee like Dalda, Aseel etc
½ cup sugar
a pinch od salt
2 tbsp Cashew nuts
1 cup plain flour
¼ tsp powdered cardamom

1. Powder sugar in a grinder to fine. Chop cashew nuts. Mix cardamom powder and salt with flour and sift once.
2. Cream ghee and powdered sugar until creamy.
3. Add flour in three parts and mix with a spoon.
4. Add chopped nuts and mix well using hands to bring the mixture together.
5. Make around 20 small balls of the dough and place them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper spaced apart. Gently press the balls.
6. Bake them for 15 minutes at 180ºC. It doesn’t have to colour.

1. Regular ghee can be used instead of vegetable ghee.
2. You can omit nuts or use any kind of nuts.
3. You can double the amount easily and use little bit of extra flour to avoid sticking.

     This post also goes to Kerala Kitchen event hosted by Jehanne who blogs at the cookingdoctor.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Meen Porichathu (Crispy Fish Fry) and a Tour around the Fish Quays

Fish in UK is not cheap; I am talking about the ones that we get in the monster supermarket chains. They are really pricey and who lives in UK would nod head on that. So, during my exploration I ended up on this beach in Fish Quays which I mentioned in my previous post and also stumbled upon so many fisheries which sell fresh daily fish that is very cheap. Incomparably cheap! A box of 3-3.5 kilos of fish cost just 5 bucks, that’s how cheap it can get, which otherwise, less than a kilo cost more than that.

The fisheries have loads of fresh fish caught on daily basis, contains loads of varities and  they even have fresh lobsters swimming in the aquarium! I love that place. I was told many a times that we get real cheap fish from the Fish Quays, but we never bothered to go there for a very long time until very recently.

We live quite close to the North sea, and so is blessed with lots of beautiful beaches. The one that I regularly go to is the Fish Quays for the reason it is close to my son’s school, loads of fisheries around, nice to walk and you have these series of steep stairs that I along with my friend now started climbing as part of our exercise regime; our free local gym. I love to spend time there, may it be just for a walk or just to spend some time at the beach myself or with my family.

Fish Quays is a fishing port close to the Tyne river in North Shields, Tyne and Wear, England. It has lot of history to speak. Many old 18th century houses, courts, piers etc can be seen in and around the fish quays. During the 18th Century when the banks started getting over crowded, buildings began to erect on the plateau, which is sixty feet above the old town otherwise called Low town. The new town built above is called High Town. The Upper and lower parts of the town are linked by a series of steep stairs. These stairs still remain. If you remember Laurel and Hardy, the Comedians, Stan Laurel lived in this High Town during 1897-1902. His statue stands in the middle to commemorate his stay there. It is beautiful, especially if you want to walk around, on a beautiful sunny day. 

This place also has a fair that is open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 8-4. They sell many old, rustic antique goods, furniture, vintage crockery, crafts, and other bric-a-bracs.  I pick up few odd things from there every now and then that could be used as a prop for the blog. 

Today’s recipe is something that I prepared using a fish we get locally called the sea bream.  You can adapt the recipe using any fish available. It’s a simple Kerala style fish fry, but to add crispiness, I gave it a thin coating of sooji/semolina. You can also use rice powder or even plain flour instead. 

Kerala Style Crispy Fish Fry
Serves 3-4

Preparation: under 10 minutes
Cooking time: Less than 10 minutes

350g, 1 large sea bream/tilapia or any other fish cleaned
3 teaspoon kashmiri chilli powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 ½ tsp lime/lemon juice
½ - ¾ tsp salt or as required
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp semolina/rice flour
1-2 twigs of curry leaves
4-5 tbsp of coconut oil

1. Make 6-7 shallow gashes on the cleaned and washed fish. Make a semi - thick paste of chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt, lemon juice and water. Smear it all over the fish and let it sit in the fridge for a minimum of an hour.

2. Just before frying, sprinkle the semolina or rice powder on both sides of the fish. Gently press it down. Alternatively, you can place the semolina or rice pwer and press the fish on them.

3. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan. When hot, throw in curry leaves. Immediately place the fish and cook on both sides until crispy and cooked through, about 6-7 minutes on medium heat, depending on the size of fish.
4. Drain on kitchen towel and serve hot.

1.To get rid of the foul fish smell, wash the rub the fish all over with salt and lemon and leave it for few minutes and wash it off.

2. Given here is the simplest of fish fries. You can also add 1 teaspoon each of minced ginger and garlic along with the paste for a different flavour.

3. Using sooji or rice or even flour also prevents the fish from breaking off while frying or sticking to the pan. So if you are using any soft fish, it is always better to give it a thin coat of sooji/rice powder etc to prevent it from breaking off.

This post of mine also goes to the Kerala Kitchen Event created by Magpiesrecipes, being hosted by Jehanne of the cookingdoctor

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Restaurant Style Chicken Tikka

There is nothing as tranquil as being on the beach, early morning when everything around is so beautiful, so fresh and so serene, but on nice sunny day. Being in the UK, warm weather is something we’ve been missing these days, so we need to utilise as much as of the sunny days we get.. It used to be the other way around while I used to live in Abu dhabi. We used to pray for rain, and when it drizzles, we stretch our hands out the window to catch few drops.Few precious drops..

We have been living in this part of Tyne & Wear for more than a year and half and it was not until recently that we discovered one of the beautiful beaches around, Fish Quays. It’s just couple of minutes from my son’s school and on days with less house chores, I drive down to spend some time on the beach. The beach in the morning is beautiful with fresh air to breathe in, less crowded apart from few elderly people sitting in their cars enjoying the beach or walking their dogs. It is very refreshing and relaxing. There are many old benches lined along the shore, where I sit for a while looking far at the sea, the fort, the ships, gulls etc.

But these days, in spite of it being spring, it is just like another winter. So cold, and with the wind, it just makes it all worse. The other day, when I went to the beach, the tide was really low so I just walked down a bit further skimming through the slippery dirt-green sea weed covered rocks. I had seen a bloke returning with a little bagful of mussels. So I just looked around the grooves and creases to see if I could spot something. I was super excited to see some fresh live mussels clutched on to the mossy rocks covered in slimy see weeds. 

As most woman I also get sold for anything that comes free and on sale, so, I started picking them, but was a bit wary if there would be some creatures around. Despite that, it was too cold that my fingers started getting numb, so I left the idea of picking them. Sad I dint carry my camera with me that day, I couldn’t any pictures of the mussels, mossy rocks etc. But here are few pictures for you that I captured on a bright sunny day, when the tide was high, no shore to be seen and no mossy rocks. It was all under the furious sea. I will share more pictures in some other post, when I get to take more of them.

Now, coming to the recipe, chicken tikka is something that needs no introduction. Mildly spiced boneless chicken cubes cooked on a charcoal grill is a crowd pleasing appetizer and is very popular in countries all over the world. It has gained much popularity over time. The tikka is traditionally made in a hot clay based oven called Tandoor. But at home, it can easily made in a very hot oven. I usually set my oven to 200ºC when I bake kebabs but many recipes asks to set the oven at 230 or so. 

This is one of the regular starters that we order at any Indian restaurant or take-away. This recipe of chicken tikka tastes just like restaurant one, if not better. I have been making this for years now, making no changes and can easily be doubled. I found this recipe on net long back, and I haven’t got the link saved. So, if this recipe belongs to someone you know, please write to me, I will add the link.

Chicken Tikka
Serves 3 - 4

400 gm Skinless boneless chicken pieces ( 2 medium breast pieces)
2 tbs Fresh lemon/lime juice
½ - ¾ tsp Salt
2 tbs Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tbs ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 ts ground turmeric
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp - 1 tsp methy leaves crushed (fenugreek leaves)
Few drops of orange red food colour (optional)
2-3 tbsp butter, melted or ghee
2 tomatoes, cored, and flesh scooped out
2 onions cut into squares
Extra lemon/lime juice to squeeze on the kebabs.
6 Bamboo skewers, soaked in water for an hour (6- to 8-inch)

1. Wash the chicken and place it n a colander to drain off excess water. Wipe off the excess water using a kitchen towel and cut the chicken into 2" thickness.  Combine chicken, lemon juice and salt in a bowl and let it sit for 30 minutes. 

2. Mix Greek yogurt, minced garlic and ginger, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder and chilli powder in small bowl. Add food colour and mix well. Add in the chicken cubes and stir until chicken is well coated with spice mixture.

3. Refrigerate chicken at least 3 hours or overnight. I usually marinate it overnight to let the flavours steep in.

4. Preheat the grill to 200ºC. Thread chicken on skewers, alternating with onion wedges and cubed tomatoes.

5. Brush chicken and vegetables with melted butter. Grill kebabs until well cooked, turning frequently, and applying butter in between. Cook until you see brown spots here and there. It will take about 20 minutes. Keep checking for doneness in between, as overcooking them can make them dry and ruin the taste. Squeeze lemon juice once they are done, if required. You can also sprinkle little garam masala to boost up the spice level.

Notes and tips:
1. The bamboo sticks should be soaked in cold water to prevent the wood from burning while cooking.

2. If you have no skewers, just lay the kebabs flat on a baking tray and cook till done, turning sides and basting with melted butter or ghee every time you turn, to keep them juicy.

3. You can also pan fry them in little oil, if you have no access to oven.

4. Make sure that there is no moisture in chicken at all prior to marinating.
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