Pistachio Cake with orange zest and spices

Pistachio cake

I love baking with fruits and nuts. It gives a very distinct colour and flavour to cakes and other baked goodies. For instance this Pistachio cake with orange zest. The nuttiness of pistachios with the aroma and the kick of the orange zest is mesmerising. A little bit of cardamom powder and a hint of cloves intensify the pistachio taste in the cake.

I baked this cake and sent it to my friend as a birthday gift, some 350 kms away by courier. And it stayed moist and delicious for 2 days and survived the travel well. Of course there was no frosting, it was a beautiful and delicious naked cake.

Pistachio Cake with Chantilly cream

Recipe taken from Epicurious

Makes one 8/9 inch cake

What you will need :

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 3/4 cup pistachios
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 110 grams butter at room temperature (I use Amul salted butter)
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 2-3 cloves softened in 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoon orange zest (from about 3 oranges)
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • powdered pistachios for garnishing

What to do :

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon water and immerse 2-3 cloves in it. Keep it aside for 5-10 minutes till the cloves let out the aroma into the water.
  2. Pulse pistachios in a mixer and sieve it to remove any clumps. Pulse the clumps with a little bit of powdered sugar to avoid the pistachios from becoming oily.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder and cardamom powder in a bowl. Add pistachio powder to it and mix well.
  4. In another bowl – cream butter and sugar till light and pale. Add eggs one at a time and incorporate well.
  5. Discard the cloves and add the water to the egg mixture. Add vanilla and stir.
  6. Add the orange zest and whisk.
  7. Now alternately add the milk and dry ingredients to the egg mixture and fold in well, till there are no lumps of flour.
  8. Pre-heat oven to 180C.
  9. Line a 8/9 inch round baking pan with parchment paper at the bottom and butter the sides.
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes till a skewer inseted in the centre comes out clean.
  11. Let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning it over on a wire rack.
  12. Meanwhile, beat the whipping cream till it forms soft peaks. Add powdered sugar and whisk till stiff peaks are formed.
  13. Once the cake is cooled completely, spread it with the whipped cream and drizzle with some powdered pistachios.
  14. Serve at room temperature.

Pistachio cake with cream

Notes :

  1. This cake without the frosting stays well at room temperature for 2-3 days.
  2. If you want a bigger cake, this recipe can be easily doubled and made into a stacked layer cake.
  3. You can omit the clove water and replace it with some rum.

Mint and Pepper Butter Chicken

Mint and pepper butter chicken

I have often heard people lament about the fact that chicken breasts are the least flavourful of them all. But I was a vegetarian before I got married about 4 years back and though we love some really good tangdi kebabs, we prefer the boneless breasts when cooking at home. So I have a collection of very easy to make yet delicious boneless chicken breast recipes for everyday cooking. And they don’t need a lot of marination time. Just half hour of marinating it in some spices or lemon or curd and they are ready to be cooked.

This today is a house favourite over the last few months. Mint and Pepper Cream chicken. I have adapted it from the TheShirazine.com. The original recipe does not have pudina or mint leaves in it, but I love the of zing of mint leaves in fresh cream based gravies.

Mint and Pepper Butter Chicken

What you will need :

  • 400 grams boneless chicken breasts cut into 2 inch or so pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or more as per taste)
  • 3 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper powder, freshly ground
  • 2-3 tablespoon mint leaves (pudina), crushed + few for garnishing
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12-15 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups fresh cream + 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup milk

What to do :

  1. Marinate the chicken breasts in soy sauce, salt, pepper and chilli powder and mint leavesfor about 30 minutes
  2. In a pan or kadhai, heat some olive oil, fry the chopped garlic till translucent. Add the chicken pieces and cook on medium heat for 3-4 minutes till 80% cooked.
  3. Then add the cream, water and milk and mix well. Check taste and add more salt if required. Cover it and let it cook further for 5-6 minutes on medium heat till chicken is fully cooked and the sauce begins to thicken.
  4. Serve hot with bhakri or rotis.

Pepper and cream chicken

My breastfeeding journey- not an easy beginning.


It is international breastfeeding week. And this is my story as published in WomensWeb.in

A mother talks about her complications in the first month of breastfeeding. First-time mothers, this is for you.

I clearly remember the first month after my baby boy was born. He used to cry so much. We tried everything to soothe him: rock him, swaddle, sing, hold him close, whisper in his ears, but nothing worked. Then a week after coming back from the hospital, when he was about 10 days old we took him back to the paediatrician. My little baby boy had lost more than 10% weight. Doctor was worried. Asked me to nurse him more often and come back in a week.

As you can imagine, I was shattered. I breastfed him since the day he was born. I had a normal vaginal delivery and colostrum started coming in soon. Plus, I had read all about breastfeeding, had attended classes, knew the different kinds of feeding positions – the football hold, the cradle hold etc. I am a considerably healthy person and had a non-complicated pregnancy. I was all ready to have the baby and breastfeed him. Little did I think that the baby is not getting sufficient milk and is almost starving and hence cries all the time. I used to sit nursing the baby for several hours a day. Almost 2 hours at a time with an interval of an hour or two. Either the milk supply was low or the baby had difficulty latching on and sucking. Or both.

I used to express and my mom used to feed him with a spoon. My baby started getting happier.

Then we started feeding him expressed milk. I used to express and my mom used to feed him with a spoon. My baby started getting happier. Cried less. His weight started increasing. But he steadily refused the breast and preferred expressed milk. My breasts hurt from the pumping pressure. My body ached and my heart hurt the most. Little baby did not want to be on my breast. That crushed me.

But the doctor kept on insisting to directly nurse him on the breast. I saw a lactation consultant and she said everything seems to be alright, just have patience. So I continued taking the baby to the breast each time he was hungry before giving him expressed milk. For a whole month, I struggled with it. Once or twice we even gave him formula and that made me cry. Slowly, I started thinking maybe giving him expressed milk is the only option we have. But I missed breastfeeding. I missed my baby. I did not feel connected to him.

And then when he turned a month old, like a switch he shifted to full breastfeeding. No more expressed milk. He would turn his head around if I tried to feed him with a spoon. It still used to take a long time to nurse, an hour and more, but I was very happy. I could hold my baby close, snuggle him when he was feeding. It felt magical. We did something which only we could do. Since then we are happy campers. Slowly it took less time for each feed. Two hours reduced to an hour then half hour and now he is done feeding in ten minutes.

Last month baby and I completed six months of exclusive breastfeeding.

Last month baby and I completed six months of exclusive breastfeeding. I started working after he completed 3 months, but since my workplace is close-by, I used to come home to feed him. We took the baby to Jaipur a month back and I nursed him everywhere, the City Palace, Amer fort, at the airports, in taxis, everywhere. Life was so much easier as there were no bottles, formula, sterilisation, none of that.

Our breastfeeding journey did have a lot of initial problems, that whole first month was nightmarish. Several times I thought maybe I should start on formula, my milk supply is low. But then as I spoke to a lot of new moms, my friends and their friends. I realised that the first month is the toughest. And I am in no way advocating that formula is bad, but just that breastfeeding is so much easier. For you. Just take the baby and nurse away all  the tiredness, vaccination crankiness, and any other woes. Mothers’ milk works wonders because it is specifically made by you for your baby. And how beautiful it feels to see an overstimulated baby calm down at your breast.

So all new mommas out there, even if it breastfeeding seems tedious initially, do not quit breastfeeding in the first month. Hold on, it is the most beautiful gift you can give your child and to yourself. It gets easier, I promise.

I survived : Loss of young love – from heartache to wisdom

I have been wanting to write this story and get  it out of my system for a long while. It was one of the defining moments in life, a heartache so deep that it makes itself heard even eight years later. In retrospect it feels that I was such a stupid girl and so naive to obsess over something so silly, but back then it was so real, that nothing seemed more important than that.

I was 21 and doing internship for my CA course in a Mumbai firm. We used to be on outstation audits for long durations and I travelled often with my 40 year old lady boss. One evening when we were in Delhi, her nephew, working with the merchant navy, was helping her log into Orkut, the social networking site very popular back then. He was providing online tech support to his aunt and I chipped in and offered to help from this end. It got us chatting and every evening, every morning we would have long typed conversations.

This went on for over a month when I was in Delhi. He was stationed somewhere in the other side of the world, with limited connectivity. And I had truckloads of work during the day. But each day I found myself going back to the conversation from the previous night and it made me smile. Oh, how it made me smile. Each word, each thought, each anecdote of his. His voice felt like a pure miracle in my ears.

Then about 2-3 months later, he was scheduled to come to Mumbai. I danced with joy at the prospect of meeting him. Each day was a countdown to the day when I would finally meet him. He offered to take me out on a date, to his local chaiwala. Because that is where he hung out with his friends when in Mumbai. But I insisted on going to a coffee shop. There was this air of melancholy to him, which I found so endearing that my stomach still contracts at the thought of him.

His mom had run away from home and married his dad when she was 21, had two kids and was then back at her father’s house because they did not get along well. And this guy had not spoken to his father since the last 10 years. I found that hard to believe. Sometimes you so badly want to set things right in somebody’s life that you totally forget that it is not possible. It is out of your purview. But when in love, nothing seems impossible.

So we met. My heart skipped a beat. He was more handsome than the photos. We were in the coffee shop for 4 hours. Those were the shortest 4 hours in my life till then.

Later that day his mom went ballistic on him. She was afraid that we might make the same mistake that she did. He called me the next day explaining that we could not continue this further. It was over even before it started. I wanted to meet him just once, to try to get some kind of a closure.  A week later, we met again. My heart wont give me a closure, but it was over nonetheless. I spent the next one month crying at the drop of a hat. I did not want to do anything with life. Just sit at home and mope. My mom knew something was wrong, but I did not want to come out of the cave of isolation and tears.

I had the biggest exam of my life around the corner – the CA final exam and hence went on study leave for 4 months. Even in those 4 months, I hardly spoke to anybody except mom, dad and my brother. My best friend and a very close colleague knew about him, but nobody else in this world had any clue what had happened to the otherwise effervescent me. I felt shitty inside. I missed him so much, it did not feel real. I studied and then studied some more.

Then the day my exams were about to begin, he called me out of the blue. To wish me best of luck. I felt kicked in the gut. But somehow I managed to give the exam, and then we decided to meet the day my exam was over. He suggested that we should get back together. It was difficult to not to. I was anxious and hurt. But may be it could still happen.

Hope again started blossoming in the corner of my heart. How silly, silly of me. He disappeared again a few days later, off on some ship and I had no clue how to pick up the pieces of my life again. It was over, once and for all.

Was it time that healed the scar of a young heart just learning to fall in love or was it the second blow that set right the dent made by the first one? I am not sure what, but it made me stronger than I ever was. But nothing before or after that hurt as much as it did. Only unfulfilled love is romantic, they say. This was it.

In comparison to losing a parent or child, or losing a job, or getting disabled, the loss of love seems like a small thing. But at 21, at the time that it is happening, where you know no other deeper sorrow that this, it feels like the end of the world. And it was the end of the me that existed before him. I am cautious ever since to love someone so much that they can hurt you so badly.

Four years back, I met and married my husband, and he is everything that I wished for. And now after the birth of my son, it is not possible to love them half-heartedly. So I feel myself coming back. But the old heartache still persists. Somewhere in the corner, it still does.

This post first appeared here in Womens web : http://www.womensweb.in/2015/07/loss-young-love-heartache-wisdom/

I am an Auditor at heart

Perks of audit

Perks of outstation audit : Enjoying a backwater ride in Kerala on a Sunday

I was 22 when I cleared my CA final examination and I still had to complete another 9 months of articleship (internship) before getting a job. Everyone advised me to look for jobs on the marketing, sales side, the “business generating side” in banks, consulting companies, insurance sector etc. not the audit or taxation side, because that’s not where the real money is. But I enjoyed auditing from the core. I did a lot of internal audit in my articleship and what pure joy I found in doing new audits every 2-3 months.

For those uninitiated, let me tell you : broadly in audit there is internal audit and statutory audit. Statutory auditors are those who sign off the balance sheets primarily by looking at the books of accounts. Meanwhile internal audit looks at the processes and regulations and compare it with the actual functioning of the department and point out loopholes, suggest better ways to do certain things. It is a very hands-on, real-time way of auditing and I gradually had developed a knack of getting at the core in a short time. But for the world, auditors seem to be a hassle, someone who needs to be pampered with good lunches to get a favourable audit report. But that’s not true at all. Which is not to say that we did not enjoy the client paid lunches, but we kicked some ass on the work side and helped them improve their procedures. I am still friends with a lot of my earlier auditees and I think that says a lot about our working efficiencies.

So then at ICAI campus placement when I heard that Kotak Mahindra bank was recruiting in internal audit, I was elated. I knew I had to get that job. And the recruiting team from Kotak was surprised too. Here they had someone who had cleared the group discussion round and had audit department as the first choice! They did not let me go out of their sight for the rest of the day till the appointment letter was in my hands. So while a few others had landed up in Kotak audit department because there were no other suitable jobs available, there I was, with my dream job. I worked there for 2 and a half years before quitting and joining our family business, but what a great learning experience that was. Mostly thanks to my boss and the head of the audit team. Both of them played a pivotal role in where I am professionally and personally.

So sometimes people may try to nudge you towards what they think is best for you, but you know in your heart what you want to do. Listen to it and do it. I can’t imagine not having that auditing experience and developing that framework of mind. Later in our family business, I found it much easier to lay down systems and establish fool-proof checks in all departments because of that auditor brain. Looking at verbal and non-verbal cues while working has been coded in my brain now, making work intuitive.

Yesterday I was talking to my dad’s friend and he proudly told me that his son is now in the Risk Analysis department of a consulting firm and how he was so above the typical, run-of-the-mill stuff like auditing. And I thought to myself, Really? How different is risk analysis from auditing? Just a fancier name.

Perhaps the pay and incentives would have been better on the business development side. But there is no monetary tag on doing the things you love and the 15 different states of India I travelled to while on audit for five years of my life. A few years down the line when my baby is a bit older, I would love to get back to part-time auditing along with our family business. But that is for another time.


Kitkat Chocolate Cake

Kitkat and Gems cake

I have found a perfect no-fail chocolate cake recipe and believe it or not I have made it 8 times in the last one month. One weekend, back to back thrice because we had guests and everyone wanted to take home a part of the cake. It is a wonderfully moist cake and stays that way easily for 2-3 days.

My best friend’s son completed a year two weeks back and I wanted to bake a cake for his party. And hence this beautiful, very easy kit-kat cake was on top of my list. My baker friend Ruby from Cakes my Passion pointed me out to this Hershey’s recipe and I can’t thank her enough. Because when I decided to make the cake, I had no idea what should be the height of these cakes so that it matches the length of the kitkat bars. And how many kitkats would I require, will they stick? What about the frosting? Hope it wont melt in the heat. How to prevent the kitkats from smudging? And so on. But here are some tips which I figured out along the way.

So here it is, recipe and the frosting technique.

Kitkat cake

Kit-kat Chocolate cake

What you will need:

  • 1 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (maida)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups castor sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup full fat milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil, I use rice-bran, but any unflavored oil is fine
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Frosting :

  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Decoration :

  • 20-22 individual sticks of kitkat
  • 30-40 gems or M&Ms

What to do :

  1. Preheat oven to 160C for 5 minutes.
  2. Prepare two 8 inch pans. Line the bottoms with a parchment paper and butter the sides and dust it with some all purpose flour.
  3. Now sift together all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder and keep it aside.
  4. Take two eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk it till it turns pale and creamy.
  5. To the egg mixture add the milk, vanilla extract and vegetable oil and whisk a couple of times.
  6. Alternately add the flour mixture and the boiling water to the egg mixture and whisk till it is all incorporated together. Always start and end with dry ingredients i.e the flour mixture.
  7. The batter will be thin, but the boiling water ensures that all the flour is incorporated properly.
  8. Pour it equally into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven, let it cool for 10 minutes. Release the cake from the sides and turn it onto a cooling rack. let it cool completely before frosting.
  10. To make the frosting, melt butter and add in all the ingredients and whisk them together till it forms a smooth frosting. It makes about 2 cups of frosting, which is perfect for this cake with a little leftover.
  11. Frost the cake and line it with kitkats. Spreads gems on top.

Notes :

  • Keep the kitkats in the refrigerator for an hour before using them to prevent any smudges.
  • If not eating on the same day, then keep the cake in the fridge once frosted so that it stays for a long time. (The frosting contains milk so it has to be refrigerated)
  • The It is better to use 8 inch cake pans so that the height of the kitkat bars gets evenly matched with the cakes stacked on each other.
  • After sticking the kitkats, tie it with a thin ribbon or plastic thread for a while so that it sets.
  • You can make the base cake a day in advance so that it cools totally before frosting and the crumbs settle down.

How to frost a cake :

Line with paper

bake the cake, cool it and upturn it on a cardboard tray for frosting. Cover the cake board with strips of parchment so that the frosting does not stick to the board.

Frosting with spatula

Start spreading the frosting on the top with an offset spatula.

Stack another layer on top and cover the sides with frosting

Stack another layer on top and cover the sides with frosting

Use cold kitkats

Frost the top, smoothen the sides and start sticking kitkats on the sides

Sticking kitkats

Cover the cake on all sides and then remove the parchment paper lightly

Decorate the top with colorful candies

Decorate the top with colorful candies

Remove parchment

And you are done!

The melodrama of everyday news.


Last week on the final day of our company meeting, we had an inter-departmental quiz contest based on current affairs and other general knowledge. To our horror we realised that from our accounts team of 8 women, nobody reads newspapers. Myself included.

Its not that we do not glance at the news and have an outline knowledge of what is happening in the world, but ask us the chemical name of Meow-meow (Mephodrone), or the exact number of seats won by AAP in the current assembly elections (67), and we were dumbfounded. I have always found reading the newspaper very depressing and hence I skim through it. But on seeing all the others in my team sailing in the same boat, I was shocked.

It is true, that even now in almost all households, the men can sit with their cup of tea and breakfast in the morning and read through the newspapers while women make breakfast, get the kids ready, plan meals for the day etc etc before leaving for work or starting other chores of the day. In my office team, all of these women have kids aged between 2 to 15 years and I am sure they must be juggling a lot of roles before they come to office by 9.30. I have seen my mom do that forever (although dad does make coffee for her and she gets those 5 minutes of peace drinking coffee) , and my mom-in-law makes fresh breakfast every morning even before we have gathered our senses together, newspaper kept aside till then. My baby is now 6 months old and my mornings are way busier than ever before, but that is no excuse for me. Even before the baby, I found very less time and inclination towards news.

When we were kids, my dad would everyday sit with me and The Times of India, and we had to read the headlines and atleast one entire article of my choice from the first few pages. I always found myself going over to the centre of the newspaper to read editorials, I loved them and still do, but the main pages were dreadful. And dad being the disciplinarian that he is, that ritual of the day could not be bypassed. 20 years later and there has been no change in my attitude. On the other hand, my husband voraciously reads all the news albeit on his tablet /phone. All real time. No stale news for my man in the next morning’s newspaper.

Long time back during a period when I was anxious and upset, worried about life, I had read some motivational book that said “Don’t read depressing news in the morning”. I do not remember any other details in the book, but this line became my alibi. I absolutely hate to read everything that is wrong with the world every morning. For instance todays news : “Greece debt crisis – markets set for a crash”, “BEST bus mows down 2 women” and so on and so forth. The Black Monday would then follow me through my Tuesday.

Of course, this as I said earlier is not an excuse. In global times like these, we have to be aware of what is happening in Mulund, a tiny suburb of Mumbai as well as the new metro opening in Chennai or the gay couple marriages legalised in USA. Although the later has been made hard to miss by all those Facebook rainbow filters used by folks in India, even when the desi section 377 bans LGBT rights.

But technically, if it can still be called a newspaper, I love the Bombay Times. Such happy and gay times, who got linked up with whom, who is starring in the next movie with my favourite actors, which destinations in India are a must visit before turning 30, 5 tips to get that acne free face and those hilarious sexual advice columns, all are my preferred items of “news”.

Nevertheless, let me go pick up my phone and go to the Newsreader app and see if there is any sign of the service tax to be reduced back, or if any import/export concessions will be allowed for our high-tech machinery under acchhe-din. Because I am a Chartered Accountant after all, and for Jignesh – business is business.