Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Top Flavours of 2016

With only a few hours to go before the new year rings in, all my feeds are full of reminiscences of the year past. And what a crazy, crazy year 2016 has been. But no matter what ups and downs the world and the life throws your way, there's always food.

From myriad variety of new dishes I tried this year, I have culled for you the top 9 flavours I discovered this year. Some you may know, and others are for you to add to your wishlist for 2017.



1. Desi Chai: In my mind, chai has always been something you drink at home. When outside, it was almost coffee for me since restaurants and cafes usually get the tea flavour wrong. Then Chaayos happened. Their desi chai is good a tea as I make at home. Plus you can customise it any way you want - add more milk or less, make it light or strong and choose from a wide range of spices. If you must know, my standard order is a full milk kadak (strong) chai with tulsi and ginger. With a bun maska, I now prefer it to starbucks.

2. Butter Pecan Ice Cream: This one has been on the Indigo deli menu forever but I only discovered it earlier this year. It's saltier and nuttier than you expect, and a better icecream is hard to find in Mumbai.

3. Baked Brie: A classic this one, yet 212 All Good in Lower Parel, Mumbai managed to reinvent it with a dash of honey and some amazing crackers to dip into the melty cheese.

4. Jhama's Gulab Jamuns: I've had many a gulab jamun in my life - most bad or average, some good. And what a delightful surprise it was to discover this sweet shop in Chembur's Sindhi Camp rightfully claiming its place as the best gulab jamun in Mumbai. For fans of this deep fried happiness, Jhama has versions ranging from tiny bite sized pieces to some unique variants like the ones soaked in rabdi.

5. Gobindobhog Rice: In Punjab, I grew up eating only the basmati rice. Over the years, I've tried and liked a few other varieties. But when the folks at Lavaash by Saby in Delhi brought out this ghee laden Bengali rice, it even outshone the excellent Armenian curries it was meant to accompany. Fragrant and flavourful, this has potential to become my favourite rice variety.

6. Savoury Panchamrit: Earlier this year, I made a trip to Konkan coast with the folks at JW Marriott. At one of the homestays, we tried this super flavourful coconut soup that derives its name from the five flavours (savoury, spicy, sweet, sour, bitter) that go into its making. Think of this one as khowsuey on steroids.

7. Almond Croissant: Blue Tokai entered Mumbai this year and this Delhi roastery proudly takes its place as the best cafe in town. And the croissants that accompany this coffee are buttery, flaky and simply perfect. They sell three variants of croissants of which my favourite is the almond crusted, lightly sweet version.

8. Pithla Hummus: 2016 was the year of modern Indian and fusion food. Most of it failed but where it worked, it worked brilliantly. The newly opened Kala Ghoda restaurant, Hitchki, came up with an Indian mezze platter that blew me away. The pithla hummus is surely an improvement on the original by a big margin.

9. Polenta: Yes, polenta gets a bad rap but that's because it's so difficult to cook well. When Mumbai's favourite fine dine restaurant Olive got a new chef earlier this year, he added a polenta dish to the menu that is full of Mediterranean flavours and vegetables that make the dish sparkle.

That's it for 2016 folks. Hope your new year is sweet, salty, nutty and chock-full of love.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Cake




Decked out streets, lit up trees and loads of delicious food - there are plenty of reasons Christmas is my favourite time of the year. We don't really celebrate Christmas at our place but I've made it a tradition to bake a fruit cake every year. Some years, I soak my dried fruits in advance and there is a traditional cake. This year, though, I only got my act together yesterday and with just a day to go for Christmas, I went for the most logical fallback of Christmas cake procrastinators, the mincemeat cake.

Mincemeat, for the uninitiated, is a British concoction of raisins, apples and other dried fruits cooked down with sugar, butter and rum (or sherry or brandy - some booze basically). It's used to fill mince pies that most Londoners loathe but I love. And I love mincemeat so much I use it to make cookies and this year, cake. This is how I make mincemeat. The fruits I use vary each year and this year's batch was a mix of golden and black raisins, prunes and just because I had a bottle open, sweet white wine instead of rum.

Once you have a jar of mincemeat, the cake is simple. I picked a recipe by Delia Smith and this has to be the best cake I've ever baked, even if I say so myself. I know I'm posting this at the end of Christmas day but it's winter still and this will make an excellent snacking cake to have around the house. At the very least, bookmark this for the next Christmas.

Ingredients
(adapted to my 7 inch tin; Delia's original recipe is for an 8 inch deep tin)

For the day before
250 grams mincemeat
100 ml sweet white wine
150 grams raisins or mixed dried fruits
75 grams chopped dried figs

For the cake
100 grams butter
90 grams dark brown sugar
2 tbsp date syrup or molasses
2 eggs
150 grams plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
zest of 2 limes
50 grams almonds, chopped

The day before you are to make the cake, put all the presoaking ingredients in a bowl, stir to mix, cover and leave in the fridge.

The next day, make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. Set the oven to preheat at 170C and line the base of a 7 inch springform tin with parchment paper. Whisk butter, brown sugar and date syrup until they are mixed through. Add the eggs and whisk to combine. Mix the flour with baking powder and lime zest in a separate bowl, then add to the mixture alongwith pre-soaked mince and dried fruits. With a wooden or silicon spatula, mix everything together and pour into the prepared tin. Smooth the mixture as much as you can with the back of a spoon and sprinkle chopped almonds all over the top of the cake mixture.

Bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until the cake is cooked through and the centre springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in the tin for half an hour, then unmould and cool complete on a wire rack. Delia says the cake will keep 3-4 weeks in an airtight tin but with new year's eve around the corner, I won't blame you for polishing this off in the next week or so.