Monday, December 28, 2015

Clicks from 2015

Before this year comes to an end, I wanted to share with you some of my random clicks. This year I have learned a lot about photography, specifically food photography. When you scroll through the pictures below, you will see my progress with this skill. I am a self taught photographer. Learning photography and the editing of it, specially when you do it on your own, is not very easy. And when you have a full time job and spend substantial amount of time working on your blog, it becomes incredibly challenging to set aside time dedicated for this activity. I follow various blogs, websites, facebook groups and youtube videos to learn photography. I plan to dedicate more time and learn more about photography in the new year!
Wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

French Meringue

French Meringue, the name itself is so exotic! I never knew it would be so easy to make. This recipe uses minimal ingredients and has a super easy prep process. Since this is first time I baked it, I just stuck with the basic meringue; next time I will try different variations and incorporate more ingredients/colors/flavors.

Egg Whites - 3 (Large)
Sugar - 1 Cup (Granulated)
Vanilla - 1/2 Tsp
Cream of Tartar - 1/4 Tsp
Salt - 1 Pinch

Preheat the oven to 220F.
Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.
Start with separating the egg whites from the yolk. Ensure that the egg whites have no trace of the yolk.
Next put the egg whites in a bowl and start whisking on a medium-low speed with the whisk attachment. I have used my KitchenAid stand mixer for this purpose.
Once you see some foam forming on top of the egg whites, add vanilla, cream of tartar and salt to it and whisk for 1 more minute.
Next start adding the sugar in small quantities. Add 1 Tbsp sugar and whisk on medium speed for 2 minutes. Then again add 1 Tbsp sugar and repeat the process. The mixture will start to foam and expand in volume.
Once all the sugar is added, check the mixture; if it makes soft peak, increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whisk until it looks shiny white and can make stiff peak (hold it's shape). For me this whole whisking process took around 40 minutes.

Now fill a piping bag with this meringue mix. You can use any piping tip of your choice.
I drew a line inside the piping bag with red gel color before I filled it with mixture. Thats what added the red tinge to the meringue I made.
Pipe meringue on to the baking sheet.
Bake it for 45-75 minutes. The baking time depends on the size of your meringue, so keep an eye on it.
Once done the meringue should be dry, crisp and light. I pricked a toothpick in a few to check if it baked thoroughly.
Turn the oven off. Leave the tray outside until the meringue cools down.

P.S. This will be my last recipe post for this year, as we are flying to San Diego to spend Christmas vacation with our friends. Wish you all a very Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Restaurant Review - Sarma (Somerville, MA)

Recently we went to Sarma for our anniversary dinner. Sarma was D's choice. When we called them up for reservation, we were surprised to know that even on a weekday no table was available before 9.30 pm. So we decided that we will just walk in. Other than regular tables, a section of the restaurant has high tables and bar seating for walk-ins. Personally we did not like the set up of high tables, so we chose to be seated at the bar. The restaurant was quite cozy, nicely decorated with Turkish art and lamps (not at all gaudy); it was very busy for a weekday.

We started with some drinks; we ordered Dark Star and Cane Salata. The Dark star came with a base of whiskey but was a bit strong and bitter. However the Cane Salata with a touch of grapefruit, fennel and orange peel tasted refreshing.

To start with, they served complimentary bread with olive oil. The bread was really good.

This restaurant offers multiple special dishes everyday and they have a unique way to serve these dishes. The server will go to each guest table with the prepared plate and describe it. If the guests like it, they will serve the plate. We observed that Sarma keeps changing these special items throughout the night, so each special has limited plates. But there were multiple options that were offered to us. We ordered one special dish that day, though I do not remember the name of it. It was a preparation of grilled eggplant with a layer of tzatziki and garnished with olives, pomegranates on top. It was simple, yet bursting with flavors!

From the menu we ordered lamb köfte sliders, spicy tuna dolma, plantain latke, pomegranate glazed lamb. Each and every dish had a unique flavor. The lamb köfte sliders were simply the best burger I have ever eaten, the lamb was juicy and spiced with Turkish spices; I can go back to the restaurant just for these!

The spicy tuna dolma was a cold dish, served over cucumber; it was delicious.

I loved the plantain latke too! If you take a bite of only the latke, you might not like it. But the way they combined the flavors was very innovative. They smeared the latke with mashed and spiced avocado, then layered some mango relish on top and finally the sprinkled spices made it really yummy!

When we ordered pomegranate glazed lamb, we were expecting kabob type pieces in it. But were pleasantly surprised that instead they served minced lamb stuffed inside chard leaf, which tasted way better than any lamb kabob!

We were quite full by this time. However we were tempted with the desserts that were custom made and served out from an open dessert station right behind the bar. We ordered a frozen yogurt and a loukamades (which is actually ricotta doughnuts). One of the servers recommended that we should get halva caramel and candy bar crunch as toppings with the frozen yogurt; ordering poached pears and fig cheesecake with the loukamades was my idea. I am glad that we did not skip the dessert, it was just so good, specially the doughnuts! It won't be a bad idea to stop by the restaurant late in the night when you get sweet cravings.

Long story short, all the dishes were good and were priced reasonably, ranging between $5 to $17. The plates were not exactly tapas, but were a bit bigger in portion size. They have a private parking lot near the restaurant for guests, which is not very big though. Finding a parking spot on weekends might be tough luck. This restaurant is so busy, I will suggest that you book a table much before. I am pretty sure that the bartender/server were amused to see us order so many dishes, as others who were seated at the bar were mostly snacking and drinking. I am glad that we picked Sarma for our anniversary dinner and we were not disappointed at all.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Yellow Split Peas Cooked with Bottle Gourd Leaf (লাউডগা দিয়ে মটর ডাল)

This is one of my favorite lentil (dal) preparation which I tasted after a really long time. We don't get bottle gourd leaf / laupata here very often. Actually this is the first time in the last 7 years, that I even saw this in a store. During my last visit to a Bangladeshi store, I found this and almost jumped up with joy! There are so many different preparations of laupata (লাউপাতা) that we Bengalis eat. But I particularly wanted to have this laudoga diye dal which my dida used to make. I was craving for this dal from a long time now. Let me tell you that when I crave for something, I start dreaming about it; I see it so many times in my dreams that it increases my cravings even more! So I was decided that I was going to prepare laudoga diye dal.

I wrote about my mamabari earlier and how my dida used to cook over mud/clay stove. We had a big front-yard and a back-yard where we had different type of trees bearing fruits, vegetables and flowers. There were coconut trees, beetle nut trees, jackfruit trees and even a mango tree among many more! Pumpkin and bottlegourd plants were there too. Dida used to get fresh laudoga from the back-yard and cook dal in iron pots over clay stove, which always added a unique taste and aroma of it's own in every dish. Oh boy! How I miss those golden days now! Don't we get surprised how small things can bring back so many memories! So I decided to relive those memories, that joy & happiness, those old times with this simple dal. And I want to share this joy with all of you by sharing my grandma's recipe today. It's a very simple recipe but the taste is incomparable to anything else. I am sure you will love it too!

Matar Dal (মটর ডাল)/ Yellow Split Peas - 1/2 Cup
Lau pata (কচি লাউডগা)/ Bottle Gourd Leaf - A bunch (take leaves which are young & bright green in color)
Green Chilli - According to Taste
Dry Red Chilli - 1 or 2
Ginger - 1 Tbsp (Chopped)
Nigella Seeds / Kalojeera - 1/4 Tsp
Turmeric Powder - 1/4 Tsp
Salt - According to Taste
Sugar - 1/2 Tsp
Oil - 1 Tsp
Ghee - 1 Tsp

I have used both the leaf and stem for this dal. You can cut the leaves in half if it is too big. Remove the outer scales of the stem, and cut it into small (2" long) pieces.
Wash the lentils thoroughly. Add salt, turmeric powder and water to it. Pressure cook it just about right, as we will again boil the dal after adding the leaves.
Once the cooker releases all the pressure, open the lid and blend the dal. I have used a wooden blending stick for this. If you are using electronic blender, then take care not to blend it too smooth. We want a coarse consistency for the dal.
Add the leaves, stems and slitted green chilies into the dal and cook it uncovered on a medium flame until the the leaves and stems are cooked through.
Next heat oil in a kadhai.
Add dry red chillies and nigella seeds and fry until you get an aroma oozing out of it.
Next add the chopped ginger and continue to fry.
Now add the dal into this, mix everything well and cook it uncovered on a low flame until you get the desired consistency.
Do a taste test. Add salt if needed.
Finally add ghee and sugar. Mix well. Serve it with plain rice.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Red Velvet Cake

It has been quite a while since my last post. I had planned to write this post long back, but then with the arrival of the festive season I decided to take a break away from blogging.

My husband's birthday was in October. Every year I bake a cake for him; last year I made a carrot cake. This year on multiple occasions he had expressed his liking of Red Velvet Cake, so I decided to make one for him. I asked my colleague Liz for her suggestions (she makes amazing cakes). Anyone who follows me on Instagram must have seen that I keep posting photos of cakes & baked goodies made by her. She referred me to Bobby Flay's recipe of red velvet cake from food network. You can find the recipe here. I have described the step-by-step process of this recipe, with some changes of my own. The cake came out really well; it was moist, fluffy and lightly sweet. It tasted great & my husband loved it! I posted a photo of it on my facebook page and everyone commented that it looked just great! I was so happy!

As I was planning to bake the cake after work hours in the evening, so I started with the preparation a day earlier. On the first day I baked two 9" cakes, assembled them and added a thin layer of frosting (called crumb coat) all over the cakes. This crumb coating process helps you avoid unwanted mixing of cake crumbs with the frosting, so that the final presentation looks clean. If you want, you can cut each cake in 2 layers so that will make a total of 4 layers. But my husband does not like too much of frosting, so I applied a very thin layer of frosting in between the 2 cakes. Next I stored the cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight. If you plan to make the complete cake on the same day, you can refrigerate the cake for a couple of hours and then continue with the next steps. On the second day, I applied the final frosting. To give it a rustic look I added a layer of frosting all over the cake and then dabbed it with a spoon. It looked stunning! For the final presentation I dusted the top with the cake crumbs (which I have saved from the previous day) using a sieve.

For Cake:
All Purpose Flour - 3 & 3/4 Cups
Cocoa Powder - 3 Tbsp
Baking Soda - 1 & 1/2 Tsp
Kosher Salt - 1/2 Tsp
Unsalted Butter (At Room Temp.) - 12 Tbsp
Vegetable Oil - 3/4 Cups
Eggs (At Room Temp.) - 3 (Large)
Granulated Sugar - 2 & 1/4 Cups
Vanilla Extract - 1 & 1/2 Tsp
Distilled White Vinegar - 1 & 1/2 Tsp
Red Food Color Gel - 1 Tbsp (I used Wilton Icing Color)
Buttermilk (At Room Temp.) - 1 & 1/2 Cups

For Frosting:
Cream Cheese (At Room Temp.) - 16 oz
Unsalted Butter (At Room Temp.) - 16 Tbsp
Vanilla Extract - 1 & 1/2 Tsp
Kosher Salt - 1 Pinch
Lemon Juice - 1 Tbsp
Confectioners' Sugar - 5 cups

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
We will need two 9-inch round cake pans. Butter these pans well.
Next line the pan bottoms with parchment paper, then butter the parchment paper and flour the pans.
I used PAM non stick cooking spray with flour which worked very nicely as the cakes came out from the pan smoothly and quite easily.

For Cake:
In a bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together. Mix them well and keep aside.
Beat butter, vegetable oil and sugar until fluffy and light in color (scraping down the sides as needed). Add the eggs, one at a time until mixed well.
Add the vanilla extract, vinegar and red food color gel into it and mix well.
Next add the flour mixture and the buttermilk in 2 or 3 portions, folding well until combined. (I did this step using a spatula.)
Divide the batter evenly into the 2 cake pans.
Bake until the cakes spring back when lightly touched, 40 to 50 minutes.
Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes in the pans.
Next remove the cakes from the pan and cool them completely over a wire rack.

For Frosting:
Beat the cream cheese well.
Next mix the butter, vanilla, salt and lemon juice into it and beat until fluffy.
Add sugar into it and beat until very fluffy. Keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Thinly cut off the top of both cakes to make it a little flat (save the crumbs). Spread small portion of frosting on one cake. You can add more if you want a thick layer of cream cheese frosting between the cake layers. Spread the layer evenly on the cake. Now place the other cake on it upside down, so that the flat bottom of the top cake faces up. Spread a thin layer of frosting evenly all over the cake to finish a crumb coat. Now keep the cake in an airtight container and refrigerate it for at least a couple of hours.

Finally, spread the remaining frosting evenly, over and around the entire cake. Using a sieve spread the saved cake crumbs on the top of cake. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.