My mother always makes Vanilla Custard in the same bowl. It is speckled brown and deep, enough so that most of my vanilla scented memories are of me standing on my tippy toes peering over the rim to check if it is cool enough to eat even when the pillowy steam suggests otherwise. I remember my finger skimming the surface tugging along with it the ‘skin’ that formed on top, a testimony to the impatience of a child waiting for a treat. Not wanting to leave this proof of my transgression behind I would shake the bowl a little hoping the skin would settle into forgiving smoothness.
Not too long ago my little(r) girl stuck a spoonful of warm custard in her mouth all of 30 seconds after being admonished not to. When I looked up in response to her pained gasp she defensively said “But mama hot things are tasty!” It was all I could do to not laugh out loud.
I didn’t think I would ever post a vanilla cake recipe largely because they are usually eminently forgettable. However, when after years of too sweet, too eggy, too boring, I finally found The Vanilla Cake, then I had to share it here. Does it hurt that it comes together in one bowl without a mixer? Of course not. Could you potentially improve the crumb by whipping the butter/oil with sugar and incorporating eggs one by one? Possibly, and if I ever do then rest assured I will add notes here. For now I am thrilled with this cake as is – moist, pleasingly dense, clearly vanilla, far from boring and ten minutes away from being in the oven at any given time.
There are these moments you have when you move to a new country; the little slips that embarrass you, that shatter your sense of confident cool. It is hunting for Coriander leaves only to be pointed to the powder or looking for Capsicum only to finally locate them next to the “Green Peppers” sign. Over time you retrain yourself to look for Cilantro and to put Green Peppers on your shopping list. In my head though I still call them Capsicum or think of them as ‘Shimla Mirch’. The word Mirch means chilli or in this case pepper, and the Shimla is a reference to where this imported vegetable first began to grow in India under the British. Since then Capsicum or Shimla Mirch or Green Peppers grow all over Pakistan and India, but the name has stuck.
There is a kind of dessert that everyone needs in their arsenal. The kind that requires minimal muss and fuss and that you put together in advance of a dinner party. The kind that you can tailor according to circumstance and guests without undergoing any of that awful “will they or won’t they like it” anxiety. If you have ever had people over you know exactly what I am talking about. This Chocolate Mousse Tart hits all those boxes. The ‘Mousse’ is simply chocolate, coffee, and cream. The crust is Oreos and butter. What is there not to love?
Kaali or Sabut Masoor ki Daal is made from brown lentils and is one of my favourites despite its misnomer of a name. You see kaali means black, but this daal is decidedly brown. Black or brown I love it’s bold heartiness, it’s comforting warmth and it certainly does not hurt that it is so nutritious.
The flavour of kaali daal alone isn’t what makes it one of my favourites. It is also the associated memories. It is that first meal back from a year away at college and the simple meal that I associate with the breaking of the fast on the tenth of Muharram. We are Shia Muslims and for us the Battle of Karbala is a defining moment in the history of Islam. I have made several attempts to write about what that means to us, but find that words fail me. Tamania of Super Urdu Mom and one of my favourite bloggers does a far better job and you can read her piece over here.
It is always biryani o’ clock somewhere. I wish that was my line, but alas it is not although it did ring true when I found myself sitting on my front steps at 10 am a bowl of biryani in my hand. Biryani for breakfast? Why not. I have a go to biryani, one that is my aunts recipe and it is pretty damn delicious so I will be honest and say that I never anticipated posting another. When I saw this recipe on Ainy Cooks, a website that has an impressive collection of Pakistani recipes, I decided it was a must try since it was pretty simple and seemed like a richer flavoured version of my own. I was not disappointed and have made it at least three times since then.
I made some changes to suit our palate and my convenience (lol), but my favourite addition is the “koylay ka dum” or charcoal smoke. It is a game changer and simple enough to do. In fact my FIL was the one who taught me how.
Moment of truth time folks: Pakistani food is hard, sorry Pakistani food can be hard. Not because of the techniques, but because of the time. So much damn time. Now of course there are great short cuts, but for an anxious hovering over her food kinda cook like me it can feel exhausting. That is what makes this hearty Murgh Palak so so perfect, there is no slow cooking of onions, no waiting for flavours to develop. Once the chicken is done you’re done. No garnishing required either. Just pick up your roti, or ladle the Murgh Palak over your rice and eat.
I am a little obsessed with this idea of a crunchy/contrasting topping on cakes. I am also a little obsessed with all things lemon – desserts like this Lemon Mousse-y creation or a generous squeeze at the end of Pakistani dishes like fish biryani. When I saw a recipe for a Lemon Drizzle Tray Bake in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, a thoughtful gift from one of my three favourite brothers and his wife, I knew it had to be. The lemon crunch cake is easy to put together – you literally just dump all the ingredients in the bowl and mix till smooth. The fabulous crunch topping is as simple as lemon juice + sugar and it totally works!
Desi truth: We love white sauce. Not the milk/cream, butter, nutmeg and a sprinkling of cheese kind, but the fully loaded variety with things in it that would appal French grandmamas. These Chicken & White Sauce Squares are inspired by the memory of another impressive woman. When I was a teenager there was a lady who made part of her living going from house to house making these squares. They were built with samosa wrappers that would shatter ever so slightly when you bit into them and savoured the creamy deliciousness of the white sauce filling.
Eid Eats 2016 is here!!! I am so thrilled to be co-hosting this events with blogger buddies Henna (My Ninja Naan) and Asiya (Chocolate & Chillies). What is Eid Eats you may ask? Well it is a fun round up of Eid recipes from our blogger friends world over. The recipes usually range from traditional to non traditional with a common theme of deliciousness. Blogger friends check back here for the how tos and don’t forget to use the hashtag #EidEats2016! My wonderful readers can see what everyone else is bringing to the table at the bottom of the post. Please do keep checking back as recipes will continue to be added over the next three days!
I had initially thought of making something more ‘creative’ but then I decided to hold on to that thought and instead offer to you Sivaiyan/Sheer Khurma, the vermicelli & milk dessert that is almost compulsory on Eid-ul-Fitr. My Mamas Sivaiyan – or Sheer Khurma if we are going to be technical here – comes together in fifteen minutes and never ever have I had a bite and thought “How could I make this better?” For me it is just not possible. Her secret? A piece of mithai (traditional sweet dessert). One piece of qalaqand which is readily available at Pakistani/Indian stores goes a long way in adding real depth to what can sometimes be an underwhelming dessert. If you don’t have it don’t fret: my other favourite ingredient Condensed Milk does some delicious good here.