Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Alton Brown's Fruit cake -- for Christmas and New Year

This is my last post for 2013. As per the "last-post-of-the-year" norm, this should be a post looking back, evaluating the days past and making resolutions for the coming year. But I will do none of that.I don't take stock and no longer make resolutions at the start of a new year. All I do is hang a fresh new calendar on my wall.

As I grow in age I have realized that I no longer bound my life by the beginning and end of a single year. The end and beginning are fluid with days merely spilling into each other. As months, days and hours, march in to fill the empty year ahead, I know that some days will follow the same pattern as in the past years, some a little worse, many a little better and only a few with a streak of rebel in them. Those are the ones that will be different. And for both you and me I wish that those days bloom into something good to remember them by.

Like this fruitcake which I had made for Christmas and then again not for Christmas. Sweet, rich, and filled with plump drunken fruits. The kind you look back on the next year and say "Oh, remember that fruit cake last year, the Alton Brown Fruit Cake ? It was so good". May most of your days in the coming year be just like that. Sweet, rich, and good enough to fondly look back at. And if you want to fill them with drunken fruits, so be it.

Most of you have rich, moist, raisin and nuts studded memories of the Christmas cake. At least from the way, everyone on my FB timeline waxed nostalgic about the Fruit Cake, it looks like it was a family tradition for many.

Not so in my home though. I mean we did have a cake on Christmas for how can you celebrate a birthday without a cake. But my mother did not soak dry fruits in rum for weeks to make that cake. Actually she did not even make that cake. We lived in the suburbs and on most winter holidays we visited my grandparents who lived in North Calcutta. Nahoum, the famous New Market bakery, was not  known to them and Flury's was a long distance away.

So on 25th December, my grandfather, who was a believer in everything from Poush Sankranti to Christmas, that is everything that involved good food and cheer, would get us a cake from the local bajaar. In those crisp Christmas mornings, the best kind of mornings in Kolkata, the air would be a delicious cold and the egg yolk watery sun, just the right kind of warm. A hand-knit full sweater would be too warm and prickly but had to be worn anyway. My Mother or grandmother would have knit it sometime in November, carefully selecting patterns of knits and purls from a magazine called Manorama and then spending many a afternoon in the comforting sound of clickety-clack of the needles, creating cardigans and turtlenecks right in time for December.I was lucky enough that my Mother didn't force me to wear a monkey cap or wrapped a scarf around my throat .We were used to more severe winters where we lived and so she took winter in Kolkata much less seriously than most Bengalis did.

I loved going to that local bajaar with my grandfather when I was the same age as my youngest. Later however, I would feel embarrassed as my grandfather had the tendency to stop each and every person there and strike up a conversation, every time mentioning my visit and my report card which he thought was stellar.

On Christmas day, however, the mundane bajaar donned a festive look.People in bright colorful woolens spilled from its various alley ways and the air smelled of  sweet "notun gur" -- date palm jaggery. The local bakeries who supplied the daily loaves of bread and buns dressed up in festive buntings. Yellow, red and green cellophane wrapped pyramids bedazzled their front counter. Wrapped in those colored cellophanes were deep brown fruit cakes, dense and speckled with tutti-frutties, currants and nuts. They weren't as rich or moist as the best and I didn't really like them a lot. I liked the fluffy Britannia cakes much more. But those store bought, yellow cellophane wrapped, brown fruit cakes were a Christmas tradition and my grandfather always brought one home.

Strangely those fruitcakes never made much of an impression on me. I remember the cellophane wrapping of the cake more vividly than the taste of the cake itself.

Naturally in all these years I have never really craved a Christmas Fruit cake. This year, however I remembered that dense taste on my tongue, the sweetness of raisins, the crunch of red-green tutti frutties. That is how memory plays its tricks as one grows older. The taste was so strong that I had no choice but to bake myself a fruit cake. But before that I needed to find a recipe. An easy one. For as you know any baking recipe that says "beat butter and sugar" or "separate egg white", numbs my brain and makes my heart grow cold.

So when I found Alton Brown's recipe for Fruit Cake, I looked no further. Well I watched the video and read the reviews on that cake, but that's it. No further than that. Alton Brown is the husband-man's cooking guru and after the great success he had with his Thanksgiving Turkey following Brown Saheb's recipe, I knew that even if the  cake turned out less than right, it would all be devoured just in the name of Mr.Brown.

The cake in fact turned out to be delicious. Just like I think fruit cakes should be.Sweet, rich, and filled with plump drunken fruits.

Since the original recipe and video are good enough, I will not re-write the recipe again. However I took many pics so I will share a photo tutorial of the cake as we made it at home.

The most important part of this cake is the dry fruits. Raisins, Currants, Cranberries, Cherries, Blueberries, Apricot, Candied ginger -- all of which lends its own special taste to the cake

4 Cups of dry fruits is needed in all. I did not have the dry blueberries and so used 1 cup of chopped apricot

Freshly ground spices work better and instead of a tsp of dry ginger powder I used 1 tsp grated ginger

Remember to keep a tray of warm water in the lower rack of the oven. That keeps the cake moist. The cake will bake for an hour. Do not, and I repeat, do not open the oven in between. After an hour do the toothpick test i.e. insert a clean toothpick in the cake and see if it comes out clean. If it does not come out clean, leave the cake in the oven for 5 -10 more minutes until done.

Once the cake is done, take it out of the oven and cool on a wire rack. Then spritz or baste the cake with brandy and keep in an air-tight container. Every three days take it out and spritz with brandy to keep it moist. The cake tastes better as it ages.

Now honestly it is very hard to keep your hands off this cake for two weeks, the recommended time for aging.I suggest you eat a thin slice every time your spritz it. That will keep you in good spirits and make you feel far better. With a slice of it by your side, you will forget all your resolutions.

Happy New year to all of You See you again on the other side.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chicken Keema in Mint-Coriander Paste

Keema with Mint and Coriander
I have had this recipe in my draft for more than two months now. Almost since summer when the sun was warm and the backyard bereft of snow. For the last two months, I have been thinking of sharing it with you. It deserves sharing for it is really good and it has found its way in our home because someone I barely know had shared it with me.

But all these days I have had nothing to say fitting with the recipe. Seriously I have to learn to post without going "yadda yadda yadda" every time.

Anyway, what with winter and the first snow of the season, there is something to chat about today.

With the early morning call from the school announcing a snow day today, I had an inkling of how the day would roll out and fill up the 14 hours which lay ahead; hours bare of any per-destined activity or schedule or gathering. I had a hunch that the girls might want to make a snowman or at least a snow angel or if nothing have a snow ball fight. I usually stay far from such activities as snow is definitely not on my favorite list and I would much rather stay inside and click pictures than wear mittens and jackets and indulge in making snowmen.

As predicted, they started on that chant way before lunch, soon after we had the upma I made. And finally when the snow had trickled down, they went out on the deck to make a snow man. The girls showed a lot of interest initially as is their wont but eventually the grunt work was done all by Dad. The snowman was made toothless and looked kind of cute, but then with a brilliant stroke of creativity, the husband-man decided to make its teeth out of dried amla and boom it became a snow goon. Or a "deranged mutant killer monster snow goon" as Calvin would have said.

We also put up the Christmas Tree, a fake affair which looks gorgeous when the lights and shiny trinkets are on. And then the husband-man fried crispy pakoras which we gulped down with tea and with friends who could drop by once the roads were clear.

Now though technically I am not a big fan of cold winter, there is something about staying home on winter evenings that I enjoy.

A cup of tea.

The flicker of flames in the fireplace.

The Christmas tree.

The special movies on for Christmas.

It seems like a time to put away your worries and dust away the mundane to put up shiny baubles and bask in small pleasures of glittery tchotchke.

And to share one's favorite recipe for a Keema made with Mint Coriander paste. A recipe that was inspired by Rini's (who blogs on non-food topics ) recipe in a Facebook Group many months ago. A recipe whose taste lingers on though I last made it about a month ago. Peppery with a hint of mint and fresh coriander. A spicy after note. A silent thank you for people who are generous enough to share their recipes and make your dinner that much special.

That is the spirit of the season.

Keema in a Mint Coriander Paste

Start off with 2lb of Chicken keema.  You can of course use lamb/mutton keema and the result will be better but I went with the leaner option.

Put the keema in a bowl. To it add
1/4th cup of thick yogurt
1 tbsp loosley packed Cumin powder
1 tbsp loosley packed Coriander powder
1 tsp Kashmiri Mirch
salt to taste
Mix well and keep aside for an hour.

Meanwhile make the mint-coriander paste:
Add the following to the blender jar and make a smooth paste
Coriander Leaves -- 1 cup chopped
Mint leaves -- 1/2 cup chopped (If you don't have fresh, use the dried mint but use only 2 tbsp)
Garlic -- 4 fat clove
Ginger -- 1" peeled and chopped
Hot Indian green chilli -- 4
Whole Black Peppercorns -- 1 tbsp
This greenish paste can be stored for future use and as base for many other curries.

Now start making the Keema Curry

Heat 2tsp of Vegetable oil in a frying pan/kadhai. Start with a frying pan or kadhai with a wide base.

Fry about 3 tbsp of cashew and 1 tbsp of golden raisins until the cashew turns brown. Remove and keep aside.

To the same pan, now add 2 tbsp of Mustard Oil

When the Oil is sufficiently hot, temper the oil with
2 Tej Patta
one 2" stick of cinnamon
2 Big Black Cardamom lightly bruised

To the flavored oil add
1 medium sized onion thinly sliced

Fry the onion until they are soft and light brown and then follow with
2tsp of garlic paste.

Add about 1 tbsp of Tomato paste(substitute with Ketchup) and the green paste that you have made. At medium heat, fry the masala till oil separetes.

Now add the keema. 
Sprinkle on it about 1/2 tbsp of Bhaja Masla. You can also use Garam masala or some Meat masala but this particular Bhaja Masla gives a very nice taste.

Keep stirring the keema, breaking up any lumps until the keema loses its raw color. The keema will also release water, keep on frying until the water dries up and the keema is cooked and crumbled. Once the keema is done, taste and adjust for spices.

In a separate pan, heat some more mustard oil, say 2tsp. When the oil is hot, add 1 tbsp of black pepper powder. Add this pepper flavored oil to the keema in the other pan.

Now add about 1/2 cup of warm water for gravy, salt to taste and let the gravy simmer for 5 minutes at low heat.

Add the fried kaju-kismish to the keema and mix well. Add some more chpped mint. Switch off heat and cover the fry pan.Let it sit for half an hour before serving.