Saturday, May 28, 2016

Summer Special: Tropical Mango Vanilla Cupcakes

Make way for the king of fruits! The matchless, marvellous, magnificent MANGO is here!

Like the saying goes - better late than never! I had to feature a recipe with mango in it....I just HAD to. For starters, I love mangoes. There is something about this bright sweet juicy fruit that makes me go weak in the knees. Second, mangoes are seasonal, so for us people living in the tropics, there is a limited window of time where we can enjoy them at the peak of their flavour before the good ones start dwindling from grocery store shelves. Third, there is only one other recipe on my blog that features mango. Only ONE! I just had to fix that 

In India, different varieties of mangoes are available during summer but I have always been partial to the alphonso mango. It is widely considered to be among the most superior varieties of the fruit in terms of sweetness, richness and flavour. Unlike most other mangoes, alphonso mangoes have a rich, tender and creamy texture devoid of fibres, which makes it extremely easy to eat and dangerously addictive!

Every year, during mango season, me and my family would gorge on these luscious fruits. And it wasn't enough that we savoured the fruit in its raw natural form. In either a subtle or obvious way, mangoes would make its way into salads, chutneys, milkshakes/smoothies, juice, ice-cream, desserts and rasayana (a sweet accompaniment made with mango and coconut milk) be it at home, at restaurants or social gatherings.

One can never have enough of mangoes!

I had been hassling my husband to go to Little India in Singapore and buy some Indian mangoes. My little ones had never tasted them before and I was very keen to introduce it to them. Once I got my hands on a sizeable stash of alphonso mangoes, I was determined to keep aside one or two to whip up a mangolicious dessert. I almost didn't end up doing it because one of my girls demonstrated such an affinity to the fruit (the other one still cannot get over her banana craze) that I didn't think I could reserve a single one! But I did manage to sneak one away from her prying eyes and what you see in this post is the result of it!

This is a very good and super easy recipe. I tweaked the original recipe slightly and I now ostentatiously declare it is near perfect. I say 'near' because the buttercream is still a bit too sweet for my liking but I couldn't reduce the sweetness without compromising on the consistency. This comes under the category of American buttercream and therefore does tend to be sweeter than say an Italian meringue buttercream or Swiss meringue buttercream. That said, these vanilla cupcakes are rich, soft and moist. The gorgeous orange-hued buttercream tastes sweet and tangy, and is bursting with fragrant mango flavor. The mango I used in this recipe was ripe and sweet but it also had a teeny bit of tartness which actually worked really well to offset the intense sweetness of the buttercream.

I had made these cupcakes as a post-dinner treat while entertaining guests and they were unanimously well-received. I hardly have experience with cupcake decorating but I did the best I could. If you can improve on it, please do and give me some pointers too. Haha! I have a long way to go in the area of cake decorating but I'll (hopefully) get there someday! I wish I could have taken better photographs of the cupcakes but on that day, I was in such a tearing hurry to get most of the cooking done (in the midst of other chores and attending to my kids incessant needs) that I could spare hardly 5 minutes for it. That explains the insipid imagery in this post!

Anyway, my time-management and photography woes aside, do try these cupcakes especially if you are a mango-lover like me. It is the perfect way to celebrate summer in style! 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pineapple Tarts - A guest post for 'like a lavendeR'

It has been a while since I did a guest post! Although I'm not as nervous this time round, I'm equally thrilled. This was something that I had anticipated so it gave me considerable time to think about what I wanted to do. 

Reshma, who blogs at 'like a lavendeR' is part of my extended family (my cousin's wife). If you have been following my blog, you would know that she did a guest post on German Christmas Markets for me last year. A multifaceted bundle of creativity, she blogs about cooking, travel, DIY projects, home decor and the many things that interest her. I especially love her travel posts which feature visually stunning locations. Thanks to her, my bucket list of must-see places keeps growing! 

This month, Reshma and her family are relocating to India after having spent the last few years in Germany. They decided to wrap up the home they created in a foreign land and move back to their hometown to be amidst family and friends who are eagerly awaiting their return. So while she is busy unpacking, sorting and dealing with the mountain of tasks I'm sure she has to tackle, I thought I’ll make myself useful and cook something uniquely Singaporean for her blog. That way her blog doesn't go quiet too long and I can offer a culinary contribution from my experience of living in Singapore that may appeal to her readers. 

Hey, that's what family is for right? 

This is a two-part special featuring popular local dishes from Singapore with one sweet dish presented to you today and the other savoury dish coming up in the next few weeks. 

So to check out the first recipe for these phenomenal Pineapple Tarts, a local speciality in this part of the world, please head over to Reshma’s space. Oh and while you are there, take a good look around and you will be in store for a treat! 

Reshma, thanks again for this wonderful opportunity.

This is me signing off! 


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tulipmania Rediscovered at Gardens by the Bay

At long last! I finally made it to the Tulip festival at Gardens by the Bay. Every year I get wind of this floral extravaganza only after the festival wraps up and I spend the next few days whining about it. Not this siree! Actually the only reason I found out about it was an unexpected glance at the notice board of our condo (which I never do normally) that intimated residents of the tulip festival with tickets on sale. Three cheers to the power of observation!

Anyway, let me clue you in on this festival. Tulipmania is a slice of Netherlands in Singapore. Even the temperature is set to conditions conducive to these spring-growing perennials. These flowers are delicate, and they can last up to eight to 12 days after blooming. This year's edition is the fourth and is said to feature altogether 110,000 tulips, with 60 varieties. A highlight is the Lily Tulip variety, a new addition to the exhibition.

While the Flower Dome in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay isn’t remotely the same as the Netherlands’ Keukenhof gardens, it is probably the closest you’ll get to being surrounded by beautiful tulips in full bloom, while ensconced in cool temperatures, without flying to Europe. Until I can cross the latter off my bucket list, the Singapore tulip display will have to do!

On a sunny weekday afternoon, we drove down to the Gardens with the kids to cure my tulipmania. Since we had purchased the tickets online and taken a print out at home, we were  able to bypass the serpentine queue at the ticket counter.

As with all seasonal events at Flower Dome, there are usually three display areas: At the entrance, the main foyer and the exit.

The entrance had a few varieties of colorful tulips. It wasn't a big fancy display as I expected though. It catches your attention but doesn't knock your socks off.

History of Tulips

While it is often associated with the Netherlands, tulips are believed to have originated from Central Asia and brought to Turkey by nomadic tribes. The name “tulip” was derived from the shape of the flower that resembled the turban (dulbend or tulband) of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, now known as Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire adored the flower. It was a symbol of life and fertility, and is featured widely in paintings, songs and poems.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Baker's Corner: Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Happy Mother's Day!

Youth fades; love dwindles
the leaves of friendship wither
A mother's unconditional love, outlives them all....

To all you beautiful mommies out is a day to be honored for all the hard (and often unnoticed) work that you do. To acknowledge the physical, emotional, mental, educational and spiritual effort that it takes to be a nurturing mom. Being a mother is a high calling so even when you feel like you are invisible, remember that you are building something far more amazing that can ever be imagined. Thank you for all you do! Have a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious day! And DEMAND to be pampered (if that wasn't already on the agenda!) 

And now moving on to my recipe post....

Pound cake is the undisputed queen of all naked cakes. Nothing beats the rich, buttery flavor of a homemade pound cake. Even though it is a simple, no-frills, unassuming cake, the dense, velvety texture, moist crumb and pure butter flavor make it so alluring that, it can easily outrank many a sophisticated dressed up cake. Don't you agree? 

To be completely honest with you, my baking history doesn't boast of many a pound cake. I can probably only recount two instances in the distant past where I have baked a pound cake. I used to buy the Sara Lee brand of vanilla or coffee flavoured pound cake and a tub of vanilla bean ice-cream and stash them in the freezer as an emergency backup for unexpected guests. Haha!

Recently, I felt like baking something nice to take over to a friend's place as a homemade baby shower gift. I felt like I couldn't go wrong with a classic pound cake. Although a bit old-school, this cake is always in style and a universal favourite. This recipe deviates slightly from the classic route in that it has cream cheese (which makes the cake even richer). I mean, HELLO?

A pound cake looks deceptively simple but you can very easily go wrong with it. There are a few steps that you can follow to make sure you end up with a pound cake that is light and buttery with a fine textured, moist and even crumb rather than a heavy, dry piece of bread masquerading as cake (ugh!).

What you can (and should) do:
1. Measuring the ingredients is KEY. If you are one of those people who like to randomly toss things into a bowl while baking, be forewarned that you can never get away with that when it comes to pound cake. The dry ingredients need to be sifted first and then measured using a standard dry measuring cup (make sure you level the flour with a spatula)
2. Since the ingredients used in pound cake are so simple, you would do well to use good quality butter and vanilla extract
3. The butter and sugar need to creamed very well for at least 5 minutes. Preferably use the paddle attachment of your mixer and use a medium speed.
4. The butter, eggs and any other dairy you are using MUST be at room temperature
5. The dry ingredients need to be gently folded in batches ensuring that you do not deflate the mixture
6. Care needs to be taken that this cake is not overbaked (you need to be sure of your oven settings)
7. And finally, the cake needs to cool partially in the tin but then needs to be taken out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Not at all intimidating right?!

Hey, don't mind me....just take a stab at it okay? All you have to do is pay a little more attention while following the instructions. I promise!

I am so happy I tried this recipe. This one is going to be a keeper! If you are one of those people who have had trouble with pound cake in the past then I suggest you give this one a chance. The ingredients are basic (most of them pantry staples), the instructions clear and simple and the end result is a rich, moist, fragrant cake with just the right amount of sweetness. I'm sold on it and I think you will be too!

A perfectly executed pound cake is a triumph, the memory of which will be etched in your mind for a long time to come  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Recipe of the month: Paneer Paratha (Cottage Cheese Stuffed Flatbreads)

In a previous aloo paratha post, I have highlighted how making parathas doesn't come naturally to me. Being South Indian, parathas weren't among the staple fare at home so most of my experience with them came from eating at restaurants and dhabas. Sure, my mum did make them occasionally and those would constitute "special" items which me and my siblings would look forward to eagerly. But acquiring any kind of skills or tips/tricks that were essential to making good stuffed parathas was never a part of my early culinary education.

I love all kinds of stuffed parathas. The best thing about them for me (aside from the obvious taste factor) is that a side dish is not required. Give the parathas a good lashing of ghee (yes lashing!), serve with some plain yoghurt, a smidgen of pickle on the side and you have a done deal.

I think over the years, after struggles of every kind, I've gotten infinitely better at making stuffed parathas. I make them regularly for my little ones too and that has also helped me better my technique. From personal experience, I find that using good quality whole wheat flour, adding a little ghee or oil to the dough, kneading the dough with warm water, letting the dough rest, ensuring that the stuffing contains as less moisture as possible and using a gentle pressure while rolling out the parathas are key aspects in paratha-making. I still find it a challenge to get the shape perfectly round but that doesn't bother me anymore. As long as they taste good, I'm good! While aloo parathas still rule the roost and rajma cheese parathas make an appearance every now and then, I seldom try other varieties. I have only vague recollections of making gobi parathas, mixed vegetable parathas and peas parathas in the past. Note to self: MUST broaden paratha repertoire!

I can't even remember the last time I made paneer parathas. It certainly has been a while. I didn't even recall which recipe I had consulted previously. The only thing I recall was that ajwain and paneer go well together in parathas (my mum uses this combo). I didn't follow any particular recipe and just improvised as I went and ended up with this version. It turned out good enough to merit a feature on the blog and so without further ado, here it is