24 February 2007

Eggless Beet cakes & WBB news

It was meant to be a continuation of this post, but then a few days have passed since then, and I cannot exactly recall what I meant to share with my readers in Early morning stories - Part II. I'm sure there was something good and I'm also sure it will come back to me sometime. When it does, I promise to share it.

What I surely remember and you also may, from my earlier post is this cute mushy pic of two heart shaped mini cake tins filled with an even mushier pink batter. By the way, let me share with you that I'm not an overly mushy person at all. I do resort to tissues in some very sad scenes in the movies and especially the Bollywood movies where the sole motive of some directors is to squeeze the audiences' lachrymal glands, a bit sadistic don't you think so? That's about it.

Hey, which self-respecting girl doesn't like flowers or chocolates and for any lurking guys reading this blog - we don't need a Valentine's day. Any day is good to show us some TLC and we'll forget all about the (marketeer's mania) Valentines. Anyway....these heart-shaped pink-turned brown cakes can show how much you love, to whomever you serve them.

I made them sans eggs because the man in my life was off eggs for some reason. You can surely replace the 'egg replacement' with two eggs and it will be as good, if not better. However, in comparison with the Carrot Cake I baked a while ago with eggs, I felt that the texture of this cake albeit eggless, was extremely spongy. When I removed them from the oven after the baking time, and pressing them down, they were SO soft that I almost thought them to be not-cooked through. A tester confirmed otherwise. So, here is a recipe for the Beet Cake. Not a serious dessert, but great with tea, if you have some friends over, or a weekend brunch kinda menu...which reminds me I must rant a bit more before giving you the recipe.

(Please find a detailed post on WBB update and list of guest hosts here)

This is a much-due announcement about Weekend Breakfast Blogging (WBB ) - the event that I started in an attempt to popularise breakfast among us food-bloggers. A Christmas event had been announced in December and 8 entries were received for the same, which due to festival time constraints and traveling, I couldn't do a round up then. And, as time passed by, I found it very silly (not to mention embarassing) to post a Christmas round up 3 months late. After quite some emails and enquiries I received about the status of the event, I thought it is high times to inform you all about my plans for WBB.

With due fairness to those who submitted me their entries in December, I shall do a round up in my next post and I'd request you to write in to me, if you are interested in guest hosting this. Since it is a monthly event, I'd like to plan six months in advance - so that we can have the hosts and the themes set out.

Please mail me your interest at saffrontrail@gmail.com and we shall jointly decide which month is convenient for each of us.

Recipe for Eggless Beet Cake

Eggless Beet Cakes
Time taken - 40 min - 1 hr
Makes two mini cakes or one 8" cake
Category - Low cal baking, healthy baking
Source - Adapted from this recipe of Taste Goblet


1 cup all purpose / whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar or less if beets are sweet
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp finely grated ginger or ginger powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder + 1 tbsp oil + 2 tbsp warm water OR use 2 eggs

1/3rd cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup finely grated beets or a mix of carrots and beets
1 tsp orange zest (optional)


Preheat oven at 175 C. Grease an 8" tin or two mini cake tins. Keep aside.
In large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients with a fork or sift to air them.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs (If using) or beat together the oil, buttermilk, vanilla extract, grated beets and zest for a minute.
Prepare the egg replacing mix, this will start frothing as soon as you add the warm water to the oil and baking powder. Put this frothing mix into the other wet ingredients. Give it a good stir.
Stir this wet mixture into the dry ingredients until they come together.
Pour into the greased tins and bake for 40 minutes or 25 minutes for mini tins until a tester comes out clean.
Remove and let the cakes cool in their tins for 15 minutes, before unmoulding them.


  • You could do a cream cheese frosting as in the original recipe or eat it as it is over a mug of coffee.
  • Try substituting the beets with grated zucchini, and increasing the quantity of sugar accordingly.

  • This cake is good when you want to sneak in some healthy veggies into your kid's diet. You could also try this using natural sugars like jaggery for a healthier version.


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19 February 2007

Food News: Bhut Jolokia

Bhut Jolokia*

Move over Savina Habanero! The Indian Bhut Jolokia is here!

What is Bhut Jolokia?

Bhut Jolokia in Assamese means 'Ghost Chillies'. The Bhut Jolokia is a naturally occurring hybrid native to the Assam region of northeastern India.

So why is it in news?

This chilli has been officially designated as the World's HOTTEST chilli as per The Guinness Book of Records.

How hot is this chilli?

Heat from chillies is mesaured in Scoville heat units. Bhut Jolokia registers in at
1,001,304 Scoville heat units (SHU).

Is that a lot?

The Red Savina chilli was considered the hottest until now, the heat of which is just half of the Bhut Jolokia at 577,000 SHU. Your average Jalapeno measures in at about 10 000 SHU. Now you know why the Bhut is REALLY hot.

In April last year, Dorset claimed to grow the World's hottest chilli, the Dorset Naga that beat the Savina Habanera by almost 60% higher SHU at 876,000. The Naga is actually sold with a health warning and it is found to have originated in Bangladesh. So now, we have the hottest as well as the second hottest coming from the Indian-subcontinent. If the Dorest Naga is supposed to blow your head off, imagine the power of the Bhut!

Now you tell me why the locals call it the 'GHOST CHILLI'!

Until something HOTTER is discovered, we Indians can feel proud of the fact we are at present the SPICIEST in the world!

*Image courtesy: Alibaba.com

16 February 2007

Early morning stories - Part I

I just realised today that I tend to bake a lot whenever DH is away on his official trips. Though I don't eat high carb food myself, it is good to have some fresh homemade bread or a loaf of cake waiting for him when he is back, my way of showing him that I'm glad that he's back!

The bread making started last night after I came back home late from a conversations over coffee with my girl pal. Before turning in for the night, I mixed up the flour, yeast and other ingredients and left it to rise overnight. The first thing I went to check in the morning was the bowl of dough. It had risen beautifully and it was so silky smooth to touch, just like a baby's bottom! Not sticky at all. After a bit of kneading and shaping, I kept it covered up. Meanwhile my morning cup of ginger tea was ready to be savoured with the newspapers.

Early morning scene from our balcony - The moon is still around and what lies beyond the crowd of buildings is the Arabian sea.

The morning half hour spent sitting in our balcony, with the birds providing the most melodious background music and the sea breeze wafting gently onto us, each reading our favourite sections of the newspaper over steaming hot ginger tea is easily my best time of the day. I love to do this routine even if I'm home alone. This gives a kind of stress-free kick to the day.

I am surely a early bird (though I don't have to rush out to catch worms) and it is a kind of disadvantage at times. Even if we've partied way past midnight, I'm up bright and early. I can't sleep beyond 8 to even save my life and then it is indeed tempting to nag DH to wake up too (Evil grins).

But surely there are other days when I enjoy the quiet and peace of waking up before the rest of the city and ofcourse the sun too. The dark hours of morning have always given me the much needed peace, whether it was while studying for class 12 and while doing MBBS, or even nowadays when I feel a certain feature I am working on, is going nowhere. I set the alarm for 5 am, keep the filled kettle on the stove to make my first cuppa tea and sit down with my laptop.

It has rarely happens that I don't find direction on my work in these early hours. Most of my work, like the conclusion to a piece or the final editing is done then. Besides, it is a great sense of accomplishment, when you finish a much pending chore first thing in the morning.

The Sun setting into the Arabian Sea, an evening view from our 'favourite' spot in the house

The other thing I love doing early morning, is baking. Letting loose those delicious aromas in the house is a perfect way to start the day. What say?

I'll share with you two bakes with beets. The first one that I share here is a yeast milk-bread. I I love beets for the ruby red colour they impart to everything they get into and that's why they get in here too. You can easily substitute the beets in the bread with grated zucchini or keep it just plain like a milk bread.

The second recipe will feature in one of the forthcoming posts.

Recipe for Beet-Milk Bread follows.

Beet and milk yeast bread
Category - Yeast bread
Time taken - Overnight plus some hour and a half
Recipe source - My own


Scant 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast + 1 tsp sugar in 1/4 cup lightly warm water until bubbly
2 cups whole wheat / AP flour plus some more to get a non-sticky dough
2 tbsp yogurt
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup finely grated beets
2 tsp oil


Mix in the salt, sugar and flour in a large bowl. Make a well, pour the yeast mixture, milk, yogurt and grated beets in the well and stir in the flour to make a non-sticky dough. Once the ingredients are bound into a smooth dough with some kneading, use 1 tsp oil to further smoothen the dough. In a well-oiled bowl, place the smooth ball of pink dough. Make deep cross cuts on the top with a sharp knife for easy rising. Cover and keep overnight or for some 2 hours until the dough has risen to over double the volume. In cooler times, it serves well to keep this on your counter overnight for a perfect rise.

After the dough has risen well, remove it onto a lightly floured counter. Punch out all the air by kneading for a few minutes. The dough will be very pliable and not stick to your hands at all. On an inverted baking sheet, flatten the dough with your hands into an oval or a round of over an inch thickness and score some cuts with a sharp knife. Let this prove for atleast an hour covered with cling film during which it will again double up in volume.

In a 200 C preheated oven, place the shaped dough and bake until a hollow sound can be heard by tapping the bottom. My loaf was ready in 15 minutes.

The 'wild' bread - sliced and 'tamed' with a slap of coriander chutney topped with paper thin slices of cucumber

taster's notes

This bread has a thin yet nice crust. Insides are soft from the milk and yogurt mix. The beets add their sweetness and ofcourse the beautiful pinkish brown colour. Pull off a bit, butter and it's the perfect accompaniment to your morning brew.

The other beet recipe coming up soon...

Eggless beet cake!

13 February 2007

As pure as your love...

We've made the sauce for the pasta and two bottles of homemade marinara sauce are sitting neatly at the back in the refrigerator. Also sitting is the exotic mushroom and bell pepper chutney to go on top of the bruschetta. To complete the valentine dinner, try this simple and subtle Cauliflower soup. Sometimes, less is more. Actually most of the times, less is more. I don't like the thought of adding all spices in all dishes, which is what happens in overly experimental Indian cooking.

Finally, it's valentine's tomorrow. My two bits of advice for that special dinner go like this-

Keep it simple (really simple).
Make atleast one dish from the scratch.
Choose recipes where you can make the basics ahead of time and just assemble on the D-day.
Finally, keep it LIGHT. You (or your significant other) should not sleep off while eating (heavy, greasy stuff) before you reach dessert.

My dessert recommendation would be a sinfully delicious yet ready-in-15 minutes Zabaglione. But attempt this dessert drink only if you have an electric whisk. We don't want you slaving around with a hand whisk on this beautiful day. After all it is a day to pamper yourself and feel wonderful. I tried this one after watching it in the Nigella Feasts Delicious Dinners episode and can vouch for the wow-factor of this creamy luscious drink. Ah, it is a crime to call this a drink! If you don't have Proseco, splash your beau's favourite liquor into this, Baileys wont be a bad idea.

If no electric whisk then try this Brandy Chocolate Mousse. After all, what's a Valentine dessert without some liquor in it?

All that the Cauliflower soup is flavoured with, is garlic and dried basil. And a head of fresh cauliflower needs just that. This soup has pure clean flavours which go very well with some strongly spiced dishes to maintain the balance of your meal. Don't be tempted to over spice please, atleast the first time over.

Cauliflower Soup
Makes 4 large bowls
Time taken - around 40 minutes
Category - low fat, soups

3 cups cleaned cauliflower florets with delicate stems
1 cup sliced red onions
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried basil or oregano (whichever you love best)
1 cup milk
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste

special equipment
blender or hand blender

In a heavy pot, heat the oil. Throw in the garlic and sliced onions. Stir them around for a minute or so with a pinch of salt.

Put in the cauliflower florets and let the veggies braise for around 15 minutes on a low flame. Don't let them caramalise if you want a white coloured soup. Keep stirring them around, until the cauliflower is almost cooked.

Remove onto a plate and let it cool before blending into a very fine puree. You can use the cup of milk to aid in fine pureeing.

Pour the puree into a saucepan. Add required quantity of water to achieve desired consistency of soup. Simmer the soup for a few minutes. Season with more salt (if needed) and freshly ground white / black pepper and dried basil / oregano.

Serve hot in pre-heated bowls with some croutons.

What I'm going to cook up for Valentines is a surprise. I obviously don't want DH to read everything off my blog and then tell me - I know what you did last week! Besides, we may be doing the dinner end of the week due to some unexpected travel schedules. I still have time to plan. But you tell me, what's on your dinner table on the beautiful evening! I'm all eyes...

For more ideas, visit one of my favourites, Fat free vegan. There's a round up of Vegetable love!

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11 February 2007

Chutney Exotica with Mushrooms and Bell peppers

Valentine Dinner Tip #2 inside!

Continuing with the valentine dinner ideas, I tried out something different with the regular mushrooms, onions, bell peppers that I had on hand. It happened to be a most wonderful spicy, tingling chutney that you'll find many uses for. There's a lot you can tinker with this recipe. For example, if your valentine loves Italian flavours, feel free to substitute the Indian spices with some dried basil and Italian seasonings.

Mushroom and bell pepper chutney
Category - Spread, chutney, spicy accompaniment
Time taken - Under 45 minutes
Makes - 1 1/2 cups

1 pack mushrooms (Oyster / baby portobello / regular white)
1 large bell pepper - any colour
4 cloves garlic- finely minced (I used two very large cloves)
1 large red onion
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 cup ~ 4 Tbsp white cooking vinegar

For the spice mix
10-12 dried red chillies
1 tbsp coriander seeds
10-12 curry leaves

Broil on a pan on low heat. As soon as you smell the aromas, remove from pan, cool, and grind to a fine powder in spice mill / chutney jar of your mixer.

prep work

Wipe mushrooms clean with wet tissues. Dreseed the bell pepper. Chop the mushrooms, onion and pepper to a fine mince. You need to mill them separately with a cleaver until they are very very finely chopped. If you've already done your share of arm exercises then by all means use a food processor. I for one feel that the act of fine chopping, going tak tak tak on the chopping board is a great stress buster.
You can mix the onions and peppers but keep the mushrooms aside due to varied cooking times.

In a sauce pan, heat the oil. Splutter the cumin and mustard seeds. Saute the garlic first, for about 10 seconds and then put in the finely chopped onions and peppers with a tsp of salt. On a medium to low heat, stir them around so that they cook evenly and do not burn.

After 4-5 minutes of cooking, add the turmeric powder and the mushrooms with another pinch of salt. Keep the flame slightly high so that the moisture released by the mushrooms dries up soon.

After 2-3 minutes, add the spice powder mixed in the vinegar and remaining salt.
On a high flame, stir rapidly all ingredients. This is to let the veggies absorb the spices well. Check for salt at this stage and adjust. Once the moisture is absorbed, mushrooms cooked and the mixture comes together which will take around 5-7 minutes, stir around on a low flame for little more time more taking care that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

The chutney is done. Remove it onto a clean dry plate. Cool and then fill into sterilised jar. Seal with an airtight lid and you are done.

Valentine dinner tip # 2

use it as a spread on slices of a baguette rubbed with a garlic clove. Top it with some grated mozzarella and toast in a hot oven until cheese melts and the bread is a little crisp. Pair it with a glass of your favourite wine, some beautiful jazz music by Ella Fitzgerald and its the perfect start your valentine dinner.

Some interesting V Day reads:

It's romance in the stove.

Modern Love

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7 February 2007

Whole wheat pita bread

Coming up soon - Red bean dip to go with the pita breads!

The satisfaction of seeing some smelly yeast and lifeless flour turn into a bunch of sweet smelling bread is something you must experience to understand. Sometimes, the laziness of getting out of a cozy home into the supermarket can lead to some heart warming things. I'm talking about this bunch of pita bread. It's not that I've not played around with yeast before. While foodies from US and Europe talk of fresh yeast, instant yeast and active dry yeast, I have access only to one kind of yeast - Active dry yeast granules - the brownish coloured beads whose efficiency is highly unpredicatble.

My last baking attempt ended with a smelly creamish slurry in the bowl, no bubbles, no foam, nothing. Probably because the yeast had been sitting in the refrigerator. This time I didn't want to make any mistakes. The yeast was bought fresh (as fresh as a store can sell), stored in a cabinet, used in a water that was just warm and kept in the sun. The result being a really foamy, happy yeast. With the soaring yeast, my anticipations of making some fresh bread soared too. Here are the step by step instructions with pictures to making your own batch of pita bread.

The basic recipe is from my all time favourite baking resource - Baking Sheet and Nicole's reference to Tyler Florence's Food 911 show. I made just half the recipe and used mostly whole wheat flour.

Whole wheat Pita bread

Category - Yeast breads
Time taken - Roughly two hours including rising time
Makes - 6 pieces
Recipe source - Adapted from Baking Sheet, Food Network

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
1/2 cup AP flour
1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1-2 tsp of oil


active yeastActivate the yeast - Slightly warm 3/4 cup water with 1/2 tsp sugar. Put in the yeast granules and keep in the warmest corner of your house. You can keep it in the microwave / oven. If the yeast is active, in 15 minutes, you will see furious activity in the bowl. The top layer will be all foamy and bubbly. The yeast is now ready to get into the flour.

dough before risingIn a large bowl, mix the flours with the salt lightly with a fork. Make a well in the center and pour the yeasty water. Bind the flour into a smooth dough with the poured liquid by kneading with the heel of your palm for some 5 minutes, just like you would for chapati aata.

dough after risingIn a well oiled bowl, place the smooth ball of dough, cover and place in a warm corner for 1-1 1/2 hours until the dough is over double the volume.

balls of dough after sitting for 15 minutesPunch down the dough and place it on a floured surface. Remove all air from the dough with a good bit of kneading. Shape into 6 equal balls. Flatten them slightly and keep them a little away from each other on a greased plate. Keep covered for 15-30 minutes until they rise some more.

Keep a large, heavy bottomed griddle on high flame. With a rolling pin, roll out each ball into ovals, about the thickness of 1/4". Use a bit of AP flour for dusting if needed. On the hot griddle, cook both sides of the bread, until it fluffs up. This will take 3-4 minutes per bread. If you use a large griddle, you will be able to cook 2-3 of them at a time.

Place the cooked breads on a clean kitchen towel. Keep covered so that the breads are soft until use.

The original recipe recommends broiling the rolled out dough for 3-4 minutes until they fluff up in the oven. Since I have the counter top oven, these were done on the griddle and this method worked perfectly too.

Pita bread either toasted into chips or just as it is, is best used to mop up hummus, baba ganouj or a red bean dip. If you want to make this mezze meal for dinner, you'll find recipes for Hummus, Baba Gannoush and Fattoush (Lebanese salad) on Saffron Trail.

The red bean dip is coming up soon, so stay tuned!

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3 February 2007

Homemade Marinara Sauce

(Valentine dinner tip inside!)

Sorry dearies...those weren't gulab jamuns. For those who thought they were tomatoes, you were right. Tomato soup and sauce...close, but no one thought Italian! Marinara sauce it is. Not Prego or Ragu, but homemade wholesome goodness. It is so simple to make that it is almost criminal to buy those 'imported' bottles from Indian supermarkets or from one of the dollar stores that have mushroomed all over the city.

Tomatoes are abundant these days and basil grows in a pot on my window sill. For some more basil, the neighbouring market sells them cheap at 5 Rs for a small bunch. My kitchen never goes without garlic. So what else is there to a good jar of marinara sauce? Nothing actually.

I used to love the show Everyday Italian. Giada's simple style and usage of a variety of vegetables kept me hooked to her show. I modified her recipe to suit the availability of ingredients here. 1 kg of tomatoes yielded two jars of sauce. Kept refrigerated, it is now a breeze to dish out my hubby's favourite dinner of spaghetti in tomato sauce.

2 tbsp olive oil
8-10 cloves of garlic finely milled
1 kg ripe tomatoes ~ 2 Lbs
2 bunches of fresh basil ~1/3 cup finely chopped
1 tsp dried basil (optional)
1 tbsp chilli flakes or cayenne pepper powder
1 tbsp sea salt

2 sterilised glass bottles (I kept the open bottles in a pressure cooker with some water. Switch off the gas after one whistle. When cool, remove and dry)

In a large pot, bring 2-3 L of water to boil. Place the washed tomatoes with cross slits in the water. Bring to a boil. After 5 minutes, switch off the gas. Remove tomatoes from water and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, peel of the tomatoes and quarter them.

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and saute the chopped garlic for a few seconds. Do not brown. Put the chilli flakes / powder in the oil and immediately put in the quartered tomatoes. Season with salt and dried basil. Stir around the contents of the pan until the moisture has evaporated. This will take around 10-15 minutes.

further directions
Spoon the contents into the clean jars and seal. Refrigerate until use. This should keep atleast for a month in the fridge. You could even freeze it as cubes in the ice tray and store the cubes in a ziploc bag for easy use and longer life of the sauce.

Valentine's dinner tip
You can prepare this sauce a day or two in advance for your Valentine's dinner and a simple penne pasta rolled in pre-prepared marinara sauce with a few shavings of a good Parmesan cheese will make an easy yet wonderful main course. For starters, sides and desserts, stay tuned...for the Valentine mood is on, on Saffron Trail!

For the girls who have access to diced, chopped, pureed, crushed or whole canned tomatoes, go ahead and use them. Save your time for better things!
Like dessert, I mean...duh!!

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Guess what's cooking?

Guess what I am making here?

1 February 2007

BPW - Valentines

This one goes out to.......I better shuddup before Meeta kills me. Hahaha

Not a typical valentine card with hearts and all that, but it comes from a place which has a deep connection to the place it is going to...

Check out the rules for BPW here.
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