Fresh out of my oven! Delicious banana bread!

S and I went for tea to a friend’s place on Sunday. They live on this gorgeous farm, about 30 minutes away from the city, and right on the banks of the river Mahi. Its a gorgeous place, so quiet and peaceful. They do a lot of organic farming and even supply fresh milk which is completely untouched. I haven’t tried it yet but I am looking forward to it. In case you need more information about the farm and its products, the link is here.

His wife had made an absolutely delicious banana cake. It had no frosting but was so moist and delicious! I knew I had to make it.. She was gracious enough to share the recipe with me and I was super excited to try it out. It helps that I had extremely over ripe bananas which is exactly what I needed for this recipe. I decided  to make it in a loaf tin so that I can send it to Bombay easily. Here are some pictures of it fresh out of the oven! Recipe follows.
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Delicious Banana Cake

Recipe from a very gracious friend!

Ingredients

1 1/3rd cup of all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 to 5 bananas, peeled and mashed

2/3rd cup melted butter (Use unsalted preferably)

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 tbsp honey

50 gms chopped walnuts (optional)

50gms cashew nut powder (optional)

1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

To Serve:

2 tbsp powdered sugar

1 tsp cinnamon powder

Method

Preheat an oven to 200 degrees celsius or 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line a 8 1/2″ by 4 1/2″ loaf tin, with greaseproof paper and grease it lightly with some olive oil or butter

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and leave aside.

In another bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. If using, add the chopped walnuts and the cashew nut powder at this point. Add the honey and give the mixture a stir. I added 1 tsp of ground cinnamon to the batter to give it an extra cinnamon flavor.

Fold in the flour gently at this point until it is just moistened.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake it in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool in the loaf tin for 7 minutes and then turn out onto to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the bread is cooling, mix the powdered sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Before serving, ensure that the banana bread is completely cooled. Dust the bread with the sugar and cinnamon mixture and cut into slices to serve!

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This is an absolutely delicious accompaniment to tea and coffee and is very child-friendly. Since it doesn’t have any frosting, it is relatively lower in fat. You can add less sugar if you wish to cut back on calories and want to have a slightly less sweet bread. This bread will freeze well and can stay for up to a month in the freezer. If you wish to unfreeze it, allow it to sit out for about an hour and a half and pop it into an oven at the ‘warm’ setting at 100 degrees Celsius for about an hour. Cover the bread in foil before popping into the oven.

Happy baking everyone!

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Pea and Mint Soup – The Perfect Winter Soup

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Winters are the only times I actually enjoy eating soup. I think it is very hot through the rest of the year to able to actually enjoy soup. I had this combination a pea and mint soup for the first time at The Westin, Pune where I was just a tad hungry and a soup seemed like the perfect option. It was a rich, creamy soup and I loved the combination and of mint and peas. Since neither my mom nor I enjoy soup that much, I never looked up the recipe.

Fast forward a few months and winter is finally here! The season for hot soups, chocolate and cocoa! I was going to make whole wheat  pizzas for dinner and needed an accompaniment. I could either make a salad or a soup. I decided to go with soup and remembered the pea and mint soup I had. I was lazy. I didn’t really want to look through the recipe books in hand so I decided to Google for the recipe. A lot of the recipes I went through had cream or butter or sour cream and I really wanted something healthy and simple since the cheese on the pizza was going to make me feel guilty enough. I found this recipe which seemed just perfect for me! I decided to omit the sour cream to have a vegan and super healthy soup. In India, we do not get pre packaged vegetable stock and I absolutely refuse to use the Maggi stock cubes considering how much sodium they have! Vegetable stock makes the process a little longer but its worth it.

Pea and Mint Soup

Adapted from here 

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 small onions, finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock (recipe below)
1/3rd cup mint leaves
400 grams frozen peas or fresh peas
salt and pepper to taste
Method

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Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
Next, add the chopped onions and cook until they turn transparent and soft, about 6 minutes on a medium low heat. We do not want to caramelize the onions and just want to reduce their bite.
Once the onions are cooked, add 4 cups of the vegetable stock to the onion-garlic mix and allow the stock to come a boil.
As soon as the stock comes to a rolling boil, add the frozen or fresh peas and the mint and cook for 8 minutes for frozen peas and about 5 minutes for fresh peas. Cook until the peas are done.
Allow the mix to cool before putting in the blender in small batches.
After you have reached a smooth consistency of the pea-mint mixture, put it back on the stove and allow to warm up. At this stage, season it with salt and pepper.
Ladle into soup bowls and you are ready to serve this warm, thick winter soup!
Note:
This soup is quite thick and if you would like it thinner, add 1/2 cup of vegetable stock more.
Add the salt and pepper only once you have blended the soup to avoid over salting.

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Vegetable Stock

For 5 cups
Ingredients:
6 1/2 cups of water
2 medium-sized onions, peeled and cut into half
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tomatoes, cut into thick chunks
1 piece of carrot
7-8 French Beans
1/2 teaspoon mixed  herbs  like oregano, rosemary, thyme, mint
a pinch of salt
Method:
Add the 6 cups of water in a large saucepan and allow to simmer.
Once the water has begun to simmer, add all the vegetables in the water, with a pinch of salt and the herbs, and allow to boil for at least 30 minutes.
Once the stock has boiled and cooled, drain the vegetables and use the liquid in soups and gravies.
You can also add other vegetables that you may have in hand like celery, capsicum, potatoes and add whatever herbs you enjoy.
This is a very basic stock recipe and you can make it with a lot of variations. Mix and match and find the stock recipe that works best for you!

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Perfect soup to share with people and it might seem like it’s very difficult to make when you taste it but it could not be simpler!

Happy cooking!

Parsi Da Dhaba, In Between Vapi and Mumbai

Parsi food sure is becoming super popular! Everywhere I go, people want to talk about the places they went to eat Parsi food and what they tried. S and I are both vegetarians who eat eggs but according to our friends, if you don’t eat meat you can’t fully experience the joys of Parsi food. I do agree with that because most of their diet is meat based and the way the cook the meat adds to the charm; but vegetarian eaters need not feel left out! There are quite a few things you can eat which are vegetarian or which have eggs. If you don’t eat eggs, I think you may have a problem!

Parsis are a fascinating and very jovial community. If you haven’t lived in Bombay, your chances of interacting with Parsis is bound to be very limited. They have excellent English, are very good at theatre, have a very distinct fashion sense and possess the ability to laugh at themselves. Their culture is unique to them and Parsi weddings or festivals are wonderful to observe.
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S and I were driving to Bombay this last weekend and when we told some friends about it, they said we absolutely must stop at Parsi da Dhaba.  One  of them even went as far as saying that the only way he would drive down to Bombay is to eat the food there. With such rave reviews how could we NOT go there? We weren’t sure  exactly where it was but Google Maps sure knew it! Fortunately they have sign boards and ample parking space. We were not sure if we entered the right place so moved around a little precariously.
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The garden restaurant echoes the way a lot of fancier dhabas are. They have simple, brown plastic tables and chairs and huts erected. Its quite shady and since we went around winter time it wasn’t hot at all even though there were no fans around us. We were seated quickly and had our menus in front of us in a short span of time. Our friends had strongly suggested getting the ‘dudh nu puff’ and there were a whole lot of flavours to choose from including chocolate, rum and brandy. We settled for vanilla. I loved their menu because it had a little explanation and a brief background/story of the dish.  Traditionally, the glass of milk is kept by the windowsill to cool through the night and is frothed  the next morning so that it has a frothy top called puff. We weren’t exactly sure what this was so we decided to split one. Its a small glass which is filled 1/3rd with sweetened and flavored milk. And topped with a huge puff. Its very light on  the stomach and I can easily imagine having 3 or 4 of these myself!
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I am a huge French Toast lover and when we went to Gir recently, more about that in my next post, I ate French Toast every day for the 5 days we were there! Parsi da Dhaba also had French Toast on their menu and the description said if you haven’t eaten French Toast their way you haven’t eaten it at all! Of course I HAD to try it.. It is served as 2 slices of bread covered in a golden eggy mixture. I tasted a hint of vanilla and it was sweet and moist enough that I did not need honey with it. Not bad, but not the greatest. I personally did not enjoy the bread and would have preferred if they would have used a slightly thicker bread.
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S wanted to eat Dhanshak but we were driving to Bombay abd he didn’t want to fall asleep at the wheel after eating the rice and Dhanshak. He settled on tamatu per edda or an egg on tomatoes. The tomatoes are more like a gravy and there is a fried egg on top of it. We  had eaten papeto per edda or salli per edda which is an egg on potato chips, but our server said that the potatoes stick to the pan and this turns out much better. I love the Parsi tomato sauce! It has a different sweetness, not sugar but  honey or jaggery. I’m not sure. And it is very subtle. You can still taste the sourness of the tomatoes but they have a good balance with all the spices. All in all it was great! Parsi da Dhaba serves a great tamatu per edda with all the flavors balanced just right! The yolk is slightly runny and looks gorgeous with that golden liquid oozing out of it.  S ate it with their rotis which are like homemade phulkas. They are light and have the sweetness that comes from wheat. Perfect accompaniment to this dish.
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I was still a little hungry since the French Toast wasn’t really that heavy. I decided  to order some baked potatoes. They were beautiful. Covered and served in foil and thrown in the charcoal pit, they have a nice smokey taste. They  are served with a little bit of pepper, salt and butter. Potatoes that amazingly satiate the need for carbs in a healthy way. Just as soon as I ordered the baked potatoes I stumbled upon aloo parathas in their menu. I don’t know why but I was craving potatoes terribly that day. After I made S swear that we would share the paratha with me, just so that I don’t feel lie a glutton, I ordered them. They came quickly and were piping hot. The aloo parathas were served with a side of curd which was thankfully not at all sour and was thick and creamy. I love my curd and hate it when restaurants serve sour and thin curd. The parathas were crisp, hot and obviously had a good amount of oil in them. They had an excellent filling of potatoes, onions, chillies and spices. Simple yet perfect. Judging by the parathas I would think that their Punjabi food would be great too!
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Besides Dudh nu Puff, the other highly recommended thing was the caramel custard. It was so delicious! Creamy, eggy, sweet with a hint of gorgeously caramelised sugar and it had air bubbles. Now I’m not really a fan of custards but this was very good. It wasn’t very heavy on the stomach for some reason so even though we had eaten so much, the dessert didn’t make us uncomfortable. We completely relished it and savored every bite. I can’t think of a better way to complete this meal.
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The menu at the Dhaba has a section at the back for information about Parsis for non-Parsis written in a very jovial and light hearted way. Its a delight to read it. Some of the facts I loved were – “You eat 30 eggs a day”, “If you have a tan then you are off the marriage market” and “You secretly think you are related to the Queen”.
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The service is quick, efficient and the place is very clean. Its nice enough to visit with family as well and we were surrounded  by tables that had come with grandparents and all.  The food is great and I’ve heard the non-vegetarian food is amazing! Its not too far from Thane and is worth a visit on Sundays for a long drive and some yummy food.  This place is the prefect highway Dhaba and I can’t wait to take another long drive to Bombay just so I can visit here.
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For good food, quick service, a clean  restaurant and reasonably priced food, I give Parsi da Dhaba a 4 out of 5!

Happy Travels!!

Restaurant details: Located on NH 8, Village Varwada

Restaurant Contact: +918806279379

Cafe Mangii, Powai

The last time I had visited Powai was in 2001 or earlier.  In fact it has been so long that I can’t remember anything at all about the place. Hiranandani was still quite new and though people had moved in, it was completely a different  story. S and I were going to meet up with a few of his friends in Powai and I had zero recollection of the place. I was intrigued to see how it looked now and wanted to know for myself if it really was as clean and wonderful as everyone had been saying. It was a looong drive from South Bombay, but since it was a Sunday it was much faster and a delight to see so many different areas. For the first time, I saw IIT Bombay!

But let’s talk about Café Mangii. I had heard so much about the place and in fact had planned to visit the restaurant in Pune where they opened a branch a few months ago. Unfortunately, that had never worked out. I was keen to try the pizzas which were called some of the best in Bombay by a very credible source. 4 of us from a party of 15 reached a little earlier and I was glad that I could make my first impressions while the entire restaurant was still quite empty. The entrance has white pebbles strewn on both sides of a wooden pathway. Atop the pebbles, that have very Mediterranean inspired tables and chairs, which would be great to have a cup of coffee in the evening and some dessert.

We walked in and after a little planning from the host’s side, they seated us. We were really hungry and it seemed like everyone was going to be a little late so we went ahead and ordered.  We decided to start off with jalapeño poppers, Gnocchi in a creamy pesto sauce and a light Caprese Salad. The jalapeño poppers were flavoursome, not spicy and cooked crisp. They weren’t oily to touch and had a good coating. The pesto sauce stayed true to its name and was super creamy and rich. The Gnocchi was a little gluggy and could you have been better. It stuck to my palate and did not allow  me to fully enjoy the sauce. The sauce, by itself, had a rich texture and a subtle yet perfect hint of basil. I would have enjoyed it as a dip by itself with some thin and crispy bread. The Caprese Salad was my favorite. Nice and fresh mozzarella with sweet tomatoes with a drizzling of basil oil or basil pesto, I am not sure. It was light and flavorful. Great for a hot day.

For mains, we decided to go for pizza and some pasta. The pizzas are supposed to be some of the best in the city and are baked in a wood-fired oven. They are thin and crispy and very light. The sauce is good and isn’t overpowering. The vegetables stay crisp, which is a relief. A good pizza experience but I wouldn’t say they are the best that I’ve eaten.

We ordered a penne in red sauce and the Penne was just very slightly underdone. It had a bit more bite than what was needed. The sauce was good. A little bit of pepper added some excellent extra flavor and really brought out the taste of basil. From the mains, my favorite was the Saffron risotto; but then again I am quite partial to risottos! There was a beautiful aroma of Saffron and they definitely didn’t skimp on it. It was creamy and cooked very well. The seasoning is excellent for all the foods and I was glad to have no complaints regarding it.

The downer was that the Balsamic Vinegar had some insects in it but they were apologetic and quick to change it. They even sent some dessert to our table to make up for the negative incident. They sent us a blueberry cheesecake which had a blueberry compote and a whipped cream Strawberry cake. I wouldn’t go here for dessert but then I am very picky about my desserts so I could be quite biased. Nevertheless, it’s always good when a restaurant makes up for their mistake graciously. 

Service here is very mediocre. It takes a few minutes to get someone’s attention and for some reason they like to hang out in groups near the various counters. Once you do get their attention, they are polite and some are well informed. However, they do not serve very well with larger groups of b people and they prefer if you serve yourself.

All in all, it was a good experience but I don’t think I will be running here again soon. I wouldn’t mind meeting someone here but it didn’t make for an extremely memorable experience.

For its Caprese salad, Saffron risotto and the graciousness of accepting their mistake, I give Cafe Mangii a 3.25 out of 5.

Restaurant Timings: 11 AM – 12:00 AM

Contact Numbers: 02225705137 , 02225705139

My absolute favorite: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

We all have those one absolute favorite dessert that we eat even when we know we shouldn’t. I don’t think I can think of a combination more addictive and tastier than chocolate and peanut butter. Oh wait! Add some Nutella to it and it will drive me crazy!

I love cookies. I love chocolate. And I love peanut butter. What happens when you combine all of them? You get the most amazing, the most sinful and the most addictive things of all! I came across this recipe in 2010. We were young kids excited to be baking and wanted to make something sweet. All our previous attempts had resulted in something burnt or something spread out or something half-baked. But we weren’t disheartened. We were happy to scrape off the burnt bits and eat whatever little is edible or scoop it all up with a spoon. It was another ‘baking day’ and we found a jar of peanut butter in the fridge. Now, I LOOOVEE peanut butter! Give me a jar and some jelly and Nutella and I’ll be the happiest person on this planet. Anyway, we decided to try making these cookies and they turned out so good we gobbled up the first batch just out of the oven. Of course we had to make more and were more patient the second time around. From then on, when we bake these cookies, we always double the recipe and it has never lasted more than 48 hours.
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Fast-forward to a couple of years later, I still love the simplicity of this recipe and they are my comfort cookies. I stopped making them with all-purpose flour and make them now with whole-wheat flour. The texture does change, they aren’t as chewy, but I’m willing to make that little bit of a compromise to eat a little healthier. The ingredients are easy to stock and I began using brown sugar in baking only after discovering this recipe. I sometimes add a little Nutella and cut back a little bit on the peanut butter for an extra flavor kick. I also tend to sometimes add creamy peanut butter and other times, add chunky peanut butter. Either ways, they taste good.
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These are super rich cookies and very indulgent so they’re excellent as a treat. I would bake these and take them as a gift for someone who loves peanut butter. I can’t praise this cookie recipe enough and I don’t want to experiment with it at all! If you do try making it, please let me know what you think!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Adapted from a recipe by Canary Girl

Ingredients:
• ½ cup of butter (Use unsalted to control the saltiness in the cookies)
• ½ cup sugar
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• ¾ cup Peanut Butter (creamy gives a better texture)
• 1 cup flour (I used whole-wheat)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• a pinch on salt
• 1 cup chocolate chunks
Method:
• Pre-heat oven t o 375 Fahrenheit or 175 Celsius. Line a cookie sheet with grease-proof paper and set aside
• Cream the butter and both the sugars until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes, with an electric beater if possible. Make sure the butter is at room temperature to speed up the process.
• Add the egg and vanilla and beat them in the mixture.
• Using a wooden spoon beat in the peanut butter until well incorporated in the butter-sugar mixture.
• Next, add the flour, salt, baking powder and stir to combine.
• Add the chocolate chunks and mix them in the dough.
• Drop spoonfuls of the dough on to the cookie sheet, leaving some space between each cookie because they will spread.
• Bake for 12 minutes or until slightly golden.
• Remove them from the oven and allow them to rest on the cookie sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

These taste best when they’re warm with a glass of cold milk on the side. Happy baking everyone!
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