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.