Football and Brownies

It’s 3 p.m. in the afternoon. The outdoors is at a sunny 22° C. I’m snuggled against a 1984 Argos couch in the living room watching England play against Slovenia, hoping that this time it wouldn’t be as painful as it was the last time.

Earlier today , I had tried….tried desperately to cook myself a decent meal of grilled chicken breasts stuffed with mozarella. It wasn’t as successful as I had wanted it to be. Due to lack of string or toothpicks to hold the damn breasts together.

Somehow, this day is not agreeing with me. My room is currently not very different from a blast furnace, which makes it absolutely impossible to work in it. Last night’s party has contributed to very little sleep and hence it is with difficulty that I’m trying to focus on the goal Dafoe just scored for England. But all is not lost. I am looking forward to the grocery store trip I’m planning to conduct in an hour. And also I’m looking forward to downing a few pieces of ‘luxurious’ brownies (shamelessly nicking the name from Tamami), I whipped up early in the morning. Inspired heavily by Fanny’s recipe.

If I start describing how the brownies turned out, it would probably bleed over to two or more posts. All I can say, is that, they’re luxurious indeed. The dark chocolate leaves a heavenly after-taste in your mouth and the amount of sugar is just right, especially for someone like me (who’s compulsively picky about anything sweet). I did modify the recipe according to my taste, of course. My allergy to following recipes word-to-word kicked in, I suppose.

I replaced plain flour with self-rising flour which makes the brownie slightly less dense, but gorgeously chewy nevertheless. The cocoa powder was Green & Black’s 70% and a tablespoon of instant coffee makes all the difference. It transforms the simple brownie into an indulgent and strangely addictive dessert (the word ‘snack’ here would be a complete understatement). Its sticky to the right texture, dark, handsome, chewy, fluffy and unforgiving. I won’t lie to you….this brownie will make you feel seriously guilty.

I’ll stop writing now and make another trip to my refrigerator.

P.S.: – England – 1, Slovenia – 0, Half-time.

Tart Schmart

I should say this upfront. I’m not a baker. Never have been. Every attempt I’ve made to bake something have always taken disastrous turns. And hence, I steer clear from anything to do that involves mixing eggs, butter, flour and sugar together.

Now that I’ve established this fact, I’m gonna follow up by saying: Whooppee!! I made pie!!

For the last few days, I’ve been ashamed to call myself a blogger…considering that I’ve done nothing but post photographs from my gorgeous *insert orgasmic sound here* vacation in Paris. But, I intend to change that very soon. I’ve drowned myself in more coursework and in learning how to make Parisian Macarons. That’s right. Just when you thought I couldn’t get any cuter.

Over the batches of flat, soggy meringues that came out of my uncontrollable oven, I have wondered whether all French bakers (specializing in macarons) have filthy mouths. Because I sure have developed one, trying to whip up ‘magma-like’ batter.

Its not that my mouth was any un-filthier before, than it is now, but I sure have learnt a few choice words in French.

But with any luck I will succeed…and you will know about it. For now, let the egg whites rest for another day.

My earliest memory of baking is the one when I baked my first cake at the age of 10. A chocolate one too. And it was a disaster.

Given that I don’t have much of a sweet-tooth (not as much as my friends and family), I wanted my cake to taste just right and I doubled the recipe, without doubling the amount of sugar. I still remember that the recipe asked for 220gms of flour and 200gms of sugar. And I put in 200gms of sugar alright, but doubled the flour to 400gms. The cake came out beautifully…out of one of those old aluminum toaster ovens. It was soft, melt-in-your-mouth and was the perfect shade of chocolate. Except that you couldn’t eat it without gagging.

I should have known then, but no…I waited 15 years to finally learn that I’m no baker.

However, cravings have a way of creeping up on you from behind. And then the Universe does everything to make every parameter fall into place. I was greeted by Chocolate & Zucchini when I came back home from the library yesterday. I had umpteen bars of chocolate in the refrigerator (as I always do). I had a full block of unsalted butter, along with a fresh carton of eggs and a can of double cream. And moreover, I also had dessicated coconut that I had bought a few days back — all waiting for me to gather them into a pie!

So I faced the nagging voice at the back of my head that kept murmuring, “You know what happens when you try to bake….”, rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

I’m not trying to be ambitious, so you’ll forgive me for using tiny moulds to make tartlets rather than a full-on pie, aren’t you?

The filling is a dark chocolate ganache (did I just hear someone say, “Playing it safe, bitch?”). And yes, in my eagerness to tuck into the tartlet I burned my tongue on the hot ganache, so, do let it rest to cool, after you’ve filled the tartlets in, and definitely before you plop whipped cream on it (warm ganache = oozy cream for garnish = mess).

Chocolate Espresso Tartlets

To make the crust:

Adopted from Clotilde’s Pâte Sablée recipe

Ingredients:

  • 75gms chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 75gms sugar
  • 150gms plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1-2 tbsp cold milk

Combine the sugar, flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter into the mixture with fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add a tablespoon of milk and blen it in, handling the dough as lightly as possible. The dough should be crumbly but should clump if squeezed in a handful. If not, then add some more milk (teaspoon by teaspoon) and mix in, till it reaches the clumpy stage. Plop a bit of mixture into a greased tartlet mould, and use the back of a spoon or the heels of your hands to press down the dough to make the crust. The dough might feel a bit dry, but that’s normal (at this point, I used quite a bit of milk, so my dough wasn’t as dry as I thought it would be). Cover tightly with film wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or upto a day. The remaining dough (left after you’ve lined as many moulds as you want) can be wrapped tightly in cling film and frozen for later.

With a fork, puncture the base and sides of the chilled crust. The crust will still puff up a bit while baking, but it’ll be fine once it cools down. Alternatively, place ceramic baking balls in it before popping it in the oven.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan-assisted) and bake the tart for 15-20 minutes, till the edges are a nice golden colour. Given that my oven is moody about temperature, I kept a sharp eye on the colour. Cool on a rack.

To make the filling:

Ingredients:

70gms dark chocolate, good quality and chopped into bits (This is enough to fill two tartlets)

80ml double cream

2 tbsp sugar

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules

1 tablespoon water, warm

Whipped cream and/or dessicated coconut to garnish

Place the chopped up chocolate in a bowl, stainless steel preferably. Make espresso out of warm water and coffee. Put the cream in a saucepan to heat. At this point mix in the sugar. Heat the mixture till it just begins to boil, but do not let it boil over!

Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolatee bits and let stand for about minute. Start stirring from the center of the bowl outwards to incorporate the cream and chocolate and mix well till no streaks remain. Stir in the espresso. Pour the ganache into the baked (and cooled) tartlets. Garnish with caramel tuiles, whipped cream or coconut shavings. As you can see….I opted for a smiley face!

Currently Loving…

I’ve stopped hating Mondays. They are no more the I-don’t-want-to-wake-up, tedious mornings of trying to drag yourself into decent clothes and running to the bus-stop. No more dreading Monday-morning chores or work updates.

We, this semester, have only one hour of lecture on Monday…and that too late afternoon. Oh happy day!

Meanwhile, work is on full-throttle….have cooked a bit over the weekend, but today I’m putting up 5 things that I’m loving currently.

1 – The SRB sem room at the school.

2 – This car that I find parked everyday near the Lenton Drive.

3 – Sherry….rich and sweet.

4 – These wedges from Acne (I’m trying to get my hands on a pair of medium-heeld wedges before Easter Break starts)

5 – Spring by Ben*Jammin. I have no clue what the lyrics mean though…

Have a happy week!

The 189

189

Dear Ma,

I’ve reached safely. Sort of sorry that its taken me a whole of three weeks to let you know. This letter follows up with more.

The journey uptil Birmingham was comfortable and I made the mistake of imagining that every thing would go smoothly further on. Its me, Ma…can anything be right?

Nothing much went wrong though, except that I got lost.

Boarded the wrong bus, got off at the wrong bus stop and was almost heading towards the wrong city. I managed. You taught me well.

What I did learn from the incident though, was that bus drivers in the East Midlands are possibly the most helpful people on the face of the planet and people here in general are frightfully polite and impossibly patient. Can you imagine me starting and ending each and every utterable sentence with ‘thank you’s and generously scattering a few ‘please’s in between words? All those years you spent patiently correcting my tongue, has finally paid off. I don’t know how long it’ll be before I burst into colorful linguistics in the middle of a conversation. I’ll let you know when that happens.

I also learnt that its perfectly normal for a strange, balding 45-year old man in a fluorescent uniform to utter the words “Last stop, love!”, with me in his mind.

Rows of sloped-roofed brick houses, a chilly bite in the air, cheerful old ladies in cardigans with checked shopping carts and unmistakable accents.

After three tumultuous weeks, I have finally been able to settle down a wee bit. A wee bit.

Moving into the house had been easy, not without a slight hitch concerning the wrong code to the keyhold. I’m garaged in the 189 on Station Road.

Meeting my housemates was even easier and much more fun, considering the fact that we’re a group of four including a German, a Vietnamese, an Italian and me, of course. We’ve already been out on ‘pub-night’ and Guiness won the day. I’ve already done some cooking with it, by the way…a sumptious lamb stew, that left a characteristic bitter taste in my mouth — I think I still need to get used to the concepts surrounding slow-cooking and roasting. But I did oven up a batch of slightly-burned and juicy breasts of chicken, smothered in olive oil and herbs….they came out with extra-crispy, extra-dark and extra-salty skins. Not sure I’ll be making that anytime soon. I did try Alejandra’s chestnut-bacon-green apple soup too….bursting with flavor. Donata (German, if you please), has started swearing by it.

But what I will be making soon….at least, I’ve started  researching it, if you can believe that…is a pork and ham pie. Its spiffingly marvelous!

The all-covering pastry crust is wonderfully crunchy against the salty pork filling and jelly. And I like it cold. And yes, I’ve added a few inches to my hips too. What? Don’t look at me like that!

Pork and Ham PieThe first thing that grabbed me when I took the bus (the right one) to the University, was the size of the campus. You can walk yourself to death, honestly and you still won’t be able to cover the whole thing. And if you’re in heels (like I was) then don’t even try. Apart from that, Nottingham is downright beautiful. The cite centre reeks of party hubs, fish n chips and a large gong that chimes to the tune of the Big Ben. No doubt, the city’s much quieter than London…and more studious in a way.

We’ve already had a social trip to London, where we trailed behind Prof Lau….and no, I could’nt go down to Battersea, unfortunately (since we were busy loitering around the Bridge for quite a large part of the day).

me_barbican

I’ve made friends from 9 different countries, I’ve already worked with a group of them, I’ve been quick to discover the nearest Hindu temple, have found myself knee deep in post-grad shit (sorry) and haven’t been able to get myself a decent amount of Indian spices. Don’t give me that eye again, I plan to do that very soon.

And yes, you read that right….9 different countries, not many Indian spices in the kitchen yet.

More interestingly, I have come across a seafood pasta dish that I want to tell you about.

Its not utterly special or anything, but the simplicity of it made me wonder why I hadn’t tried it before. It comes from Hana, my surprisingly Vietnamese housemate, and the dish itself made Stefan, the oh-so-Italian, smile and slurp up every last morsel of it.

hana

sphagetti salmon

Spaghetti with stir-fried Salmon and Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 2 salmon fillets cut up into bite-sized chunks (no bones or skins please)
  • Half a cup of chopped portobello mushrooms (I prefer them quartered for a more robust flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 2 smallish spring onions, chopped finely
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, smashed
  • Spaghetti – 2 portions (the size of these may vary according to who would be eating)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil to fry
  • Chopped parsley to garnish with

How-to:

  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, and save 2 tablespoons of the starch water the paste boils in, before draining teh rest of.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and fry till translucent and soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and saute for three minutes on medium heat, before adding in the salmon and soy sauce.
  • Cook the salmon till the pices start losing the pink color. We want light pink though, not white.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste and pour in the starchy water along with the drained pasta. Toss everything toether for a minute.
  • Serve with sprinkles of parsley on top.

salmon spaghetti

I hope you and Dad enjoy this one. The salmon melts in your mouth really…oh, the Scottish salmon, rather. 🙂

I’ll leave you now to get back to my daily run to the Library.

Lots of love,

Amrita

P.S.:- Shreya’s invited me to Milan for Christmas and now I don’t know whether I’ll be spending it there or at Cardiff! Will let you know!

Madness…and frozen yogurt

offer letter

Moving.

This has now officially (and permanently) become my status.

I should really rename this blog Messy Brainwaves That Keep Moving.

Its not really enough that I left home at 18 years of age to attend graduate school in Baroda, shuttling between that sleepy city and my hometown. Five years on, it wasn’t enough when, looking for work with a decent enough pay to allow weekend eat-outs and shopping, I trudged to Mumbai dragging my tired bags along.

Now, Nottingham is standing on the edge of the parapet yelling for me. The offer letter has arrived for my post-graduation degree and I’m currently extremely busy freaking out.

Part of me is nervous out off my existence, because I don’t know what to expect. Part of me is sad, because I’m leaving everything I know and love for a whole year at least. Part of me is constantly confused and on the edge with handling formalities and arrangements. And the final part is just plain excited at the prospect of poking my head through to Europe!

Where will I stay? Its already late. The University halls are all booked. I have no place to stay. I don’t know when I’ll get there considering the fact that I haven’t booked anything that resembles an air ticket. The initial offer letter had the wrong subject on it. The new one hasn’t been dispatched yet. I haven’t registered with the University, mostly because I have to be present IN PERSON to register myself as a student. I don’t have any syllabus or class details. I still have to pack. I still have to go grab myself a new laptop. I’m in a mess and technically homeless. I’ve lived in three different cities since mid 2008 and now I would have to move my arse (see how English I’ve become already) off to a whole other country. And all I’m concerned about is how high a cloud I would be on, eating my way through it!

I’ve already started on a list. My query on black puds on Chow has met with passionate responses from UK’s proud patriots.

And all this even while I’m still nine and half hours of flight time away from my destination. The amount of sleep I lost over my broken heart and Thesis is nothing compared to the amount of sleep I’m losing now.

Every fear and piece of stress has now blended themselves together with the fact that my brother is also on the verge of flying off to Georgia, USA for his pilot’s license. People around the house keep tripping over boxy luggage, yells over the phone on international calls, trying very hard to hold decent conversations with the Brits, lists are growing longer by the minute, the VISA people might as well have put up permanent residence in our apartment, piles of winter clothes dot every room.

Out of all the madness, I will try hard to chill with frozen yogurt.

Brown Butter Caramel Ice-Cream

I need frozen yogurt. I would settle for a rich and creamy ice cream any day, if it didn’t come with a side of guilt. Fro-yo on the other hand, goes easy on me. And my skinny jeans, which is a good thing considering the fact that I bought two pairs of those yesterday.

And then I go and add copious amounts of butter and sugar to natural homemade yogurt. Homemade, because its always been that way. Me, my mother before me and my grandmother before her — we always, always, (always) have an over-sized bowl of curd resting overnight under a damp cloth, quite calmly at one dark corner of our kitchen counters.

The brown butter was a first for me, but thanks to Techamuanvivit, that problem was dealt with. At this point, I should remind my readers that I’m a certified harbinger of burnt caramel, burnt to the point of no return. But I’m doing better nowadays, really.

ice cream

Brown Butter Caramel Frozen Yogurt
Ingredients:
  • Half a cup of unsalted butter
  • Two cups of Greek yogurt (of if you prefer, homemade yogurt, strained through two layers of cheesecloth and hung for two hours)
  • 1 1/2 cups of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoons of water
  • A pinch of salt

How-to:

  • Heat a pan and add the butter. Cook on low heat (no stirring please) till the butter melts. It will bubble up seriously as it cooks. Shake and swirl a few times to prevent hot spots. Cook till it turns a golden brown…any further and you’ll end up burning it. Brown butter needs you to have a sharp eye.
  • Pour it out into a cool glass bowl.
  • Put the pan back on heat and add the sugar with the water. Turn up the heat and swirl the sugar around (stirring would only make the sugar crystallize again). Cook till the caramel takes up a slightly thick consistency.
  • Stir the caramel slowly into the butter and let the mixture cool for 3-5 minutes before folding it into the yogurt (in a separate bowl) along with a pinch of salt. Pour the mixture into a shallow freeze-proof box with a cover and freeze for 4 hours.
  • After four hours, break up the ice crystals with a fork and blitz them in a blender till smooth. Pour back into the container and freeze for another 4 hours.
  • Scoop, dunk and nurse a big bowl of it as soon as you’re ready…..or crazy.