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. 


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.

1 French Loaf (Sliced thickly)
1 clove garlic (minced)
2 tablsp Sesame Seed oil (you can use olive oil)

Crispy Spinach Topping
3 large bunches Spinach (washed, dried and chopped into thing strands)
1 tablsp Sesame Seeds (Til)
1 Green Chili Sliced
1 tsp Sesame Oil (Or Olive Oil)
1 tablsp of – powdered sugar, salt and white pepper (mixed)
Oil for frying

Spicy Mushroom and Tofu Topping
6 white button mushrooms finely chopped
6 Babycorn – sliced diagonally into roundels
100gms – Tofu, cut into small squares
4-5 cloves – sliced garlic
2 tablsp Light Soy Sauce
1 tsp Celery chopped finely (optional)
1 tsp Red Chili paste
A sprinkle of five spice powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

Mix the garlic and oil and keep aside (the longer it is kept the better it is)
Place the slices of bread on an oven proof tray and spread some garlic oil onto each slice.
Place under a grill and toast till lightly crisped.

For the spinach topping
Heat oil in a deep bottomed vessel and add half a bunch of spinach strands in the oil. Make sure you don’t add too much as the hot oil tends to spill over the sides if not in a deep enough vessel. Deep fry till the color changes to a dark green. Remove with a slotted spoon over layers of absorbent paper napkins. Fry all the spinach, this should leave you with about 1½ cups of fried spinach leaves.

In a wok, heat a little oil, toss in the chilies and sesame seeds, when the seeds crackle toss in the spinach and toss around, remove and sprinkle generously with the sugar-salt-pepper powders. Keep aside.

For the Spicy Mushroom and Tofu Topping
In a small wok, heat the oil till smoky, throw in the garlic and almost immediately add the mushrooms, after a quick stir add the rest of the vegetables. Toss around with the soy sauce followed by the chili sauce. Remove and sprinkle some five spice powder and keep aside.

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. 

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.


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

Slice the garlic, lengthwise as thin as you can. I usually use a manual slide chopper to get paper thin slices, but it works as good with a sharp knife.

Fold a square of foil from all the sides to have 1/2 inch standing edges. Spread the slices of garlic in one layer on the foil, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Pop into an oven with a overhead grill function on the topmost level of the grill. Grill for five minutes or a little more till the edges of the garlic brown (they brown pretty quickly so keep an eye on the dish). Remove and cool, use as desired.

Another method of making roasted garlic and the less tedious and common way is to peel the papery thin outer layers of a full head of garlic, leaving the final skin intact. Chop the tip by about 2mm from the top in one swift slice of a sharp knife, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and pop it whole into an oven. You can bake this till well browned on the top and remove to peel and use as required. This gives you a softer roasted garlic and can be used in many dishes such as soups and sauces.

Though I like the paper thin crispy version better. I leave it to you to decide which suits you the best.   I love these by itself, on pizzas, as a topping on pastas and salads and to an extent even with my daily rice and dal. A little overwhelming, but then again - no one stopped you from indulging in the simple things of life.