Monday, October 26, 2015

Irish Barmbrack - A Tea Flavoured Sweet Fruit Bread

I haven't been able to bake the monthly breads on We Knead to Bake through most of 2015 much to my disappointment, and have only watched as others baked a variety of beautiful breads. Luckily I managed to do the October bread and I am so happy I did!

The Irish Barmbrack turned out to be one of the very best breads I've ever baked in my life. Not only was it quite easy, it also had enough unusual things going to make it quite different from any bread I've done before. But then, that's the beauty of the WKTB group - we bake breads from all over the world learning new recipes, new techniques, new flavours, and new breads, of course. The Barmbrack is full of fruit and is mildly sweet. Commonly made a Halloween, the bread is often filled with charms that are fun to find while eating the bread.

This is the recipe shared by Aparna for us to follow. However I did make a few changes according to the ingredients I had at hand. I followed the technique as given in the original, of course. Most of the kneading was done in my stand mixer but once I added the soaked fruit to the dough I hand kneaded only.

Here's what I did.

1 cup Tesco's Presoaked Mixed Fruit

1/4 cup sultanas

a scant handful cranberries

1 1/2 cups Tulsi Ginger tea

1/4 tsp dried ginger powder

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 1/2 cups plus extra maida or APF

2 tsp instant yeast

2/3 cup powdered sugar

30 gms butter, softened

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup milk

In advance soak the dried fruit in the hot tea in a bowl and let it steep for a couple of hours or more. I put the tea leaves in a fine mesh strainer and left the strainer in the bowl to steep so that the tea flavours could be absorbed to the maximum by the soaking fruit. Once the fruit becomes quite plump discard the tea dregs and drain the fruit carefully. Reserve the tea liquid. Put the fruit in a strainer and let them drain while you get the dough going.

In the bowl of your mixer mix in the flour, yeast, sugar, spice powders, and salt. Give it all a stir. Add the beaten egg and the butter and mix again.

In a measuring jug mix milk and the tea liquid to make up one cup. I had loads of the tea liquid so I used half milk and half tea liquid. If it's gone cold warm it a little in the microwave. We're going to use this liquid to make the dough so it should be just warm enough to help the yeast bloom, not too hot or the yeast will die.

Pour in the milky tea and start the mixer at a slow speed till dry and wet ingredients are mixed well. Increase the speed by one level and, using the dough hook, knead the mix till you have a sticky but smooth dough. Add dry flour if required.

On a floured surface turn out the dough and knead for a minute or two by hand. Flatten out the dough and scatter the drained fruit on it. Fold over the dough and knead to mix the fruit into the dough. I added the fruit in a couple of batches to distribute it better - add the initial lot, knead to mix, flatten dough again, add fruit and knead again to incorporate.

Oil a proofing bowl and place the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp napkin and leave it aside to double.

Once it has doubled remove again to your floured surface. Divide the dough into two and knead gently for a minute each. Place in greased loaf tins or shape into freestyle loaves and place on your baking sheet. Cover again with a damp towel and leave to rise for another hour or so. I used a well floured banetton for my loaf.

Bake the breads at 180C for 30 to 40 minutes till golden brown on top and hollow sounding when tapped. If your bread is browning too fast cover loosely with foil.

Cool on a wire rack completely before slicing. We had our Barmbrack for breakfast and tea, slathered with butter, jam and honey. This bread toasts well too.

*Use any dried fruit to make up that 1 cup of fruit - raisins, prunes, apricots, sultanas, cherries, cranberries - whatever mix you like. I had that bag of Tesco's fruit so I used some of it.

*Use regular strong tea. I didn't have any so I used the tulsi ginger tea a friend had sent a while back. How nice that some of it got used!

*The original recipe calls for allspice powder. I didn't have any so I used more cinnamon. A mix of clove and cinnamon with a star anise thrown in would work quite well too.

We Knead to Bake #32

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Comfort that is Daal Bhaat

It's been a tough year so far and the last few weeks have been quite high on the difficulty scale. Stretched nerves, eroded patience, a whole lot of stress and a big surgery later we brought Mom home from the hospital. I don't know who was the most exhausted by the time we got home. You know how it is... after endless days spent in hospital, those last few hours till you finally step over the threshold and out of the building seem to pass with excruciating slowness. And then when you finally pile into the car, the drive home seems to take another age.

And then you're home! Exhausted but exhilarated.

Soon the exhilaration evaporates and the tiredness hits. The mind wants to shut down and crawl into a deep dark corner but there are mundane jobs to be done, lunch to be made.

Today the hubby stepped in and whipped up the simplest meal in creation - Daal and Rice. I had rooted around in the veggie drawer in the fridge and I found a plump brinjal, ideal for a bhaja to go with the daal and rice. And so that's what we had - Bhaat, Daal, Begun Bhaja, and my homemade Ghee.

We ate in silence as the simple meal comforted and strengthened us, assured us that all would be well, embraced us in a blanket of familiarity, normalcy and peace. Daal and Bhaat. That's what it does.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Thousand Years of Fusion - My Article on Parsi Food Ancestry Published in the CaLDRON Magazine

I wrote a couple of articles and contributed some recipes for the Two Year Anniversary Bumper issue of CaLDRON Magazine. Here's the one I wrote about Parsi food as we know it today and its ancestry tracing influences from Iran and India that have all made it what it is today. 

Do check out the issue here and see my article up there in print on page 68!  

Parsi Food – the words evoke images of Dhansakh and Patra ni Machhi in most people’s minds. But there’s much more to the cuisine of this much beloved community epitomised by philanthropy and eccentricity in equal measure.

The Parsis arrived in India as refugees from Iran, a little more than a thousand years ago and first settled on the Gujarat coast. Legend has it that the leader of the earliest groups went to meet a local chieftain to seek asylum. The chieftain showed him a bowl brimming with milk and said his land was like that bowl, with no room for more. The leader of the refugees sprinkled sugar into the milk and said, like the sugar, he and his people would not only blend into the milk but would improve it too. And thus the Parsis remained in India, and not only did they blend in, they certainly added plenty of sweetness to the land.

In Iran their diet included plenty of meat and wheat, punctuated with a profusion of fruit which was also dried to last through the year, pulses, herbs, a few spices, saffron, onions and garlic. Bread was a big component of the meal and they were skilled bakers. In India they found an abundant variety of fish, fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, a wide range of spices, and coconuts. While fusion food has become a fashionable buzz word in the last few decades the Parsis were at it as soon as they arrived. Most of modern Parsi cuisine that we see in India is a result of a fusion of Persian with Gujarati and coastal dishes, with influences from British cuisine, along with a dash of Portuguese thrown in.

Thus were born classics like Patra ni Machhi that uses coriander and coconut, the vividly red Parsi curries that use coconut, dried red chillies and poppy seeds, the Patio which uses vinegar, red chillies, tomatoes, and is garnished with vegetables like drumsticks and baby brinjals, Lagan nu Custard which is a classic British egg and milk custard with cardamom and nutmeg added to the mix and topped with nuts and dried fruit, to name a few.
There was no Dhansakh in Persia, nor was there any Patra ni Machhi. However we see Persian ancestry in the Pullaos, and in various other preparations that use dried fruit like apricots, raisins, currants, and saffron. The fondness for lamb over other meats is another vestige of their Persian heritage. However, they avoided beef and pork in India because these were taboo to many locals.

The Parsis don’t have many festivals but the start of a new year is of marked importance. August is a month of celebration with three important days – there’s Pateti, Navroze, and Khordad Saal. Pateti is the last day of the year and is a relatively solemn occasion where one reflects on the deeds of the year gone by; taking stock of the good and bad one has done, and resolves on doing better in the forthcoming year. Navroze, the ‘new day’, is the first day of the New Year and brings with it hope for a new beginning, celebrated with feasting and family outings to plays and concerts. Khordad Saal is the day of the Prophet Zoroaster’s birth. All three days are marked with visits to the Agiary (fire temple) and plenty of good food.

An invitation to a Navjote (initiation) or Lagan (wedding) is quite coveted for the guest is guaranteed to be wined and dined in style. Here too, the Indian influence is seen in the meals being served on banana leaves. Of course, these days many people prefer to have a buffet spread but the sit down meals are as popular.

In the old days a wedding feast menu featured mutton dishes from start to finish. The goat being a large animal, it was only slaughtered at weddings where there would be a large crowd to feed. The menu featured Aleti Paleti (pan fried offal in a spicy gravy), Bhaji Dana ma Gos (mutton cooked in fresh greens and peas), Khattu Gos (mutton cooked in curd) and a sumptuous mutton pullao or plain rice accompanied by Masala ni Daar (spicy daal). Mhowdi, a liqueur made from the mahua flowers, would be served in little silver cups called ‘fuliyas’. 

The advent of poultry farms and broiler chicken has changed the Parsi diet considerably. Chicken was now easily available and one didn’t have to sacrifice a valuable layer that provided eggs. Eggs have always ruled the roost in Parsi kitchens and there is an endless variety of egg preparations, the most well-known being ‘Sali per Eeda’ or eggs on straw potatoes. Kasa per Eeda or eggs on something is an entire chapter in Parsi cuisine where eggs are steamed on top of a variety of bases. The base could be leftover vegetables, a simple mix of onions, tomatoes, and spices, a piquant kheema, or something as decadent as clotted cream! 

Fish also gained popularity and today, no Parsi feast is complete without Patra ni Machhi or Sahs ni Machhi made with pomfrets, the Parsi’s favourite fish.

While the Parsi loves proteins more, there is quite a variety of vegetarian recipes in the repertoire – much to most non Parsis’ surprise. Granted, most vegetable recipes have some meat added ‘to make it palatable’ but there are plenty of completely meatless vegetable preparations too, no doubt the result of intermingling with local communities and the sheer abundance of vegetables in India.

The cuisine today is a wonderful mix of original Persian preparations with strong local influences starting in Gujarat, going south along the western coast as they moved towards Bombay and beyond, right down till Goa. A thousand years of fusion has resulted in a unique cuisine that celebrates local produce and ingredients and yet holds on to the rich culinary heritage of the land of its origin.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Luv Thy Farmer and Mosambi Cake

Mosambi (Sweet Lime) Cake

I noticed a post on Facebook where a friend was making an effort to help a fruit farmer get a decent price for his produce (mosambis or sweet limes) by selling it via the social network. The usual route for farmers to the retail customers is through multiple middlemen which means the farmer gets paid a fraction of what you and me, the end users, actually pay for produce. In Mr Gaikwad's case he was getting roughly INR 12- 15 per kilo while we were paying around INR 70 per kilo. My friend Ranjit decided to try to bridge this enormous price gap and thus Luv Thy Farmer was born.

I bought a 5 kilo bag of mosambis for INR 300 - that's INR 60 per kilo for mosambis which turned out to be far better than the ones I'd bought from my online grocery store, and cheaper too. I did juice quite a few of them but these fruits were so fragrant I wanted to make something more than just juice. A cake was the most obvious thing that came to my mind and I set about looking at a few recipes to see what I could do.

I liked this recipe for Moist Lemon Bundt Cake on a blog called Amy Kay's Kitchen and I adapted it to include mosambis instead of lemons. I have also reduced the sweet elements that make up this cake. Here's what I did -

Mosambi Cake

2 1/4 cups maida, sifted
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups castor  sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 2 large mosambis
1 1/4 milk
150 gms butter

Preheat the oven to 180C. Prepare a baking tin, either a Bundt pan or any regular shaped cake tin, by coating the inside with butter. I used a pastry brush to spread the butter evenly.

In a large bowl combine the sifted maida, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer crack the four eggs and mix on medium speed till thickened. The eggs should turn a pale lemon colour. Add the sugar in small amounts beating continuously.

Add the zest and the vanilla extract and continue to mix.

Slowly add the dry flour mix, a little at a time incorporating completely into the egg mix.

Heat the milk and add the butter to it. Stir to mix and let the butter melt. Remove from heat. The milk shouldn't get too hot or boil.

Slowly add the milk-butter mix into the batter and let it all combine. You will get a runny batter.

Pour batter into the prepared cake tin and set it in the oven to bake for 30 to 35 minutes. A cake skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.

You can drizzle the cake with a mosambi juice and icing sugar glaze if you like. I didn't because we are now a house full of diabetics and this cake is stretching the limits as it is! I just sprinkled some extra mosambi zest on top of the cake. The fresh burst of flavour from that zest was just superb.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

White Sandwich Bread - My Little Rebellion

Everywhere I looked there was an obsession for what is perceived as healthy - recipes that boasted of being egg free, gluten free, fat free, no white flour, no sugar, no butter - only oil, and a zillion other 'healthy' claims. The sad thing is most people have no idea of what genuinely is healthy, or rather relatively healthy, and what is actually quite far from being good for anyone. That's not to say all things touted as healthy or good for you aren't - one just has to realise that blindly substituting and replacing, often with synthetic substitutes, is not the path to healthier or nutritious eating.

Tired of this I decided I had to have my own little rebellion. I was going to make that terrible. terrible thing - white bread. Made with no compromise to the all purpose white flour. No whole wheat flour or any other 'healthy' flour would even be allowed to come near. If the recipe asked for a pound of butter I was going to put in a pound of butter. If eight eggs were required eight eggs it would be. You get the drift...

I asked my friends to share tested recipes and I went looking around on my own. I read quite a few recipes and finally decided to use one by Julia Child. My main motivation to use her recipe was that I'd never made anything from a Julia Child recipe and this was the perfect opportunity. And the recipe was simple and straightforward, perfect for an amateur like me who needs a recipe to bake bread. Always. Even for breads I've made many times over. So I made my date with Julia and we made white sandwich bread from here.

I'm not rewriting this recipe as I didn't change anything in it. Just replaced the 1 tbsp Active Dry yeast with 2 tsp Instant yeast.

The dough for this bread is quite sticky and I was quite sure it was not going to work out. But it did. I was nervous because it took time to come together and I had to struggle not to add too much flour beyond what the recipe called for. Don't worry, this recipe works! And the stand mixer did most of the work ;)

Make sure you have a couple of loaf tins ready before you start. I didn't have two of the same size so I divided the dough accordingly instead of blindly halving the dough.

Make the bread the evening before and have it for breakfast the next morning. It tastes much better after resting for those hours. Don't slice the bread unless it is absolutely cooled. Patience is the key here.

As it turned out all this recipe requires is APF, yeast, and water, with a little bit of butter to help it along. Not so evil after all! So bring out the butter, Nutella, the jams, marmalades, honey, cold cuts, fry and egg or two and have yourself a feast.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Food Blogging. Quo Vadis?

Another popular food blogger got caught plagiarising.

A beautifully styled blog, well written posts, lots of attractive photographs, a wide variety of recipes and cuisines, and of course, a new post every couple of days - it isn't surprising that this blog caught the attention of many. 

A new blogger, just a year into blogging, she was under so much pressure she said, that she did the unthinkable. But it wasn't a single instance. There was so much plagiarised content on her blog we got tired of looking. Stolen content that spanned recipes, food styling on her photographs, 'How To' posts, quotes, and even a personal story from another blogger - and not a hint of credit anywhere. The thievery was not limited to the confines of the blog. A magazine was given plagiarised content, a DIY dessert kit was being sold using someone else's recipe. The rot was so deep it was appalling. 

Predictably, once she was caught there was a severe backlash and this blogger is now in a lot of trouble. As she should be. 

Many bloggers debated and outraged over this incident on a closed group on Facebook and over private messages that blazed for two days, as the plagiarist tried desperately to save her self, her blog, and her reputation. 

We all know plagiarism is wrong, we all frown on it, we all outrage loudly when someone is caught but most of us also wait for someone else to blow the whistle. We also look the other way because we don't want to be the one to make a scene. We worry about the plagiarist's reputation, family, children, and everything else. Sometimes I wonder if we're looking for excuses for the plagiarist. But no, we're not. We're just not motivated enough to get off the couch and do something about it, just like we are lazy about a million other things that should be changed but we rather someone else did the changing. 

In all the debate one question kept coming up - what's the hurry? Many of us have been blogging for several years and we see the blog as a personal diary or chronicle that we allow the world to read. It's all about passion, and dedication, and love, and warm fuzzy feelings. Because when we started blogging, that was all there was to it. You wrote what you liked and felt happy if anyone stopped by and actually read what you wrote. There was no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or StumbleUpon, and if they existed they were nothing like what they all are today. There was nowhere to broadcast the fact that you had written something on your blog. Your blog was not accessible to a zillion people at the click of a mouse. 

Today the scene is very different. Blogs earn incomes. They are marketing tools. They are platforms for selling opinions, information, advice, anything! A blog is supported with a myriad social networking tools to give it a larger audience. If you're successful at leveraging all this to your advantage and your blog begins to get noticed the fame and the followers grow, invitations to events, restaurant launches, product launches, etc., start pouring in. And let's be honest, it's bloody hard to resist all this seduction. You might even land some paid writing or photography gigs if you're good.

And this is where the temptation to grow fast comes in. You see others who have made it big and you want the same for yourself. And you want it fast. But for that you need the numbers. Followers on your blog, on the Facebook Fan page, on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, G+, and every other platform you can think of, and you have to write keeping SEO in mind. The pressure to post more builds up because you're worried about Google and Alexa ranks. And your worry is justified because you are looking at numbers, numbers which will convert to income eventually. Or a whole lot of fame, fans and freebies if not real cash. 

But all this takes dogged hard work, sometimes of impossible proportions. Let's take that Google ranking thing - you have to put up 200 posts in a year to get a good site rank. (See Addendum) That translates to four posts a week. If you're a recipe blogger that means you have to select what recipes you're going to blog, shop for all ingredients, cook the dish, sort out props and styling for the photographs, set up the shots, take photos, edit photos, write the post, add photos, publish the post, clean up your kitchen, put away your photo equipment and props, promote your latest post out there on social media which means Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, at the minimum, and as many food groups and blogger groups on Facebook that you can find that allow you to share your blog links. All this, at least four times a week.  And you still have a regular job, a family to look after, a life to live. 

Is it any wonder that you soon start looking for ways to make it easier? And before you know it you are stealing content. Blogging has changed from a personal hobby tool to an industry. Maybe it's not a job for one person anymore. And certainly not if you have a full time job. 

Think about why you blog. If like me, you blog because you like to and are not too concerned about followers and income, that's great. But you should consider growing and not stagnating. I've worn my refusal to grow like a badge of honour and I am ashamed of it. If you're blogging because you want the bigger things then think it through, plan how will go about it, think of the resources you can use (and no, I don't mean other blogs or sites you can copy from), and be realistic about how much you can do and how long you can sustain it. There's nothing wrong with earning money through your blog. But it is wrong if you are doing it by stealing someone else's work. 

We all have responsibilities as bloggers. There are many things wrong with food blogging today and they need to be set right. New bloggers need guidance and mentoring and older bloggers need to accept and learn the new ways. We need a community and a support system. We need to deal with the rot. Ignoring it makes us equally responsible for it. 

*** Addendum - I misunderstood Google ranking criteria to some extent. So it's not 200 posts literally but you have to really populate your blog with a ton of content so 200 posts a year is the sort of goal many bloggers blindly set themselves in a bid to get that high Google ranking. But prolific posting on your blog is not enough by itself. There are many other factors that in combination with prolific posting will get a blog a high Google rating. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Kahlua Chocolate Cake

I have great ambitions about baking cakes. I love cakes. I sit for hours on Pinterest looking (and drooling) over the myriad cakes that call out seductively. Some are so beautiful, in fact, that I don't even care that they're fruity cakes - I want to bake each one some day. Baking, like cooking, is something I find incredibly relaxing and today I really needed that therapeutic dance of measuring, mixing, and baking till a magical cake appeared.

Usually I simply throw together the basic sponge or pound cake that I learned when I was just a kid, and the most I do with that recipe is add booze soaked fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, preserved fruits, etc., to make it a little different. Today I needed more than that comfortable, familiar, and nearly mindless recipe. I needed to be involved. I needed to be wholly occupied with baking a cake leaving no room in my head to think about anything else. So went on to Pinterest to look for something that suited my needs and what I had in my pantry.

I found this Kahlua Chocolate Cake recipe and it fit the bill perfectly. A simple enough recipe with no branded ingredients that I would find impossible or expensive to procure, and with enough to do to keep me fully occupied, this chocolate laden cake was destined for me today!

I'm reproducing the recipe here with easier measurements and a slightly more detailed method keeping in mind the hiccups I had while making this beautiful cake. This recipe has several steps so read the entire recipe first and get your ingredients and equipment together before you start.

Kahlua Chocolate Cake

For the Cake

2 1/4 cup Maida
1/4 cup Hintz cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

110 gms chocolate

1 cup Kahlua
1 cup sour cream

125 gms butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup chocolate chips

For the Glaze

110 gms chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 or 2 tbsp fine sugar (if required)

Start with the cake -

Preheat the oven at 180C.

Prepare a 12 cup Bundt pan by greasing it with butter. To figure out the capacity of your Bundt pan simply pour in water using your cup measure and count how many cups fit in. If your pan is small you will have left over batter. No worries, make a small cake in a suitable cake tin or make cup cakes with the leftover batter.

Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. I zapped it in the microwave till it was silky and melted.

In a measuring jug pour a cup of Kahlua. Now add enough sour cream to take it up to the 2 cups mark. I used Amul sour cream and needed one full tub which I beat lightly with a fork before adding to the Kahlua. Mix the two with a fork till they have blended.

In a clean large bowl mix the maida, cocoa, baking soda and salt till all are well combined.

Place the butter in the mixing bowl of your stand mixer or in any mixing bowl and use your hand mixer. Use the paddle attachment if you're using a KitchenAid. Add the brown sugar and cream it well till the sugar and butter are blended, light and fluffy. Now add the eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Pour in the vanilla now along with the melted chocolate and continue to mix.

Get the boiling water ready.

Alternating between the dry flour mix and the Kahlua-sour cream mix add the two to the butter-sugar-eggs mix till everything is incorporated.

Now add the boiling water and mix carefully. Slow down the speed of the electric mixer as the water can splash out. It takes about half a minute to get incorporated so be careful. Add the chocolate chips and mix them in gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes till a skewer poked in comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely in the mould before you remove it. This is a soft moist cake and it might break. So be patient. Cool further on a rack before glazing it.

My cake had risen while baking so I had to trim it to get a flat bottom. It was easy enough, all I did was wait for it to cool and then went at it with a large serrated bread knife. We scarfed the scraps quite happily (there was no way I was letting anyone near the cake before I'd taken photographs, obviously!).

To make the glaze -

In a small pan bring the cream to a boil. Have the chocolate ready in a jug. Pour the just boiled cream over the chocolate and let it stand undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Mix with a spatula till you have a smooth glossy glaze. I added a couple of tablespoons of fine sugar as the chocolate I used was quite bitter. Add a tablespoon or two of Kahlua and incorporate fully till you have a satiny smooth pourable glaze.

Place the cooled cake on the rack over a tray to catch any drips and drizzle the glaze over the cake. I spooned the glaze over and 'helped' it dribble down the sides attractively ;)

Let the glaze set and your Kahlua Chocolate Cake is ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Goan Choriz in Instant Noodles - Comfort Food at its Best

If you've lived in a hostel it's more or less guaranteed that you've experimented with instant noodles. Maggi and other brands were the backbone of our meals, especially if one wanted options apart from Mess food! Assorted vegetables, ketchup, chilly and other sauces, spices, pickle masalas, anything and everything was pressed into service to add zing and flavour and even body to the basic noodles.

I spent many happy years living the hostel life and one of the best things that emerged from those years is my concoction of instant noodles with Goan choriz. Slightly soupy, the thick and spicy sauce coats every strand of noodle punctuated with chunks of the fat and meat of the choriz beads - heaven in a bowl!  The unique flavours of this local Goan sausage are the foundation of this dish. The cheese slices cut the sharpness from the spices of the choriz and give the sauce a wonderful roundness.

I made some for my lunch today and my friend M pinged me to ask for the recipe. I confidently told her to look it up here on the blog. And then I thought why not dig out the recipe myself and send her the link. That's when I discovered, much to my horror, that I haven't written about it. You cannot imagine my shock!

Anyway, let me fill this terrible lacuna right away. Better late than never, correct? So here goes...

Noodles with Goan Choriz

Instant noodles - Maggi or any other
Goan choriz sausage - approximately 15 to 20 beads, peeled
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 slices Britannia Cheese
tomato ketchup

In a pan fry the onions and garlic till just brown. Remove the onions to a plate.

In the same pan add enough water to cook the noodles. Add the flavouring spice that came with the noodles now.

Add the choriz and let it boil in the spiced water for a few minutes.

Break the noodles up a little and add to the pan. Let them cook fully.

Add the fried onions and garlic, a good splash of ketchup and the cheese slices. Stir to mix.

Reduce the liquid to the consistency to the consistency you like and serve.

I usually make a big bowlful and then get comfy in a big chair and enjoy it with a good book. The perfect dish for a solitary lunch.  No. I don't share. 

The Express Lunch Buffet at Asian Kitchen, Four Points by Sheraton, Vashi

Every once in while my gal pals and I meet up for a girly lunch and gossip in Vashi. We usually go to Inorbit and end up at one of the restaurants there for lunch and follow it up with a bit of browsing and shopping, and finally coffee and cake at the Starbucks there. With so many new places opening up in the area, and a few older ones remaining unexplored we decided to step out of the comfort zone today.

The Four Points by Sheraton at Vashi has three or four restaurants/coffee shops and they have a lunch buffet in one. I looked them up on Zomato and read rave reviews about the Express Lunch at Wrapped, the coffee shop. It sounded good and so that's where we went.

Confusion reigned. The lunch buffet turned out to be at the Asian Kitchen on the second floor, not at Wrapped. I asked at the Asian Kitchen and the staff seemed to have no idea what I was talking about, in fact, one person even called the coffee shop Wraps. Finally I managed to confirm that the Express Lunch had been shifted to the Asian Kitchen from Wrapped to accommodate more guests.

The Asian Kitchen is a lovely airy large space and a great venue for dining out. They also have an open kitchen allowing guests and the kitchen staff to interact. We were led to a nice table by the windows and we settled down for lunch. After ordering a glass of wine for myself we proceeded to check out the buffet spread.

To put it plainly - I was not impressed at all. This was one of the most lacklustre menus I have ever seen. And the selection of dishes seem to be made quite indifferently - there was nothing that piqued my interest or made me drool in anticipation. The selections included  assorted salads which had been portioned into small bowls (which I think is a great idea), a line of chafing dishes holding the main courses, breads and soups on one counter, and two forlorn looking dessert options on one side.

When you approach the buffet from the dining area the first thing you encounter is the dessert, opposite which are the soups. You walk ahead and high up on one side are the salads, and in front at a perpendicular are the main courses. The plates are placed awkwardly below these chafing dishes. Browsing the menu and serving oneself in this weirdly arranged buffet meant constantly going back and forth, bumping into staff and other guests while balancing the plate and trying to see what there is.

The salads included Red Cabbage and Apple Coleslaw, Corn and Bell Pepper Salad, Cucumber in Brown Garlic Yoghurt, Paapri Chaat, and a chicken salad tossed in some green sauce (I've forgotten what it was called). I like to see fresh salad at a salad counter. At least a basic one. And a couple of simple dressings or vinaigrettes. There was none.

This buffet has no starters or snacky things at all. Not a one. There were papads, however.

There were two soups on offer - a vegetarian and a non vegetarian one. We opted for the chicken broth which turned out to be a watery tomato based soup with a reasonably generous smattering of small chicken chunks. Low on flavour and eminently forgettable.

The main course options included -

Daal Lasooni which was nice enough, nothing very exciting.

Oven Roasted Parsley Potatoes. These were quite nice but didn't quite go with anything else on the menu. An Indian masala aloo would have been perfect.

Stir Fried Vegetables - I've never seen a stir fry like this.

Subz Hyderabadi. I didn't try this one so no comments.

Paneer Bemisal - I quite liked this preparation. The paneer was soft and had absorbed the flavours of the gravy quite nicely. It went well with the buttered tandoori rotis that were served hot at our table.

Murghi Lucknowi Masala. Another middle of the road preparation. Nothing spectacular but nice enough with hot tandoori rotis.

Plain Steamed Rice

and a Peas Pulao. I didn't see the sense of having plain rice and then this rice tossed with green peas and fried onions on the menu. A tossed pasta or noodles would have added much more value to the menu, and also would have given guests something to pair the potatoes or that 'stir fry' with.

The desserts on offer were Kiwi Mousse

and Doodhi Halwa.

If one was to compare this buffet menu with what's on offer in other restaurants in Navi Mumbai this buffet is trailing. However, it is probably one the cheapest ones around.

A big grouse I have with this menu is the paucity of non vegetarian fare. One chicken salad and one chicken main course is all that was on offer, along with the soup. Is chicken the only protein they could find? Compared with four or five vegetarian options among the salads, and the same in the main courses I felt non vegetarians like me didn't have much to choose from.

They have a huge open kitchen. A live counter offering freshly made pasta or a wok station doing stir fries or noodles would have been fantastic.

I spoke to the chef who came by to ask what I thought of the buffet and the food. I told him the same things I've said here. Their brief was to aim for the lunch-break crowd from the numerous offices that are nearby, which is why this is called the Express Lunch buffet and is priced at INR 450+Tax. Looking at the as good as empty restaurant, with just one or two other tables occupied, I think they've completely missed the brief. The nearly empty restaurant at peak lunch time seems to echo my sentiments.

I've had some awesome food at the Asian Kitchen (the hubby and I are huge fans of their Breakfast Buffet) and I was quite saddened by this lunch buffet. The place is usually packed for the breakfast buffet which has loads of options including live stations, a selection of cold cuts, hot options like poha, idlis, hash browns, bacon, assorted breads, cereals, eggs to order, tea, coffee, juices... it's awesome!

I'd rather pay a little more and get my money's worth from the numerous other buffet options in the area than pay less and yet come away dissatisfied. Navi Mumbaikars are hungry for good places to dine out and the Asian Kitchen is missing a great opportunity here. I really hope they make this buffet much more appealing.

Express Lunch at Asian Kitchen, Four Points by Sheraton, Vashi - INR 450+Tax per head. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Dinner Rolls and Friendship Day

The Hallmark holidays pop up every time you turn around and the latest one was Friendship Day. Social media was flooded with pithy sayings and mushy pictures celebrating friendship and a fair number of cynics wondering what the need for a special day was. Though I didn't post anything about Friendship Day I did think about it. And I felt grateful for the Internet where I have met most of my current friends and created some very close bonds that have taken us beyond the online space and deeply into each others' lives.

Among them is Saee who started me off on my bread making journey at a class at Rushina's Studio. Rushina is another Internet friend who is now among my close buddies. Her blog is the first one I ever read and where I discovered the concept of a blog. I have been a devoted follower of Saee's blog and YouTube channel for the bread recipes simply because they have never failed. What better reason does anyone need?!

No friendship related post can be complete without K, the centre of my universe, my best buddy. It's been a crazy few days, so busy he's barely had time to think... and as the day progressed I thought to myself, why not make some bread for the fellow. I remembered the dinner rolls we'd made at that bread class I'd attended with Saee and Rushina and decided to make those again. A Friendship Day gift for my bread obsessed best friend :)

I followed this recipe to the T barring the kneading for which I used my stand mixer. Take a look at the video and you will see just how easy it is to make fun shaped dinner rolls for the family. I topped my rolls with black poppy seeds which another very dear friend, my Santa Claus in London, Manish sent me.

Start at least three hours before you want to serve - the rolls must rest for an hour before serving. Of course, K refused to wait at all and scarfed down a few rolls hot out of the oven! But they do improve with the resting, so wait.

Serve with soup, with a curry or stew, or have them for breakfast with an assortment of spreads. Make a big batch and share with friends. So, Happy Friendship Day after all :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bacon Jam with Bhut Jolokia

I'd been meaning to make bacon jam for months but just didn't get around to it. Then a bunch of friends from all over the world made a plan to meet and I thought, why not make bacon jam as a gift for them. As usual, I wanted to play around with the recipe and try something new. The basic recipe is awesome and is a superb canvas for adding new flavours - just like basic mayonnaise.

I looked through the pantry cupboard and chanced upon my stock of Bhut Jolokia chillies that I'd bought on my trip to Assam earlier this year. Bacon jam with a spicy kick sounded like a good idea to me and so that's what I made. The basic recipe remains the same and I replaced the regular green chillies with  a dried bhut jolokia chilli. This chilli is seriously potent so be careful how much you use. I'd say be conservative the first time and work your way up in subsequent trials.

I didn't use whiskey in this batch. Instead I used port wine. Well that was also lying around neglected and this was a nice opportunity to use it up. The flavours worked very well indeed! The whiskey didn't get me very excited (hardly surprising because I don't really like the stuff!) and replacing it with some other flavour was at the top of my priorities. Red wine and port seemed to be good choices and they were.

This is my basic bacon jam recipe. The element I consider integral to it, apart from the bacon and the onions, is the freshly brewed coffee. Don't skip the coffee. And don't ever use instant. I can't resist playing with recipes once I have mastered the basic version and this jam recipe is like a doorway to a land of wonder - the possibilities are just endless. Yet, some basic principles must be kept in mind so that there is a high chance of success once you've finished tweaking.

  • It doesn't matter if the onions are not perfectly chopped, or that they're not very finely chopped. But cook them slowly and thoroughly.
  • Don't brown the onions
  • Don't let the bacon crisp
  • Use only as much of the bacon fat as required. Too much fat will mask the flavours of the other ingredients and you will get a stodgy jam.
  • Use a mix of back and streaky bacon for a good balance of fat and meat in the jam
  • Use the best quality bacon you can afford. 
  • Use freshly brewed coffee, even if it's not a premium or fancy one. NO INSTANT.

The experiment with the Bhut Jolokias was not limited to a change of chillies. I also did away with vinegar entirely, and added port and pomegranate molasses to the mix. Both liquids gave the jam a deeper, more rounded sweet and sour element compared to vinegar which has a sharp sourness. I'm tempted to slosh in a good slug of Balsamic in a batch...I'm sure it will work fabulously well.

It's all very well concocting bacon jam recipes in the head but the toughest part, trust me, is when you're in the middle making a batch and you have a pile of perfect 'soft fried' bacon in front of you, and you have to do your best not to eat the lot! Look at this and you will understand... Sigh!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kolmi na Kari Chawal - Parsi Prawn Curry with Rice

The brightly coloured, coconut based curries are common to almost all the cuisines along the western coast of India. There are subtle and not so subtle differences in each version but the foundation of most is a paste of dried red chillies and coconut, along with other spices.

Many of us label any Indian preparation that has a gravy as a curry but after I got married I discovered that curry is a very specific preparation among the Parsis, and also in the coastal cuisines - this bright orange or red gravy full of spice and punch which ideally had sea food in it but was also great with chicken, mutton or even boiled eggs in it. The sauce is so good that even a vegetable curry is delicious!

The Parsis don't have multiple courses at their meals like us Bengalis - there will be one dish that's the centre of attraction, and at the most there will be a side dish to go along with. This is served with either rice, bread, or rotlis. A simple salad may or may not be there. So once every few days curry would be on the menu. A huge pot of curry made with pomfrets, surmai, prawns, or chicken - accompanied by fluffy white rice, a pile of deep fried papads, and a kachuber made of sliced onions, tomatoes, fresh coriander, and plenty of lime wedges, would grace the table.The Parsi curry is undoubtedly one of my favourite dishes today.

I always felt intimidated at the thought of making a Parsi curry myself, especially at the thought of having to grind a masala. Bengali cuisine rarely involves elaborate masala pastes - mustard, posto, etc., are simple one or two ingredient pastes - and to me a curry paste with its myriad ingredients in specific proportions seemed scary, to say the least. In fact my mother never owned a 'mixie', something that is so basic in many kitchens. We never had use for one.

There's always a first time for everything and eventually I took the curry plunge myself. We have an excellent fishmonger here in Kharghar and I often get plump fresh prawns from him. There's nothing like a hot and spicy prawn curry to perk up a cold and wet day and so today I had prawn curry on the menu. Since the hubby is allergic to shellfish I remove the heads and tails of the prawns completely. Feel free to leave them on if you prefer - most of the flavour is in there.

This is my mother in law Katy Dalal's recipe for curry with a couple of minor adjustments. Use the same recipe for any sea food.

Parsi Prawn Curry

2 cups large prawns, deveined
1 coconut, milk extracted.
2 tbsp dried kokum
6 fresh green chillies, slit

Curry masala paste -
1 coconut, grated
15 Kashmiri chillies
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp sesame or til seeds
1 piece turmeric root (use 1 heaped tsp of powder if not available)
2 large onions, chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chana
1/2 cup cashew
1 large pod garlic

Broil the dry spices on a tawa and then grind all the ingredients into a smooth paste, adding water as required.

2 -3 sprigs curry leaves
potatoes (optional)
5 or 6 drumsticks (optional)

Marinate the prawns with salt and a dash of turmeric.

In a large vessel heat a generous bit of oil. Add the curry leaves to the hot oil, stir for a minute and then add the masala paste and the fresh green chillies carefully. Stir well and cook the masala paste till it is cooked through and has turned red. Rinse out the grinder jar and add the water to the pot along with the coconut milk. Use store bought coconut milk if you like, but fresh coconut milk does taste far, far better. Bring it all to a boil, adding as much water as needed to make the required quantity of curry. Add washed kokum and salt and let it cook.

While this is boiling prepare the drumsticks. Peel off the hard outer bark and then chop each drumstick into longish pieces. Cook them in salted water separately till just tender. Drain and add them to the curry.

If you're adding potatoes, cut them into medium sized pieces, fry lightly, and then add to the curry as early as you can.

Prawns can get overcooked quite fast so put them in last, judging cooking time according to the size. The curry is ready as soon as the prawns are cooked. If the curry looks watery fish out the prawns on to a clean plate or bowl and let the curry reduce to the consistency you like. Pop the prawns back in for a minute at the end.

Serve the curry with lots of rice, papads and kachuber.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The IFB Neptune VX Dishwasher - A Review

Finding domestic help in Kharghar has been an endless nightmare and I finally decided to end the trauma and get myself a dishwasher. It's another matter that I ended up rebuilding the kitchen to accommodate it but at the end of the day, I'm glad I did.

The Buying Experience
Choosing a dishwasher should be simple. You walk into a shop, ask to see the dishwashers they have available, get a thorough walk through of the functions and options on a couple of short listed models, and finally pick one to be delivered home. The reality is nothing remotely close.

We went to Croma, Aarcee, and a couple of other shops only to find that they rarely even have a dishwasher on display. And if they do, don't expect them to have a clue about how it works. Granted dishwashers aren't selling like air conditioners and washing machines for laundry but if these shops made a better effort I'm sure they would.

The problem with buying online was two-fold. I didn't feel confident that I would have someone to turn to for any after sales issues, and secondly, how would I know which machine is out of date and what's the new one in the market.

Eventually, I asked on Facebook and I got a lot of genuine advice and useful information. I discovered that IFB has its own stores called IFB Point and there was one nearby, in Nerul. We went there to see if we could get a dishwasher that suited our needs and budget. What I liked best was how well informed the sales lady was. She knew the machine inside out, was able to answer every question that we had, and gave us a lot of sensible and practical information instead of a scripted sales pitch. This is where we discovered that a model we shortlisted earlier (having seen it online) had been discontinued by the company.

We finalised the IFB Neptune VX and placed our order. We paid INR 34,200 for it.

Delivery and Installation
Delivery was as prompt as promised and the machine arrived within 48 hours after payment. Installation took a little longer, to an extent delayed by the incessant rains in Mumbai at the start of the monsoons. Once the technician arrived and opened the packing we discovered that the machine was damaged, there was a big, deep crack on the top. The technician pointed it out to me, apologised for the damaged piece and said it would be replaced immediately.

I waited for a couple of days but there was no sign of the replacement. Finally the hubby called the showroom to enquire. Much to our surprise the showroom had no idea about the damaged machine or the replacement! However they assured us that the replacement would arrive within 24 hours, and it did. I expected that it would get installed within a day or so but that was not to be. Another few days passed and finally I went back to the showroom and asked what was going on. Frustrated with the lack of coordination between the showroom staff and their technical crew I said if it was not installed and functioning by the end of the next day I would personally bring the machine and leave it at their premises and they could refund my money.

Anyway, a technician arrived the following day and we finally had the machine installed. I had to call a plumber to install a different tap of a certain specification so that the dishwasher could be installed. It would have been a far easier experience if the company made sure that the technician had the requisite skills to change basic plumbing fittings OR if the company informed customers in advance that specific plumbing is required.

After installation the technician gave me a demo. He wasn't prepared to answer any questions and only wanted to recite his scripted run through of the functions and how tos.

The User Experience

It's about a month since the dishwasher is here and I can only say I am very happy to have it.

Like most people my first concern was with the oily vessels or those which had burned bits of food stuck in them. As with hand washing, I let the vessels soak for a while and then put them in the dishwasher. The results were quite impressive and in the case of one of my heavy bottomed frying pans I could see the original colour of the pan again!

Glassware comes out sparkling and if you have stubborn gummy patches on bottles from labels, the hot water and steam in the dishwasher takes care of it all.

Ceramics and china also get squeaky clean. I've seen an occasional food particle still on a plate or bowl but all it took was a rinse under the tap and it was gone. Not a big deal at all.

The machine cleans stainless steel very well, the hot water certainly seems to help the vessels come out really clean. There's no white film like you see from washing powders and cakes.

Though I have washed many of my wooden spoons and spatulas in the machine I won't do it frequently. I don't think the hot water and intensive cleaning is good for the wood.

Heavy vessels like pressure cookers, woks, frying pans etc fare very well in the dishwasher - no grease, no patches of food particles stuck to the sides, and of course, everything is cleaned inside and outside. No more reminding the maid to wash under plates, outside the pans, clean the handles, etc.

Do I recommend that you buy a dishwasher? Yes I do.

Do I recommend the IFB Neptune VX? I certainly do. In spite of the hiccups while installing, the machine has turned out to be a blessing and I am cooking more because I don't have to worry about piles of dirty dishes in the sink.

Marathon Bloggers

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Murg Musallam - A Blast from the Past

Being on food groups on Facebook has one advantage - you never know when you might chance upon a recipe that you simply can't wait to try, or one that brings a flood of long forgotten memories with it. Yesterday I saw a post about Murg Musallam and the first thing I thought was 'this is something the brother loved when we were kids'. I don't have any specific memories of the dish itself but I remember hearing about it from him and I remember his excitement over a chicken cooked whole, his eyes big and round and filled with wonder. It wasn't something that was ever cooked in our house but since we had many Muslim neighbours we were not deprived :)

I waited patiently for the recipe to be shared once I had read it I knew I had to try it out. It sounded pretty straightforward and, with a couple of my own variations, I knew I would enjoy making it and eating it too. This is Imbesat's recipe for Murg Musallam that I used as my guide. I have made very minor changes to her recipe based on my personal taste and preference but on the whole the recipe is quite the same.

Murg Musallam

1 chicken, whole, without skin

garlic paste

fried onions
lemon juice
3 boiled eggs

3 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup fried onions
2 handfuls garlic, peeled
2" piece fresh ginger
3-4 strands mace
2" cassia bark
5 cardamom pods
5 cloves
2 tbsp poppy seeds

For the gravy
Kashmiri chilli powder
freshly powdered pepper
3 Indian bay leaves

Rinse the chicken inside and out and then marinate with salt, curd and garlic paste for a couple of hours, or overnight if you have planned ahead.

In the mean time get the stuffing and the curry paste organised.

For the stuffing heat ghee in a small pan and fry the cashews and the raisins lightly. Boil two or three eggs, depending on how large the cavity in the chicken is. Peel and lightly fry the eggs. Slice a large onion finely and deep fry till it is a deep golden brown. Drain well. In a bowl mix the fried onions, cashews and raisins with a little salt, sugar and a generous slug of lemon juice.

To make the curry paste gather all the ingredients and grind them to a paste. I did it in two batches in the chutney grinder attachment of my food processor.

It takes around an hour to cook the chicken so depending on when you want to serve give yourself a little more than an hour before serving time. It's easier if you have someone to help you while stuffing and then trussing the chicken. The marinade makes it slippery and messy and therefore a little hard to handle!

I found that I couldn't stuff even two eggs into the chicken without them popping out at every chance making it impossible to truss. I was alone while cooking this. I took a chance and chopped one egg into large chunks and mixed it with the remaining stuffing. Then I pushed in as much of the stuffing, barring the other boiled eggs, into the cavity of the bird. Ideally I should have been able to plug the hole with a full egg but the hole was too big. I trussed the chicken as tightly as I could and pushed in a boiled egg later. Try to close the cavity as best as you can so the stuffing doesn't fall out while frying the chicken.

Heat a generous amount of ghee in a thick bottomed vessel. Place the trussed chicken in the hot ghee gently and let it brown on all sides. This should take around 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate. In the same ghee that's in the pot put in the curry paste. Add some more ghee if required. Fry the paste well for a few minutes. At this stage add the chilli powder, bay leaves, pepper and salt. Stir around and cook the paste well. Add a cup or so of fresh curd and mix it in well. Cook for another couple of minutes.

Put the chicken back in the pot and pour in a cup of water. Blend the paste into the water. Add more water if you need to. Bring to a gentle boil, spoon some of the spice paste over the chicken, and then cover and let it cook on a low flame till done.

Succulent chicken blanketed in a thick luscious gravy, serve your Murg Musallam with hot parathas.

This is a relatively easy dish that would be a hit at parties and potlucks. Make extra stuffing and serve it on the side with extra boiled eggs too.

Marathon Bloggers 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cherry Chocolate Cake

My pantry was suddenly full of cherries. No, not fresh ones though it's the season for them now, but bottled cherries. I'd bought a couple of kinds from my favourite shop in Crawford Market where I shop for goodies occasionally, and then Saee gave me some more. While I'm not a fan of fruit the hubby loves them and always waits eagerly for me to make something exciting with fruit in it. With such a flood of cherries it went without saying that I'd be making something with them soon.

I browsed around on Pinterest, my favourite source of ideas and inspiration, and came across this exceptionally simple yet delicious sounding recipe for Cherry Chocolate Cake on this lovely blog called Tutti Dolci. I ran it by the hubby and once I had his approval I set about making it. It goes without saying that I have made my own adjustments and changes to the recipe and here is what I did, though I followed the method exactly.

Cherry Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup butter
2 tbsp preserving syrup from cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk with a tsp of lemon juice stirred in
enough cherries preserved in syrup to decorate

Preheat the oven at 180C.

In a clean mixing bowl combine all the dry ingredients.

In another bowl whisk the sugar and butter till light and creamy. I did this in my stand mixer. You can do it in a bowl with a hand held electric mixer or even by hand with a whisk. Use small grain sugar. I added a couple of tablespoons of the cherry syrup at this stage.

Once the sugar and butter are creamed well add the egg and the vanilla and beat well. Slow down the speed of the mixer and pour in a bit of the flour mixture and mix. Add some of the lemon and milk mix. Beat to mix. Add the dry mix and the liquid in alternates and blend it all in well to make a smooth satiny batter.

Smear the insides of an 8 inch round cake tin thinly with butter. Pour in the batter. Dot the top with as many cherries as you can but don't squash them too tight. The cherries will sink into the cake and, since they're preserved and not fresh ones, might even disintegrate into the cake. Don't worry, the cake will be delish anyway. Bake for around 25 minutes. Check with a thin skewer to see if it's done -the skewer should come out clean.

Cool the cake in the tin before removing. Ideally, use a loose bottomed tin so you can unmould it more easily. If, like me, you're using a regular tin wait patiently till the cake is cooled before you try to remove it or the cake might break.

Dust the top lightly with powdered sugar if you like and serve. A scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside a warmed slice of this cake would also be magical!

Marathon Bloggers

Thursday, June 18, 2015

During Ramzaan it had to be Bohri Mohalla!

Mutton roll at India Hotel

I've looked forward to the holy month of Ramzaan every year with great eagerness - my devout Muslim friends would be ashamed of me as my motivation has been the fabulous food that's served in the evenings in the Muslim localities in the city, especially at Bohri Mohalla. I will defend myself saying my devotion is to the food, regardless of the occasion.

The month of Ramzaan, for Muslims, is not just about fasting - it's about reflection, about understanding deprivation and gaining an understanding of the lives of those less fortunate, and is about learning discipline and self control. Growing up, I saw many of my Muslim neighbours and friends observe the rozas - and looked forward to being invited for Iftar in the evenings. It was beautiful! The family would gather, prayers would be said, and then the table would groan with varieties of delicious food so different from what we ate in our house. I was lucky to be included.

After I got married and moved to VT, I discovered Mohammad Ali road, and the lanes and by lanes of the various mohallas in the area thanks to the hubby. One day a close friend, Imtiaz, introduced us to Valibhai Payawala in Bohri Mohalla. It was love at first bite for me, rats and other creatures not withstanding.

I also discovered the wonders of the huge tava at India Hotel in the parallel lane. How often the hubby would pick up some rolls and a couple of portions of bhuna on the way back from work, for me to feast on at home!

 Plates of beef bhuna at India Hotel. They also serve chicken and mutton here. 

Aloo Bhuna. Unbelievably delicious! Also at India Hotel. 

Rolls, Baida Roti and other delights at India Hotel

Then there was Tawakkal sweets just next door where, during Ramzaan, you got the most heavenly malpuas.

That malpua is mine! All mine! 
At Tawakkal Sweets where you will also get top notch malai khajas, phirnee, and other sweet goodies like fruit infused barfis. 

It became a yearly thing to do - we would go as often as we could in the evenings through the month of Ramzaan, though we did go the rest of the year too. Then we moved to Kharghar. We didn't go as often and soon it became a Ramzaan ritual. I guess the bright lights, the carnival atmosphere, the aura of something out of the ordinary, and the fact that stalls remained open till late in the night all added to the magic and we were unable to resist.

We went as often as we could, and we took along anyone who was interested, undaunted by the sometimes less than hygienic conditions, the crowds, and the fact that there was a lot of beef on the menus. If visiting friends asked for an out of the ordinary experience in Mumbai Bohri Mohalla is where we took them. We've never had anyone come back disappointed.

The hubby with Kalyan, Shanky and Soumik - The Food Commandos
 Photo credit - Kalyan Karmakar

At Barbecue tucking in!
Photo Credit - Kalyan Karmakar

Barbecue on the opposite side of the road served what we call 'spare parts' - gurda, kapura, tilli, kaleji. Most of the stuff ran out pretty soon so the earlier you got there the better were your chances. This shop also does a variety of seekh kebabs, coal grilled chicken legs and all sorts of other delightful finger foods. You just stand around the shop and gobble down the goodies hot off the grill. 

Varieties of kebabs grilling at Barbecue

Cross the road and you're at Taj Ice creams. This shop has been making hand churned ice creams for the last 129 years. And is still going strong with a fanatically devoted clientele. Fresh fruit ice creams, hand made using seasonal fruits, milk and cream, served in little glass ice cream cups. 

Ice cream at Taj

The lanes have many treasures and if you walk further into the Mohalla you will discover Noor Sweets. Ask for their hot jalebis, straight out of the kadai, dipped for a moment in sugar syrup and then served hot. I promise you you won't be able to eat just one or two! Noor Sweets has a fabulous menu packed with all manner of sweet goodies including malpuas and khajas. They have a chocolate malpua too so if you're feeling adventurous, try it out!

Jalebis in the making. This gent churned out hot jalebis and malpuas tirelessly. 

Jalebis at Noor Sweets

You will find fruit sellers, shops selling masalas and spice mixes, farsaans, groceries, sharbat, and other assorted foods scattered around the mohalla. 

The hubby and Valibhai's son 
Photo credit- Kalyan Karmakar

While we lived at VT, and later when we moved to Kharghar we used to go to Vallibhai's shop so often that if the hubby went without me, the owner, Vallibhai's son, would ask after me - Baby nahi ayi? I think he was saying bhabi, but the hubby insists he said 'baby'! Good honest food builds relationships and we had built one with this place. The staff would greet us eagerly every time we went. The owner would always come by to our table, chat with us, ask what we particularly liked on that day, discussed the food business, market trends, etc., with the hubby, and he always slipped me an extra loaded helping of nalli.

There's a story behind that extra nalli. The first time we went I particularly looked forward to the nalli nihari, among the other goodies. I love bone marrow and had never tasted this dish that showcased marrow, before. I actually expected a dish with just marrow in it, not pieces of meat garnished with a splash of marrow. So when the proprietor came by to see if we liked what we'd eaten I said I felt that there wasn't enough nalli. He took that as an affront and ordered a minion to get me a plate of just nalli in its gravy. I was in heaven, blissfully unaware that this was a sort of challenge. I dug in gamely and polished off the entire portion. Respect dawned in the gentleman's eyes and he smiled and said - you are a true fan of nalli! I will make sure you never feel there isn't enough of it when you visit my shop. And he kept his word. :)

Topa, Pichhota, and Nalli Nihari at Valibhai's. Different cuts of meat served in a combination of gravies, tarri, and nalli. 

This, in the photo above, is what is well known as baara handi (12 pots) where cuts of meat and different gravies and stocks are slow cooked in a total of 12 different pots. Dishes are mainly identified by the cut of meat and have a combination or all of the gravies and stocks. Each dish is finished with a splash of tarri, fat skimmed off the pots  and collected in a separate vessel. 

Last year we did five trips to this wonderland of food. I think deep down I knew things were going to end. And I was right. Beef was banned in Maharashtra. And ValliBhai Payawala shut shop. I don't know which is worse. Bohri Mohalla and its delights are still there but now it's a severely edited version. Without beef and without the baara handi at Valibhai's, for me it's going to be quite lacking in flavour.

My friend Kalyan writes his farewell to Valibhai's here and I am with him when he says " A delicious bit of Mumbai history came to an end".

Marathon Bloggers

Monday, June 1, 2015

Masala Table, Sanpada - Spicing up Navi Mumbai

A little more than a week ago I joined the NaviMumbaiFoodies for dinner at Masala Table. This relatively new restaurant is part of the very exciting quartet of restaurants located just off Palm Beach road, under the Global Culture umbrella. As is quite obvious from the name, Masala Table serves food with Indian flavours - mainly north Indian and Tandoori. The restaurant is perched on the first floor and has a huge plate glass wall that looks onto Palm Beach road and the mangroves beyond.

As I joined the others at our table I glanced around taking in the large and spacious restaurant that had a buffet laid out on one side and plenty of tables set around the rest of the room. Luckily, we had a table by the glass wall and could enjoy the lovely view as we dined.

We started off with a mint shikanji, a cooling mint drink that was ideal for the awful hot weather that prevails these days. We liked it so much we asked for a second round!

The Masala Table has quite an extensive menu that includes plenty of vegetarian options along with the non vegetarian ones. It's quite balanced so both affiliations get plenty of attention. The buffet spread was eye catching and went beyond the mundane 'daal tadka' 'vegetable jalfrezi' 'murgh makhani' etc., though they might need to rethink a vegetarian dish named 'Veg Keema Kaleji'. I'd find that quite disconcerting if I was vegetarian!

Our dinner began with soup and a steady stream of starters. I chose the simple chicken shorba - a clear flavourful broth with little bits of chicken at the bottom. It was simple and comforting and really delicious. The vegetarians had a singhade aur pudine ka shorba - water chestnut and mint broth - which was quite a failure. No one at the table had anything good to say about it.

The starters included a variety of tandoori items along with a plethora of deep or shallow fried goodies. Among the vegetarian starters were paneer zaituni - soft paneer cubes stuffed with olives and cooked in the tandoor - these were superb; dahi ke kebab - hung curd and very soft paneer with raisins, crisp fried with a crunchy exterior - I first ate these at Sigree and I love their version, but this was good too though I didn't like the raisins being there; shakarkand kebab - simple sweet potato croquettes that were perfect with a dash of mint chutney; hariyali kebab - green veg croquettes which were bland and characterless; chatpate aloo - baby potatoes boiled and then tossed in a light spicy wet masala - these were my favourite starter of the evening. The chukandar ke shami was a surprise hit - grated beetroot combined with cheese and lightly spiced, shaped into little tikkis and deep fried - these were little morsels of heaven.

Dahi ke Kebab

Paneer Zaituni

Chatpate Aloo

The non vegetarian starters were well received too. The Jhinga kalimiri -pepper prawns had simple clean flavours of a little cream with fresh black pepper, the prawns were perfectly cooked and succulent; murgh zaffrani tikka - saffron chicken tikkas - these were also light and fragrant, the chicken cooked to melt in the mouth consistency; murgh angara kebab- chicken tikkas in a more robust flavour, these were a good contrast to the earlier zaffrani tikkas; Awadhi mutton boti kebab - little boneless morsels of lamb that disappeared as fast as they appeared; and last but not the least, murgoli - little spicy balls of chicken mince - the kind you want to settle down with as you chill with a good book and a mug of beer.


Murgh Zaffrani Tikka

Jhinga Kalimirch

We asked to take a break. We'd eaten so much I couldn't imagine eating any more! But there was a lot more waiting for us and after chatting (and digesting) for 15 minutes we decided to hit the buffet. I had originally planned to try out the vegetarian dishes too but I was just too stuffed to eat much and I stuck to the non vegetarian stuff on offer. The mutton do piaza caught my eye - for a change there was a thin gravy instead of the usual thick heavy gravies ones sees on buffets - I wasn't going to miss it. I also helped myself to some of the chicken saagwala, and then, because I couldn't resist, just a smidgen of the paneer kalimirch. We had a basket of assorted flat breads served at our table.

I'm mad about biryani and asked if they had mutton biryani on their a la carte menu. They did and I promptly asked to be served some. In the years we have lived in Navi Mumbai I have been searching for good biryani and I was quite thrilled to find that Masala Table does a very good mutton one with lots of fried onions, mint and coriander, tender pieces of mutton, and fragrant rice. The main courses on the buffet were quite good too.

Mutton Biryani

I skipped dessert - not only was I stuffed to the gills, I'm also diabetic and I didn't want to push my luck after having gorged on the biryani!

Would I recommend Masala Table? Yes, wholeheartedly! The food is good, the ambience lovely, service is attentive without being intrusive. There's a lift to take you up to the first floor if you're not in the mood to take the stairs. And they have a very clean washroom too.

You can enjoy the buffets at lunch and at dinner. They have special buffets on weekends too. The prices rage from INR 575 to 699 all inclusive for vegetarians, and from INR 625 to 749 all inclusive for the on vegetarian spreads.

Disclaimer - This was a hosted dinner for the Navi Mumbai Foodies by the Masala Table.