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Cardamom Poached Pears in Red Wine Sauce

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With holiday season in full swing, we all want recipes that can be made ahead, look like ton of work but are actually quick and easy. Poached pears fall in that category. Easy to make ahead, elegant and inexpensive – as all ingredients are seasonal.

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Or perhaps you have some fruit and left over wine from the party last night and are looking for a new way to use it all up.

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This dessert wins on all categories: fruit based, nut and dairy free and is light. And the red hue is very appealing. Based on what you pair with it can be dressed up ( puff pastry, custard, candied fruits) or had simply in a rustic wine sauce or just fresh diced fruits (kiwi, pomegranate and oranges would complement the flavors fabulously). It can be individually plated ( or served in wine glasses with a bit of creme anglaise to stabilize the base) for smaller gatherings or served in a platter for a potluck party.

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Oh, and citrus and cardamom perfumes the entire house. As Candice Olson would say, Simply Divine!

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Note:

1. I didn’t core the pears but I have seen recipes that quarter or halve the pears and remove the seeds. Probably makes eating them easier but I find the whole pears look more fancy.If you do halve or quarter, the pears will poach sooner than what the recipe below calls for. Keep an eye out for tender but not mushy pears.

2. You can use All Spice or Nutmeg instead of cardamom. I used what I had on hand. I had a gift pack of pepper, mace and cardamom spices from our trip to Nilgiris, Ooty, India.

Cardamom Poached Pears in Red Wine Sauce Recipe

  • 2 Bosc or Bartlett pears
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 small orange thinly sliced (like a cutie orange)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 7-8 cardamom pods peeled and seeds crushed.
  • 4 black peppercorns

1. Mix all the ingredients (except the pears) in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

2. In the meantime, peel and remove the bottom brown bit from the pear ( the brown bit is from its blossom flower). Slice it at the bottom to make it stand upright.

Optionally, halve or quarter the pear and scoop out the seeds.

3. Submerge the pears in the saucepan. Add water if necessary to cover the pears. Cover and let simmer on low to medium low heat for about 30 minutes or till tender. Test with a fork or a spoon.

Keep ladling the wine mix over the pears if they are not fully submerged. Rotate the pears carefully midway through for even poaching.

4. Scoop the pears out and set aside in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours.

5. Reduce the wine and spices mix to half or even third of the volume on high heat. Chill this reduction as well.

To serve, arrange the pears on a platter. Spoon the reduction over the pears to get a shiny glaze.

Serve chilled with remaining reduced sauce.

Easy Peasy Whole Wheat Olive Focaccia

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My apologies for being a bit tardy in posting last week. Work got in the way and I didn’t have enough time to blog. I promise to do better this week.

Last night, I was mentally prepping menu’s for weekend and the week so I can shop accordingly. A fried egg sandwich came to my mind. Hmmm…that with coffee would be a good strat to the weekend. While thinking about bread, focaccia came to my mind. Only problem – I haven’t found focaccia in the supermarkets or even in a bakery here in Hyderabad. I needed a hearty bread for brunch.

So I looked up online to find an easy focaccia recipe and found one that needs minimal effort. Just mix all the ingredients up and let yeast do its work. The dough rises and flavours meld.  A few hours later with minimal effort we had a chewy focaccia. It was denser due to whole wheat flour but I am sure half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour would result in a lighter bread while still being healthy. Olives added saltiness to the bread. Herbs in the bread enhanced its flavour so we could eat it as is. Which is exactly what Varun did after removing olives.

The recipe is very simple and requires very little effort beyond the initial kneading. If you have a food processor or a stand mixer then even that is minimal. Also, it  is very versatile. Change the herbs – lemon – cilantro, roasted garlic, smoked paprika – sun-dried tomatoes per your mood. Play with toppings, mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, red onions. Its bound to surprise you with its flavour.

Give it a try this weekend. It can be dressed up into an elegant brunch with salad and wine or into a memorable breakfast with fried eggs and bacon.

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Easy Peasy Whole Wheat Olive Focaccia Recipe

  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for topping + 1 tablespoon to grease the pan
  • 1/2  cup olives

1. In a large bowl, mix sugar in the water and add then add yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes till the yeast proofs.

2.  Once proofed, add all the ingredients listed (other than olives) and knead for about 10 minutes. It will be sticky which is fine. Cover with a plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to double. It takes about 3- 4 hours here but can take longer. Have patience with the first rise. Else the bread will not be soft.

3.   Punch down the dough, and knead for 30 seconds again. Oil a baking pan well and spread the dough in this pan. You can leave this free form. Using your fingers, make dimples in the dough. Insert an olive in each dimple. Brush with olive oil.

Set aside for another 45 minutes to rise.

4. Pre-heat oven to 180F/350 C and bake the bread for 30 – 35 minutes till golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool in pan.

Cut and serve warm. It goes well with salads, soups, or in an open faced sandwiches.

Goat Cheese and Fresh Figs Bruschetta

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I think this is my lucky week. After yesterday’s pan-fried tofu success, I was inspired to make something else. I was digging into fridge to see what we have on hand and came across a packet of fresh figs. The fridge had swallowed them after I bought them a couple of weeks ago and I had forgotten all about them. I hate when that happens and usually “forgetting” results in throwing out the long forgotten vegetable/ fruit.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the figs were perfectly ripe and ready to eat. Sweet and aromatic. I ate a couple of them as is while pondering over what to make with them.

I had seen figs wrapped in bacon or prosciutto but since I didn’t have either on hand, I paired it with goat cheese ( another classic combination) and made it into a bruschetta.

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Within minutes, the bread was toasted, goat cheese spread, figs halved and topped with honey and pistachios for an added crunch. And within minutes it was devoured. Vipul hates figs. He ate the most. Devoured is the right word. They were that good! Really. I kid you not.

This is going to be my signature appetizer going forward. Simple ingredients and simple recipe. And extremely versatile. Don’t have goat cheese on hand? Use paneer, ricotta, quark or even strained greek yogurt. Don’t like figs or they are not in season? Grilled peaches, pineapples or even kumquats would fit the bill perfectly. You can skip the honey if you like. A drizzle of balsamic reduction or some fresh mint ribbons would be great too.

It can be made ahead and can be easily scaled up for a party or a potluck.
I am gonna make this again soon. This time with cherries ( if I can find them in Hyderabad).

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Goat Cheese and Figs Bruschetta Recipe

  • Quartered Sandwich Bread slices or diagonal baguette slices – 8 pieces
  • Goat cheese -1/3 – 1/2 cup at room temperature
  • Ripe figs – 4 halved
  • Honey – 2 tablespoons
  • Pistachios – 8 – 10 , shelled and coarsely chopped

1. Toast the bread in a toaster or in a skillet. If using sandwich bread, slice after toasting.

2. Spread goat cheese on the toast generously. Place the toasts on a serving platter.

3. Balance a fig half on top of the cheese on each toast piece.

4. Drizzle honey on all the figs. Sprinkle pistachios on figs.

Serve immediately.

Eggless Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Eggless cake slice

I have been craving tres leches cake since Cinco De Mayo. Yea, I am crazy that way. I can nurture a craving for a long time till it balloons into an urge that envelopes me and I have no choice but to surrender to it. I caved in and made myself a tres leches cake or the cake soaked in 3 types of milk.

The original cake is a Mexican or some Latin- American creation and is very rich and seductive. One spoonful of this custard like cake leaves you asking for more. Condensed milk, heavy cream, eggs and evaporated milk come together in an irresistible way. Sweet, creamy, sinful. It is hence usually served in most places in a small portion.

Tres Leches cake eggless

But I have had enough of those small portions and wanted to really dig in.But alas I did not have enough eggs on hand. I mean it is weeknight, I need to save eggs for breakfast. I really did not want to go out and buy more eggs on a weeknight or change breakfast plans.

Soaking in Syrup

And thus out of necessity, an eggless tres leches cake was born.

The cake was not as “custard” like as the egg version of the same but tasty nevertheless. Soaked in milk syrup overnight it was decadent, spongy and rich. And sweet with bold taste of condensed milk. We ate it with “mucho gusto”.

A large slice was perfect as breakfast. Sweet and spongy.Darn,I could have used those eggs after all and made this a more creamy affair!

Eggless Tres Leches Cake

For the Cake

  •  1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 can condensed milk

For the Soaking Syrup

  • 1/2 can condensed milk
  • 1 cup whole milk ( or evaporated milk)
  • 1/3 rd cup fresh cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C or 325 F. Grease a bundt pan with butter and set aside.

2.Mix all the cake ingredients well for 1 minute and then pour the mixture into the pan. Bake for 25 – 27 minutes.

Remove and let cool completely.

3. Mix the syrup ingredients and beat well.Set aside till the cake is cool.

4. Take the cake out of the pan and set it on a plate with raised edges. Pour half the syrup all over the cake. The cake is spongy so does not need to be pricked with a fork before pouring the syrup.

5. Let the cake soak in the syrup for 4 hours in the fridge to overnight. Ladle the run off syrup over the cake a couple of times so as to ensure that the cake soaks it off.

6. Serve chilled with a few teaspoons of syrup poured over the sliced cake.

Toasted Green Almonds

Green Almonds

Green almonds are also in season. And just like ice apples they are around for a brief two to three weeks. With fuzzy pale green pods they look like almond-shaped green tiny peaches but have a distinct freshly mowed grass scent which I associate with spring!

The external pods are not edible ( unless they are very soft which is very rare to find in market). You have  to peel off the external pod with a knife with patience and care. Once open, the pale yellow almost avocado like interior nestle a cream tender almond. Hold the ends of the pod down to pop the almond out or piece it with the knife tip to remove the tender kernel.

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It tastes of young almond and can be eaten as is, but have patience. Toasted in a little bit olive oil with a sprinkling of salt elevates the ‘almondness’- if it is a word and adds crunch to the young almond. It can be eaten as is, sprinkled on top of salad, added to a pesto instead of pine nuts or added to jams and jellies.

Start with a bigger pile of raw pods as the actual almond is small. We only had 1/4 cup almonds from almost 2 cups of pods. Vipul finished the entire bowl while I went to put Varun down for his nap.

Green Almonds shelled

If the pods were tender, I am sure we could have sautéed them in olive oil and snacked on them whole. That would be more “filling”. But the once we had were a bit too “aged” for that.

Give this unusual snack a try if you do find green almonds in your farmers market. Per internet, they are in season now across France, middle-east and California. Cheers for seasonal food! Happy snacking!!

Toasted Green Almonds Recipe

  • Shelled green almonds – 1/4 cup
  • Olive oil – 1 teaspoon
  • Salt – to taste

1. Heat oil in a skillet and saute the almonds in the oil for 1- 2 minutes. Stir continuously to prevent burning. Sprinkle salt. Adjust to taste. Serve warm.

Ice Apples Orangeade

Ice Apples Tadgola

Ice apples or tadgola or Munjul are in season! And most people don’t know about it.

This is a very low key Indian fruit which is in season in May and comes from the palm trees. A bit like tender coconut, it is full of minerals and is really refreshing on a hot day. Unfortunately not many people know about it – like the “jaam“, “ber” and “jamun“. Every summer my cousins used to visit me from Nagpur. They would come with baskets of oranges. They would spend summer with us and we all used to go to swimming class in the mornings. After the class, mom used to buy tadgola ( as ice apples are called in Marathi) for all of us. We used to stand under the hot sun waiting for the peeled and cored fruit.  We relished the little squirt of water from the plump fruit and then dig into its meat. Yum! Sometimes we used to all have tender coconut.

Ice apples whole fruit

Street side ice apples seller

Recently, I found a street side vendor who was selling these. We stopped the car and asked him to give us a dozen ice apples. The vendor cored out the plump chunks of ice apples from the whole palm fruit and then gave us a dozen. We ate most as is, but I wondered what else could I use them for? As they are very similar to a lychee in taste, I considered making a martini, or a mousse or a pudding. But then as we had tender coconut and oranges on hand, I made a summer drink out of them. Freshly squeezed oranges, coconut water and chopped up iced apples made a colorful summer special.

Ice apples are available at many places across Mumbai and Hyderabad. They are sold by small street side vendors. In Hyderabad they are usually sold in the morning in little carts covered with leaves. If you love local seasonal fruits then it doesn’t get any better than this. There are many more summer fruits vying for our attention now that we had our fill of mangoes – jamun, jackfruit …yipee!

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But back to this orangeade, it was like recreating summer magic in a drink. Cousins, swim lessons, fights, gossip. Give  it a try with fresh or drained canned lychees. I am sure it will be a hit and add tropical flair to your summer days!

Ice Apples Orangeade

Serves 2

  • 3 ice apples chopped ( about 6 – 8 fresh lychees)
  • Juice from 1 orange
  • Water from 1 tender coconut
  • 1 shot orange vodka (optional)

1.  In a shaker, add ice cubes, and all the ingredients. Shake, shake, shake.

2. Pour in two glasses. Chill. Serve cold.

Enjoy!

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