December 30, 2007

My favorites in 2007

This is my entry to Nupur's Best of 2007 Event.

I have a few recipes that I thought were real hits. One of them is a Fruitcake that I made to celebrate the holiday season. It was flavorful and delicious - certainly a recipe I will make every holiday season.

Miriyala Annam - Pepper Flavored Rice from Sailu's Kitchen was an amazingly different quick tadka rice. I have cooked a lot with pepper and curry leaves, but I have never smelt the kind of aromas that roasting these spices gives before. Delicious and simple.

Another recipe that I will make again is the Lasun Chutney from Nupur's One Hot Stove. It was delicious as a podi with rice and ghee and as an accompaniment to dosas.

I have been struggling with Tomato Chutney for a while now. Success finally came with this chutney from Nandita at Saffron Trail. The only changes I made are to cook the tomatoes on high heat (at setting 8 on my electric stove) to get browning flavors from the tomatoes and to add the salt towards the end to de-glaze the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. If the tomatoes aren't sour enough, I would add tamarind or amchur (dry mango) powder for some sourness.

Bread pudding sounded so boring until I saw the pictures for Berry Brioche pudding on La Tartine Gourmande's blog. (Looking at those pictures, you sort of acquire a sweet tooth if you didn't have one). Did anyone mention that bread pudding gets even better sitting in the fridge waiting to be eaten cold for the next morning's breakfast? I am wondering if all bread puddings are better cold the next day rather than warm. Good, good, good. Breading puddings are in, and I am now waiting to try out a Banana Caramel bread pudding recipe that caught my eye in Bon appetit.

Ice creams are an ongoing experiment. You will not believe how amazingly different ice creams taste at home. A simple orange lemon ice cream tastes like no other ice cream I have tried anywhere else. The flavors are just amazing, and you can control the fat content. Honey in ice cream? You have to try it to believe it. I'll will be posting some of these recipes in 2008.

I learned about a couple of techniques this year that I have yet to try out. So 2008 will see a few recipes using Sous vide and Confit techniques. A recent trip to Puerto Rico put Flan, Asapao and Rice and beans on the menu. There are some Southeast asian recipes that need some perfecting, and new meat cuts (Lamb and Mutton) and cooking methods (braising) to try out.

Some new ingredients I tried this year (with varying degrees of success): Sweet potatoes, winter squashes, sweet and green plantains, schezwan peppercorns, kokam, fish sauce.

Recipes out of my comfort zone: Many - but Ceviche was particularly delicious. And I discovered that good quality seafood is a completely different ball game. Case in point - Scallops. I will blog about seafood recipes sometime in the future.

So 2008 promises to be an exciting year. As a newbie to the food blogging world, I am excited to see how things will turn out.


As a child, I ate a store bought Fruitcake once a year around Christmas. I thought it was delicious and always wanted to try my hand at making some. A year ago I caught an episode of Alton Brown making Fruitcake on his show Good Eats. The recipe looked interesting, and I went out and stocked up on the several different kinds of dry fruits needed for this recipe. They languished around in my pantry for a while until I finally decided to give this recipe a try.

This recipe beats any fruit cake I have eaten so far - it is so delicious that it's easily my top Recipe of the Year (and I don't really have a sweet tooth!). It's chock full of dry fruit that is meltingly tender, not tough and chewy, and the flavors are heady and aromatic. The rum doesn't smack you in the face even though there is so much of it, it just plays along with the rest of the ingredients perfectly.

You can find the entire stock of dried fruit and candied ginger in a single stop at Trader Joes. The cake keeps for a few months easily at cool room temperature, just keep basting it with alcohol and store it in an airtight glass container. (I kept a small piece in a plastic container and found that it tends to pick up off flavors from the plastic). The cake keeps so long because it has a good amount of alcohol and sugar from both the dried fruits and the added sugar, both of which act as preservatives much like salt or oil do.

Here is my adaptation of Alton Brown's Fruitcake.

1 cup dark raisins
1 cup currants
1/2 cup sun dried cranberries
1/2 cup sun dried blueberries
1/2 cup sun dried cherries
1/2 cup mixed raisins and blueberries chopped
Zest of one lemon, chopped coarsely
Zest of one orange, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
3/4 cup dark spiced rum mixed with 1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks)
1 cup unfiltered apple juice
4 whole cloves, ground
6 allspice berries, ground
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 to 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Brandy for basting and/or spritzing

Combine dried fruits, candied ginger and both zests. Add rum and macerate overnight, or microwave for 5 minutes to re-hydrate fruit.
Place fruit and liquid in a non-reactive pot with the sugar, butter, apple juice and spices. Bring mixture to a boil stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for at least 15 minutes. (Batter can be completed up to this point, then covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before completing cake.)
Heat oven to 300 degrees *.
Combine dry ingredients and sift into fruit mixture. Quickly bring batter together with a large wooden spoon, then stir in eggs one at a time until completely integrated, then fold in nuts. Spoon into a 2 1/2 quart glass pan* and bake for 1 hour. Check for doneness by inserting toothpick into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done. If not, bake another 10 to 20 minutes, checking back as needed.
Remove cake from oven and place on cooling rack or trivet. Baste or spritz top with brandy and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before turning out from pan.
When cake is completely cooled, seal in a tight sealing, food safe container. Every 3-4 days, feel the cake and if dry, spritz with brandy. The cake's flavor will enhance considerably over the next two weeks.

I used Spiced dark rum instead of Gold rum and used 3/4 cup rum and 1/4 cup orange juice in place of the original 1 cup of rum. In retrospect, I could have used the entire cup without overwhelming the cake as I had feared.

I also used dark raisins instead of golden raisins because that was what I had on hand. I swapped out the apricots with more raisins and blueberries. I would also recommend using at least some golden raisins and apricots - they have a completely different flavor that I though could only add to this recipes appeal.

An entry on Fruitcake would not be complete without mentioning how ridiculed Fruitcake is in America. The expression 'nutty as a Fruitcake' is used as insulting slang refer to a crazy person, and people joke about how you never really eat fruitcake, you merely keep pawning it off on other people as a gift. That is the complete opposite of how Fruitcake is treated in some other parts of the world. The Caribbean black cake, a descendant of the British plum pudding, for example, is treasured and recipes jealously guarded. Receiving a cake as a gift is considered a sign of affection because buying all the fruit is expensive and making the cake a time consuming process. Here is an article with more information about black cake.

* To bake the cake, I used a couple of Pyrex food storage glass bowls that I had on hand. If you are swapping out metal instead of glass, note that the cooking times and temperatures would need slight adjustments. Glass is slow to heat up unlike metal, but retains heat better. I also wouldn't used a dark metal pan for this - dark pans absorb more heat than light ones and the edges would brown unnecessarily because they would be done long before the center is. You need bowls adding up to about 2 1/2 quarts for this recipe - I used a large 1.75 quart bowl and a smaller 1/2 quart one that just barely contained the batter. I pulled out the smaller one when it was done, in about 50 minutes.