Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pork with Agal (Kokum extract)

It's that time of the year again when K is gearing up to go away on excavation. This time he's going to be gone for a month and the two of us are getting ready mentally too, for his long sojourn away from home and home cooked food. Well, the food at the excavation camp is home cooked too but it's vastly different from what we cook at home and is largely vegetarian. In the run up to his departure I like to cook things that he likes and I ask him what he'd like to eat today, nearly every day. 

He was at home yesterday and as we caught up with errands and chores I asked him what I should cook. He chose pork. As long as it had potatoes in it I was free to cook it any way I liked. That worked for me and once we'd finished marketing and other stuff I set about prepping the pork. 

We'd bought a kilo of pork shoulder with a few nice chunks of fat and very few bones. After a quick light rinse I drained the meat and picked out spices for the marinade. I didn't want to make a heavy spicy dish as the days are really hot now and we were in the mood for a light dinner. As I looked around picking out the spices I spied the bottle of agal. On a whim I decided to go with agal instead of the usual vinegar.  

Pork with Agal

1 kg pork with a little fat, cubed
3 onions, sliced
3 potatoes, cut into large cubes
2 tablespoons garlic paste
2 - 3 tablespoons agal
1 tsp tumeric
2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp jeera powder
1 tsp dhania powder
2 tej patta or cassia leaves
3 inch stick of cassia bark
1 star anise

Wash the meat lightly and drain off excess water. Marinate with all the dry spices, salt, garlic paste and agal. Mix thoroughly and leave covered in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

In a heavy bottomed vessel (I used my cast iron Dutch oven) heat some oil. Fry the potatoes till they turn pale golden. Remove from the oil and reserve on a plate. In the same oil throw in the whole garam masala and then after half a minute, add the sliced onions. Fry gently till the onions start to turn a pale gold. Don't let them brown. 

Now add the marinated pork and turn up the heat. Braise the meat well for a good five minutes stirring frequently but not all the time. Reduce the flame, cover the pot and let it braise a little more - around 15 minutes. Stir it every 5 minutes or so. Add any remaining marinade. Add enough water to just barely cover the meat chunks. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. 

Add the potatoes and cover the pot again. Let it cook for an hour or more till the pork is soft. Stir gently once in a while just to mix things up. Be careful not to break or mash up the potatoes. There will be a thick gravy, but not a lot of it.  

The agal gives the pork a lovely sweet sour flavour that is distinct. The onions disintegrate to form a lovely smooth gravy and the fat from the pork helps take the dish to a higher level. We don't eat the chunks of fat anymore but I never cook pork without some fat in the pot. 

Serve hot with pav, sliced bread, or parathas. Or have it with hot rice. 

Agal is a pulpy extract made from the kokum fruit and is popular in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. It's used as a souring agent just like tamarind pulp is used in the southern states. 

Marathon Bloggers

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pot Pourrie, Vashi - Revamped and Reborn!

We've been living in Navi Mumbai for nearly 8 years now and I remember how thrilled we were when the Inorbit Mall first opened its doors and Pot Pourrie soon became one of our favourite restaurants here. Starved for good food, Pot Pourrie was at the top of our list of favourite restaurants here. A vast eclectic menu that covered many cuisines across Europe and the Far East, a very VFM lunch buffet, a well stocked bar, friendly service, fun ambience, PP as we started calling the place had it all. We came here so often we soon became friends with Chef Raunak, an enthusiastic and creative young guy who really hit it off with K.

A few months ago we heard that PP was going in for a makeover - the menu and the restaurant itself were going to get a new look and there were going to be some big changes in how they operated. The daily lunch buffet was going to be axed and they had many new things lined up for the menu. PP reopened but somehow we just didn't manage to go visit till finally I went with the Navi Mumbai Foodies (an enthusiastic bunch of young bloggers with whom I go around checking out the food scene in Navi Mumbai). You can read the Navi Mumbai Foodies reviews and posts here.

We happened to visit on a Wednesday evening, and I was eager to see the new avatar of Pot Pourrie. The place looked fantastic and I loved how they had integrated a whole lot of older elements into the new look. I was thrilled to see a buffet laid out along one side of the restaurant! It turned out that they had started doing a Wednesday night buffet just to see how things go. Well, after looking at the spread and how beautifully and innovatively it was presented, I was convinced this was going to be a hit.

Here are some photos of the the buffet - the sheer variety amazed me, and once we tried out the food I was happy that PP still maintained its high standards as before.

The buffet was superb and at Rs 650 plus taxes, I think it's very well priced.

I wanted to eat out of their A la Carte menu so I went back after a couple of days with K. We dropped in for lunch and tried out quite a few things, all of them new. For starters we had the Bacon Wrapped Potato Wedges - Rs 360. I can't resist the call of bacon so it didn't surprise K when I chose this starter. The bacon was perfectly cooked but the potato wedge wasn't seasoned at all, so once you got past the bacon it was a mass of tasteless potato. I was disappointed. I guess seasoning is tricky because bacon is inherently salty but all the chef needs to do is taste one and the seasoning can be adjusted.

We opted for the Caesar's Salad - Rs 320 and it was lovely! Crisp lettuce, lots of croutons, a light mayo, some zucchini (which I didn't expect), and lots of cheese and chicken too. We demolished it in minutes.

For mains K had their Beef Steak Medallions - Rs 575, and I chose the Greek Style Citrus Roast Chicken - Rs 500. K likes his steaks medium rare and ordered them accordingly. With chicken I just hope it's not overcooked, especially if they're using breast meat.

While the medallions looked fantastic, K found them overcooked to medium, and they weren't pink on the inside like they were supposed to be. He did tell our server so when the young man came to check if all was good. The server apologised profusely and insisted on getting K a new serving but since K'd already eaten half he said it was unnecessary. However, a new serving of perfectly cooked medallions arrived in a few minutes and this time all was perfect.

I really liked the chicken. Perfectly cooked with loads of assorted vegetables, I enjoyed my main course thoroughly. Though I was a little concerned that the sauce would be sweet because of the oranges, it wasn't. I would order this dish quite happily again.

Servings at Pot Pourrie are quite large so if you're a small eater share your main course with your friend. We were too stuffed to eat dessert!

The food is good, the service is attentive (and they are quick to correct things if you're not quite happy with what you're served), the place is large and well lit, equipped with big screen TVs for game nights. The bar is well stocked at the bar man is talented. Make the most of Happy Hours every evening from 4pm to 8pm.

Disclaimer - This review is written on the basis of an evening hosted by the restaurant for #Navimumbaifoodies, and on a subsequent lunch paid for by the author.

Navi Mumbai Foodies

Marathon Bloggers 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

On Meeting Jiggs Kalra and What He Means to Me

Yesterday I was privileged enough to meet one of the grand old men of the food business in India - Mr. J Inder Singh Kalra, known to most as Jiggs Kalra. The venue was the very swish Masala Library in the Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai, and the guests included the who's who of the Indian food world - chefs, restaurateurs, food columnists, editors, and bloggers. The evening was in honour of Mr. Kalra completing 40 glorious years in the business.

Why was I there? I wanted to honour the man too. It's his recipes published in a weekend newspaper magazine that started me off on my journey of food discovery. His style of writing is etched in my mind and will always be.

I must have been around 10 years old; my parents subscribed to the Telegraph newspaper and on weekends there was a magazine supplement. Mr. Kalra had a recipe column in it and that was my first encounter with food writing of any sort. In most homes in those days, mothers just cooked what they'd learned from their own mothers, aunts and grandmothers, and later, from the in laws. Not many people had cookbooks - my mom certainly didn't. The recipe column was, therefore, a huge novelty for me. I didn't know food writing existed and hadn't realised that there is a system in cooking. At that age I hadn't given it a thought. Cooking was something moms did and that was that.

I looked forward to the weekend supplement and to Mr. Kalra's column. It was magical. There were wonderful pictures and the recipes seemed unreal to me. The measurements were so exact they seemed impossible. 3 gram saffron, he said. Or 12 ml garlic juice, strained. I'd never seem my mom measure anything when she cooked, neither did Ahmed aunty from downstairs, or Shobha's mom upstairs who made the world's best dosas. Nor had I ever seen them strain garlic juice or anything like that. Didn't they just chop the garlic or bash it on the grinding stone? The recipes must be fiction, like other stories, I concluded. I was fascinated.

Years later I realised that recipes were real and they fascinated me even more. I had started cooking by then. I didn't encounter Mr. Kalra's writing again for many years till I chanced upon his classic book Prashad in my mother in law's library. I remember smiling at my own innocence all those years back.

The invitation to celebrate 40 years of Jiggs Kalra took me back to that magazine column and the magic I found in his recipes. I received my own copy of Prashad yesterday - a slice of that same magic, from the magician himself.

Marathon Bloggers

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rockville Deli, Vashi - A Review

Navi Mumbai has been sprouting quite a few new restaurants, coffee shops, and eateries in the recent months and Rockville Deli at Vashi is one among them.

Located right next to the huge Kalyan Jewellers showroom near Vashi station this is perfectly located if you want to grab a bite on your way home from work, or relax over coffee and some very interesting eats in the evening. There's loads of outdoor seating and a smaller indoor air conditioned section which will definitely be in great demand once summer hits followed by the monsoons.

That was my first impression of the place before I had a look at the menu. As it turns out they have a really varied menu stretching from breakfast options through to a variety of mains, snacks, mini -meals, sandwiches and burgers, generous crock pots (a new concept in Navi Mumbai for sure), pizza, and even tava biryani. They also have a decent selection of hot and cold beverages, sundaes and desserts. Though there are many categories, each category has a few options under it, making the seemingly vast menu actually quite simple. There's plenty of choice for vegetarians and the cuisines stretch from Italian to Indian, with a lot of other Continental flavours thrown in. 

We were a group of seven and we decided to order a variety of dishes covering as many categories as we could, instead of ordering individually. This allowed us to sample a nice variety of preparations giving us a good idea of what's good and what's not so great at Rockville Deli. 

We started with mocktails and shakes and then proceeded to try out the food. The selection was pretty standard with Oreo Shake, Mint Mojito, Mocha Shake and Ice Tea which we opted for. The drinks were well made and what I really liked was that they were not too sweet. Serving drinks in jam jars seems to be the hip thing to do these days and Rockville Deli wasn't bucking that trend. So there we were with our jam jars and stripey straws, enjoying our drinks! 

Mint Mojito

Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich

Mushroom, Chicken Sausage and Egg Crockpot

Stuffed Egg White Omlette

Moroccan Burger

Jalapeno Potato Cheese Frittata

Waffles with Whipped Cream and Maple Flavoured Syrup

Mocha Magic Sundae

Hawaiian Tropicana Sundae

Rockville Deli is certainly a nice place to hang out at - the location is convenient, the ambience is beautiful, the menu is extensive and the prices are quite reasonable. The fact that this place has an all day breakfast is another huge plus point because Navi Mumbai lacks these sort of things, though they are coming up now. 

There are a few things they need to pay attention to, like training their serving staff better and making sure they're well versed with what the items on the menu are. Service is friendly enough but needs a little polish, that's all! I didn't dislike any of the food or drinks that I tried but I didn't find anything spectacular or memorable either. Food presentation is a little lacklustre but if you're like me, you're more concerned with the taste and quality rather than plating. However, good presentation is not a bad thing at all and always works to an advantage.  

Would I go back to Rockville Deli? I most certainly would. 

Disclaimer - The evening was hosted by Rockville Deli for NaviMumbaiFoodies

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Singhland, Belapur - A Delicious Piece of Punjab in Navi Mumbai

We're always on the look out for nice eateries in Navi Mumbai and when we heard of Singhland in Belapur we were eager to try it out. Simple fare like kulchas, chhole puri, aloo tikkis, rajma chawal and lassi have always been attractive but the nearest place to get these was Chembur Camp as far as we knew. There are many places that serve these dishes in Navi Mumbai but one always looks for that clean homemade sort of touch which is rare. Singhland was started by a friend I met on Facebook, a Punjabi gentleman, and I was looking forward to checking it out.

The hubby had the day off today thanks to Mahashivratri. While the rest of the world lined up outside temples and shrines, we set off to pay obeisance to some good Punjabi food.

We landed up a little early. Singhland opens at 11am but we were there around 10.30. We were met by Mrs Singh outside who said Harjinder was in the kitchen with his staff gearing up for the day. We sat down for a chat while our food was readied.

We asked for Tikki Chhole, and a couple of varieties of Kulchas. The hubby also called for a glass each of lassi and chaas. Hot stuffed kulchas fresh out of the tandoor are just heavenly and I have to say these have me hooked. The tikkis are freshly made with Mrs Singh personally supervising the kitchen. The chhole was soft and flavourful, the spices were not overwhelming at all. What I really liked is the fact that the food had simple clean flavours, and they don't go overboard with spices or oil.

Singhland has a limited menu - there are kulchas, bhature, a few rice combinations, a couple of snacks like the tikkis, then there are a few drinks, and they have gulab jamuns and kulfi for dessert. I liked the fact that they've chosen to do a few things and do them really well.

At present they only have a dine in service though they are planning to add a home delivery service soon.

The Menu

The Menu continued

Aloo Kulcha served with chhole

A well stuffed kulcha with chunks of potato, not a thin miserly layer of filling!

Beautifully cooked soft chhole with traditional home made Punjabi masala

Fresh off the tava aloo tikkis with a green mint and coriander chutney

The massive glass of Singhland lassi topped with cream and flaked almonds and pistachios

Fresh chilled chaas

Singhland is located just outside the Belapur Railway Station in Balaji Bhavan, in line with CCD.
A meal for two will cost less than Rs. 500 making it perfect for office goers in the area and also ideal for those days when you want to eat good desi khana without bankrupting yourself in the process. 

In fact, this is a great place to stop if you're doing a Mumbai - Pune or Lonavala run. A good change from McDonalds for sure! 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tripura Castle, Shillong - Luxury in the North East

Once again we had a student's wedding to attend and this time it was in Guwahati. Since we were going all the way to the North East for this I insisted that we spend a couple of days going somewhere nice nearby instead of spending all our time in Guwahati. We considered Kaziranga (that's what always comes to mind first!) and I looked at Google maps to see how far we'd have to travel. That's when I realised Shillong was quite nearby and to me, it was much more appealing. A quick search online, and a couple of phone conversations with friends convinced me that Shillong had much to appeal to us.

The first thing to do was look for a hotel and as I looked at the options I chanced upon a photo of a huge carved wooden bed set in an alcove in a huge room with shiny wooden floors. I was hooked.

This was in the Tripura Castle in Shillong and I was sold. I checked out their website thoroughly and then K and I booked ourselves in for a couple of days. As much as I looked forward to the wedding, and spending a few days staying with my college buddy in Guwahati, a part of me just couldn't wait to get to this gorgeous, romantic, old worldly hotel in Shillong.

After a fantastic 5 days in Guwahati we finally set out for Shillong. I was looking forward to a really beautiful scenic drive. Work to broaden and extend the highway is on full swing and thus the drive wasn't all that scenic. Still, we did see hillsides covered in tall betel palms, banana trees, bamboo thickets and eventually, pines.

The hotel is located high up inside Shillong, a little away from the main market areas and city centre, and took us a little while to find since our taxi driver was a little clueless. But what's an extra 15 minutes here or there when you're on holiday? Once we arrived we were welcomed warmly, seated at the open reception area, and we relaxed immediately. We were given a choice of two rooms - the one with that gorgeous bed, and another sumptuous room that opened out into a little private garden. I stuck to the one with the bed, of course!

From the Reception area

The property is a small one. It has a beautiful intimate feel and is just the thing if you're looking for a quiet time. It's just perfect for a romantic getaway! 

This what the rest of our room looked like. 

I loved that there was wood everywhere - old style. No formica, no modern metal or mirrors, just vintage style solid furniture.

 The room also had bits of Art Deco furniture which were quirky and reminded me of my childhood when these were all the rage.

The dressing table in the bathroom. 

The rest of the bathroom

As soon as we had freshened up and unpacked a bit we set off to have lunch. There's a restaurant in the hotel and while it's small, it has a big menu. With a wide choice of Indian (Punjabi/Tandoori) and Chinese there's enough to satisfy everyone. We tried out the Chinese items and were happy to not that most of the options were unique to the area, not at all the stuff we get in Mumbai. 

I loved these crisp pork fritters. 

I also had noodles, accompanied by a pork dish that had beaten egg white to recreate clouds. The dishes had fanciful names I am ashamed to say I have forgotten, but the food was good and the service attentive. 

The restaurant also serves breakfast, which, incidentally, is included in the room charges. Fresh toast, eggs to order, sausages, a selection of teas, coffee, fresh fruit, juice, etc., are all available along with Indian options like parathas, masala omlette, and more. 

The restaurant dining room

We stayed in at the hotel the day we arrived. Though it's just a three hour drive from Guwahati we weren't in the mood to go into town. It was also colder than we'd expected, a sudden cold wave scuppering our plans a bit. Our beautiful room, room service on call, all our needs taken care of, we weren't complaining at all!

Our room had a fireplace and I had every intention of making the most of it. We had it lit early in the evening and spent a lovely cosy evening in, doing nothing, our noses in our books, snacks ordered in, and the fire blazing merrily. Life was perfect.

I must have taken a hundred photographs of the flames... so mesmerising, so beautiful, so magical! For a city slicker like me who's only lived in apartments, and that too in Mumbai that barely has any seasons, staying in a room with a fireplace lit up was on my bucket list of things to do in this life time. Well, that one's ticked off the list now!

The hubby catches up with the news of the world outside

The verandah outside our room 

Rooms that lead out to the garden. It's lovely here on chilly mornings with the soft sun to thaw you.

A view of Shillong from the hotel garden

We wandered around in the city in the morning of our second day there and decided to come back to the cosy comfort of the hotel. Frankly, it was too cold to stay out in the evening and the hotel was so lovely, it was no sacrifice at all. 

We went up to the bar on the first floor for pre dinner drinks and then went down to the Shillong Cafe, situated in the Garden Wing of the hotel, for dinner. 

The bar on the first floor. 

The Shillong Cafe. We grabbed the table right next to the fire place!

We had an amazing dinner here and if we're ever back we're going to eat many more meals at this restaurant. Though I'd been told it serves Continental cuisine only, it turned out they serve a lot of local cuisines too. I had a kickass spicy and flavourful pork thukpa which warmed my frozen bones nicely. K had the roast pork with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables which was also excellent. I don't have good photos of the restaurant or the food - it was so cold I didn't think I could have managed to fiddle around with my camera, and the photos on the phone didn't come out all that well. 

Shillong itself is a bustling city with lots to appeal to a tourist. Shop for local handicrafts, buy local food products, feast on local cuisine or enjoy Chinese with a North Eastern flavour, walk around Laitumkhrah market or trawl the Police Bazaar streets, chill out in any of the numerous coffee shops, or go sight seeing to places around. Taxis are easily available but be sure to bargain to fix the fares.

The stay at Tripura Castle was really lovely. We're the kind that likes to go someplace and just chill. Maybe go out for a bit but mainly just get comfortable in our room and be. Rest, recover, read, catch up on sleep, and let others take care of us. 

We found the service to be prompt, efficient and friendly. Room service is good and there's an extensive menu of snacks and meals that can be ordered in. The hotel has free wifi, and in case it doesn't work they give you a plug in dongel to use. There's hot water in the bathroom and the our room had two electric heaters apart from the fireplace. We were warm and comfortable. 

The staff will arrange for a taxi if you want to go into town. They also arrange for pick up and drop from Guwahati airport, and back. The rates are the same as outside. The hotel will also arrange sight seeing trips around Shillong if you require it. Cherrapunjee is perfect for a day visit, especially in the monsoons. 

While the Tripura Castle property doesn't boast of the usual swimming pools, discos, spas, etc., it's small and intimate, very well maintained, and guests are exceptionally well taken care of. I'm hoping to go back for a longer stay. 

You can check out more details (and loads of photos) about this gem of a property on their website here - Royal Heritage Tripura Castle

Marathon Bloggers