18 October 2014

My review of Philips Air Fryer and recipe for Onion Pakoda

When I first heard the term 'air fryer' over a year ago, I actually laughed out loud, full of skepticism. Can one actually fry in air?? But, the term is slightly misleading. It is built like a small oven, that quickly bakes things to a crisp, giving it a fried feel, both to look at and to taste. It wouldn't be wrong to call it an oven on steroids, given its performance. 

There are plenty of reviews all over the internet, so I am going to focus on some questions my blog followers asked me on Facebook and of course the results of my experiments, cooking a variety of things in this machine.

The last couple of weeks have seen full blown sales on many of the popular online stores, and the air fryers were on sale as well, leading to people frantically asking around, "Should I buy it? Is it worth it?". It's never too easy to decide on adding one more appliance to the kitchen counter when the counter real estate is way too precious and needs to be justified.

Does it occupy too much space?

It's reasonably a small machine, occupying roughly 3/4th the space of a small microwave or so, but it is quite heavy so you cannot keep it on top of a microwave or oven. Mounting it on a higher shelf is also difficult as you need to be able to easily remove the basket, shake up the contents and put it back while it is air frying. Also, if you need to use it on a regular basis, it is pointless storing it away inside one of the cabinets, because then it becomes really cumbersome to pull out and use. So you need to make sure you have a small dry spot on your kitchen counter with access to a power source.

Does it cause nutrient loss?
When vegetables are cooked at high temperatures, there is a loss of heat labile vitamins. But when you consider the same vegetables being fried in oil at temperatures around 175-190°C, it will cause the same loss of vitamins and nutrients, plus not to mention adding hundreds of calories from the oil itself. Also heating oil to smoking point while making deep fried food also releases chemicals harmful to health in the long run, not to mention the health hazards of reheating the same oil to fry. Give that the cooking period is very short, rarely over 10-15 minutes, it is a safer bet than prolonged cooking on high heat in stove top. 

French fries made in Philips Air Fryer

The verdict on Fries
To most people, the air fryer is associated with fries. Especially parents with young kids, the fries are a big draw, especially when we don't want to take them to a certain fast food chain, to get them a highly processed meal. Let me tell you a secret, i have never ever made fries at home, of the deep fried variety, that is. But did i like the air fryer effect? You bet I did. I used fresh potatoes, and not the frozen sticks variety. Peeled, and cut into sticks, soaked in salted water (this is to get the excess starch out), dried them thoroughly on a towel, tossed in 1 tsp oil per potato, and then put them in the preheated air fryer for 10 minutes. Sprinkle of salt when they are out, the result was magic. Golden and crunchy on the outside and soft inside, I for one, felt they were as good as the fast food outlet variety, but made straight from a potato and not from something sitting in the deep freezer for ages. I haven't tried wedges, potato skins etc. but I do mean to keep trying newer recipes, which you can catch on my Facebook or Twitter. Hear the crunch of the fries in this Instagram Video.

What can I use this for besides fries?

Crispy veggies: I tried making crispy karela (bittergourd) with good success, so I am quite sure other veggies like Bhindi (okra), Tendli (Ivy gourd) can be used similarly to get crispy results with just 1-2 tsp of oil. 

Karela chips / Crispy Karela in Philips Air Fryer

My experience: I parboiled some of the homegrown small karelas in salted water. Drained them and throughly dried on a towel. Cut into long slices after discarding seeds, tossed in spices (except salt) and a little gram flour, put in a single layer in the basket in a preheated airfryer. In around 10 minutes, they were done to a crisp. I was very happy with the end result in this case.

Seppankizhangu Roast made in Philips Air Fryer

Potato and other starchy veggies: You can make the typical Tambrahm potato / colocassia (seppankizhangu) / vazhakka (plantain) crispy roast by par boiling, dicing, coating in spices and 1 tsp oil and then air frying to a crisp texture.
My experience: I tried the colocassia roast. Boiled and peeled colocassia cut into a dice, tossed in spices, bit of rice flour and salt, in the air fryer for 10 minutes with a couple of tosses at regular intervals. Quite happy with the result here. For a traditional touch, you can do a tadka of curry leaves, red chillies, udad dal in oil after removing from the air fryer into a bowl.

Roasting veggies for pasta or salad: Eggplant, bell pepper, zucchini etc can be tossed in some olive oil, garlic and herbs and roasted in this to perfection, and then tossed in a pasta or a salad.
My Experience: Tossed eggplant and zucchini in oil with garlic and herbs (no salt, as this will leach out all the water and make it soggy), and put in air fryer for 5-7 minutes as you just want them roasted and not crisp. Used it as a sandwich filling with a pesto spread, it turned out delicious.

Pizza made in Philips Air Fryer

Breads: Since this is like a smaller oven, that heats up very quickly,  a variety of breads can be baked in the airfryer.

Calzone made in Philips Air Fryer

My experience: I tried both pizza and calzone from scratch and got fantastic results. Here's where it scores over a regular oven. It goes from room temperature to 200 C in less than 4 minutes and the pizza is done in 5-7 minutes, depending on the thickness, as against 25 minutes or so in the oven. 

The size being a restriction, you can only make small sized personal pizzas in this, but the advantage is each can have their own topping and it is ready in 5 minutes. You can also use readymade pizza base. {this also answers the question, how is the air fryer better than an oven, asked by a few people}

Pakodas: My experience - A very thin drippy batter pakoda will not work in this, but anything coated with a dryer batter works. But I found the results to be around 75% of the fried taste and texture. May be the next time, I shall try with lesser thickness, so it crisps up further. If you will be using the pakodas for kadhi or some other recipe, then it will work very well.

Cakes and muffins: You can remove the basket and keep individuals cakes / muffins in the lower compartment. Preheat to the required temperature, which is very quick and then bake for the time given in the recipe. I haven't tried this feature yet, but have seen a few videos in which the results seems comparable to that of an oven.

Papads: My experience - I realised that papads don't work in this. I coated papad with a thin layer of oil and kept in preheated airfryer, while checking in 30 second, it was no longer in the basket. It had flown up, due to the air blast and gotten stuck to the heating coils, getting nearly burnt. Because of the high volume of hot air blasted, anything as light as a papad cannot stay put in the basket and therefore not possible to air-fry that. 

Is it difficult to clean?
It's quite easy to keep it clean. When using wetter food, line the basket with foil or parchment, but taking care that the edges are open for air flow. For dry stuff like fries this is not required. Both the wire basket and the metal basket containing it can be removed and washed with gentle detergent or in dish washer. The wire mesh in basket can be scrubbed using a small brush to unclog food from the gaps.

It's great if you need to provide constant snacks for your growing kids, this appliance does make it easy to alternate between fresh fruits, veggies and the 'fried' fun stuff. One does need to remember however that just because it is air fried, you cannot have a bucket of fries and then expect not to gain weight. It is a good substitute for the occasional fried foods, but eating larger portions because it is not deep fried in oil, is quite the losing proposition. Otherwise, it is a fun gadget to have around and you can experiment with different recipes on your own as you get used to it. The gadget does come with a recipe booklet with many Indian recipes included. 

Onion Pakodas made in Philips Air Fryer

Philips Air Fryer Recipe for Onion Pakoda (Bajji) 

1 cup besan (gram flour)
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp of crushed coriander seeds
1 tsp of kasoori methi
1 tsp red chilli powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp oil
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
Finely chopped coriander leaves, optional

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients well and leave it covered for 5 minutes. The onions will release some of the moisture due to the salt, use that to bring it together into a dough, using a few sprinkles of water as required. Don't make it too wet or it may not crisp up.
Make bite sized pakodas by pressing it into logs in your slightly oiled palm.

Preheat the air fryer at 200 C by turning the timer to 5 minutes, but the machine is preheated when the indicator light goes off.

Place a sheet of parchment or lightly oiled aluminium foil on the basket, but leaving some part of the edge open. This is optional, but just makes the cleaning easier. Place pakodas in a single layer and air fry for 5 minutes. After this, you can remove the basket, turn them around to the other side or give it a shake and keep for 5 more minutes, until all sides are golden brown. 

Serve immediately with green chutney / tamarind chutney or ketchup. You can also use these to make Pakoda Kadhi or in a Moar Kozhambu.

Click the box above, to check out and buy the Philips Air Fryer! Your purchase on Amazon will help support the blog. It does make a lovely festive gift :)

Verdict: The colour turned beautifully golden, and it had a crunch on the outside. The inside of the pakoda was well cooked. But I guess the highlight of the pakoda is the juiciness that comes from deep frying and this will take some getting used to, otherwise for the 2 tsp oil used, it was really delicious! 

Disclaimer: Philips supplied the appliance for review on the blog, but the experience and review is completely unbiased and honest.

13 October 2014

Recipe for (OMG) Cheesecake Brownies

cheesecake brownies
Cheesecake Brownies - going into the oven

With brownies being a well represented delegation in the somewhat meagre dessert section of this blog, you might realise that they are my favourite things to bake for family and friends. Not as much for myself, because, well, they are decadent. They make you lose any dietary resolve you may have. There's no Pause button here. One brownie leads to another, and soon you are totally overcome by the guilt of consuming as many calories as a small country. 

There's one thing I usually consider before sinking my teeth into something totally sinful. 

"Is it going to be worth it?"

This brownie ticks all the boxes as far as culinary debauchery goes. 
Butter, yes. 
Sugar, yes. 
And to top all of it, cream cheese! 

I don't bring to you a healthy or low cal brownie here, but you bite into one small piece, and I can promise you it is going to be worth it. You bake this for your family or friends this festive season, and they will remember this for a long long time. It is THAT good. 
And yes, the marbled effect makes it quite a stunning piece of dessert. 

cheesecake brownies
Cheesecake Brownies out of the oven

Here's the recipe for these Oh My God, Cheesecake Brownies, partly adapted from Bon Appetit website.

cheesecake brownie
Sorry, shady phone pic, it tastes WAYY better that it looks :) Going to try and replace this with a worthy pic soon.

Recipe for Cheesecake Brownies or Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
Makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 smaller bite sized pieces
Preparation time - around 20 minutes
Baking time - around 45 minutes
Cooling time - 3-4 hours

110 grams unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (use a 100 gram slab + 2 tsp)
1 cup sugar (granulated is fine)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/3 cup all purpose flour (maida)

For cream cheese swirls / cheesecake topping
200 grams cream cheese (kept at room temperature)*
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Preheat oven at 160°C. 
Line a 8" square glass or aluminium tin with baking paper or foil and grease with a pinch of butter. Keep aside.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter on low-medium heat.
In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, salt with a fork, combining them.
To this add the slightly cooled melted butter in a stream, whisking them well together.
Add the vanilla and mix well.
Add the eggs one by one and beat well to combine after each egg.
Finally add the flour and gently combine into the batter. Do not overmix or beat at this stage. 
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, reserving around 1/4 cup batter for the swirls.

Using an electric beater or a hand-beater, mix all ingredients for the cheesecake topping well, until these are no lumps and sugar is mixed well. Scrape this onto the brownie layer, smoothen out with the back of a spatula or wet spoon.

Place small spoonfuls of reserved brownie batter at intervals (leaving some space between each spoonful) on top of the cheesecake layer. If the brownie batter feels a bit thick, use 2-3 tsp of milk or water to loosen up, so it is easier to swirl. Using a skewer or toothpick swirl the brownie layer into the cheesecake layer by drawing circles on the batter or any other pattern.

Bake at 160°C for around 45 minutes or until the cream cheese looks baked to slightly golden and a toothpick comes out nearly clean with some crumbs. 

At this stage the top layer will feel a little un-set and jiggly. This must be refrigerated for minimum of 3-4 hours (overnight is best), and it will harden up, well enough to cut cleanly. You can remove it from the pan, along with the foil and refrigerate it, after chilling, the foil can be peeled off easily.
 Cut into 16 or 32 pieces. The brownies get fudgier if you store them in an airtight box in the freezer.

The slight sourness of the cream cheese pairs beautifully with the sweet brownie layer. You can also cut down the cream cheese layer by half, reduce baking time slightly, and it would still work well.

*I used Britannia cream cheese which is fairly easily available in most supermarkets in Indian cities.

11 October 2014

A Modern take on Bengali Cuisine at Ministry of Food - Hilton Bangalore

{this festival ends on 12 October, so make sure you find time over the weekend to go have a meal here}
Going to chefs' tables and restaurants that go all out to wow you, is quite the occupational hazard in a food blogger's life, if you ask me. Especially if you don't want to buy new jeans every couple of months. But once in a while, you get an invite that seems to hint, that it is going to be worth the calorie overload. Chef Anirban Dasgupta pinged me about this modern take on Bengali cuisine that they were doing at Ministry of Food and I was quite keen to try it out. I love ethnic Indian foods in their pure form, but when talented chefs want to attempt to present it in a modern, chic form, it gets me curious, to say the least.

That was the special menu designed as a part of the festival.

Ghol is a typical Bengali drink, a lighter version of lassi - in this case had the delicate fragrance of gondhoraj limes, and topped with some lime infused foam. This was served as the amuse bouche. While the process of topping the glass with foam adds a bit of drama to the course, it fell flat and couldn't hold its shape. I'd be happier just with the gondhoraj infused jhol, and a smaller glass at that.

One of the starters that were served where the Mochar steak, which was a banana flower filling inside a cabbage leaf, coated with coconut crumb and deep fried. While the banana flower filling was hearty and flavoursome, the cabbage leaf dampened the flavours, and the coconut crumb along with the leaf had absorbed lots of oil in the frying process. I appreciate that they tried to get me something vegetarian, outside of their prepared menu while trying out various methods to present these traditional Bengali dishes in a unique way. Chef Subhash was keen on rectifying this to make it a less oilier and better dish. My dining partner tried the mutton cutlet, which had a beautifully golden crust and no excess oil on the top. 
The Prawn Kabiraji served as a part of the starters in tempura style has an interesting history. According to the website, Memories of Bengal,
"the Bengali cutlet is different from the cutlets of the Brits, this is referred typically to a crumb coated thinly spread out dough, made generally of chicken/mutton minced, mixed together with onion, bread crumbs and chillies. Generally it is then dipped in egg and coated in breadcrumb, fried and served with thin julienne of cucumber, carrots, radish and onions. Often an egg mixed with a teaspoon or two water and a pinch of salt is dropped on top of the frying cutlet, to make it into a "Kabiraji" the Bengali pronunciation of a "Coverage or Cover:Egg" Cutlet, influenced by the British."

Aloo Batar Sorshe was the other starter, served in a Batar or mortar, like you see in the picture. These are not baby potatoes, but regular potatoes- boiled, mashed, seasoned and coated with tempura batter, fried until crispy outside. The kashundi sauce coating over the fried mashed potatoes gave it the right kind of flavour kick. I'd think it would make a perfect cocktail snack, albeit a high carb one.

 The Aam Pora Granita which was served as a palate cleanser before the mains made an appearance was one of the dishes that totally wowed me, in terms of flavours and presentation. The granita bursting with flavours of a Bengali style aam-panna made from charred raw mangoes, was placed on a crispy chocolate soil. Pistachios and dried apricot bits gave it company. The vodka mint jelly strip added to the glamour quotient of the dish, it was beautifully executed like a glass strip across the plate.

While there are no courses as such in Indian cuisines, as most dishes are served all at once, it was interesting how a dalna was served as a main in a specially crafted stoneware, all by itself. Chenna balls and broccoli pakoda in a light curry base, topped with some chilli-mustard oil was a delicious combination of flavours. The other main course was simple gobindbhog steamed rice (that is inherently very fragrant)  layered with the humble chorchori in a glass jar. 

A special mention needs to be made about the attention to detail to presenting every single dish in a serveware that will highlight it to the maximum. Another Pulao served with lamb curry came in a bright red coloured tagine dish.

Chef Subhash
After the Aam Pora Granita, the expectations from the dessert course were quite high. A trio of desserts served on a wooden platter garnished with bright edible flowers was indeed a photographer's delight. Personally I found the Mishti Doi semifreddo enveloped in white chocolate quite cloying as the sweetness of the latter killed the delicate flavour of the Doi. The Patishapta which is traditionally a crepe filled with jaggery coconut filling was filled with a cheesecake like mix, didn't quite cut it for me as it felt dried out. The tastes struggled to live up to the stunning appearance of the dessert platter.

Overall, it's an experiment and a bold one at that, to serve Bengali food, that is modernised and in courses. I could see that a lot of thought had been put into planning and executing this menu. The festival is on until 12 Oct so if you love to experiment with Indian cuisine, I think you'll love what's on offer here. I do wish they extend this by a week at least.

Modern Bengali Cuisine festival
Ministry of Food
Hilton Bangalore Residence Hotel
Embassy Golf Links Business Park,
Chalaghatta, Bengaluru
Phone - 080-66799999

22 August 2014

Easy cake recipe - Quick Pumpkin and Spice Tea Cake

When I landed home late this afternoon after finishing with my Zesty Salads workshop at a Crafts studio in IndiraNagar, I was in a happy-tired mental space. I'd made up my mind to completely vegetate for the rest of the day, to compensate for the 4.30 am alarm I had set for myself. But invariably, the days I'm too tired after a workshop, I'm so buzzed from the thrill of a session gone well that I'm completely unable to unwind and do-nothing. I end up throwing myself into more and more activities, only to collapse like a rag doll at night. 

Bangalore cooking workshops
Add caption

bangalore healthy cooking workshops

While I was pottering around in the kitchen this evening, waiting for the oven timer to buzz, a sudden clap of thunder, followed by many more, interrupted the regular evening sounds. As a predictable epilogue to the thunder, the rains lashed against the windows, drenching the laundry mercilessly. The narrow parapet was no protection against this kind of crazy rain. I ran out to rescue the laundry, hit by a shower of huge cold raindrops and popped back in to the warmth of the kitchen, where the comforting aromas of spices enveloped me. 

Moist pumpkin cake The idea of baking a pumpkin cake came about result of over-ordering pumpkin over the last weekend and it needed to be used up today at any cost. Pumpkin being a soft and bland vegetable, it always pairs well with strong and bold flavours - like nutmeg, cinnamon and also, chai masala which is a mix of these two and a lot many other spices. A chai lover like me needs no excuse to sit hugging a large mug of tea, while watching the rains lash on the other side of the window. But the Chai Masala in the ASA Spices kit that our IFBM sponsor Foodhall gifted us, is in another league altogether. Each little bottle ensconces the magic of organic, hand-pounded spices and one can feel good about the fact that these are fair-trade too.

It's amazing how warm fragrances and flavours instill a sense of comfort on a cold day or at the end of a tiring day. This easy pumpkin and chocolate tea cake is one such way to infuse some warmth into a cold day. You can even cut down a step and omit the chocolate and allow the whole cake be a lovely golden colour, but the slight marbling adds to the appeal of this simple homemade cake. Use good quality fresh spices / spice powders for best results. Walnuts add to the flavour of their cake, and also provide an enjoyable crunch.

pumpkin cake recipe

1.5 cups all purpose flour (maida)*
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg (use the finest grater you have)
1 tsp cinnamon powder (I use Keya brand)
1 tsp chai masala (I used ASA brand asaspice.com)
3 tbsp soft butter
3/4 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup butter milk (add 1 tsp vinegar to 1/2 cup cold milk-let it stand for 2 mins)
3/4 cup packed pumpkin puree (instructions at the end)
2 tbsp cocoa powder or drinking chocolate or Nesquick
3-4 tbsp milk
Handful of chopped walnuts

One loaf tin, greased with butter and floured
Preheat oven at 180°C.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, chai masala. Using a fine grater, grate roughly 1/2 tsp of nutmeg into this. You can use readymade nutmeg powder, but freshly grated nutmeg will provide a far more intense aroma.
Cream together the butter and sugar. Whisk in butter milk. If buttermilk is cold, the butter will solidify somewhat, but this is okay.
In a blender/mixer, blend together the pumpkin puree, creamed sugar, and buttermilk mix.
Add this to the dry ingredients. Bring together gently with a spatula. Don't overmix.
Pour 2/3rd of this mix into the prepared loaf tin.
To the remaining batter, add the cocoa or Nesquick, thin it with 3 tbsp of milk until it is of cake batter consistency.
Add this over the top of the pumpkin batter layer. With a toothpick or chopstick inserted right into the cake batter, swirl the batter, poking it into the bottom layer in multiple places. This is what gives the marbling effect. 
Sprinkle walnuts and gently press them down.
Place in the middle rack of a preheated oven to bake for 35-40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
After 2-3 minutes, carefully loosen the edges and invert over a wire rack, where you can let it cool for 30 minutes or so, before slicing.

Serve warm with coffee or tea.

*you can use 1.5 cups self raising flour instead of flour+baking powder+ baking soda +salt in the recipe

How to make pumpkin puree at home
Take 500 grams pumpkin, with the seeds scraped out. Peel and dice. In a small pressure cooker, place the diced pumpkin, add 1/2 cup water. After one whistle, keep on sim for 10 minute. Once cooker is cool enough to open, remove the pieces and mash with a wooden spoon or a potato masher. If you don't have / use a pressure cooker, boil on stove top with 1/2 cup water on a low heat, keeping it covered, until it yields to a mush when pressed with the back of a spoon. 
You can make this in advance and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

I'm sure the pumpkin puree can be easily replaced by a carrot or beetroot puree for a similar, beautiful coloured tea cake. Vegans can use soy milk instead of regular milk.