Cheesy Jalapeno Croquettes | Gooey Goodness



In a household where at least one fried dish is expected for Iftar, you’re constantly looking for new options. Kerala has plenty of fried food options and breaded Cutlets and Samosas stuffed and filled with meat are a staple on most tables. My home is no different and we have some form of fried dish almost every day for my husband. It’s mostly boiled egg, spicy Potato masala or thinly sliced onions dipped in Gram flour batter and fried till gold and crisp. These options are rotated throughout the week and he’s content with the options. On the other hand, I look out for new recipes that are a bit different from the usual Malayali fanfare. Last year, I was introduced to these Mozzarella stuffed Potato Croquettes. I added one little tweak and it’s now one of my go-to recipes when entertaining family members for Iftar.



I had these for the first time at my dear friend’s house last year when she hosted us for Iftar. I use the word host because her table setting is nothing short of elaborate (Royal Albert on steroids I kid you not) and she goes out of her way to make you feel at home. We’re from different countries and she’s introduced me to recipes when I was still grasping the basics of cooking in the kitchen. When we used to live in Abu Dhabi, she would make fresh pancakes and runny eggs for breakfast and we would sit on her kitchen table, again immaculately laid out, and drone on for hours about everything under the sun with glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. Almost every breakfast or our coffee session would end with me asking for a recipe or to be shown a technique. If I like something I’ve eaten, regardless of who it is I make it a point to let the person know their efforts have paid off. Certain recipes I go a step further and will ask for the recipe. Many a time, I’ve been told they’ll share the recipe later and you know it’s not coming your way. Or when it is shared and you do give it a try, it doesn’t taste quite the same (I have a sharp flavor memory, if that is a thing). It reflects so much on a person who not only enthusiastically shares her knowledge with patience but also almost immediately elaborates on what has been asked and without any hesitation. Saman is one of those rare people. In fact she is the person who opened the doors of baking to me. I’ve made my fair share of burnt cakes and sunken muffin tops but it was watching her bake that really pushed me to try more with the right recipes. 

Alright, I’ll rest the best friend fan club talk here. Back to these cheesy croquettes. There’s very few ingredients that go into the mashed potato mixture which means they’re a great option if you have a large group of guests. I compared the prepping time required to make Chicken Cutlets. The only bit that will take a little time is shaping and stuffing the cheese inside but considering you have to prepare, cook and mince chicken for the former, this is relatively much quicker to complete. Hand mixing the mashed potatoes is easier than using a spoon to incorporate all the ingredients together. I did not discard the Jalapeno seeds which meant my fingers were tingling for quite some time. Nevertheless, if you love heat these Croquettes will not disappoint. 



Let’s talk cheese. I really wanted to try these with fresh Mozzarella but was a bit wary considering they’re much softer in texture and didn’t know if it would hold up inside while being fried. Mozzarella cheese sticks or the chunkier blocks are combined with Vegetable oil so they’re easier to cube to place inside the Potato mixture. I try to pick the lightest colored version available as they taste closest to fresh Mozzarella. Do take care to seal the Mozzarella inside as it will literally be a hot mess if otherwise when it hits the deep fryer. 



Next step is breading. Saman uses Italian breadcrumbs instead of the regular ones and I would strongly recommend doing the same. They’re slightly coarser in texture and have quite a few dried herbs including Parsley and Oregano. If you have these in your pantry, you can make it yourself too. Apart from these, she adds powdered Parmesan (no more cheese please said nobody ever!!)  and a dash of Paprika. It adds more to the color than heat. The shaped croquettes are dipped in egg wash and then coated with the breadcrumb and cheese mix.





Considering there is Mozzarella in the middle, the Croquettes are shaped slightly elongated. I will say they do need delicate handling and this is where the texture of the mashed potatoes play a big role. You want to boil them where they’re still a bit powdery when mashed. I realized allowing the mashed potato to become cold to touch made for easier shaping. It becomes crucial in the frying stage too. Once my potato mash was much softer and it made it very difficult to turn over in the hot oil. My slotting spoon made indents through the breading and the mozzarella starting seeping through the potato into the hot oil. Mind you they still taste fantastic (It’s fried cheese after all) but you’ll lose points for how it looks. Firmer potato mash texture made ladling easier and helps retain its shape.

When I ask my husband want he wants for Iftar, his answer is almost always ‘anything you’d like.’ Off late, he’ll add ‘ and that cheese stuffed potato if you get the time.’ Last weekend I had family home for Iftar and I made these alongside Parippu Vada. There was no surprise that these finished very quickly and were appreciated by everyone. With a heart of Mozzarella and the heat of Jalapeños, I guess there’s no surprise there.



Cheesy Jalapeno Croquettes

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • Large Potatoes – 2

  • Onion – Medium sized, ½

  • Coriander leaves – Finely chopped, 2 Tbsp

  • Coriander powder – ¾ tsp

  • Chilli powder – ½ tsp

  • Jalapeno – 2 

  • Salt – to taste

  • Mozzarella cheese – cut to small cubes

  • Coconut oil – To fry

For breading 

  • Italian breadcrumbs – as needed

  • Parmesan cheese – 2 tsp

  • Paprika powder – 1 tsp

  • Egg – 1

METHOD

  • Boil potatoes till they’re soft and still powdery.

  • Mash them well to release steam and let it cool completely.

  • Finely chop onion and jalapeno chillies and mix it in the potatoes by hand.

  • Add coriander leaves, coriander powder, chilli powder and salt to taste and mix it by hand.

  • Take a lime sized potato mixture and flatten it slightly in your palm.

  • Place a mozzarella cube in the middle and seal it well with the potato mixture.

  • Continue shaping the remaining croquettes in the same manner.

  • In a bowl, mix breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and Paprika powder together.

  • Beat the egg thoroughly.

  • Dip the croquette in the egg wash and then coat it in the breadcrumb mixture.

  • Heat oil on medium-high heat.

  • Once hot, fry the croquettes till they’re golden brown.

  • Serve immediately.

NOTES

  • If fresh Jalapeños aren’t available, replace with 3-4 spicy green chillies.

  • The texture of the boiled potatoes should not be extremely mushy. It will crumble when it is deep fried.

  • You have to let the steam from the mashed potatoes escape completely. It should be cold while handling.

  • The mozzarella cube has to be sealed from all sides otherwise it will seep through and melt in the oil when it is being fried.

Have a good food day.

Summer Chicken Salad Croissant Sandwiches | Assembling Finesse



Ramadan Kareem to you! It’s that time of the year to reflect, to be grateful and to gather around the table with family and loved ones. We’re precisely halfway through the month and the routine of kitchen frenzy is balanced with introspection and worship. It is also the time when the last round of Iftar invites are sent out before the blessed ten nights of worship begins. Through this week, I will be sharing recipes that will make entertaining easier. Like these elegant croissant sandwiches filled with garlicky Chicken salad and a tang of citrus. It comes together very quickly and will make a classy yet fun addition to grace your table.

On a personal note, it’s been an awfully long break away from my blog. I’ve been dabbling with personal projects including moving houses towards the end of the year which was unexpected and nothing short of exhausting to have everything in place. And when it comes to blogging here, I just can’t get myself to rush through the process. Usually when I would blog it all begins with a whim. Once I start then I’ve got to go through my checklist methodically with styling, prepping, cooking, shooting and then editing. And that usually only happens when I have spare time from the daily grind. And with a growing child, that seems to be extremely hard to catch. I did know that no matter what, I have to blog during Ramadan. The last four years has seen me turnaround a handful of recipes during this month and it would have been a shame to let this year slip. 



This chicken salad draws heavy inspiration from the Waldorf Salad. The original recipe has green fruit alongside fresh leaves that mask easily while lending it a sweeter taste. I start with chicken breasts cut into thin strips. Butter is melted and I wait till it browns and just about starts to smoke. At this point I tip in so many cloves of garlic that would have me sent to exile by the Queen had I whipped this in her kitchen (Her disdain for garlic is pretty famous). I hold a grudge against chicken that tastes, well, cold. This is the case for most chicken cooked off the bone and it’s a flavor I can’t enjoy. Chilled chicken sandwiches that I would eat are very rare and it all boils down to the flavor of the chicken. For this very reason, whenever a recipe did calls for cooked chicken, I prefer doing this. You would think that the chicken would pick up the garlic flavor quite strongly but it isn’t the case. It’s astonishingly on the milder side and the browned butter steals the show. The days when I have lettuce heads almost down to the middle, I make a quick salad and use the same technique to cook the chicken breasts. Halfway through, water starts seeping into the pan from the chicken and I season generously with freshly cracked pepper and sea salt and let it cook all the way through. It’s like a cheat stock cooking technique that successfully uplifts the meat from bland to flavorful.   




This is where the ingredients become a bit Waldorf with the addition of a stalk of celery and half an apple. You could choose between green and red depending on how sweet you would like it. I’ve used red every time and my guests have never guessed that apple is one of the ingredients. My first tryst with Celery was back in high school when I would read the Babysitter Club series. Claudia Kishi’s love for Oreos and Twinkies is repeatedly highlighted considering it had to be hidden from parents’ policy of no junk. A snack they did approve of was celery with peanut butter. The story of how it tastes when I tried it, I’ll save for another time. I will say the flavor celery itself has slowly (very slowly) grown on me and it makes way into my kitchen when I make Fried Rice or this chicken salad. It’s characteristic crunch adds to the texture of the chicken filling. Considering its nutrient profile, this is a good way to sneak in celery into little bellies.



The next ingredient is the universally preferred binder of salad filling, the humble Mayonnaise. Here’s another ingredient that I couldn’t stomach (it was the smell honestly). I add a little at a time because it has a tendency to mask the remaining ingredients should you add too much. It’s more to bind the ingredients than to flavor for me. This is why I tone down any potential eggy aroma with freshly peeled Tangerine. The Moroccan variety that is still available has a slightly thicker pith so I take a little time to remove that before adding chopped segments. To steepen these citrus notes, I add orange juice instead of the usual lemon. This was clearly an experiment I got lucky with. Considering this is a ‘salad’ filling, I add Tahini (white sesame) paste towards the end. It melds with the garlic chicken really well and you can almost pick up flavor strains you would associate with Shawarma. 


To tie it all together, you need to add freshly cracked pepper. There’s no element of heat apart from this ingredient so feel free to add as little or as much as you want. I had children in my guest list but they can handle heat pretty well. I added just enough so that the sweetness from the crisp apples still pushes through. Waldorf salads have Walnuts in them and I swapped them for toasted pine nuts. I know they’re more popular in winter but the former has a bit of a bitter after taste. My guests and I had a wonderful Saj platter on my birthday that was generously topped with Pine nuts and I loved how it tasted together. 



And finally, what makes these sandwiches dainty to serve are these Croissants. Mind you, they make a great sandwich with everyday bread too. I had croissant sandwiches at a friend’s place quite a few years ago and it was an idea that had stuck with me. I picked mini Sourdough croissants from the supermarket as the tinier size makes for cleaner and easier handling. I am not exaggerating when I say these flew off the platter in my last Iftar party. Children approving of recipes is the most honest feedback one can expect.We were hosting my husband’s uncle who have a ten year old son who was fasting. He heartily ate the sandwiches until he was full and then loudly announced the remaining have to be packed to take home. His sheepish grin and his mother’s expression is one I’ll always associate with these croissant sandwiches.  


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Summer Chicken Salad Croissants

INGREDIENTS

  • Chicken breast – 500 g

  • Garlic – 10-12 cloves

  • Worcestershire sauce – 3 tsp 

  • Butter – 1 Tbsp

  • Celery – One stalk

  • Apple – Half

  • Orange juice – 3 Tbsp

  • Tangerine – 1 

  • Mayonnaise – 5 Tbsp 

  • Tahini – 1 Tbsp 

  • Pine nuts – 3 tbsp (optional)

  • Freshly ground Pepper – to taste

  • Salt – to taste

To serve 

  • Croissants

  • Ice berg Lettuce leaves- Washed thoroughly 

METHOD

  • Clean chicken breast and cut into small strips.

  • Heat a frying pan and melt butter.

  • When it starts turning brown and smells nutty, tip in garlic gloves and sauté.

  • Watch closely and make sure it does not burn.

  • Once the garlic starts browning, add in chicken breast.

  • Sautee the chicken in the garlic butter.

  • Once it starts releasing water, turn up the heat to medium-high flame and continue sautéing in intervals.

  • When the water completely evaporates, add the Worcestershire sauce and mix it.

  • Taste the chicken and season only if required.

  • Let the chicken strips cool completely.

  • Chop OR mince the chicken strips to smaller bits.

  • Wash and then chop the celery stalk to small pieces

  • Peel and chop the apple half  to small pieces.

  • Peel the tangerine and remove as much of the pith as you can.

  • Chop the tangerine segments to small pieces.

  • In a large bowl toss the chicken, celery, apple and tangerine segments together.

  • Add orange juice and give it a good mix.

  • Add the mayonnaise a tablespoon at a time and mix between each addition.

  • Add the tahini paste and pepper and mix well.

  • If you’re adding pine nuts, toast them in a pan for 4-5 minutes or until they turn golden.

  • Let it cool and then add to salad.

  • Check the texture of the salad. If you want it to be less thicker, add half a tablespoon of mayonnaise a mix well. Check the consistency again and add more till you’re happy with it.

  • Taste the salad and season if required

ASSEMBLY

  • Cut the croissants through the middle. [I like to cut through leaving the end intact like a hinge. It makes holding the sandwich easier]

  • Tear the lettuce leaves by hand and place two or three in the middle of the croissant.

  • Spoon the chicken salad on top of the leaves. Don’t fill it too much as it will fall out and turn messy.

  • Chill the croissant sandwiches for at least one hour. 

  • Remove the sandwiches from the refrigerator 10 minutes before serving.

    Have a good food day.

Vellimas’ Chemeen Vada | Fried Coconut Prawn Cakes



Today has been a whole year since Vellima left this world. Truth be told, we didn’t share a close bond.  She came to live with us in Dubai 15 years ago right after I turned 15. She had a very strong personality and was a stickler for routines. The word clockwork could have been coined just for her. She always spoke her mind and was not one to sugar coat her words. And today when I think of her, I admire her.  And for someone I haven’t seen preparing meals, a few of her recipes have a firm place in my list of favorites. Today I am sharing her recipe for Chemeen Vada.



For her time, she didn’t run a household timidly. My grandfather worked in Malaysia for a greater part of their marriage. If you knew her, you would know of her love for fish. Once she began living with us, one of Umma’s weekly grocery trips was to pick up the freshest fish she fancied. And in our household, fish was prepared for and consumed exclusively by her. Vappa, to date, cannot stand the taste of fish. When Umma would fry fish, she’d make sure the kitchen windows and the patio doors in the living room were left open as he would wince at even the slightest smell of it and his displeasure would be rather apparent and vocal.

Imagine Vellima’s plight. Vappa has told me how she would break it down beyond recognition and roll it into his rice and he would gag and throw up almost every time. Eventually she gave up and had to unhappily come to terms with his fish free diet. Once Ali started eating solids, she would constantly remind me to include fish in his diet. I use the word constantly because she would stress and define the merits of each type of fish, especially on the ones found in smaller lakes or Puzha Meen (her favourite). Vappa was a pure vegetarian for a very long time and fish was almost never found on our table. These prawn cakes crept into our menu once he started eating meat again and they have been a firm favourite for me ever since.



A fish despising Malayalee household is as rare as rare can be. My husbands’ family buy fish that isn’t bought in Mid-Kerala, the star being Tuna. It’s his favourite. I had learnt to ‘deal’ with it and have even cooked it a couple of times when my mother in law was in Kerala. But that’s the most I would do because it has a stubborn smell which I haven’t learnt to tolerate enough to try. When we visit my in-laws place, let’s just say lunch is a fishy business for me. His grandmother is very considerate and always has some vegetarian curry set on the table for me. Once she made Chammanthy for herself and I asked if I could have a little. That is something I could binge on. Fresh coconut meat is ground with fiery dried chilies and has a slight tang from a squeeze of lemon or a drop of tamarind juice. This is something I can happily eat with Matta or fat rice like how I used to call it. The binding factor for this Vada is Chammanthy too. The only difference is the addition of fennel seeds and bright curry leaves. For this recipe, this chutney is made a little coarser. Once fried, you will bite into a little bit of the seeds and the leaves crispen up and add to the crunch.



You’ve got to be a bit careful about getting the texture of the batter right. That lies in crushing the prawns correctly. It has to be ground ever so slightly. I prefer using a food processor to a grinder because it shouldn’t be pulsed more than three times. The meat should break down just enough to resemble a very thick paste. It will be quite sticky but if it is ground for too long the paste becomes smooth and then it becomes a hot mess to work with. Vellima would have this crushed under the Ammi Kallu, the mortar slab with a heavy pestle resembling a roller. Even so, it wouldn’t require much pressure to break down the prawn meat to the right consistency. The problem with the meat being too pasty is it makes it a difficult  task to shape the prawn cakes. 

It is then combined with the freshly ground Chammanthy or coconut chutney and a couple of teaspoons of ground rice powder are added right at the end. It helps tone down the stickiness of the batter and yields a crunchy texture. Should you over-pulse the prawn meat, you can add a little more rice powder to salvage the situation. Bear in mind, too much of it will upset the ratio of meat to powder. Once fried, the the prawn cakes will brown too quickly and will toughen.

When you’re frying them, I would strongly suggest using Coconut Oil. It’s one of those recipes that just won’t taste right with vegetable oil. And don’t rush them. When fried perfectly, they will be golden crisp and you will bite into a pillowy center exploding with spice.

This is how I enjoy my Vada. I’m not huge on any kind of rice and my preferred carbs will forever be Bread & Pasta. The day I was making these,  I had met with a school friend who had flew in from Singapore and we had inhaled Avocado on Sourdough with roasted tomatoes and Feta with a generous sprinkle of Zaatar for breakfast. I skipped my water and washed it down with a tall glass of chilled Mocha given the weather now. Safe to say once I was home with Ali after school, I didn’t have an appetite. I gave him his lunch and begun prepping and shooting this recipe. It was when I was frying them, the aroma alerted my hunger signals. Having them on its own is dangerous as I can easily inhale them straight out of the pan. And given the dishes all set to be washed, I wanted to whip up something very quick. I had 5 minutes. By the time I had finished frying the last batch, I plated these bed of instant noodles, an egg sunny side up, browned edges and the yolk broken and a few drops of Habenero swirled into it. I sat on the couch and couldn’t help smiling. Vellima wouldn’t approve of my starch choice. I tucked into it happily alongside the Vada I can only associate with her.



 

Chemmeen Vada | Fried Prawn Cakes

INGREDIENTS

  • Fresh Shrimp, shelled and cleaned – 500 g
  • Curry leaves – a handful
  • Rice Powder – 2 Tsp
  • Coconut Oil – To fry

Chutney Ingredients

  • Dried red chilli – 2
  • Green chilli – 2
  • Fennel Seeds – 1 tsp
  • Grated fresh coconut – 5 Tbsp
  • Garlic Cloves – 2
  • Ginger – 2″ piece
  • Shallots, peeled and washed – a handful
  • Turmeric – ½ tsp
  • Salt – to taste

METHOD

  • Place all the chutney ingredients in a grinder.
  • Grind briefly till it resembles a powdery chutney.
  • In a food processor or a grinder, pulse the prawn for 3 seconds till it’s crushed. 
  • It should NOT be pasty in texture.
  • Place the crushed prawns in a large mixing bowl and add the curry leaves.
  • Mix well.
  • Add the chutney and combine well. 
  • Add the rice powder and mix well.
  • Heat coconut oil in a shallow sauce pan on a medium-high flame.
  • To shape them, dab a little oil on the palm of your hand.
  • Take roughly two teaspoons of the mixture and slowly shape it into a sphere.
  • Flatten it slightly. It should be bulge in the center and have a thinner circumference, similar to a Parippu Vada or a flat Falafel.
  • Deep fry the prawn cakes till golden crisp on both sides.
  • This should take close to 5 minutes for each cake.

NOTES

  • Dab a little coconut oil on the palm of your hand. The batter won’t stick to to your palm and it makes shaping the cakes easier.
  • Temperature of the oil has to be just right. If it is too high, the exterior will brown quickly and the inside might stay raw. Make sure it is on medium-high flame.

Have a good food day.

Salty Malty Pudding | The best of both



We’re inching towards the middle of Ramadan and the temperature is rising steadily but with His Mercy, the humidity still hasn’t set in yet. If you entertain quite a bit, this recipe would make a perfect dessert considering it is a no-bake one. This dessert is especially for those who hated their daily dose of milk. Chances are that a spoonful of malt powder went into the glass and was vigorously stirred and handed over in the hopes it would be go down without gagging revolts. Regardless this is almost effortless and something sweet to end a long day of fasting.


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The new academic year in Kerala coincided with our summer holidays in Dubai.  When I would go to stay at Verammas’ (my maternal grandmother) during our summer break, one of the first things I would do having entered, even before I changed my clothes, was survey her pantry for treats I could dig into later. The morning hours would pass rather slowly considering our cousins went to school. Obviously, I would while away the time taking rounds in the kitchen nibbling on whatever is in line of sight every now and then. When I was younger, most of the cooking was still done over hearth. The wall running parallel to it had niches that made spices accessible. Sitting right next to them would be a bottle of Bournvita. I’m sure these bottles were depleted much quicker when I went to stay. I’d grab a spoon and slowly pace around that wall. There is a window of ten seconds to unscrew the lid, dig deep and scoop out as much as you can, hurriedly close it and dash before you were caught in action. And you had to run. That’s not easy considering it is powder. And so, I would pop in the spoon and hold it between my lips and dash for the door. More often than not, Veramma would call out in mock reprimand and I could hear giggling right after.



The first time I bought malted chocolate powder was when Ali fell a bit ill. This fellow has his milk cold right out of the refrigerator and sans any flavoring. As with all illnesses, he would lose his appetite but he would still ask for milk. I would hesitate giving cold milk when he was sick which is when I bought Milo for the first time in my adult life. It is one of the things I’d rather not have sitting in my pantry considering the easy access to the tin with no adults to tell you off. Ali doesn’t like milk being warmed and this was my way of cajoling him into a glass. Chocolate flavored milk has always been a treat for him and I had to explain to him that the milk had to be warmed for the chocolate to mix in well. Once he was feeling better and he switched back to the cold milk, if he sees the green tin he’d ask for a ‘little powder in mine mouth.’

Are you familiar with the magic of Agar Agar? This vegetarian substitute for Gelatine can practically transform anything into a pudding with that and sweetened milk. It is bloomed in water for a while and then boiled on a high flame where it will melt completely. It is then sieved to separate stubborn lumps and is stirred into flavored and sweetened boiled milk. It will take trial and error to figure out exactly how much to add for the pudding to set. Too little and you’ll have soup at hand and too much means it would set but there will be a smidgen of resistance when you spoon into it. Once you crack the code of ratio, let it come to the rescue every time you’re planning a menu for last minute guests. For this recipe, I’ve put in a little more than I normally would so that it slices easily.  

And if  you don’t fancy pretzel sticks you can use salted peanuts instead. Or even salted popcorn! Crush them a bit coarsely so you get a good bite and keep them salted to cut through the malty sweetness. And trust me, you’re going to be asked for seconds.

Salty Malty Pudding

INGREDIENTS

  • MilK – 2 cups

  • Chocolate malt powder – 8 tbsp

  • Cocoa Powder – 2 tbsp

  • Sugar – 2 tbsp

  • Fresh OR Heavy cream – ½ cup

  • Salt flakes – ½ tsp

  • Agar Agar – ¼ bunch

  • Pretzel sticks

  • Malted chocolate spheres – to garnish (optional)

METHOD

  • Soak the Agar Agar strands in water that submerges it completely for at least 30 minutes.

  • In a saucepan, boil the milk, sugar and salt flakes till it is completely dissolved.

  • Take ¼ cup of boiling milk and briskly stir in the malt and cocoa powder making sure there are no lumps.

  • Pour this milk back to the saucepan and simmer the mixture.

  • Boil the soaked Agar Agar mixture till it melts completely and the water boils.

  • Using a sieve, pour the Agar Agar mixture into the simmering malted milk mixture and stir well.

  • Remove from heat and cool the mixtures for 5 minutes.

  • Slowly pour the cream into the milk and stir well.

  • Pour the pudding mixture into a glass or ceramic dish.

  • Once it has cooled down considerably, place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours.

  • Right before serving, crush the pretzel sticks and sprinkle them on the perimeter of the pudding.

  • If you wish, you can garnish with malted chocolate spheres.

Have a good food day.

 

Chakkara Paalu | The Vegan Mylkshake of Yore


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Ramadan Kareem! My blog is the busiest at this time of the year and it has become a ritual of sorts picking and planning on what to share with you. This year, I started looking into recipes from my parents’ time. A few of them were dishes Umma made only during Ramadan too. With all the recipes out there, I was convinced that there would be some variation of this drink on the internet. It is part of planning process to see how many variations of the recipe are available and only pick to publish those recipes that aren’t too common to avoid adding more to the mainstream. So imagine my surprise when I found no recipe even remotely similar to this. I did a quick pop quiz with the above photograph too with the grand prize of a sinfully chocolate cake freshly baked. Alright, I did make it difficult and gave the bare minimum clues. I thought given the few ingredients seen, I would have at least one right guess. The guesses bordered on the dessert spectrum including panna cottas and cheesecakes. Nothing remotely traditional except for one lovely lady who suggested a beverage particularly given to increase lactation in new mums. If you’ve drunk that, I’m wincing with you too.

Everyone, meet Chakkara Paalu. Vellima had this made for her only son every day during the holy month and it was the sole reason Vappa would wake up for the Suhour meal. In Umma’s house it was a part of the celebrations of Eid-Ul-Fitr and was had to end lunch on a sweet note. It’s made from bananas native to South India combined with melted jaggery and fresh coconut milk and stirred coconut meat. Umma would make this particularly during Ramadan for Vappa and I would happily skip dinner for a couple of glasses to myself. In fact, I would stick my share into the refrigerator for a half hour after it was prepared and indulged myself with a spoon. It has tiny lumps of banana which would weigh down in the glass and I didn’t quite like forcing it to the top via gravity. I preferred picking and chewing on them at leisure. The ingredients sound rather basic (right?) but believe me, this is something you have to try once.



Given the recipes I’ve seen and written from both my grandmothers’ repertoire, sugar was never one of them. At least not in the form we use today. Jaggery was what was used to sweeten recipes. The juice extracted from the sugarcane is prepared exactly how you’d prepare caramel. It’s boiled in humongous vessels for hours and over high heat to allow the water content to evaporate. It boils down to a sticky paste which is ladled on flat surfaces, cooled and then moulded into blocks or mounds. The taste from jaggery is deeply mellow, in comparison to sharp spike of sweetness of white sugar. It is very similar to Maple Syrup but the consistency, when melted, is much heavier and thicker.


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When it comes to Jaggery, I’ve learnt to pick the darkest looking mound available. It will be the most purest form of extraction and the least refined. A lighter gradation is directly proportional to its refinement as is the case of white sugar.  At home, a block of Jaggery is placed in a saucepan with water and left to melt for a while till it foams and is reduced to viscous gold. It is always strained before storing to separate sand(!) particles and assorted minuscle grime. The sieving stage is another litmus for the test of jaggery quality. You shouldn’t unearth, quite literally, a lot of particles while sieving if it is a good one. Invariably during Ramadan, Umma used to melt jaggery in bulk and refrigerate it for quite a few recipes, the culmination being for Payasam on the day of Eid.


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Convenience has shortened hours we spend in the kitchen. Gadgets blend, puree, whisk, extract, chop, slice, spiral and even (my favourite!) wash up after we’re done. And with all the time we have saved, there is still a million things to plan for and schedule and complete and yet, it is never enough. We’re all wishing for longer hours in the day, especially when you have children. I think about how things were so different in the home kitchen in Kerala even half a century ago. Close to none of these inventions existed and yet menus, simple and elaborate were made. Meals where tiny stones are picked and sieved from rice and lentils and fish scaled and cleaned in under 20 minutes. Where hand powdered rice is transformed into dough with the help of boiled water and paves the way for scores of options for breakfast and dinner, coconuts cracked and their meat grated by the dozen and sun soaked spices ground on the Ammi Kallu. Piping hot meals prepared on an open hearth made it to the table like clockwork. All this, and more, done with only bare hands. 

When I think of traditional recipes, one of the sore points for me is the extraction of coconut milk. Sure, even that is available in cans with the option of Organic too. But when convenience replaces the old-school method, the flavor I’m hoping to savor from memory is almost always lost. There is a Naadan Parippu, a Moong Dal Curry I can eat for days, where freshly squeezed coconut milk is added to the mushy-beyond-recognition lentils in the very end, right before tempering. And the first time I made this adding milk from a can, I felt defeat. When a dish as simple as dal is cooked entirely differently 275 km south from your hometown in Kerala and you’re desperately cooking it for familiarity and comfort, I learnt why coconut milk has to be made from scratch. It was barely a quarter of a cup but it made a world of difference to me. Now, I will take the luxury of buying freshly grated coconut. A few tablespoons of warm water is blended briskly with coconut meat to ease extraction. I bought a tea strainer and set it aside exclusively for sieving coconut milk. Umma says back in the days the meat would be squeezed tightly between palms with a few drops of warm water to extract the thickest milk. That’s when I thought a muslin cloth would do my job and involves minimal mess. I get more volume compared to straining from the sieve and it’s far easier to clean. It spoils pretty easily even in the refrigerator so I’m guilty of adding more than what is required when I’m cooking. Let me tell you no dish of mine has ever been ruined by that.



When I think about the meals we had in Kerala over the summer school break, there isn’t a meal without bananas. In the form of Plaintains, or Robasta, a parrot green skinned variety similar to Chiquita and of course, Cheru Pazham. It’s a smaller banana that is very soft and has a note of tanginess at the end. Ali loves these and we’ve named them baby bananas. Marrying into Trivandrum exposed me to varieties of banana I hadn’t eaten before and the fact that these bananas are called Rasakadali. It took me three attempts to write that down here so I don’t even try pronouncing that.

I do remember, very clearly, while washing up after eating lunch,  Vellima would call out to either Umma or my brother and I to have one baby banana. I’d eat it depending on my mood and if I didn’t eat one she’d remind me persistently to have one every hour. I did love it squeezed into my Puttu and Umma would sprinkle sugar on top and give me a spoon. It has a rather slimy texture once squished and I didn’t fancy using my fingers then.



To safeguard the sanctity of this recipe, I’m using only my hands to prepare this milkshake. You could use a hand blender but I cannot guarantee a similar experience of satiety. To assist in the instructions given below, I’m hoping these step-by-step photographs will help elaborate the process.

Let’s begin. Start by adding three peeled bananas into a daily large bowl. Gently, using your fingertips, coarsely mash the bananas. You could use a potato masher but I’d rather you not be a spoil sport. The banana pulp will start becoming a bit watery so continue till the texture resembles the photograph above. If you’re doing this for the first time, I’m stressing on being gentle, because we do want small bits of pulp to chew on in the very end.



Begin adding two teaspoons of melted jaggery and continue mashing and mixing the pulp together. Since the jaggery is melted, it will make the consistency a bit more fluid as you continue mixing. Now begin adding coconut milk, a little at a time, and continue blending with your fingertips, being gentle all the while.



This is what it would like after 2 minutes of slow blending. I’ve added close to a cup of coconut milk in parts and blended before adding them in increments. It is very important that it looks like a slightly thick batter and there are yet there are tiny lumps of banana. Test for sweetness and add more jaggery if required.



At this stage, you are done with blending. Finally add grated coconut and give it a quick mix. There’s no limitation to how much coconut you add and I love my coconut so I sprinkle a little over the top right before drinking it.

My husband is the rare breed of Malayali that doesn’t like coconut milk or anything colored ‘brown’ with jaggery. Ali didn’t quite understand why I would crush his baby bananas to make this and was concerned I’d used them all. Now that you knows exactly what goes into it, be my guest and burst my bubble if this is something you’ve eaten or even know that exists. For now, I am pleased to be the first one blessing the Internet with this recipe.



Chakkara Paalu

Serves 2-3

INGREDIENTS

  • Rasakadali or Lady Finger Banana – 3
  • Freshly squeezed Coconut milk – 1 ½ cup 
  • Melted jaggery – To taste
  • Fresh grated Coconut – ½ cup

METHOD

  • Take a large bowl and put the peeled bananas. 
  • Using your fingers or a potato masher, break down the bananas until they’re a bit watery and mushy with large pieces of pulp. 
  • Add 2 teaspoon of melted jaggery and mix well.
  • Start by adding 1/4 cup of coconut milk and mash the mixture.
  • Continue blending with fingers till the mixture is similar to a puree adding coconut milk as required. It should still have small pieces of banana pulp. 
  • Test the mixture for sweetness.
  • If it needs more sweetness, add the melted jaggery, a teaspoon at a time blending well and tasting before the next addition. 
  • Finally add the grated coconut and give a final mix.
  • Ladle into glasses and add half a teaspoon of jaggery
  • If you love coconut, sprinkle grated coconut on top.
  • Serve immediately.

NOTES

  • This recipe cannot be made before hand as the bananas will begin blackening after a while.
  • I like having this chilled so I refrigerate it immediately after preparation and consume it within an hour.

Have a good food day.

Malva Pudding | Recreating Deception


Today’s dessert recipe comes with a little story. It’s a story of how I lost to a flavor pop quiz. I take pride (slightly) in my sense of taste especially when it comes to spices. And more so, if it something that isn’t the norm. Like papaya to tenderize meat. Or a teeny cube of jaggery in Sambhar. It has been carefully honed over the years and it often surprises people when I confirm whether certain ingredients have been added to a recipe. And then a little while ago, I got it wrong. Horribly. Horribly because my guess was no where close to the answer. In fact, it was something I had never tasted before!

If you haven’t read about my stay in Sir Bani Yas yet, you wouldn’t know when I first tasted Malva Pudding. We had just finished dinner (I tried venison! (and loved it)) at Savannah Grill & Lounge and I’m not one to skip dessert. No matter how full my tummy is. It was dark and breezy and I wrapped my Pashmina around me a little tighter while I walked over to the dessert table. Now when I think about what else was on that table, I really can’t remember. I guess there were the usual petit fours and berry tartlets? What I do remember is that there were no name cards on the dessert table. So when I say sauntered around the table, the pudding made me stop. Dark, sticky and unassuming. And it looked like not too many diners had served themselves from it. I cut a little bite for myself and walked back to the table.


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I took a spoon, mindlessly, while chatting to my husband and son. And I put my spoon back down. The flavor that settled stirred euphoria and quite possibly, I might have looked like I was hyper ventilating. This dessert was my Ratatouille moment. Where have I tasted this before? Why does it taste like coconut milk? Or is it molten jaggery? Or is it jaggery left to caramelize in coconut milk? Wow, is that butter? No, that’s probably the jaggery. It was probably a minute and I was left grappling for answers. You might think I am exaggerating but I was at a loss for words. 

I spotted one of the chefs circling amongst the tables talking to his guests. I tried to get his attention gesticulating in a manner you would probably use to flag down a taxi. Obviously, my husband has learnt by now that when I’ve reached this level of intrigue, I am pretty much oblivious to my surroundings. I watched his part alarm/part amused (part embarrassed maybe) expression while the chef walked up to our table. He didn’t quite have an amused expression when I bombarded him with questions. “That is jaggery I’m tasting right? Mawa Pudding? Oh, Malva. Oh, and it is South African. And there’s no jaggery? What, no coconut milk?” I distinctly remember the heaviness with which my disappointment of an incorrect answer settled. I am unreasonably competitive and a terrible loser. But I had lost to a flavor that was new to me.

It was Apricot Jam.

It’s interesting how I haven’t noticed it in the Jam aisle before. And I spend quite some thinking what to pick when I’ve run out of spare jars in my pantry. It’s always Bonne Maman Four Fruits Preserve, if you were wondering. Forget considering Apricot Jam, I haven’t even noticed it when I thought I was scouring through what was on offer. Mind you, the quantity of Jam used in the recipe is easy to miss. Luckily, they have the single serving sized jars which are apt for this recipe. A good thing too because should it have been the regular sized bottle. I’d probably just keep baking Malva Pudding till it runs empty. Not a good plan for your hips given the sauce it requires.


Equal parts cream and butter in addition to almost equal parts of sugar and boiling water. And Vanilla. All of this is combined together, kept warm and poured all over the pudding as soon as it comes out of the oven. Take my word on this. Use your best Vanilla for the sauce. You know, the whole beans you have stashed away, waiting for the right recipe to come along. Or the essence which bear the coveted bean flecks. Or the Nielsen Massey that made its way back in your suitcase from the UK holiday. You see what I’m getting at right?  Scrape those pods, scoop or pour your precious Vanilla sources into this sauce. It makes a world of a difference and it elevates the decadence of the pudding.


Malva Pudding

If you read through the ingredients of the pudding sponge, there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Except for those few teaspoons of Apricot Jam. It has very little butter and is light to touch. The richness lies entirely in the Vanilla sauce. Since the sauce needs to be poured directly over the pudding when it is taken out, bake your pudding in an oven proof ceramic dish that doubles up as serve ware. Do take a look after the 20 minute mark because it does have a tendency to brown quite a bit. And mind you, once the pudding soaks in the sauce, it does get a bit sticky so you might not end up with clean slices while serving.


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And that’s the story of how I first ate Malva Pudding. The last time I made this was when we had family over for tea. They stayed on for a while longer and we decided to start a BBQ that evening. No guesses what dessert was. If I did have time, I might have warmed it up a little bit. Nevertheless, we all tucked in to the pudding and, on request, just left enough for my guests to take back with them. It’s just the dessert to bake on a cool day before the Dubai winter plays truant. It pairs well with ice cream or if you’re feeling more indulgent than usual, with warm custard. 

I like mine alongside a cup of tea.

Gossip optional 😉 

Malva Pudding

Recipe from “A Table at the Cape” by Helmine Myburgh

INGREDIENTS

Pudding Sponge

  • Butter – 1½ Tablespoons
  • Caster Sugar – 1 cup 
  • Eggs – 2 Large
  • Apricot Jam – 2½ teaspoons 
  • Baking Soda – 1 teaspoon 
  • Milk – ½ cup 
  • Vinegar – 1 teaspoon
  • Cake flour – 1 cup, sifted
  • Pinch of salt

Vanilla Sauce

  • Heavy cream – 1 cup 
  • Sugar – ¾ cup 
  • Butter – 1 cup
  • Boiling water – ½ cup 
  • Vanilla essence – 1 teaspoon OR 1 scraped Vanilla Pod

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  • Grease a medium sized ceramic ovenproof dish.
  • In a large bowl, beat the butter and caster sugar till light and creamy.
  • Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.
  • Add the apricot jam and mix well.
  • In a separate bowl, add the salt to the sifted flour.
  • In a third bowl, stir the baking soda into the milk.
  • Add the vinegar to the milk.
  • Alternate between adding the milk/baking soda/vinegar mixture and the sifted flour/salt mixture into the creamed butter and sugar, mixing just enough till everything is incorporated.
  • Pour the batter into a thoroughly greased baking dish and bake for 45 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • The pudding gets dark on top very easily, so keep an eye on it while baking and cover it with foil for the last 20 mins if necessary.
  • When the pudding is almost done baking, mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan on the stovetop.
  • Bring to a boil, remove from the heat and cover with a lid to keep warm. Be careful of the sauce boiling over unto the stove.
  • When the pudding is done, remove from the oven and pour the sauce all over it.
  • Leave to stand for 15-30 mins before serving.
  • Serve with vanilla ice cream, custard, whipped cream or by itself.

Have a good food day.

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie | Of Cool Nights


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I finally have a skillet recipe on my blog! Having bought it close to two years ago, I always thought I’d be sharking a cookie or a cake recipe first. But since I am way beyond fashionably late to the skillet party, I have a chicken pie recipe for you. I’ve been holding off sharing this recipe waiting for the weather to be pie perfect. Last year, this time it was pouring heavily. I would know because it caused quite some damage to my (only proper) Curry Leaf Plant. This last week has been pretty warm for  Dubai winter. But not too warm to bake a pie.


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There’s probably not a single recipe that involves chicken my husband wouldn’t say no to. He can have it 7 days a week which means I’ve probably cooked chicken more than you would have in the last 7 years. If you, too, have cooked chicken that frequently, you’d know that a lot of flavor lies in the bone. That’s true for most meat. 

One thing I learnt from this recipe is making chicken stock. I don’t know where the idea of stock taking hours to come together was planted in my head. You could use store bought chicken stock to speed things up. I would avoid using the cubes. For this particular recipe, I like to use a whole chicken, skinned and cleaned with sea salt. I roughly chop it into chunks. It goes into a pot with all the herbs sitting in my pantry, the odd carrot tops and celery stalks and lots of fresh water. Be very generous with the salt. If I’m in a rush, I add the vegetables that I would be adding to the pie later at this stage. All of this is brought to a rolling boil and then brought down to simmer for a little less than an hour. Once the stock is done and cooled, the meat can easily be pulled off the bones. A lot more flavor is packed into the cooked meat on the bone in comparison to cooking a tray of chicken breast. Again, if you’re in a rush, that would be just fine because the chicken needs to be sautéed in melted butter. Right after a handful of cloves have browned. There’s nothing caramelized garlic in brown butter can’t fix.


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For the record, I haven’t eaten a pot pie ever. I’ve wanted to make puff pastry from scratch before attepting to use it for this recipe. However, given the labour and love it requires, I’ve been putting it off to make chocolate croissants with my main man, since forever. You know, like Meryl Streep in ‘It’s Complicated.’ The right time just hasn’t come. Now we have a little one and since he absolutely loves cooking in the kitchen, I should make it happen pretty soon. For now, I’ve used store bought puff pastry to encase the chicken pie. I made this first with my darling niece Nazneen when she came over. I’d only worked with puff pastry squares  during the Ramdan/annual frying baking month. Rolling out a sheet of puff pastry was far less intimidating than I had made it out to be. I was careful stretching it over the pie filling, praying it wouldn’t tear. But we had quite a bit of dough left to make these cute little pastry flowers. Nazneen and Ali worked with the cookie cutters chattering away. It brought back memories of baking cookies and chocolate cakes Nazneen when she was Ali’s age. I was probably a bit misty eyed while brushing the egg wash on top.


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Feel free to add whatever vegetables you’d like. I do the basic onions, carrots and corn. Both my boys wouldn’t be pleased about mushrooms or broccoli. You could add those and sweet peas, spinach or even beet leaves. That’s my current favourite from the Farmers’ Market. Those and these deceptively fiery red colored sweet chili peppers. Whatever you add, just make sure there is enough room for the chicken too.

You really don’t need a skillet to bake this recipe. Having one just means it goes straight into the oven once the filling is cooked. You might want to add a dash of Tobasco or chili flakes if you like your spice. I add freshly ground pepper because that’s the level of heat Ali can handle right now. It goes without saying this pie tastes the best straight from the oven. You still want to cut through the buttery flaky layers along with with a spoonful of warm pie.


Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

INGREDIENTS

  •  Cooked Chicken from stock [See NOTE below] OR Chicken breast – 500 g cut into small cubes
  • Garlic Cloves – 6
  • Onion – 1 small chopped finely
  • Carrot – 1 diced
  • Sweet Corn Kernels – 1 cup
  • Mushroom –  ¼ cup diced
  • Peas – ½ cup (optional)
  • Chopped Parsley – a handful
  • Butter – 4 tbsp
  • Full fat Milk – 1 cup
  • All purpose flour – ¼ cup 
  • Chicken stock – 1½ cup [See NOTE below]
  • Heavy cream –  ¼ cup
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese – ½ cup 
  • Thawed Puff Pastry – as required
  • Egg wash – 1 egg beaten well with 1 tbsp of milk
  • Seasoning – as required

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade.
  • Chop the garlic cloves roughly.
  • In a skillet or a saucepan, melt a tablespoon of butter.
  • Add the garlic and sautee until golden.
  • Add the cut chicken and salt and pepper.
  • Cook the chicken on a medium-high flame stirring often ensuring chicken does not burn.
  • Roughly shred the cooked chicken with a spatula.
  • Heat a cast iron skillet and melt the butter.
  • Quickly tip in the onion and sauté till they turn glassy.
  • Lower the heat and add the flour. 
  • Whisk it constantly for 2 minutes.
  • Turn the heat up and pour in the chicken stock in three parts.
  • Whisk generously with each additional pour of chicken stock. 
  • Stir well till it thickens, breaking down any lumps that form. 
  • Add the heavy cream and stir well.
  • Pour in the milk and stir well. Add seasoning as required.
  • Add the shredded cheese and stir till it has completely melted and the sauce becomes smooth.
  • Tip in the vegetables and shredded chicken and mix well.  
  • Taste and add seasoning if required.
  • Add the chopped parsley, give it a quick stir and take off heat.

Cast Iron Baking Instructions

  • Roll out puff pastry roughly to the size of the skillet.
  • Press down over the rim of the skillet firmly and remove the excess.
  • Make three small slits through the pastry in the center.
  • Brush the top of the pastry lightly with the egg wash.
  • Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes till the pastry is puffy and golden.

Baking Dish Instructions

  • Spoon the chicken mixture into a baking dish or individual ramekins.
  • If you’re using a ramekin,  place a puff pastry square on top, press firm over the sides and remove the excess.
  • Bake in the oven for 15 minutes OR till pastry is puffy and golden.
  • If you’re using a baking dish, arrange puff pastry squares OR rolled puff pastry sheet, press firm over the sides and trim the excess.
  • Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash.  
  • Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes OR till pastry is puffy and golden.

NOTES

  • This is how I make chicken stock for this recipe. I buy one kilo of cut chicken pieces with their skin removed. I add carrot, dried basil and rosemary, ground pepper and salt. In a stock pot or sauce pan, add the chicken and a liter of water. Bring to boil and the cover with lid for 20 minutes and then remove lid and boil for 5 minutes. Pour out the chicken stock into a jug. Separate the boiled chicken from the bones and cook it following the instructions above.

Have a good food day.

Sir Bani Yas Island | A weekend away at Anantara Desert Islands Resorts


A year ago, on a crisp Wednesday morning, I was preparing for yet another attempt at Macarons, having failed the previous four times. My husband had just left to work and I was negotiating with Ali about eating his pancakes on his own. I heard the door unlock. Occasionally, my husband forgets something and he usually calls and asks to be at the door with whatever it is that he has left behind. That morning he stood at the door with our green suitcase. “Let’s start packing. We have to leave in half an hour.”

I love being surprised. Scratch that. I love the idea of being surprised. For should I know there is a surprise in store, then I will hound him (or whoever it is that has made the mistake of planning a surprise for me) every other minute asking what it is. My mind was blank and I cluelessly began gathering clothes. To which he remained tight-lipped. All he said is it would be cold so pack accordingly. I silently thanked the stars that I had fresh laundry. I was scurrying around the house, ticking off elaborate mental lists, just so I don’t forget any toddler essentials.

Ali, of course, was thrilled! We started driving and thought of where to stop for a quick breakfast. It would have to be something quick at the first fuel station. We seemed to be on a tight schedule and had to reach this unrevealed destination well before noon. Breakfast bought, we were driving in the direction of Abu Dhabi, when Ali got sick and started throwing up. Worried, we stopped and cleaned him up and I sat behind with him. But he wouldn’t stop. A couple more times, and the poor fellow slept out of exhaustion. He had woken up a bit earlier than usual and we guessed that he might be car sick. 

Fast forward 11 hours, we were driving back to Dubai from Sir Bani Yas Island. His condition wasn’t any better and not having easy access to a hospital was a risk we weren’t willing to take. He was hospitalized with a stomach bug for 2 days. As we left for home, my husband and I caught it too. We spent the remaining days of what would have been our staycation, feeble and nursing each other into health. We even celebrated my husband’s birthday and the one thing I could make was a (disastrous) microwave mug cake.


Given the circumstances, albeit briefly the first time round, we were able to visit this desert resort twice in a span of a month. I will always be grateful to Destiny. She had checked us in during the morning and had arranged for us to visit the doctor available on the island. She was more than understanding of our situation. Hotel policies maintain that cancelled bookings cannot be rescheduled. When we were ready to check out, she asked us to contact her with dates when we would like to return and she would do the needful.

We had planned to spend Ali’s third birthday with his grandparents back in Trivandrum. We rebooked our dates to return to the island for the weekend right before our travel. This time around I was better prepared. On a Friday afternoon we arrived at the Jebal Dhana Jetty Terminal ready for a much needed break. Having been through the journey once, Ali anticipated that he would fall sick on the boat ride and we assured him otherwise. From Dubai, a ride to the Jebal Dhanna Jetty Terminal is close to three and a half hours. A 20 minute ferry ride transports you to the island shores from where you are driven to your property.


The resort has three properties you can pick from. The Desert Islands Hotel have rooms and suites with views of the Arabian Gulf. Al Yamm are private villas dotting the shorelines of the island. My husband had booked us at the Al Sahel Lodge. These African themed villas blend right into the desert plains where you find all the docile members of the island animals left to their will. 

Here’s a little video of our stay at the island. Do forgive my rather amateurish editing.

Half an hour later, we were checked into our rooms. One of the things we loved is how quiet it was!  As it is our residence in Dubai, which is away from the city. But this is a desert island. There is beauty in stillness. The cool nip in the wind washes right over you silencing the drones of the endless mind chatter.


I was hoping I could take a dip in our plunge pool only to find Emus(!) casually sipping from our villa pool. The bellboy informed that these fellows preferred to drink only from the villa we were staying at and were given nicknames after the villa number. We were told that the hotel has a very strict policy of letting the animals be and not disturbing them in any manner. 

My fear of animals meant I wasn’t comfortable at the proximity so much so that I closed the curtains. A few minutes later we heard a piercing cry. I opened the curtains to this breathtaking vision.


Have you ever been this close to a peacock? I vaguely remember a street vendor selling its feathers near the Mysore Palace on a road trip taken a decade ago. Words truly cannot describe its beauty and Ali and I stood in awe (and silence!) having seen one for the very first time. Ali was more than willing to warmly welcome it into our villa. A few seconds later it twirled around and shimmied off making a rather grand show of its cobalt and emerald feathers.


Considering it was quite a few hours of travel, we had a quick lunch and came back to our room with a grandiose plan of doing absolutely nothing. Painted stucco walls with framed beaded jewelry, wood and leather furniture, warm ikat prints and a massive woven thatched carpet were a few elements in our African themed room. The ceiling fan above the four poster bed was Ali’s favorite feature. On second thoughts, it was an ornamental giraffe crafted out of straw that was a few inches taller than him. During our stay, he pretty much ignored all the toys we had brought along and would even take it with him to bed. My favorite feature had to be a tie between the bay window seat and a massive freestanding bronze tub. The shower was tucked away in a corner separated by heavy salon doors straight out of a western movie. We put our feet up and watched Ali pace the villa dragging the suitcase with his giraffe perched on top. And before I could get to the tub, Thomas, Percy and James beat me to it courtesy Ali who gave them a thorough wash and scrub.


We slept in the next morning. Actually, the boys did. I was up earlier and enjoyed sitting by the window with only my voice in my head. I watched the sun awash the desert sands with its crimson pink rays.  Every now and then, our resident peacock would seize the silence with its booming song. I was tempted to take a solitary dip in the plunge pool. But what if the Emus’ stopped by for a sip? That urge was quickly erased. I sunk back into the cushion and decided to enjoy the quiet for a while longer. I kept glancing at the clock to make sure we didn’t miss breakfast. We had booked the Nature and Wildlife drive before noon. After cajoling the guys out of bed, we were hurriedly getting dressed when the doorbell rang. The housekeeping staff wanted to know whether we wanted our villa serviced. After letting him know we would be out soon he says, “You have a guest today. Take a look.” Bewildered, I poked my head out of the door.


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A few hundred meters away from the villas, a metal mesh separates the property from the wilderness. You would miss it considering the wild thickets growing around and into it. Catching sight of the lone giraffe, I caught my squeal right in my throat. We were expecting to see them on our drive today. And here was one right outside , which according to the staff, is an extremely rare sight!


Having finished breakfast, we set out on our first activity. We opted for the wildlife drive especially for Ali. Ours was scheduled at 12 noon right after we finished breakfast. We hopped on to our Land Cruiser (no glass panes on the windows!) and set off. Abdul, our guide, gave us a brief introduction about the geology of the island and what animals we would possibly spot on our drive today.

10 minutes in, we spotted two giraffes out for a snack and sip of water. Abdul tells us that they’re extremely shy creatures and camouflage amongst trees very easily. He barely finished his sentence when one of them promptly hid itself behind a cluster of trees. Had I not seen him before, I don’t think I would have able to spot him. Who would have thought a giraffe, out of all the animals, would be most likely to win a game of hide and seek. 



This was probably the first time I was comfortable around animals. For the record, I have always hated trips to the zoo. When I was a child, it was mostly because the stench would have me gagging for fresh air. Now, I hate zoos partly still because of the same reason but it makes me uncomfortable seeing them entrapped. I am certain that the good ones take extremely great care of them. Yet, they’re not in their habitat and to cage them for us is something I have yet to come to terms with. Which is why I felt at ease here. As I mentioned before, the resort has firm policies about not disturbing any of the animals. We would find rabbits and Arabian Gazelles freely grazing on the hotel lawns. And of course,  our resident Emus we had to share our pool with. The fact that they don’t fret and flee when we come near shows they’re comfortable too. 

We were turning into the inner parts of the wildlife park when Abdul’s phone rang. He sounded thrilled and informed us we were in luck. He picked up the speed, taking swift turns and then brought the vehicle to a stop. On the sand lay a fresh carcass of a gazelle, its insides exposed and missing limbs. Judging the swarm of flies buzzing over it, Abdul told out that one of the resident cheetahs would have made this kill less than half an hour ago. 


Here he is resting after his meal. We were given firm instructions about not provoking them. For someone who is terrified of a puppy unleashed, I was remarkably calm being in such close proximity of a hunting animal while being seated in a vehicle with no windows.

Close to an hour later, we were driving back to the resort just in time for lunch. We had booked the Cultural Tour for 3pm. Every day after breakfast, we were allowed to take a few bread rolls from the breakfast spread to feed the birds. A few hundred meters away, swarms of birds and peacocks and peahens would surround us while Ali and his Daddy flicked bread. Some of these birds would catch the bread chunk in mid-air right before it hit the ground. Considering the number of peacocks swarming in the property, you would think you would be able to get your hand at a number of peacock feathers. But I didn’t find any. Once when we were walking back after breakfast, I saw a little girl waving one in the wind and wished I got one too. Having finished lunch, we were ready to board our vehicle for the Cultural tour. I squealed in delight.


Right underneath the steps were not one but four peacock feathers! I couldn’t stop smiling. After having settled into our seats, our guide introduced himself and said he has a surprise for us. He handed us a peacock feather. But it couldn’t hold a torch to the beauties I found. I showed him what I found and judging his surprised look, knew I had struck gold. He asked where I found these and I told literally at the doorstep of his car. He took the feathers and showed us the tips. They had blood on them and told us they were freshly shed and told us how to clean them. After reaching home, my husband dipped them in wax to seal it completely. I am pretty certain that not everyone can get their hands on such a souvenir.


I am glad we decided to do this tour. As an expatriate, I’m well aware that our time in this country is limited. But the United Arab Emirates will always be home. It is where I did my schooling and university and now raising a family. The late His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan brought this island to life with his immaculate foresight. The island is named after the tribe Bani Yas who were the first inhabitants of the island. It is claimed to be close to his heart as his forefathers inhabited the island where the the main occupations were fishing and pearl diving. He commenced the development of the island in early 1972. He envisioned a wildlife sanctuary and began breeding programs for the previously endangered Arabian Oryx, a year later. Until then it was hunted in the wild for its horns as trophies, its skin for water bags that would keep water cool in the scorching heat and for its flesh. The program was a success and in the subsequent years, a  number of them have been released back into the wild. He continued to bring in more animal species into the island and countries around the Middle East, including Morocco and Egypt, began gifting native species to the island.


The Bani Yas island has an important archaeological find. In the early 90’s, a Christian Monastery dating back to 600 AD, was discovered on island, the only known pre-Islamic Christian site in the UAE. It is believed to have been a settlement for close to 40 monks from which their cooking pots and delicate glass vessels and lamps were discovered. The island was located along a major sea trade route through the Arabian Gulf onwards to India and China. Archaeologists found a single grave around which a church was built and it is believed to be where the founder of the settlement was laid to rest. 

The drive took us through orchards wherein our guide revealed the flora and fauna of the island. Like the date palm that is over a 120 years old. And the Ghaf tree, the national tree of the UAE, that His Highness Sheikh Zayed had planted. When he had begun the development of the island, he brought in agricultural experts and wanted to know what strains of plants would grow best on the island. They tested the soil and told him it would be extremely different to grow anything, if anything at all, on the island. And here we were, driving beside gardens of guava and mangoes, bananas and the biggest surprise, olive trees. For a plant that needs significantly cold temperatures, he proved everyone wrong. His persistence brought to fruition an ecosystem with blooming orchards and a sanctuary for endangered animals. Truly this tour was a window to his ambition not only for this island but for his nation.


At this point, Ali was enjoying his siesta. The sun had begin to set and the winter sky was filled with tufts of cottony clouds. We were crossing back into the Lodge grounds when our guide pointed out yet another giraffe in the distance. I told him this was our seventh sighting today including our morning greeter outside the villa. “Looks like this fellow has come to say farewell then. Some visitors don’t see more than one. You are very lucky to have seen these many today.” This was our last activity before we drove back to Dubai the next day. And having heard that, it was the perfect way to wrap up our teeny holiday.


I’m wondering if you’re wondering why there aren’t any pictures of our meals. I kept my phone away at the table this time. I was already taking photographs and videos (especially of our boy) at every turn. The phone took a break when we sat down to eat and with a toddler, there is never a dull conversation. The breakfast buffet had a good spread that ticked off all the usual expectations. Live egg station, fresh cut fruits, crisps salads, deli meat options and a bread counter. And if you’re worried about food waste, I’d suggest you ask for a table outside. As you can see, the birds are so polite that they only swoop down only when you leave the table. 

As far as dining goes, there are five restaurants across all the properties including a Middle-Eastern, Italian and Seafood restaurant. Keeping true to its surroundings, Al Sahel has an African themed restaurant. If you wish to dine at another restaurant in a different property, a shuttle will be arranged to transport you to and fro.

On our first night, we were informed that the Savannah Grill at our resort was hosting an outdoor BBQ event. Hands down, that was our favorite dining experience at the resort. Apart from an elaborate spread featuring recipes from the African continent, we could pick our meat of choice which was cooked on a live grill on and served at your table. The usual poultry, shellfish and red meat options with a few untraditional options including venison. I tucked into an East African prawn curry with steamed rice. Midly spiced with a rich coconut milk base, the flavors were resplendent of a Keralan fish curry. Minus the overcooked prawns. I’m assuming the prawns were cooked separately and then added to the curry. Yet, they had imbibed the curry flavors and were succulent. 

Of course, I made my way through the dessert table. I was feeling rather full (I blame the venison) and decided to pick and choose through the options. The name cards were missing on the table, so I didn’t know what I was serving myself when I spooned out a particular sticky and rather plain looking pudding. But it had me at the very first bite.

I would say it was a Ratatouile moment. It tasted familiar and something from my childhood. Was it coconut? Does it have jaggery in it? It was buttery and sweet and spongy and would stick slightly on my teeth. I’m sure my husband was part embarrassed, part amused while I flapped my hands trying to nab the attention of the chef who was walking by. What is this dessert? Malva Pudding. And what is it made of? Coconut milk? No, what you’re tasting is Apricot. Apricots? I felt a bit defeated that none of my tasting guesses were right. I knew I would be baking this pudding in my kitchen very very soon. (Watch this space.)


This was something my husband looked forward to. During our stay, close to sunset we were brought these ginormous Macaroons. They’re about the size of my palm. It would arrive just warm enough to know that they’ve been freshly baked. I’d quickly prepare a tea and take my plate and seat myself by the window. A quick sip, a bite into the chewy coconut core, dusting off the crumbs and watching the sun go down. My idea of serendipity.

If I had to be very picky, there was one downside to the trip. When you travel with a toddler, keeping them well-fed and hydrated is, without a doubt, a priority. For a four day trip, we packed enough of his favorite snacks to last a month only because we weren’t sure what to expect for his meals. As parents we are mindful of where we eat out to include places where he can share our mains. In this light, to find chicken nuggets and frozen french fries on the childrens’ menu was disappointing. The night we ate at the Savannah BBQ, the children’ buffet options included these. If I’m not wrong, they had baked pasta too. Considering Ali loves grilled meat, he tucked in a grilled chicken skewer without difficulty. The second night when we visited the Italian restaurant, I was hoping there would be Gnocchi on the menu as he loves this dish. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. Chicken nuggets, fries and white pasta were the options on the Childrens’ menu again. However, as they did had a fire-oven, the menu included a mini Margherita pizza made from scratch. I’d be happy to see a menu designed for children with a bit more thought.


Take a look at what is left of this tree bark. This was behind our dip pool. Doesn’t it look like the Dallah? If you’ve been living in the Middle East, you may know what this resembles and I may have taught you a new word today. Head over to Google Images if you don’t know what that is.

For a short staycation with a bit of a drive, I would highly recommend The Deserts Islands Resort. Our little fellow had a wonderful time and even a whole year later, recollects his favorite memories vividly. The only risk, if any, is in case of a medical emergency, you would need to leave the island. Ruwais is the closest city you can drive to which has a hospital. Again, if you’re traveling a young child you would want to ensure you have all their essentials (nappies, wipes, bottles, the works) and some basic medication as there is no provision to purchase these on the island. That said, it is without doubt, truly is a getaway from the city and one that will rejuvenate you inside out.

Here is a link to the official website if you’d like more details.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post.

Butter Chicken Lasagna | The $185000 recipe


It started with reading a recipe for Murg Makhani. A restaurant feature in TimeOut Abu Dhabi covered Ushna, a fine dining Indian restaurant in Abu Dhabi. To start of, the sauce requires 5 kilograms of fresh tomatoes to be boiled for two hours. I’m sure most of us home cooks don’t have stock pots large enough to hold even 3 kilograms of tomatoes. In any case, I kept reading. If there’s one thing I have learnt from Masterchef classes and recipes is that more than adapting it to the home kitchen, it’s the technique that we can learn from. This recipe, too, had an important line that will shatter one of the most common concepts of a great butter chicken. Chef Amrish Sood states the logic behind the curry is that the texture of the sauce should be similar to butter, smooth and fine. You would think the idea was that the sauce itself should taste buttery. It just happened that I was on the lookout for a sound lasagna recipe at the same time. That’s when I had the Eureka moment. Given the amount of tomatoes that go into the sauce, why don’t I make a Lasagna using butter chicken?!

At that point, it sounded incredible. I thought I had struck gold. While typing it out on Google, and hoping I wouldn’t get any hits, the results had me stumped. Ontario based, Rick Matharu won 250,000 Canadian dollars on a competition show on Food Network Canada for this very creation. This was a competition based on online voting and beat 7 other creative recipes. If anything, I knew I had the validation to go ahead and experiment on this recipe. I’m sure purists out there would cringe at the thought of this fusion. Last year, we had an Iftar for my awesome cousins and I made this keeping in mind one of them who absolutely loves Lasagna. And once we were done, I even packed off the very little that was left because he absolutely loved it. Let’s just say that I’ve been making this for close to 5 years to date and it hasn’t failed me once.


This recipe does take a while to come together, given all the components. The sauce takes the longest. The chicken chunks, ideally, needs to be marinated overnight. Mind you, the recipe for this grilled chicken is one that will melt in your mouth. I didn’t even bake mine. I used my grill pan and cooked them on the stovetop. Another tip I picked up from this recipe is to use pure ghee to baste while cooking. Please give the olive oil a rest for this one. I’ve found that grilling gives them the char that only adds to the flavor of the sauce. The only thing to keep in mind that since, the chicken is meant for Lasagna, they have to be cut a bit smaller than they would be for chicken skewers.


Look at that colour! I promise I’ve toggled with the saturation ever so slightly. I have simplified the sauce part quite a bit but followed through the other steps. This is a recipe where you don’t want to take shortcuts. So crush that cardamom pods finely and dry roast some cashews just enough to make a tablespoon of paste. Once I rushed through this recipe myself and felt that the texture lacked that consistency and the deepness of the flavor was lost. The final step in the sauce requires more attention to taste than actual measure of ingredient. To balance out the sourness of the sauce, you need to add honey. Apparently the sourness of the tomatoes depends on the season they’re grown in. Summer grown tomatoes are more sour than their winter counterparts which means you would need to add a little more honey. Since I don’t use fresh tomatoes, I thought that this technique wouldn’t apply to me. However, there was a time I needed to use up to five tablespoons of honey to fine-tune the sauce. I usually start grilling my chicken half way through making the sauce so they can be added straight away


The assembly is a little more than just layering sauce between lasagna sheets. As it has to be baked for close to an hour, the heat would naturally cause the sauce to dry out. This is where Ricotta comes into play. Considering it is one the of the ingredients in a lasagna, I made sure I used it the recipe.  After adding the sauce, I add a few spoons of Ricotta and then swirl them both together. Given it’s mildly sweetness, it doesn’t alter the taste of the sauce, melds while baking and add a touch of creaminess. 


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Possible my favorite part of this Lasagna is the addition of fresh Mozzarella. For the past few years, these can be found in the supermarket exactly how you would find them in Italy. Globes of snow white milky goodness encased in a thin skin soaked in brine. Eating these is still is one of my favorite memories from honeymooning in Italy. I rarely use the shredded variety and prefer these while making pizza too. I remember a couple of years ago, my cousin came over to bake and I was making Ali pasta for lunch. While cutting the mozzarella, I offered her a cube. She asked why would I eat this raw and I told her give it a go. To date, she waxes lyrical about the difference and says it has changed her life. It sounds {very} dramatic but you’d agree if you tasted them for the first time too.



How can I lure you with a recipe of lasagna without another cheese pull? Come to think of it, I’m sharing three recipes with this post. Juicy tandoori chicken, a delectable butter chicken and using it both for a lasagna. It has a tendency to taste better the next day exactly how Biryani does. I like making this for a Friday lunch too. Considering the Iftar timings are close to dinner, this will be a firm favorite on your table.

Butter Chicken Lasagna

Serves 8 people

Butter chicken recipe adapted by Chef Amrish Sood  

INGREDIENTS

Tandoori Chicken

  • Chicken breast (boneless) – 500 g
  • Freshly squeezed Lime juice – 1 small Indian Lime
  • Ginger Garlic paste – 3 tsp
  • Chilli Powder – 1 tsp
  • Thick curd – ¼ cup
  • Cardamom powder – 1 tsp
  • Fresh cream – ¼ cup
  • Ghee – for basting

Tomato Sauce

  • Strained tomatoes (I use Pomi) – 1000 g
  • Garlic – 8 cloves peeled and finely chopped
  • Freshly Crushed Cardamom seed powder – 2 tsp + 1 tsp (see notes)
  • Ghee – 1 tbsp
  • Kashmiri chilli powder – 2 tbsp
  • Roasted Cashew paste – 1 tbsp
  • Butter – 4 tbsp
  • Cream – 100 ml
  • Crushed Fenugreek leave [Kasuri Methi] – 3 tsp
  • Honey – as required
  • Salt – to taste

Assembly

  • Lasagna sheets [no pre-cook]
  • Ricotta – 250 g
  • Fresh Mozzarella – 400g cut into chunks
  • Shredded mozzarella – as required

METHOD

  • Cut the chicken into small cubes.
  • Marinate it in lemon juice, ginger garlic paste and salt for at least an hour.
  • Add the chili powder, 1 tsp cardamom powder, curd and fresh cream.
  • Marinate it for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  • Bring the marinated chicken to room temperature before cooking.
  • Thread the chicken onto skewers and grill them basting occasionally with Ghee.
  • If you do not have a stovetop grill pan, cook them in a pre heated oven at 250˚C for 10-15 minutes, basting with ghee occasionally.
  • In a large saucepan, heat a tablespoon of ghee.
  • When it is hot, add chopped garlic and fry till it changes color.
  • Pour the strained tomatoes and add Kashmiri chili powder, 1 tsp cardamom powder and salt.
  • Stir it well and bring it to boil on a medium flame.
  • Once it starts bubbling [splatter alert!], lower the flame and let it simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the roasted cashew paste and butter and stir well.
  • Once the butter has melted completely, switch the flame off.
  • Blend the tomato into a fine puree.
  • Cook the blended puree for a further 30 minutes.
  • Chef Amrish says the basic logic of makhani is that the texture of the sauce should be similar to butter and NOT the the sauce should taste like butter.
  • Add the grilled chicken, fenugreek leaves and season with salt.
  • Once it boils, taste the sauce and start adding honey a teaspoon at a time. The aim is to balance out the sourness of the tomatoes. Keep tasting the sauce till it tastes balanced.
  • Once the sauce has thickened, reduce the heat and add fresh cream.
  • Finish with crushed fenugreek leaves and 1 tsp cardamom powder.
  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  • In a baking dish, pour a tablespoon of sauce and spread well.
  • Layer with lasagna sheets and add top with tomato sauce.
  • Add a teaspoon of ricotta cheese and roughly mix it into the tomato sauce.
  • Repeat this method of layering till the dish is close to full.
  • Add one final layer of tomato sauce and ricotta mixture.
  • Chop the mozzarella into cubes and distribute them on top.
  • Fill in the gaps with shredded mozarella cheese.
  • Loosely cover the dish with a piece of aluminum foil.
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the foil and use a toothpick to ensure lasagna sheets are cooked through. The toothpick should pierce right to the bottom.
  • Carefully remove the dish and place it close to the top rack. 
  • Switch on the broiler inside the oven to grill the cheese till it is bubbly and golden. Watch carefully or your cheese might burn.
  • If your oven does not have a broiler, simply remove the aluminum foil and let it bake till the cheese melts and becomes bubbly and golden.

NOTES

If you’re using store bought cardamom powder, use 3 + 1 tsp. 

You can halve the recipe and bake it in a loaf pan if you’re cooking for 2. You’ll have leftover butter chicken for the next day too. 🙂

Have a good food day.

Cheesecake Tartlets | To each their own


When I first baked a cheesecake, I didn’t know I was stepping on what is considered to be a slippery slope. I first baked it for my husband on his birthday because it is his favorite. Honestly, not knowing that it’s a recipe that might fail more than succeed helped because I just followed the instructions, put it in its water bath and let it bake. And it came out just flawless. Later on when I was hoping to bake something other that the classic version did I encounter the horror stories. Cracked tops, collapsing middles and still wet insides. There seemed to be so many things that could go wrong. After having read that, the next time I attempted to bake a cheesecake I added some fear. And this despite having read troubleshooting tips from my trusted baking bloggers’ list. It came out of the oven with a crack on the top pretty much like the Mercedes logo. I laughed aloud at the coincidence and didn’t bother covering it up. It did make me want to find a daunting free cheesecake recipe.


My husband pretty much expects a cheesecake for his birthday and doesn’t care for cracks and such. And one time round, I wanted to mix things up from the usual Classic. As far as flavors goes, there’s lots and lots of cheesecakes out there. This time round I wanted to nail it. Crack free, great rise, velvety smooth, the works. I saw these cheesecake tartlets first a couple of years ago and at that time mini-desserts were quite the hype. That’s when I thought, I can bake wee cheesecakes and there’s no limitations to toppings too.


His birthday was in the 30’s which is why I thought I should have three flavors for the day. The classic cheesecake should be one, no doubt. Around that time I had bought my first tub of fleur de sel solely for making salted caramel. It’s something else that he loves. So salted caramel popcorn cheesecake would be the second version. I knew the popcorn would get too soggy had I assembled these beforehand. I made popcorn on the stove right before serving and warmed my day old salted caramel. I picked out the cheesecakes that had sunk a tad bit in the center. They’re perfect for holding a pool of caramel and stacked popcorn without budging.


Then there was Nutella. It’s as simple as swirling it into the cheesecake batter. I considered chocolate chips but wasn’t sure how they would while baking. I was planning on arranging the cheesecakes in his birthday numbers and experimented with chocolate chips on one lone cupcake. While I thought they would sink to the bottom, they actually rose to the top and melted into the batter. A bit of a brown mess. Aesthetics always matter to me so in that regards, the Nutella swirls won in the elegance round.


I’d say if you’re a bit skeptical about tackling a full sized version of a cheesecake, this would be a great place to start. I’ve seen quite a few no-bake cheesecake recipes too but I’m not a fan of gelatin based desserts. My favorite bit about these tartlets is how they are completely customizable. Stir in a vanilla pod for a fragrant, seed flecked cheesecake. Top off with a berry reduction or dot with blueberries for a fruity flavor. You could try Oreo for crusts. Or swirl in peanut butter. Or spread freshly scooped passion fruit. I told you, endless options.

These are perfect for an Iftar gathering and won’t fail to impress. Of course, size matters when it comes to cheesecakes. No worrying about cutting out slices (and hoping the knife goes through the chilled crust as well), which makes them perfect for little children. With this petite portion, your guests can stop right at one or indulge in a few. To each their own.

Cheesecake Tartlets

Recipe adapted from Crazy for Crust

INGREDIENTS

  • Digestive Biscuit Crumbs – 1 ¼ cup
  • Melted Butter – 5 tbsp
  • Brown sugar, packed – 3 tbsp
  • Cream cheese – 8 ounces, room temperature
  • Sour cream –  ¼ cup, room temperature
  • Egg –  1, room temperature
  • Sugar – ¼ cup
  • Vanilla extract – 1 tsp

Toppings

  • Nutella
  • Popcorn
  • Salted Caramel
  • Fresh berries

METHOD

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  • Line cupcake tin with liners.
  • Stir biscuit crumbs, melted butter and brown sugar together.
  • Put the crust mixture into the liners and press down firmly.
  • In a bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese till it becomes light and fluffy.
  • Add the sour cream and beat well.
  • Beat the egg, sugar and vanilla extract well till it’s smooth and almost lump-free.
  • Spoon the cheesecake mixture into each liner.
  • If using Nutella, add a dollop directly into the batter and swirl it using a toothpick.
  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until they just begin to brown at the edges.
  • Cool completely and then refrigerate them for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  • Serve as is or get creative and top to your delight.
  • You could top them with popcorn with salted caramel spooned on top.

Have a good food day.