Thursday, November 21, 2013

Caramel custard or flan...

Caramel custard (creme caramel) or flan is my favorite for many reasons. This was the first dessert  that I learnt to make from my aunt while I was in high school. My aunt used to make it in a pressure cooker. Hand beaten egg and milk steamed inside the pressure cooker, sometimes chocolate was also added to it. We used to call it pudding.

I was confused what should it be called, "custard" or "pudding" or "flan". I found pudding is a term that can be used for any dessert, from Christmas pudding to rice pudding. Both custard and flan have the same ingredients i.e. milk, eggs and sugar. The basic difference in between these two is  that a plain custard do not have caramelized sugar as topping and  is usually cooked in a saucepan while caramel custard (creme caramel) or flan is a variation of custard with caramelized sugar as a coating and is usually cooked in a oven in a water bath. But again what's in a name? It will always taste good. The creamy texture of milk and flavor of caramelized sugar and vanilla makes caramel custard or flan  always a winner.

For me caramel custard or flan is a perfect dessert for any party. It needs very few ingredients and very easy to make. For a party we usually cook multiple dishes and most of them involves elaborate cooking process. When it comes to dessert we always look for something quick and easy. Caramel custard or flan is answer to it. To reduce preparation time I have used evaporated milk, so no need to reduce milk on stove-top, this saved me a lot of time and energy. And to bring a more creamier texture to the flan, I have used heavy cream. The basic ingredients mixed and baked in the oven, and while it is baking you can keep yourself busy with other things  for arranging the party. Caramelizing the sugar is the only thing needs your full attention in the whole process.

So here it is, melt in mouth, ever popular caramel custard or flan the easy way or as I say with the least effort.

Things needed to make Caramel Custard or Flan:

  • Evaporated milk: 1 cup
  • Heavy cream (fresh cream or double cream): 1 cup
  • Eggs: 3
  • Vanilla extract: 1.5 tsp
  • Sugar: 3/4 cup (or as per taste)
  • Sugar for caramel: 2/3 cup
  • Hot water as needed

Steps of making Caramel Custard or Flan:

1. Put a pot full of water to boil.

2. Pre-heat oven to 350F (175C).

3. In a non stick pan add the sugar for caramel and 2 tablespoon of water. Let it boil. Do not stir, if needed carefully rotate the pan. As the sugar change the color to golden, switch off heat. Very carefully pour the sugar syrup to the baking dish or individual ramekins, to coat the bottom. Set aside the baking dish or ramekins.

4. Beat eggs and evaporated milk with a hand whisk. You need not to beat it to form any bubbles. Just mix it well, so the milk and eggs are well incorporated.

5. Add vanilla extract and sugar, mix well. Taste the mixture and if needed add more sugar. Add heavy whipping cream (or fresh cream or double cream) and mix gently to a smooth mixture.

6. Strain the mixture through a strainer. Pour mixture into the caramel coated baking dish or ramekins. Place the baking dish or ramekins on a large baking tray. Put the baking tray in the preheated oven. Carefully pour the hot water in the baking tray upto an inch of depth. Bake for 40-60 min or till set. If you are using small individual ramekins, then it will take 40 min. If you are using a 9 inch round pan, then bake for 60 min.

7. Take out the baking tray from oven, let it cool down. Carefully invert the flan onto the serving plate, drizzle sugar syrup and enjoy. You can serve the caramel custard (or flan) either warm or cold.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pizza margherita with no cook pizza sauce

I always find it really difficult to click  food photographs while two pairs of eyes are following me and silently asking when the food will be served. It is the one of the reason I avoid clicking my food during dinner time apart from the fact that I am much more comfortable shooting in day light.

Usually I cook and click when nobody is at home, I keep myself busy with my ingredients, camera, light and of course cooking. It's easy when I bake a cake or stir up a curry, those can be served later. But when it comes to food like pizza, which needs to go directly to the plate from the oven, I feel hesitant whether to click first or to serve. And the fun part is if I don't click before I serve the food, both the man and the little one will give me a curious look. And often I have been asked why didn't you click what you cooked?

This time things worked for me and my new personal pizza pan set saved me from my click or serve dilemma. I found these great 7 inch personal pizza pans from Home Goods. It's a good place to collect props for your food photography. Sometimes you get lucky and find something very useful like a set of four 7 inch personal pizza pans I got. Two of the pizza went straight to plate and two for my camera, end of the day a happy me.

So, it was the basic of all pizza, the margherita pizza for our dinner, and that too with a no cook pizza sauce. A quick easy one but loaded with flavors and "yammmy" as my little one says.

Things needed to make Pizza Margherita:

  • A recipe for pizza dough  click here.
  • No cook pizza sauce (recipe follows)
  • Tomato slices
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Olive oil

Things needed to make no cook pizza sauce:

(adapted from and
  • Tomato: 600 gm
  • Garlic: 2 cloves
  • Fresh basil: 1 tbsp
  • Olive oil: 2 tbsp
  • Honey: 1 tbsp
  • Chili flakes: 1-2 tsp (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper powder for seasoning

Steps of making no cook pizza sauce:

1. Use fully ripe tomatoes or canned tomatoes for best result. If using whole tomatoes, dice the tomatoes and discard the seeds. Chop fresh basil.

2. Put all the ingredients for sauce in a blender and blend to a smooth paste, do not add any extra water. Check seasoning and adjust accordingly. I added a teaspoon of chili flakes to spice up the sauce, it is optional.

Assembling the Pizza:

1. Preheat oven to 475 F.

2. After punching down the dough, divide the dough into two equal halves. If you are using a 14 inch round pizza pan then work with one half. You can keep the other half for future use. Wrap the dough with cling film and store in refrigerator, for 2-3 days. Or you can divide the dough into 4 parts, as I did, for 4 personal 7 inch pizzas.

3. Dust the pizza pan (you can also use baking sheet) with flour or cornmeal, spread the dough on the pan evenly. Brush dough with olive oil. Cover the dough with a cling wrap and let it rise for 30 min at room temperature.

4. After 30 min the dough will rise again, spread the tomato sauce, arrange sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella and basil. As tomato releases water, after slicing the tomato shake off all the seeds and excess juice.

5. Cook the pizza in the middle rack for 15-20 min (if using a 14 inch pan), or for 10-12 min (if using a 7 inch pan) in the preheated oven. When the cheese bubbles up and few brown spots appear the pizza is done. Garnish with some fresh basil and serve hot.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dahi vada...

Last weekend being Diwali, I came across so many delicious pictures of sweets and savories of different kinds in the popular social networking sites. Those added fuel to my craving for the mouthwatering motichur laddoos, irresistible samosas and so many more.  Lately I have been  intentionally keeping  myself away from the kitchen, though not completely but I have been avoiding anything that needed an elaborate cooking process. But the uncontrollable craving needed to be addressed. So I choose Dahi vada to quench it. For me that's the easiest one to make. So Dahi vada to celebrate a belated Diwali.

Dahi vada, is a popular road side chaat (snack) from India. It is basically deep fried lentil dumplings made from urad dal (split black gram), first soaked in water and then served with beaten yogurt and other flavorings. It is an absolute favorite of mine and my family.

To make soft and melt in mouth Dahi vadas keep in mind the following tips, use good quality urad dal (split black gram), soak the dal (lentil) for at least 6 hrs before making the paste, fry the dumplings over a medium high heat and most important of all beat the lentil paste with a whisk till your arm falls apart..... or else use an electric beater :)

Things needed to make Dahi vada:

For making the Vada (lentil dumplings):
(makes 16-18 vadas)
  • Urad dal (split black gram): 2 cups
  • Asafoetida (hing): a pinch
  • Cumin seeds (crushed): 1 tsp
  • Ginger paste: 2 tsp
  • Green chili paste: 1 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil to deep fry

For assembling Dahi Vada:
  • Yogurt: 4-5 cups
  • Water: 1/2 cup-1cup
  • Date-Tamarind chutney
  • Roasted cumin and red chili powder: to sprinkle
  • Black salt or chat masala: to sprinkle
  • Fresh coriander: 1 tbsp
  • Warm water: a pot full
  • Sev or boondi: to garnish
  • Sugar to taste
  • Salt to taste

Steps of making Dahi vada:

1. Soak urad dal (split black gram) for 6-7 hrs. Wash well and drain the lentils. Make a smooth paste. The paste should have a consistency of thick cake batter.

2. Add crushed cumin seeds, salt, asafoetida, ginger paste and green chili paste to the lentil paste and mix well. Beat the lentil paste till it is fluffy and airy. 

3. Heat oil in a deep pan, when the oil is hot reduce the heat and put dollops of lentil paste and fry till evenly golden brown. Do not over crowd the pan, fry in batches.

4. While the dumplings are frying, heat a pot full of water. Add  a spoonful of salt in the water. Keep the water warm. No need to boil it.

5. When the dumplings turns golden brown, take out with a slotted spoon and keep on paper towel lined plate.

6. Dip the fried dumplings in the warm water.

7. In a bowl beat yogurt, water, sugar, salt, till smooth.

8. Just before serving, squeeze any excess water from the vadas and arrange them in a serving plate. Pour whisked yogurt over the vadas to coat them well. Garnish with date-tamarind chutney, roasted cumin-red chili powder, black salt or chat masala, chopped coriander leaves, sev or boondi.

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