Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Cheery End to the Year

"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. 



Ingredients:

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. 



Friday, December 17, 2010

Happiness Quotient

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.

Ingredients:
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

Procedure
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.

To serve
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.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A feather in my cap

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. 

  
Ingredients:
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.   




Monday, December 06, 2010

Engage Simplicity

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.


Ingredients:

1 head Garlic (large cloves, peeled and seperated)
2 tablsp Olive Oil
Sea Salt to taste
Foil

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.




Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Crème de la crème

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.

Ingredients:
200ml Heavy Cream
2 Egg Yolks
1/3 cup Milk
3 tablsp Sugar (Granulated)
A drop of Vanilla Essence (optional)

Carmelization:
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.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In need of change, Indeed

I don’t know about you, but I definitely am on a constant lookout for new happenings and doings, if things don’t go about in your life with a little detour once in a while and if you keep on the same chosen path – living the life as it is, it would be pointless, bland and ostensibly boring.

If things get too routine I create situations to make them interesting, a little role play here and little nudge to extreme there. Think beyond your boundaries and capture the unknown when you are settling into a comfortable zone. This is what life’s all about, you experiment, succeed or fail and you move on to the next best thing. All opportune moments will come; you just have to make a grab for it.

I am, on the superficial layer, quite calm, composed and relaxed, but as they say, everything superficial is not necessarily true just like beauty or personality; I am a raging maniac inside, persistently making my way about adventures and unseen situations, just to bring about that spark which keeps me going. It’s all pretty much a game and these are the little things in life which I enjoy.

I have always been agitated with food repeating itself on the table. Even at a restaurant; I try and make things a little more interesting than they normally should be. I usually leave it to the chef when I am ordering something special (whether with friends, colleagues or family, I get to pick ONE dish aside from the regular, and that’s saying a lot, considering I am usually surrounded by one track minded people who see only the specialty of the restaurant or something which they have eaten and been eating there forever). If I don’t get a chance to order in something which the restaurant offers as a house / chef special, I make it a point to order a house special sauce or chutney, something extraordinary to trick my palate into believing something different is being savored.

The next best thing to a cocktail (that’s when I am bored of the sweets and the sours of alcohol) is a beer. Round the clock refreshing and pretty easy on the alcohol content giving a nice relaxed feeling without making you feel too full or drunk. An uncle of mine is a crazy beer fanatic, when I was over at his place in L.A. for a month and a half, I would soak up the ambience of his beautiful house with continuous refills of chilled draft on tap.

There are thousands of varieties of beer one can enjoy. India, is delving slowly into the whole variety beer market, but it will take its time. From ales, lagers, malts to stouts & drafts, it’s all a fantastic market out there for us to discover. I have heard about this place on the outskirts of Pune which boasts of a resort (called “The Corinthians”) housing its own brewery – a definite must visit and shall do so in the near future.

As may be the case I get bored too easily of sipping on a kingfisher or a bud on a regular basis (I used to enjoy chugging London Pilsner when it was manufactured here). So I try and spruce up my cold one once in a while. One of the common additives (and the ones beer lovers dared to experiment with) to beer are lemon (as with the case in Corona, without which, corona loses its complete aura). But there are many ways in which one can enhance the flavors and tease your palate; it comes in handy when you are having a particular type of cuisine too.

Beer generally can never be flavored, but for people like me, I wouldn’t mind having that change of taste once in a while. I have, in the course of my experiments, tended and succeeded in singling out few additives which can make your experience of beer a lot more entertaining.



Chillies:

One of my favorite additives, our Indian chillies has the right amount of smokiness and spiciness to bring out the crispness in any beer. Not only does it add an element of Indian’ ness to the beer (we all love biting on our chillies in our meals don’t we?) but brings out many hidden flavors when the sharpness of the chillies hit your tongue. A perfect combination of chilled and spicy, contrary to the hot and spicy, which we are used to. Slit a parrot chili in the middle and toss into your beer mug right before serving it.

Lemon:

A common sight when a wedge is stuck on the lip of a Corona bottle, infact Corona advertises its beer with a lemon wedge. It enhances the flavors to indomitable heights, what with all the sourness and the tanginess, no wonder we relate to it. Add a slice once in a while to your mug of beer and if you want to stay safe – stick to Corona. Wheat beers go unusually well with lemon.

Orange Rind:

This is quite an interesting twist to your common ale. The citrus flavors blend well with most draft beers and all you need is a long slice of fresh orange rind to make the perfect addition to your beer. The citrusy, slightly fruity flavor subdues the bitterness a little while giving it a nice finish with every sip. The rind, if placed precariously over the mug rim, shall give you fresh bursts of flavor and smell which you can sniff on when taking a sip. Serve this with a chili too when having Thai food. Your dish will have an exciting accompaniment.

Coriander:

A small amount of muddled herbs enhance each and every thing, even if it means your beer. A practical herb is coriander, apart from imparting a distinguishable flavor to the beer, the herb acts as a catalyst in enhancing the yeastiness in the beer. A fun addition if you like your fizz with a kick. Just muddle a few fresh coriander leaves with the stalk and toss into your beer mug. If you don’t like the leaves interrupting the flow in your mouth and need a smoother drink experience, just tie the muddled coriander in a small muslin cloth and drop it in your beer. You can remove it in a couple of minutes once the foam settles down or you reach the bottom of your drink.

A change is good once in a while, you need to keep it going to keep yourself going.      

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Manipulation

It’s all as if it’s written down somewhere, and we are mere puppets controlled by something far more superior – well scripted, well written, and in the end dangling by a thin thread, which, in retrospect, you either snap and fall or as people say “hang in there”.

As we grow older, mature, understand the worldly ways, we come upon a furtive tide of underlying meanings, covert operations and opaqueness in the people around us. Our complex minds as well as the minds of people in our little world are so quick in comprehending situations, that to make it in our favor, all it takes is a nanosecond. These qualities are not rare, they are inbred in us and we have to adept to much battering before they take over and we are in control.

Manipulation is a wondrous thing if used correctly; don’t get me wrong, it would take a devils advocate for me to admit that manipulation should be used in the dirty sense, but there will be times when you will need to resort to mild mind alterations or put up a smoke screen depending on the direction. I, personally, being subject to quite a few obvious situations which were so obtuse, allowed it to be played on, just so that in the end, the grand finale would be executed by me. In life, one must learn to take control of situations. Observe, be sharp and lookout for that string, you could all but turn it around.

Similarly, I was quite fed up of having a bottle of Crème de menthe lying around at home. I had bought it off a duty free shelf just because the color was so damned good and vibrant that I could picture out heady cocktails at terrace dos not realizing that the peppermint taste was quite tooth-paste’ish and I would rather gargle with it than sniff and swig.

I got an opportune moment of doing the honors by whipping up a cocktail for a classic bar shot, just – again, because the color said it all. I did not want to just throw in the liquor and top it up with ice and shoot it. Though the picture does justice to the seductive color, it does not actually do anything much to the taste sense of my readers, quite more so since I have methodically manipulated you into thinking it looks good but tastes exactly how I have described it above. Incidentally, the cocktail I shook up (a last minute think off my head) turned out to be quite tantalizing – just like its color.



1 shot Crème de menthe (each per glass)

For the tangy shaves:
1 shot Lime Cordial
1drop Angostura® Bitters
1 tsp Gin

In an Ice Tray start by pouring a small shot of Lime cordial, followed by gin and a tiny drop of bitters into an ice hollow, top it with water and stir. I have specified in the recipe the quantity required for each ice hollow in the tray as the alcohol content should be low to get good hard ice cubes. Fill up all the hollows similarly and deep freeze.

To serve, pour the crème de menthe into a chilled Margarita Cocktail Glass. Shave the ice in an ice shaver (I find the manual hand cranked ones quite useful) to get soft tangy snow and quickly toss into the cocktail glass. Serve with a lime twist.

This drink is best enjoyed immediately, as your tongue gets subjected to the electrifying tangy but dry (due to the gin) ice shaves it is immediately subdued by the cool calm flavor of the peppermint which makes its way through to take over. Who is manipulating whom now?  - I had been manipulated into buying the liquor due to its attractive color, hated it, and then manipulated the taste to make it the way I liked it. It’s all a vicious circle – and you could pick a point or two into what I am “actually” trying to say.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Fruits of our Labour

I always wonder how time just goes flashing by and you don't realise it and its quite the contrary when you want it to go whizzing past you, and it doesn't. The whole of last week was quite a task. A test of my patience, a test of anger management and a test of all things bottled up. But all in all, the only thing which kept me going was the belief that 'time' would sort everything out. The unrelenting passion with which we go about our daily work is always to achieve something. You will invariably have certain moments in your routine when you cease to think why you do what you do, and just go ahead with the same fervour which you would if you had a goal. This is what I call pure 'life'. 

In life, one thing's for sure, whatever you do, it should be with full fervour and passion. The quantum of work you put in to hold things together is directly weighted to the fruits you will achieve later on. It should be so great initially that when the time comes it should be able to hold every iota of value to you - mentally, physically and emotionally.

Even though my week was rough and physically sleep deprived, the silver lining was the invite for the 2nd Bloggers meet of Mumbai. Invited by Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal of A Perfect Bite and hosted at a newbie restaurant called "Indian Harvest" run by a charming couple Meher & Satyen, it was worth every ounce of tiredness achieved during the entire week. This resturant is at an unthinkable location: Chembur, but once you find your way through the extreme eastern suburbs (thank God for GPS) and into the calm Acre Club area, it shed's all your inhibitions about the north-eastern zone of Mumbai and definitely drags you out of the whole "where are you off to today?" - Oh Bandra !" situation.

As I took my place amongst the usual suspects (ShankyLife on Simmer & Jyotika), a couple of usual's we missed and a couple of new ones (Sassy Fork & Fond of Food), on a low seating area of the restaurant specially laid out for us, the first surprise was the personalized menu's laid out on each table. With this and even before meeting the host's in question, I knew the amount of love and endurance they must have put in to start off this place. Simple gestures capture the whole picture panoramic-ally , and these are rare qualities.

The food as described by the host, is Indian Contemporary, if you are looking at hardcore typical Indian cuisine such as the like's of a Copper Chimney of a Jewel of India, this is definitely not the place. But, it redefines the idea of Indian food and could be probably one of the few firsts to have introduced fine Indian Cuisine - Contemporary style.

I usually, would have waited to whip something up from the extensive menu they laid out for us before talking about the experience. But, that would probably have to wait for a special occasion and most importantly a proper time and not 3am. Every dish was a surprise element. Since visual stimulation works better than boring words, I'll reiterate the experience visually:


The Entrée: A crackling combination of butter chakli topped with fluffy hummus and garnish. 















The Purple Wire: A mocktail blend of Slushy Blackberry and a hint of chaat. This is best if really slushy and well blended. 

I surreptitiously shifted over to wine as could not handle the tangy fruit and ice mix over an upcoming sore throat. Plus the ice wasn't helping - to hell with driving under the influence of alcohol (in my defence it was all, but one glass) 










The Platter: A delicious medley of knikknacks to go with the drinks. 

Murg aur Makkai Gujiana: A blend of chicken, corn and cheese coated with spiky vermicelli, golden fried. 

Komdi Patra - A sensous twist to the regular patra with chicken and their signature green chutney

Rajasthani Methi Churan Bhindi - the name says it all, crispy and crackling. 


 
The soups were served innovatively in shot glasses and true to its name: Palak Feni Shorba had a hint of their 'house' coconut liquor and the Chicken paired with Coconut and hint of coriander, overwhelmed my taste buds. The had a third flavor a tomato shorba which came with two tiny wadi's at the bottom of the glass. 












The Parda Murg - An exciting looking dum cooked chicken dish ensconced in an edible "parda" which served as a fun combination of chicken and roti.










The dig worthy and softest Paneer in a silky saffron sauce, dont miss the pineapple!










This was the actual main course in my definition - A signature creation of Meher, who recreated the quintessential Biryani - home style - but out worldly delicious. Light, fragrant, not overwhelmingly spiced and just right. Yakhni & Bhakhalli Biryani. Two very distinct personalities under one name.    
 The special dessert especially made for our group, comprised of a sinful combination of Motichoor Ladoos, A nutmeg infused Kheer (Thick to perfection) and Orange Flavored fried crisps. A combination which tantalizes your taste buds till they are confused but positively alive with taste. 

A special frozen bonbon Goblet which had our chocolate fix satiated at the end of the meal. 











Meher & Satyen's Fruits of Labour are definitely showing through their restaurant and hope it's everlasting.   

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Plum Role

An observation worth pondering over if identified correctly. We, in the course of our life, will come upon many others who, somehow, stay or leave. A transition which lays its own course and leaves a trail which you follow, be astride or leave aside. There are many who have come and gone since the time I have been in this world and looking back they have involuntarily laid down a lesson or presence which was either absorbed or ejected. These acquaintances, friends, family, lovers, colleagues, all in all, play a plum role in our life.

We choose who we want in our life and who we don’t; sometimes it’s the other way round when you may want to be a part in ones life and it doesn’t work out. But in all this, there is one thing worth grasping – no matter what, there is a definite positive spin in the presence of the other for however brief or lengthy period it has been.

I, for one, have learnt that no matter what the ultimate layers reveal for the current people in my life, somehow they are all there for a reason and its all for my good.

I recently started creating recipes professionally for the camera. In the sense, my photographer, a person who shares my passion for food and who inadvertently kicked me around to complete my book (at-least the photography part) and has encouraged me to create and conquer the art of cooking through the camera lens. After a grueling course of advanced photography in Paris, she decided to come back gung-ho with a fresh perspective on what she’d like to shoot. Of course, being subjected to weekly food shoots before the course, and Paris being no newbie to food and all things connected, she had found her forte in shooting food professionally.

A mutual motivational factor got us working weekends and creating masterpieces for the camera. I love her work and it’s turned out to be more of a mutual admiration society especially when two minds run in the same direction. A certain dish I created out of pure love for the color purple and the camera, dished out for you here complete with the recipe and a visual treat of the finale.

   


4-5 Large Damask Plums (The Californian variety available in stores nowadays)
1 tsp Demerara Sugar
1 tsp White Butter
1½ cup Red Wine (Cabernet Sauvignon)
5 tsp Sugar
1 Star Anise
2-3 Cloves
1” Stick Cinnamon
Pistachios – Peeled and Dry Roasted till fragrant

Wash the plums and slit a cross on the top with a sharp knife, deep enough or till it touches the stone (seed) of the plum. Soak in the wine for about half an hour.

Once soaked well enough remove from wine and place on a tin baking sheet and smear a little butter atop each plum. Sprinkle Demerara sugar on each of the plums and place in the top shelf / rack of the oven. Turn on the grill and grill the plums till the skin withers and the sugar melts and amalgamates with the butter, this should take about 9 minutes.

In a saucepan, pour the wine (in which the plums were soaked) and add the sugar, keep on a low flame to simmer. Add the spices and simmer till the sugar melts. Strain and keep aside. 

To serve, place a plum in a plate or saucer and add a few spoons of the red wine sauce over the slits till the sauce oozes from the sides, sprinkle with toasted pistachios and serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice-cream or crème fraiche.

Just like this dish, make sure the people who are currently in “your” life, appreciated for their plum role. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Infuse Inspiration

Inspiration hits you like a brick when it comes along and I have been hit quite often in the remotest of situations. It's a good thing, inspiration, as without it, we would be no where. There is nothing which can concretely be established as a trigger for inspiration, it can come in any form. I have a habit of day dreaming (no, not because I have nothing to do, but my work is such that the commute either by train or car, is long enough to float your thoughts to wonderland), and in these random and mundane thoughts I come up with the craziest of combinations, fusions or recipes.

Inspiration is also the much needed fuel to propel your ideas, enhance skills and most of all, keep your hobbies or work alive. Things, People, Items and even Situations make a complex puzzle in ones everyday life from which one can extract immense inspiration.  

I  see a pear lying on the fruit tray and I can think up a hundred ways to cook it and the outcome is usually something mildly entertaining, because all I do is stupidly grin and my creation and devour it myself - till the next time when I make it for someone else.

I had a tough last week with contracts, negotiations and documentation taking up a lot of my time at work, especially since half the world (as in my world) was in the preparation of the holidays in a few weeks. Saturday night had left no energy in me to go out and do what people do on Saturday nights. I just wanted to reach home, loosen the tie, make myself a drink, put up my feet and probably settle down and watch MasterChef India (which, by the way, was ... well no comments). I had my sister-in-law over with her new baby girl, a stress buster all in all, and she (the baby, not sis-in-law) had come of age to start eating mushy food. My sister-in-law pureed some pear and cucumbers (no, not together that would be termed just gross) and was feeding her. Instantly an idea cropped up about the cool refreshing cucumber and the sweet fruity flavor of pear which was enough to get my thoughts churning and I set out to make myself the much needed drink.




I found a bottle of Absolut Pear lying in the rear shelf of the bar and I did not want to just throw it over ice and gulp it down. Citrus was in order with a little bit of enhanced sweetness, so here's my baby food inspired cocktail.

1 Part Absolut Pear
1 tablsp Sugar Syrup
1 tablsp Lemon Juice
1 Leaf - Basil
Ice
Shaker

Shake all the ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice. Let it sit for a while if you want it a bit diluted. Strain into a cocktail glass and serve with a fresh leaf of basil. If you want the taste of basil to infuse in the cocktail, throw in a leaf when shaking it up.



Of course, I would not want my readers to sulk at the thought of non-availability of Absolut Pear, because I do not expect everyone to look at their bar shelf and expect a bottle of Absolut Pear lying there. So here's a simple solution to making your own Pear Infused Vodka. The Recipe is quite simple actually and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out infusions.

Clean a large fresh pear thoroughly with water and wipe till completely dry. With a fork or sharp utensil scrape the outer layer of the skin randomly all over to bruise the skin a bit. Roughly chop the pear into large pieces and keep aside.

Take a glass bell jar or any glass/ceramic jar with a tight fitting lid. Clean it well by immersing in boiling water for 5 minutes or so and leaving it out to dry in an area where you have sunlight filtering in.

Once you are sure the jar is dry, add the chopped pear, add a rind of a lemon - I like the combination of refreshing citrus with fruit (ensure the white pith is not added) and top it up with vodka (any local brand will do, Smirnoff for example). Ensure that the Vodka covers the fruit completely. Leave undisturbed in a dark corner of your kitchen or cupboard for a week minimum. Usually, I cannot wait that long and in between days I usually take to sniffing the infusion which leads to a taste and which eventually leads to a shot.

But the longer you keep the infusion the more intense the flavors get. Remove the rind after a week if keeping the infusion longer. This way the Vodka captures the Pear's sweet aromatic flavors and not too much of the citrus. This infusion can be kept for over a month even if you leave the fruit in as the alcohol ensures the fruit does not spoil. Its a win-win situation all the way.  

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Old is Gold

The other day, I came back from work a bit early from a slightly crazy fear ridden day, what with the Ayodhya Verdict impending like a large doomsday and everyone waiting around at work with bated breath for a snippet of news such as bombs, riots and sneaking a look out of the window once in a while. The window sneak paid heavily as every time someone glanced outside there was some shop shutting down or the conspicuous fading of traffic on the usually busy street. As the clock hand grew nearer to the verdict hour, the streets had a eerie silence and one of us stepped out to check the other offices... The building was deserted?

All right, total panic, everyone just took off. Weird how fear takes over our senses and thinking. We lose all perspectives and logic and just do what everyone else does. Anyway, point was since I was not in some warrior mood and pretty much welcomed the early holiday from work, I set off for home.

Not surprisingly, Dad too had got home from work with a similar story, offices deserted, streets empty etc. etc. Well that was it, Mom, Dad and Me, right there at home, in the middle of the afternoon, with the television on and the remote being clicked carelessly to surf between a dozen news channels, all airing the same thing, the proceedings.

Since we all had nothing better to do, we just sat around the television, with the very predictable verdict playing on. Bored as we were that a perfectly interesting day was turned to rubble, we started talking amongst ourselves. For the first time, in a long time, I had actually had a conversation with my parents. A delightful, airy, fun filled conversation with no discussion about problems, stresses, this one did this and this one did that. It was just - talk. We spoke for hours till the sun set, evening set in, the warm and jolly mood got even more delightful as dad poured out his drink and I set out to make a summery cocktail for Mum and Me. Now, I do not know if it was the sudden coincidence of all three of us being together at a unobtrusive time with the city in tension, but there was a warm feeling which set me thinking - we hardly ever spend time with the people who are closest to us. We get so busy in our own little world, that spending time, most importantly, quality, no nonsense, enjoyable time with the family, is completely lost.

When we were in a Joint Family, no matter what, as per tradition one meal was always with the family, everyone included. Tradition is the key; to maintain a lifestyle rich of culture and values, one must incorporate a little time for the people who matter most to us. I love spending time with my family, immediate yes, but also the far off and the occasional.

Tradition too can be incorporated in daily cooking. I have learnt that certain things need to be done in a certain way. I set out to make Thai Curry that night. The recipe called for a pungent curry paste to be prepared for the Red Thai Curry. I had all the ingredients, I also had the mixer ready to whizz it all up (simplified as electronics make our life now). But our conversation was still animated and underway, and someone mentioned how my grandmother used to make chutneys, pastes, korma masala - all without the help of electronics in the hey-days, using a stone pestle. I suddenly remembered her old stone pestle. I made a quick visit to the garden storehouse and located the cobwebby but rough hewed stone pestle still intact. I cleaned it up well and set about making the perfect, aromatic, Red Thai Curry paste ever.

For easy locatable ingredients, I have done away with the exotic ones and tried using locally available ingredients all in the same family. In effect, Galangal is replaced by Ginger, Kaffir Lime by Lemon Zest and Juice, Thai Chillies with our Desi red ones.



Ingredients:
(Makes 1 cup)

2-3 Fresh Red Chillies (De-seeded)
2-3 Dry Red Chillies (Washed, Soaked in Hot water and De-seeded) - reserve the water

10-12 Garlic Cloves (roughly chopped)
1.5" Piece of Ginger (roughly chopped)
1 Lemon (Zested - ensure you avoid the white pith)
and the Lemon - Squeezed separately
2-3 Stalks Fresh Lemon Grass (Chopped fine)
1 Large bunch - Coriander (Only the Stalk part)
Rock Salt to taste
1 tablsp White Pepper whole
1 tablsp Coriander seeds whole
1 Large Onion (roughly chopped)



Place all the ingredients on a wet stone pestle and proceed to smash it with the pestle using smooth circular motions. It's best to use your hands and very little or no water to collect the coarse mix while crushing. Keep grinding and crushing till you get a smashed up paste and start pasting it more with the help of a little red chilli water as and when needed. Check for salt and lemon and grind into a smooth paste.

Adjust the heat of the paste with less red chillies or more depending on personal preference.

You can store this curry paste in your freezer compartment for over a month.


I just read an excellent recipe for Thai Red Curry, so I'll save the trouble of reiterating the perfect Red Thai Curry. Make use of the paste with this recipe and you cannot go wrong. Here's the link from a fellow blogger and an excellent cook - The Perfect Bite (Thai Curry)

As they say Old is Gold, I assure you, you will change the way you look at certain recipes, if you change certain methods of cooking the traditional way (time permitting of course). I am sure, many of my readers will have some sort of stone pestle lying around somewhere (I still have a larger one being used as a planter now, I plan to bring that out in case of larger portions). If you have the time (and the arms) make use of it to grind many pastes / chutneys. It will certainly add that flavour and flair to your recipes. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chasing ... Reality

I observed a jolting sight which got me thinking about a lot of things we go through in the course of life. A drive back from lunch today, stuck in traffic, head lolling due to the lack of sleep all because of the blurred life we all live - work, social, personal etc. I suddenly saw a half naked little kid probably about the age of 4 spring out of his hut and in another second his doppelgänger rushing out of the same hut and chasing him. They went round their hut twice, they ran on the footpath still chasing and being chased and ran around again repeating the same thing till they fell back on the side of the road on a small patch of dried grass laughing heartily and started munching on lollipops. The green light came on and the cars accompanied by the inevitable cacophony jolted me from my observation and I was back to reality.

Reality? what reality. I was lost in thought over something quite jarring about life and how we evolve. I re-winded my thoughts to 24 year ago, when I too recollect, running - carefree ! just like these two little kids munching on lollipops.

Think about it, every time, as kids we would be left off to play and we would land up "running"; running to catch a ball, running to chase another person, running to hide, running to throw. The finale would be an exhausted and aching body but with a very surreal satisfied feeling.

They very first game we played in life is "chase". The only difference is, the young chase because they are attuned to breaking free off anything remotely stifling or tying down and as adults we are on a chase and only land up stifling and being tied down.

Why then the first lesson in life we learn, cannot be integrated in the way we lead it. Life as you know, is one big chase or race... but have you ever considered to stop and wonder what or against whom are we racing? As kids we never considered what or whom we raced and chased, we just did it for our satisfaction. It never mattered that we caught the person we chased, nor did it matter that he was faster. In the end, we would fall back with the other and rest it out probably laugh about it and get back to our own little world, till the next time/day when the chase would begin again.

Now, all we do is chase our dreams, chase our career, constantly rushing to catch up with just generally everyone within our purview and ... I wonder, where is that pause button where we just fall back, satisfied and be able to laugh?

I have consciously vowed to integrate this little incident and lesson into my life. Pause, randomly, but pause. You deserve to have that luxury a lot more often than normal and all things materialistic will automatically cease to exist. Try it, and as I quote a term from a friends gtalk status, you'd be experiencing "Mini Moksha" every time you did.

In an anomalous way, this next dish can quite relate to what I experienced in those few moments. I call it Sweet Sago Pops. These are mildly spiced sago kabob's skewered onto sweet sugar-cane sticks to resemble candied lollipops but savoury and deep fried. Instantly, it takes you back to your fun carefree lollipop filled chasing days.


Ingredients:


3 large potatoes boiled, peeled and mashed
1 cup Sago (Sabudana)
1 tablsp Ginger Chilli Paste
1 White Onion - finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic - mashed
2 tsp Mango Powder
1 tsp Chilli Powder
1 tsp Cumin Powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 cup Arrowroot Powder (or Cornflour)
A Large Sugar-cane Stick
Oil For Frying

While buying the sugar-cane stick, ask the vendor to cut it into foot long pieces and peel it for you. Chop it into long finger chip size pieces when you get back home and keep aside in the refrigerator.

Soak the Sago in a cup of warm water for a few hours. It should be puffed up well and translucent.

Keep aside a handful of sago and add the seasoning's and paste to the rest and being to mash it all up well. Slowly add a little of the mashed potato and continue to mash till all the potatoes and the sago mix are all well incorporated. In a little pan, heat a tsp of oil and stir fry the garlic and onions till translucent. Top it onto the sago-potato mix and stir it up. Check salt and pepper and keep this dough aside.

To proceed add a few spoons of arrowroot or cornflour into the mix. Take one of the finger-chip sized sugar-cane stick in one hand and  a table tennis sized ball of the dough in the other. Proceed to wrap this mixture onto one end of the sugar-cane stick and squeezing it gently with your palm to resemble a kabob. Keep aside on a paper towel and proceed to make the rest of the kabob's till the mix is all used up.

Heat oil in a deep bottomed vessel. Dip the kabob side into the oil either with your hands (if you are comfortable getting so close to the hot oil) or with a pair of tongs. Fry the pops till crisp golden brown and drain on paper towels.

Tip:
If you use a frying pan, try using a smaller but deeper one. Add only enough oil to cover the length of the kabob and place the kabob sticks, kabob side down, with the sugar cane sticks resting on the sides of the pan. This way you need'nt hold onto it or do them one at a time.

Serve with a side of fiery mint chutney and indulge your senses to a spicy starter with a chewable sweet stick you can munch on while you reminisce about your own childhood.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Strung Out of Exoticism

I get these sudden urges to have maniacal combinations while creating recipes and the one thing I stay away from is ruffling through complicated recipes in cookbooks where the dish title is longer than the recipe itself. I also rarely like to name my dishes - which is odd, but I prefer leaving it anonymous or unnamed for the benefit of the next benefactor of the recipe.

One such recipe was thought up by me during the Mango season. You will agree we Indians are slightly addled when the season begins, with people haggling over the sky rocketing prices of mangoes but still gleefully taking it back home like precious gold and carefully placing it on its throne - the kitchen mantle where is shines in all its glory, er, waiting to be devoured. End of it all, you will suck the life out of that kingly fruit and satisfy your craving, leaving it all up to the next day, when the haggling starts again.

This dish was just a thoughtful diversion from the usual way people consume mango, of course this time the mango was reduced to a meagre side role and the main attraction was a delicious juicy pear (I still get nasty stares from certain individuals in the family when I mention this dish, the same people who swear by this fruit and consume it like a drug, raw and inhibited).



This dish is a wonderful combination of juicy pears poached in a fruit and wine concoction, served with creamy vanilla ice-cream and of course - mango. Off season as it may be right now, the mango may be replaced (blasphemy!) with a variant such as a tangy kiwi or probably plums.

Ingredients:

3 Large Pears (fragrant and blemish free)
2 cups Cranberry Juice
1 cup Red Wine (Sula, Chantilly works as well, leftover even better)
1 Stick Cinnamon
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Orange & Lemon Rind - (grated, ensure the white part does not get in)
1 tablsp Cointreau (optional)
Mango (or any other fruit) cut into 1 inch cubes
Basil Leaves
Chilled water
A scoop of Vanilla Ice-cream

In a large bowl, mash the basil leaves and add chilled water to it. Place the mango cubes in the chilled water and keep aside.

Peel the pears and cut into large wedges, place into a pot with the stick of cinnamon. Pour the juice and wine into the pot, making sure the juice covers the pears completely, if you feel the pot is larger, just add more juice or take a smaller but deeper pot. Add the rind and Cointreau and keep on a low flame to simmer. In about 15-20 minutes you will notice the pears absorbing the reds of the juice and wine and releasing its own juices. Poke it with a knife or fork to check on firmness. The fruit should not turn mushy, it would be a good time to drain the fruit once you check that its firm enough.Keep the poached pears aside.

Retain the juice-wine liquid in the pot and add the sugar, turn up the heat to a medium high and simmer the liquid till it thickens. Once boiling, switch off the heat and leave the sauce to cool. It should have a thick saucy consistency.

To serve, place the poached pears on a plate, add a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the side. Drain the mango from the chilled water and spoon it on the side of the plate. Drizzle atop with the juice-wine reduction and serve immediately.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Gentleman to the “T”

A few days ago I visited my ex-boss, more of a friend, guide and mentor. A gentleman to the “T” and an even better business man. This time the visit was not for keeping in touch or a casual acquaintance, but for the fact that he is suffering from the dreaded “C” which is, unfortunately, on its last stage and I felt I should atleast drop in a friendly hello and keep him company for a while.

A man who I look up to only because of his perseverance in fighting his illness and moving on with life as though nothing has affected his day to day activities. I had an enlightened chat with him about the various going-on’s in my life and the conversation conveniently veered towards food. Now, this man, before his entrée into the world of business had taken up a management course in hotel & catering, a fantastic cook himself and more so with the abundance of knowledge of the finest foods in the world. A well traveled person who has tried and tested many varieties of the cuisines in his travails. He was a walking talking dictionary of food and, for a change, a person, who had as much passion in eating as he had in making food.

He had made himself comfortable with a cup of tea and his audience which comprised of me and a small group of his family members quickly got enraptured in his tirade about the “perfect cup”.

He started off with a dose of how the mushrooming coffee and tea bars make commercially appreciated tea and instead connoisseurs of tea would probably leave drinking tea forever if they tasted the variety we got in most of these places. He even gave an insight into the tea tasting profession which is much revered in tea growing states and a particularly high end job which pays handsomely. A little gyaan on the various stages tea went through to finally get nitrogen packed in most commercial brands was discussed and then he finally got down to how one should brew the perfect cup.

Now, I do not know if it was the stages involved in brewing the perfect cup or the fact that I brewed a cup step by step the way it was reiterated to me – but there is something meticulous about brewing tea the right way which finally satiates your senses, mind and body like how fine wine would.

A coincidence that recently I should get a whole bag of flavored teas from one of the finest tea estates in Sri Lanka, which got me tearing open a box of Jasmine Tea and getting down to brewing my own little tea cup the connoisseurs way.

I started off by pulling out a small cottage shaped curio ceramic teapot which was the only ceramic teapot I had and coincidentally from Sri Lanka! (yes, the first thing one should do while on an attempt to make tea is to get a teapot which is ceramic) and proceeded to the first step in tea making.

The teapot, well washed and free of any out worldly smells is to be warmed. Now we can, of course, not warm it over a flame or in the oven, so the warming of the pot is done by pouring hot boiling water into the pot, closing the lid and pouring out the water through the spout in about four minutes.



The tea is then spooned into the hot pot to a ratio of one spoon per person and one small extra for the pot. The lid is closed and the tea should be given a minute for the natural heated vapors to soak in. This step ensures that the leaves are gently made accustomed to the heat they would be subject to in the next few minutes and more so in getting the natural oils and flavors (in case of flavored teas) activated for the final brewing.

Warm water is brought out, to be sure its not boiling, and then poured gently into the tea pot. At this point, once the lid is closed, you must not shake, stir or touch the brew, but leave it to settle for not more than 5 to 7 minutes depending on how strong you would like your brew. 5 minutes is an excellent time for flavored teas whereas 7 for other high-ended pure teas.






The tea is then strained out carefully into individual cups, take in the sweet aroma, drop in a cube of sugar to sweeten things up and you are set to enjoy the perfect cuppa. For pure teas you can add milk or cream as per personal preference.






Some of the finer points to be noted:

No boiling or zapping the tea into oblivion as you would then be practically burning the leaves and having a mish mash of bitter flavors

No re-heating should be done – as this method is only for instant drinking and meant to be that way

No using boiling water when commencing with the actual brewing

Time bound and precision inspired, as only then will you enjoy the real and actual flavors

The steps for the perfect brew can be used for any tea possibly made by mankind



This way you'd be proud of the fact that it’s a world of difference making it the way it’s actually supposed to be made. Try it one fine day when you have all the time in the world, I assure you, its nothing less than a relaxing spa treatment.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Down & Dirty

I was always intrigued and in awe of the word “Martini”. As a kid (all thanks to James Bond) I thought that’s the proper cocktail for a man. Dad was a whiskey drinker, others had Pilsner and the ladies always had a Bloody Mary? But the lure of movies is such that I always felt when I was old enough to have “adult” drinks it would start with a Martini. (A fine example of my upbringing you might think, what with other kids my age having aspirations of being a pilot, architect or doctor); anyway no judgmental views here.

My first tryst with a Martini was a complete let down. I might have just turned 16, fresh out of school and into college and our gang of buddies decide to go to a night club (in the afternoon, yes, those were the days). Money was limited so a round of beers was ordered and those who were experienced started confidently swigging. I, being the experimental kind and a little extra cash on hand (all due to the excitement of a night club! Teens, I tell you) went up to the bar and ordered a Martini (yes, yes, I used the cheesy line – shaken not stirred) and got a Martini for sure, in a Martini glass, but, wait for it – it was horrendously bitter, strong as hell and surprisingly warm? I thought to myself, it’s no wonder Dad takes to Whiskey.

Though it never occurred to me at that time that anyone could mess up a drink, especially a simple Martini, I was determined to find out the right recipe.

I have definitely come a long way from the Blue Riband® Gin and Cinzano® Vermouth days. The Cinzano® remains my all time favorite as dry vermouth, but I have conveniently shifted over to Bombay Sapphire®, it being easily available in most wine stores nowadays.

The deep colored and rich turquoise blue bottle instantly reminds you of a serene and calm blue sea and the gin somewhat relates to the dryness of the hot sand; the age old recipe of this gin comprises of ten of the most carefully select botanical ingredients which are distilled to perfection to reveal its true flavor making it a wonderfully crisp and balanced spirit. Of course, this Gin when mixed up with Dry Vermouth – makes a perfect Martini.



There are many kinds of Martinis, the quintessential being Dry Martini with its posh slightly briny flavor and pimento stuffed olive garnish. The Dirty Martini takes the cake with a little bit of olive juice to the mix while stirring it up (and of course 3 olives to make it murkier, hence the name Dirty Martini) and my favorite – the Lemon Drop Martini.

The recipes floating around as also mixed up in most bars use Vodka and Cointreau as the alcoholic base. I like things the classic way and have tweaked the classic martini a bit. The lemon drop martini I stir up is a heavenly bouquet of Gin, Sweet Vermouth and of course sour lemon. I am sure you too will not be able to resist it.

Ingredients:

60ml Bombay Sapphire Gin
30ml Sweet Vermouth (Cinzano)
1 tsp Lemon Juice  
A Lemon Rind (twirled) for garnish
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Cracked Ice
Alternately you can use the Martini® Brand Mix instead of Vermouth

I like this drink shaken, so I usually put all of the ingredients except the garnish and Bitters in a shaker filled with cracked ice. You can throw in the squeezed lemon for good measure. Shake it for a good half a minute and strain into a Chilled Martini Glass. I then add a drop of Angostura® Bitters and am set to garnish and serve.


I’ll share with you a little trick for the garnish. Before adding the lemon rind hold it over the drink filled glass with tongs, with a lit matchstick or a lighter, lightly brush the flame onto the length of the rind for a second or so, ensure that you do not burn the rind and drop it straight into the drink.

This method releases the citrus oils in the rind and when it falls into the chilled drink, the oils spread and impart a strong and sharp flavor instantly.

Try this drink on a hot summer evening, I am sure you wont regret downing it in gulps (hangover can go fish!)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Of 3 Eggs and a Little Wine

I always look forward to leftovers. Maybe it’s just a fetish and somehow I look forward to them every single time I open the refrigerator to decide what I am going to cook up. This Sunday was no different. Dreary eyed and slightly hungover from the night before, I dragged myself out of bed to hydrate and fill up.

A couple of glasses of chilled water and a hot shower later, feeling pine fresh, I decided to warm myself up to an indulgent breakfast. I checked out the ingredients I had and found:

3 eggs
Leftover Spinach and Corn casserole
A Tomato
A glass of Bio-White Wine (I’ll get to this in a while)
Few Slices of Bread
An intact Tin of Cheddar

As I sat there wondering that I could easily scramble that egg, top it over toast and zap the casserole and make it a quick meal followed by a swig of alcohol to cure the hangover (they say the best cure for a hangover is … another one?). I thought to myself, I am not in some frat house after a drunken night of revelry. I am in my home, a fine Sunday morning, after a late night dinner and incoherent babble with too many whiskey sours followed by Bio-Wine and finally losing consciousness on my cozy bed. So I had decided to make my lunch a little more exotic.


I got down to making what I call ... Leftover's Omelet (random, but well, cant call it just Omelet)

I love omelets on any given day, preferably as a breakfast food and a definite addition to Sunday morning meals. This time with 3 eggs in hand and the leftover casserole. A combination of these two was inevitable.

The typical version we are used to is with onions and chillies  This one turned out exotic enough, with it being stuffed with spinach casserole and the tomato. The casserole I had whipped up the night before contained a simple mix of white sauce, sweet yellow corn and spinach baked to perfection with a layer of crusty browned cheese.

I usually make omelets the quick way by torpedoing the eggs in a large vessel with a hand blender, but if you want to have a fluffy omelet with all its random layers intact and the filling which stays “a filling” and not mixed up with the layers, then you have go to whip it the traditional way – with a wire whisk or a fork. So 3 eggs into the mixing bowl and whisking away to glory, I ensure the yellows and the whites are well incorporated with whisk created air. Add salt to taste and whisk a couple of times more.

Mash up a small bowl of the leftover casserole with a fork, chop the tomato and separate the seeds, add to the casserole.

Heat a non-stick omelet pan on low and drop a spoon of butter. Swirl the butter till it coats the surface of the pan, carefully pour the whisked egg mix and do not shake the pan. The egg will find its way to the edges and settle down. Do not worry if the mix looks watery, looks can be deceptive and this is exactly what it’s supposed to look like. (Thumb rule of the making omelets – no fluff in the beginning if you want it fluffy in the end).

Turn up the heat to medium and with a knife, run the edges of the pan with a scoop of butter till it melts generously into the sides of the omelet. Spread the filling of casserole and tomato on one side of the omelet, sprinkle cheese and pepper if you like followed by finely chopped chillies and lots of parsley.

Once you are done with the filling step you will notice the edges of the omelet browning, this is the cue to start your folding process.

Now folding and omelet is no mean feat, there are different kind of folds a person tosses up judging by the personality of the person

Impatient: Just tosses / flips the omelet and cooks it both sides and digs in

Irritable: Tries his level best to fold it as a perfect package, but ends up breaking it halfway through due to high heat and slow folding process, loses it and slaps it onto his plate the nicer side up and digs in.

Lazy: Folds it any which way possible, most of the time manages it, does not care and gives up, landing up with half side cooked and half undercooked. Eats it anyway thinking its good for his body as the gym instructor suggests you should include raw eggs in your daily intake.

All of the above: A perfect combination, because if you are attempting to do this the first time – this is exactly what you will feel while folding an omelet.  

Coming back to the folding process, easier said than done, you have got to notice the edges of the omelet, if you see them slightly browned immediately lift one side of the omelet (doesn’t matter which side, remember – it is round). The middle of the omelet should be partially liquid the bottom light yellow but slightly undercooked and the edges slightly browned. Fold an edge till it reaches the middle part of the omelet while keeping it pressed lightly with your spatula. Toss some butter on the exposed pan area, and tilt the pan towards the side you are folding. By this time the folded part should have stuck to the middle of the omelet. Remove the spatula and shove it underneath the side of omelet with the exposed part of the pan, with a swift flick fold it over till the opposite edge, keep it pressed and you are set with a perfectly folded omelet.

You can now relax, and toss it around as much as you would like it browned adding more butter if required. I like mine well done so I overdo the butter and browning process but you can ideally remove it after one toss in the pan. Served hot with hot buttered toast and chunks of cheddar.

Certain rules you should follow
*do not overstuff
*do not let it cook too much before folding
*don’t add water, milk and the other additions you hear about to make your omelet fluffier.
*the key is in the continuous whisking, low temperatures and correct timing.

You are wondering where the Bio-Wine features here, well since a perfectly good wine should not go waste and the fact that there was no orange juice in the house, a tangy, refreshing, chilled drink is a perfect accompaniment to an omelet dish.

I had opened up a bottle of this so called Bio-Wine gifted to me by close associates the night before. It is brewed in India under the brand name “Shara” and contains aloe Vera. Odd, but the chenin blanc version tastes super and is mildly sweet and smooth (ridiculously smooth due to the aloe) and the best part – its healthy.

Though I did not want to have any more concentrated alcohol and could really do with something lemony, decided to throw together a few ingredients for a Spritzer.

Spritzer’s are diluted cocktail versions of wine and we usually associate themselves with brunches. The next time you have a hoard of people over and not enough wine to go around, whip up this delicious cocktail to lure the senses and save the trouble of frantic wine ordering on the phone.









Ingredients:
1/4th glass of wine for every glass
Lemon Slices
Sugar Syrup (avoided if using extra sweet wine)
Mint Leaves
Lemon Fizz Drink or Soda

Pour the wine into a wine glass till 1/4th full. Add the lemon slices and chopped mint. Top with a handful of crushed ice followed by a little sugar syrup and soda/fizzy drink. Serve immediately.