Sunday, March 06, 2011

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Bon Appetite !

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Checkered Cravings

I woke up early one morning to find the house unleashed with a flurry of activities. A quirky buzz with a thwack kept resounding over my head which I realized was my 2 year old niece whacking a pillow which was dangerously close to my head with the mosquito buzzer. I was inches away from being mildly electrocuted when I managed to snatch the buzzer away from her and being wide awake, it dawned on me – it was D-Day. It was my sibling’s engagement day and the house was full of my family & extended family, cheerily going about how one should on an occasion-day. The room was of course a mess with me having more cousin sisters than brothers so it was a lot more clothes (pink everywhere), make-up, towels and hair dryers contrary to cigars, empty liquor glasses and bottles and hooka apparatus in case I had more male family members than female.

I managed to wade my way through the sea of pinks to find more pinks in the living room. Pink wrapping paper, pink boxes, pink ribbons and a reel of pink cloth which I later realized was for stringing along a canopy like structure in the lawn where the decorations and activities were full throttle. I managed to swipe someone’s coffee which was being brought out from the kitchen as I knew I would certainly not get any lest I went and made it myself as my house help was running around in a crazed frenzy as though the king was arriving. My dad taunted me with a “late aren’t we?” snide remark and insisted I get dressed and accompany him for a small errand.

Well I had not taken a four day off from work to laze around. So off I went to find that the errand was to check on some decoration supplies and buy a sari for the maid. Now, seriously! This was getting a bit ridiculous; apparently my Mother had forgotten to bring new clothes for the maid who had been sulking since morning as the male house-help had new trimmings on them. She had conveniently badgered dad into visiting a nearby market to pick up a Sari (Not Green, as that’s what I am wearing, she warned) and dad, having not an inkling of sari shopping conveniently roped me into this for moral support. Another house-help accompanied us and we three set off with the agenda being one sari for the maid. It was indeed a sight to have captured with two men (I refused to get down) alighting from a car outside a non-descript sari store to go pick a random sari. Things went a bit too far when both being undecided on which to pick came up to the car armed with six different designs with a look of utter confusion clouding their faces. I was on the verge of losing it, when thought better of it and pointed to the nearest non-green looking one and we were off.

The day itself went by in a whiz, the sibling was a bit undeterred by the fact that he should be relaxing, aiming at looking good and leaving the arrangements to the rest of the family, instead he was on a trip of his own minding the flower guy, trailing a reel of pink cloth and pointedly expressing his disappointment at the decorators that “it was not the way he expected it”. We were hours away from the occasion and welcoming the fiancĂ© side for the first time into our home, so it was but necessary that arrangements should be top notch. The lights were installed, the bouquets and garlands came in, the caterers were shoved to one side and things were unendingly carrying on. I settled down with the caterer a little before I went back up to get fresh, and he happily thrust a piping hot filter coffee glass into my hands. Muthuswamy our trusted caterer since years never failed to fill us up with his excellent cooking. His manager went on to offer me a plate of fresh idlis and a chaat saying “Saar, you will not be able to enjoy my food later on, you will be too busy attending to your guests and will be tired to even eat later on”. His statement was true to the core and I was surprised that he had adjudged me so well. It was a surprise when he said that he knew me since I was a “baccha” and he was the one who used to come to our house every time they catered, going back to 20 years in time.

I crave for Muthuswamy dishes and somehow am never able to enjoy them when hosting. This gesture Coming from him is what true catering is all about, he knew my weakness for his food and he had ensured that I had my fill a little before the party had actually started.

Speaking about cravings, my extended family was in no mood to excuse me for not cooking up some special dishes for them. They all had insisted that one meal would have to be laid out by me and I had ensured that I would. I dubiously got my way around by selecting breakfast as the meal I would cook and got to making fresh batches of waffles and served them with the freshest fruit amongst home made scones, butter and preserves. Well, no one’s complaining as they all left feeling heartily satisfied.

These waffles are easy to make up last minute and a perfect breakfast dish. You will need to invest in a waffle maker, not a very easy task for me as I had been looking for one all these years and was on the verge of importing it when one fine evening my friend and partner-in-photography eyed one at a local electronic store and picked it up without thinking twice, ensuring that I got the best gift of my life.

For Waffle Batter

2 Large Eggs (Separated)
3/4 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Melted Butter
3/4 cup White Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
3 tablsp Powdered Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Salt

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with milk and butter and keep aside. Ideally chill this mixture.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in another bowl and stir well. Add the egg yolk-milk mixture and stir evenly to get a thick batter.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until well blended but not foamy, fold into the batter till you get a slightly runny batter.

Pour the batter in the waffle iron till it covers the grid area. I like it checkered so I do not fill it all the way till the top, this way I get crispier waffles with checkered holes in them. Close the iron and bake till they are evenly browned while constantly checking the bottom part as that tends to get cooked faster.

Sprinkle over with cinnamon sugar (a little cinnamon powder mixed with superfine sugar), maple syrup or honey and fresh fruits, serve hot. 

You can even add orange zest to the batter to get a zesty kick, or chocolate powder for chocolate waffles (a couple of spoons of cocoa should do the trick). You can even top with with nutella, chocolate sauce or whipped cream with bananas as a quick dessert. 

The engagement went on to be a hit (how could it not) and it is the beginning of a new chapter in my sibling’s and our lives.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sweeten that "Sour Grape"

... and then contentment set in.


How easy it is to be content? I ask myself this question quite often. Scream your lungs out, but you will still have voices around you saying that "it is" not enough. I instantly shun them aside, all within and say "it is", and that's how its going to be.

Life's too short to worry about the quantum of contentment in others, that's if contentment could be measured. I notice a lot of people who are not yet in their happy zone and it stretches to such an extent that they ensure that those who are content and are within their radar are negatively affected too. A clear cut case of sour grapes. Not attainable hence call it sour and mull over it. No one said life was easy but it's the way you look at things that matter the most. If you call something unreasonable, then it is going to be unreasonable. If you are going to call it sour, its definitely going to remain sour, but only for you.

Reach out to that highest branch to grasp the fruit, smile relentlessly all the way through the climb, ignore the bugs, the pests, the thorns and you will come out victorious. The sour grape story teaches us a lesson, fabled or realistic, it does pay to learn and implement it. A theme well thought out, an ingredient which rules this weeks post, the fruit - A Grape.

Grapes may be astringently acrid and acidic but there's a hint of sweetness in them that enraptures your taste buds. A fantastic fruit which we all enjoy and relish, green or red, they are versatile enough to be used in many ways.

A nice recipe, which I relate to sweetening up the sourness in the grape, it urges you too to look at things in a different way.


10-12 Green Grapes
10-12 Red Grapes
1 cup Hung Curd
2 tsp Mustard Paste (freshly made, not the French variety)
A small bunch of Fresh Mint
1 tablsp Coriander leaves finely chopped
1 tsp Honey
A pinch of Cumin
Black Salt & Paprika to taste

Wash & slice the grapes into thin roundels and keep aside.

Beat the hung curd till smooth and add the honey, mustard paste and spices. Mix well and add the mint and coriander. Toss in the grapes and mix well. Let it sit for a while and serve chilled.

Incidentally, a lot of contentment is achieved whenever I am invited to meet with like-minded people. The bloggers who are now a part of my little world, give me great joy in preserving my contentment and making it a lot more stronger. This time we were invited over to Olive with a couple of new bloggers in our tribe (it's growing and I am loving it) and the event hosted by United Breweries Group who introduced us to their range of wines branded as Four Seasons coupled with Olives carefully selected four course meal. The event planners, Melissa & Tara from Grey had planned out a wine degustation and it turned out quite a handful.

Pairing food and wines is an art. A lot many of us (probably including me) do not know the finer nuances of the right pair, but yes, if you do make an attempt and of course, someone with a fine nose and sensitive taste guides you through it, its worth the experience and it leaves an overall sense of nirvana to your taste buds.

In India, the norm is usually not to have alcohol with food. A lot of us have the drinks before dinner and then move on to the meal. The west usually associates a drink with the food. A clearly wise habit considering you are keeping your stomach and blood stream content with the effect of alcohol dimmed by the food which you eat with it. I love having a drink while eating, not only is it fulfilling, but every sip of alcohol refreshes your taste buds to a fresh new feel and makes every bite of your food tastes like its first.

The Sauvignon Blanc with Wine Cured Grape & Goat Cheese Salad

This wine was served with the salad, I had a bit of Four Seasons Rose to begin with when we walked in and the sweetness of the rose was cutting into the flavors of the sauvignon blanc, but surprisingly, a bite into peppery arugula in the salad brought out the flavors of the wine. A clear case of sweetening the sour grapes, dont you think? sometimes its the food which matters too when pairing the wine, and it does wonders to your palate. The creamy goat cheese had a nice silky finish to the slightly biting flavors of the wine.

The Viognier with Baked Fillo - Wrapped Brie

The next pairing was The Viogner. A first timer for me and described as an intense perfume of blossom, dried apricots and peaches. The thin crusty layers of the fillo was quite a treat with a plump filling of brie (a little too much actually) with a drizzle of honey at the base, but The Viogner had its way around the full meaty feel of the dish and left the taste lingering on much after I was done with it.

Rushina of A Perfect Bite who invited us over, had the char-grilled prawns. I was not much in a sea-food mood, but I could see it did make an interesting pairing with The Voigner.

The Merlot & Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with The Chicken Shish Touk

A double whammy for me, I do have a penchant for Merlot and probably veer more towards this grape variety due to its ripe and deep flavors whereas the Cabernet Sauvignon (Their premium ranged Barrique Reserve) borders with a bit of spice hence I was reduced to alternating between both as they had been served together in front of me. Oddly, the juggle between the two was fun as my Chicken which was marinated with an overwhelming taste of cumin was excellent with the subtle yet dark fruit flavors of the Merlot and the saffron rice with which the chicken came along with went perfectly well with the Cabernet Sauvignon. Alternating between a subtle wine to a fiery dish and a rich full bodied wine with something light, is a good pairing.

The Blush Cocktail with Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee / Wild Berry Cheesecake

Dessert wines are a fledgeling introduction in India, considering we Indians do have a sweet palate to go with, I am quite surprised that dessert wines are not widely advertised or served around here. The Blush Cocktail was a heady concoction of Four Seasons Blush with Cointreau (again my favourite liqueur) and Strawberries and I did catch a piece of melon too?

If all that wine dint leave me content, I think I would be kidding myself into believing that lifes good after all !

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fiddling with a Riddle

You poke me in the eye
And my jaws open wide
Paper, Linen or Cloth ….
I Lustily …..

This sing song excited voice jarred me into consciousness early Sunday morning. I took a moment to get my bearings straight when that excited voice, full of charged vigor screamed saying “quick, quick, what is it?” I had no answer and I unconsciously asked for the lines to be repeated again. Meanwhile, my senses had still not kicked in to match the adrenaline charged voice on the other end of my phone and it was rendered futile as I heard another voice pipe up from behind somewhere, this time shouting out “Dustbin”. I chose to shut off my phone and catch up on the leftover forty winks.

I woke up in a few hours with the words still ringing in my head and realized it was for a “Treasure Hunt”, a pre-wedding celebration, organized by a lovely to-be couple who were due to get married in a week’s time. Good friends of my brother and young as young can be. Their revelry and pre-wedding celebrations were justified as they stretched endlessly from one occasion to another, as they could afford to make all this happen all with being a fun bunch who have no rules and are probably what the next generation is made up of, no wonder I saw my sibling shuffling around at 7am on a Sunday morning getting ready to go off on this expedition around town.  

For some odd reason, all I could think of was strawberries, as the words were still fresh in my mind (best way to rote stuff, jar it into your head early morning) because the words eye and lust for some reason registered and connote with strawberries (I have no clue how the rest fits in) excusable considering no one throws a riddle at you on a Sunday morning. It might have popped into my head as it being the season and also my mind not thinking beyond food when in “decipher” mode. I usually get into this mode when I am taking apart dishes and trying to figure out the ingredients, quite complex.

I love seasonal fruits, strawberries being a favorite and considered a fruit associated with passion. The fragrance, the color, the taste, all in all sums up to a delicious experience and if you know how to use it well, it can be quite a versatile ingredient in many dishes. My love for strawberries goes beyond slicing them up on breakfast dishes or adding dollops of cream. I have experimented with it in drinks, in salads and of course, various desserts.

A favorite drink made during the season, as I prefer using fresh strawberries rather than crushes, squashes or jams when making cocktails – is a Daiquiri. Fresh, inhibited & raw flavor of fruit intermingled with a sweet alcohol base, a joy to devour.

This daiquiri is infused with a little basil to bring out the freshness and fruitiness of the strawberry even more. A tad bit of guava is incorporated to make an ultimate and exotic feel to the cocktail. Go ahead and shake this up while the season is on.

(For one cocktail)

1 shot White Rum
4 fresh strawberries hulled and halved
3 tablsp Guava pulp
1 leaf Basil
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1 tablsp Powdered Sugar
A dash of Cointreau (optional)
Cracked Ice

Chill a margarita glass in the freezer before preparing the cocktail.

Pour the Cointreau in the Guava juice and stir. Pour this mix in the margarita glass till it fills the bulb at the bottom.

In a shaker combine, strawberries, cracked ice (large pieces), sugar, lemon Juice, rum and basil leaf. Give it a good shake and peep in to check if the strawberries are crushed with the ice. If you feel this is a tough nut to crack (or pulp) run a metal pound onto the strawberries and pound for a few minutes. Give it a good shake and pour into a vessel. Remove the basil leaf and blend with a hand blender or mixer till you get a smooth frozen pulp.

(The shaker serves the purpose of infusing the basil flavor into the drink and to not overwhelm the flavor we remove the leaf and then blend the fruit and alcohol together, this step is essential in keeping the base flavors intact)

Pour the pulp onto the guava juice in the margarita glass and serve chilled with a garnish of basil leaf and half a strawberry.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the to-be married couple – hope their commitment is treasured as much as their treasure hunt today!


Sunday, January 02, 2011

The case of the sour onions

The dusk was setting in as I walked home on a chilly evening, strange, considering Mumbai has no extremities in temperatures and the December night being far different from the others; it was not a pleasant walk. I wrapped my muffler a bit tighter around my neck, keeping the chill at bay and warming my hands in my pocket. I noticed that the streets were oddly empty, but guess it was the time as everyone had wrapped up, an intelligent thing to do considering staying out in these temperatures was not something the citizens were used to. The two odd vendors, who were just about packing up, hurriedly gathered their wares and disappeared into a secreted lane. The street lamps flickered and winked in the smog which had settled low and I quickened my pace in the dark lane towards my home.

I had barely closed the door when the lights went out, pitch dark and momentary blinded I scuffled to the corner of my room and drew the curtains to let the splice of moonlight flood the area. Dropping my bag and scooting the shoes under the cupboard, I wondered where the rest of the household members were. I rummaged the old drawer beside my bed and found a used candle, lit it and made my way into the living room. The table was laid out for one; I went into the kitchen, covered dishes lay beside the microwave. I helped myself to the food, cold, as working the microwave would be pointless and I did not have the energy to pour out the food into flame proof pots and pans to re-heat on the gas.

As I sat there tucking away into the salad while I dialed the others who should have been present at home, it struck me that it was the corporate dinner so the members of my family would all be halfway across town. I looked around for the house-help; they seemed to be out of earshot too? Unnatural but I assumed they would be around somewhere. A little while into the meal I heard the door creak, I shouted out and suddenly a figure in white emerged casting a shadow against the candlelight, I nearly toppled over my seat, when it turned out to be one of the house-help. I was slightly relieved but kicked myself for having thought otherwise.

Now that I had help and could relax and eat, I requested that the food be heated. It came piping hot accompanied with my usual plate of freshly sliced onions, just the way I liked them – chilled and thinly sliced. I bit into one, and the acidic taste hit me like a bolt out of the blue, nearly gagging, I spit it out, at the same time yelling at the house-help as to what had been served. I looked closely and it definitely was a regular looking onion, but sour? He meekly obliged by telling me it nothing was out of the ordinary. I asked him to taste a slice as I have never had sour onions before except when they are pickled. I clearly remember not having any pickled onions at home, so I asked him if he had made a batch and served them to me. Denial came out so quickly, it sounded covered. I was a bit curious to know why he would say they are the usual sliced onions I had everyday – un-salted & un-touched my lemon? He tasted it and passed it off saying they were sour but that’s how some onions turn out to be.

An outright untruth I knew, but with much conviction he foretold a tale about how sour onions would sometimes make their way into the crops and it was a normal occurrence in their village. Odd again, I did not believe him and checked out the refrigerator. No sign of picked onions, I checked out the pantry – again no pickled onions. I went back to my seat and tasted them again. Here they were, sour as sour can be. Now I was a bit paranoid it obviously did not taste like a lemon had been squeezed and it seemed fresh enough to pass of as what I had been told it would be – Sour Onions!

I left them as is when I finished my meal, I certainly knew something was off and it did not seem right. Maybe they were spoiled and I was unsure as to what spoiled onions tasted like. So I let them be. I had barely finished my meal when the lights came on. I went to place my plate into the sink, when I chanced upon a sight which solved the mystery of sour onions.

I called out to the househelp and narrated exactly what he had served me. As the shock on his face settled down, he asked me daringly, how I had found out.

Elementary my dear Pandhre, you forgot to take out the trash.

Contrary to the narration above, I have nothing against sour onions, infact my favorite are those little pink pickled onions which accompany every Indian meal at restaurants. A simple recipe and I always have them in my fridge year round. I have people asking me the recipe for these onions when it’s nothing more than liquid mix of vinegar, sugar, salt with tiny madras onions submerged in them and left alone for a week. But I usually like mine with a little spice. This recipe is a bit time consuming but its worth the effort and definitely different from the sour onions we are used to. These can be used as is or mixed in a garden salad or even chopped up and tossed into your daily Indian dishes to kick things up a bit.

1 bunch Madras Onions
2 cup Vinegar (Malt is preferable, but white shall do)
2 tablsp Powdered Sugar

6 tablsp Table Salt
1.5 Litres Water

For the spice bag
Muslin Cloth
50 gms Ginger Root
1 inch stick Cinnamon
2 Bayleaves
1 Star Anise
1/2 tsp Cumin
Green Peppercorns, crushed

Peel and wash the onions, dry on a kitchen towel.

Heat the water till boiling point with the salt and keep aside to cool completely once the salt has dissolved. Place the onions in a deep pan and pour the brine over it. Weight it down with another flat plate as the onions will float to the top. Keep covered overnight till the onions absorb the brine solution well.

Make a bag of spice with the muslin cloth and keep aside.

In a clean stainless steel vessel, pour the vinegar and keep on a low flame to heat. Add the spice bag and the sugar and heat slowly till boiling. Heating vinegar can be quite troublesome as its acetic acid and when heated, definitely does not have a pleasant odour so make sure your work area is well ventilated. Once thoroughly heated, keep aside to cool completely.

To proceed, Rinse the onions from the brine solution and place in a clean and dry glass jar. Pour the liquid vinegar mix till it covers the onions completely. If you feel the liquid is not enough to cover it up, pour some extra vinegar over them till they are covered up completely.

Seal tightly and set aside in a cool place for at-least a week till the onions turn pink, they are ready to eat.

Just so you know how it was found out - the househelp had snuck out for an evening beedi at the local joint before the family members had left, leaving someone else to lay out the table for me. He did not expect anyone to be in for dinner and was taken aback when he returned and saw me tucking away. He went about with the everyday routine of serving dinner as though nothing had happened and realized that there were no onions in the pantry. Out of sheer desperation he had found a day old packet of pickled onions which had come in with an order of Indian food. Washed them in iced water, cut them up in slices and had decided to serve them up as is, so that nothing looked out of the ordinary. What he forgot to do was – throw away the restaurant packet in which these onions were stored.