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

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.

(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.