Sunday, July 10, 2011

Catching Up Part IV: Paris!

AB at work
     The last catch up! The last real (pasta sauces just don't seem to count as real to me) recipe to tell from France! What was it? Maybe it's a little surprising. It's neither so French nor so refined sounding as clafoutis. It is cupcakes.


     Why was I making cupcakes in France? Well, this time we didn't cook on my whim but someone else's. My family friend AB, with whom I stayed while undergoing fruitless visits to the US Embassy in Paris, really wanted to make cupcakes. And her grandparents from India were visiting, and they are vegetarian, so these had to be Eggless cupcakes. And they were chocolate cupcakes. Just cause. Also, I really liked the cocoa box.

     The cupcakes couldn't have been easier to make. Just stir everything together, pour into molds, and bake. It is always fun to bake with a fellow Disney music lover - we cooked to the soundtracks of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and the Little Mermaid, yay! Sometimes, I do not feel twenty years old. Actually, that's most of the time, but we can save my....fourth of a life? crises for later. I would like to tell you about eggless cupcakes. They are denser than usual cupcakes, and these were less sweet. I quite liked them, as an afternoon snack with tea. If you have someone eggless to please, try them out! And I will be back again soon.

Eggless Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from A Site I Cannot Find (will update if find)

1 1/2 cups Flour 
1 cup Powdered Sugar
6 tsp Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 cup Milk 
1 tsp White Vinegar
1 tsp Vanilla 
3 tsp Oil 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, and baking soda. Stir in the milk, white vinegar, vanilla, and oil, making sure everything is well combined. Line the cupcake molds, and pour about two tablespoons of batter into each mold. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool out of the mold on a wire rack for about ten minutes. You can frost them with chocolate frosting if you like, but they are also good on their own.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Catching Up Part III: Baking in Normandy

Where the skies look like this....
     OK, so I'm obviously easing back into this blogging thing rather slowly. I skipped yesterday, bad me bad me. But hey! I also started my summer job. That counts for something, doesn't it? I'm doing research at a hospital. It's amazing how important getting a badge with your photo on it and carrying big stacks of paper around can make you feel. But enough of that, you are here for the food. Right?

The beams in the kitchen looked like gingerbread :)
     So, surprising though it may seem, I did cook in France! And no, it didn't just consist of pasta and pasta salad and epic cheese plates. I made clafoutis! You may ask one of two questions: what is clafoutis? or why would you be making that in France? Well, it is a French dish, for one thing. Clafoutis (or clafouti as it is sometimes spelled) is traditionally cherries baked in a custard-like batter. It comes out rather like a more cake-y flan. It is a lovely light dessert, and one that is ridiculously easy to make.

     As to why I made clafoutis, there is a very simple reason for that. CV has trees in his backyard in the farmhouse in Normandy, some of those trees are cherry trees, and one evening we felt the urge to go up into those trees and pick lots and lots of cherries. The first cherry picking stage involved some people going up into one tree and throwing down cherries, the second involved everyone being up in the tree and trying to reach the cherries, and the third involved very tall ladders. In case you cannot tell, we accumulated quite a mountainful of cherries, even discounting all the ones we ate fresh off the branches. Also discounting the cows who huddled around our tree and ladder and looked at us most mournfully, probably wondering what kinds of silly humans had decided to play at being birds.

The farmhouse - unfortunately I took no pictures of trees
     So, we re-entered the house, and I was struck by an urge to bake. The two CVs (did I tell you the fifth person is our party also had the initials CV? It is most frustrating from my standpoint, but luckily I can just lump the two of them together. Yay for my two CVs!) got to cutting the cherries in half and de-pitting them. I kind of sort of looked at this clafoutis recipe in an old cookbook in the farmhouse, and then went my own merry way. What resulted was the kind of dessert I kept taking too many helpings of, light and not too sweet and full of the lovely flavor of cherries. It may not be a traditional clafoutis, but I am still daydreaming about it at work...

Improvised Clafoutis

For the Cherries: 

1 1/2 cup Cherries, Cut in half and De-pitted
1/4 cup Rum
2 tbsp Water
3 tbsp or more Sugar

Add the cherries, rum, water, and sugar to a medium-sized saucepan at medium-heat. Stir everything together well, and allow the mixture to cook until the cherries are softened and the alcohol and water have mostly evaporated (you don't have to evaporate off all the liquid, you can use it to make a sauce! like me). When the mixture is not smelling so strongly of rum anymore, you are probably close to done. You should taste test it, if the cherries were not sweet and the mixture tastes bitter, add a tablespoon or two more of sugar. Once the cherries are soft, remove the mixture from the heat.

For the Clafoutis:

1 1/2 cup Prepared Cherries
2 Eggs, Separated
1 cup Milk
1/4 tsp Salt 
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Flour 

Butter an 8'' round glass baking dish and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread most of the hot cherries on the bottom of the dish, and allow them to cool. Leave a couple of the cherries and any remaining liquid in the saucepan for sauce-making later. In one bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Then, whisk in the flour and salt until everything is combined. In a separate bowl, whisk (not by hand hopefully, because that is a pain) the egg whites until they have peaks. Fold them into the other mixture slowly until both are combined. Then, pour the liquid mixture carefully over the cherries, so that all the fruit is covered. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden and a knife comes out clean.

For the Sauce (Optional)

Remaining liquid from the cherries 
2-3 Softened Cherries
2 tbsp Blueberry Jam 

Place the saucepan with the little remaining water and rum mixture and a couple of cherries back on medium heat. Squish the cherries against the side of the saucepan and mix them into the liquid. Then, add the jam. Mix everything together thoroughly, and reduce the heat. Allow the mixture to simmer on low heat until it has thickened and turned into a lovely sauce to top your piece of clafoutis with.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Catching Up Part II: India

The view from my house, Alibaugh
     Well, and where did I go from Normandy? I went back to Paris, and stayed there for a few days, hanging out with friends, bidding farewell to CV, AB, and AGD who returned to North America, and walking up and down Paris from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre and back to the Eiffel Tower.
The Louvre, Paris
The Eiffel Tower, Paris
     And then? Then I finally left for India! My Air France meal could not have been as impressive this time around because I do not remember it at all. Oh well. How do Air France meals matter when one has reached Mumbai? A city of most awesome foods.

Thali at Chetana, Mumbai
     The thali (which basically means plate) above is from Chetana, a lovely restaurant. This Rajasthani (a state in India with its own distinct style of food) thali contains all kinds of lentils, vegetables - including eggplant, beans, potatoes, and many others, and Indian flatbreads cooked in styles ranging from slightly sweet to very spicy. I explored Mumbai with my friend RL from high school, and I can safely say that she enjoyed it - she is a vegetarian after all, and India is a vegetarian's paradise, especially at thali-serving places.

The sea and Gateway of India as seen from the Taj earlier in the day, Mumbai
     We also arrived in Mumbai right in time for the first rains of the Monsoon. After everyone told us that the rains wouldn't start while we were in town, we were sitting peacefully in the Taj Sea Lounge (a beautiful place) sipping cold coffee and suddenly the waves were getting whipped up, and it started to Rain as it only does in India.

The view from the Taj a few minutes later, Mumbai
     After a few days in Mumbai, we then left for my house across the sea. It is a house on the beach, and a good base from which to explore nearby beaches and little villages. Of course, that is if you are in an exploring mood and not in a sleeping, reading, drinking coconut water fresh out of coconuts, and eating lots of home cooked food mood. Guess which we did? 
Coconut trees in my front yard, Alibaugh
More of the view from my front yard, Alibaugh

     Summer vacation is all about relaxation. Especially if your next stop is New Delhi, where the temperature is 110 degrees F on average in the summer and you will be expected to visit many relatives and sightsee.

Bangla Sahib, New Delhi
     Not that we went out that much during the day, we mostly ventured outdoors in the late afternoon or at night. One day we went to Bangla Sahib, a gurdwara or temple for Sikhs. It is beautiful from the outside with its gold-topped roofs, but it is even more peaceful and gorgeous inside where this pool is with the many people circling around it.

     But, the nicest part about spending three weeks in New Delhi was getting to stay with the most awesome relatives in the world and get fed lovely foods. Look at this dinner! I am afraid I have forgotten the identity of the vegetables because they are not what I was interested in. That red curry is Egg Curry, i.e. curry with whole eggs in it. It's so good. This one contained bell peppers (which, though I just cannot eat, I must say did add to the flavor of the curry itself) and was slightly spicy. The other dish in the white bowl might just be my favorite food (might). It is Dahi Bhalla, or steamed lentil dumplings in yogurt? I suppose that is what it is. But that does not describe the soft fluffiness of the balls soaking in yogurt and the sweet tamarind sauce (that's the sauce that comes with samosas in the states) and slightly spicy chutney. Yum.
Lamb Biryani at the Radisson, New Delhi
     I leave you with fond memories of another Indian dinner. This time the dish in the center is Lamb Biryani, or lamb cooked in a clay pot with rice and a lot of spices. The pot is covered in dough and baked, and then the dough is taken off when it's served. This allows everything to steam together inside so all the flavors get melded together. Yumminess. Yes, these are the kinds of meals I ate. But now I'm back in good old Boston, and today I am going to eat a BURRITO. There are great things about the USA too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Catching Up Part I: Europe

Le Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
     I'm home! I'm finally home! I'm back in Boston, and I am so happy. Slowly, I am getting over my jet lag, unpacking my bags, and getting out the cricks in my back from a 9 hour plane ride, an 18 hour (read: 18 hour) wait in one airport terminal, and then a 7 hour plane ride that landed me back Home. And now, I will actually cook! I cannot wait. But, before I cook, let me tell you a bit more about my travels:

     I know when I wrote before everything was very scattered. As you might remember, my itinerary was: Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Normandy, Paris, Bombay, and New Delhi. It seems so simple when I list it like that. Traveling was tons of fun, but food eating was the most fun of all. Food eating was even fun on my flight from Boston to Paris! Look at all my food! I am very proud of Air France for creating a meal that I actually scraped off of my plate...plastic tray thing. Rice salad with flaked tuna, egg noodles, beef stew, cheese, French bread, and an orange cake. Yum. Do you know what makes slightly dry cake better? Pouring a little bit of your orange juice onto it. Don't look at me funny, it elevated the  cake.

     I already told you a bit about my first days in Paris, at Sacre Coeur eating fondue et al. We also explored the Musee d'Orsay, went through Le Marais, wandered around St. Michel (and had pizza with the loveliest crust I have ever gotten to taste), saw Notre Dame, went to Shakespeare and Company (a really cute all English book store with a little bed upstairs for sleeping on), and ate many many crepes (generally Nutella Crepes...I just couldn't resist). 

Notre Dame
Shakespeare and Company Book Store
     And then from Paris, we took the train to Brussels! The land of waffles. Really good waffles, as I think I mentioned. Also, the land of much elaborate architecture, like the old guild buildings of Grand Place shown below. We spent three nights in Brussels exploring the city and finding out exactly when the night trams stopped running each night. But it was fun, and then we went on to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries before I got there. Fortunately, we were only there for one day and one night, so not too much of my life will go undocumented.
Grand Place, Brussels
     Hm, leaving Amsterdam. Dwelling on that particular day fills me with emotions that cannot be properly expressed First, that morning, my wallet got stolen, then we arrived at the train station to find out that the tickets we had pre-ordered could not be picked up in Amsterdam so we would have to buy new train tickets (at 130 euros each), then our train to Paris got delayed so it arrived only 40 minutes before our connecting train to Normandy from a different station, then we ran to one metro, then we caught a connection on another, then we ran through the station (literally from one end to the other of a giant station) huffing and panting and....half fainting on my part due to lack of sustenance...and then we got onto our Normandy train. Phewf. But then we got to eat crepes when we arrived in Normandy. And ham and cheese and egg crepes cannot help but make everything better.  

      And then we arrived at the farmhouse we were staying at in Normandy! This was a lovely basket of hazelnuts and walnuts left for us to eat. It is hard to describe ten days of pure relaxation. Every morning I would get up to drink a glass of chocolate milk (we had been brought milk and chocolate powder) with a sweet roll. Of course, morning could be at 7 am or at 4 pm depending on our moods, but I always had my breakfast nevertheless. 

The Kitchen
     There was a lot of sunbathing involved. A lot of grocery shopping, almost every day for fresh bread, and a lot of salad making. What else does one need to eat on such nice summer days? Just a bowl of pasta salad, or some bread with cheese and salami or Pork Rilletes (shredded pork in pork fat)...I want some now. Now. If only wishes were Pork Rilletes and fresh bread... 

     We also created an epic cheese plate. And ate it (slowly over the course of a few days, but that first go at it did account for a lot). 

     We went to the beach and lazed there, we lazed and read in the living room and the front yard and the back yard. And it was the best time ever. Sometimes, laying back and doing nothing but listen to your friends playing the guitar or read or write poetry is all you need. Now, during the year when all is stressful and I'm running around without pausing to take a breath, I will stop and think of Normandy, and maybe it will make me feel a little better.