Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gnocchi



They say you have to be an Italian grandmother to make light, pillowy gnocchi. Now that's the kind of statement that keeps you from trying out making your own potato gnocchi. But I happened to have some boiled potatoes at hand and an extra hour to kill so I finally gave the recipe a shot. And won't I surprised at how easy it turned out to be. Plus for a first attempt, not bad at all.

So go ahead, boil a potato or two and give Italian grannies some competition in the gnocchi department. You can also make your own tomato sauce (and the recipe for that follows) but this gnocchi will be equally good tossed in some butter and herbs or mixed with some creamy alfredo if that's more your thing.

Ingredients
For gnocchi
2 potatoes, boiled
3 tbsp plain flour
salt and pepper to taste
For tomato sauce4 tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp oregano
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
10-12 basil leaves

The sauce takes longer to cook so lets start with that. Peel the tomatoes - you do that by blanching them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then putting them in cold water so the peel just slides off. Quarter the peeled tomatoes, take out the seeds and puree the deseeded slices in a blender. Put the puree in a saucepan alongwith canned tomato paste/puree, vinegar, oregano, chilli flakes and garlic powder. Add 1 cup water and bring the whole mix to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the sauce cook on its own for 45 minutes to an hour until it is reduced to a consistency you like. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mince half the basil leaves and mix into the sauce, reserving the rest for garnish.

Time for gnocchi now. Peel the potatoes and grate/mash them. Add salt and fresh ground pepper. Add 2 tbsp flour and knead lightly until you have a dough. You might need to add some more flour, depending on your potatoes. Just mix until the potatoes and dough are combined, taking care not to handle the dough too much. Divide the dough into two halves and roll each half into a rope about 1/2 inch thick. Cut off 1 inch pieces of the rope and press each against a fork to create indentations on your gnocchi.

Boil water in a saucepan and add 1 tsp salt to it. Drop gnocchi into boiling water 5-6 at a time. They will rise to the top in 2-3 minutes; keep cooking for around a minute after that. Remove with a slotted spoon and pop straight into the simmering sauce. Mix lightly until the gnocchi are coated with the sauce. Serve garnished with basil leaves and if you like, parmesan cheese.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Whiskey Affair


The very first thing I loved about international travelling were the glitzy shopping malls that seem to be a part of every airport. My first trip out of India, I was amazed at how Heathrow mimicked an expensive London high street, with everything from Hermes to Harrods. Many travels and airports later, I still wonder about duty free shopping. Is it really that cheap? Do people really have time to spend wandering the halls full of stuff when there is a flight to catch? And why do we have such huge duty free shops in Indian airports when everyone always talks about bringing cheap alcohol back in, not take it out.

Luckily, all of these questions are about to be answered. Duty Free Shopping (or DFS, as it is called in Mumbai) invited a group of bloggers over to their Mumbai international airport stores last week. We talked a bit about duty free and then, we talked a lot about whiskey. Why whiskey, you ask! Well, they had a whiskey festival on and the Johnny Walker brand ambassador was around to give us a run of the shop.

So yes, duty free shopping is cheap. Alcohol, tobacco and beauty products are the best sellers in duty free shops around the world and our host Nidhi told us that prices in Mumbai are some of the lowest. That still doesn't explain who buys this stuff - surely European travelers are taking back souvenirs from the Culture Shop but I don't see them carrying back bottles of wine. Turns out it's the Indian folks who reserve their shopping on the way out and pick it up when they land back. 

And this being India, most of them pick up bottles of whiskey. Which is why DFS has a whiskey festival on, offering not just discounted whiskeys but also special glasses to drink them in. So let's talk whiskey. Or rather, as someone who doesn't drink it but found the tour by the super cute Diageo brand ambassador Nick fascinating, let't talk Johnny Walker.



One of the most iconic brands in the world, you unconsciously think of Johnny Walker as synonymous with whisky, even if you don't drink it much. But as Nick walked us through the store and spent an hour talking about the brand and the history of the drink, I discovered several nuggets of information I found fascinating. Here are my favourite takeaways:

1. All JW whiskeys are blended. Johnny Walker took inspiration from tea blending to create a new category of product, separate from single origin whiskeys which were the norm way back in the 15th century.

2. Mr. JW was one heck of a traveller. In the time before airplanes, he took ships all over the world, getting inspiration for his blends. JW has these really cool bottles that illustrate his travels. The one for Mumbai is super cool, even though it costs a pretty penny.

3.  It was Mr. Walker's sons who were next in line to be master blenders and they took the brand global. A series of master blenders ensues, all of whom go round buying casks of whiskeys and selecting the ones that go into the blends.

4. Believe it or not, the current master blender is called Mr. Beverage.

5. These things are expensive. You can google all the science and lingo behind single malts and blends and what not. But Nick insists that oldest in not always the best. It's expensive because as the whiskey sits in casks, it loses about 5% volume each year, so you have precious little left at the end of 20 years. But it is on the master blender to find the best tasting 20 years olds of the many he tastes, which is why something like a founder's blend they have gets quoted for around 5000 dollars.

Truly fascinating, ain't it!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Palaces and Pop: A Mysore Dasara Weekend


For the last 400 years, Mysore has celebrated the victory of good over evil with a 10-day festival. Indian festivals are complicated - the same day that Durga Puga is celebrated in West Bengal and North India celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over the evil Ravana, Karnataka celebrates the killing of an entirely different demon - Mahishasura - by the goddess Chamundadevi. But whatever demon you think was killed this time of the year, most of India has 10 days of festivities a month before Diwali. In the 15th century, Mysore's kings decided to make it into a state festival and the tradition continues till date.

This year, I found myself in Bangalore on a Friday for a work trip. And because this is a short 3 hour drive to Mysore, it seemed like the perfect timing to check out the Dasara festivities. From that festive weekend, here are my top picks and tips on making the best of Mysore:

Take in the lighting: The whole city lights up for the festival and the Mysore Palace is a beautiful sight. This is peak tourist season which means there are queues to get into the palace at night and it takes a while to get in, but make it inside and it's really quite something to see the magnificent palace all lit up. The Palace grounds are host to a cultural festival and we caught an excellent dance performance the night we were there. But this is not the only performance location. The Maharaja College caters to a younger crowd with 'Yuva Dasara' and a host of pop/rock performances. They even had a coke studio concert this year.

The 10th day of the festival is when the big parade happens through the city. The royal family brings out the icon of Goddess Chamundadevi that sits atop a decked up elephant. There are hundreds of thousands of people who line the streets to watch the procession so it can get a little intense. We didn't stay in town long enough for the parade but even a couple of days early, you will see the elephants out for practice runs.

Walk, cycle, fly or drive: I make it a point to look up walking tours when I get to a new city and Mysore has a great option in Royal Mysore Walks. They offer walking tours of the illuminated city as well as cycling tours. What we opted for, though, was a drive in their vintage jeep.



Not only did Faizan show us the city, tell us about the evolution of Dasara but he also pointed out two unique traditions. One is wrestling - during the festival, wrestlers from all over the country come to Mysore for a championship. The other one is a doll display that houses put up. We visited a doll shop that had ceramic and clay dolls will themes ranging from dasara festival to weddings to Disney cartoon characters. Most households who follow the tradition pick a theme, then add figurines each year to match.

If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you also have the option of a helicopter ride over the city.

Stay in a heritage property (not!): When picking hotels for stay, I am partial towards newer properties. Which is why I immediately zeroed in on Grand Mercure, a 5 month old property in Central Mysore. It's beautifully built and staff is super eager to help. Our room came with free breakfast and a choice of either free lunch or dinner, and the buffet meals didn't disappoint. And this is where we stop and talk about food in Mysore.

Eat a dosa, or few: You can't really go wrong ordering a dosa in Mysore and the ones in our hotel breakfast were nice enough. But to grab one of the best dosas in town, you need to make way to Vinayaka Mylari in Doora. They make only one kind of dosa, filled with some hard to describe masala. But these dosas are the softest I have eaten and quite unique.



Outside of dosas, mysore has plenty of dining options in Doora and JLB Road. But remember that Mysore is a sleepy town and everything closes early. By the time our coke studio concert ended at 10.30, pretty much everything in town was shut. So eat early or eat at your hotel.

I can't complete a Mysore chronicle without talking about the iconic Mysore Pak. I personally find it way too sweet but if it's your thing, or you want to at least try it once, make your way to Guru Sweets, just outside the bustling Devaraja Market. And if you are exhausted with all the crowds by then, you still ought to grab a cup of filter coffee at Indra Cafe before you head back out to Bangalore.

Vinayaka Mylari Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato