Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bacon Jam with Bhut Jolokia

I'd been meaning to make bacon jam for months but just didn't get around to it. Then a bunch of friends from all over the world made a plan to meet and I thought, why not make bacon jam as a gift for them. As usual, I wanted to play around with the recipe and try something new. The basic recipe is awesome and is a superb canvas for adding new flavours - just like basic mayonnaise.

I looked through the pantry cupboard and chanced upon my stock of Bhut Jolokia chillies that I'd bought on my trip to Assam earlier this year. Bacon jam with a spicy kick sounded like a good idea to me and so that's what I made. The basic recipe remains the same and I replaced the regular green chillies with  a dried bhut jolokia chilli. This chilli is seriously potent so be careful how much you use. I'd say be conservative the first time and work your way up in subsequent trials.

I didn't use whiskey in this batch. Instead I used port wine. Well that was also lying around neglected and this was a nice opportunity to use it up. The flavours worked very well indeed! The whiskey didn't get me very excited (hardly surprising because I don't really like the stuff!) and replacing it with some other flavour was at the top of my priorities. Red wine and port seemed to be good choices and they were.

This is my basic bacon jam recipe. The element I consider integral to it, apart from the bacon and the onions, is the freshly brewed coffee. Don't skip the coffee. And don't ever use instant. I can't resist playing with recipes once I have mastered the basic version and this jam recipe is like a doorway to a land of wonder - the possibilities are just endless. Yet, some basic principles must be kept in mind so that there is a high chance of success once you've finished tweaking.

  • It doesn't matter if the onions are not perfectly chopped, or that they're not very finely chopped. But cook them slowly and thoroughly.
  • Don't brown the onions
  • Don't let the bacon crisp
  • Use only as much of the bacon fat as required. Too much fat will mask the flavours of the other ingredients and you will get a stodgy jam.
  • Use a mix of back and streaky bacon for a good balance of fat and meat in the jam
  • Use the best quality bacon you can afford. 
  • Use freshly brewed coffee, even if it's not a premium or fancy one. NO INSTANT.

The experiment with the Bhut Jolokias was not limited to a change of chillies. I also did away with vinegar entirely, and added port and pomegranate molasses to the mix. Both liquids gave the jam a deeper, more rounded sweet and sour element compared to vinegar which has a sharp sourness. I'm tempted to slosh in a good slug of Balsamic in a batch...I'm sure it will work fabulously well.

It's all very well concocting bacon jam recipes in the head but the toughest part, trust me, is when you're in the middle making a batch and you have a pile of perfect 'soft fried' bacon in front of you, and you have to do your best not to eat the lot! Look at this and you will understand... Sigh!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kolmi na Kari Chawal - Parsi Prawn Curry with Rice

The brightly coloured, coconut based curries are common to almost all the cuisines along the western coast of India. There are subtle and not so subtle differences in each version but the foundation of most is a paste of dried red chillies and coconut, along with other spices.

Many of us label any Indian preparation that has a gravy as a curry but after I got married I discovered that curry is a very specific preparation among the Parsis, and also in the coastal cuisines - this bright orange or red gravy full of spice and punch which ideally had sea food in it but was also great with chicken, mutton or even boiled eggs in it. The sauce is so good that even a vegetable curry is delicious!

The Parsis don't have multiple courses at their meals like us Bengalis - there will be one dish that's the centre of attraction, and at the most there will be a side dish to go along with. This is served with either rice, bread, or rotlis. A simple salad may or may not be there. So once every few days curry would be on the menu. A huge pot of curry made with pomfrets, surmai, prawns, or chicken - accompanied by fluffy white rice, a pile of deep fried papads, and a kachuber made of sliced onions, tomatoes, fresh coriander, and plenty of lime wedges, would grace the table.The Parsi curry is undoubtedly one of my favourite dishes today.

I always felt intimidated at the thought of making a Parsi curry myself, especially at the thought of having to grind a masala. Bengali cuisine rarely involves elaborate masala pastes - mustard, posto, etc., are simple one or two ingredient pastes - and to me a curry paste with its myriad ingredients in specific proportions seemed scary, to say the least. In fact my mother never owned a 'mixie', something that is so basic in many kitchens. We never had use for one.

There's always a first time for everything and eventually I took the curry plunge myself. We have an excellent fishmonger here in Kharghar and I often get plump fresh prawns from him. There's nothing like a hot and spicy prawn curry to perk up a cold and wet day and so today I had prawn curry on the menu. Since the hubby is allergic to shellfish I remove the heads and tails of the prawns completely. Feel free to leave them on if you prefer - most of the flavour is in there.

This is my mother in law Katy Dalal's recipe for curry with a couple of minor adjustments. Use the same recipe for any sea food.

Parsi Prawn Curry

2 cups large prawns, deveined
1 coconut, milk extracted.
2 tbsp dried kokum
6 fresh green chillies, slit

Curry masala paste -
1 coconut, grated
15 Kashmiri chillies
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp sesame or til seeds
1 piece turmeric root (use 1 heaped tsp of powder if not available)
2 large onions, chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chana
1/2 cup cashew
1 large pod garlic

Broil the dry spices on a tawa and then grind all the ingredients into a smooth paste, adding water as required.

2 -3 sprigs curry leaves
potatoes (optional)
5 or 6 drumsticks (optional)

Marinate the prawns with salt and a dash of turmeric.

In a large vessel heat a generous bit of oil. Add the curry leaves to the hot oil, stir for a minute and then add the masala paste and the fresh green chillies carefully. Stir well and cook the masala paste till it is cooked through and has turned red. Rinse out the grinder jar and add the water to the pot along with the coconut milk. Use store bought coconut milk if you like, but fresh coconut milk does taste far, far better. Bring it all to a boil, adding as much water as needed to make the required quantity of curry. Add washed kokum and salt and let it cook.

While this is boiling prepare the drumsticks. Peel off the hard outer bark and then chop each drumstick into longish pieces. Cook them in salted water separately till just tender. Drain and add them to the curry.

If you're adding potatoes, cut them into medium sized pieces, fry lightly, and then add to the curry as early as you can.

Prawns can get overcooked quite fast so put them in last, judging cooking time according to the size. The curry is ready as soon as the prawns are cooked. If the curry looks watery fish out the prawns on to a clean plate or bowl and let the curry reduce to the consistency you like. Pop the prawns back in for a minute at the end.

Serve the curry with lots of rice, papads and kachuber.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The IFB Neptune VX Dishwasher - A Review

Finding domestic help in Kharghar has been an endless nightmare and I finally decided to end the trauma and get myself a dishwasher. It's another matter that I ended up rebuilding the kitchen to accommodate it but at the end of the day, I'm glad I did.

The Buying Experience
Choosing a dishwasher should be simple. You walk into a shop, ask to see the dishwashers they have available, get a thorough walk through of the functions and options on a couple of short listed models, and finally pick one to be delivered home. The reality is nothing remotely close.

We went to Croma, Aarcee, and a couple of other shops only to find that they rarely even have a dishwasher on display. And if they do, don't expect them to have a clue about how it works. Granted dishwashers aren't selling like air conditioners and washing machines for laundry but if these shops made a better effort I'm sure they would.

The problem with buying online was two-fold. I didn't feel confident that I would have someone to turn to for any after sales issues, and secondly, how would I know which machine is out of date and what's the new one in the market.

Eventually, I asked on Facebook and I got a lot of genuine advice and useful information. I discovered that IFB has its own stores called IFB Point and there was one nearby, in Nerul. We went there to see if we could get a dishwasher that suited our needs and budget. What I liked best was how well informed the sales lady was. She knew the machine inside out, was able to answer every question that we had, and gave us a lot of sensible and practical information instead of a scripted sales pitch. This is where we discovered that a model we shortlisted earlier (having seen it online) had been discontinued by the company.

We finalised the IFB Neptune VX and placed our order. We paid INR 34,200 for it.

Delivery and Installation
Delivery was as prompt as promised and the machine arrived within 48 hours after payment. Installation took a little longer, to an extent delayed by the incessant rains in Mumbai at the start of the monsoons. Once the technician arrived and opened the packing we discovered that the machine was damaged, there was a big, deep crack on the top. The technician pointed it out to me, apologised for the damaged piece and said it would be replaced immediately.

I waited for a couple of days but there was no sign of the replacement. Finally the hubby called the showroom to enquire. Much to our surprise the showroom had no idea about the damaged machine or the replacement! However they assured us that the replacement would arrive within 24 hours, and it did. I expected that it would get installed within a day or so but that was not to be. Another few days passed and finally I went back to the showroom and asked what was going on. Frustrated with the lack of coordination between the showroom staff and their technical crew I said if it was not installed and functioning by the end of the next day I would personally bring the machine and leave it at their premises and they could refund my money.

Anyway, a technician arrived the following day and we finally had the machine installed. I had to call a plumber to install a different tap of a certain specification so that the dishwasher could be installed. It would have been a far easier experience if the company made sure that the technician had the requisite skills to change basic plumbing fittings OR if the company informed customers in advance that specific plumbing is required.

After installation the technician gave me a demo. He wasn't prepared to answer any questions and only wanted to recite his scripted run through of the functions and how tos.

The User Experience

It's about a month since the dishwasher is here and I can only say I am very happy to have it.

Like most people my first concern was with the oily vessels or those which had burned bits of food stuck in them. As with hand washing, I let the vessels soak for a while and then put them in the dishwasher. The results were quite impressive and in the case of one of my heavy bottomed frying pans I could see the original colour of the pan again!

Glassware comes out sparkling and if you have stubborn gummy patches on bottles from labels, the hot water and steam in the dishwasher takes care of it all.

Ceramics and china also get squeaky clean. I've seen an occasional food particle still on a plate or bowl but all it took was a rinse under the tap and it was gone. Not a big deal at all.

The machine cleans stainless steel very well, the hot water certainly seems to help the vessels come out really clean. There's no white film like you see from washing powders and cakes.

Though I have washed many of my wooden spoons and spatulas in the machine I won't do it frequently. I don't think the hot water and intensive cleaning is good for the wood.

Heavy vessels like pressure cookers, woks, frying pans etc fare very well in the dishwasher - no grease, no patches of food particles stuck to the sides, and of course, everything is cleaned inside and outside. No more reminding the maid to wash under plates, outside the pans, clean the handles, etc.

Do I recommend that you buy a dishwasher? Yes I do.

Do I recommend the IFB Neptune VX? I certainly do. In spite of the hiccups while installing, the machine has turned out to be a blessing and I am cooking more because I don't have to worry about piles of dirty dishes in the sink.

Marathon Bloggers

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Murg Musallam - A Blast from the Past

Being on food groups on Facebook has one advantage - you never know when you might chance upon a recipe that you simply can't wait to try, or one that brings a flood of long forgotten memories with it. Yesterday I saw a post about Murg Musallam and the first thing I thought was 'this is something the brother loved when we were kids'. I don't have any specific memories of the dish itself but I remember hearing about it from him and I remember his excitement over a chicken cooked whole, his eyes big and round and filled with wonder. It wasn't something that was ever cooked in our house but since we had many Muslim neighbours we were not deprived :)

I waited patiently for the recipe to be shared once I had read it I knew I had to try it out. It sounded pretty straightforward and, with a couple of my own variations, I knew I would enjoy making it and eating it too. This is Imbesat's recipe for Murg Musallam that I used as my guide. I have made very minor changes to her recipe based on my personal taste and preference but on the whole the recipe is quite the same.

Murg Musallam

1 chicken, whole, without skin

garlic paste

fried onions
lemon juice
3 boiled eggs

3 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup fried onions
2 handfuls garlic, peeled
2" piece fresh ginger
3-4 strands mace
2" cassia bark
5 cardamom pods
5 cloves
2 tbsp poppy seeds

For the gravy
Kashmiri chilli powder
freshly powdered pepper
3 Indian bay leaves

Rinse the chicken inside and out and then marinate with salt, curd and garlic paste for a couple of hours, or overnight if you have planned ahead.

In the mean time get the stuffing and the curry paste organised.

For the stuffing heat ghee in a small pan and fry the cashews and the raisins lightly. Boil two or three eggs, depending on how large the cavity in the chicken is. Peel and lightly fry the eggs. Slice a large onion finely and deep fry till it is a deep golden brown. Drain well. In a bowl mix the fried onions, cashews and raisins with a little salt, sugar and a generous slug of lemon juice.

To make the curry paste gather all the ingredients and grind them to a paste. I did it in two batches in the chutney grinder attachment of my food processor.

It takes around an hour to cook the chicken so depending on when you want to serve give yourself a little more than an hour before serving time. It's easier if you have someone to help you while stuffing and then trussing the chicken. The marinade makes it slippery and messy and therefore a little hard to handle!

I found that I couldn't stuff even two eggs into the chicken without them popping out at every chance making it impossible to truss. I was alone while cooking this. I took a chance and chopped one egg into large chunks and mixed it with the remaining stuffing. Then I pushed in as much of the stuffing, barring the other boiled eggs, into the cavity of the bird. Ideally I should have been able to plug the hole with a full egg but the hole was too big. I trussed the chicken as tightly as I could and pushed in a boiled egg later. Try to close the cavity as best as you can so the stuffing doesn't fall out while frying the chicken.

Heat a generous amount of ghee in a thick bottomed vessel. Place the trussed chicken in the hot ghee gently and let it brown on all sides. This should take around 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate. In the same ghee that's in the pot put in the curry paste. Add some more ghee if required. Fry the paste well for a few minutes. At this stage add the chilli powder, bay leaves, pepper and salt. Stir around and cook the paste well. Add a cup or so of fresh curd and mix it in well. Cook for another couple of minutes.

Put the chicken back in the pot and pour in a cup of water. Blend the paste into the water. Add more water if you need to. Bring to a gentle boil, spoon some of the spice paste over the chicken, and then cover and let it cook on a low flame till done.

Succulent chicken blanketed in a thick luscious gravy, serve your Murg Musallam with hot parathas.

This is a relatively easy dish that would be a hit at parties and potlucks. Make extra stuffing and serve it on the side with extra boiled eggs too.

Marathon Bloggers 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cherry Chocolate Cake

My pantry was suddenly full of cherries. No, not fresh ones though it's the season for them now, but bottled cherries. I'd bought a couple of kinds from my favourite shop in Crawford Market where I shop for goodies occasionally, and then Saee gave me some more. While I'm not a fan of fruit the hubby loves them and always waits eagerly for me to make something exciting with fruit in it. With such a flood of cherries it went without saying that I'd be making something with them soon.

I browsed around on Pinterest, my favourite source of ideas and inspiration, and came across this exceptionally simple yet delicious sounding recipe for Cherry Chocolate Cake on this lovely blog called Tutti Dolci. I ran it by the hubby and once I had his approval I set about making it. It goes without saying that I have made my own adjustments and changes to the recipe and here is what I did, though I followed the method exactly.

Cherry Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup or 60 gms butter
2 tbsp preserving syrup from cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk with a tsp of lemon juice stirred in
enough cherries preserved in syrup to decorate

Preheat the oven at 180C.

In a clean mixing bowl combine all the dry ingredients.

In another bowl whisk the sugar and butter till light and creamy. I did this in my stand mixer. You can do it in a bowl with a hand held electric mixer or even by hand with a whisk. Use small grain sugar. I added a couple of tablespoons of the cherry syrup at this stage.

Once the sugar and butter are creamed well add the egg and the vanilla and beat well. Slow down the speed of the mixer and pour in a bit of the flour mixture and mix. Add some of the lemon and milk mix. Beat to mix. Add the dry mix and the liquid in alternates and blend it all in well to make a smooth satiny batter.

Smear the insides of an 8 inch round cake tin thinly with butter. Pour in the batter. Dot the top with as many cherries as you can but don't squash them too tight. The cherries will sink into the cake and, since they're preserved and not fresh ones, might even disintegrate into the cake. Don't worry, the cake will be delish anyway. Bake for around 25 minutes. Check with a thin skewer to see if it's done -the skewer should come out clean.

Cool the cake in the tin before removing. Ideally, use a loose bottomed tin so you can unmould it more easily. If, like me, you're using a regular tin wait patiently till the cake is cooled before you try to remove it or the cake might break.

Dust the top lightly with powdered sugar if you like and serve. A scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside a warmed slice of this cake would also be magical!

Marathon Bloggers