Friday, November 18, 2011

Baharat Pork with Red Wine

Sometimes reconnecting with an old friend is the best thing that could happen, gastronomically speaking. Kurush and his friend Jubal met again after many years and I have found great joy in their reunion. Jubal has a twinkle of mischief that lurks in his eyes all the time and he is one of those male freaks of nature that cleans up after he cooks! We love having him over at our place for obvious reasons ;)

Jubal shares not only our love for good food but he's also happy to share his recipes. He floored us with this amazing pork preparation that made me fall in love with Baharat masala. It is my top favourite pork preparation at the moment and when a pot luck dinner gave me the opportunity to show off my skills with pork, I chose to cook what I call Baharat Pork with Red Wine.

Here's my version -

1kg boneless lean pork with a few chunks of fat
8 largeish onions, sliced
olive oil to cook
sunflower or peanut oil
2 star anise
6" cinnamon stick
salt to taste

For the marinade:
4 teaspoons Baharat masala
juice of 4 sour limes
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp garlic paste
A generous slug of olive oil

Clean the pork pieces and make sure they are small. This dish is cooked slowly in a heavy based pan for a couple of hours. Big chunks result in unevenly cooked pieces so be safe and make smaller pieces.

In a bowl whisk together the marinade and pour over the pork pieces. Use a clean large glass bowl to marinate the meat. Cover and let it marinate for a minimum 1 hour and as long as you can if you're not rushed for time.

When you're ready to cook the pork, slice a mountain of onions. More specifically, use 8. Take a heavy based cooking vessel ( I used a classic biryani degh) and heat about half a cup of olive oil with some peanut or sunflower oil thrown in. Let it heat up nicely and then chuck in the star anise and the cinnamon. Let the onions in and shake everyone around. After the initial sizzle the onions will settle.

 Stir it all well and let the onions fry slowly for about 15 minutes. Supervise it so it doesn't burn. Add a teaspoon or two of Baharat masala at this stage and blend it into the onions nicely.

Now add the pork and stir it all well. Braise the pork nicely and once all the pieces are sealed in, lower the flame and let it cook covered for half an hour. Mostly ignore it but take care that it doesn't burn. Don't add any water. There will be plenty from the onions, the marinade and from the pork itself. Add salt and a splash of some more red wine.

Cover and let it cook for another 30 to 45mins. Be patient and leave it alone. Check after the first 30 minutes, give it a stir, taste it and see. The pork will be silky, soft and will just melt in your mouth. Cook it further only if required.

This dish is ridiculously easy to make but it takes time. More than anything else, cook it with patience.

Serve it with bread, pav, parathas, rice...whatever you like!

Baharat masala, from what I've gathered from my readings, is a north African blend of spices, much like our garam masala. It is used across the Persian Gulf region and just like with our garam masala, there are regional variations in the blend. Some blends have mint or dried lime, but most contain peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and even cumin and corainder.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On why I blog and where I'm going with it

After the furore that resulted after this blog post and this, and the brouhaha on the Mumbai Food Bloggers' Facebook Group page, the PR agency and the restaurant have offered Kurush unconditional apologies and have both assured us that they have taken the matter very seriously and will look into why what happened, happened.  The apologies have been accepted.

However, this entire episode raised many questions in my mind, foremost among them being how am I perceived by the food industry and by PR agencies. And the feeling I get is that I'm looked at as some amateur cook/wannabe writer who's always up for a freebie.

Even I felt like that that evening and it was only the unconditional and across the board support that fellow bloggers showed us that got me my confidence back. I calmed down, got less emotional about the whole thing and thought about it. Why did I start blogging and where am I going with this blog? That's my main question.

The blogging began as an extension of my love for food, the English language and of course, the Internet. I love discovering new things to do on the net, I love social networking and for the last few years I even work online. I love writing. As I blogged I enjoyed the thrill of seeing my writings online. Every time someone posted a comment I was over the moon. I read other people's blogs, learned a lot about food and about blogging too. I started making friends.It just got better and better.

I have blogged on and off for the last four odd years and of late I have become more active thanks to my interactions with the loads of new friends I have made through Mumbai Food Bloggers group. I haven't even met all of them and yet I look forward to their next blog post, banter with them on Facebook and now on Twitter too, and look forward to occasions where I can meet them, one by one.

This is my space - I write what I like and I choose what I want to write about. Sometimes months pass by because I don't really have anything to write. I love food. I love reading about it, learning about it, shopping for it, cooking it, exploring it for new tastes and flavours, making friends with fellow gluttons and gourmets, and this blog is an expression of all that and more.

Where is this blog going? Nowhere. It's not meant to go anywhere. It's here already. A window into my world. Peep in if you like, walk past if you prefer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


So there we were at a loose end, in Bandra on Monday evening. After the original plans for the evening went awry, we contemplated our options and I called up a good friend we hadn't seen in ages in spite of many attempts to meet up. Sue was free to meet us and asked us to come on over to The Bagel Shop, in Pali Hill, Bandra. We hopped into our darling Nano and zipped off.

We arrived to see a lovely little cottage painted a cheerful colour, full of comfy cane chairs and squashy sofas. This was The Bagel Shop. After much hugging, Sue, Kurush and I went in and settled down in a cosy corner. As we chatted and caught up, I looked at the extensive menu and pondered what to choose. This was the first time I was going to come face to face with a real live bagel! The decision was important.

Given that I was upset over the events earlier in the evening I was looking for some comfort. That means pork. I chose a simple Pork Ham and Cheese Bagel. Sue opted for a Garlic Bagel while Kurush went for the Roast Beef and Onions Bagel.

The bagel arrived in due time and it was much larger than I had expected. YUM! That was my first thought as  I sank my teeth into it. Plenty of ham, lots of creamy cheese, crisp lettuce all lovingly held together within the bagel. My world was a good place to be in again.

 Perfection in a plate. A few simple ingredients, fresh and delicious.

This is what Kurush's Beef Bonanza looked like...please forgive the fuzzy picture!

Kurush was still hungry and so he ordered an Elvis Bagel. This had Nutella, sliced bananas and chunky Peanut Butter and came in two parts. It was a gooey sticky messy delight and Kurush was in heaven :)

We also had the cold coffee here which I found surprisingly not sweet. Being diabetic I rarely treat myself to the simple delights like cold coffee. At The Bagel Shop I did.

The view into the cafe from where we were seated.

Find a place you like and get comfy...

The menu board. They have an extensive printed menu too. This board carries the highlights.

The Bagel Shop is one place I'd be happy to go back to soon. Friendly and attentive service, superb ambience and bagels. Delicious bagels. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bungalow 9, a lesson in hospitality. Not.

A few days ago the husband received an invitation from Bungalow 9, an upmarket restaurant in fashionable Bandra, to come and dine and then of course, write about them on his blog. A bemused hubby told me about it and we decided, what the hell, let's go.

Phone calls from their PR agency Percept followed and we confirmed that we would be there on Monday evening. Priyanka, their representative made all the requisite correct noises, assuring us that Monday would be good because the chef would be there (his day off is Tuesday, not Monday), inquiring whether we would like to sit inside the bungalow or outside where the ambience was quite lovely and the weather very pleasant too.

We set out as planned and got there on Monday evening, at 8.30pm as per our reservation. Both of us were a little unsure as this was a first and we were not sure of this scenario of being hosted by them so we could write about them. Anyway, we were there and so we went in.

The place is lovely, set in what used to be a quiet lane in Bandra. Now of course there are huge flashy cars and thin flashy people every where. There was a pretty young receptionist and as she looked at her bookings list, we were no where on it. The husband introduced himself, presented his visiting card and explained that we had been invited. Embarrassed and feeling very awkward, I stood by and waited. Another receptionist joined this young girl and he was as clueless as she was. We looked at the bookings for the evening and there was no sign of our name anywhere. We were not expected.

So we explained how their PR people had got in touch with us and set up this dinner invitation. Blank looks was all we got. We tried to access the email on our cell phones but there was no connectivity and we therefore couldn't show them the email invite. After about 10 minutes of this very awkward interaction we were finally offered a seat. Not at the dining tables but in the waiting area which is one tiny sofa tucked in a corner. I was slowly and surely losing my temper.

Another slightly senior person came out, asked us again who we were, etc. I had had enough and decided to leave. The husband was completely embarrassed, insulted and didn't know what to think. There had been no communication from the PR agency about us being invited but, he assured us that they were not fully booked and we were welcome to stay for dinner. Thanks, but no thanks.

We left of course.

The PR lady did call later in the evening to find out what happened and what I gathered from hubby's conversation with her is that there was a 'human error' somewhere. It definitely took a genius to figure that one out! She also said they would 'make it up to us'. How? At most they can offer us another 'free meal'. Do we want that after this experience?

There are somethings about hospitality that are absolute no-nos. You do not invite a guest and then forget to inform the relevant people. You do not leave an invited guest standing around trying to prove he was invited. You do not invite a guest and then let them leave feeling embarrassed and insulted.

I have no idea what the food at Bungalow 9 is like. Frankly my dears, I don't give a damn.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Triumph of the Toasted Sandwich

The Toasted Sandwich is such an integral part of Mumbai life. Right from school when one begins to discover the forbidden delights of street food, the toasted sandwich has been one of the star attractions.

Since I work from home there's not much street food that I get to eat. What better solution than to bring the street home? Granted, one can never quite replicate those street flavours in a sanitised home kitchen but there are magical flavours to be found at home too.

While the classic road side sandwich is replete with sliced veggies,cheese and spiced potatoes, the home version is more 'gourmet' and can be just as fulfilling.

Bored with the usual oatmeal/ fried eggs and toast/ muesli breakfasts Kurush decided to make something different for breakfast this morning. Of course overcoming the morning inertia took a while and we had brunch instead.

Whole wheat bread with Apple Smoked Mozzarella and slices of Spanish chorizo sandwiched and then toasted in the sandwich toasting contraption that used to be a part of every kitchen in Mumbai. It's not that common these days but it's not that rare either. After all, with the local sandwich wala dishing them out why would you bother making them yourself? But then, he won't be serving these yummy babies that we had for brunch today!

My love affair with the toasted sandwich grew in the years spent in the hostel in Pune. We didn't have the toaster but we were never short of toasted sandwiches. Get the makings together, pull out your trusty clothes iron and a roll of aluminium foil and you're in business. Assemble the sandwich, slather on the butter outside, wrap tightly in foil. Heat the iron up nicely and press down on the sandwich. The heavy irons of our parents' generation would be ideal as you don't have to put on much effort then. Toast both sides nicely, unwrap and take a bite of sheer heaven!

We used slices of salami, boiled potatoes, capsicums, cheese slices, tomatoes, whatever was available and suited our tastes.

Get yourself a simple sandwich toaster and treat yourself today. Simple pleasures in the simple things of life...

Monday, September 26, 2011

A simple chorchori - mixed vegetables tempered with paanch phoron

Since K has started working at the University of Mumbai as Assistant Professor, I suddenly find myself having to  make him packed lunches. Since he shares the lunch with his colleagues (of course he devours their goodies too) I try to make vegetarian food as often as possible so no one is left out.

Now vegetarian food is a challenge indeed and after a couple of weeks of paapri/ gwaar/ french beans with potatoes, cabbage, bhindi bhaaji or cauliflower with green peas, K protested that more variety was required. Sigh...these are veggies we're talking about! What do I know about variety??!!

Well, being a Bengali, I should have known quite a bit. Bengalis have a huge and rich tradition of vegetarian cuisine and it's mind boggling just how delicious some of the dishes are. So I duly called up my mother and demanded a recipe. Something simple that didn't involve grinding masalas or making pastes, just something I could throw together on a busy working day.

Keeping in  mind the vegetables I had bought, this is what she told me to make.

Sim, begun, kumro ar alu chorchori

Paapri, eggplant, red pumpkin and potato cooked with paanch phoron

Here's how-

Cut the vegetables into smallish equal sized pieces.

Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadai and let the oil heat up nicely. When the surface of the oil shivers reduce the heat and put in about half a teaspoon of paanch phoron. My mix contains kalonji, methi, rai, saunf and radhuni. That's nigella, fenugreek, mustard, fennel and wild celery seeds (also known as ajmoda in Hindi). Add one or two dried red chillies. Kashmiri or Bedki, whichever you have.

Once the spices sizzle add in the potatoes and the pumpkin pieces. Stir everything nicely and fry the vegetables well.

After about 8 to 10 minutes add in the cut eggplant pieces and the strung and cut paapri. Stir everything and continue to cook. Lower the heat and let the vegetables cook slowly. Cover the wok and stir once in a way just to see that it doesn't burn at the bottom.

Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and salt to taste. Mix well and sprinkle a little water to generate some steam to cook the vegetables through. Cover. This preparation must not have any gravy so be sure to add not more than a tablespoon or so of water.

Serve hot once the veggies are done. The pumpkins should practically disintegrate, the potatoes should be soft and buttery.

You can use a variety of vegetables including radish, leafy greens, the favourite of Bengalis - the potol, plantain, green peas, etc.

The beauty of this dish is really its simplicity. A simple paanch phoron and dried chilli tempering and just turmeric and salt. The flavours of the vegetables themselves come through and you have a delicious and healthy dish to lap up!

And thus starts my exploration of Bengali vegetarian cuisine...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cafreal Chicken goes Red!

My love affair with Chicken Cafreal started with my mother's hunt for easy recipes which she could cook with minimum fuss and delicious results. At some point she discovered the ready made green flavourful masala paste that was one of the greatest gifts to the cook who is simply too tired to cook from scratch. We tried various brands and voted the Goana Foods green cafreal masala as our favourite. This magic paste was available at the local cold storage shop and we bought it in vast quantities and even order it online today. Here's the recipe for green cafreal chicken.

It was many years later that I made it to the magical place that is Goa - and there I discovered red cafreal masala  made by another company called Marcarfly. Here was a revelation in a plastic packet! I didn't know a red variation even existed and since then my kitchen is always well stocked with plenty of packets of both varieties. You can buy this at Kitchenette at Margao or at the other similar shop just next to it.

Nothing is easier than making Red Cafreal Chicken. All you do is marinate the chicken with a little salt. Slap on a generous bit of the masala paste and let it sit for an hour. Then all that's left to be done is for the chicken to be slowly fried. If you're in a hurry, don't wait. Cook it immediately.

Here are a few pics of what this absolutely delicious dish in a jiffy looks like..

The paste is thick and oily and has a deep red colour Be careful! The colour gets on to everything!

Coat the pieces nicely with a generous amount of the paste. Let is sit for an hour.

Fry slowly in a neutral oil and let it cook properly inside and then let the outside get nice and crisp. Cook the leg pieces and the breast pieces separately. The breast pieces need a shorter cooking time and will get overcooked if you dunk in all the pieces together. A little care goes a long way.

Serve hot off the pan with bread or rotis.

This works well with prawns too. And you can also do just a big pile of chicken wings and serve them up as a starter. Be sure to have plenty of napkins handy!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Food Bloggers' Pot Luck - an inspiration for Payesh

Sometimes my Bengali genes give out a loud shout and I am compelled to cook something essentially Bengali. No fusion, no inspired creative moments allowed, for once I have to follow the rules. Coincidentally while my genes were shouting the Mumbai Bloggers Pot Luck diner was announced and voila! I had an audience too. I decided to make Payesh.

Payesh is an auspicious milk preparation made on birthdays in nearly all Bengali households. All communities across India probably have their own version of sweetened reduced milk cooked with rice/sooji/vermicelli, etc. Us Bongs, we make Payesh.

I have always had an aversion to sweets and milk products and defiantly refused to have any Payesh all through my childhood. Not that I would eat it today. I don't like milk and now I am also diabetic but that's a different matter entirely...

Anyway, since the rest of the world does appreciate the simple poetry of a well made Payesh, I decided to make it for the dinner.

First I called my Mom and quickly went through the procedure and then I got on with it.

Here's what you need for Payesh for 10 to 15 people

3 litres full fat milk
5 tablespoons sugar (use more if you prefer)
2 tablespoons Gobindo Bhog rice
10 green cardamoms
4 bay leaves
a pinch of salt
LOTS of patience

Wash and soak the rice for half an hour. De-stalk the raisins and soak them separately.

Bring the milk to a boil in a large heavy bottomed vessel. I used a copper 'kalai' vessel that my Mom in law used to make biriyani. The thick bottom prevents the milk from scorching at the base and using a large vessel helps in minimising the chances of the milk boiling over.

Once the milk is boiled reduce the heat and add the bay leaves and the cardamom pods. Split the pods so the flavours can blend easily.

Drain the rice on a small napkin so that the water is completely removed. Drop the rice into the simmering milk and let it cook as the milk reduces. Stir this occasionally and ensure that the milk does not stick to the bottom of the vessel and burn.

After an hour or so the milk would have reduced considerably and the rice grains should have literally 'exploded'. Just 2 tablespoons of rice will increase tremendously, trust me! If the milk needs to reduce some more, simmer longer.

Once the rice is cooked and the milk has reduced sufficiently add the sugar. Stir well and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Put in the raisins too.

The Payesh will thicken as it cools and a gorgeous creamy malai will form so decant it into your serving bowl while it is still hot. Decorate with flaked almonds or pistachios if you like.

A deceptively simple dish to make one thing a Payesh maker needs in abundance is patience. There isn't all that much to actively do. There's hardly any prep required. But you have to keep your eye on it. The milk burns and your Payesh is ruined. Reduce the milk too much and you get a thick porridge instead of a creamy rich Payesh which is in fact what happened. An extra litre of milk was boiled and reduced in a panic and the Payesh was 'repaired'.

The recipe and proportions above will work perfectly as long as you keep your eye on things :)

Photo Credit: Jyotika Purwar

Here's the Payesh that I made for the Mumbai Food Bloggers' Pot Luck on Saturday 30th July at Gostana

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Momos on the mind

Momos were suddenly omnipresent in most of my conversations over the last couple of days and I thought to myself, it's high time I tried making them. I love momos. And I love pork momos the best. Chicken momos are a huge compromise and vegetable momos are an aberration. I had all the makings for pork momos in stock and I had finished the day's quota of work early. The omens were auspicious and my momo adventure began.

I first googled momo recipes just to get some basic concepts clear but nothing seemed to match with what I remembered from the momo parties in the Boys' Hostel at Deccan College all those years ago. I chanced upon some videos on Youtube which were a great help in figuring out the making of the momos themselves. 15 minutes of serious internet research and I was ready to rock and roll.

I put the pork mince out to thaw and chopped onions and grated some fresh ginger in the mean time. Once the pork was completely thawed I threw in the chopped onions, grated ginger and salt, mixed it all well and let it sit.

Flour, water and a good pinch of salt is all I used to make a soft pliable dough for the covering. Once kneaded thoroughly, it rested for about half an hour.

And then the real fun began.

I rolled out the requisite disc and then I proceeded to make the first momo. Here it is - 

not bad eh? 

As I made the rest of the momos they got easier as I got more confident. As soon as the first five were done I was ready to steam them and see how I had fared. 

I put them all in my quickly put together steamer which was a large pot with water on which I placed my stainless steel colander. I oiled this so the momos wouldn't stick. This I covered with a steel plate, bound the sides with a thick towel to minimise the steam that would escape. Once the water was boiling nicely I steamed the momos for about 25 minutes. Since I didn't have a proper steamer that shut tightly, I gave them some extra time. 

Here they are! My homemade pork momos..

With the first batch I realised that I needed to make the covering thinner and yes, the next batch did turn out even better with my newly gained knowledge. Fat juicy momos, mouthfuls of heaven, made by me. What a triumph!

I probably sound childishly thrilled but momos have so many memories attached that making them fairly successfully myself has been a special achievement indeed. A slice of the past visited me as I spent this evening making momos and reliving wonderful days at the Deccan College with our friends Aren and Chumbeno. Thanks guys, I could never have done this without you. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Simple Pleasures

This post is not about food, it's about the simple pleasures of life. I've let myself get caught up in the madness of life and work so much that I have forgotten many of the simple, fun and pleasurable things I used to do. One of my greatest loves has always been baking, and like with regular cooking, one needs an appreciative audience for this too. Though I have a devoted audience at home concerns about weight and general health led me to more or less give up on baking. After all baking is for pleasure and you can't expect me to get excited about baking ragi biscuits! So the baking languished and the hubby wandered around looking disappointed.

Today I thought to hell with it...let me bake again. And I did. Nothing earth shattering, just a simple sponge cake with a whole lot of raisins in it. Hubby was at home and was eager to help and join in the fun. We had a blast! An inspired idea had us picking out raisins and various dried fruit from a huge jar of muesli that was being ignored for many months. I bunged them into the batter and we had a lovely home made cake dotted with assorted dried fruit.

Sometimes we must bend the rules and live a little too. I had such fun baking and the the joy on hubby's face was simply priceless. As much as you love someone, you must remember to do the little things that make them happy. That's what life is about, isn't it?

A half hour's effort and what splendid results...and I'm not talking about the cake!

The recipe for the cake is here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lunch at Mainland China, Vashi - a singular experience

Living in Navi Mumbai can leave one feeling pretty isolated so I thank God for the Internet every day. But one needs to have a real social life too, where one meets people face to face. It was time to make some new friends and a chance conversation with a new acquaintance led me into the unexplored world of the kitty party.

I was excited and a little embarrassed at the same time - I mean, a kitty party! But it was time to put aside all preconceived notions and give myself a chance to just go out and have some fun. And I did.

The venue chosen was Mainland China in Vashi. Now Mainland China as a restaurant chain has a formidable reputation built up over many years and many outlets all over the country and I was quite looking forward to going there. I was going to meet eight strangers (and one close friend!) and it was nice to have some sort of comfort zone, even if I hadn't been to this Vashi outlet more than once before.

One lady from the group was already there as my friend and I walked in. We got comfortable and before we knew it the waiter was at our table asking us what we would like to order. We said we were waiting for at least seven more people and we'd like to wait a bit. In another two or three minutes another waiter came by to take our order. We said the same thing and pointed to the large table we were sitting at and at all the empty spaces. We asked for the drinks menu thinking we'd at least order a drink.

The a la carte menu arrived. We specified we were going to all have their un fixed lunch because it would be easier for all. I reminded the waiter to get the drinks menu. The un fixed lunch menu arrived and with it an eager senior waiter type, all ready to take our order. There were still just three of us at the table. I asked for the drinks menu again.

We had some questions regarding the un fixed menu and the eager fellow went off to look for someone who knew how the un fixed menu works. No sign of the drinks menu yet. I finally lost patience and raised my voice asking one of the senior staff wandering around if they had a problem with serving us alcohol or any other drink. Many apologies and the drinks menus arrived.

Meanwhile a few more ladies arrived and our table began filling up. Introductions flew around, the fun had begun. The un fixed menu has soup and dim sum too and we all asked for both. Meanwhile the Chinese tea arrived. I don't like the stuff so I opted out but I did notice that there seemed to be a huge amount of tea leaves floating in every cup. The tea drinkers requested that the tea be strained and served because they couldn't enjoy the tea with a mouthful of leaves with every sip.

We continued chatting and joking and I was having a good time. Then the soup arrived. No sign of the drinks, by the way. Two beers, one cocktail and one mocktail had been ordered. Soup was served to all and voila! the drinks arrived and guess what? So did the tea! So we had soup, drinks and tea all together.

The dim sums also arrived but we were barely halfway through our soup. Now the un fixed menu has 3 pieces  of the dim sum per person but we were served 2 each and we had to demand that the third one be brought. It felt so silly but if you say 3 shouldn't you serve 3 and be done with it?? By this time the main courses began to arrive and the portions were unbelievably small. Why would the restaurant serve combined portions in dishes the same size as their regular single portion dishes? Why make the customer feel cheated? We insisted that they serve everything in their individual portions.

The food took forever to get to our table and when it came the waiters milled around dumping food on our plates, shouldering in from both sides literally giving us no room to even sit. It was simply unbelievable.

We finally chose our desserts and instructed them to bring each one individually. Guess what? They didn't. Everything came combined again and there were waiters actually serving half a scoop of ice cream because there were 9 people and six desserts had been ordered. Which part of 'bring everything individually' they didn't understand I honestly don't know.

This is possibly my worst experience eating out ever. I don't remember what the food tasted like because I was too pissed off to appreciate it. The service was beyond abysmal.

Being in the food business myself I am always willing to understand, be considerate and forgive a random mistake. But this was simply ridiculous and I had to hold myself back from holding a basic training session in courtesy and table service at Mainland China, Vashi.

Lunch at Mainland China, Vashi was a singular experience indeed. And it will remain so. I have been to other outlets, one of my favourites is the one in South City Mall, Calcutta. This one was a shock to the system.

I apologise to this long post, rather this rant...but I had to say it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Reunion and a Breakfast

College Reunions seemed always to be something older people were attending and suddenly I was attending one myself. They say life begins at 40 and yeah, some parts of life were beginning all right! The excitement and anticipation built up as we found class mates and friends through our best online friend finder, Facebook. And then one Friday after frantically finishing work, we were off to Pune to our beloved Deccan College to meet friends we hadn't seen for years. Some we last saw roughly 16 years ago. Much revelry, much fond abuse and many hugs later there we were, together again.

A reunion is a strange brings back memories of a time long past but that time feels like it was just yesterday or the last week. The intervening years feel like the blink of an eye. I felt I could simply reach out and touch that past, touch the person I was, the people we all were. So much has changed for all of us yet there we were, the same as we were all those years ago. The same sense of friendship, of closeness, of belonging. Everything had changed yet nothing had changed at all...

A regular haunt in the old days was Vohuman Cafe near Jehangir Hall hospital. With Hormazd uncle reigning supreme at the counter shouting at Mohammad or Satish to hurry up and collect the toast butter, or at some poor hapless customer for not having change to the loud buzz of conversation, the smell of eggs frying and butter melting on to hot toast, it was all familiar and comforting to be back. Prices have gone up and the place is a bit spruced up - a fresh coat of paint and a new false ceiling with lots of lights - but the feeling of being back at Vohuman is as wonderful as ever.

Here is a picture of Hormazd uncle with big star Salman Khan, that uncle insisted we all admire :)

And here's Hormazd uncle again, the eternal ladies' man..

Endless plates of bun maska, toast butter, masala omlette, double half fry (palti marke) and chai after chai after chai. What a perfect breakfast we all had as we sat around the old marble topped tables joined together higgledy piggledy.

Replete after a huge breakfast and a flood of memories we were all quite full.

One never quite grasps the impact a reunion has till one has been there. For hubby and me it was a journey back in time as we relived our courtship, completed writing his PhD thesis, attended endless excavations across the country, sat up endless nights playing cards, drank litres of booze, learned about archaeology and about life. It was like it happened again. I spent nearly 10 years at Deccan College, undoubtedly the best years of my life... I would go back in a heart beat.

Photo credits go to my friends Tridib and Jubal. Thanks :)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares by Nigella

The first Nigella book I bought was How to be a Domestic Goddess and it is one of my most favourite books of all time. Not just among cook books, but among books in general. After drooling over the pictures and sighing over the delicious recipes and enjoying her seductive writing style it was time to get into the kitchen and try out some of the goodies for myself.

The recipe for Peanut Butter Squares called out to me! They were, she said, a homespun version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Now these are never available here in India and if I had a chance to recreate them in my own kitchen who would dare get in  my way?!

So I did try them out and they were gorgeous..simple, no fuss, straight forward gorgeous. What makes me like them even more is how ridiculously easy it is to make them. No cooking involved, no fancy techniques, no fiddly equipment, nothing. A cake tin, a couple of mixing bowls, a spatula, a fork and a microwave, if you have one. If you don't, a saucepan works just as well.

So here's how you make the Peanut Butter Squares. My recipe is slightly adjusted using ingredients that I had.

50 gms dark demerara sugar
200 gms icing sugar
50 gms butter (unsalted if you can get it, I used regular Amul )
200 gms smooth peanut butter

300 gms chocolate
1 generous tbsp butter

1 8x10 square brownie tin

Take a clean mixing bowl and mix the two sugars. Make sure the icing sugar is not lumpy. If it is just whizz it in your mixer and it will be fine. Add the butter and the peanut butter and mix it all up. Use a fork and work it together till you get it all fairly well mixed. Butter the tin and dust with a bit of icing sugar. Press in the peanut butter/sugar/butter mix to cover the entire base of the tin and press nicely into the corners. Smooth out the top with your spatula or just go in with your hands and flatten it out nicely.

Melt the chocolate in your microwave or in a double boiler. Heat water in a saucepan and place a heat proof bowl on the bubbling water with the chocolate in it. Be careful, don't let water get into the chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted add that tablespoon of butter and blend it in nicely. Your chocolate should glisten beautifully. You can use plain dark chocolate or a combination of dark chocolate with milk chocolate, whatever works for you.

Pour the chocolate onto the Peanut butter base in the brownie tin. Smooth the surface and let it cool in the fridge till it is set absolutely firm. Resist temptation and leave it alone for at least a couple of hours so it sets properly. Cut into squares and enjoy!

As simple as it is to make them, these little babies are sinfully rich. Indulge only occasionally :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Going, Going, Goa!!

Going to Goa is like a pilgrimage for me. We look forward to a lazy week of doing nothing, eating plenty of superb food, reading and generally lazing around. K and I like to drive from Mumbai all the way to Goa. Well, he does all the driving, I just enjoy the ride! And there were, once again, on our way back to that wonderful place, Goa.

At Mangaon we stopped at a little shop on the main road itself for some fresh mango kulfi. K enjoyed it so much we stopped here again on the way back. This massive slab of kulfi cost all of Rs.25.

We usually stop overnight somewhere on the way. We have stayed at Ganpatipule on one trip and this time since we were going for a shorter period, decided to drive all the way to Sawantwadi before stopping for the night. If you are ever there and need to stay the night, The Mango is a great option. Exceptionally clean rooms, well furnished, prompt and friendly service and the best prawn curry I've ever eaten! Sawantwadi is also known for its papier mache and wooden handicrafts.

We stopped for lunch at a new highway restaurant on the ghat section before Chiplun. The food was fresh, flavourful and surprisingly not hot with chillies. We found this to be the trend at all the highway stops on the way to Goa and on our return trip too.

Refreshed after a good night's rest at The Mango in Sawantwadi we proceeded towards Goa. There's a major section of the highway being broadened and work was on in full force.

And then there we were! In Goa! We stayed at a resort in Benaulim, further south from Margao. We first stopped at our favourite shop in Margao and stocked up on some ready masala paste packets and choriz pau to munch on. The taste of Goa...fresh and spicy!

Once we'd checked in and dumped our bags we went in search of lunch. Now if you're familiar with Margao you know about Longuinho's. We found a restaurant bearing their name in Benaulim itself and we trooped in ready to pig out on some good Goan grub. Crisp batter fried prawns, Beef chilly fry, and king fish curry with rice. Bring it on!

In the next few days we ate at many places across Goa and made some amazing discoveries too. Whenever I remembered to whip out the camera I took pictures. At other times I was too busy enjoying the smells and flavours so I have no pictures.

If you're in Goa check out Branco Bar and Restaurant in St Inez. The Salted beef tongue was simply divine.

Rava fried Mussels

The Salted Beef Tongue

Pan fried squid with LOTS of garlic!

If you are in South Goa come to Pedro's on Benaulim beach. The best crisp fried squid on Earth is here, I promise. We ordered it twice and they were consistently good. This is one meal I regret not having pictures of.

The drive back was an adventure in itself. It took us roughly 48 hours to get back because we had car trouble. It also was a chance to really connect with locals at Kharepatan and then again in a little village before  Hathkhamba. The car finally said enough a couple of kilometers outside Sanghameshwar so we spent the night there. And discovered amazing food in a hole in the wall little eatery. There were modaks made with Kopra Paak (grated sweetened coconut) with fruit pulp added. It seems this is a local speciality. Sitafal, strawberry, chocolate (!), and mango were available. K proclaimed the mango ones to be the best.

No journey on the Indian highways is complete without stern and sometimes philosophical warnings to drive carefully. Here's my favourite one.

"You are a traveller, not a competitor"

And then there are kulfi and falooda vendors too

Learned people say that the journey is as important as the destination. Truer words were never spoken. What a wonderful country we live in.