Sunday, February 22, 2015

On Meeting Jiggs Kalra and What He Means to Me

Yesterday I was privileged enough to meet one of the grand old men of the food business in India - Mr. J Inder Singh Kalra, known to most as Jiggs Kalra. The venue was the very swish Masala Library in the Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai, and the guests included the who's who of the Indian food world - chefs, restaurateurs, food columnists, editors, and bloggers. The evening was in honour of Mr. Kalra completing 40 glorious years in the business.

Why was I there? I wanted to honour the man too. It's his recipes published in a weekend newspaper magazine that started me off on my journey of food discovery. His style of writing is etched in my mind and will always be.

I must have been around 10 years old; my parents subscribed to the Telegraph newspaper and on weekends there was a magazine supplement. Mr. Kalra had a recipe column in it and that was my first encounter with food writing of any sort. In most homes in those days, mothers just cooked what they'd learned from their own mothers, aunts and grandmothers, and later, from the in laws. Not many people had cookbooks - my mom certainly didn't. The recipe column was, therefore, a huge novelty for me. I didn't know food writing existed and hadn't realised that there is a system in cooking. At that age I hadn't given it a thought. Cooking was something moms did and that was that.

I looked forward to the weekend supplement and to Mr. Kalra's column. It was magical. There were wonderful pictures and the recipes seemed unreal to me. The measurements were so exact they seemed impossible. 3 gram saffron, he said. Or 12 ml garlic juice, strained. I'd never seem my mom measure anything when she cooked, neither did Ahmed aunty from downstairs, or Shobha's mom upstairs who made the world's best dosas. Nor had I ever seen them strain garlic juice or anything like that. Didn't they just chop the garlic or bash it on the grinding stone? The recipes must be fiction, like other stories, I concluded. I was fascinated.

Years later I realised that recipes were real and they fascinated me even more. I had started cooking by then. I didn't encounter Mr. Kalra's writing again for many years till I chanced upon his classic book Prashad in my mother in law's library. I remember smiling at my own innocence all those years back.

The invitation to celebrate 40 years of Jiggs Kalra took me back to that magazine column and the magic I found in his recipes. I received my own copy of Prashad yesterday - a slice of that same magic, from the magician himself.

Marathon Bloggers

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rockville Deli, Vashi - A Review

Navi Mumbai has been sprouting quite a few new restaurants, coffee shops, and eateries in the recent months and Rockville Deli at Vashi is one among them.

Located right next to the huge Kalyan Jewellers showroom near Vashi station this is perfectly located if you want to grab a bite on your way home from work, or relax over coffee and some very interesting eats in the evening. There's loads of outdoor seating and a smaller indoor air conditioned section which will definitely be in great demand once summer hits followed by the monsoons.

That was my first impression of the place before I had a look at the menu. As it turns out they have a really varied menu stretching from breakfast options through to a variety of mains, snacks, mini -meals, sandwiches and burgers, generous crock pots (a new concept in Navi Mumbai for sure), pizza, and even tava biryani. They also have a decent selection of hot and cold beverages, sundaes and desserts. Though there are many categories, each category has a few options under it, making the seemingly vast menu actually quite simple. There's plenty of choice for vegetarians and the cuisines stretch from Italian to Indian, with a lot of other Continental flavours thrown in. 

We were a group of seven and we decided to order a variety of dishes covering as many categories as we could, instead of ordering individually. This allowed us to sample a nice variety of preparations giving us a good idea of what's good and what's not so great at Rockville Deli. 

We started with mocktails and shakes and then proceeded to try out the food. The selection was pretty standard with Oreo Shake, Mint Mojito, Mocha Shake and Ice Tea which we opted for. The drinks were well made and what I really liked was that they were not too sweet. Serving drinks in jam jars seems to be the hip thing to do these days and Rockville Deli wasn't bucking that trend. So there we were with our jam jars and stripey straws, enjoying our drinks! 

Mint Mojito

Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich

Mushroom, Chicken Sausage and Egg Crockpot

Stuffed Egg White Omlette

Moroccan Burger

Jalapeno Potato Cheese Frittata

Waffles with Whipped Cream and Maple Flavoured Syrup

Mocha Magic Sundae

Hawaiian Tropicana Sundae

Rockville Deli is certainly a nice place to hang out at - the location is convenient, the ambience is beautiful, the menu is extensive and the prices are quite reasonable. The fact that this place has an all day breakfast is another huge plus point because Navi Mumbai lacks these sort of things, though they are coming up now. 

There are a few things they need to pay attention to, like training their serving staff better and making sure they're well versed with what the items on the menu are. Service is friendly enough but needs a little polish, that's all! I didn't dislike any of the food or drinks that I tried but I didn't find anything spectacular or memorable either. Food presentation is a little lacklustre but if you're like me, you're more concerned with the taste and quality rather than plating. However, good presentation is not a bad thing at all and always works to an advantage.  

Would I go back to Rockville Deli? I most certainly would. 

Disclaimer - The evening was hosted by Rockville Deli for NaviMumbaiFoodies

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Singhland, Belapur - A Delicious Piece of Punjab in Navi Mumbai

We're always on the look out for nice eateries in Navi Mumbai and when we heard of Singhland in Belapur we were eager to try it out. Simple fare like kulchas, chhole puri, aloo tikkis, rajma chawal and lassi have always been attractive but the nearest place to get these was Chembur Camp as far as we knew. There are many places that serve these dishes in Navi Mumbai but one always looks for that clean homemade sort of touch which is rare. Singhland was started by a friend I met on Facebook, a Punjabi gentleman, and I was looking forward to checking it out.

The hubby had the day off today thanks to Mahashivratri. While the rest of the world lined up outside temples and shrines, we set off to pay obeisance to some good Punjabi food.

We landed up a little early. Singhland opens at 11am but we were there around 10.30. We were met by Mrs Singh outside who said Harjinder was in the kitchen with his staff gearing up for the day. We sat down for a chat while our food was readied.

We asked for Tikki Chhole, and a couple of varieties of Kulchas. The hubby also called for a glass each of lassi and chaas. Hot stuffed kulchas fresh out of the tandoor are just heavenly and I have to say these have me hooked. The tikkis are freshly made with Mrs Singh personally supervising the kitchen. The chhole was soft and flavourful, the spices were not overwhelming at all. What I really liked is the fact that the food had simple clean flavours, and they don't go overboard with spices or oil.

Singhland has a limited menu - there are kulchas, bhature, a few rice combinations, a couple of snacks like the tikkis, then there are a few drinks, and they have gulab jamuns and kulfi for dessert. I liked the fact that they've chosen to do a few things and do them really well.

At present they only have a dine in service though they are planning to add a home delivery service soon.

The Menu

The Menu continued

Aloo Kulcha served with chhole

A well stuffed kulcha with chunks of potato, not a thin miserly layer of filling!

Beautifully cooked soft chhole with traditional home made Punjabi masala

Fresh off the tava aloo tikkis with a green mint and coriander chutney

The massive glass of Singhland lassi topped with cream and flaked almonds and pistachios

Fresh chilled chaas

Singhland is located just outside the Belapur Railway Station in Balaji Bhavan, in line with CCD.
A meal for two will cost less than Rs. 500 making it perfect for office goers in the area and also ideal for those days when you want to eat good desi khana without bankrupting yourself in the process. 

In fact, this is a great place to stop if you're doing a Mumbai - Pune or Lonavala run. A good change from McDonalds for sure! 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tripura Castle, Shillong - Luxury in the North East

Once again we had a student's wedding to attend and this time it was in Guwahati. Since we were going all the way to the North East for this I insisted that we spend a couple of days going somewhere nice nearby instead of spending all our time in Guwahati. We considered Kaziranga (that's what always comes to mind first!) and I looked at Google maps to see how far we'd have to travel. That's when I realised Shillong was quite nearby and to me, it was much more appealing. A quick search online, and a couple of phone conversations with friends convinced me that Shillong had much to appeal to us.

The first thing to do was look for a hotel and as I looked at the options I chanced upon a photo of a huge carved wooden bed set in an alcove in a huge room with shiny wooden floors. I was hooked.

This was in the Tripura Castle in Shillong and I was sold. I checked out their website thoroughly and then K and I booked ourselves in for a couple of days. As much as I looked forward to the wedding, and spending a few days staying with my college buddy in Guwahati, a part of me just couldn't wait to get to this gorgeous, romantic, old worldly hotel in Shillong.

After a fantastic 5 days in Guwahati we finally set out for Shillong. I was looking forward to a really beautiful scenic drive. Work to broaden and extend the highway is on full swing and thus the drive wasn't all that scenic. Still, we did see hillsides covered in tall betel palms, banana trees, bamboo thickets and eventually, pines.

The hotel is located high up inside Shillong, a little away from the main market areas and city centre, and took us a little while to find since our taxi driver was a little clueless. But what's an extra 15 minutes here or there when you're on holiday? Once we arrived we were welcomed warmly, seated at the open reception area, and we relaxed immediately. We were given a choice of two rooms - the one with that gorgeous bed, and another sumptuous room that opened out into a little private garden. I stuck to the one with the bed, of course!

From the Reception area

The property is a small one. It has a beautiful intimate feel and is just the thing if you're looking for a quiet time. It's just perfect for a romantic getaway! 

This what the rest of our room looked like. 

I loved that there was wood everywhere - old style. No formica, no modern metal or mirrors, just vintage style solid furniture.

 The room also had bits of Art Deco furniture which were quirky and reminded me of my childhood when these were all the rage.

The dressing table in the bathroom. 

The rest of the bathroom

As soon as we had freshened up and unpacked a bit we set off to have lunch. There's a restaurant in the hotel and while it's small, it has a big menu. With a wide choice of Indian (Punjabi/Tandoori) and Chinese there's enough to satisfy everyone. We tried out the Chinese items and were happy to not that most of the options were unique to the area, not at all the stuff we get in Mumbai. 

I loved these crisp pork fritters. 

I also had noodles, accompanied by a pork dish that had beaten egg white to recreate clouds. The dishes had fanciful names I am ashamed to say I have forgotten, but the food was good and the service attentive. 

The restaurant also serves breakfast, which, incidentally, is included in the room charges. Fresh toast, eggs to order, sausages, a selection of teas, coffee, fresh fruit, juice, etc., are all available along with Indian options like parathas, masala omlette, and more. 

The restaurant dining room

We stayed in at the hotel the day we arrived. Though it's just a three hour drive from Guwahati we weren't in the mood to go into town. It was also colder than we'd expected, a sudden cold wave scuppering our plans a bit. Our beautiful room, room service on call, all our needs taken care of, we weren't complaining at all!

Our room had a fireplace and I had every intention of making the most of it. We had it lit early in the evening and spent a lovely cosy evening in, doing nothing, our noses in our books, snacks ordered in, and the fire blazing merrily. Life was perfect.

I must have taken a hundred photographs of the flames... so mesmerising, so beautiful, so magical! For a city slicker like me who's only lived in apartments, and that too in Mumbai that barely has any seasons, staying in a room with a fireplace lit up was on my bucket list of things to do in this life time. Well, that one's ticked off the list now!

The hubby catches up with the news of the world outside

The verandah outside our room 

Rooms that lead out to the garden. It's lovely here on chilly mornings with the soft sun to thaw you.

A view of Shillong from the hotel garden

We wandered around in the city in the morning of our second day there and decided to come back to the cosy comfort of the hotel. Frankly, it was too cold to stay out in the evening and the hotel was so lovely, it was no sacrifice at all. 

We went up to the bar on the first floor for pre dinner drinks and then went down to the Shillong Cafe, situated in the Garden Wing of the hotel, for dinner. 

The bar on the first floor. 

The Shillong Cafe. We grabbed the table right next to the fire place!

We had an amazing dinner here and if we're ever back we're going to eat many more meals at this restaurant. Though I'd been told it serves Continental cuisine only, it turned out they serve a lot of local cuisines too. I had a kickass spicy and flavourful pork thukpa which warmed my frozen bones nicely. K had the roast pork with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables which was also excellent. I don't have good photos of the restaurant or the food - it was so cold I didn't think I could have managed to fiddle around with my camera, and the photos on the phone didn't come out all that well. 

Shillong itself is a bustling city with lots to appeal to a tourist. Shop for local handicrafts, buy local food products, feast on local cuisine or enjoy Chinese with a North Eastern flavour, walk around Laitumkhrah market or trawl the Police Bazaar streets, chill out in any of the numerous coffee shops, or go sight seeing to places around. Taxis are easily available but be sure to bargain to fix the fares.

The stay at Tripura Castle was really lovely. We're the kind that likes to go someplace and just chill. Maybe go out for a bit but mainly just get comfortable in our room and be. Rest, recover, read, catch up on sleep, and let others take care of us. 

We found the service to be prompt, efficient and friendly. Room service is good and there's an extensive menu of snacks and meals that can be ordered in. The hotel has free wifi, and in case it doesn't work they give you a plug in dongel to use. There's hot water in the bathroom and the our room had two electric heaters apart from the fireplace. We were warm and comfortable. 

The staff will arrange for a taxi if you want to go into town. They also arrange for pick up and drop from Guwahati airport, and back. The rates are the same as outside. The hotel will also arrange sight seeing trips around Shillong if you require it. Cherrapunjee is perfect for a day visit, especially in the monsoons. 

While the Tripura Castle property doesn't boast of the usual swimming pools, discos, spas, etc., it's small and intimate, very well maintained, and guests are exceptionally well taken care of. I'm hoping to go back for a longer stay. 

You can check out more details (and loads of photos) about this gem of a property on their website here - Royal Heritage Tripura Castle

Marathon Bloggers 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Black Forest Buns - We Knead to Bake #25

The chosen bread for February, being valentine's month, for the We Knead to Bake group was Black Forest Buns. These buns have cherries, chocolate cake and chocolate sauce incorporated into bread in the form of buns. The idea appealed to me instantly and I got the ingredients together to make them on a Sunday.

Since K loves jams, jellies and preserves, he has quite a collection and I had his permission to raid his stash for something suitable. I did. I also made my easy pound cake with a whole lot of cocoa powder added to the mix for a home made chocolate cake that I could crumble and use for this recipe.

The Black Forest Buns are basically bread rolls stuffed with a cherry preserve or compote, and crumbled chocolate cake. Ideally they should look like cinnamon rolls and should stand individually instead of turning into pull apart rolls as mine did. The hubby certified the taste to be outstanding, so I'm glad I got that right at least!

To make the chocolate cake I followed the same Basic Sponge Cake recipe that I've been making for many years, with around 3 to 4 spoons of cocoa powder added to the flour. You can add a little milk to the batter if you feel the cocoa is making the batter too dry. Let the cake cool completely before you take it out of the tin. I used a little less than half the cake for crumbs. The rest will be slathered with Nutella and enjoyed with coffee :)

Black Forest Buns

The recipe is quite the same as given by Aparna here.

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 heaped tablespoon soft butter
1 and 1/2 tsp Instant yeast
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups plus extra maida

For the filling

Crumbled chocolate cake
Cherry preserve or compote or any berry jam. Chunky will give good texture.

For topping

Melted cooking chocolate

Start by mixing the milk and water in a pan. Heat the two till hot but not boiling. Remove from heat. Add the sugar and let it dissolve. Let this mixture cool considerably and then put it into the mixing bowl of your food processor or stand mixer. If you're kneading by hand then just use a large mixing bowl.

Add the egg and the yeast into the still warm liquid mix and stir to combine. Then add a cup of maida/white flour and start your machine. I used my stand mixer with the batter paddle attachment. Gradually add the remaining flour till it all combines. Don't forget to add the salt early enough.

I changed to the dough hook once the ingredients were combined and left the machine to knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes. Once the dough was more or less together but still a tad sticky I took it out onto my work surface and kneaded it by hand till it was soft, smooth and very lightly sticky. Add loose flour little by little as you knead to get there. Use the stretch and fold method to work the dough.

Take an oiled bowl and set the dough aside to rise. I will take a little more than an hour to double. Leave the bowl covered with a damp cloth.

Once the dough has doubled get all your filling ingredients together.

Punch the dough down gently. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough to make a large oblong around 18" x 12" Try to make it as neat and uniform as possible so you have nicely formed rolls at the end. Work quickly so the dough doesn't rise too much as you work.

Once the oblong is rolled out spread the cherry preserve (or whatever you are using) generously all over, leaving a small border around.

Next spread a generous amount of the cake crumbs covering as much of the dough as you can. Try to make the layer as even as you can.

Now comes the tricky part. Start from one long side and roll tightly to form a long log creating a spiral as you go. Tuck in the dough gently and carefully so the roll is not loose. The sides of my dough were a bit too thick so I had a really fat centre so remember to roll it as thin as you possibly can.

Use a dough scraper or a really sharp non serrated knife and cut out individual buns from the rolled log. Arrange these in a tall sided baking tin and leave them to prove for another hour. They will double.

Bake the risen buns for around 30 mins at 180C. Keep an eye on them so they don't become too brown.

 I also topped the buns with dried cranberries before putting them in to bake. Melt a little chocolate and drizzle on top of the buns. Serve them still warm or enjoy them later with your evening coffee or tea. These will be great as tiffin fillers for the kids.

We Knead to Bake

Marathon Bloggers

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Choice Pork - A Pork-centric Enterprise from NE India

I received an invitation from Arohan Foods, the makers of the Choice Pork Natural range of products, to visit their Guwahati office and to sample a few of their products. What piqued my interest the most was that this company dealt exclusively with pork. Added to that was the fact that it was based in the NE and claimed to use fresh Indian ingredients only, sourced mainly from the North East. I asked the hubby if he would like to check them out and he eagerly agreed.

We found the office in what looked like a residential building and proceeded to go up. A bright and clean space, the first thing I noticed was a line of huge freezers. Just the thought of packets and packets of pork products sitting in there chilling made me happy :)

We were ushered into the office and introduced to Anabil Goswami, Head - Strategy and Business Development, who welcomed us very warmly. We settled down in his office for a long chat about Choice Pork Natural and of course, all their products. Anabil won me over in minutes. I asked him what made him start Choice Pork Natural and his answer was three magical words "I love pork". If you know me at all you know that these words are absolute music to my ears. It's why I started The Porkaholics on Facebook!

Anabil is one of three friends who got together to start Arohan Foods and launch Choice Pork Natural as a brand. He told me how they were particular about showcasing pork as the star and insisted on having the word pork in the brand name itself. There's no doubt that pork is not exactly the most popular meat in India and there are many biases against it.

Many of us also have misconceptions about the NE, it's people, the cultures, and how enterprising (or not) they are. Anabil and his partners wanted to change a few of these misconceptions and decided to set up a company that would sell its products across the nation - products from the NE, a brand from the NE, with ingredients sourced mainly from the NE, manufactured in the NE.

And thus, around three years ago they started Choice Pork Natural which is now available in Delhi, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Bangalore, and of course all over the NE states. I was really happy to find out that Hypercity stocks their products because that means I have easy access. They are also in talks with an online grocery chain so you might soon be able to order their products online.

As we talked about the company a parade of the products began to appear in front of us. Sausages, frankfurters, salami, mortadella, bacon, the parade was endless! And it was delicious.

Here are pictures of some of the stuff we ate-

Juicy porky sausages flavoured with allspice berries. These were just fantastic. Since these came out towards the beginning I greedily ate two forgetting about the goodies that were going to follow! We also had garlic flavoured sausages which we forgot to take pictures of.

The hubby loved these, I wasn't so impressed. But that's a personal taste thing and I have to say these were juicy and full of pork.

Lightly grilled slices of salami with bits of fat scattered in each slice making them juicy and delicious. Choice Pork Natural products are made with absolutely no fillers - there's pork meat, fat, salt and spices. No soya. And believe me, we could taste the difference.

As you can see there's a nice balance of meat and fat on these bacon strips. Compared to the bacon I've eaten so far I found these to be very low in salt. Now o one hand low salt is an excellent thing, but since we associate a salty taste with bacon I was a little confused with this one. It's excellent quality bacon though and I would love to make my bacon jam with this.

This belly roll was made on trial and launched only locally in Guwahati during Christmas and New Year. It was the best Indian processed pork product I have ever eaten and I cannot wait for it to be launched properly all over India. Can you just imagine these with a couple of fried eggs and toast for breakfast? Heaven on a plate!

Mortadella with pistachios! I love this combination and I'm really glad that there's an Indian company making it and doing a good job of it too!

You can see more about the products and where they're available on the Choice Pork Natural Facebook page

The visit to the Choice Pork Natural office in Guwahati was one of the highlights of our trip to Assam. We had plans of going out for lunch but after this smorgasbord of delicious pork in every avatar we just rolled back home!