mint and peach lassi


peach with mint lassi drink

There it was, this little produce stand that we almost drove past by on our way back from Sonoma. Quaint with its worn out thatched roof that seemed weakly held together by long wooden beams on the side of the road with the pretty backdrop of wine valley. We were out of eggs and I figured it might be worth our while to see if we could pick some up here because by the time we'd reach home, I knew neither of us would be in the mood to deal with a busy supermarket. 

peaches for lassi

My eyes were to hunt for the presence of eggs in this little stall but they failed their purpose and wandered towards the end of one of the tables that housed a stack of wooden crates filled with large golden orbs that enticed with promises of juicy sweetness. They drew me closer and I went ahead and grabbed one of those big golden balls of sunshine. I held one close to inhale its sweet fragrance and that peach reminded me that this is one of the very reasons that makes summer so special. 

peach and mint lassi drink

Lassis are probably one of my favorite drinks and in India we'd drink fresh lassis every hot summer day in tall glasses filled with the chilled sweet liquid. With my fresh ripe peaches a sweet and cool lassi that would serve to cool and refresh was definitely in order! Lassis should be thin and not heavy and thick so avoid using Greek yogurt and use either non-fat or regular plain unsweetened yogurt and then adjust the consistency with water. There is really no need to add sugar to the drink because these peaches were crazy sweet and I love when I don't have to add extra sweeteners! But feel free to adjust the sweetness as needed.

peach and mint lassi
peach lassi with mint

mint and peach lassi

yields: 2 servings

ingredients

1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain yogurt (non-fat or regular) 
1 1/2 cups ripe peaches, peeled and diced + a few pieces to garnish
3/4 cup water, chilled (you can add more or less depending on how thin you like the consistency)
3-4 fresh mint leaves + a few sprigs to garnish

1. Place the yogurt, 1 1/2 cups peaches, water and 3-4 mint leaves in a blender. Pulse until smooth and completely combined.
2. Serve in chilled classes and garnish with extra peach fruit pieces and a sprig of fresh mint.

Note: Traditionally lassi is made with regular yogurt and the lassi should be thin. Do not use Greek yogurt here or it will be too thick. Indian lassis should be refreshing and light and not heavy.

mini mulled wine apple spelt pies

mini spelt pies with mulled wine

Christmas involves a lot of baking at our home and I find myself trying out old and new techniques each year and developing new flavors that will make my holiday menu extra special. This year however, I am not hosting a dinner since we are traveling and the cooking requirements are significantly reduced. A week from now, we will be celebrating the holidays in California, it's a welcome change that we both need and a nice break from the cold and gloomy days here in D.C.  Plus, I get to meet up with my family and friends and eating a whole lot of food on this trip!

apples

However, what would Christmas be without baking a few holiday desserts and cookies! Apple pies are something I make every holiday season but this year, I've been working on a special type of crust, one that is wholegrain yet flaky and delicious but without the shortening. You will love this spelt crust, it is easy to prepare and work with and when it comes out of the oven you will want to grab a hot pie straight off the baking sheet. There's something comforting in eating a soft flaky pie crust, especially in cold weather. 
I've used coconut oil as a substitute for the shortening which works wonderfully in the dough. I used one of the tricks from Cook's Illustrated America's Test Kitchen to inhibit gluten formation in the dough by using a splash of vodka. 

ready to bake spelt apple pies

This apple pie filling represents some of my favorite holiday flavors that are absolutely wonderful! It has a mix of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples that are cooked with red wine and sweet ginger bits. And best of all you can add whatever mix of mulling spices that you love to flavor the wine. You probably won't end up using all the liquid to fill the pies so do what I did, save it as a sauce to pour over your breakfast pancakes or serve it as a sauce with some fresh fruit like pears for desserts! 

mulled wine apple pies with spelt

mini mulled wine apple spelt pies

mulled wine apple pie filling  

yields: about 2 - 21/2 cups 

ingredients

1 1/2 cups red wine (I used a Burgundy)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark honey
2 tablespoons mulling spice mix (of your choice)
1 lb yellow delicious apples, peeled and diced
1 lb granny smith apples, peeled and diced
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) crystallized ginger bits

1. Pour the wine into a thick bottomed saucepan. Place the mulling spices into a muslin cloth bag or a piece of cheese cloth and tie it at the open end with a piece of kitchen string. Add the bag to the wine and bring the wine to a boil on a medium high flame, reduce to a gentle simmer and allow the wine to cook for 20 minutes or until it has reduced to 1/2 of its original volume.
2. Add the sugar, honey, apples, and ginger bits to the wine. Cook for another 30 minutes on a medium low flame until the apples are tender. The apples will release their liquid. Remove the muslin bag with the spices and discard. 
3. Remove the mulled wine apple pie filling and allow it to cool to room temperature before using it to fill the pies.

spelt pie pastry crust

yields: 8 X 4" pies

ingredients

1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) spelt flour
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all purpose flour + a little extra flour to roll out the pastry
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped and chilled
8 tablespoons coconut oil, chilled and cut into bits
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
3 tablespoons water, chilled
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

1. Pulse the flours, sugar and salt in a food processor for a few seconds to mix the dry ingredients. Randomly distribute the chopped butter and coconut oil over the dry ingredients. Pulse the ingredients twice for 30 seconds to mix the fat. Continue to pulse the ingredients and slowly drizzle the vodka and water into the food processor. Continue to pulse until the ingredients come together to form the pie dough. Remove the dough from the food processor, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 4 flat discs. Cover each with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour before use.
2. Remove and unwrap one disc. Place the disc on a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin flatten the disc out to a rough 12 inch circle. Cut 4 inch circles and place the circles on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough. Any extra bits of unused dough can be combined, chilled and reused. You should get a total of 16 circles of pie pastry.
3. Using a small star-shaped cookie cutter (you can use any shape of cookie cutter here) cut out a star in the center of 8 of the 16 circles of pie pastry cut out earlier. Reserve the stars and keep aside these discs aside.
4. Place 1 generous tablespoon of the apple filling in the center of an uncut pie circle. Place and center one of the cut circles over the filling and seal the edges of the two discs by pressing lightly with the prongs of a fork. Repeat and prepare the rest of the pies. You can decorate the pies with the reserved cutout stars as you like. Chill the pies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper for 30 minutes before baking.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Lightly whisk the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Brush the surface of each pie with the yolk wash. Bake the pies for 25-30 minutes until the crusts are golden brown. Allow the pies to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes and serve warm.

mango kulfi

Easy Mango Kulfi

My grandparents had a house in Goa on the West Coast of India that was located in an historic part of the capital city, Panjim (now known as Panaji). Practically every summer, the entire family including my grandparents, would take a trip down where we'd spend a couple of weeks by the ocean and relax in the warm sunny weather. The house was old, large and at times dark, which scared me a little but there were so many fun moments. I remember every morning, waking up to the sound of the horns and then running out out on to the tall balcony to see if I could stretch up to see the incoming ships that stopped at the dock. I remember my mom showing and explaining to me some of the antique china and  pieces of furniture (a big round white marble table with huge wooden legs, that I would love to own today) that had been collected over the years, of course at that time I displayed very little interest in these things (now it's a whole different level of fascination when it comes to antiques). There was a stack of paper, so old (I vaguely remember seeing a watermark imprint of the British Royal Family on it) and delicate that every time you tried to handle a sheet, it would crack and break (breaking rather than ripping paper was a strange and fascinating concept back thn to a kid back then). 

mangoes

The things that were much more fun to a ten year old back then, were the steep staircase at the back, the deep well (that was off-limits) and the garden that were enclosed at the back of the house. I remember the coconut, jackfruit and mango trees that adorned the garden and every summer we would eagerly await our bounty. My grandfather would hire someone to come and pick the fruit out and we would sit and watch with eager anticipation. For me, it was mostly the mangoes, they were sweet and juicy and delicious. 

mangoes and kulfi

I have not been back in more than a decade. The house has long since been sold, demolished and the ground now stands home to a large condominium/shopping mall but some of the memories are still stored up here in my head. This summer, the new boat has brought back some of those early childhood memories by the ocean and along with it a strong craving for mangoes. Last weekend, I decided to whip up some of the memories and freeze them in this kulfi recipe. I hesitate on calling kulfi an Indian ice-cream (thought it is described sometimes as such) because it is very different, it traditionally uses less fat and lacks eggs or corn starch as thickening agent when compared to a typical ice-cream. It also has a unique texture of its own, it is creamy yet not soft but firm with a very mild grainy texture that comes from the ground almond meal. Yet it is so simple to prepare but still so complex in flavors and textures that it remains a very popular frozen dessert in Indian cuisine during the hot summer months. I used freezer-safe cappuccino cups to set the kulfi but you can use the traditional kulfi molds (which you can find online or at your local Indian food store) or small conical tea cups or even popsicles molds. 

mango kulfi

India has several different varieties of mangoes and they are sweeter and much more flavorful than any other mango that I have tasted from elsewhere. The Alphonso variety are one of the sweetest, there are others that are simply not eaten by scooping out the flesh but rather sucked out because their meat is sweet but their texture too stringy to chew on. If you every get the opportunity to visit the Indian west coast during summer, I highly recommend trying one of the many mango varieties of the local region. When buying mangoes, press them gently they should be soft but not mushy. They should also give off a sweet fruity smell and the skin should be as yellow as possible with absolutely (preferably) no traces of green color. 

mangoes and kulfi1

mango kulfi

yields: 6 servings

ingredients

1 quart or 4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon saffron strands, ground
1/4 teaspoon green cardamom seeds, ground
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 pint heavy cream, chilled
1 cup fresh ripe mango puree (I used Champagne mangoes but if you can try to use a much more sweeter and flavorful Indian variety like the Alphonso) 
a little fresh mango pulp, diced for garnishing

1. Bring the milk and sugar to a boil in a thick-bottomed saucepan, stir constantly with a silicone spatula to prevent the milk from scalding. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and add the honey. Continue to stir the milk and simmer for another 20-25 minutes until it reduces to approximately 3 cups. 
2. Stir in the saffron and cardamom and once again bring the milk to a boil.  Continue to stir and fold in the almond meal. Boil for 2-3 minutes and remove from the stove. 
3. Fold in the cream and mango puree.  Cool the mixture to room temperature. Pour into freezer-safe cappuccino cups (or kulfi molds). Cover the open end with cling film and freeze for at least 10-12 hours to firm. 4. Before serving, place the frozen mold into a warm water bath or running hot water from a faucet to release the kulfi from the mold. Stick a knife into the center of the kulfi (not all the way through, just deep enough to help you maneuver the kulfi) and rotate the kulfi to get it out of the mold. Garnish with freshly diced mango fruit pieces. 

kumquat ginger sorbet

Sorbet

Thank you so much for all the kind birthday wishes, I had a wonderful and fantastic week. The celebrations began early last weekend over brunch with some of my closest friends in the city. Later towards the end of the week, we celebrated for one last time with my friend Tyler's family at a delicious French restaurant in Bethesda called Mon Ami Gabi. The food was great and the company spectacular. What more could one ask for on a special day (week) than to spend some time with people that I care about dearly!

Each year around birthday time, I get myself a special gift, something that I really want but I could do without. This year was no different and I picked myself an ice cream maker that I have had my eye on for a very long time. It was one of those things that I know I certainly didn't have place to store but felt that it might be useful appliance to own. My opinion changed quickly after my first experiment with it, to hell with kitchen space economizing theory, I did indeed need an ice cream maker, its divine delicious abilities made up for any space that was lost! A personal ice cream churner in the kitchen is amazing, it takes away the crazy moments when you keep opening your freezer at different intervals to churn the ice cream and break the ice crystals. It was definitely a worth investment.

Prep Work

When it comes to kumquats, I'm not a big fan of eating them raw, the skin is pleasantly sweet but the flesh is tart and sour which makes my face cringe and pucker, every time I take a bite into these little guys. However, I do enjoy kumquats when they are cooked as preserves or spreads and in desserts, such as this sorbet. The first frozen dessert that I made many, many years ago was a lime sorbet. I didn't have an ice cream maker then and I almost crashed my mom's freezer by opening it every fifteen minutes to break the ice crystals that were forming. Based on this personal history, it only seemed fitting to have a sorbet as the first recipe from my new ice cream maker.

"Kumquatted"

To get rid of some of the harshness of the fruit, I trimmed the tops and bottoms of each kumquat and brought them to boil in water a few times. This also helps to make the skin of the fruit much more tender and easy to puree. I also added in a little bit of crystallized ginger to give the sorbet a little texture and bite. By boiling the ginger in the simple syrup, the ginger flavor mellows down just enough and also imparts a light flavor to the syrup. Once the ginger was infused into the syrup, I let the kumquat puree rest with the syrup, before passing it through a fine meshed sieve. Once the ice cream maker did its thing, the resultant sorbet was delicious, it was creamy, soft, tender and citrusy with little bits of ginger and little strands of orange kumquat zest.

Instead of using plain mint leaves to garnish this sorbet, I used some fresh chocolate-mint leaves that I planted a few weeks ago. This mint variety goes amazingly well with the citrus flavors of the sorbet. The leaves have a light chocolate flavor when you first taste it before the mint kicks in.

Kumquats

kumquat ginger sorbet

yields: 6-8 servings

ingredients


12 ounces/ 340gm kumquats
6 cups water to boil the kumquats
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon ginger root, freshly grated
a few fresh chocolate-mint leaves to garnish

1. Rinse the kumquats under running cold water. Cut each fruit in half and trim and discard the tops and bottoms along with the seeds. Place the trimmed fruit in a medium sized saucepan. Add two cups of water to cover the kumquats completely and bring to a boil on a medium flame. Once the water boils, discard the water and repeat the boiling process twice with the rest of the water.
2. Process the kumquats in a food processor to a smooth puree. 
3. With regular stirring bring the 2 cups of water and sugar to a boil along with the ginger. Remove the syrup from the flame and pass the syrup through a sieve to collect the ginger bits. Keep the ginger aside. 
4. Put the syrup in a glass mixing bowl and keep over an ice water bath. Stir in the kumquat puree and allow to cool to room temperature. This will take about 30-40 minutes. Pass the syrup through a sieve and with a large spoon press the fruit pulp against the sieve to extract as much of the fruit as possible. 
5. Chill the syrup in the freezer for another 45 minutes before adding it into the ice cream maker. Follow the instructions that came with your ice cream maker, they vary a little by brand. Carefully drop the ginger bits, a few at a time during the last five minutes of churning. The sorbet is done when it is frozen and gets a light milky orange-yellow color. Transfer to a clean freezer-proof storage container and freeze for at least another 1 to 2 hours before serving. Serve a scoop or two of the sorbet with fresh chocolate-mint leaves. 

apple brown betty redux


We went apple picking over the long weekend with our friends to the Showwalter's Orchard in Virginia. It probably wasn't the most idyllic weather to be picking fruit or for that matter even walking around in the rain, especially if  you have a long holiday. The weather had suddenly dropped to the lower 50's and it had rained quite a bit the night before. We still had a continuous drizzle of rain but despite all this it was still so much fun. We came back with about a 100lbs of apples of all sorts of colors, shapes, and varieties. I picked some huge pumpkins, large enough to replace the ab's ball at my gym (despite my fortuitous find,  I am still sticking with the lighter ball at the gym for my workouts). 


One of the fun parts of this trip was the apple cider tasting. This was my first apple cider tasting and if you are like me and thought this might taste sweet and fruity like apple juice then you are in for a bit of a surprise. Cider based alcohol tastes like a cross between wine and beer. The bottles we tried had a bit of mild effervescence and some interesting notes. One of them particularly stood out with an instantaneous hint of a mild blue cheese. Fascinated and intrigued, I picked up two varieties of the cider. I think I might have a future recipe under my sleeve to infuse with some of these unique and delicious ciders.


Until now, I had never tried an apple brown Betty. It is absolutely delicious and easy to make. I made it right after we got back from our fruit endeavors. There are a few changes that I made to the original recipe, for one I bumped up the amount of nutmeg and also added in a little bit of sweet apple cider to give the Betty a little more flavor and syrup. One of the main reasons why I love this dessert is its rustic simplicity and the lack of an overly sweet backgrounds brings out the fruity flavors of the apple. This dessert tastes delicious at any temperature and you can also start your day with it with some whipped Greek  yogurt on the side. This recipe was adapted from Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Dessert  cookbook.


apple brown betty redux

yields: 6 servings

ingredients

1 1/4 pounds firm apples (I used a mix of Fuji and Gala apples)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup apple cider
1 cup crushed saltine crackers
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. In a small mixing bowl, toss the crushed crackers and sugar together. 
3. Wash, peel, and core the apples. Chop the apples into 1 inch chunks. 
4. Toss the apples, cranberries, lemon juice, and 1/4 cracker mix together into a rectangular baking pan. Place the pan in the oven at bake for 15 minutes.
5. After the apples have baked for 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven. 
6. Pour the melted butter onto the rest of the cracker mixture and mix well. 
7. Drizzle the apple cider over the baked apples. 
8. Sprinkle the rest of the butter and cracker mixture evenly over the fruit. 
9. Turn the oven temperature to 400F. Bake the fruit again  for another 20 minutes. The apple brown betty is done when the juices of the fruit are bubbling and the crust is golden brown.
10. Serve hot, warm, or cold. You can also serve this with chilled Greek yogurt for breakfast.


panna cotta with poached fig sauce


Another fig recipe so soon, I know, I know. I've been pretty fortunate for the past few weeks to get fresh ripe figs on a weekly basis. They are perfect! Figs are ripe and ready to eat when they feel like soft swollen balloons that are almost ready to burst. Sometimes when entertaining, I like to serve up simple desserts. The ones that are no fuss and easy to make. You dump everything together and literally forget about them till you are ready to eat. You let the ingredients do all the work and talking for you. This is one such dessert to woo your guests over in a single delicious bite.


Of all the puddings that I have tried, panna cotta is probably one of the most delicate and yet so simplistically elegant desserts. In my mind it invokes all sorts of culinary praise. You scoop a little pudding and once it enters your mouth it melts. The cool buttermilk and vanilla pervade your taste buds and delight them in every possible way. This how I feel about my panna cotta consumption experience. 


The fig sauce compliments the panna cotta not only visually but also provides a surprising burst of complex fruity flavors. The fig sauce can be served with almost any other dessert as a topping. It makes a delicious accompaniment to bread pudding, ice creams, cakes, etc. You can also serve the fig sauce by itself with a little bit of whipped creme fraiche or mascarpone. I adapted these recipes from one of my favorite dessert chefs Alice Medrich from her Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts Cookbook.


panna cotta

ingredients

1/4 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups 1% or skim buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Lightly spray six individual dessert dishes with a neutral and flavorless vegetable oil spray.
2.  Pour the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on the surface. Set aside, without stirring. The gelatin will absorb water and begin to swell.
3. Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over a medium flame. Stir continuously till the sugar is dissolved. Do not bring to a boil. 
4. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the vanilla and water-gelatin mixture. Stir well at this stage with a whisk to disperse the gelatin. Cool the mixture till lukewarm. 
5. Gently whisk in the buttermilk and stir thoroughly. Let this custard sit for about 10 minutes. It will begin to thicken as it keeps cooling down. Keep mixing it every 2 minutes or so with a rubber spatula. This will ensure a tender panna cotta. 
6. Once the mixture is cool to touch and thickens, divide and pour equally into the dessert dishes. Cover each with a piece of cling film and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight to set.
7. The pudding is ready when the surface is firm to finger touch. You can serve them in the dessert dishes or remove them from the dishes onto a dessert plate using a sharp paring knife to loosen them from the sides of the dish. Top the surface of the dish with a dessert plate and invert the dish to release the panna cotta. 

poached fig sauce

ingredients

2 cups of strong coffee 
1 cup sugar (you can add a little more if you want it sweeter)
1 vanilla bean pod 
2 pounds ripe fresh brown turkey figs
1 cup red wine (I used a Shiraz)

1. Chop the figs in half. You can keep the stems if you want or trim them off.
2. Slice the vanilla bean in half across its length. Remove the seeds with the knife. Combine the vanilla bean, the seeds with the rest of the ingredients in the saucepan. Do not add the figs yet. Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium flame. Reduce the flame and continue to cook the sauce to a gentle simmer till the volume reduces to half. 
3. Add the sliced figs and cook them for further 10 minutes. Stir gently. 
4. Remove the sauce from the stove and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 2 to 4 hours before using. 

Note: If the sauce is warm or too hot it will melt the panna cotta. Gelatin gelled food begin to melt at higher temperatures. 

blueberry chocolate jam

blueberry chocolate jam

Summer has ended and here I am in the kitchen trying to seal every bit of my memories in glass jars that will remind me of the good and happy times. This past summer was etched with fun trips, great family visits, and new experiences. New recipes and tastes to be tried and savored and my blog completed its first year. This is also my first summer of canning and preserving and I will admit that it is very addictive. The summer harvest was as generous with its bounty as it was with its experiences and I took full advantage, especially the fruit. Yup, you might have noticed that I'm always leaning towards the sweeter end of things.

Chocolate chips

So here I am sharing a story of how I combined possibly two of the best ingredients that will remind me of a wonderful summer. Deep and dark chocolate with rich sweet blueberries all tucked away in a jar waiting to be opened and remind me of the warm sweet summer. I will admit, I was a little nervous about this jam, chocolate can be a bit overpowering when it comes to blueberries and a more concentrated flavor is needed to balance both the berries and the chocolate. The splash of citrus juices will help fortify the blueberries and they will hold their own against the chocolate. I added a little bit of pectin to quicken the jam process because chocolate gets scalded easily and you don't want to end up with a burned product. Burned chocolate is no fun. All in all, this is one jam that must be shared. Spread it on buttered bread slices for breakfast, drizzle it on pancakes, slap it on grilled pound cake, or anything else you could concoct at the moment. Gulping a spoonful always works too!

Note: Some cooks recommend dissolving the pectin first before adding it to the liquid. I added a teaspoon at a time and did not have a problem combining it into the jam. Also, I've made this jam a few times and stored it over a period of one year, it appears that the acidity is enough for it to be canned. You can also reduce the amount and make enough jam to store for a shorter period in the refrigerator.

This recipe was adapted from Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber.

blueberry and chocolate jam

blueberry chocolate jam

yields: 12 individual 4 ounce canning jars

ingredients


3 cups sugar
3 pints wild blueberries (I used frozen, fresh is perfectly fine too)
10 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate chips
juice of one lemon, fresh (no pulp)
juice of one lime, fresh (no pulp)
10 ml orange juice, fresh (no pulp)
5 teaspoons fruit pectin powder

1. Mix the sugar and blueberries in a large pot and cook on a medium flame. (If you use frozen blueberries then use the juices too.) Macerate the blueberries during this period with a masher and stir occasionally. Cook for about 10-12 minutes till the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour the entire mixture through a ricer or sieve and process to remove all the skins. You might have some tiny seeds that seep through the ricer/sieve, that is perfectly fine. Squeeze as much pulp and juice as you can. 
2. Add the pureed blueberry syrup into a pot and bring it a gentle simmer on a small flame. Stir in the chocolate chips. At this stage you need to stir the mixture continuously to ensure that the chocolate does not burn. 
3. Add the lemon, lime and orange juices to the mixture. Stir continuously for 15 minutes. Add the pectin to the mixture, a teaspoon at a time. Mix till it is completely combined. Perform the wrinkle test to make sure that the jam is ready to set. (Wrinkle test: Take a tablespoon of the hot mixture and smear it on a clean plate. Put the plate in the freezer for 5 minutes. When you remove it, run your finger through the center, the gel should wrinkle on the surface. This indicates that your jam is ready to gel). For some reason if your jam is not ready to gel, cook for another 5 minutes, take it off from the stove and repeat the wrinkle test. It took me two wrinkle tests to get the right consistency. Pour the jam into 12 clean 4 ounce canning jars and process for 10 minutes. 

Update: I recently designed some labels for my jars and thought I would share them with you. Do let me know what you think of them. Just note that each label is about 2 inches wide.

Disclaimer: These labels are for personal use only. If you do use them or credit them, please post a link back to the related original recipe and not the file. © A Brown Table                    




whiskey-kissed brown turkey fig cake


Strange things can happen! I was never a big fan of fresh figs while growing up and my dislike for dried figs was even more severe. However, now I find myself stuck with an intense love for the fruit, so much so that I planted a fig tree in my garden this past spring with the hope that I might have my own personal supply. Folks, as luck would have it, I have no figs yet but the tree is growing taller and taller. Thankfully, I have found other places that will satisfy my fig cravings. The farmer's markets and on occasion some of the little farm stores we run into when we drive out into the country. 


Instead of opting for a destination vacation for our Labor Day weekend, we decided to stay in and spend one day out in the country. The rest of the weekend I devoted to finishing up a couple of home projects which included making a console table and some floating shelves. We planned a picnic with our neighbors, Krysta and Travis and drove out to Little Washington in Virginia. Krysta packed up a delicious picnic for us and we made our way through a couple of vineyards, a whiskey distillery, and several antique stores. Yes, you have to squeeze in the shopping whenever you can!


The weather was just right (even at 90F) and even with the high humidity, we still had winds that kept us relatively cool. Most of the vineyard owners are friendly and will let you walk around the vines and explore. As you might have noticed, this is an image heavy post but I wanted to share some of the sights from our trip. 


My inspiration for this cake came from a few of the different things we sampled on our picnic, Krysta's figs and the whiskey tasting from the Copper Fox distillery. For some reason, the thought of figs and whiskey sounded deliciously decadent and indeed it is so! The baked figs and whiskey get a rich honey like flavor that melts in your mouth. Since figs are expensive (at least here in our area), I used fig preserves that are rich and packed with a concentrated amount of figs and flavor.


This cake is soft, moist, and buttery. I put the sliced figs about 20 minutes into baking the cake so that they don't burn and get bitter. This worked out perfect and the little amount of brown sugar on the surface helps to develop a sweet brown crust. The whiskey adds a gentle flavor to the cake and the figs become even "figgier"! Since the amount of alcohol is pretty small and as the cake is baked, I found no traces of any alcohol while eating the cake, the whiskey simply dehydrates the figs a little and helps in their caramelization during baking but it also gives a much more flavorful taste to the cake.


This cake will last for a couple of days outside but if refrigerated it should last for a little more than a week. A good quality honey bourbon will do wonders for the cake but any other whiskey should be equally good with the figs.


whiskey-kissed brown turkey fig cake

ingredients

6 fresh ripe figs (brown turkey figs or any other kind you can find)
50ml honey bourbon whiskey or any other whiskey
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups of a good quality fig butter/preserves (I used the Trader Joe's brand of fig butter-it is rich and dark and not overly spiced)
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon brown sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. 
2. Cut the stems of the figs and slice them lengthwise. Add the figs to the whiskey and let them sit for 30 minutes at room temperature. 
3. Sift the flour and salt twice and keep aside. 
4. In a thick-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and the preserves on a medium flame. Stir constantly till the butter and preserves are combined and smooth. Remove from heat and keep aside. 
5. Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and with an electric mixer cream the eggs and sugar till they expand to four times its original volume. The goal here is to beat as much air as you can into the cake batter and this should take about 15 minutes if you use the high speed setting of an electric mixer. Pour half of the melted butter-fig mixture into the whisked eggs and sugar. Drain the whiskey from the sliced figs and pour it into the batter. For now, keep the sliced figs aside. Fold the batter gently with a spatula and then add the rest of the butter-fig liquid and combine gently. Do not over-fold the batter because you will lose the air that you have carefully whisked in.  Fold in the raisins.
6. Take an ungreased rectangular baking dish (12 X 10 inches) and pour the batter into the dish. Bake the cake in the preheated oven. The cake will begin to rise and brown as it bakes. After 20 minutes during the baking stage, open the door of the oven and carefully add the sliced figs across the surface of the cake (I like to space them out equally so I can later cut slices each having a fig on top). Sprinkle the brown sugar on the surface. Be quick and don't let the cake stay out for more than 2 to 3 minutes. Put the cake back into the oven and bake the cake till the crust is golden brown and the center of the cake is cooked. This will take another 20 minutes (A knife should come out clean from the center of the cake). Remove the baked cake and allow to cool to room temperature in the pan, before you serve. 

Disclaimer: I did not receive any financial compensation for the fig preserves from Trader Joes. All my opinions listed here are my own.

peach and black raspberry cobbler


Sometimes during our summers we would visit our grandfather's family home that was located a few hours away from the city. Since the house faced the port, we would watch the ships enter and leave the docks. Some days were spent on the sandy shores of the beach where we'd act silly and play in the water. The house also contained a big garden at the back and we would collect and eat plenty of fresh coconuts, mangoes, jackfruits, and cashews. We'd come back to the city with crates of fresh mangoes to potentially last us for the rest of summer but that would never really went as well as planned. Those were wonderful days. Later as time passed the house was sold and the bountiful garden was gone. A newer and larger building came in its place. We'd still visit but I secretly missed the smell of the old house and its fruit trees.


These days I get to relive my childhood summers and recreate them in a more grownup way. There are several beautiful vineyards and farms out in Virginia and Maryland. Fortunately for us, most of them are only an hour or so away from D.C. making it the perfect getaway. A few weekends back, we took a day trip down to the Hollin's farm in Virginia where we picked peaches and black raspberries among other fruits and vegetables. Coincidentally, August is also the National Peach Month and the orchards were loaded with all sorts and sizes of peaches. We picked more peaches than we could actually eat but that did not stop us from filling four pecks. Later we walked through the groves of black raspberries and picked the ripening berries straight off the vines. Some of them squeezed under the pressure of our fingers and stained our palms with a sweet and sticky purple color. By the time we were done, we had the car full with our "day's catch".


After sharing some of the peaches with friends and neighbors, I was still left with some 80+ peaches. Some I canned and froze and some that ripened fast we ate quickly. Still it is hard to keep with that many peaches and this is where my friend Alex came to my rescue. Alex was hosting an impromptu party at his home and he wanted a dessert. I told him about my peach overload situation and he suggested a peach cobbler for his party. To me this seemed like an answer to my prayers. A large peach cobbler for several people would use up several ripening peaches and so Alex got his peach cobbler.


The original cobbler that I baked Alex had only peaches in it. This second batch of individual cobblers that I later had Alex and another friend Daniel taste-test during the week used up the black raspberries in addition to the peaches we picked at the farm.


I originally had a delicious cobbler recipe given to me by Shelly that called for yellow food cake mix and jello. However, I made a few changes this time to the recipe and made my own crust. The first time I tried to make a crust, it didn't have the right texture and was too doughy. I used milk and water to make a wet dough which resulted in a tragic mess. The fruit filling was great but the crust lacked the flakiness  that was needed. I had earlier noticed that Shelly's recipe called for a dry dough mix rather than a wet dough mix that most other recipes recommend using. Perhaps the problem and the solution was the liquid in the fruit. I realized that most fruits are rich in water and I could perhaps use the steam of the cooking fruit to moisten and bake the dough while it cooked. This turned out to be the perfect solution to my problem. Frozen and chilled butter helped to create the flaky crust that I was missing in my previous batches.


This recipe makes about six individual 6" cobblers depending on the size of your baking dishes. You can also make one large cobbler. You can substitute the fruit with almost any fresh cherries, berries,  apples, etc. I have previously used both gelatin and cornflour to thicken the fruit juices but I find gelatin to give a better thicker and richer sauce. If you use cornflour, you should use two tablespoons and mix it with the fruit before filling the baking dish. 


The beauty of a cobbler is its no-fuss method and style. A cobbler is rustic and should be easy. I like to serve cobblers hot, bubbling with its juices and dripping from the sides. It should always look messy and sticky. Some people like to serve cobblers with ice-cream, I rarely tend to do so but if you do like ice-cream, I would recommend a plain and simple flavor like vanilla that does not distract from the strong fruit flavors.


peach and black raspberry cobbler

ingredients 

1 pint black raspberries
4-5 large ripe peaches (or 4 cups of chopped peaches)
1 vanilla bean pod
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar + 1/4 cup brown sugar for sprinkling on top of the cobblers
1 stick cubed chilled butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 individual sized baking dishes (about 4 to 6 inches in diameter)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Peel the peaches and slice each of them in half to remove the stone at the center. Cut the peaches into large 1 inch thick pieces. 
2. In a mixing bowl, mix together the raspberries, peaches, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Using a sieve dust the cornstarch over the berries and mix well (the sieve helps to prevent clump formation and allows even mixing). Carefully scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pod and fold the seeds into the fruit mixture. Cover the bowl with a lid or cling film and let it rest in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
3. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, butter, kosher salt, and baking powder and keep aside. 
4. Place the individual baking dishes on a baking sheet. Scoop around 3/4 cup of the fruit mixture into each baking dish. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the dry flour mix on top of the fruit in each dish. Randomly spread about 1 tablespoon of the chopped butter over the flour mixture. Bake the cobblers in the baking tray for about 45 minutes or till the crust is golden and crisp. Let them cool for 5 minutes outside the oven. Serve hot or warm with/without vanilla ice cream.

orange and fennel semolina cake


I have a citrus addiction, limes, lemons, sweet limes, oranges, blood oranges, etc. There is something wonderful about the fragrant smell of citrus plants and trees. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I remember urging my father to pick me a little lime plant. The poor lime plant didn't last for more than a few months but it gave me one of my fondest scented childhood memories. I would rub the leaves of the lime plant between my palms and sniff the scent off my fingers. It was simply heavenly and these days I really wish I could grow some in the garden


On our way back from a quick trip to the beach last weekend, we stopped by a market in North Carolina where I was surprised to find some fresh oranges. I am not sure if they were local but they were delicious. Needless to say, I couldn't resist and picked up a few among other things to bring home. They had some interesting items, especially a "Moonshine Jelly". I am not sure what one does with this, do you just use this as a regular preserve or jelly? I think a scoop of that for breakfast might lead to a very interesting day. I stayed away from it and went with some huckleberry preserves, black raspberry jams, and honey.



One of my favorite types of cakes are the semolina-based cakes that are popular in Mediterranean and Indian desserts. Fresh, firm, and ripe oranges give this cake its taste and aroma. I made a light honey based glaze infused with orange zest and freshly ground fennel seeds to pour on top of the cake. The orange by itself lends a very delicate flavor in this cake and a tiny bit of fennel seeds aids in giving a bit of flavor without being overpowering. Fennel seeds have a sweet anise or licorice like taste and are served after a meal in Indian cuisine to freshen the breath.



I've had many disasters with bundt pans in the past but after much trial and error and advice from an expert, this strategy always seems to work. A silicone bundt pan is great and you don't need to grease it too much before use. However, the real trick is to invert the cake while it is still hot in the pan onto a flat surface like a plate. The steam will push the cake away from the pan and the cooled cake will come off without breaking. This is one of those moments where I feel like saying "Voilà!" as the revelation occurs. Now, if only I could grow an orange plant here in Zone 7! 


orange and fennel semolina cake


ingredients


for the orange glaze syrup

1.5 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground fennel 
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange blossom honey or regular honey
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon cointreau or any other orange flavored liquor

for the cake

6 eggs
3 cups semolina
1 cup flour
3 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1.5 cups sugar
3 sticks chopped unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon fennel seeds


Bundt pan greasing mixture


1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil


To prepare the glaze, combine all the ingredients except for the cointreau/liquor. Bring the contents to a gentle simmer in a thick bottomed pot and stir constantly until the volume reduces to half and the sauce begins to thicken and turn golden . This should take about 15 minutes. Once thickened, remove the sauce from the stove and add the cointreau. Allow to cool to room temperature before adding it to the cake. If the sauce gets too thick and hard to pour, then place the container in tub of warm water to loosen it up and then pour it on the cake.


Grease a bundt pan well with the greasing mixture (simply mix the three ingredients listed and use) using a basting brush.


Preheat the oven to 350F. In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients - semolina, flour, baking soda, and fennel seeds. Keep this aside. In another large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar using an electric blender or whisk. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time till combined. Add the orange juice and the zest to the batter and beat it for another 20 seconds. Add one cup of the dry ingredients to the batter and beat until completely blended. Repeat this till the rest of the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the batter. Pour into the greased bundt pan and shake it very gently to make sure the batter spreads evenly into the pan. (Don't shake or tap it too much or the air bubbles that you whisked in will be lost.) Bake for about 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven till the surface is golden brown or until a skewer/knife comes out clean from the center of the cake. Once the cake is  baked, remove the bundt pan with the hot cake still in it from the oven. Immediately place a sheet of baking paper on top of the cake and invert the bundt pan with the baking paper onto a clean flat plate. Let the bundt pan with the cake rest and come to room temperature. When the cake is cooled completely, tap the top of the bundt pan gently and remove the pan. The cake will be left behind sitting on the paper. Pour the orange glaze on top of the cake and allow it to fall from the sides. This cake can be served at room temperature or even slightly warm with a cup of  hot coffee or tea.