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Amaretti BiscuitsEvery year during Christmas season, I prepare homemade edible hampers for friends and every year, I try to bake different biscuits to include in the package. This year I had a special challenge while preparing this for a friend who went on a ‘gluten and sugar free’ diet. I started searching for recipes but sometimes these healthy snacks are something of an acquired taste because of the alternative ingredients used in them. But eventually, I found a recipe that is utterly delicious, extremely easy to prepare and still very healthy. 

I’ve had a book of Italian recipes for 12 years and always wanted to try the recipe for Amaretti Biscuits in it but never got around to actually doing it. The recipe calls for mere 4 ingredients Eggs, almonds, sugar & vanilla extract. So this is ‘gluten free’ but not exactly ‘sugar free’! A trip to a local health shop solved the other problem when I found ‘Xylitol’ a natural sugar substitute. Diabetes is in my family for last two generations so these days I’m keen on educating myself about the possible sugar substitutes. From what I know so far, Xylitol is completely natural and doesn’t seem to have any adverse side effects if consumed in small portions.

The biscuits were such a huge success, that I’m totally addicted to baking them now. When I bake them I use sugar but it’s nice to know that I can bake them using Xylitol for my diabetic mother.

Ingredients:

  • Ground almonds 200 gms.
  • Caster sugar OR sugar substitute 225 gms
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsps Amaretto liquor (optional)
  • Butter for greasing
  1. Preheat oven at160 C. Place a baking sheet on a baking tray and grease it lightly with some butter. Mix half of the sugar in the ground almonds and reserve. Beat egg whites till they form soft peaks.
  2. Now slowly add the remaining sugar, a little at a time in the mixture and continue beating until all the sugar is incorporated and the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  3. Now fold in the almond mixture into the egg mixture until well incorporated. Mix in vanilla extract and Amaretto liquor if using. Fill the mixture into a piping bag and pipe-in small dollar size shapes on the baking sheet. Keep them spread apart as the cookies will expand while baking.
  4. Bake for 15-18 mins or until they are pink in colour. After taking them out of the oven, let the cookies cool for 2-3 mins on the tray. Then place them on a cooling rack till they cool down completely. When the biscuits are completely cold, place them in an airtight container before storing. 
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Lamb BiryaniThe Nawabi Khana is a serious business. This is royal cooking; elaborate, complex and refined. There are no shortcuts here; it takes time and patience to cook this…. but boy is it worth it! If you have ever dug into the layers of perfectly cooked meat, rice and tons aromatic spices in an authentic ‘Hyderabadi Biryani’ you’ll know what I mean. Cooking rice with meat is always a tricky business. Rice cooks quickly and the meat takes a long time to cook. Naturally, to make a perfect Biryani where both meat and rice are cooked to perfection is a cook’s ultimate challenge. Goli Biryani is a slightly easy version where meatballs in gravy are used instead of raw marinated meat. Goli means a small round shape as in a meat ball here.

Last week when I had some marinated lamb mince sitting in my fridge, I hadn’t planned to cook anything elaborate with it. I was really busy that day but the mince needed to be used up quickly so I just made a few meatballs, shallow-fried them in some oil and when they cooled just stuck them back into the frige to use later. The next day I made Goli Biryani with them which was a huge success in the household so I decided to cook it again today for an ‘Indian Night’  at an office charity get together.

There are three stages:

  1. Preparation stage where you make ginger-garlic paste, onion paste, marinate the meat, prepare spice powders (if not using shop bought), wash & soak the rice, soak the saffron in milk etc. Preparing crispy fried onion, chopping herbs is also done at this stage.
  2. Actual cooking stage where you shape and sear the meatballs, prepare a gravy and dip the meatballs in them and pre-cook rice till half done.
  3. Assembly stage where you create multiple layers of rice and meat with herbs and spices. The biryani is sealed and cooked further on Dum (on steam) till done at this stage.

Since there are large number of ingredients and processess, I’ve broken them down as per the stages:

Ingredients for Ginger-Garlic paste

  • Garlic 25 gm (about 1 large bulb)
  • Ginger 25 gm (3-4 inch piece)
  • 2 chillies

Grind together all  the ingredients above to make a smooth paste.

Ingredients to marinate the mince:

Lamb Mince 500 gm

  • Ginger-Garlic-Chili paste 2 tsp
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayene pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint
  • Salt t0 taste

Mix all the ingredients above together, cover with a cling film & refrigerate.Fried Onions

Crispy fried Onion

  • 2 large onions

Thinly slice 1 large onion and deep fry it till brown & crisp. Please be mindful that it takes a little while for the onions to become pinkinsh brown but from that point onwards, the onions can become dark brown in seconds. You’ll need to watch them carefully & take them out at the right time, to avoid burning them.

Saffron Milksaffron

  • Saffron 1 pinch
  • Milk 1/2 cup

Take warm milt &  soak the saffron in it.

For Rice

  • 2 cups (225 gm) Basmati Rice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 green cardamoms
  • 2 inch piece if cinnamon
  • 3 cloves

Wash and soak the rice for 30 mins then drain. In a large pot cook the rice with the spices above in 4 cups of water till it’s half done. Drain, discard the spices & reserve the rice for later.

Make marble sized balls of the marinated lamb mince & sear them in a frying pan in a little oil. Drain the meatballs on a kitchen towel. Lamb mince will release some fat in the pan, reserve this fat for the gravy.

For Gravy

  • 4 tbsp oil / fat released from the meatballsMeatballs
  • 1 large onion (Minced)
  • 2 large tomatoes chopped
  • 2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp garam masala OR Biryani masala powder
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (whisked till smooth)

Heat the oil in a pan & add minced onion and ginger-garlic paste to it and keep stiring on a medium-low heat. After a few mins add turmeric powder, chilli powder, coriander powder & cumin powder. Fry a little, taking care not to burn the spices. Now add the tomatoes and cook while stirring until the tomatoes are cooked and the mixture starts releasing some oil. Now add 1/2 cup of water &  yogurt to the gravy and stir. Add the meatballs in the gravy and mix them together. Cover the pot and let it simmer on a very low heat for 5-7 mins. Take the pot off the heat.

Ingredients for assembly

  • One tomato sliced in circles
  • Ghee (clarified butter) 2-3 tbsp
  • Rice prepared in advance
  • Meatballs in gravy prepared in advance
  • Fried onions prepared in advance
  • Saffron soaked in milk prepared in advance
  • Chopped coriander leaves 1/2 cup
  • Chopped mint leaves 1/2 cup
  • Garam Masala /Biryani Masala 2 tsp
  • Rosewater 2-3 tsp
  • Kewra essense (optional) 2-3 tsp

In a large casserole heat some ghee, place the tomato circles at the bottom. Add first layer of meat followed by a layer of rice. Sprinkle some chopped herbs, fried onions, 1 tsp ghee, a few drops of rosewater & a few drops of kewra essense. Sprinkle some Biryani masala and drizzle a little saffron milk on top. Repeat the layer of meat & rice in the same fashion & finish with a layer of rice on top. On top add all the herbs, extracts and spices as before. Cover the casserole, seal the edges with a dough made from flour. Keep a griddle on a very low heat & keep the casserole on top of it. Let the Biryani cook on steam trapped inside the casserol for 10-15 mins. Granish with rose petals and boiled egg if you like and serve it with some raita or plain yogurt.

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Crescent CookiesSome time ago, at a dinner party, a friend of ours brought these beautiful, dainty, crescent shaped traditional Slovakian cookies which caught my eye. The taste and texture was even better; nutty, crispy and sweet. When I asked Valeria about them, she graciously gave me the recipe for these walnut cookies that are called ‘Orechove Rohlicky’. I obviously didn’t have the moulds that give these cookies the neat crescent shape so I kept thinking about what else I can use to shape them but somehow never got around to actually baking them. In the meantime, our friend went to Slovakia for her holidays & when she retuned, she had a wonderful gift for me…those beautiful crescent shaped moulds! Whenever someone gives a gift that is so appropriate, the joy of giving and receiving these gifts is really five fold!Crescent Moulds

As soon as I got these moulds, I was eager to use them. The recipe called for ground walnuts (I’m told that ‘Orechove’ means Walnuts in Slovak) but since I had ground Almonds at home, I decided to use them instead of walnuts. The result was quite successful and now I make them with either walnuts or almonds.

Ingredients:

Ground Walnuts / Almonds -120 gm

Cold Butter cut into cubes – 120 gm

Icing sugar – 250 gm

Flour – 100 gm

Baking Powder – ½ tsp

Vanilla Extract – 1 tsp

Chocolate – 100 gm

250gm sugar makes these cookies a little too sweet so you can reduce the sugar a little if you like. However the sugar in these cookies also helps them bind together so reducing it too much might result in very brittle cookies.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler.

  1. Just like with a short crust pastry, mix together ground almonds, butter, sugar, vanilla extract and flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. My friend told me to make sure not to over-work the mixture and to keep the butter as cold as possible while mixing. Since my hands are always warm, the butter melts quite quickly so I decided to use the food processor. This made my job even easier, just put all the ingredients in the food processor, mixed them until they looked like breadcrumbs.Crescent cookies
  2. Pack the mixture loosely into the moulds and bake at 180 degree Celsius for about 8-10 mins or until lightly browned. Voila…the cookies are ready! If you break the cookie after they cool down, you’ll see that they are hollow from inside which makes them quite light.
  3. To cover them in chocolate, melt some chocolate in a bain-marie and then dip half part of the cookie in chocolate and then place the cookie on a grease proof sheet, on a tray. Keep the tray in a cool place until the chocolate sets.

The recipe is so simple that these are ideal to bake with children. The last time when we prepared them, I let my five year old do most of the work and that made them even more special!

Orechove Rohlicky may be the traditional name for these crescent cookies but we simply call them Valeria’s cookies, which brought a little bit of Slovakian cuisine into our Indian household.

 

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Pistachio Kulfi I have a confess that when I was living in India, I was never a big fan of Kulfi. It might have been because; as a child I disliked the taste of milk. I even hated Basundi, which is basically sweetened and thickened, reduced milk. Since the base of the Kulfi is reduced milk, I was never really fond of it. Over the years as my tastes evolved, I got over my dislike for milk and I gave Kulfi another shot and this time I loved it. Since I didn’t have access to the authentic Mewad Kulfi, I started my research to find an authentic recipe.

I soon realised that a lot of the recipes are using evaporated milk and condensed milk instead of reducing the milk by boiling it down. I wasn’t completely happy with the end product using any of these recipes. This time around I wanted to make a pistachio Kulfi and my search widened.  I wanted full flavour of real pistachios instead of just adding some chopped nuts. Didn’t find any recipe that I liked so I decided to take the best bits of Kulfi & Pistachio Gelato recipes and to combine them. I came up with something, that had the full flavour and colour of real pistachios and had the texture of a Kulfi. I just went with my instinct and noted down the quantities later. Kulfi is not traditionally churned but I did use my ice-cream machine to churn it before freezing it in moulds. So call it  pistachio gelato, pistachio ice-cream or call it pistachio Kulfi; either way the recipe below will give you an absolutely delicious, thick, creamy frozen dessert with full flavour of pistachios and a hint of honey.

Full fat milk 1 litre

Double cream 250 ml

75 gm pistachios

2 tbsp sugar (More if you prefer)

2 tbsp honey

¼ tsp cardamom powder

1 tsp corn flour

1) Soak 50 grams of pistachios in some hot water.Chop the rest of the pistachios & reserve them for later.

2) In a large, heavy bottomed pot, start heating the milk on a medium-low heat, stirring continuously. Stirring is absolutely critical as its very easy to scorch the milk at the bottom. When the volume of milk is reduced to half its original quantity, add the double cream to it. Let the mixture simmer for 5 more minutes and then take it of the heat. The whole process can take up to 40-50 mins. I know….it’s too long! But let me assure you that it will all be worth it in the end!  You can do this on the side while you are cooking your dinner. Keeping one eye on the milk to not let it boil over & a gentle stir every few minutes to ensure that it doesn’t scorch, is whats required.

3) Cool down ¼ cup of the reduced milk. When it is completely cold, add the corn flour to it and mix until well incorporated.

4) Peel the skins of the soaked pistachios and put them in a blender with the honey and a half cup of reduced milk and blend them until smooth.

5) Put the reduced milk back on a medium-low heat and add sugar to it. Then slowly add the ground pistachios and the corn flour mixture to it and kept stirring it with a hand whisk. When the milk is thickened to the consistency of a slightly runny custard, take it off the heat. Stir in the chopped nuts and the cardamom powder and let the custard cool down.

6) When cold, put the cold custard into the ice cream machine and churn it until thickened and then spoon it into the ice-lolly moulds and place them in the freezer. If you don’t have an ice cream machine you can skip this step & just spoon the custard in the ice lolly moulds and freeze.

7) When the Kulfi is completely set, gently dip the moulds in warm water for a few seconds & then slowly pull out the kulfi and serve with chopped pistachios as a garnish.

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