Sunday, February 24, 2013

Of sandwiches, picnics and Enid Blyton...

Have been overdosing on Enid Blyton lately, in company with Chubbocks, who also loves the Five Findouters ( on a separate note, how great is it when your kid shares your fictional tastes, eh?). And honestly, it’s impossible to read anything by Enid Blyton without wanting a good snack alongside, especially the kind of stuff she mentions and manages to make sound intriguing, even though if you decode it rationally, you realize it’s not really ambrosia she means. Sandwiches. Buttered toasts. Tomatoes. Lettuce. Hardboiled eggs. Potatoes in their jackets. Lemonade. Seriously, I don’t know how she does it, but I’m drooling halfway through anything by her.

And longing for a picnic, of course, since her adventurous characters are always going off on little trips and having picnics. Now, you can’t have a good picnic without sandwiches, in my opinion. You can have a grown-up picnic with cheese, a baguette, some grapes and a bottle of wine, but that’s too sanitized for a Blyton mood – for that you need some really good sandwiches and cake. The trouble is that I find most sandwiches boring, dull and dry. They don’t seem to have that quality of being luxuriously delicious, and yet convenient – convenience seems to trump gourmandizing every time. So this weekend for the kids and my picnic in the park, I had to improvise and come up with my own sandwich ideas – and they were truly delicious. I’ve finally got a repertoire of sandwiches which taste fab and live up to my Enid Blyton dreams J.

Our picnic menu yesterday: Santorini tomato salad, green salad with figs as described below, multigrain bread, pita bread, homemade hummus, chholia kebabs ( substituting for falafel), lettuce, grapes and strawberries.
1.       Openfaced sandwich with salad:
Spread a layer of dhania chutney on the bread. Top with a slice of cheddar cheese, ideally, not processed cheese. Add the salad just before eating, else it will sog through!! Salad – two kinds of lettuce including lollo rosso, cherry tomatoes sliced in half, sliced scallions walnuts and fresh figs in a dressing of olive oil, honey, lime juice, salt and pepper.

2.       Openface sandwich with Santorini tomato salad
Spread either the dhania-peanut chutney or Boursin garlic and herbs cheese on the bread. Top with cheese if using chutney, else skip it. Layer on the Santorini tomato salad just before serving.

3.       Sandwich with paneer-yogurt dip, tomato and cucumber slices
Self explanatory – spread a thick layer of the dip, top with tomato and/ or cucumber slices and top with another slice of bread.

4.       Sandwich with guacamole
Self explanatory again – thick layer of guacamole, and if you really want, some sliced tomatoes on top

5.       Middle east inspired
Thick layer of hummus, topped with salad, falafel or tomatoes, scallions, cucumber

6.       The dessert sandwich
Thick layer of Nutella, then thinly sliced bananas and if you want to be self-indulgent, chopped toasted hazelnuts, roast almond bits…

PS. I use multigrain bread
PS2. These should be assembled just before eating as the dips etc can sog the bread if left too long.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My experiments with microwaving

My oven can always be counted on in a crisis - to misbehave, that is. Time and again, when I have just finished mixing a batch of cake batter or I have guests coming over for dinner and have planned on a baked main course, thar she blows - blew rather, because today I just blew my top and hoofed her out of my kitchen. That was after I had the butter all nice and melty for a Victoria sponge, and the oven, after two rounds of recent repairs, just suddenly refused to switch on! I had also planned on my version of mac and cheese so let's just say it wasn't the best time for any kitchen equipment to get all diva on me.

Anyhow, the desire to bake was overwhelming - despite yesterday's fiasco which started with me trying to bake a pound cake and ended with me turning out a pound pancake( more on that some other time). So I quickly looked up some microwave recipes for both the dishes and set to work. I must say, I am quite pleased with how they turned out, though I have ordered a new oven which should be winging it to my house pretty soon.

Mac and cheese: My kids love cheesy pasta sauce, and I insist on their getting their requisite servings of veg. So here's a somewhat gourmet yet healthy version of mac and cheese:

1 cup penne/ macaroni
2 cups mixed vegetables - carrots, beans, peas, yellow and red bell peppers - diced
1 large onion, diced
3 tbsp flour
1.5 tbsp butter or ghee
Salt to taste
2 tsp herbs - fresh or dried - basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram
1 pod garlic, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil pomace
1 cup of mixed cheese - cheddar, mozzarella, romano, parmesan, any other hard cheese you'd like ( leicester...)
1 cup low fat milk
1 tsp mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil. Add the crushed garlic, then the onions and saute till onions are translucent and soft. Add in the other vegetables and the herbs and saute briefly ( 2-3 mts). Then cover and cook until the vegetables are al dente - cooked but still with a bite.

Meanwhile, put 4 cups of water into a saucepan to heat; add salt. Once the water starts boiling, put in the penne and cook for about 8 mts, until the penne is al dente as well, then drain well.

Heat the butter in a saucepan. When hot, turn the heat down and add the flour. Stir until the mixture forms soft lumps, then turn the heat off. Add a little bit of the milk and make a paste of the mixture. Then add the rest of the milk, mustard, salt and pepper and start heating the mixture, stirring so no lumps are formed. Then add in the cheese and stor on a low flame, until the cheese is melted.

Mix the vegetables, pasta and cheese sauce and put into a microwave-safe dish. Top with a little parmesan, if you're feeling indulgent, and breadcrumbs for added crunch. Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, then let sit for another minute or so before serving.

Victoria sponge
Weigh 3 eggs, in their shells. Use the same weight of butter, sugar and self-raising flour.

Cream the butter until pale and fluffy. Add in the sugar and beat the butter and sugar together. Add a tsp of vanilla extract. Beat the eggs one by one and add them to the butter-sugar mixture one by one. Then fold in the flour, a little at a time. Add half a cup of milk to keep the mixture extra moist for the microwave.

Pour into a microwave-safe vessel and bake for 6 minutes.

Cut the cake into two horizontal halves and sandwich together with raspberry jam.

I served this with caramelised oranges, and it tasted divine.

Caramelised oranges:
110 gms caster sugar
100 ml orange juice
3 oranges, peeled and segmented

Melt the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt over medium heat. Never stir the pan, just swirl it as the sugar starts caramelising. Meanwhile, heat the orange juice on another burner, and bring it to the boil. As soon as the caramel turns golden brown, pour in the hot orange juice carefully ( it will sputter, so be careful) and stir until the mixture becomes a smooth liquid. Add in the orange segments and let sit.

Spread some of the caramelised OJ onto the cake top.

Serve the cake with the caramelised oranges on the side.