Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top Naught

This is how a conversation, which I overheard, at a high end mall between two P.Y.T.'s in their early 20's went.

P.Y.T. No.1 wearing a form fitting white shirt, gold charm bracelet, leather boots and matching belt, Calvin Klein's white washed jeans and Jackie O sunglasses perched over her head

P.Y.T. No. 2 summer dress in sky blue, high heeled sandals, swinging, what could probably be a Louis Vuitton limited edition bag, sunglasses to shy a bumble bees eyes, also perched over her perfectly coiffed hair

- Animatedly walking the talk and eyeing each and every store in site with their piercing stare and not a care in the world.

P.Y.T. No. 1: Passing by the Ed Hardy Store: Dahlin' dont you think Christian (as in Christian Audigier by his 1st name) should be a little more mellow in his designs, I mean come on this (pointing to a rack displaying the latest designs) does not suit the Indian body at all and only a few (at that moment she stops by a mirror and looks at herself, smirks) can carry it off. 

P.Y.T. No.2: I know, he is hilarious (sic), what in the world made him think his stuff would sell out here and worse off (pointedly staring at a women in her 40's, wearing a salwar kameez and browsing through the tee rack at the store) to people like that. 

P.Y.T. No.1: Totally, no wonder I prefer the streets of Milan to this god forsaken place, damn not one thing in sight which I like, so yesterday. 

P.Y.T. No. 2: Let's go next week, I think Ill convince daddy to make reservations at Four Season's, it's been long since he has given me anything, anyway.

I stood there quite transfixed while they made their way around the mall scoffing everything and everyone in sight. What I do not understand, why come here at all?

We all live in some sort of a rose tinted platinum lined bubble, things don't always need to be so in your face and pretentious. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not against brands, or things which are classified as uber luxury, I too endorse a couple of them for my own liking. When you wear a Gucci or the new pair of moccasins from Bally, and if someone ask's / exclaims - "nice shoes", the least you can do is not burst out saying "ohhh, they are bally's". I personally feel these apparels, accessories etc. are meant to be enjoyed by the person who has bought it and not flaunted. Period.

Same goes for food, I have seen so many dishes being primed, propped, defined luxurious, but if they remain understated, that's when they truly bring out their true flavours. The joy of ordering gourmet is as much as is in eating it quietly (equivalent to loud burps, belches and other non-mentionables).

One of the most understated foods is soup, as much as you may add the fanciest of ingredients, the best of vegetables, sauces etc. the humble broth, world over, keeps you satisfied, filled, hearty, warm and cozy. It can be made fancy yet look simple, or remain simply clear with fresh veggies and look divine. It's one of the most uncomplicated, no-nonsense dish in the world.

We all love our Tomato Soup, my search for the perfect Tomato Soup has not yet ceased and I still crave to find the humblest yet tasty Tomato Soup, world over. Though, today I'll share with you my favourite recipe, tried, tested, tasted a hundred times over, and it can come up to a certain level of flavour which I can boast of as - perfect.


8-9 Large, Firm Red Tomatoes
1 small Onion (chopped finely)
2 cloves of Garlic (peeled)
2 Bay Leaves / All Spice (Fresh)
3-4 Basil Leaves
1 tablsp Fresh Celery (chopped)
5-6 Whole Peppercorns
2 tablsp Butter
1 tsp Olive Oil
1 tablsp Parsley / Coriander
1 tsp Sugar
Salt to taste
Cream to garnish

Take a large pot with about 4 cups of water and keep to boil. Add the tomatoes, whole, the peppercorns, celery and bay leaves. In another small vessel, heat the olive oil, once heated slightly, add the garlic cloves, whole and stir around till slightly browned. Be careful not to burn it. Dunk the garlic-oil mix into the simmering tomato mix. Simmer till the tomato skin breaks apart. Remove from heat, strain (keeping some water in reserve), and remove the bay leaves. Puree the mix adding a bit of water if too thick.

In a soup pot, heat a tablsp of butter and add the onions, stir till translucent and fragrant. add the rest of the spices and seasoning's, except the parsley/coriander and give it a quick stir. Pour the prepared soup with a cup of reserved water and simmer uncovered, on low, for about 15 minutes. Check for salt and Serve hot or transfer to individual bowls.

To add a bit of fine desi tadka:
In a vessel, heat the balance spoon of butter, add the parsley / coriander and stir fry for few minutes. Top on the soup before serving with a swirl of cream and its ready to be devoured.

Hope this is one dish you cherish no matter whether you are eating it at a Michelin star restaurant or in the comfort of your own home. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Boiling Point

Its strange how people in general have their stress limits varying to different polarities, every individual is built in such a way that if and when faced with the realities of life, comes to term with it in his or her own imitable style. Of course, there are the exceptions, when pushed over the edge, but that’s a different ball game altogether.

We all have our “boiling point’. Our actions, reactions, state of mind, emotional quotient amongst others act as a rein. Now, if only handling real life problems was as easy as dipping a wooden spoon in an overflowing pot of boiling water.

There is one thing which we all scuttle too amidst all the dissonances we go through and that is our own individualistic comfort zone in which, food features right at the apex. These comfort foods are always on the menu and are temptingly characterized by ones own liking.

Foods which are filling, high in flavor, taste and in the barging bring about a sense of calmness and excitement to the senses feature on the list of comfort foods. My personal favorite (and I am sure a lot of others will agree too) is Pasta.

A pasta dish which is hearty, filling, easy to whip up and high on taste (and yes, sometimes fat too) is a perfect antidote to a particularly exasperating day. I will share with you a common pasta dish, which you can all relate to and love - The quintessential Penne in Alfredo Sauce.

Alfredo, commonly a cheesy, creamy sauce is versatile enough to be combined with any kind of pasta, be it ravioli, fettuccine, and in this case penne.


2 cups - Penne
Water to boil

Alfredo Sauce:

1 cup Milk
1 tsp Wheat Flour
1 stick (100gms) Butter
200gms Heavy Cream
1/4 cup Cream Cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese (Kraft grated can be used)
3-4 cloves Garlic (Grated)
1 tablsp Chilli Flakes
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Cook the pasta in boiling water and salt till al-dente. Drain, toss some olive oil and keep aside.

In another pan, mix the cream, butter and cream cheese and simmer on low heat for five minutes. remove in a bowl and add a dollop of butter in the same pan. Flash fry the garlic, add the flour and give it a quick stir. Mix in milk, add turn the heat up. Immediately add the cream mixture and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.

Once simmering, turn the heat back to low, toss in the pasta and serve hot.

You can add all or any of these ingredients stir fried in butter and basil

Sliced Carrots
Bell Peppers
Diced Onions

Add a spoon of butter in a pan on a low flame, stir fry the vegetables and toss with salt and pepper. Add a few shredded Basil leaves and toss into the pasta.

Enjoy with a glass of white wine to de-stress!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Choc A Block

Addiction to anything is a rule by nature. We are such complex beings that making a habit out of something is our birthright, and in a way it works out fine, because this way you always have a fall back in case you are not yourself. Every person has a fix, be it chocolates, alcohol, mint, music, smokes, etc. and some people are spontaneous addicts.

I am a spontaneous addict. If I crave something, I need it at that very moment. A simple example, a lot of people know I am not a chocolate fan, but not a lot of people know, that when I indulge, it continues inexorably for over a week, indulgence to its maximum till I am actually filled to the brim with chocolates and I never want to see or smell anything remotely close to cocoa.

A similar spontaneity situation arose the today, and I had an unexplainable urge to have Irish coffee. I like my Irish coffee with a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Now, as usual, when you want something so bad, you always seem to be out of it. I brazenly picked my keys and drove off to my local liquor store to purchase it. As you may have guessed, it was out of stock, I went to a not so local liquor store and they too were out. I was in agony with the thought of no Irish coffee the way I liked it and had half a mind to visit the nearest hotel and pick up my fix. Just when I had given up all hopes and driving a beeline to The Hyatt I saw an advertisement which boasted of a chocolate flavored vodka. I faintly recollected a bottle right at the back of my collection which I had picked up a while ago and never bothered to open. My talent juices acted up and I had thought up an excellent brew which, I felt, would ape the Bailey’s to the “T”.

I reached back home, positively shaking (with excitement at my discovery or a kickback of not getting my fix, ill never be able to tell), and whipped out the ingredients I needed and settled back to make what I assumed would satisfy my urge.

I give you a cocktail version of the concoction I made up, and you can use it the next time you brew yourself a cup of coffee. I’ll leave the Irish coffee recipe for some other time as I am still gloating over my Bailey’s piracy.  


1 shot of Chocolate Flavored Vodka (‘Remix’ in India)
1 cup Vanilla Ice-Cream
1 drop Vanilla Essence
1 tsp Caramel Flavored Syrup
Ice as required

Chocolate Sauce
Cocoa Powder

In a blender combine the ice-cream, essence, syrup, ice and a shot of Vodka and give it a good whip till smooth.

Take the cocktail glass, and with your fingers, rub the rim of the glass with chocolate syrup. Dip the rim in cocoa and stand upright. Pour a spoon of chocolate sauce haphazardly onto the insides of the glass.

Proceed by pouring out the vanilla–vodka mix carefully straight in the middle of the glass and serve immediately.

This recipe may not beat the real Bailey’s but it certainly is lighter on the stomach and calories (as no excess sugar or heavy cream is used) and you might just land up having a couple of glasses more.  

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Serious ... Black

The weather plays truant at the oddest of time. It rains when I don't want it to, and it doesn't when I want it to. The rains also bring out the weirdest pangs in you. You definitely make it a point to indulge in road side chaat even though your mother banned you with her right hand over her heart (but gives in when your pangs take over followed by a bout of uncontrollable drooling). Another thing, highly irrational in the rain, is golas or ice candy. No matter how the vendor drags the gunny wrapped block of ice halfway across the street, the same street where countless people walk, spit, and do other unmentionables. No matter how rusty the pick with which he cracks a chunk to slap over his creaky ice shaving machine. No matter how grotesque the vibrant colours look of the 100% synthetic syrup he pours over the shaved iced delight. You still devour it like mana from heaven.

Now that I have officially squashed every Indian's childhood dreams, I'll make it up by sharing with you a recipe I concocted whilst having a candid rendezvous with my favourite Kala Khatta at the beach. I picked up a Kala Khatta concentrate from a nearby general store (Kala Khatta is basically a syrup made from the juice of a fruit called Jamun and is also called the Indian blackberry or the Java plum) which inspired this all-dark alcoholic drink and also gave it that street side grunge.


1 part Grey Goose/Smirnoff Vodka
1 Lime (Juiced)
1 part Kala Khatta Syrup
Shaved Ice
Slice of Lime, Mint & Chaat Masala or Black Salt / Sea Salt & Pepper to Garnish

Pour vodka in a margarita glass till it fills the bulb, top with shaved ice. In a shaker combine the Kala Khatta Syrup with Lime Juice and give it a good shake. Pour carefully over the shaved ice. Garnish with a Slice of Lime, Mint and serve sprinkled with a bit of Chaat Masala / Black Salt / Sea Salt & Pepper. 

Alternatively, you can rim the glass with lime and dip the edge in any of the above seasoning's. I am sure you will make this year round, and all in the confines of your spick and span kitchen.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Getting Fresh at Home

As the title suggests, this had nothing to do with the sutra of flirting but the fact that I am grounded at home on a Sunday, banned by my surgeon to step out of the house lest I make unnecessary use of my eye (yes, I did undergo eye surgery on a nice Friday afternoon, and she punned royally with that statement of her - feisty !) and no, it's perfectly alright for me to sit in front of the computer with a break every 15 minutes.

I too am not allowed to cook, but I begged and pleaded and the doctor pitied my plight and gave me these huge plastic goggles which resemble a welders mask, but its a fair trade, as I get to do what I best like to do on a Sunday, especially since I have nothing better do.

Coming back to my attempt for the day, I love to reminisce about an oft made Gujarathi staple - Sambharia, its a typical dish which one could call home cooked and tastes like what your Mom would dish out or pack for you, complete with all the love and affection thrown in for free. Of course, all you non-Gujarathis might be savouring this dish at various restaurants specializing in Thalis, but you could make this right in your own kitchen, any-time.

The dish consists of garden fresh vegetable, available world around, a special masala which is used as a stuffing and then cooked together over low heat allowing the vegetable and masala to get fresh in their simmering hot tub... Alright back to earth !

The original recipe is quite simple and one dimensional but this version adds a bit of kick with garlic, spices, tang and a dash of sugar to sweeten things up. Spicy, covert & a hint of home - it will leave you craving for more.

You may use any four - or all for the matter depending on your liking

Capsicum (Green Bell Pepper)
Baby Onions
Baby Brinjals
Cabbage Leaves
Lady Fingers (Bhindi)


1 cup Dessicated Coconut
1/2 cup Gram Flour (Channe Ka Atta)
1 Lemon (juice)
6 cloves Garlic (grated)
1 tsp Turmeric Powder
1 tsp Chilli Powder
1 tablsp Coriander-Cumin Powder (Dhania-Jeera)
1/4 cup Coriander (finely chopped)
1 tsp Mango Powder (Amchur)
1 tablsp Sugar
1 tablsp Green Chillies (finely chopped)
Salt to taste

4 tablsp - Oil
1 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 tsp Asafoetida (Hing)

Prepare the vegetables by washing througly and then wiping dry with a cloth. With a knife, slit a cross on the top of the potatoes, capsicums (de-seeded), onions, brinjals, alternately make a slit in the lady fingers on one side, the cabbage leave can be kept as is.

Prepare the Masala by combining the coconut with the flour and coriander and salting it, mix well and add the rest of the ingredients except the oil, mixing thoroughly and adding a tsp of oil, you should get a coarse mix, so ensure you do not mix with the palms of your hands as though binding dough. check for salt and sweetness and keep aside.

Lift the stuffing with your fingers and carefully stuff the slit vegetables. Place a little stuffing on a cabbage leaf and roll. Keep a little stuffing aside to be used later.

Heat the remaining oil in a deep bottomed vessel, add the mustard seeds and wait for them to splutter, ad the asafoetida (hing) and place the stuffed potatoes at the bottom, followed by the Brinjals, onions, and the rest of the vegetables, except the cabbage rolls. Cover the vessel with a lid (ideally a plate with sides), turn the heat to medium low and pour half a cup of water on the lid. Once the water on the lip evaporates lift the lid and toss the vegetables with a large flat spoon, ensuring not to break the vegetables and the stuffing.

Sprinkle the balance stuffing and the cabbage rolls on top of the vegetables and cover once again and let cook  on low for another fifteen minutes. Check if the potatoes are done by piercing with a fork, once these fork goes in clean and the potatoes are soft the vegetable is ready to be served.

Serve hot with Rotis, Phulkas or Rice.  

Friday, July 02, 2010

Freeze Italy

A couple of years ago I was in the US of A for a short while. I stayed with Family and Friends right from the West Coast to the East Coast. I got a glimpse into their lifestyle, eating habits, culture - all in one go. An excellent experience which has been etched into my memory for years to come.

Being a person who cooks and being an in-house guest, it was an exciting time for the various families who were kind enough to take me in, to request my culinary skills which were to be put in use in their kitchens. USA being a wonderland for all things "kitchen" was an exhilaration time for me too and I was looking forward to try out cooking in a different country and a different kitchen. From barbecues in an actual backyard barbecue to pizzas from scratch, from cocktails in a well stocked bar to beer from tap, it was all culinary heaven. I picked up useful tips from typical American households which come in use even now.

The one thing I learnt was storing food, In America, a lot of emphasis is on stocking up refrigerators, freezers and cabinets with a lot of ready to (h)eat dishes. Sauces plays an important part in American cuisine, as this is one cuisine which is absolutely undemanding of time and easy if you have the right ingredients, hands on. Pasta and Salad being a staple in most homes, it continuously demanded innovation.

Arrabbiata Sauce being my favorite, and I am sure, a favorite with people world around. It did not take me long to figure out a simple yet delicious recipe for Arrabbiata Sauce, using fresh and canned local ingredients. It is to be made in bulk, set in freeze containers and frozen for use as and when needed. It turned out to be quite a hit with the hosts, they have access to pasta in a jiffy without having to depend on ready to heat cans/bottles of sauces available in supermarkets.

This popular Roman sauce combines the richness of fresh tomatoes, with the sauciness of canned tomato puree, hints of garlic and spicy chilli to replicate the typical Arrabbiata. Originally and contrary to the popular belief that basil should be used in anything remotely connected to Italy, in Arrabbiata, no basil is used. Of course, it does add a nice touch to the finished sauce and you may do with or without it. This sauce can be made back in any home, world around, too. The ingredients, though modified country-wise, ensure there is no compromise on the taste. This recipe is simple enough for a novice to follow yet professional enough to pass off as authentic.

We start off with taking about twelve firm and large tomatoes, washed and kept aside. Heat a large pot of water. Once its simmering, drop the tomatoes in the water and cook till the skin starts breaking. Drain the water in a separate bowl (you need to retain the water for the sauce) and spoon out the tomatoes carefully in a plate. Once cooled a bit, skin the tomatoes with your hands, the peel will come off easily. Splice and puree all the tomatoes in the mixer. You may retain a couple of tomatoes and chop them fine for a chunkier sauce.


Fresh Tomato Puree (as illustrated above)
One Large Can of Tomato Puree (2 Lbs) or 2 Packs of Tomato Concentrate Puree (Kissan, Godrej etc.)
2 Large - White Onions,chopped finely
8-10 pcs of Garlic - peeled and grated
1 tsp Dried Celery / Grated Fresh Celery
1 tablsp Cilantro / Coriander
1/2 Lemon - Juice
1 tablsp - chilli flakes
1 tsp - Your favourite mixed dried herbs / oregano
1 tablsp - chilli oil (optional)
3-4 Basil Leaves (optional)
1 tablsp Sugar
1/4 cup Ketchup
Salt and Pepper to taste

Proceed by heating two spoons of olive oil in a large pot, do not wait for it to smoke, within a few minutes add the onions and sweat on low till evenly translucent, turn up the heat, add a dash of olive oil and add the garlic, stir on high till the garlic and onions are aromatic, but do not brown. Add the sugar, stir and quickly add the fresh tomato puree and turn the heat to low. Simmer for a about 25 minutes, alternately adding a spoon of water (the water in which the tomatoes were simmered). You should be done once the simmered water is halved. This is an important step, as you go on heating the sauce, it releases water and needs to be replenished to maintain its consistency.

Proceed by adding the concentrate a cup at a time and the ketchup. turn the heat to a medium high and simmer. Be careful of splattering due to the quantity and the heat. Simmer for another half hour (again making use of simmered tomato water in case the sauce is turning too thick), add the lemon juice, cilantro/coriander, herbs, salt, pepper and chilli flakes. If using the chilli oil and basil, add it at this point too. Simmer on low heat for another fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt and leave under a fan to cool.

To Store: Spoon out in a freezer proof container and freeze for over a month.  

To use: Scrape and Scoop out a cup or two, depending on the number of people (1 cup is good enough for 4 people), thaw out naturally or in the microwave for a few minutes. You can enjoy this with virtually any pasta (and dont forget the wine), be it - Penne, Spaghetti, Ravioli or Linguine. Eat your hearts out and experiment with your favorite condiments such as peppers, olives, cheese, onions, chicken, vegetables... the list goes on.

Incidentally, this freeze is a definite must have for all you "stay alone" people. You wont regret stocking this in your freezer 24 x 7