I woke up early one morning to find the house unleashed with a flurry of activities. A quirky buzz with a thwack kept resounding over my head which I realized was my 2 year old niece whacking a pillow which was dangerously close to my head with the mosquito buzzer. I was inches away from being mildly electrocuted when I managed to snatch the buzzer away from her and being wide awake, it dawned on me – it was D-Day. It was my sibling’s engagement day and the house was full of my family & extended family, cheerily going about how one should on an occasion-day. The room was of course a mess with me having more cousin sisters than brothers so it was a lot more clothes (pink everywhere), make-up, towels and hair dryers contrary to cigars, empty liquor glasses and bottles and hooka apparatus in case I had more male family members than female.
I managed to wade my way through the sea of pinks to find more pinks in the living room. Pink wrapping paper, pink boxes, pink ribbons and a reel of pink cloth which I later realized was for stringing along a canopy like structure in the lawn where the decorations and activities were full throttle. I managed to swipe someone’s coffee which was being brought out from the kitchen as I knew I would certainly not get any lest I went and made it myself as my house help was running around in a crazed frenzy as though the king was arriving. My dad taunted me with a “late aren’t we?” snide remark and insisted I get dressed and accompany him for a small errand.
Well I had not taken a four day off from work to laze around. So off I went to find that the errand was to check on some decoration supplies and buy a sari for the maid. Now, seriously! This was getting a bit ridiculous; apparently my Mother had forgotten to bring new clothes for the maid who had been sulking since morning as the male house-help had new trimmings on them. She had conveniently badgered dad into visiting a nearby market to pick up a Sari (Not Green, as that’s what I am wearing, she warned) and dad, having not an inkling of sari shopping conveniently roped me into this for moral support. Another house-help accompanied us and we three set off with the agenda being one sari for the maid. It was indeed a sight to have captured with two men (I refused to get down) alighting from a car outside a non-descript sari store to go pick a random sari. Things went a bit too far when both being undecided on which to pick came up to the car armed with six different designs with a look of utter confusion clouding their faces. I was on the verge of losing it, when thought better of it and pointed to the nearest non-green looking one and we were off.
The day itself went by in a whiz, the sibling was a bit undeterred by the fact that he should be relaxing, aiming at looking good and leaving the arrangements to the rest of the family, instead he was on a trip of his own minding the flower guy, trailing a reel of pink cloth and pointedly expressing his disappointment at the decorators that “it was not the way he expected it”. We were hours away from the occasion and welcoming the fiancé side for the first time into our home, so it was but necessary that arrangements should be top notch. The lights were installed, the bouquets and garlands came in, the caterers were shoved to one side and things were unendingly carrying on. I settled down with the caterer a little before I went back up to get fresh, and he happily thrust a piping hot filter coffee glass into my hands. Muthuswamy our trusted caterer since years never failed to fill us up with his excellent cooking. His manager went on to offer me a plate of fresh idlis and a chaat saying “Saar, you will not be able to enjoy my food later on, you will be too busy attending to your guests and will be tired to even eat later on”. His statement was true to the core and I was surprised that he had adjudged me so well. It was a surprise when he said that he knew me since I was a “baccha” and he was the one who used to come to our house every time they catered, going back to 20 years in time.
I crave for Muthuswamy dishes and somehow am never able to enjoy them when hosting. This gesture Coming from him is what true catering is all about, he knew my weakness for his food and he had ensured that I had my fill a little before the party had actually started.
Speaking about cravings, my extended family was in no mood to excuse me for not cooking up some special dishes for them. They all had insisted that one meal would have to be laid out by me and I had ensured that I would. I dubiously got my way around by selecting breakfast as the meal I would cook and got to making fresh batches of waffles and served them with the freshest fruit amongst home made scones, butter and preserves. Well, no one’s complaining as they all left feeling heartily satisfied.
These waffles are easy to make up last minute and a perfect breakfast dish. You will need to invest in a waffle maker, not a very easy task for me as I had been looking for one all these years and was on the verge of importing it when one fine evening my friend and partner-in-photography eyed one at a local electronic store and picked it up without thinking twice, ensuring that I got the best gift of my life.
For Waffle Batter
2 Large Eggs (Separated)
3/4 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Melted Butter
3/4 cup White Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
3 tablsp Powdered Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Salt
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with milk and butter and keep aside. Ideally chill this mixture.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in another bowl and stir well. Add the egg yolk-milk mixture and stir evenly to get a thick batter.
Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until well blended but not foamy, fold into the batter till you get a slightly runny batter.
Pour the batter in the waffle iron till it covers the grid area. I like it checkered so I do not fill it all the way till the top, this way I get crispier waffles with checkered holes in them. Close the iron and bake till they are evenly browned while constantly checking the bottom part as that tends to get cooked faster.
Sprinkle over with cinnamon sugar (a little cinnamon powder mixed with superfine sugar), maple syrup or honey and fresh fruits, serve hot.
You can even add orange zest to the batter to get a zesty kick, or chocolate powder for chocolate waffles (a couple of spoons of cocoa should do the trick). You can even top with with nutella, chocolate sauce or whipped cream with bananas as a quick dessert.
The engagement went on to be a hit (how could it not) and it is the beginning of a new chapter in my sibling’s and our lives.
How easy it is to be content? I ask myself this question quite often. Scream your lungs out, but you will still have voices around you saying that "it is" not enough. I instantly shun them aside, all within and say "it is", and that's how its going to be.
Life's too short to worry about the quantum of contentment in others, that's if contentment could be measured. I notice a lot of people who are not yet in their happy zone and it stretches to such an extent that they ensure that those who are content and are within their radar are negatively affected too. A clear cut case of sour grapes. Not attainable hence call it sour and mull over it. No one said life was easy but it's the way you look at things that matter the most. If you call something unreasonable, then it is going to be unreasonable. If you are going to call it sour, its definitely going to remain sour, but only for you.
Reach out to that highest branch to grasp the fruit, smile relentlessly all the way through the climb, ignore the bugs, the pests, the thorns and you will come out victorious. The sour grape story teaches us a lesson, fabled or realistic, it does pay to learn and implement it. A theme well thought out, an ingredient which rules this weeks post, the fruit - A Grape.
Grapes may be astringently acrid and acidic but there's a hint of sweetness in them that enraptures your taste buds. A fantastic fruit which we all enjoy and relish, green or red, they are versatile enough to be used in many ways.
A nice recipe, which I relate to sweetening up the sourness in the grape, it urges you too to look at things in a different way.
10-12 Green Grapes
10-12 Red Grapes
1 cup Hung Curd
2 tsp Mustard Paste (freshly made, not the French variety)
A small bunch of Fresh Mint
1 tablsp Coriander leaves finely chopped
1 tsp Honey
A pinch of Cumin
Black Salt & Paprika to taste
Wash & slice the grapes into thin roundels and keep aside.
Beat the hung curd till smooth and add the honey, mustard paste and spices. Mix well and add the mint and coriander. Toss in the grapes and mix well. Let it sit for a while and serve chilled.
Incidentally, a lot of contentment is achieved whenever I am invited to meet with like-minded people. The bloggers who are now a part of my little world, give me great joy in preserving my contentment and making it a lot more stronger. This time we were invited over to Olive with a couple of new bloggers in our tribe (it's growing and I am loving it) and the event hosted by United Breweries Group who introduced us to their range of wines branded as Four Seasons coupled with Olives carefully selected four course meal. The event planners, Melissa & Tara from Grey had planned out a wine degustation and it turned out quite a handful.
Pairing food and wines is an art. A lot many of us (probably including me) do not know the finer nuances of the right pair, but yes, if you do make an attempt and of course, someone with a fine nose and sensitive taste guides you through it, its worth the experience and it leaves an overall sense of nirvana to your taste buds.
In India, the norm is usually not to have alcohol with food. A lot of us have the drinks before dinner and then move on to the meal. The west usually associates a drink with the food. A clearly wise habit considering you are keeping your stomach and blood stream content with the effect of alcohol dimmed by the food which you eat with it. I love having a drink while eating, not only is it fulfilling, but every sip of alcohol refreshes your taste buds to a fresh new feel and makes every bite of your food tastes like its first.
The Sauvignon Blanc with Wine Cured Grape & Goat Cheese Salad
This wine was served with the salad, I had a bit of Four Seasons Rose to begin with when we walked in and the sweetness of the rose was cutting into the flavors of the sauvignon blanc, but surprisingly, a bite into peppery arugula in the salad brought out the flavors of the wine. A clear case of sweetening the sour grapes, dont you think? sometimes its the food which matters too when pairing the wine, and it does wonders to your palate. The creamy goat cheese had a nice silky finish to the slightly biting flavors of the wine.
The Viognier with Baked Fillo - Wrapped Brie
The next pairing was The Viogner. A first timer for me and described as an intense perfume of blossom, dried apricots and peaches. The thin crusty layers of the fillo was quite a treat with a plump filling of brie (a little too much actually) with a drizzle of honey at the base, but The Viogner had its way around the full meaty feel of the dish and left the taste lingering on much after I was done with it.
Rushina of A Perfect Bite who invited us over, had the char-grilled prawns. I was not much in a sea-food mood, but I could see it did make an interesting pairing with The Voigner.
The Merlot & Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with The Chicken Shish Touk
A double whammy for me, I do have a penchant for Merlot and probably veer more towards this grape variety due to its ripe and deep flavors whereas the Cabernet Sauvignon (Their premium ranged Barrique Reserve) borders with a bit of spice hence I was reduced to alternating between both as they had been served together in front of me. Oddly, the juggle between the two was fun as my Chicken which was marinated with an overwhelming taste of cumin was excellent with the subtle yet dark fruit flavors of the Merlot and the saffron rice with which the chicken came along with went perfectly well with the Cabernet Sauvignon. Alternating between a subtle wine to a fiery dish and a rich full bodied wine with something light, is a good pairing.
The Blush Cocktail with Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee / Wild Berry Cheesecake
Dessert wines are a fledgeling introduction in India, considering we Indians do have a sweet palate to go with, I am quite surprised that dessert wines are not widely advertised or served around here. The Blush Cocktail was a heady concoction of Four Seasons Blush with Cointreau (again my favourite liqueur) and Strawberries and I did catch a piece of melon too?
If all that wine dint leave me content, I think I would be kidding myself into believing that lifes good after all !
You poke me in the eye And my jaws open wide Paper, Linen or Cloth …. I Lustily …..
This sing song excited voice jarred me into consciousness early Sunday morning. I took a moment to get my bearings straight when that excited voice, full of charged vigor screamed saying “quick, quick, what is it?” I had no answer and I unconsciously asked for the lines to be repeated again. Meanwhile, my senses had still not kicked in to match the adrenaline charged voice on the other end of my phone and it was rendered futile as I heard another voice pipe up from behind somewhere, this time shouting out “Dustbin”. I chose to shut off my phone and catch up on the leftover forty winks.
I woke up in a few hours with the words still ringing in my head and realized it was for a “Treasure Hunt”, a pre-wedding celebration, organized by a lovely to-be couple who were due to get married in a week’s time. Good friends of my brother and young as young can be. Their revelry and pre-wedding celebrations were justified as they stretched endlessly from one occasion to another, as they could afford to make all this happen all with being a fun bunch who have no rules and are probably what the next generation is made up of, no wonder I saw my sibling shuffling around at 7am on a Sunday morning getting ready to go off on this expedition around town.
For some odd reason, all I could think of was strawberries, as the words were still fresh in my mind (best way to rote stuff, jar it into your head early morning) because the words eye and lust for some reason registered and connote with strawberries (I have no clue how the rest fits in) excusable considering no one throws a riddle at you on a Sunday morning. It might have popped into my head as it being the season and also my mind not thinking beyond food when in “decipher” mode. I usually get into this mode when I am taking apart dishes and trying to figure out the ingredients, quite complex.
I love seasonal fruits, strawberries being a favorite and considered a fruit associated with passion. The fragrance, the color, the taste, all in all sums up to a delicious experience and if you know how to use it well, it can be quite a versatile ingredient in many dishes. My love for strawberries goes beyond slicing them up on breakfast dishes or adding dollops of cream. I have experimented with it in drinks, in salads and of course, various desserts.
A favorite drink made during the season, as I prefer using fresh strawberries rather than crushes, squashes or jams when making cocktails – is a Daiquiri. Fresh, inhibited & raw flavor of fruit intermingled with a sweet alcohol base, a joy to devour.
This daiquiri is infused with a little basil to bring out the freshness and fruitiness of the strawberry even more. A tad bit of guava is incorporated to make an ultimate and exotic feel to the cocktail. Go ahead and shake this up while the season is on.
(For one cocktail)
1 shot White Rum
4 fresh strawberries hulled and halved
3 tablsp Guava pulp
1 leaf Basil
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1 tablsp Powdered Sugar
A dash of Cointreau (optional)
Chill a margarita glass in the freezer before preparing the cocktail.
Pour the Cointreau in the Guava juice and stir. Pour this mix in the margarita glass till it fills the bulb at the bottom.
In a shaker combine, strawberries, cracked ice (large pieces), sugar, lemon Juice, rum and basil leaf. Give it a good shake and peep in to check if the strawberries are crushed with the ice. If you feel this is a tough nut to crack (or pulp) run a metal pound onto the strawberries and pound for a few minutes. Give it a good shake and pour into a vessel. Remove the basil leaf and blend with a hand blender or mixer till you get a smooth frozen pulp.
(The shaker serves the purpose of infusing the basil flavor into the drink and to not overwhelm the flavor we remove the leaf and then blend the fruit and alcohol together, this step is essential in keeping the base flavors intact)
Pour the pulp onto the guava juice in the margarita glass and serve chilled with a garnish of basil leaf and half a strawberry.
Meanwhile, congratulations to the to-be married couple – hope their commitment is treasured as much as their treasure hunt today!
The dusk was setting in as I walked home on a chilly evening, strange, considering Mumbai has no extremities in temperatures and the December night being far different from the others; it was not a pleasant walk. I wrapped my muffler a bit tighter around my neck, keeping the chill at bay and warming my hands in my pocket. I noticed that the streets were oddly empty, but guess it was the time as everyone had wrapped up, an intelligent thing to do considering staying out in these temperatures was not something the citizens were used to. The two odd vendors, who were just about packing up, hurriedly gathered their wares and disappeared into a secreted lane. The street lamps flickered and winked in the smog which had settled low and I quickened my pace in the dark lane towards my home.
I had barely closed the door when the lights went out, pitch dark and momentary blinded I scuffled to the corner of my room and drew the curtains to let the splice of moonlight flood the area. Dropping my bag and scooting the shoes under the cupboard, I wondered where the rest of the household members were. I rummaged the old drawer beside my bed and found a used candle, lit it and made my way into the living room. The table was laid out for one; I went into the kitchen, covered dishes lay beside the microwave. I helped myself to the food, cold, as working the microwave would be pointless and I did not have the energy to pour out the food into flame proof pots and pans to re-heat on the gas.
As I sat there tucking away into the salad while I dialed the others who should have been present at home, it struck me that it was the corporate dinner so the members of my family would all be halfway across town. I looked around for the house-help; they seemed to be out of earshot too? Unnatural but I assumed they would be around somewhere. A little while into the meal I heard the door creak, I shouted out and suddenly a figure in white emerged casting a shadow against the candlelight, I nearly toppled over my seat, when it turned out to be one of the house-help. I was slightly relieved but kicked myself for having thought otherwise.
Now that I had help and could relax and eat, I requested that the food be heated. It came piping hot accompanied with my usual plate of freshly sliced onions, just the way I liked them – chilled and thinly sliced. I bit into one, and the acidic taste hit me like a bolt out of the blue, nearly gagging, I spit it out, at the same time yelling at the house-help as to what had been served. I looked closely and it definitely was a regular looking onion, but sour? He meekly obliged by telling me it nothing was out of the ordinary. I asked him to taste a slice as I have never had sour onions before except when they are pickled. I clearly remember not having any pickled onions at home, so I asked him if he had made a batch and served them to me. Denial came out so quickly, it sounded covered. I was a bit curious to know why he would say they are the usual sliced onions I had everyday – un-salted & un-touched my lemon? He tasted it and passed it off saying they were sour but that’s how some onions turn out to be.
An outright untruth I knew, but with much conviction he foretold a tale about how sour onions would sometimes make their way into the crops and it was a normal occurrence in their village. Odd again, I did not believe him and checked out the refrigerator. No sign of picked onions, I checked out the pantry – again no pickled onions. I went back to my seat and tasted them again. Here they were, sour as sour can be. Now I was a bit paranoid it obviously did not taste like a lemon had been squeezed and it seemed fresh enough to pass of as what I had been told it would be – Sour Onions!
I left them as is when I finished my meal, I certainly knew something was off and it did not seem right. Maybe they were spoiled and I was unsure as to what spoiled onions tasted like. So I let them be. I had barely finished my meal when the lights came on. I went to place my plate into the sink, when I chanced upon a sight which solved the mystery of sour onions.
I called out to the househelp and narrated exactly what he had served me. As the shock on his face settled down, he asked me daringly, how I had found out.
Elementary my dear Pandhre, you forgot to take out the trash.
Contrary to the narration above, I have nothing against sour onions, infact my favorite are those little pink pickled onions which accompany every Indian meal at restaurants. A simple recipe and I always have them in my fridge year round. I have people asking me the recipe for these onions when it’s nothing more than liquid mix of vinegar, sugar, salt with tiny madras onions submerged in them and left alone for a week. But I usually like mine with a little spice. This recipe is a bit time consuming but its worth the effort and definitely different from the sour onions we are used to. These can be used as is or mixed in a garden salad or even chopped up and tossed into your daily Indian dishes to kick things up a bit.
1 bunch Madras Onions
2 cup Vinegar (Malt is preferable, but white shall do)
2 tablsp Powdered Sugar
6 tablsp Table Salt
1.5 Litres Water
For the spice bag
50 gms Ginger Root
1 inch stick Cinnamon
1 Star Anise
1/2 tsp Cumin
Green Peppercorns, crushed
Peel and wash the onions, dry on a kitchen towel.
Heat the water till boiling point with the salt and keep aside to cool completely once the salt has dissolved. Place the onions in a deep pan and pour the brine over it. Weight it down with another flat plate as the onions will float to the top. Keep covered overnight till the onions absorb the brine solution well.
Make a bag of spice with the muslin cloth and keep aside.
In a clean stainless steel vessel, pour the vinegar and keep on a low flame to heat. Add the spice bag and the sugar and heat slowly till boiling. Heating vinegar can be quite troublesome as its acetic acid and when heated, definitely does not have a pleasant odour so make sure your work area is well ventilated. Once thoroughly heated, keep aside to cool completely.
To proceed, Rinse the onions from the brine solution and place in a clean and dry glass jar. Pour the liquid vinegar mix till it covers the onions completely. If you feel the liquid is not enough to cover it up, pour some extra vinegar over them till they are covered up completely.
Seal tightly and set aside in a cool place for at-least a week till the onions turn pink, they are ready to eat.
Just so you know how it was found out - the househelp had snuck out for an evening beedi at the local joint before the family members had left, leaving someone else to lay out the table for me. He did not expect anyone to be in for dinner and was taken aback when he returned and saw me tucking away. He went about with the everyday routine of serving dinner as though nothing had happened and realized that there were no onions in the pantry. Out of sheer desperation he had found a day old packet of pickled onions which had come in with an order of Indian food. Washed them in iced water, cut them up in slices and had decided to serve them up as is, so that nothing looked out of the ordinary. What he forgot to do was – throw away the restaurant packet in which these onions were stored.
"What's the big deal?", I asked my agitated brother when he excitedly informed about his trip to "Goa" and checking himself into the craziest, wackiest, party of the year, with pure music indulgence called "Sunburn" -that too for the umpteenth time. He was lost behind his trance-tinted glasses, so he chose not to answer my dowdy sounding question.
I clearly recollect my December visits to Goa, they used to be enjoyable enough with family and friends depending on who was available, especially during the Christmas week and ending it all with a New Year's showdown - typical Goan style. My Mother a half-goan, technically speaking, as being born and brought up there,she still prides in calling herself a full out Goan, dont blame her though, the tag itself is relaxing enough. It used to be a delight to spend the holidays in Goa. Christmas Eve would all be about dressing up after dinner and being ferried across the river to the city to attend Missa de Galo and then partying into the wee hours with practically the whole city spilling out on the streets. Driving off to the Miramar beach (with a bottle of rum to keep warm) when the only thing with us at 4 a.m. would be the the sea and the sand. Christmas day would be all about meeting our Catholic friends and visiting their homes which were done up tastefully to compliment the season. Wine, Food and Cheer was the agenda and Goa has never seen better days than what I have seen through my eyes.
I do agree, it's still maintained much of its charm, but people who visit there nowadays have not an inkling of what they are actually missing. This charm is still hazily in focus with stories told to us of what Goa was before liberation and the memories still hold intact of what Goa once used to be.
As the season recommends, I do love to indulge in cooking up some Christmas delicacies. Sweets are usually the call of the season and every year I try and make something new to bring in the celebrations. Indulgence in the form of Christmas Cakes and Marzipans are fun, I love making the quintessential eggnog too. This year, in fact, I was quite bored of the quintessential stuff as had been loaded delicacies from around the world by house guests, but I still wanted something sweet to whip up and bring on the cheery mood. So thought to myself why not "Churros"?. I came across this dish in a French Food Magazine, A famous Spanish dish which is typically deep fried dough, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with loads of sugar and drizzled with honey or my favourite - dipped in Chocolate. With the sound of it, I could not get closer to being any more Christmas-y than this?
Even though this is not traditionally a Christmas dish, It still was a hit amongst many the visitors on Christmas day, all the more - now I have something new to dish out the next time I am in Goa.
2 cups Flour (Maida)
1/2 cup White Butter
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
2 tablsp Brown Sugar (Granulated)
4 large eggs (whisked lightly)
2 cups water
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract / essence
Several Tablsp of white granulated sugar to sprinkle
Bowl of Nutella (Optional)
Heat a 2 inch tall pan with enough oil till its 3/4th up the edges of the pan.
In a deep dish sieve the flour with baking powder and keep aside.
In a saucepan, mix the water, butter, brown sugar and salt, place on high heat and give it a good boil. Pour the boiling water-butter mix slowly onto the flour and with a wooden spatula mix well. The flour will immediately absorb the water and turn into a heavy lump.
Whisk the eggs with the vanilla and then add to the flour mixture. Mix well till well incorporated and till the mixture resembles a thick paste.
Test the oil heat by dropping a small drop of this mixture, it should rise straight up like a tiny bubble.
Ideally, I use the thickest mould of the cake icing decorator / piping bag / injection to get the perfect Churro shape with the ridges and all, but if you dont have easy access to one, simply fold a large handkerchief into a square fold and cut tip to get a large hole in the middle of the handkerchief, pour some mixture into the handkerchief and gather the edges to form a bag. Squeeze the dough gently into oil in parallel lines about 5 inches long and deep fry for about 4 minutes or till they are golden brown.
Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel release all the excess oil.
To serve, spread on a large serving platter, pour some powdered sugar into a tiny tea sieve and sprinkle over the Churros. You may also serve it drizzled with honey or better still with a bowl full of Nutella to dip and go.
A colleague told me this little incident, a jolly fellow, who seems to be a person with unimaginable normalness living a worry free life (if there ever was). He was on his bike on a cool Sunday afternoon going about his way when suddenly a lady in a car swerves and stops bang in front of him practically toppling him over from his Sunday afternoon cruise. A petrified silence later, just as a mini mob was gathering around, he decided to do something which a normal person wouldn’t. He smiled, he had a large smile on his face and that was all what was needed for that lady to get that color back on her face. She got off from her car; automatically the crowd dispersed as though assuming that these two knew each other and there was no major “scene” going to take place; and she profusely apologized for her misjudgment and they went their way, shaking hands, relieved that nothing untoward or disastrous had taken place.
Now fortunately no one was hurt but just a little shaken up, and ultimately, it left both parties with just a scary memory. What ticked in me was the fact that this reaction can only come from a content person. Look back, every time you lose your mind, short fuse your temper or merely snap at someone in anger, it’s all the bottled up frustration of a past memory, situation or experience. If one is truly content and happy, it shows, and it shows in every possible situation.
I try and keep a cheerful aura around me whenever I can, this could be anytime – from the drive to work in the morning with the music on full blast or when I sipping on my coffee during a short break at work staring out from my cabin onto the vast uninterrupted view of the ocean (thinking about what’s cooking next), or even in the maddening crowds in the train ride back home some day’s (yes, I admit with my Ipod plugged in). I have attuned myself into dividing my stress time during stress time and cheerful happy content times at any other given moment. I have come to realize that the more I keep this feeling around me, the easier it is to deal with the other elements of life. Yes, there are times when things are out of hand or uncontrollable, but there’s always a break and that’s the moment you should seize to shroud yourself in happy thoughts.
Cooking makes me happy; creating dishes makes me even happier. I am the most content when I am with my ingredients and kitchen. You can wake me up at an unearthly hour and ask me to whip up an omelet and I am raring to go (yes, it has happened one summer over at a cousins place, he did not know the “C” of cooking and that fat ass was hungry at 3:00am). I love getting creative with food, and it usually does snowball into a marathon session of crazy plotting and planning which takes the better part of my time, but the end result – accolades, which in turn – makes me happy!
A small creation I whipped up during a talk-a-thon with my photographer. We were tossing around ideas on what to shoot next (another major role player in my happiness quotient), I was going Asian she wanted to go “something on bread” and that got my creative juices flowing and decided why not combine both. This little dish I created, is quite a hit, though have to still make it for a larger audience, I’d definitely like you to try it out. It’s a breeze and sure-fire hit at your next cocktail do.
1 French Loaf (Sliced thickly)
1 clove garlic (minced)
2 tablsp Sesame Seed oil (you can use olive oil)
Crispy Spinach Topping
3 large bunches Spinach (washed, dried and chopped into thing strands)
1 tablsp Sesame Seeds (Til)
1 Green Chili Sliced
1 tsp Sesame Oil (Or Olive Oil)
1 tablsp of – powdered sugar, salt and white pepper (mixed)
Oil for frying
Spicy Mushroom and Tofu Topping
6 white button mushrooms finely chopped
6 Babycorn – sliced diagonally into roundels
100gms – Tofu, cut into small squares
4-5 cloves – sliced garlic
2 tablsp Light Soy Sauce
1 tsp Celery chopped finely (optional)
1 tsp Red Chili paste
A sprinkle of five spice powder
Salt & Pepper to taste
Mix the garlic and oil and keep aside (the longer it is kept the better it is)
Place the slices of bread on an oven proof tray and spread some garlic oil onto each slice.
Place under a grill and toast till lightly crisped.
For the spinach topping
Heat oil in a deep bottomed vessel and add half a bunch of spinach strands in the oil. Make sure you don’t add too much as the hot oil tends to spill over the sides if not in a deep enough vessel. Deep fry till the color changes to a dark green. Remove with a slotted spoon over layers of absorbent paper napkins. Fry all the spinach, this should leave you with about 1½ cups of fried spinach leaves.
In a wok, heat a little oil, toss in the chilies and sesame seeds, when the seeds crackle toss in the spinach and toss around, remove and sprinkle generously with the sugar-salt-pepper powders. Keep aside.
For the Spicy Mushroom and Tofu Topping
In a small wok, heat the oil till smoky, throw in the garlic and almost immediately add the mushrooms, after a quick stir add the rest of the vegetables. Toss around with the soy sauce followed by the chili sauce. Remove and sprinkle some five spice powder and keep aside.
Top each slice of bread with the stir fried spinach, top with the spicy mushroom mix and pop into the oven for a few minutes to heat it up a bit. If serving immediately, toast the bread right before tossing your toppings.
This dish is a bit over the top with fried spinach, but the finale is a yummy toasty crunch with a spicy soft topping.
There's a fine line, there is always a fine line. I always wondered what the big hoopla was about the humble mushroom. I'v been subjected to nose wrinkling, poisoned stares and annoyed expressions through the course of mushrooms whenever ordered or made.
This is a little anecdote year's ago, when mushrooms had just become popular in and around town. We had gone on a road trip down south with extended family and had stopped over at an udipi for lunch. Since we were a large group, peak summer afternoon sun beating down mercilessly, we were ushered into a private terraced area of the restaurant covered with banana baby trees and money-plant leaves veining their way through the walls and ceiling , brushing dangerously close to the waka-waka fan. We were seated on a pink, sunmica covered table with steel mugs of chilled water and plates laid out, spotlessly clean. Once our gang decided to accustom ourselves to the surroundings (not used to stopping over in a small unknown town, abruptly for lunch) and took our places, the laminated menu was brought out (complete with a retro poster of a bollywood movie? and Om Puri staring out at you with a grumpy expression amidst pictures of random South Indian dishes?). Everyone ordered the usual:
Group Member 1: One Idli and one Sada Dosa, two chutneys, no sambhar
Group Member 2: I'l have one Sada Dosa with a plate of Idli and make it one Idli one Medu wada in one plate
Group Member 3: One Butter-Masala-South Indian-Special-Cheese-Onion-Chilli-Dosa for me, avoid the Coriander please (like that was a hindrance)
Group Member 4: Lime Juice Soda - Sweet (poor fellow, threw up in the car. There has to be 'one' car sickness member in the group, otherwise it's not a road trip)
and so on...
One person stood out (not me), and asked the waiter: What's todays special?
What came, was special. A simmering and spicy concoction of baby button mushrooms (not the horrid, briny, tinned ones) in a coconut gravy, true Manglorean style with steaming white fragrant rice with just a hint of chilli. Now that was what I would call a gourmet inspired dish - so what if it was in a small town, and so what if mushrooms were just in vogue.
We landed up ordering a few of those plates, barring a few, who were tucking in the normal fare with the usual nose wrinkling - annoyed expression which was fair competition to our friend "Om Puri".
The argument here is, why do people STILL perceive mushroom as some sort of non-vegetarian ingredient. I have seen (again, I go back in time) triumphant yelling on devouring a whole mushroom, like it was an achievement by itself. Yes, we all know its a kind of a 'edible" fungus (whoever said 'edible' and 'fungus' at the same time, scary) but it is so. I still know of a lot of people, especially vegetarians, who detest mushrooms, purely because they assume it to have a life of its own and probably a dish equalling hunting down your own game and roasting it, and somehow, that ideology just does not seem to die in some people. Well, to one's own I guess. As for those who attempted it, their triumph equalled that of crossing the thin line from vegetarianism to hardcore meat eaters (whatever makes them happy).
I enjoy this humble ingredient, always have! I have had many an experiment which rarely failed. I love stir fried mushrooms and there is an art in getting the right texture to your mushroom before using it in your final dish. Ideally mushrooms should never be washed as they absorb the water in which they are washed like a sponge, but you can and must clean them with a dry cloth, and then peel them. Look closely at the point where the stem meets the cap, with a sharp knife, reach under the cap and peel a fine layer from the stem right till the top. It should peel of easily like a hot knife on butter. Do it on all sides and you will have a perfectly dry and pristine white mushroom cap without the need of washing it.
You will observed that when cooked, mushrooms (especially the white button ones), which consist of a high percentage of water, release a lot of it (but natural). So if you are going to wash your mushrooms, they are going to absorb and release water while cooking. In the process, they shrivel up and turn slightly rubbery, in the process losing their earthy flavors. The right way to cook mushrooms is to thrown them in the pan with a little oil which is kept on high heat. Toss around quickly with a wooden spoon and ensure you dont squeeze any of them. No salt, no additives should be added at this point. Once you feel the oils coated the mushroom and the steams pouring out, immediately turn off the gas and plate it out, keep aside to use, as required. You can add, garlic, dry herbs or anything during the cooking process (as an added flavouring, complimenting the dish you are creating) as long as there is no water based ingredient. This is what the right texture of mushrooms in a mushroom dish should be. You can add these to gravies, sauces, pastas or anything for the matter.
I have created a delicious dish, a spontaneous creation as I love using seasonal ingredients and mushroom being versatile, can be mixed and matched with many ingredients. This is a juicy concoction of baby Green Tomatoes, Green Garlic, tangy lemon and Stir Fried Mushrooms in an Asian stir fry sauce.
1 pckt Button Mushrooms - Halved
2 Baby Green Tomatoes (Diced)
4-5 shoots - Green Garlic (Finely Chopped, including the green shoots)
1/2 Lemon - Sliced Thinly
1 tablsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Chilli Flakes
1 tsp Light Soy Sauce
2 tablsp Oyster Sauce (Vegetarian version can be used)
Salt & White Pepper Powder
A dash of bitters (optional)
A pinch of dried celery (optional)
In a wok, heat the olive oil on high heat, throw in the mushrooms and toss around on high heat. When just about ready, throw in the chopped garlic and stir fry till fragrant and till the garlic has browned in a bit. Add the Soy Sauce and Oyster Sauce stir fry and tossing well without lowering the heat and add all the seasoning's. Add the lemon slices, dash of bitters and tomatoes and stir fry till the sauce coats the ingredients evenly.
Plate it out in a shallow dish and serve immediately.
Bottom-line - Anything, be it anything, should have the power to humble you at some level. When you come across a down-to-earth person, there is nothing more rhetorically impelling than that presence. I have met very few who impress me to that level, and they, in my list of people I respect, are of the highest order.
Everyone craves attention, to some, it acts as an outlet to things bottled up and to some its just a way of life. It gives you a sense of power when you act out of your usual self and it is indeed quite engaging to make yourself feel that 'you've arrived'. But, somehow that always is a turn off to the opposite, as when you have the liberty of standing next to another, that platform automatically becomes an equal and should be treated thus.
A lot of people I know personally are engagingly simple in every manner possible. These are the ones who stand out from the crowds and always leave a lasting impression and a little lesson on how to conduct oneself in the company of others. These are the kind of people who are a living example of a perfect being and I, for one, try and take on a bit of this persona thus balancing out my own personality.
It's come to such a level that I crave for the simple things in life, materialistically I am still far away from it, but inside, it feel's the right choice to have made by embracing a more open outlook towards the thing called life. I know years down I'd probably reach that platform and it would do me, if no one else, a lot better and I could lead an actual "life in style".
The simplest form of food I make is my biggest flattery, I create many a dish which range from simple to complicated. But the ones I create without giving it much importance due to its simplicity are the ones which garner the most bouquets. One of my favourites is a dish which you would probably scoff at as frighteningly easy when you see how its actually made, it is roasted garlic, but the power it holds in most dishes as a topping or an ingredient is infinite. I would not technically name this as a dish, as its more an ingredient and usually accompanies or acts as an additive to many of my recipes. It's a must have for garlic lovers and you would probably eat it by itself most of the time.
1 head Garlic (large cloves, peeled and seperated)
2 tablsp Olive Oil
Sea Salt to taste
Slice the garlic, lengthwise as thin as you can. I usually use a manual slide chopper to get paper thin slices, but it works as good with a sharp knife.
Fold a square of foil from all the sides to have 1/2 inch standing edges. Spread the slices of garlic in one layer on the foil, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Pop into an oven with a overhead grill function on the topmost level of the grill. Grill for five minutes or a little more till the edges of the garlic brown (they brown pretty quickly so keep an eye on the dish). Remove and cool, use as desired.
Another method of making roasted garlic and the less tedious and common way is to peel the papery thin outer layers of a full head of garlic, leaving the final skin intact. Chop the tip by about 2mm from the top in one swift slice of a sharp knife, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and pop it whole into an oven. You can bake this till well browned on the top and remove to peel and use as required. This gives you a softer roasted garlic and can be used in many dishes such as soups and sauces.
Though I like the paper thin crispy version better. I leave it to you to decide which suits you the best. I love these by itself, on pizzas, as a topping on pastas and salads and to an extent even with my daily rice and dal. A little overwhelming, but then again - no one stopped you from indulging in the simple things of life.
As I made my way around the perfectly kept home with my Riedel flute sparkling with chilled champagne, the flowers selected to match the walls in each room, the baccarat crystal glistening in the ambient lights in each corner, the hors d'oeuvres magically materialising on platters carried by white gloved hands and the host graciously welcoming the invitees, I heard a sudden loud boisterous noise from the main entrance of the home and a loudly clad couple made its equally loud entrance into the home. For a split second I could virtually taste the tension in the air as the host, bewildered as can be, went up to greet the couple. I stood there quietly observing the scene unfolding before me as I had a feeling there was some sort of un-welcomed invasion taking place here and things were probably going to heat up and turn ugly.
On the contrary, the loud couple got louder as they walked in and the host with his wife welcomed them in with open arms and not a flicker of annoyance showing on their faces. I caught a few words, crass as they sounded - "Ah, so we heard about today's dinner, and thought we'd swing by as we were on our way to another party, thought why not drop in and say hello" - "Sawant, bring us two glasses, dont just stand there" (In the local dialect) - addressing the aged house-help, who was shuffling about at the kitchen entrance while the nattily dressed waiters made a more pronounced appearance. I was curious by now to know who these people were, and I edged my way towards the centre where they were pretty much - the centre of attention. The host realised things were a bit uncomfortable around the room with this inconvenience, and fortunately or unfortunately caught the first person to introduce - "Me".
"This is my sister and her husband" - I greeted them with a polite nod, and before I knew it the lady had already grasped my hand in delight, scrawny fingers glittering with chunky emeralds and uncut diamonds, practically spitting in my face, with a "what are you drinking" - Dachu (addressing her husband), I am feeling like a bubbly now, can we get that, throw your whiskey away, we have same bottle at home"
This "Dachu" started speaking to me, with the usual conversation starter: "what do you do?" and before I could finish my answer he was on a train ride tirade of his "business" and his "achievements" with a "Oh, Yes and a Oh, No" and a nasty poke from his wife now and again. I was quite bored five minutes into this so called one-sided conversation and the other guests had dispersed into the odd corners of the room, looking quite like a replacement to those baccarat crystals; when the host, sensing my discomfort, swooped in with a couple of other family members, who looked very unlikely to be the ones partaking as my replacements. The night carried on with the only voices in the room - of the new entries.
I was back to my mingling and a couple of champagnes down, when I saw the "louds" still hanging about, making a good deal of noise, still louder as they too were a couple of "bubblies" down. I got myself thinking,what happened to that so called "Party" they were on their way too? class apart, they were nothing short of bumbling, new-moneyed fools who were trying to make their mark amongst the well heeled, cashing in on the brothers life and probably screwing it up with their presence. A sense of pity arose towards the host and the hostess - who were trying their level best to maintain a dignified silence while the unwanted drove all the attention.
We all have the "louds" somewhere, sometimes in our lives. It takes a lot to maintain a dignified style of living, a personality and the total outlook of your life. The people we choose to remain is not imbibed in us but an acquired trait. Of course, upbringing is a key ingredient in being grounded however high you may have flown, but the class trait is a very rare acquisition and this is what sets you apart from the others, or should I say - makes you the Crème de la crème?
I think I have got a bit carried away here with my post and am duly coming back to food. The crème de la crème of the night was the Crème brûlée at the dessert counter. A divine creation (God bless the French! though the origin of this rich dessert still remains a mystery) which incorporates the best part of cooking I like - Burning. As the name suggests Crème brûlée means burnt cream. This is not some recipe gone wrong but a fantastic dessert having a delicious custard base and the caramelized topping which is a coup de grâce in the good sense, because the combination of soft, mellow and slightly sweet custard with the hard hitting bitter-sweet taste of caramelized sugar is sure to blow your mind away.
You can try this simple version at home, but be sure to indulge in some ramekins before proceeding.
200ml Heavy Cream
2 Egg Yolks
1/3 cup Milk
3 tablsp Sugar (Granulated)
A drop of Vanilla Essence (optional)
Powdered Brown Sugar
Butane Torch (Optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 240C with the low rack inside, if baking immediately (read recipe for optional step).
In a non-stick pan, pour the cream and keep on a low flame to simmer, stirring continuously till steaming, but not boiling.
In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the granulated sugar (and vanilla if used) till well incorporated and a runny paste. While still whisking start pouring in the cream with a thin stream. Go on whisking lightly till all the cream is all poured and you have a thick pasty but consistent liquid.
Prepare the ramekins (the one I have used here is the perfect size for the recipe given) by pouring in the cream and egg mix. Cool and cover with a foil and place in the refrigerator overnight. This is an optional step as this gets you best results, but I have tried baking it immediately and it works just fine, except the overnight one turns out to be well set.
Prepare the water basin, by placing the cream filled ramekin in a aluminium pan with tall edges. Pour warm water slowly in the pan till it reaches half way up to the ramekin. Place the pan in the pre heated oven and bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Check for done-ness by simply wobbling the pan lightly, the top of the crème brûlée should be like sponge and the middle should wobble slightly.
Take out from the oven, remove from water basin and place the ramekin on a rack to cool. Chill for a few hours before the final prep.
For the grande finale:
Sprinkle some fine ground brown sugar like a thin film on the top of the baked crème brûlée and torch with a butane chef's torch till the sugar starts caramelizing. You should have a nice thin and crunchy layer of sugar over the soft custard base. Enjoy it as is.
Alternately, you can spread the sugar and pop under your oven grill (top rack) or your broiler to get the same effect. I have, of course, used a butane chef's torch (which I sneakily use for various other quick fix's) to caramelize the sugar but the caramel in oven turns out as good.