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.

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

Powdered Brown Sugar
Butane Torch (Optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 240C with the low rack inside, if baking immediately (read recipe for optional step).

In a non-stick pan, pour the cream and keep on a low flame to simmer, stirring continuously till steaming, but not boiling.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the granulated sugar (and vanilla if used) till well incorporated and a runny paste. While still whisking start pouring in the cream with a thin stream. Go on whisking lightly till all the cream is all poured and you have a thick pasty but consistent liquid.

Prepare the ramekins (the one I have used here is the perfect size for the recipe given) by pouring in the cream and egg mix. Cool and cover with a foil and place in the refrigerator overnight. This is an optional step as this gets you best results, but I have tried baking it immediately and it works just fine, except the overnight one turns out to be well set.

Prepare the water basin, by placing the cream filled ramekin in a aluminium pan with tall edges. Pour warm water slowly in the pan till it reaches half way up to the ramekin. Place the pan in the pre heated oven and bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Check for done-ness by simply wobbling the pan lightly, the top of the crème brûlée should be like sponge and the middle should wobble slightly.    

Take out from the oven, remove from water basin and place the ramekin on a rack to cool. Chill for a few hours before the final prep.

For the grande finale:

Sprinkle some fine ground brown sugar like a thin film on the top of the baked crème brûlée and torch with a butane chef's torch till the sugar starts caramelizing. You should have a nice thin and crunchy layer of sugar over the soft custard base. Enjoy it as is.

Alternately, you can spread the sugar and pop under your oven grill (top rack) or your broiler to get the same effect. I have, of course, used a butane chef's torch (which I sneakily use for various other quick fix's) to caramelize the sugar but the caramel in oven turns out as good.

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.


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.


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.


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.