22 August 2014

Easy cake recipe - Quick Pumpkin and Spice Tea Cake

When I landed home late this afternoon after finishing with my Zesty Salads workshop at a Crafts studio in IndiraNagar, I was in a happy-tired mental space. I'd made up my mind to completely vegetate for the rest of the day, to compensate for the 4.30 am alarm I had set for myself. But invariably, the days I'm too tired after a workshop, I'm so buzzed from the thrill of a session gone well that I'm completely unable to unwind and do-nothing. I end up throwing myself into more and more activities, only to collapse like a rag doll at night. 

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While I was pottering around in the kitchen this evening, waiting for the oven timer to buzz, a sudden clap of thunder, followed by many more, interrupted the regular evening sounds. As a predictable epilogue to the thunder, the rains lashed against the windows, drenching the laundry mercilessly. The narrow parapet was no protection against this kind of crazy rain. I ran out to rescue the laundry, hit by a shower of huge cold raindrops and popped back in to the warmth of the kitchen, where the comforting aromas of spices enveloped me. 

Moist pumpkin cake The idea of baking a pumpkin cake came about result of over-ordering pumpkin over the last weekend and it needed to be used up today at any cost. Pumpkin being a soft and bland vegetable, it always pairs well with strong and bold flavours - like nutmeg, cinnamon and also, chai masala which is a mix of these two and a lot many other spices. A chai lover like me needs no excuse to sit hugging a large mug of tea, while watching the rains lash on the other side of the window. But the Chai Masala in the ASA Spices kit that our IFBM sponsor Foodhall gifted us, is in another league altogether. Each little bottle ensconces the magic of organic, hand-pounded spices and one can feel good about the fact that these are fair-trade too.

It's amazing how warm fragrances and flavours instill a sense of comfort on a cold day or at the end of a tiring day. This easy pumpkin and chocolate tea cake is one such way to infuse some warmth into a cold day. You can even cut down a step and omit the chocolate and allow the whole cake be a lovely golden colour, but the slight marbling adds to the appeal of this simple homemade cake. Use good quality fresh spices / spice powders for best results. Walnuts add to the flavour of their cake, and also provide an enjoyable crunch.

pumpkin cake recipe

1.5 cups all purpose flour (maida)*
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg (use the finest grater you have)
1 tsp cinnamon powder (I use Keya brand)
1 tsp chai masala (I used ASA brand asaspice.com)
3 tbsp soft butter
3/4 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup butter milk (add 1 tsp vinegar to 1/2 cup cold milk-let it stand for 2 mins)
3/4 cup packed pumpkin puree (instructions at the end)
2 tbsp cocoa powder or drinking chocolate or Nesquick
3-4 tbsp milk
Handful of chopped walnuts

One loaf tin, greased with butter and floured
Preheat oven at 180°C.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, chai masala. Using a fine grater, grate roughly 1/2 tsp of nutmeg into this. You can use readymade nutmeg powder, but freshly grated nutmeg will provide a far more intense aroma.
Cream together the butter and sugar. Whisk in butter milk. If buttermilk is cold, the butter will solidify somewhat, but this is okay.
In a blender/mixer, blend together the pumpkin puree, creamed sugar, and buttermilk mix.
Add this to the dry ingredients. Bring together gently with a spatula. Don't overmix.
Pour 2/3rd of this mix into the prepared loaf tin.
To the remaining batter, add the cocoa or Nesquick, thin it with 3 tbsp of milk until it is of cake batter consistency.
Add this over the top of the pumpkin batter layer. With a toothpick or chopstick inserted right into the cake batter, swirl the batter, poking it into the bottom layer in multiple places. This is what gives the marbling effect. 
Sprinkle walnuts and gently press them down.
Place in the middle rack of a preheated oven to bake for 35-40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
After 2-3 minutes, carefully loosen the edges and invert over a wire rack, where you can let it cool for 30 minutes or so, before slicing.

Serve warm with coffee or tea.

*you can use 1.5 cups self raising flour instead of flour+baking powder+ baking soda +salt in the recipe

How to make pumpkin puree at home
Take 500 grams pumpkin, with the seeds scraped out. Peel and dice. In a small pressure cooker, place the diced pumpkin, add 1/2 cup water. After one whistle, keep on sim for 10 minute. Once cooker is cool enough to open, remove the pieces and mash with a wooden spoon or a potato masher. If you don't have / use a pressure cooker, boil on stove top with 1/2 cup water on a low heat, keeping it covered, until it yields to a mush when pressed with the back of a spoon. 
You can make this in advance and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

I'm sure the pumpkin puree can be easily replaced by a carrot or beetroot puree for a similar, beautiful coloured tea cake. Vegans can use soy milk instead of regular milk.

12 August 2014

Lunchbox Ideas : Vegetable Peanut Noodles

Lunchbox ideas : Veggie and peanut noodles

"So what's for my lunchbox today?" 
The son comes running upstairs when I am clicking a photo of something (food, of course). 
"Oh, noooooodles! I can't wait for lunch time, mummy."

And just like that this post lands up on the blog, a kid approved lunchbox - noodles tossed in a bunch of colourful vegetables and a special dressing that makes it all juicy and slurpy and literally snowed over by crushed peanuts.

I teach this recipe of an Asian noodle salad in my Zesty Salads workshop, but I must say the inspiration of this is a recipe from Hungry and Excited, Revati's foodblog. The difference being, the vegetables here are sautéed instead of the raw veggies in my salad. Kids find it difficult to digest too much raw food and the sautéed- slightly softened vegetables work best, while also tasting even better, especially when it comes to bell peppers. 

The dressing that I've used here is so versatile, it goes as a topping on noodles, as a salad dressing, as a dipping sauce for Vietnamese rice paper rolls and even for the fried spring rolls. Get the balance of sweet-sour-salty-sweet (and spicy, if you wish) right and you are ready to roll!

Veggie - Peanut noodles

I got a whole bunch of stuff from local Asian stores in the China Town area of Melbourne during my trip in March, and it's time I stopped hoarding them and started using them up, or it will be just another case of expired food going into the land-fills. 

I've used what's called dan-dan noodles for this dish. They are super thin, cook very quickly and very light and delicate. The are called dandan because in earlier times, vendors (in China) would hang them from poles (dan dan) and walk around to sell them. I quite like this little story behind the noodles, reminds me of 'Banana walas' in Matunga who would hang two baskets from a pole, which was supported on their shoulders and they would sell all varieties of bananas, banana flower, stem etc, peddling their wares from building to building.

You can use whatever noodles you have readily available - regular hakka / egg noodles / soba (buckwheat) noodles / rice noodles or even our South Indian instant rice vermicelli (sevai).

Now coming to the best part about this dish. It tastes great cold too, which makes it perfect for lunch boxes, make ahead lunches and even dinner parties. A huge platter of this noodle dish is such an eye pleaser with its rich colours and textures.

For lots more lunchbox ideas, do follow my Facebook Page - Saffron Trail and Instagram (@saffrontrail) - these are updated more regularly on a real time basis :)

Lunchbox, lunch, dinner or snack - a dish for any meal

Recipe for Vegetable and Peanut Noodles / Noodles for lunchbox
Serves 2

200 grams noodles 
1 tbsp peanut oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 small red bell pepper
1 small onion
1 small green bell pepper
1 small carrot
1/4 tsp salt

2-3 tbsp finely chopped coriander
2 tbsp soy sauce (if light soy, then use 3 tbsp)
3-4 tbsp lemon juice or 2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp chilli flakes 
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)

1/4 cup crushed peanuts (roasted and then coarsely powdered or crushed)


Finely chop the garlic. Peel, halve and slice the onions. Chop the bell pepper and carrot into sticks.

Place a wok / kadai on the flame with 1 tbsp oil. Once oil is heated through, add garlic, onions, bell peppers and carrots. Add a pinch of salt and allow them to soften a bit, but not fully cooked. They should retain their colour and some of the texture. Remove from flame and keep aside. Transfer the veggies into a large bowl.

Fill a big pot or wok with water. Once it comes to a boil, add 1 tsp salt, the noodles and bring to a boil again. Cook as per instructions on the packet. In this case, after boiling for 2 minutes, drain the noodles and wash under running cold water, so they stop cooking and don't stick to each other. Add this to the veggies in the bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing.

Pour this dressing on top of the noodles and veggies and toss gently using finger tips.
Top with crushed peanuts and toss once more. 

If serving on a platter then reserve some of the peanuts and coriander and add on the top as a garnish. If not serving immediately, keep the noodles and veggies tossed in dressing in an airtight container in the fridge. Toss in peanuts just before serving.

10 August 2014

Tomatoes: Photography, Recipes and Quotes

"Learn to shoot in Manual mode," said Aparna, in her session on Food Photography in our Indian Food Bloggers' Meet. And I have taken it quite seriously. My camera setting has been on Manual for the last few days. 

Today, when a small basketful of tomatoes, plucked from the garden, needed a good wash before stowing them away carefully, I decided to click a few pictures of them. And at 80 Rs a kilo, tomatoes have become precious commodity, a treasure quite deserving their own little photo shoot. I have not edited the photos, thereby trying to preserve the mood and the light they have been shot in, one odd photo has been cropped though. All photos have been shot in natural light, of course :)

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.
Lewis Grizzard

Tried this 2 minute, 2-ingredient pasta sauce

“You're always such a disappointment, Augustus. Couldn't you have at least gotten orange tomatoes?”

This South Indian tomato chutney promises to make your idlis, dosas and even curd-rice taste so much better!

I don't care what anybody says: Nothing is better than a tomato you grow. There's something about it that's different than a tomato you can buy. It's a great thing.
Tom Vilsack

Beautifully imperfect

When you cut that eggplant up and you roast it in the oven and you make the tomato sauce and you put it on top, your soul is in that food, and there's something about that that can never be made by a company that has three million employees.
Mario Batali
Basking in the mellow morning light

Given that tomato prices are sky-rocketing in most parts of India, I know that this is not the best time to be sharing tomato recipes. When there was a similar crazy price hike last year, I wrote a column for Mint on alternatives to tomatoes in Indian cooking and we did come up with quite a list which you may find useful. 

8 August 2014

Inspirations from Indian FoodBloggers' Meet 2014

If you follow even a few Indian foodbloggers on any of the social media platforms, or even know any personally, you would have heard of our event- IFBM2014 that happened on 1st and 2nd August, 2014. The first of it's kind in India, bringing together passionate Indian foodbloggers from around the country (and even outside of it), was something my fellow foodbloggers dreamt about and I was honoured to be a part of the team that executed this event, taking it from a dream to a reality.

The organising team - Photo credit: Jayashree Mudaliar / cookingepisodes.com

Check all the photos from the event on our Facebook Page 

Some bytes from the media -
Pre-event coverage by Mint Lounge
Event coverage by New Indian Express
Event coverage by The Hindu - Metro Plus - Hyderabad

Your's truly gave a talk on Social Media for Foodbloggers, which I will be sharing as a document for anyone who cares to know more about this. Despite the hustle-bustle of being one of the organisers, I managed to gather a lot of inspirations from the sessions and speakers. Being a foodblogger for 8+ years can really get you in a jaded spot for lack of ideas, inspirations and more. Here, I got the push to style food better, shoot outside of your comfort zone in food photography, be more inspired in food writing and of course, the all important SEO tips and tricks. 

 The panel discussion on Beyond Blogging was really enlightening in terms of the the opportunities for foodbloggers wherein we can actually turn into paid professionals in a field of our calling such as writing / photography / styling / recipe development and so on. This was especially useful for the relatively newer bloggers, getting inspiration from the others who have been there-done that. 

It felt wonderful to put a face to the names of so many bloggers we've been interacting with over the years, but never got a chance to meet face to face. And our venue partner, Aloft Bengaluru, Cessna Business Park pulled out all the stops to keep foodbloggers happy with each meal laid out around a beautiful theme and a hospitality like we've never experienced before. Our 24 odd brand partners totally showered the participants with goodies and prizes for contests, which they had a tough time packing and lugging back to their houses. All in all, a superb time full of warm bonding and many learnings was what IFBM2014 was all about and much more.

You can expect to see some better photography and better writing from me thanks to IFBM2014, that's for sure :) Please hold me to that promise!!

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