Thursday, January 15, 2015

How to Pickle Everything



I have a huge penchant for sour flavours. Which means that I naturally like pickles. Except the ones of the store bought kinds. Supermarket pickles have two fatal flaws. One, they aren't fresh which makes whatever vegetable you are buying a little tired and droopy. Two, you are almost certain to get sweet and sour pickles which is kind of disappointing when you are looking for a sharp, salty kick.

So when I made pickled jalapenos a couple of months back, with no sugar whatsoever, I seem to have lucked upon a universal quick pickle recipes. These are not your long lasting canned pickles. But if you are looking for something you can eat the next day, and for pickles that can stay in the fridge for 1-2 weeks, this is how you can pickle everything from ginger to gherkins to beetroot.

First off, prep your vegetables, Peel them if you need to and cut into sizes that you can eat later on. I thinly sliced both onion and ginger, peel beetroot and cut thin round slices and just made little sticks out of swiss chard stems. Then, it's just a question of guessing how much liquid you will need for your chosen vegetables. But here's the ratio:

1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 cloves of garlic

I'd suggest you start with this quantity and then double or go higher if you need to. Mix all of the above and stir until the salt dissolves. Pack your vegetables in non reactive jars. Glass and ceramic are both ideal; stay away from any metal. Pour enough of your pickling liquid to cover the vegetables fully. Pop in the fridge and leave 24 hours before eating.

I am not sure how long it's safe to eat these, but I've had the pickles for a couple of weeks and they've been fine. It's so easy to make that you can just make a new, small batch each week.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The 2015 Agenda

Wake up, Bombay! I am making a list of top 10 places I want to eat at in the New Year, and the first 3 entries are from Delhi. So how I am making this list, you ask? There are some old favourites I haven't visited for years and would like to experience again. For the new restaurants, the list is based on how much buzz I am hearing, and how exciting I find their menu to be. So, ranked by how excited I am to visit these places, this is my 2015 agenda:

1. India Accent, Delhi: In a small botique hotel in the completely unfashionable corner of Delhi, chef Manish Mehrotra has created a restaurant that's now universally accepted as India's best. The food is part grassroot Indian, part European fancy plating and I really can't wait to try out their tasting menu.

2. Soda Bottle Openerwala, Delhi: A few years ago, Dishoom opened in London as a quintessential Bombay style Irani cafe. It's quirky, it's charming and it's far better than anything Bombay has to offer in this department. Soda Bottle Openerwala is doing to Delhi what Dishoom did to London with a modern Parsi cafe.

3. Farzi Cafe, Delhi: This is another one of the Dishoom ripoffs but Farzi Cafe takes the concept up by another notch with its modern, molecular gastronomy inspired dishes. There has been talk of playful dishes that take you back to your childhood and general deliciousness all round that I can't wait to try.

4. The Table, Colaba: I ate at Table the week they opened and loved everything from their crispy polenta squares to unique mocktails. The restaurant has seen several menu changes since then, and even Chef Alex went off to intern in a Michelin star restaurant for a while. He is now back with a lot more experience, so the meal could only be better than my last time there.

5. The White Owl, Lower Parel: I haven't been to the White Owl, which is technically a micro brewery and not of interest to me but I am hearing such great things about the food that comes with the beer, courtesy chef Kshama. Need to find out if the food is truly great or is it that there are so few women in fine dining that even ones slightly above average get noticed.

6. Joss, Santacruz: I was pretty neutral on the old Joss in Kala Ghoda. But the new one seems to have a jazzed up menu and a chocolate dessert that is built right on your table. Something of an Alinea touch there, and definitely the one to try.

7. Neel, Mahalaxmi: I know, I know, Neel has been around forever and there is no excuse for one not having eaten the brilliant awadhi food there. So I'm gonna get course correcting on this one rightaway.

8. Spiceklub, Lower Parel: Pao Bhaji Fondue, naan pizzas and pani puri shots served with syringes - this is the kind of food that gets my attention.

9. The Birdsong, Bandra: Healthy eating options seem to be on the rise in Mumbai. Of all the ones I haven't been too, this one seems to be the prettiest and the one with the nicest menu.

10. Amadeus, Nariman Point: For some reason, tapas have never taken off in India. The only restaurant holding the Spanish flag for the last several years is Amadeus inside NCPA. I've had a brief visit once, a couple of years back, but it's definitely due for a revisit.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Top Flavours of 2014

Now that the Christmas cooking madness is behind us, I've had a bit of time to sit down and think about all the lovely experiences I had when eating out last year. I have a lot of old favourites that I can go on and on about, but instead, let's talk about some new discoveries. I thought back to all the 'aha' moments from last year, when a new dish and an amazing flavour surprised, and then became an instant favourite. If only I could take all of those favourite dishes and put them together in one place, here's what my ideal meal of 2014 would look like.

Soup
Mushroom Tea at Masala Library: I went to Masala Library expected to be blown away and possibly because of that, the actual experience came out as just above average. But some dishes stood out; the most quirky of them being this mushroom soup. First you get served an empty tea cup to which the servers add dried mushrooms (looks like tea leaves) and white truffle oil powder (looks like creamer). The mushroom consommé is then poured over to complete a soup with a rich, intense flavour.

Moving on to appetizers
Dosa at MTR, Bangalore: In one of my trips to Bangalore last year, I discovered the original MTR in Lalbaug. It's nothing fancy, there aren't even any menus and the place still gets a queue several miles long every meal time. I had a bit of a language barrier but once I explained that I wanted a plain dosa (and not the standard masala dosa stuffed with potatoes), there came a crepe rich with ghee and a chutney that was a perfect match. No sambar gets served with dosa here so you might have to also order an idli sambar.

Rosemary Truffle Fries at Woodside Inn: This place is an old Bombay institution but I only discovered their paper cone full of these fabulous fries this year.

And to drink
Butterscotch Macadamia Shake at Jamjar Diner: This cute little diner in Versova has so many good food options and an ambience that will make you smile. They also serve all drinks in jam jars, and this milkshake filled with caramel notes is the best jar of all.

I couldn't decide between the top picks for the main course so you get two choices.

Khowsuey at Busago: I first tasted khowsuey a few years back but I only became truly aware of this Burmese curry this year. I actually had two fanstastic khowsuey experiences in 2014 but I am going to put Busago ahead of Burma Burma, just because the latter is so hard to get into. Busago also delivers their khowsuey, complete with all the crispy toppings, so that's just an added bonus.

Dal Khichdi at Spare Kitchen: Both times I've been there, I look at all the options in Spare Kitchen - the curries, pastas, baked dishes, pizzas - and then order dal khichdi. Soupy, buttery and full of vegetables, this has to be one of the best comfort foods in this world. And although it's not a restaurant, I am going to recommend that you pair the khichdi with Dahivada from Annapurna. If you have lived in Bombay for any length of time, you must be already aware of Gujarati snack shops that sell khakhras and other random snacks. Annapurna on Bandra's 16th Road has the added advantage of an in-house kitchen where they make these 'healthy for you' steamed dahivadas. I am bit of a dahivada nazi and Annapurna's version hits all the right spots - the dumplings aren't too soft or too hard or too watery, the curd is just the right amount of sweet and spicy and they even get the yogurt to dumpling ratio right.

Time now for Dessert and there were two clear winners:

Millefeuille at La Folie: Crunchy layers of pastry interspersed with flavourful cream, it's the classic French dessert at its best.

Paan Kulfi at Pali Bhavan: It's been months and none of my dining partners can stop talking about this dessert. Pali Bhavan's paan flavoured kulfi comes wrapped in betel leaves, so you can hold up the tiny triangles like a real paan. It's unique, refreshing and the perfect end to a meal.

But as a bonus, let's talk about a brunch dish that's been on my mind a lot this year. Ellipsis makes its french toast by dipping brioche bread in pancake batter. This pancake-French Toast hybrid comes with enough maple syrup to drown the bread in. But I hesitate to put it on my top list because of how expensive it is. No matter how good, you will end up being amazed, instead, at how much you paid for what was essentially one slice of bread. So I am going to try and recreate this one at home. The rest of the meal - go out and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

30 Days of Christmas: Beetroot Salad



So here we are, on the last day of this 30 day blogging marathon. Wasn't it a fun ride - with so much butter and sugar and raisins. I've taken on several challenges since I started this blog but this one - with a full month of daily blogging - was the most challenging so far, And to wrap up a whole month of treats, I bring you a salad that's worthy to be called a treat itself, a seamless way to transition to healthier eating now that the holidays are over.

I first ate this salad at the London restaurant called Bob Bob Ricard. While beets, goat cheese and greens are always a classic combination, it was the presentation that attracted me to this salad and have kept it on the 'top dishes I've eaten' list that I maintain in my head. I've wanted to recreate this salad ever since and today seemed to be a great day for it.

The salad comes in four parts. Goat cheese, that gets sandwiched between thin slices of pickled beetroot. Arugula or your choice of greens (Bob Bob Ricard uses pea shoots) dressed in salt and balsamic vinegar. And although you can't see it, a layer of minty broadbeans hidden under the leaves.

Start with the pickled beetroot the day before you want to make this salad. Peel a beetroot and cut it into thin slices with a mandolin, your food processor or a sharp knife. Mix 1 cup water with 1 tbsp lime juice. Add 1/2 tsp salt and stir until the salt dissolves completely. Add the beetroot slices to the liquid, cover and leave in the fridge at least overnight. If you have fresh shelling beans, you are done for the day but if you plan to use dried beans, soak them overnight as well.

The next day, cook shelled broadbeans in plenty of salted water until very soft. Drain and mix with chopped mint leaves, salt, pepper and lime juice. Put about 2 tbsp of cooked beans in the centre of your plate. Drain the beetroot slices and arrange 3-4 of them around the broadbeans. Add a dollop of goat cheese on eat beetroot slice and top with another slice of beetroot. Separately, wash the arugula leave and roughly tear any large leaves. Add salt and balsamic vinegar to the leaves, then arrange them over the beans and the beetroot. Drizzle some more balsamic on the plate. Your salad is now good to go.

And that's it for our Christmas series, ladies and gentlemen. It's a wrap!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

30 Days of Christmas: Superfood Breakfast



I had originally planned to bake some cookies today but it's hard to dish out copious amounts of butter and sugar when it's the 4th of January and everyone around you is talking of new year resolutions. But if you are still finding it hard to get over the habit of eating sweet treats, here's a happy medium. It's an oatmeal breakfast, but one you can make the night before and it's full of all kinds of superfoods.

The night before, measure out 1/4 cup of oats. Put them in a pan over medium heat and stir until they get toasted and lightly browned. Let cool, then mix the oats in a bowl with 1 tbsp chia seeds, 1/2 cup yogurt and 1 tsp honey. Leave the mix in the fridge overnight. The next morning, take a pretty glass. Start with a layer of oats-chia mix and add a layer of pomegranate seeds. Repeat the layers and top with slivered almonds.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

30 Days of Christmas: Bread and Butter Pudding


Many, many years ago, I set to make bread and butter pudding for New Year's Eve dessert. I was pretty new to baking, had never tasted a bread and butter pudding, never made a custard before and was working off a dubious recipe. Needless to say, that new year rang in solely on the strength of the savouries and no pudding came to pass. Since then, I've eaten this comforting pudding a few times. I've liked a couple of versions, found most too eggy and never tried making it myself ever again.

But I tried it again today and am proud to say it's perfect. Soft and creamy, yet crunchy in parts and not even eggy. This time, I did a thorough research and picked a recipe by the British queen of baking - Mary Berry. In fact, the recipe comes from Mary's mother so it's as traditional a recipe as you can find.

I made a few changes though, but I think the pudding is better for it. So follow along. Take an 8 inch glass or ceramic dish. Melt 100 grams butter and brush some of it along the base and sides of the baking dish.

Take 8 slices of white bread, cut off the crusts and then cut each slice into three pieces. Dip one side of each slice in melted butter. Arrange 8 pieces of bread in a single layer on the baking sheet, buttered side down. Mix 150 grams raisins or sultanas with 75 grams caster sugar and spread half of it on the bread. I still have some leftover mincemeat so I used some of that instead. Add another layer of bread, buttered side up. Add the rest of the dried fruit (or more mincemeat) and top with the third and final layer of bread, buttered side up.

Now make your custard. In a bowl, whisk together 200 ml cream, 250 ml milk, 2 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla essence. Strain and pour over the bread. Sprinkle 2 tbsp brown sugar on the top and let rest for an hour. Heat the oven to 180C and bake the pudding for 40-50 minutes until it's set, browned and risen a bit.

Friday, January 2, 2015

30 Days of Christmas: Palmiers



Now that we are squarely in the new year and I am getting to the end of my 30 day blogging marathon, I've started to look into the fridge for leftover holiday ingredients I need to use up. One such exploration in my completely overloaded fridge led to the discovery of a small portion of puff pastry leftover from making mince pies. So I did what every baker does when faced with leftover puff pastry. I made palmiers.

To make these crisp biscuits, thaw the puff pastry in the fridge. Mix 1 tbsp plain flour and 2 tbsp sugar. Granulated or pearl sugar gives the best effect but use caster sugar if that's all you have. Dip the puff pastry block into this flour-sugar mix once to coat all sides, then spread the remaining flour and sugar on the counter. Roll out the pastry to a rectangle, flipping the dough once. The sugar will stick to the dough during the rolling process, which will later give the caramel crunch in the baked palmiers.

Figure out the centre of your rectangle by folding it in half once and opening it back to the rectangle again. Start rolling the short end of the rectangle into a tight cigar. Stop when you hit the centre, then roll from the other side to the centre as well so that you have two rolls meeting in the middle. Run a wet pastry brush along the side of one of the rolls and press it a bit to stick the rolls together.

Cut the log into thin cookies and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes, until the palmiers are brown and crisp on both sides.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

30 Days of Christmas: Blue Ice



Happy New Year, folks! And what better way to start the year than a cool blue icy drink. If you make the rounds of restaurants around Mumbai, you must have certainly come across frozen margaritas. I usually have them in the mocktail version which means I get a glass of crushed ice with flavour. Now crushing ice at home is usually a daunting task. I always end up wondering when the blender will give up and crash so I have come up with this crushed ice trick that doesn't involve any blenders.

To make the icy blue drink, you take a can of Sprite or 7 Up (any clear lemony drink basically) and pour it into a glass or a bowl. Pick something that is narrow because we don't want too much surface area but still need to be able to dig a spoon in. Freeze for 3-4 hours. Possibly because of all the sugar and carbonation in the drink, the liquid does not become solid ice but remains kind of slushy. Even if you forget to take it out after 3-4 hours and leave it overnight (as I did with the drink above), you can still get 'almost crushed' ice just by hitting your frozen sprite with a spoon. Now fill a glass with this crushed ice and pour over your choice of flavouring. My absolute favourite is Blue Curacao but any flavoured syrup of your choice works.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Festive Jelly



Now that Christmas is over, we are out of the season for hearty fruitcakes. Instead, the new year's eve calls for dainty canapes and elegant desserts. Which is why I am calling Jamie Oliver's elderflower jelly into action. Originally made as a summer dessert, this is festive enough to bring in the new year. I scaled down the recipe considerably to make only one bowl of dessert but look up Jamie's recipe if you are cooking a full batch.

This jelly is typically made with mixed berries but since we only get strawberries here, I added black grapes and bright orange cape gooseberries to the mix. Washed and halved enough fruit to fill 2/3 of a bowl (about the size of a standard cup). Next, I took one sheet of gelatin and soaked it in cold water. 5 minutes later, I lifted the gelatin sheet out of water and put it in a heavy bottom saucepan. Added 2 tbsp elderflower cordial and set the pan on very low heat, stirring constantly until the gelatin melted completely. Added 1/2 tbsp caster sugar to the mix and stirred until it blended in fully. I gave the mix 5-10 minutes to cool, then poured in 1 cup of club soda. Gave it a stir then poured it over the fruit bowl. Jamie uses prosecco and you can use any bubbly drink. If you are using club soda like me, make sure you open a fresh bottle or can. You want as many bubbles as possible to get trapped in the fruit as they will pop when you eat the set jelly later.

Cover the bowl with cling and let set in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours. Dip the bowl in hot water for a minute and invert on a plate.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

30 Days of Christmas: Milk Cream



Of the Goan Christmas sweets I spoke about the other day, the one that intrigued me the most was milk cream. It was also the easiest to make so here is my own take on it. Milk cream is a fudge made with milk, sugar and cashews. A simple recipe, though it does require a bit of work.

First off, grind 50 grams cashewnuts to a rough powder and keep it aside. Make sure you don't over process them in the grinder and they would release oil and turn into cashew butter which we don't want. Now get hold of a heavy duty saucepan and pour 1/2 litre of milk in it. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the milk cook until halved in quantity. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir until it's all mixed in. Bring the milk to a boil again, reduce the heat and cook until the milk and sugar syrup is thickened to a condensed milk kind of consistency. Add the cashews and a tbsp of butter, then cook on a medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid the fudge burning. Test every few minutes by dropping a tiny amount of fudge in a bowl of water. At first, it will simply disintegrate but over time you will get a soft ball. At this point, the fudge is ready.

Remove the fudge to a plate and let it cool. Now the standard process it to press the fudge into marzipan moulds but I didn't have any so instead, I poured the fudge into a bowl, let it cool completely and then pinched out about a tsp at a time to roll into tiny truffles. The 'milk cream' is somewhere between a condensed milk and cashew barfi in flavour. I used less sugar than most recipes call for but still thought it was too sweet so next time I might reduce it to even less - say 1/2 cup of sugar.