Cake! Cake! Cake!

I don’t think this was what Marie Antoinette had in mind when she suggested that they (the French peasants) eat cake, nom nom. Actually, the original quote is probably misattributed and apart from that, it’s supposed to say: “Let them eat brioche.” Oh, and did you know that there is a House episode titled “Let Them Eat Cake?”

I have a favorite birthday cake. I love love love it – well, if I didn’t love it, it wouldn’t be my birthday cake. The cake? It’s a Mocha Cake. It’s actually my Gran’s specialty. She used when my Mom was a little girl. Well, the cake was distributed among the entire family including the bunch of cousins, and everybody got a teeny sliver. A teeny sliver that everyone savored. And it was a treat – there were no mixers, no KitchenAid so all the mixing and beating of the dough was done by hand. I’ve beat whipping cream by hand, which already was a lot of work so I can’t imagine how much work that was. And since they didn’t have an oven, they had to take the cake to a bakery to have it baked there.

I didn’t take any pictures of the entire cake because it was just too tasty to take the time to photograph it

Gran doesn’t really work off recipes. Neither her cooking nor her baking is full of precise direction. Her Indian food recipes are something like “when the oil begins to pearl but not too quickly” or “when it smells right” or “depending on the meat.” Yeah, not so helpful. You need to really have a lot of experience for those directions to make sense. And my Indian cooking is nowhere on her level that I have had enough practice making those dishes. Whenever I cook something in that direction I end up being disappointed because it’s just not up to her or my Mom’s standards. Which means that I don’t get the practice in to get more cooking experience. I also don’t like going out for Indian food since it’s never as good as Mom’s. A catch-22.

I’m not making fudge, but since Gran fudges her recipes this was very appropriate. And darn it, now I want ice cream

Anyway, Gran has always fudged her proportions, which is pretty contrary to baking since it so based on chemistry – change the balance and you might end up with a cake mess. In fact, the last time I made a Mocha cake with her, she basically asked me dump 1 lb of butter in the bowl, plus a bunch of sugar – just based on her sense of proportion. And a bunch of eggs – I’m not sure how many since it’s a been a long time since we baked together, but it was at least 8 eggs. The mixing bowl was already full with that mix, so we separated the mass, and then she added flour and nuts and coffee according to her judgement. We ended up with 3 and a half cake ‘loaves’ – our neighbors and friends loved us. In fact, one of our friends always hopes that there’s some leftover mocha cake when she stops by for a meal.

The cake is basically a modified sponge cake, with less sugar than normal (so many cake recipes call for too much sugar). Apart from the usual suspects, it als consists of ground nuts, either almonds or hazelnuts, and mocha. The mocha is very concentrated coffee – instant coffee dissolved in very little water. I guess you could also use a very very strong espresso. Once the cake is in the oven you make your frosting. It’s a mix of butter, powdered sugar, more concentrated mocha and ground nuts, whatever you used in the cake. Once the frosting is done you stick in the fridge to keep it cool.

Then it’s time for the best part of the cake – apart from eating the cake of course. The completely cooled cake is carefully cut in half . If you’re ambitious, you can cut the cake into 3 layers rather than two. Just make sure you whip up some extra frosting. Now you’ll frost the bottom layer of the cake before adding the top layer. If your frosting is too, well, buttery and warm, stick it in the fridge til the frosting is cool and spreadable, not too solidified. Then you’ll frost the remainder of the cake. At the end, when you’re done you’ll add walnut pieces, preferable walnut halves as a decorative element. Stick the cake in the fridge to solidify the cake. Make sure to also store the cake in the freezer.

Mmmm, frosting (sorry for the blurry pic)

And then, then it’s time to eat! The end pieces are the ones everyone battles for, but the rest is just as tasty. Plus you savor every single bite since it’s made only once a year.

Star Wars party invitations

But – I think I want a Star Wars kind of cake too. I mean, how creative. And the geek in me would have so much fun. And can you imagine Star Wars cupcakes? You know, headshots as cupcake decorations? I think I need to tinker around with that. I probably will need to make the cake covering out of fondant, or if I really want to be decadent, I could also make them out of marzipan. Mmmm, marzipan.

I’ll also take a Star Wars party – the geek in me would have so much fun, plus it’s so much more practical than a Stormtrooper outfit, or Darth Maul or Leia slave costume. Tasty cake vs uncomfortable costume, hmmm, which one would win… Although, it is pretty awesome to see the costumes that people create. Plus there are apparently many Star Wars themed weddings – not my cup of tea, but I’m sure it’s a great wedding party. (Click on the images for more pictures from the different parties).

Would you like some whine with your cheese?

Recent conversation: “Why are you buying this pomegranate? What are you going to do with it?” Me: “I’m planning to make this salad with it. You’ll see, it’s really good, I’ve made it before. You’ll like it.” Next day: “Why is this pomegranate still there? You need to use it up asap.” Me: “Patience young […]

Awkward

I was reading a post by Karen at Sweaty Knitter called Domesticating Karen some time ago. She talks about her Norwegian mother’s attempts to domesticate her, particularly for prospective son-in-laws, all of Norwegian descent. Karen had play on the piano and her handcrafted work, including her knitting were shown off as a display of her suitability as a ‘housemother.’ And then there was the whole thing of the young men being invited, sometimes even multiple guys at the same time. Oh dear. Fortunately for me my parents never did that, but I have plenty of Indian relatives where things worked like that.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match! Find me a find, catch me a catch!

I’ve been to enough of those potential bride & groom meetings to feel so bad for them. I remember when we met my aunt (at that time aunt-to-be), and while she didn’t have to perform (no piano playing for her), her cooking skills were on display since she’d had made all the food there. And the worst part, apart from the uncomfortable presentation was the fact that a bunch of families were there – both on the bride’s side as well as on our side. We were a whole car full of people – something between 10 to 12 people. Poor girl. And that wasn’t an insular event – that happened when we met a bunch of girls (yeah, that was bad).

Monsoon Wedding movie posterThere are still plenty of arranged marriages in India – it happened and still happens in plenty of families. (And the whole concept takes on a whole new life in rural areas). I saw a documentary the other day on the business side of marriages in India, and approximately 60% of marriages are still arranged. The idea is that you go by what you know about the families and how they’re a ‘good’ family, and that what you know and what is presented about the prospective groom/bride of that family ensures a good marriage. There are even marriage investigators who try to determine if the information about the boy/girl and their family is correct.

Anyway, nowadays it’s much easier for the girl and boy to talk individually – something that wasn’t done in the past. But still, you don’t have that much of a chance to get to know the partner, and it doesn’t really rely on the individual personalities and their compatibility with each other. Love isn’t something that happens before the marriage, it’s supposed to be something that grows as the relationship grows. You make the marriage work.

Of course, that’s not a guarantee that the marriage will work out. The idea is that when a woman marries, she marries into her new family, and now leaves her own family to become part of her husband’s family. In my gran’s generation, many women didn’t see their parents’ family often, maybe because of geographical issues, but also because of societal pressure. A woman is expected to adjust to the new family, and make not just the marriage with her husband work, but also her home life work.

There are many reasons that can keep woman in a marriage, including immense social pressures that are definitely greater on a woman than on a man. Then there are the financial pressures. Some women may also stay in a marriage despite issues of mistreatment, ranging from verbal to physical abuse, or worse. As the wealth of the middle class in India has grown, so have the demands for (additional) dowries from the bride’s family, with outlandish requirements for more property, money, and so on. But obviously there can be all kinds of mistreatment – mistreatment doesn’t automatically have to mean abuse.

And yet, nowadays younger generations more and more rebel against that attitude. The divorce rate in India has risen. In fact, one of my cousin is now divorced, which was a huge disappointment to her. She was so happy when she got engaged, and was on cloud 9 during the wedding. She really wanted to make the wedding work, and she was really upset when she couldn’t make the wedding work. Not just with the circumstances, including what was going on on the groom’s side, but she’s also very upset with those family ‘elders’ that made their recommendations and ultimately suggest the groom to her. She now says that she’s going to rely on her opinion alone, and not take that kind of advice. Still, she’s struggling that her dream of what her life would be hasn’t worked out. I wish her all the best, and I hope that she’ll be happy again.

My cousin rocks

Do you have family members who are just awesome? Who just randomly call you, just to say “I’ve been thinking about you and I hope you’re doing well. Is there anything I can do to help?” (Shoutout to Arul right here). Yes? No? I mean, don’t get me wrong, things can just as easily crazy, and annoying, and there may be quite a bit family drama. And then there’s the aspect of personalities. For example, I seem to always – ok, almost always – clash with one of my cousins. We just get annoyed and grumbly at each other, but that doesn’t mean that we like each other any less. I guess that’s true for just about any family – some people you like, some people you fight with, and some people you’d rather not see again. Yes, I have some those relatives too, but fortunately I’m not close to them (obviously), nor the rest of the family.

Yup, that’s our family tree – my sister’s idea, and I love how it turned out. Btw, it’s really hard to get a baby’s handprint when it wants to curl up its fingers, even when it’s sleeping

I have bazillions of relatives. That has to do with my grandma being one of 14 children, and my Dad one of 9. Then you add in other relatives with multiple children, and I end up having 19 first degree cousins. Don’t even ask me how many second degree cousins I have. I have no idea. I always have to ask “who is their parent/sibling/child” so I can somewhat figure out who they’re talking with. And there also those relatives who have the same names, making life even more complicated. Then you have relatives like my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law’s sister, who is a friend, and to whose wedding I was invited to. I have a whole bunch more relatives like that. Btw, my Gran is turning 90 this year, so you can imagine the insanity of relatives turning up there. Still, she wants everyone to come. No idea where we’ll all fit. Yes, that’s another Indian thing, at least in my extended family – people come into town and will ‘naturally’ stay with you, how distantly your related – or not – to them, no matter how little or how much space you have. It’s an expectation and it’s very difficult to convince people otherwise

You’re probably asking yourself how all this relates to knitting. Well… I haven’t knit many garments. I’m intimidated by the whole shaping and customizing thing, and figuring out the right size and negative/positive ease and so on and on. I wanted to go to the fibre space workshop “Fit to Flatter” with Amy Herzog, but it fills up so ridiculously fast, I didn’t make it into the class – again. Enter my cousin. Well, he works at a startup in the education field, at Udemy. They offer online courses, including craft courses, some free, some not. He told me about Craftsy, and gave me a course as a gift. I of course chose “Fit Your Knits” by Stefanie Japel.

www.craftsy.comI have to say, Craftsy is awesome. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the website, but I love the fact that the courses are online. You can watch – and rewatch the courses, your access doesn’t expire. The Fit Your Knits course consists of 11 lessons, on a whole bunch of different aspects of garment fitting and modification. One of the lessons is called assessing the pattern which I think will be really really helpful. I mean, how often do you look at a pattern or a finished object, and you wonder how it’ll fit and if it’ll work for your body shape. And then they also have workshops which is pretty ingenious, since it is basically a combination of a pattern with a tutorial by the designer, and the possibility to ask questions.

The best part is that not only do they have a bunch of different knitting courses, they also have other courses, on crocheting (of course!), quilting, sewing, gardening and food crafts. Really neat, I’ll definitely have to try out some other courses.

There are other great craft websites out there, I’m sure. I’ve heard of Craftfoxes, Craftser of course , DIY Network and so on. If I’ve left one out that you think I should absolutely include, let me know. I’m planning on putting up a separate page on useful craft websites, as well as a page listing craft blogs and blog hops, so let me know what you’d like to see on there. Happy crafting!

 

Cookout!

Do you want to get into the cookout mood? Just start singing “Rollout” by Ludacris and substitute “Cookout” for Rollout. There, now you’re ready to hang out outside.

We finally have less rain. No more April showers which is good since it is almost June. We have more sunshine, it’s warmer which means cookout season has started! It’s warm enough. Yaaaaaay! The kids can play outside, hang out on the swing, play Easter by hiding and finding things (yes, they really do play that). And if all else fails you can always have ‘sprinting competitions.’ The perfect way to grab a few quiet moments.

Fennel and Zucchini, with Feta, Pinenuts and Lemon
Shaved Fennel and Zucchini Salad

Now, while cookout season is great, there are also health risks surrounding the eating of grilled meats – the whole carcinogenic thing is something to pay attention to. If you want to know more, just google ‘grilling health risks‘ or something like that and you’ll find reports on the findings about cancer. (Don’t run an image search – the Google images on cancer are pretty horrific).

There have been and currently are enough cancer cases among friends and family that it doesn’t hurt to prepare plenty of non-grilling options at a cookout. (Yeah, it’s been a rough time all around). For us, a cookout is a collaborative effort where every one brings something, and then it’s not such a workload on the hosts. My favorite contributions are salads that don’t need refrigeration – careful on the mayonnaise, side dishes that can be prepared ahead of time, and dessert options that are non-melting. Pretty much common sense.

I’ve come to be known as the salad queen in the family, so my standard contribution is some kind of crunchy-ish salad. One of my friends always contributes a basic lettuce salad with vinaigrette. So that’s taken care of, and I can play around with different takes on salad recipes.

This one is my current summer favorite: 101 cookbook’s Shaved Fennel salad. Yes, it’s a non-smitten kitchen recipe! It’s so good, I can’t believe that it didn’t make it into the cookbook. It’s really easy to make, you can assemble parts of it ahead of time, and it’s light and fresh. I used to be a bit iffy about using fennel in my cooking – I’m not a fan of liquorice so I only liked my fennel roasted, and the spice had to be toasted enough that it wouldn’t remind me of some kind of digestive tea. You know that little condiment that you get at the end of a meal in an Indian restaurant? That little bowl of fennel with little candied sugar pearls? Yeah, that taste. Btw, fennel ice cream post-dinner instead of that fennel mix? That sounds like a win-win situation.

But – I’ve found that I totally love fennel in my salad. If it’s sliced really thing, then you aren’t chewing on the fibers in the fennel. Plus the fennel gains a surprising delicacy. If you have mandolin, have fun slicing (it’s just way faster), but you can just as easily get lovely thin slices with a heavy Chef’s knife. Same with the zucchini – it has more moisture, so I don’t know who it’ll hold up on a mandolin, but I suspect just fine. I haven’t tried a box grater, but the fennel should work just fine, but the zucchini – I doubt it.

The recipe suggest letting the fennel-zucchini-lemon juice-olive oil-mixture marinate for 20 mins to an hour. Yes, I left the dill out on purpose – I just don’t like it very much. I let it marinate somewhere around 3-4 hours before assembling the salad, and I think the marinade could easily marinate longer. There was no more fridge space left, so the mixture marinated outside, but since there was no mayonaise it it I figured it would be ok. And it was. The arugula was already in the salad bowl, dried, and sitting in the shade. All I had to do was mix the arugula with the remainder of the mix, add the feta and the pine nuts. And voila, you have the perfect cookout contribution. The salad disappeared so quickly, some people didn’t manage to score seconds. Oh, and one friend ate the remaining dressing with a bit of focaccia – she pronounce it delicious. I really recommend you try this salad on your own – you’ll love it.

Featured post image from Stackmatic.

Mother’s Day deliciousness

(Yes, these are petit fours. No, I didn’t make them. But they were so ridiculously cute, so Mom got them for breakfast. Ok, we split them. I think a petit four per person is plenty. I didn’t have time to make a big breakfast anyway since we went to an Indian dance performance on Sunday morning. I will make my own petit fours one of these days, I promise).

Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to be in town so you can actually prepare a meal for your mom for Mothers Day. I already mentioned the salad that I made, but I also made a cake. Yum. I have a huuuuuge sweet tooth. I love cake, especially homemade cakes. You know that someone put in a time and effort to create something that you think and hope the recipient will like.

We have a few standards around here – nothing wrong with that, but sometimes you feel like branching out. And sometimes a recipe lands in your inbox that you just HAVE to make. That was the case this time around. I got an email from Sassy Radish with the recipe for an awesome cannoli cake. Cannoli. Cake. And Crepes. (I love the alliteration). Just repeat these words. You it has to be good. Add orange puree and you have a homerun.

And yet – I just had to tinker around with the recipe. No great modifications, but something to suit my tastes, and the ingredients I had handy. For example, I had a few overripe mangoes that were just too mushy to use in a salad. Ergo – mango puree mixed with the orange puree. I modified the crepe recipe to get thinner crepes. I used orange and lime zest. I used less sugar – most recipes can stand a reduction of sugar, and still taste just as great.

This was my first time to make my own ricotta. It turned out beautifully and I think I’ll try to use as much homemade ricotta as possible. I couldn’t find any cheesecloth for the life of me so I just used an organic baby diaper cloth made of muslin. With that fabric it took 6 hours til I got the right consistency of ricotta. I got about 2 1/2 cups of ricotta out of the recipe. The 2 cups of ricotta filling weren’t enough for me, so I stretched the filling by using that last 1/2 cup with lime zest, and approximately 1 1/2 powdered sugar. I also used less powdered sugar in that first batch of ricotta filling.

The crepes: The first crepe was thicker which was perfect for the bottom layer. But I didn’t like that thickness for the remaining crepes, plus I would only end up with a few layers. I stretched the crepe batter by adding a bit of milk and some water – probably 1/4 cup of milk, and 1/2 cup of water. I used less than a 1/4 scoop of batter – however much I needed to just coat the bottom of the pan, resulting in perfect thin crepes. They also didn’t cook as long, max 1 minute on the first side and about 20 seconds on the other side. I had an awesome non-stick pan where I barely needed any butter to cook the crepes.

And the orange puree. I had 3 mangoes which were going to into that puree. I had one orange – and no zest. My zest had been used up in the ricotta filling, and smarty pants that I am, I didn’t read the recipe closely enough and realize that I’d need two oranges. So, no orange zest, and no simple syrup. The mangoes were sweet enough to make any added sugar unnecessary. The resulting sauce is still ridiculously delicious – I had it for breakfast, for example on my porridge. Mmmm.

The finished cake. Don’t you want to try some, too?

Since I had so much orange-mango puree I used about 1 1/2 tbsp fruit puree between the layers. And since I wanted the finished cake to look extra pretty, I added a final layer of fruit puree on top. It almost looked like a fruit glaze. So good. I refrigerated the cake before serving it made it easier to cut lovely wedges that wouldn’t slide apart during serving. I served the cake with extra fruit puree and a slight dusting of powdered sugar. I let the photos speak for themselves: