Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Aamer Chaatni - Welcoming Summer

A couple of posts ago I showed off my shiny new copper vessel and a pile of tender raw mangoes that the husband brought back from his trip down around the Konkan. While the copper vessel now sits proudly in my kitchen, the mangoes had to be used up. There was no discussion about what we would do with the mangoes - kancha aamer chaatni was on the menu!

Here's the recipe for the chaatni 

Mango season is about to take off and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the arrival of the King!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On random scribbling and zen doodles

As I paint I think of new designs and motifs, styles to try, ideas to adapt. Among my favourite are simple geometric patterns that are repetitive. You know the kind of doodles we did when we were bored in class? The kind we filled the backs of notebooks with? Endless abstract patterns, even fanciful mehendi designs. I love patterns that grow organically, with no formal direction.

One of my biggest sources of inspiration is Pinterest. I don't know what I did before it came into being! As I went from pin to pin, board to board I have seen thousands of great ideas and doable patterns and designs. I've also picked up some jargon along the way and the most amusing one I found was 'Zen Doodle'.

Zen Doodles are nothing but those mesmerising endless patterns and scribbles that we did! It seems drawing these patterns bring the artist a sense of Zen-like peace - and I do agree with that bit. It's quite nice actually to give a familiar activity a fancy name and I can now proudly say I have a Zen Doodle series  :)

This one is the latest - a lid for a curry bowl.

Amba in Tamba

The hubby was off to do fieldwork (he's an archaeologist) and he was going to a whole lot of places along the Konkan coast, though not necessarily to any of the beaches. I reminded him to bring me some of the beautiful fragrant Ambe Mohar rice that I love. Of course he did.

He also came back with some other goodies including kurdai (a kind of papad made from wheat), a huge pile of tender raw mangoes, some kaju fruit and the show stopper - a gorgeous beaten copper vessel!

I'm gearing up for another sale, a 2 day event this time, and I have tons of stuff waiting to be painted. Work is also keeping me busy. But you know how it is... a beautiful new vessel, the soft light of the morning and a relatively new camera that I'm still getting to know...

So here's what I did today :)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pork Sausage and Vegetable Stew

My mom brought these incredibly delicious pork sausages from Kalman's Meat Shop in Kolkata. My friend Kalyan had blogged about it many months ago and now this shop is like a cult destination for many pork lovers I know! Goodies from Kalman are now mandatory every time mom comes for a visit.

We had the sausages plain pan fried for breakfast a few mornings ago and the first thing I thought was that they would make an awesome stew.

Among the other goodies I had stashed away was a packet of spice mix for a Spanish Pork Casserole, brought by my friend Appu. Now was a good time to use it.

For the stew or casserole I used 6 of the plump sausages with assorted vegetables including broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes and onions.

Here are these delicious babies snuggled up on a dinner plate. Yes, that's how large they are!

In a large cooking pot I heated some oil and sautéed the vegetables. Cut the vegetables into bite sized pieces so they cook fast. I added about 8 cloves of garlic too. Once the vegetables began to brown a little I added the sausages. They tend to pop out of the casings once they get hot but the good thing is that they didn't disintegrate.

Over the sautéed vegetables and sausages I sprinkled the spice mix and added a generous amount of water. After giving the whole thing a good stir I covered the pot and let it cook. The sausages cook very quickly, I just needed to ensure that the vegetables were done too. A sprinkling of fresh ground pepper at the end was all I needed to add.

I would have liked to add a good splash of red wine but I didn't have any... at least not any that I could cook with!  The original recipe on the packet requires one to sprinkle the spice powder over raw pork, add a splash of oil and a cup of water, then put into the baking bag provided and subsequently baked for about 45 mins. I decided to simply make a stove top stew since I was using sausages and not pork chunks.

You can make this sort of a stew quite easily even without the convenience of the spice mix packet. Use tomato puree, a couple of finely chopped onions, salt, pepper, and a generous dash of mixed dried herbs. A good splash of red wine will be great. Dilute a bit of white flour in water and add it to thicken the gravy, if you like. Finish with butter or a dash of cream before serving.

Here's my Pork Sausage and Vegetable Stew done in about 30mins. And now that I have shared it with you all, I'm off to eat :)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Roast Chicken in a Bag

I love cooking and I love cooking short cuts even more. Give me a spice mix in a packet, an instant soup, a curry paste, anything that cuts the mundane hard work and the cooking time and I'm a happy girl. Over the years my love for these kitchen aids (as I like to call them) is fairly well known and friends and family frequently bring me goodies in the guise of these convenient packets, jars and cans.

The most recent acquisition was a stack of gravy and roast mixes that my friend Appu brought for me from London. Nothing fancy, nothing gourmet, just the regular everyday kind of stuff that people there put on their weekly grocery lists. From the numerous envelopes that she'd picked up I fished out this one - Herb and Garlic Roast Chicken.

Chicken is most easily available and it's also far easier to cook than mutton or beef. So, though the husband quite detests chicken, it appears on our table quite often. Keeping his dislike of chicken in mind I always try to make it as interesting or different as possible. Compared to the heavier curries and gravies lighter roasts and grills find more favour and this envelope was right up my street.

The baking bag that comes included in this packet adds a nice element of fun and I love playing with new stuff. Baking bags might be the most incredibly mundane thing out there in Britain but here in India, it's novel enough to have quite some appeal.

So here's what you have to do. Put chicken in bag. Pour in the seasoning powder and a generous splash of  cooking oil and shake the bag to coat the chicken nicely. I used olive oil - just the regular kind - don't waste EVOO here. Seal bag with the clip provided, set in baking dish and put it in the preheated oven. Forget it for 30 mins or so and then carefully cut open the bag and cook further letting the chicken brown and crisp nicely. Easy Peasy!

I did exactly as instructed, the only difference being that I didn't use a whole chicken but one that was cut into pieces. Godrej is my favourite brand.

Here's the chicken spiced and bagged and placed in a baking dish.

I popped it in the oven and this is what I got at the end of the cooking process.

Serve with crusty bread, a salad, potato wedges, or grilled vegetables.

Simple flavours with fabulous results. The hubby approved too!

Appu, if you've read this, please bring me more.And be sure to pick up a few for yourself too :)

In the old days I clamoured for fancy ingredients if someone was coming from abroad. Now I request them to go to the local supermarket and get me simple stuff like these Shake and Bake packets that make life easy and delicious!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bonding over Biryani

Biryani is my most favourite food. It must be a robust mutton biryani typically available in Mumbai of course, but I'd settle for the more subtle Avadhi or Kolkata style biryani in a pinch.

Among my fondest childhood memories is the biryani that was ordered for one of my birthdays from Jeff Caterers in Bandra. The fragrant spicy biryani with golden flavourful chunks of potatoes- my mouth waters even today! As I grew up I tasted different biryanis across Bombay (in those days it was Bombay) and biryani reigned as my top favourite food if we were eating out. The choice of cuisines available in those days was mainly Chinese or Mughlai and biryani won hands down over Chinese Chopsuey, my Bong genes notwithstanding.

The apartment block I grew up in, at Bandstand , Bandra, had a wonderful mix of Muslim families. There were Bohris, Khojas and Sunnis.. oooh the variety of delicious food! Every Eid was a smorgasbord of wonderful food. Sheer Khorma, daal gosht, saalans, kebabs, and of course biryani! My brother would hound the neighbouring aunty in the days running up to any Eid, begging her to make biryani and we just took it for granted that we would be part of the celebrations. Not only did we go over and stuff ourselves shamelessly, other families also sent special preparations cooked up in their kitchens. Life was wonderful.

My mother did a short cooking course at the Dadar Catering college and among the many things she learned there, one was biryani. Oh the way the entire house would bask in the aromas from the kitchen! And the brother and I would be hopping in anticipation, waiting for biryani to be done so we could dig right in. Yes, we're the same even today - just can't wait to dig in.

A few weeks ago plans were made, tickets were bought and mom and bro were set to arrive for a visit. The only thing the brother kept saying was cook something nice, cook something nice. So I thought of making biryani. We all love it and the hubby is quite fond of it too. Mutton biryani was on the menu.

I'd made biryani just once before and I was quite surprised at how simple it really is. And that is mainly why I was confident and relaxed enough to make it again, and that too for this audience. I was competing with all those amazing biryanis of our childhood, after all!

I pulled out Pratibha Karan's book Biryani and used her recipe for Katchi Biryani from Hyderabad. In this recipe the raw meat is cooked under semi cooked rice, in a tightly sealed vessel. I used her recipe as a basic guide and then more or less did my own thing.

So here's my version of kachche gosht ki biryani.

1kg goat meat, preferably kid. cubed.
4 +1 large onions, finely sliced
250gms fresh dahi/yoghurt
2-3 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1/2 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped
fresh green chillies, as many as you can handle. I used 4. finely chopped
1tbsp lime juice
1 1/2 tbs Everest Garam Masala (or any blend that you prefer)
1tsp shah jeera
2-3 star anise
4 inch stick of cassia bark or Dalchini. I prefer Cassia over cinnamon in this recipe.
6-8 green cardamom
700gms good quality long grain Basmati rice

The only painful part in this recipe is frying the onions. Heat a generous quantity of oil in a kadai or wok and fry the 4 sliced onions till they are golden brown. reserve 1 sliced onion for later. Take care not to burn them (I did, the first time I made this biryani). Drain out the excess oil and let the fried onions cool. Add a scant teaspoon of sugar while frying the onions - not only will they brown faster but you will also get a fabulous depth of flavour. Once the onions are cooled, crush them as well as you can. Keep some fried onions aside for the final garnish.

Marinate the mutton. I don't wash the mutton much. Just a very very quick rinse and that's it. Let it drain and then add the crushed onions, dahi, garam masala powder, ginger garlic paste, chopped green chillies, mint, coriander and salt. Add the lime juice too. Mix it all thoroughly and let it marinate for at least 7 to 8 hours.

About 2 hours before you want to serve wash and drain the rice and then lay it out on a tea towel to dry. This simple step helps in keeping the rice grains separate while cooking. 15 minutes on the tea towel should suffice.

In your biryani degh or thick bottomed vessel heat a couple of tablespoons of oil. Use the oil left over from the first batch of fried onions. Once hot, add the whole spices and the reserved sliced onion. Brown the onion lightly and then start adding the marinated mutton. Braise it slowly on a medium flame stirring all the time. Once all the meat has been added let it braise for about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir every few minutes so all the pieces get seared and nothing sticks to the base. Add the all marinade to the pot. Once most of the liquid has evaporated it's time to add the rice.

In my house biryani without potatoes is considered a crime against humanity. So potatoes were duly added. Usually regular large potatoes are quartered or cut into 6 chunks at the most, depending on how large they are. I had bought a bag of baby potatoes hoping that Mom would make Alu'r Dom but  instead used them in the biryani.

Scrub the potatoes really well, fry them in a little oil and add them when the meat is half braised. Poke the potatoes with a sharp knife to ensure cooking and to help them absorb the wonderful flavours of the biryani.

The original recipe requires the rice to be cooked a little before it is added to the meat. Boil about 3 1/2 litres of water with salt and a tsp of oil. Add the rice into the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Don't overcook! Drain the rice in a colander.

Good quality Basmati cooks very fast so I took a chance and skipped the above step and added my washed, drained and dried rice to the biryani. All you have to do is spread the rice on top of the meat in the degh. There will be just two layers - meat at the bottom and the rice on top. Poke a few holes through the rice and pour in pure ghee. You can also sprinkle saffron milk over the top to give the rice grains a pretty colour. Add a cup and a half of hot water and then cover the vessel with a tight fitting lid. You can weigh the lid down with a heavy stone or you can seal it with a simple dough.

Once the vessel is sealed let the biryani cook for 30-35 mins on a slow flame. A good indicator for doneness is that the dough sealing the degh will be dry and hard.

Open up the degh and garnish the biryani with a handful of chopped fresh coriander and a generous sprinkling of fried onions. If you're like me, you will take a photograph at this phase!

Stir up the biryani to mix the meat, potatoes and rice and serve with a simple raita.

Bon Apetit!

I'm glad to report that the biryani was quite a success. I had misjudged the proportions a little and there was more mutton than rice but nobody was complaining ;) And those baby potatoes were simply delicious!

The family gathered around a degh of biryani.. there are few things that could make me happier.