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...