Sunday, February 17, 2013

Movie review: Silver Linings Playbook

This Valentine's day, me and hubs went out to catch the screening of Silver Linings Playbook, a romantic comedy directed by David O. Russel. Any movie that generates Oscar buzz generally piques our interest and I was surprised to learn that Silver Linings Playbook, a movie belonging to the genre of romantic comedies, scored a nomination in each of the so-called "Big Five" Academy Award categories. If you look back in history, rarely has a popcorn-munching, box-office courting romcom managed to grab major critical accolades as opposed to intense subject matter dealing with crime, politics, patriotism, psychology, war, history, biographical accounts or fantasy. I seated myself in the crowded theater not knowing what to expect and after the runtime of about 120 minutes, as the lights in the cinema went back on, I couldn't help but musing with a grin as to how perfect this movie was for the occasion!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day Special: Vanilla-Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This post is dedicated to those who I love dearly - my hubby, my family, my friends and my beloved pet dog Polo who I lost a few days ago. I have been blessed to have all of you in my life. 

Recently I was super-inspired by an spectacular looking cake I saw in a blog that I follow regularly. When I say inspired, I mean the kind of inspiration that burrows deep into your brain and doesn't let you rest until you make something of it. The cake was a 7-layered rainbow cake from the blog Look Whose Cooking Too. I have always wanted to make a layered cake (coz they look so fancy-schmancy and all) but have been too chicken to give it a go. Truth be told, for all the baking that I do, I have never even frosted a cake before! Looking back, I always seem to set my baking targets low and uncomplicated....tee-hee. When I informed my husband of my designs to make a layered cake, he wondered aloud (with a glint in his eye) as to what it would be like if each layer tasted different from the other. I  gave it some thought and knew immediately that I was not going to make a 7-layered cake with each layer of different flavor (I don't have that much of patience and nor do I know of 7 completely different flavors that complement each other!). 

The cake recipe that I was to follow indicated the batter would yield either 7 six-inch cakes or 3 eight-inch cakes. So I thought this Valentine's day, why not start simple by attempting 3 layers first. One of my hubby's favorite flavor is chocolate and mine is coffee so it didn't take much brainpower to figure out my 3 layers - vanilla, coffee and chocolate. Coffee and chocolate marry well together and well, vanilla goes with everything right? Not to mention, the trio create a natural color gradient so I figured it could work. Thus, with great trepidation I decided to bake my very first layered cake. I adapted the recipe of the 7-layered cake to make 3 layers and flavored the cakes as I saw fit.

It was the last day of the Chinese New Year hols, just two days away from Valentine's day and I happened to be at home with no plans just savoring the nice long break from work. I started with my cake preparations in the morning at a sloth-like pace, taking leisurely breaks in between for brunch, attending to my household chores and yapping on the phone with mum. I finished frosting the cake by late afternoon so my crawling pace made the whole process relatively stress-free. In fact, I think I even managed to have fun! The husband remarked a few times that he wanted to frost the cake but after all that hard work, I wasn't going to let him run away with the all important end credits! After managing to shoo him away, I frosted a cake for the first time in my life. I don't have a cake stand and I discovered that my spatula (not an offset spatula) was less than ideal for frosting so the finish of the cake was shoddy I guess but in the end, everything was worth it when I cut into the cake and saw my 3 beautiful layers intact! The cake tasted great and I was delighted with the final outcome. 

So without much further is the recipe. I have indicated the recipe level as easy because I think if a novice like me could pull it off sans the proper tools then anyone could!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Recipe of the month: Idli-Sambar

I am going to open this post with a traditional Namaskara because this recipe of the month is a humble tribute to my South Indian roots. 

Idli is a steamed rice and lentil cake that is a traditional and popular breakfast item of South Indian origin. It is an integral part of any South Indian household. I cannot recount the number of times I've awoken to a breakfast of piping hot idlis with spicy sambar and fresh green chutney. But to be completely honest, during my childhood, I was never overtly fond of idlis. I would always prefer dosas (of any kind) to idlis. I sheepishly think about all those times my mum chided me for kicking up a fuss during breakfast over having to eat them. But I started looking at idlis differently ever since my paternal grandmother suggested I eat them with a mixture of chutney pudi (spiced chutney powder) and coconut oil. Although this was a long time ago, I remember clearly that we were traveling from one city to another by car and she had packed some idlis to eat on the way. I was surprised at how much I liked the combination. Even now, chutney pudi has to be one of the sides that I eat with idlis because I love it and it makes me think of my dear doddamma :) Post-marriage, when I learned to make them myself and began trying out different side dishes to go along with it, I've developed a new found appreciation for idlis. 

Most idli recipes have rice in them but I have always used idli rava. That is how my family makes idlis and that is the only way I have learned to make them. Apparently my Dad (who is an idli aficionado of sorts) likes his idlis made that way. I feel that the use of idli rava speeds up the process considerably, is much easier to handle and makes for great tasting idlis so I'm sticking with it! Not to mention the fact that I don't own a idli/dosa grinder so my trusty blender will feel ever so grateful for not having the extra work of grinding all that rice!
Update: I do own a idli/dosa grinder now and the step-by-step preparation photos are a latest addition to this post :)

Here is my recipe. If you have never made idlis before, you should really give it a go. Don't get intimidated by the time involved because the actual procedure is shockingly simple. Also since idlis can be made without a drop of butter or ghee, these healthy little steamed cakes are not only suitable for vegetarians but also for vegans.