Sunday, April 26, 2015

Roast Chicken with Za'atar, Ghee and Pomegranate Molasses with Lebanese Stir fried Potatoes

I signed up with a bunch of enthusiastic young bloggers who are exploring a new cuisine every month, called Chefs Across Boundaries. Here one of us selects a cuisine of the month and members pick a recipe that fits the theme and present it once they have cooked it in their own kitchens. Sometimes the dishes stick to the original and sometimes there are interpretations and tweaks; either way, it's an adventure with something unknown or deeply familiar.

For a variety of reasons I haven't been able to participate in the last few months but I was determined to complete the challenge this month no matter what cuisine was chosen. Luckily Lebanese was the flavour of the month chosen by Garima of Cafe Garima and I was quite confident that I would be able to come up with something.

As I browsed through the Internet looking at various cookery websites and blogs I was finding it difficult to settle on a recipe that was doable yet interesting, and involved at least one or two ingredients I'd never used before. I had sumac and pomegranate molasses in stock and had eagerly ordered a pack of za'atar. Most other ingredients like garlic, onions, and the commonly used whole spices are available in Indian pantries anyway - like cinnamon, black pepper, Indian bay leaves, lemons, etc.

After a few days of Googling and wandering around on Pinterest I settled on two dishes that I thought would go well together. The first involved chicken and had pomegranate molasses and za'atar among its main ingredients. The second was a simple stir fried potato with plenty of fresh coriander and lemon, not too far off from the quick aloo subzis made in households across India.

I loosely followed the chicken recipe from here and the potato stir fry recipe from this site.

It was the inclusion of ghee among the main flavours that attracted me to the Roast Chicken with Za'atar, Ghee and Pomegranate Molasses recipe. Though I didn't follow the recipe to the T I did use it as my main guideline with a couple of variations. This recipe is a keeper and I know I will make this again for sure.

Roast Chicken with Za'atar, Ghee and Pomegranate Molasses

4 full chicken legs or a whole chicken, jointed
4 Indian bay leaves (tej patta)
2 allspice leaves
5 cardamom pods
1/2 tbsp freshly crushed pepper
salt to taste
pomegranate molasses
za'atar powder

Marinate the chicken pieces in salt for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a large vessel bring the water to a boil with the spices and the chicken pieces added. Remove any scum that rises while boiling the chicken pieces. Once the chicken is cooked, in around 20 minutes, remove the chicken pieces to a baking dish draining out all the water and leaving out the whole spices too. Reserve the stock for soup or other gravies.

Lay out the chicken pieces in a single layer in your baking dish. Pour the pomegranate molasses over the chicken and mix well, but gently. Coat all sides of the pieces and then let the molasses get into the pieces leaving it to rest for around 10 minutes. Cover the dish so the chicken doesn't dry out.

Set your oven to preheat.

Baste the chicken pieces in a reasonable amount of ghee. You don't have to go overboard but be generous. The ghee lends a superb flavour to the final product. Sprinkle za'atar powder generously onto the chicken pieces and arrange again so they are all in a single layer.

Cover the dish with foil and seal. Now bake the chicken for around 15 minutes at 180C. Remove the dish carefully and take off the foil. Bake for another five to seven minutes after having turned the pieces once. Sprinkle more za'atar before you pop it in to bake again.

If you can get chicken with the skin on you will get a fabulous crackly skin and super moist flesh inside. However, covering the baking dish for the initial bake also gives great results.

I served the chicken with these very simple

Lebanese Spiced Potatoes

3 to 4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, minced
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
olive oil

Heat olive oil in a skillet and fry the potatoes till they are nearly cooked and have turned a beautiful golden brown. Remove to a plate. Add more olive oil to the skillet if required and heat it up. Fry the mined onion and garlic for a minute or two. Add salt, chilli powder, coriander powder and half the fresh coriander that you have chopped. Give it all a good stir and then add the potatoes. Mix well. Crack in fresh pepper generously. Let it all cook for a couple of minutes. Add a good splash of lemon juice but don't let the lemon overpower the dish. Toss well and remove to a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining fresh coriander and serve hot with the roast chicken

The next time I make these potatoes I'm going to sprinkle a hefty pinch of sumac instead of using lemon juice. I think I will prefer that.

Chefs Across Boundaries

Marathon Bloggers

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Italian Food Festival at Asian Kitchen, at Four Points, Vashi

I went out for another Navi Mumbai Foodies meal, this time to the Asian Kitchen at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel at Vashi. Located right next to the well known Inorbit mall this business hotel is one of the premium properties in Navi Mumbai. The Asian Kitchen is one of four restaurants in the hotel and has a primarily Asian a la carte menu. This restaurant is headed by Chef Mukul Jha and hosts special food festivals that celebrate a variety of cuisines, both Indian and European, quite frequently. Currently they're having an Italian Food Festival that's on till the 23rd of April.

I browsed through the menu and was pleased to see a good mix of seafood, poultry, lamb and pork, plus a decent selection of vegetarian options too. Though not quite a 50-50 distribution of veg and non veg options, it was still a reasonably balanced menu. From soups and salads, through antipasti, mains, pastas, pizzas and risottos, ending with desserts, the menu was varied and interesting.

We started with the soups. Anticipating that the portions would be large we requested that we be served tasting portions of the four soups that were on the menu.

This is the Seafood Soup with Plum Tomatoes. If you like seafood, especially shellfish, then don't miss out on this one!

The Chicken and Shitake Mushroom Soup with Garlic Oil didn't quite do it for me but I loved the Oven Roasted Fennel and Asparagus Soup with Creme Fraiche.

I tried two salads.The Prawn, Endive and Asparagus with an Orange and Mint Reduction was fresh and flavourful. What I really appreciated was the perfectly cooked prawn. Most restaurants tend to murder prawns by over cooking them and I have developed a wariness about eating prawns outside. It was a joy munching on the succulent prawn with the fresh and crisp curly endive leaves and that zesty simple dressing.

The second salad was something really unusual. In fact, when it arrived at the table most of us thought it was hummus and wondered what it was doing in an Italian Food Festival! However it turned out to be one of the best things I've ever eaten though I don't know if it fits in with most people's concept of a salad :)

Called Pollo al Tonno, this was a simple combination of roasted chicken slices topped with a creamy tuna mayo. I'd never have imagined that the two would go so well together but they did. And how! 

The vegetarians tried the Insalata Caprese, a classic salad that's as Italian as it can get. I've always seen this one with slices of tomatoes, cheese and basil. At the Asian Kitchen it looked like this -

and the vegetarians at the table approved. That's a ball of bocconcini in the middle, instead of the usual mozarella. 

Chef Mukul came over to the table and we had a long chat with him in the course of which we also decided to just let him send us what he felt we would like best. It took the choosing what to eat part of dinner out of our hands and I really feel the chef is best equipped to suggest the best stuff on his menu. And that worked out really well.

From the anti pasti Chef sent us the Lemon Gazed Sea Bass topped with a Salmon Rosette and splashed with Dill Cream. To say the least, it was delicious. Simple clean flavours, fresh produce, and well executed, I would have happily eaten a full portion of this.

The show stopper of the evening was what came next. The Goat Cheese and Red Onion Marmalade Tart. I could go back and eat just three of these and die happy! 

I had noticed pork among the main course offerings so it will be no surprise to anyone that I opted for it. The Pork Fillet wrapped in Parma Ham served with a Sweet Potato Roesti sounded delicious and I waited eagerly for it.

This turned out to be quite disappointing, unfortunately. The roesti was lovely but the pork was seriously overcooked and dry. Being a diehard porkaholic I felt the disappointment keenly, but everything else was so good I forgave this one blip in an otherwise perfect evening.

This is the Olive and Rosemary crusted Chicken served with a Garlic Spinach Risotto and Pickled Beetroot and Red Pimento Cream. While the meat eaters at the table quite enjoyed the dish what stood out for most of us was the pickled beetroots. Tangy and flavourful, and absolutely yum!

If you like pesto this Ravioli in Pesto Cream Sauce will make your evening. The ravioli has a spinach stuffing. We also asked for some Almond White Wine Sauce as an extra, just to try out. It was superb.

The menu has pastas, pizzas and risottos with sauces, toppings and flavouring options listed. You can choose a pasta and combine it with a sauce of your preference. Or if you feel like munching on a pizza just choose what you want on it and they'll make it for you. You can also build your risotto to your preference. 

This risotto in a beetroot red wine sauce was spectacular. 

We also tried out the Pan Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with Crisp Potato and an Olive, Tomato and Grape Salsa. I'm not a fan of fruits so I passed on the salsa but I enjoyed that tuna thoroughly. The crisp discs of potato were great and I wished there was more of those. 

Finally it was time for dessert and I asked for something that Chef Mukul had mentioned from his regular a la carte menu at the Asian Kitchen - a concoction of chocolate and habanero chillies. I was intrigued and wanted to try out this much touted pairing of chocolate with a spicy chilli. The others at the table were happy to try out the desserts from the Italian menu and soon there was a steady stream of sweet goodies arriving at the table.

Tiramisu, panna cottas, gelato, everything you'd expect on a menu celebrating Italian food was there! And they were lovely. The panna cotta came in three fruit flavours - kiwi, berry, and coconut, and it was the simplest, yet prettiest dessert I'd seen in a long time. The pale pastel shades were such a welcome change from the usual lurid loud colours of most commercial desserts that are often overloaded with artificial colours. 

This is the chocolate and habanero chilli dessert. I was too stuffed to remember to ask what this was called. A thick set disc of chocolate with what I felt was a faint hint of chilli far in the background. It was really nice though I would have liked the chilli to be a little more evident. However, the others at the table found it to be perfect. Quite a winner! There's a little dollop of berry sauce at the top which I discovered half way through - that sauce takes this dessert to a new level entirely and I felt a drizzle of this sauce on the plate so there's more of it would be far better than the chocolate sauce that was there, because there's already plenty of rich luscious chocolate in the middle. 

If you like good honest food that's presented and executed well then this Italian Food Festival is a must visit. I liked the fact that Chef Mukul hasn't experimented or fooled around or given a mandatory twist to everything in sight - he's stuck to letting good ingredients tell their story without interfering and that was what won me over this evening. 

The Italian Food Festival is on till Thursday, 23rd April. 

Disclaimer - This was a hosted dinner for the Navi Mumbai Foodies by the Asian Kitchen at the Four Points by Sheraton, at Vashi. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

An Evening at Coral Lounge, Vashi - Review

Though I've been living in Navi Mumbai for many years now, I haven't really checked out the bar and lounge scene here. So when the opportunity arose to check out the Coral Lounge at Vashi with the Navi Mumbai Foodies, I went.

Located above Navaratna, one of the oldest and best known restaurants in Vashi, in Sector 17, this is a lovely little lounge that's perfect for after work drinks or a fun weekend evening out with friends. The music is really loud so I would't choose this place for a romantic evening out unless the two of you are looking for an evening of music, drinks and good food without the conversation - which, to be honest, can be great fun.

Coral Lounge is on the first floor, and the way up is on the side of the building. Finding it was a bit of a hunt for me because there are no boards or signage to guide people. But that was a minor hurdle and I found my way up eventually.

The place is small but there's enough comfortable seating with low tables and sofas, and regular restaurant style higher tables and seats too. I must mention, they also have a clean loo.

The bar menu is quite extensive with a selection of wines from Sula, and most of the popular spirits, both imported and local. They also have a decent selection of classic cocktails, shooters, and a line up of their own concoctions too. If you're not into alcohol you can have regular soft drinks or try out their mocktails.

Once everyone had arrived and we'd settled in we ordered our drinks and snacks. We asked for small tasting portions of the snacks so we could try out a lot more before we were totally stuffed! I started my evening with a classic Mojito. It's among my favourite cocktails and I wanted to see how well Coral Lounge made it. I have to say it was pretty good!

What really caught my attention as the evening wore on was the food. We'd ordered a mix mix of vegetarian and non vegetarian fare and while the non vegetarian stuff was quite good, the vegetarian snacks were really the winner for me. What impressed me the most was the fact that the options were not stuck at paneer tikka and hara bhara kebabs like at most places. The chef was happy to play with ingredients and ideas and with good results.

We had Veg Kurkuris - Crisp pastry cigars stuffed with cheese and vegetables served in shot glasses with a sweet chilli sauce at the bottom. These were finger licking good and I actually liked the contrast of the sweet chilli sauce with the savoury cigar. I could have had a dozen of these quite happily.

The other Vegetarian starter I liked was from their tandoor section - Paneer Makhmali Bharwaan Roll. Thin sheets of paneer rolled up around a mixed vegetable stuffing, these were delectable.

We also tried their Rock Corn Tempura which I thought was strictly okay. Corn kernels in a red batter is not what I'd call tempura, but apart from the technicality of the nomenclature, I found the dish itself pretty mundane. Not bad, but just nothing great either.

The non vegetarian starters were all quite good. We started with Squid Koliwada, followed by Awadhi Seekh Kebabs, and Chicken Dimsum.

The squid was superb and this spicy Koliwada version packed a punch. The squid had been sliced thinly and we had succulent perfectly fried squid rings and not chewy rubbery rings that are a struggle to eat (especially because you cannot spit out gobs of chewed up food when you're out in public!).

I'm not a fan of seekh kebabs but Coral Lounge does quite a good version and I was glad we'd ordered the Awadhi Seekh Kebabs. The Chicken dimsum was nice but not spectacular.

I didn't want to have any more alcohol do I tried out the Sundowner from the mocktail menu. A blend of orange, lime, peach and cranberry with sugar, it turned out to be a bit too sickeningly thick and sweet. I guess something fizzy in the mix would have lightened it up and if they leave out the added sugar it wouldn't hurt.

It was Bollywood Night on Wednesday so we had a mix of the latest Bollywood hits playing at (what I consider) a deafening volume. It's a relatively small space so maybe that's why I found the music oppressively loud. I must mention that the place was quite full and the other guests were having a good time. In fact, we noted that it was quite full considering that it was the middle of the week. They also have Karaoke so if you want to sing they have quite a selection to choose from.

The good news for old fogies like me is that it's Retro Night on Sundays and I might just drag the hubby over one Sunday for a deafening date night!

Coral Lounge has a discount offer for my readers that's valid for the next few weeks. Quote the code when you visit and get a 15% discount on your bill! The code is RDX15.

Disclaimer - The evening was hosted by Coral Lounge for Navi Mumbai Foodies.

Coral Lounge
First Floor, Nirman Vyapar Kendra
Above Hotel Navaratna,
Sector 17, Vashi

Friday, April 10, 2015

Prawns in Butter, with Garlic and Fresh Parsley

I was planning my menu for a girly lunch at home. Summer is here in full force and I wanted to make something relatively light on spices but full of flavour. I also wanted to cook a lot as this lunch was a special one. One of my closest buddies is moving away to another city and this was a sort of farewell do too.

The thing is, I'm not good with planning menus. I start with a sort of clear idea of what I want to try but I get easily distracted and it is quite rare that I actually cook what I planned to. My menu had a salad, a starter that would involve prawns, a roast chicken, and dessert. I also thought I'd make bread.

Typically, I got distracted while looking at recipes and cooking videos, discussing ideas with online friends, working, and dealing with mundane daily things and I suddenly realised it was the eve of the proposed lunch and I hadn't even done the shopping. It was already quite late in the evening, in fact, it was night.

Funnily, just around the time I realised this a friend posted his planned menu for a meal he was cooking the next day - the menu, the shopping, the techniques involved in the cooking, all neatly written down, and that too in perfectly legible handwriting... I stared in shock. As the admiration flowed in from other members in the group I had a few moments of absolute horror and then a feeling of complete inadequacy. How did I ever get this disorganised?!

Ha ha, after the initial shock I acknowledged that I am disorganised and have always been so. Who am I kidding here? I don't like rules, I don't like rigidity, and revolting is a knee jerk response - even to a menu. I know. I need to grow up. But anyhoo, lunch was a super hit and of all the things I cooked today what won my heart is this simple prawn starter.

Prawns Poached in Butter, with Garlic and Fresh Parsley

20 large prawns, shelled and deveined.
15 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
30 gms butter
a hefty slosh of olive oil
1 tsp parsley, chopped fine

Marinate the cleaned and washed prawns in a little salt. Let it sit for around 10 minutes.

In a wok or small pan heat the butter and olive oil. Once the butter has completely melted add the garlic. Keep the heat at medium so the garlic sort of boils in the fats.

Add the prawns after a minute or so. Stir well to mix. Lower the heat and then cover the prawns and let them cook in their steam for around 3 minutes.

Stir again and ramp up the heat. Crack fresh pepper over the prawns and let all the moisture evaporate.

Sprinkle the chopped parsley and mix it in. Remove to a bowl and serve immediately. Don't forget to add the butter and scrapings from the pan.

This is a very simple recipe and there lies the rub. Prawns are easy to over cook and thereby destroy. Keep an eye on the prawns as you cook them. You might need to adjust cooking time depending on their size. Don't leave them unattended, even when they are cooking under cover. Peek in once and check.

We had the prawns along with a simple focaccia topped with sun dried tomatoes and rosemary. Mopping up the juices and the butter with chunks of garlic...ah, that was just divine!

Marathon Bloggers

Monday, April 6, 2015

My Summer Holiday

It's that time of the year when the hubby takes off for a month or two to excavate. He's an archaeologist and gets to go off and 'play in the mud' as we like to call it. I used to be an archaeologist too but now I have moved on to other things. One in the family is enough, thank you!

As he gears up to leave there's a small part part of me that's feeling low because he will be gone for a long time, and big part of me that cannot wait to be alone! My summer holidays are about to begin :)

Many of my friends show concern at how I will live alone for all that time - come stay over for a few days, won't you get lonely, how will you manage... their concern is nice but quite misplaced.

I look forward to these days on my own with much eagerness. There's stuff I plan to cook, create, write, enjoy, and at the same time, I plan to do nothing. Just be. I like my own company. This is when I get to think about no one but me. I get to be as selfish as I please and it's all I, me, and myself.

There will be days when I will speak to no one, go nowhere, do nothing apart from lie in bed and read. And there will be days when I paint like crazy or write a lot, cook, bake, sing. Or I might just feel very lonely and miss K keenly.

I love it. This is my yearly retreat. I get to know myself again, I deal with stuff - some consciously and some unconsciously, there are epiphanies, and there are absolute blanks.

It is the most refreshing time of the year and I am looking forward to it.

Eventually K will be back I will be counting the hours till he's back home. And it will be fabulous to be together again - both refreshed, both rejuvenated, and both somehow loving each other a little more.

Marathon Bloggers 

Friday, April 3, 2015

British Brewing Company, Inorbit, Vashi - A Review

My mom expressed a desire to go 'malling' yesterday so the hubby and I went with her to Inorbit, Vashi. First we hit Crossword on the top floor and then I left them to browse and went off to drool at the new stuff at the HomeStop outlet at the other end of the building. On the way there I passed the British Brewing Company which has opened in the mall quite recently, maybe a couple of months or less, I'm not sure. I decided we would have our lunch here - it was a good opportunity to check it out and with two people in tow we'd be able to try out a variety of things too. So eventually, after picking up a stash of books (and a silicon baking sheet from HomeStop) we ambled over to the BBC.

The welcome blast of the ac cheered me up instantly! The place is large and spacious and the seating options include regular square tables with dining chairs, and long padded banquettes along long tables where you can really spread out and relax. We chose the banquettes. I saw young and cheerful staff around and liked the vibe of the place immediately.

As we settled in, one of the servers came up to us and placed a touchpad menu card on our table. I browsed through the menu and quite liked what I saw - a nice mix of finger food, mains, soups, burgers, salads, and desserts, along with a very generous selection of  drinks covering alcoholic and non alcoholic fare. The selection of beers was quite impressive and included a few craft beers too, apart from local and imported bestsellers.

We were quite hungry so I chose fries, a kheema pav, and their chicken wings with barbecue sauce from the touchpad. Funnily, you can't place your order from the device - you have to call one of the wait staff who will confirm your order and communicate it to the kitchen. What a waste of that fancy device!

K asked to taste the craft beers and he was promptly served tasting portions. He chose the Lost Monday, a light ale. Mom had the same. I had a fresh lime soda and I have to say it was among the best I've had in a long time. Yes, I know, it's not the fanciest thing in the world, in fact, it's one of the simplest. But I think the simpler things are the hardest to get right and the BBC did. A perfect balance of sweet and salt complemented the sourness of the lime. For me, it just hit the spot.

Service is quick and friendly, and the food arrived quite soon.

First came the fries. While I would have liked them to have served home made thick cut chips, they served the usual frozen commercial ones. But these were not over fried or tasteless. They were so good we asked for more! The fries are served with a piquant thousand island mayo which I liked very much.

I loved the chicken wings too. Lightly batter fried and then smothered in a smokey barbecue sauce, these were finger licking good. I'd go back here, settle in with a good book and easily spend a couple of hours enjoying my book and munching on wings and swilling that super lemon soda :)

The kheema pav was also good. I prefer the kheema to have a little gravy and was a little wary when this dry version appeared on the table. On tasting it I realised this was actually quite delicious too. Between my mom and I we demolished it quite happily. The portion was quite large and we were too stuffed to order any more food.

The hubby ordered the lamb burger with well grilled onions instead of the usual sliced onions and tomatoes. From the little moans coming from him as he ate it, I concluded he liked it ;)

The burger was quite huge and the best thing about it was that the bread was fresh. I think half the pleasure of a good burger lies in the bread and fortunately BBC seems to have got that bit right. The burger is served with shredded cabbage, which the hubby ignored, and a handful of fries with that same piquant sauce. A complete winner.

We angelically decided to share a dessert among the three of us. We called for their rich chocolate cake. Mom dug in her spoon first and immediately announced she wanted it all to herself! We then ordered one more and everyone was happy.

I really liked the British Brewing Company. The food was good, the portions generous, service was prompt without being intrusive, and the prices were pretty decent too. We spent around 2,500 Rupees on 3 beers, 2 fries, a portion each of chicken wings and kheema pav, 2 rich chocolate cakes, and of course, one perfectly made glass of 'limbu pani'. Not bad at all, I think.

The hubby and I are sure to make this another favourite place to hang out at. We're really pleased to have a new place to look forward to right here in Navi Mumbai.