Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Paranda Restaurant at Vivanta by Taj Surajkund

Dhabas have been an integral part of any North Indian foodie's life, couple it with someone whose friends are bitten by the travelling bug. Apart from childhood memories of travelling with family to Punjab, Rajasthan and the hills, the distinct memories of eating at dhabas are shared with Puneet and Vivek on various road trips.

Getting an invite from Paranda at Taj Vivanta, Surajkund positioned as speciality Indian Restaurant had me wondering why would I want to eat Dhaba food at a 5 star. Went along with the flow to see what they had to offer.

The decor set the mood just right. Vibrant colours in matkas leading up the staircase. A lifesize truck with colourful sayings, very characteristic of the highways. The lift doors cleverly built in with bright green wooden doors like those of a village home. Paranda is a hair accesory in Punjab, a kind of tasselled tag for braiding hair. How could I resist being my crazy self with my friends Mukta(also kindly agreed to share her pictures for this post), Rekha and her lovely daughter Agreya.

The theme of highways and villages is carried forward in every bit of the decor superbly built-in to blend yet stand out. Charpoys, lanterns, martaban, brass utensils(all sizes of pots and pans), parandas, dupattas, bangles, old radio sets, traditional jewellery. The place is a photographers delight.

Photo Credit: Rekha Kakkar

We were welcomed by the staff, Chef Ganesh Joshi and the GM Mr. Rajeev Khanna. Chef Joshi introduced us to the concept of the restaurant. The menu features an abundance of robust, earthy dishes that have evolved from the province of Punj (five) Ab (water) – The Land Of Five Rivers. From the ingenuity of the ingredient to the flawlessness of the execution, every aspect of Paranda will lead to an emotive, intense, liberating way of eating with fingers unlike any other says Chef Joshi.

An interesting amuse of golgappa stuffed with potato, chickpea and sweet tamarind chutney led me to believe that this food journey would surely be rewarding. Yes, I got seconds. Am never the one to pass up good golgappas. The Magan Murg Shorba however was a disappointment as it was too salty. Not something expected at such a place. Some murmurs had the soup instantly replaced.

The starters were a Platter of Methi Achari Tikka, Murgh Sunheri Shahi Tikka and Bhutta Malai Jhinga with baby Khasta Roti. The chicken was soft and succulent, fish was flaky and the prawns were flavoured well and my favourite out of the lot. We were served a unique combination of onions marinated with spiced yogurt. Something I haven't seen at at any Dhaba. It made the onions loose their punch. What we all missed on the table was sliced onions or better still 'Mukki wala Pyaz' where the truckers just smash the onion with their fist. Once pointed out, it was served instantly on the table. This lack of punch was an overall view on the table, best described as 'Food-For-Foreigners'.

The main course started with Sood de Dhabey di Dal, Palak Kofta Makhni Wala, served with Pudina Parantha and Namak Mirchi ka Parantha. The dal gets it's name from an eatery in Ferozpur called Sood Da Dhaba. Sec 7 ka Mutton Tariwala, was a take on a local dhaba in sec 7 in ambala. The mutton was cooked very well in a tomato based curry and spices were just right. The Mushroom Mattar was passable. Zeera Pyaz Pulao has a lot of us going hmmmmm, the fried onions and flavours of spices brought out by dollops of Ghee.

For desserts there were Malai Chamcham, Anjeer ki Kulfi and Gulab Jamun. Despite being stuffed by now, the entire gulab jamun went in. The Malai Chamcham and Anjeer ki Kulfi were nice however Falooda wasn't up my street. The dried paan was an excellent mouth freshener.

The Dal, Mutton tari wala and Namak Mirchi ka Parantha was true to it's Dhaba style and something I'll surely go back for. The view of the Aravallis from a huge glass window near our table gave us a sense of eating with nature. The company made it an even more enjoyable experience. Was fun meeting Anjali(Product and Food Stylist) and Maneesh (of Mystic Foodie Mantra)

A huge thank you to Saumya and Nafisa for having us over. Heartfelt thank you to Chef Ganesh Joshi for reaching out to our hearts via our stomachs  and wishing his team all the best.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Blogger's Table at Guppy by Ai ~ Delhi's Newest Tryst With Japanese Cuisine

Guppy by Ai is Chef Vikram Khatri's baby, another restaurant by AD Singh. The promise of contemporary Japanese food in Delhi, heartfelt invite, and the opportunity to meet friends over dinner prompted me to accept the invite for the Blogger's table by Chef at Large.  Japanese is just about Sushi and raw food is the belief Guppy is out to bust.

The interiors done by Anshu Arora give the place a wonderful vibe with a stunning play of colours, props, art work and lighting. We visited the restaurant for dinner, hence the slightly dim pictures, am sure by the day it would look soothing and playful. The ceramic rose knobs, use of Origami and metal to make lights(done by Jenny Pinto) Japanese kokeshi dolls, vintage cameras, old tiffin boxes and more such Japanese memorabilia  add a chic value to the place. No 2 corners look alike, yet the theme is flowing along like a rivulet. What I found odd was a plastic sheets used to curtain off their lounge. it's not something I would have expected in a place like this.

Who is behind the stove cooking is an important question along with the food being prepared. Who better than some who is dedicated to the cuisine and a warm person, always willing to go the extra mile to make his guests smile. Chef Vaibhav and I have had our share of cuisine clicks. Then and Now.....

The menu reflects the spirit embodied in Guppy... The colourful, spirited yet clean design.

Chef Khatri and Chef Vaibhav both welcome us with an amuse of Tomato and jasmine tea served with a prawn cracker with pickled vegetables dressed in goma dressing and seasoned with furikake(Japanese seasoning) for the non vegetarians and Tomato and jasmine tea with Seasame cracker with pickled vegetables dressed in goma dressing and seasoned with aao nori and shichimi for the vegetarians. The amuse did it's job well by setting the tone for what was coming ahead.

Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese, "seven flavor chili pepper"), also known as nana-iro togarashi,  and simply shichimi, is a common Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients.
A typical blend may contain coarsely ground red chili pepper (the main ingredient), ground sansho, roasted orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, hemp seed, ground ginger, nori or aonori. Source

Small plates 
Edamame Sea Salt/Chilli Garlic(Steamed soybean pods with an option of sea salt or chilli garlic dressing) were a thumbs up. Sushmita and Aishwarya were happy to see the bowl thru at an addictive pace. The salty and garlicyyyyyy flavour were a hit with me. It won a repeat order when we visited again. The pace at which these beans vanish while chatting with friends is astounding.

Guppy House Salad (Seasonal crunchy vegetables, palm heart and bamboo shoot, dressed in karashi mustard) was fresh and it mustard dressing won my heart. Yes, I'm biased, mustard is a flavor i really like.

Chirashi Seafood salad (Assortment of pickled prawn, tuna, salmon, crab and baby greens in goma-ae dressing) the seafood was fresh. With some encouragement Aishwarya tried the seafood and was soon convinced that she would order again. Her delightful look at the Roe popping in her mouth amused us all. Going back again with a friend, I was very happy to order it again and was served the same consistent taste.

Prawn Gyoza (Black tiger prawn pot stickers, pan fried, served with chilli ponzu soy sauce) and Exotic Mushroom Gyoza (Gluten-free, crisp bottom steamed pot stickers, served with chilli soy dipping sauce) were wonderfully done. The flavours went well with the dipping sauces, especially the ponzu sauce. These pot sticking delights are a definite winner for me.

Crisp Vegetable Harumaki (Exotic vegetable filo rolls, crisp baked in oven and served with chilli garlic) and Rice Paper Vegetables Roll (Shredded vegetables and lettuce, wrapped in rice paper with yuzu kosho sesame sauce) were disappointing for me. The vegetable rolls were to oily for the description given.

Chilli Lime Dressed Agedashi Tofu (Crisp fried silken tofu, dressed in sweet and spicy chilli lime dressing) was interesting but couldn't hold my fancy as it was a bit oily. That said, it's dressing was absolutely wonderful.

Sushi Rolls - Spicy Salmon Special Roll (Spicy mayo, tobiko and tanuki) and Asparagus Tempura Roll (Spicy mayo and leeks) were neat, precise and just like they should be. Would have loved to the the Guppy twist on them

Guppy Signature Pork Belly (Slow braised Belgium pork belly, glazed with soy honey and served with mustard miso sauce) is cooked for over 72 hours told us Chef Khatri. There are pictures of this I caught simmering away quietly in the kitchen. The glaze was balance of  flavours which went well with the meat.

Guppy Signature Black Cod (Baked miso marinated black cod served on a hot stone) The star of this show was the baked Black Cod which arrived, sizzling on a large smooth pebble, locking in the flavors. outside was a nice char while the inside were soft and flaky.

The classic way we eat in is when the food put on the table is the star. It's photographed, discussed, visually eaten before being devoured.

Desserts were Warm Carrot Cake (Carrot cake served with mascarpone frosting) which tasted very nice with the frosting but would have preferred for it to be lighter and Yuzu Lemon Cheesecake (with Kafir lime glaze) left me a bit wanting. We were also spoilt with Nutty Clusters, Pyramids of chocolates filled with chocolate ganache and balls of Red Velvet cake paired with desiccated coconut.

A peek into their kitchen, small yet clean, neat and well organised. people who are happy cooking and have smiles on their faces after a long and hard day at work will surely produce fantastic food where the smile passes onto the diner's face..... That's what I call a D-E-L-I-G-H-T-F-U-L meal....

Thank you for hosting us Guppy and a huge shout out to Chef Vaibhav for being a wonderful host and Chef Khatri for convincing me that vegetarian Japanese can be equally flavorful. This team with it's hard work should certainly go places.

Will I return to this place?
Certainly yes.... and I did. Went for a quiet dinner with a friend, where the table which wasn't booked in my name. The food and service was equally consistent as our blogger's table. Suggested the place to cousins, who also came back praises for the place.

Wishing the team at Guppy all the best.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mawa Cake and Masala Cookies for Daring Bakers Challenge

Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen was our August 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to make some amazing regional Indian desserts. The Mawa Cake, the Bolinhas de Coco cookies and the Masala cookies – beautifully spiced and delicious!

I've been making and eating desserts from all over the world since a year especially french. This challenge has bought me back to my roots (Sounds cliche but totally true) . The challenge wasn't difficult but had various elements which needed some pre-planning. It was well worth the wait.

Mawa Cake is a cake found in Irani cafés in India. Mawa is basically Khoya and my favourite indian mithai is the white barfi made from Khoya. Khoya is made by reducing milk on a medium-low flame till we get a crumbly texture of milk solids. It's this mawa and cardamom which gives this cake it's signature flavor and texture of a pound cake.

Mawa Cake
For the Mawa: 1 litre (4 cups) full fat milk

For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) unsalted Butter (soft at room temperature)
3/4 cup (180 ml) packed crumbled mawa
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) (10 oz) (280 gm) castor sugar
3 large eggs
5 to 6 cardamom pods, powdered, (about 1-1/2 tsp powdered cardamom)
2 cups (500ml) (9 oz) (260 gm) cake flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract (optional)
Cashewnuts (or blanched almonds) to decorate (about 18 to 20)

1. First make the “Mawa”. Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan, preferably a non-stick one. Bring the milk to a boil, stirring it on and off, making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
Turn down the heat to medium and keep cooking the milk until reduces to about a quarter of its original volume. This should take about an hour to an hour and a half.

2. The important thing during this process is to watch the milk and stir it frequently to make sure it doesn’t stick to the sides or bottom of the pan and get burnt. The danger of this happening increases as the milk reduces and gets thicker.

3. Once the milk it has reduced to about one fourth, 1/4 quantity, lower the heat to low and let cook for a little while longer. Keep stirring regularly, until the milk solids (mawa) take on a lumpy appearance. There should be no visible liquid left in the pan, but the mawa should be moist and not stick to the sides of the pan.

4. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the mawa to a bowl and let it cool completely. Then cover and refrigerate it for a day or two (not more) till you’re ready to make the cake. It will harden in the fridge so let it come to room temperature before using it. You should get about 3/4 to 1 cup of mawa from 1 litre (4 cups) of full-fat milk.

To bake the cake: Pre-heat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F.
1. Beat the butter, the crumbled mawa and the sugar in a largish bowl, using a hand held electric beater, on high speed until soft and fluffy.

2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed till well incorporated. Add the vanilla and milk and beat till mixed well.

3. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt onto the batter and beat at medium speed and well blended. If you cannot find cake flour, place 2 tablespoon of cornstarch in the bottom of your 1-cup measure and then fill it with all-purpose (plain) flour to make up to 1 cup.

4. Grease and line only the bottom of an 8 inch (20 cm) spring form pan. Pour the batter into this and lightly smooth the top. Place the cashew nuts (or blanched almonds) on top of the batter randomly. Do not press the nuts down into the batter. A Mawa Cake always has a rustic finished look rather than a decorated look.

5. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 1 hour until the cake is a golden brown and a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Do not over bake the cake or it will dry out. If the cake seems to be browning too quickly, cover it will aluminum foil hallway through the baking time.

6. Remove from oven and allow it to cool for 10 min in the tin. Release the cake, peel off the parchment from the base and let it cool completely.

The Masala Biscuits were a surprise packet for me. Being a first, I was a bit apprehensive about how they'll turn out. These are bound together with yogurt. One must be careful of how much yogurt is added as too much of it makes the dough very fiddly to manage. I didn't use sesame seeds as i didn't have any at hand and I'm not a huge fan either.

Masala Biscuits

1-3/4 cup (420 ml) (9 oz) (250 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
2 tablespoons (30 ml) fine white or brown rice flour (optional)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (or according to your taste)
1/2 cup (1 stick) (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
3 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
3/4 inch (20 mm) piece of ginger, finely grated
1-1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorn, crushed coarsely
1-1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and crushed coarsely
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (½ oz) (15 gm) granulated sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped curry leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander/ cilantro
3 to 4 tablespoons (45 ml to 60 ml) cold yogurt
1-1/2 tablespoons black sesame seeds (or white sesame seeds)
A little oil to brush the tops of the biscuits/ cookies

1. Put both flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda into the bowl and add the pieces of chilled butter.
Pulse until the mixture takes on the texture of breadcrumbs. Now add chopped green chilies and ginger.

2. Then add crushed peppercorn and cumin, sugar, curry leaves and coriander leaves. Pulse a couple of times.Then add 2 tablespoons of yogurt and pulse again. Add one more tbs of yogurt (or two, as much as needed).

3. Pulse again until the dough just comes together and clumps together. Do not over process or knead.
The dough should be just moist enough to bring everything together to shape into a rough ball.

4. Flatten it into a disc and cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least hour. You can also leave it overnight (up to about 24 hours). Pre-heat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

5. Line your baking trays with parchment or grease them with oil. Lightly dust your working surface.
Roll out the dough to 1/8”(3 mm) thickness, not more or your biscuits/ cookies will not be crisp.

6. Sprinkle the sesame seeds uniformly over the dough and use your rolling pin, very lightly, to press them in.
Using cutters of your choice (about 2-1/4 inch (55 mm) to 2½ inch (65 mm) in size), cut out biscuits/ cookies.

7. Place them on lightly greased baking trays. Brush a very thin coat of oil; this will help them brown while baking.Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or till they’re done and golden brown on the top.

8. Cool on the trays for about 5 minutes and then on racks. Once they’re completely cool, they should be crunchy.
Servings: Makes about 2 dozen masala biscuits/ cookies that are 2 1/4” (55 mm) to 2 ½” (65 mm)wide.

Set the cake to my neighbors. The kids and adults both enjoyed it over tea. Children are just so honest in their expressions. If it's nice, it's nice else they just won't have it. The biscuits were all over in just 2 days. Anyone who crossed the jar would have a few.

For cakes and cookies made by the Daring Bakers this month, check out the Daring Kitchen.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Le Bistro du Parc ~ Bloggers Table

An invitation to a newly opened French bistro style restaurant in Delhi, treading cautiously I said yes to give the evening a fair chance after non satisfactory experiences with french food in Delhi. To be honest, after my visit to France earlier this year, I was looking for a fix of some nice french food(not just desserts from school). Attending Chef at Large Delhi Bloggers Table at Le Bistro Du Parc, New Delhi.
Le Bistro Du Parc is the newest french restaurant in town. Conceptualized by Naina de Bois Juzan(of French and Punjabi origins) and established in partnership with Olive. It embraces the casual and comfortable philosophy of ‘Bistronomy’. Its location is quite central at Moolchand market, facing the park. It has the traditional French Blue and White decor with accents of Yellows and Oranges.
It does have a bistro feel with Naina out in the front help everyone with what to order, managing things and making everyone comfortable. The bistro has 25 covers with a somewhat open kitchen.They are awaiting their liquor license before serving more covers on the first floor. 

Chef Stéphane Mathonneau, has been trained in traditional and modern French cuisine.  He has worked in hotels and restaurants in London, Switzerland, Sussex, Brighton, Kent, Savoy, Paris, Corsica, Chef Mathonneau has worked in several avatars. He has worked at Corrigan’s Mayfair and Gordon Ramsay’s The Maze, at La Trouvaille (now l’Antidote), Rothschild Group’s L’Auberge de la Cote 2000 and several other restaurants in Paris and London. With a chef like this, I'm looking forward to a very very french meal.

The salad course served was pleasing. The salads were fresh and the ingredients were doing exactly what the chef would have wanted them to do... Appetize and Tantalize....

Salade Céladon Celadon salad is a green salad of fruits and vegetables. The salad had Grape, Pistachio, Green Apple, Zucchini, Cucumber and Green peas with a dressing of Green pea purée and mint oil. Céladon is very French, céladon is from the character named Céladon, who wore pale green ribbons, in the novel "Astree" by Honoré d'Urfé.
Salade Midinette Midinette salad has warm grilled chicken on a julienne of green apple and celery, pomegranate and light parsley mayonnaise. In French, a midinette is female salesperson, a shopgirl, especially in Paris; a vacuous but fashionable young woman.The celery and green apple combination in juliennes gave just the right crunch, bite and flavour. Vegetables cut this way are sometimes said to be “frenched,” and the cut is also known as a matchstick cut, since the vegetables may be cut short so that they strongly resemble matchsticks.
Parfait de Foie de Volaille Chicken liver parfait was served with a balsamic reduction and confit onions. Liver parfait should be rich, silky and meltingly delicious, but somehow this parfait didn't quite measure up for me. It's not really anyone's fault, after having had the meat fruit, a chicken liver mousse made to look like a textured mandarin orange at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, I wasn't able to enjoy the parfait here.
Fricassee de Calamars Pan fried calamaris were served with garlic, baby potatoes, cherry tomatoes, black olives, red chilly coulis. Fricassee is an old term, dating back to at least the 15th century. It is a French word, theorized to be a compound of the French frire (to fry) and casser or quasser (to break in pieces).

For our main course we had Agneau Grillé, Legumes Verts Grilled lamb leg, green vegetables like
Green peas, snow peas, potatoes, with a mint, coriander and mango chutney.
Volaille Fermiere, Courgettes Roties, Tapenade The marinated chicken, roasted zucchini, olive tapenade was average i would say. Nothing wrong with the lamb or chicken but neither spectacular.
Rouget Poele, Legumes du Soleil, Nuage de Citron Pan fried red snapper, ratatouille vegetables, lemon foam. The fish was cooked just right and the lemon foam complimented all the flavours very well on the plate.
Choux Fleur Comme un Risotto Cauliflower magic risotto Grated cauliflower, cream of cauliflower, green peas and vegetables. No rice!!! This was the one dish that was most disappointing after such a lovely sales pitch. All I could taste was peas, peas and more peas, wish i could find more of the cauliflower to actually taste the risotto in question.

Cote de Boeuf a Partager, Tomates a la Provencale, Frites Maison, Sauce aux Morilles Rib of beef for two, roasted tomatoes, home made french fries and morel sauce was a dish which we discussed and debated a lot on the table. It's a main dish suggested for 2 people. The steak was done on the bone and bought to our table, following which Chef Stéphane sliced it up into smaller portions making it easier for us to enjoy.  The meat was very nice, a little too raw for us at first which was immediately fixed by the Chef. It was succulent, juicy and a great combination with the morel sauce.
The fries... We are all adults, we all know what fried potatoes do to our waistlines..... We ate every single one of what was on the plate, (despite having eaten so much in the earlier courses) is testimony for the fries. All of us clearly enjoyed the morel sauce enough to have asked for more.

Mousse au Chocolat Chocolate mousse, strawberry coulis and pomegranate was rich, creamy and luscious, complimented very well by the fruit coulis.
Charlotte a la framboise Raspberry Charlotte has the textures executed very well.
Paris Brest a la pistache Pistachio Paris Brest, choux pastry, filled with pistachio home made cream was interesting to see in Delhi but missing some of the bite, for me. This I feel was a function was the very very humid weather in Delhi right now. Any choux pastry product served would not be at it's best.
Tarte aux Prunes et aux Amandes The plum and almond tart was a balance of the tart and sweet, flavours doing the tango in my mouth.
Tarte au Citron Meringuee The lemon tart with meringue was tangy, sweet, creamy and citron heaven. From now on, whenever I don't feel like going into the kitchen yet feel like having lemon tart, this will be the first place I shall turn too.
A little something on lemon tarts and their history with me.... Lemon tart was and is one of my favorite desserts since childhood. On the foodline of Delhi, ever since Nirula's opened.... As kids were were allowed to take home only 1 dessert from the pastry shop... My brother always chose the chocolate tart and I always chose the lemon tart. It had the short crust party shell and lemon curd filling swirled (now I 'm little wiser to know, with the star tip icing nozzle) and no meringue. I made lemon tarts for many people in many variations but the best one hit me in school at Le Cordon Bleu in my basic term as my exam dish.  It was just delicious, I couldn't stop eating it despite knowing how much butter and sugar went into it.... all the calories in the world couldn't keep me from that tart at school.

I just have to go back to the bistro and try the Poire Belle Helene (Poached Pears In Vanilla Syrup Served With Almond Biscuits And Dark Chocolate Sauce), Tarte Landaise (Apple Baked With Brandy, Butter And Sugar, Wrapped In Filo Pastry And Served With A Brandy Sauce) and Crème Brulee A L’anis (Classic Crème Brulee Infused With Star Anis)

Le Bistro Du Parc for me feels a lot more authentic in it's ambiance, food and culture over the other french restaurants in town, definitely going back for the salads and desserts. The others at the table that night were  Sid of Chef at Large, Charis of Culinary Storm, Sushmita of My Unfinished Life.
Thank you for being such a great hosts Naina and Anjali.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi ~ Blogger’s Table

It's such a pleasure to meet up with old friends. It was smiles, greetings and cheers all the way... not to mention all the Royal leg-pulling. Back in town and attending Chef at Large Delhi Bloggers Table at Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi.
Varq is  No. 30 on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. It's Chef Hemant Oberoi's baby with Chef Manoj Goel behind the stove. Chef Oberoi reinvented Indian street foods to it's modern day contemporary expression. This expression is further enhanced by the ambiance and beautiful art work by Indian artist Anjolie Ela Menon.
Varq is any foil composed of a pure metal, typically silver, used for garnishing sweets in South Asian cuisine. It's about elegance, splendor, extravagance, affluence, all of which reflects in our experience at Varq, Taj Mahal, New Delhi. 

The elegant Chaat style amuse-bouche with flavours of  ginger, mango, chaat masala and lemon set the bar of expectations high.

Yes, this table has artillery in the form of cameras. We were served interesting coolers like Chai Martini's, Pineapple Basil and Orange Tamarind. The pairing that I was looking forward to was the Hibiscus tea.

The menu set by the Chefs had both vegetarian and non vegetarian options, and you would obviously know what I would choose..... gladly the non-vegetarian. The first course was Varqui Crab (Layers of crabmeat, tandoori shrimp on crisp filo sheets. The flavours came together well and the different textures were an added dimension. The vegetarians got Varqui  Khumb (Layers of spiced mushrooms, morel on crisp filo sheets) which people on the table found interesting.

Haleem Aur Kaabab (Hyderabadi delicacy served with lamb and chicken ganderi) The chicken kabab was wrapped on a Ganderi(sugarcane stick). It took me back to childhood when we sat with a pile of these in our backyard, chewing on them between games of Hide-n-Seek. The raw mango chutney in the shot glass was absolutely fantastic. The kebabs were soft like silk and tasted wonderful. The haleem was finger licking delicious. We had a small discussion with the chef about Hyderabad haleem and Awadhi haleem. I was a tad bit disspointed by the sheermal roti which was unappetizing. Instead of being soft and smooth, it was a bit chewy to me.
The vegetarians got Palak Patta Chaat (Layers of crispy spinach leaves with spinach chaat). Tasted some from Deepali's plate. It was crispy and nice. Everyone who had it was impressed.

The soup course had  Lobster Rassa (Cochin prawns, black pepper and fennel rusk, robust lobster broth). The plates arrived with the seafood(prawns, scallops, and crisp squid) and bread. The lobster broth was served on the table. Spices of the south, especially the black pepper made this dish a delight. The vegetarians were served Kale Channe Ki Cappuccino (cappuccino style flavored black chickpea broth) which all of us thought was innovative but somehow noone was raving about the taste.

The Gari Sorbet(ginger sorbet) palate cleanser offered a visual treat but wasn't a treat to my palate. The Sea Bass on Spiced Potato Dauphinoise (Pan seared chilean sea bass, layered potatoes, raw mango and coconut curry) had me going Mmmmmmmm with closed eyes.... The fish was done to perfection and the curry was fantastic. It will be this dish that I would go back for over and over again. The chicken option for this course was Kali Mirch Ka Murg (Corn fed chicken breast, relish, creamy black pepper curry) while the vegetarians enjoyed their Jaituni Malai Paneer (Stuffed paneer with green and black olive tapenade, roasted tomato sauce)

The table was excited about being served Martabaan Ka Meat(lamb cooked with pickled chilies). It's used for slow cooking. Slowcooking releases flavours like no other cooking method, it really works for me. However, this particular preparation wasn't able to make me feel the magic. It was served with sukhe aloo and palak-wadi. The side of Mozzarella and Tomato Kulcha was and interesting combination, done crisp just how i like my kulchas.
The Berry Pulao(Iranian) was very nice. The berries were authentic iranian berries and not indian substitutes which made the dish real. Was hoping to see a raita in this course. Would have been interesting to see a contemporary take on curd preperations. The vegetarians were served Martabaan Chole which got mixed reviews from the table.

The desserts.....
Innovation and hard work, both reflected in the Apple Kheer, Jalebi and Khaas Malpua. I'm not someone who enjoyes kheer but this one, it was lovely. All the elements came together very well, the chena at the base, the fruit, the level of sweet just right. Accompanied by the crisp and perfectly shaped jalebis and soft Malpua.
How can I stop at one.... Went wandering around to the famed dessert trolley at Varq. It had Gulab Jamun Creme Brulee and the Chocolate Dome.

As a special request off the regular menu, we were served with the Chocolate Dome. It's a Valrhona Chocolate dome, encasing a Chikki Kulfi, Flambé done on the table served with Bailey's Rabri. It was seriously great flavours and I'm going back for more. Am sure the look on my face would have been a very happy one as Nikunj also gave me a huge knowing grin. This one comes a full circle {all pun intended}

To be honest, I did find the menu a bit over priced {personal opinion}. However if you don't mind the price and want to have some contemporary Indian  food and be pampered, it's a place to visit. Sharing the signature tea was a thoughtful gesture.
Thank you Taj Mahal Hotel for hosting the table and Bhavna, Deepali and Nafisa for being such gracious hosts. Had lots of fun with you all, especially the Royal banter. Nikunj and the service team on our table were very attentive and prompt. Chef Hemant Oberoi's team led by Executive Chef Amit Chowdhury shared with us some of his kitchen secrets. It was a pleasure dining with you all.

This blogger table was also special as it's Ruchira's farewell {only in the physical form, online world is as wide open as it ever was} as she's moving to another country. We signed CAL plates for her, exchanged gifts and she even got us all hand written cards with a special note for all of us. That's how adorable and sweet she is. The rapid fire quiz was as innovative as her. 
The others at the table that night were  Sid of Chef at Large, Deeba of Passionate about Baking, Charis of Culinary Storm, Parul of The Shirazine, Sangeeta of  Healthfood Desi Videshi, Ruchira of The Great Cookaroo, Sushmita of My Unfinished Life, Rekha of My Tasty Curry, Mukta of Bake-a-Mania, Himanshu of The White Ramekins
Thank you so much for the warm welcome home.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Savour Mumbai By Chef Vikas Khanna ~ Book Launch

Greatest indian food hasn't traveled cause it's in the indian homes
~ Chef Vikas Khanna

Michelin star Chef Vikas Khanna launched  his book 'Savour Mumbai’ at Imperial hotel yesterday. An event organised by the Imperial’s Culinary Club and Westland. He's a man of precision over and above his unpretentious nature which makes him a darling with all ages in the audience. The first thing he did was meticulously check the mise en place at the venue. That done, he chatted with me for a bit among the audience. Upon striking an instant connection, mentioned my Le Cordon Bleu experience in London and his in Paris. His honesty was reflected in mentioning that other than Leela (his first job) at that time, there weren't other options. Thank God for that I say, see where that and hard work has landed him.
Food, he said is about Human Connection. The thought still lingers. Any country, any cuisine, any dish is incomplete without the human connection. Any meal can be evaluated by it's human connection. The afternoon was spent in this spirit.

We talked about Indian spices.... Spice is a memory of childhood, his grandmother's jeere wali poori served to all relatives who traveled from Amritsar to Vaishno Devi is a lingering memory for them, says he. Most average  people outside India don't even know so many spices exist. I saw a live example of that in my Technical class in school. We had people from very diverse nationalities in class. In a pop quiz, it was the Indian students who knew most of the spices while the rest, thought them to be exotic spices. For us, these are everyday cooking spices. Chef Khanna said he can recognize 64 different sorts of cinnamon with the smell and taste of it and tell the cinnamon's age{eyes rolling in wonder}. Further he adds that all spices at Junoon, his michelin star restaurant in New York are ground in-house except haldi n mirchi. The book has a thoughtful section explaining the Indian spices used in the recipes showcased in the book.

His anecdotes find true resonance with most Indian households in simple yet intrinsic truths. Elaichi(cardamom) is used only when damadji(son-in-law) visits, Kaju(cashews) must only be used whole and never broken or paste form as the expensive nuts should be visible to the guests.

His take that complicated dishes are easy to make but simple dishes are very difficult to make is echoed by many accomplished chefs. His humility is also reflected in 'More u travel in India, more uneducated you feel.' as well as the willingness to accept feedback from his audience and engage with them at an almost personal level.

Chicken Cafereal
1/2 kg Boneless Chicken chunks
4 cups Fresh Coriander, roughly chopped
5 Roughly chopped, Green Chillies
1 tbsp Roughly chopped Ginger
5 cloves Garlic
1 tsp Poppy seeds (khus khus), roasted and soaked in warm water
5 Black Peppercorns
1-inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp Cumin seeds
½  tsp Tamarind pulp
¼ tsp Turmuric powder
3 Cloves
Salt to taste
5 tbsp Oil

1. In a grinder, combine the coriander, chillies, ginger, garlic, poppy seeds, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, tamarind pulp, turmeric and cloves.
2. Add ¼ cup water and salt, and grind to a smooth paste
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the chicken with the ground paste. Mix well and leave to marinate overnight or for at least 6 hours
4. Heat oil in a frying pan; add chicken along with marinade and shallow-fry till chicken is tender and crispy around the edges. Serve hot with pao (bread)

Kaju Kothimbir Vadi
1 cup gram flour (besan)
30 cashew nuts
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
2 tablespoons finely chopped
fresh coriander
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons oil, plus for shallow-frying

1. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except oil. Add 1 1/2 cups water and mix well to make a very thick batter.
2. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a frying pan over low heat. Add the prepared batter and cook, stirring continuously, for 15 to 18 minutes till the mixture comes together to make a thick doughy batter. Remove from heat.
3. Grease a small tray and spread the mixture evenly 1-inch thick. Set aside to cool and set. Cut into 2-inch squares.
4. Heat the oil in a frying pan and shallow-fry the squares till golden and crisp.
5. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
6. Serve hot with coriander and mint chutney or ketchup.

Kacche-Kele ki Asharfi Recipe
2 tbsp Oil
2 Large Onions finely sliced
6 Unripe green Bananas boiled in their skins
4 Potatoes, boiled
1 ½ tbsp Ginger-garlic paste
2 tbsp Fresh Coriander, finely chopped
2tsp Red Chilli powder
2 tbsp Gram flour (besan)
½ tsp Green Cardamom powder
Salt to taste
2 Medium Capsicums, tops cut off and cleared of seeds and white pith
1 ½ cups Clarified Butter (ghee)

1. Heat oil in a fry pan over medium heat
2. Add onions and fry golden. Remove and drain on absorbent paper. Finely chop the browned onions
3. Peel the bananas and potatoes and mash well
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the mashed bananas and potatoes with chopped browned onions, ginger-garlic paste, chopped coriander, chilli powder, gram flour, cardamom powder and salt, and mix thoroughly
5. Fill this mixture into the cleaned hollow capsicums and stuff well. Using a sharp knife cut the stuffed capsicum horizontally into 2-inch thick slices
6. Heat the clarified butter in a frying pan and shallow-fry the stuffed capsicum slices till the capsicum softens slightly and the filling is golden and crisp. Remove, drain on absorbent paper and serve hot with Coriander and Mint Chutney or Dahi ki Chutney.

Khubani ka Shahi Tukda
3 cups Whole Milk
½ cup Sugar
¼ tsp Green Cardamom powder

Shahi Tukda
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 cup Whole Milk
¼ tsp Saffron strands
Clarified Butter (ghee) for deep frying
4 slices White Bread
100 gms Dried apricots, soaked overnight and drained
2 tbsp Pistachios, finely chopped
2 sheets Edible silver leaf

1. For the rabdi, heat milk in a kadhai (wok) over medium heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, stirring continuously, till it thickens to a consistency of a custard sauce.
2. Remove from heat, add sugar and cardamom powder and stir till sugar dissolves. The mixture will thicken on cooling.
3. For the shahi tukda, combine the sugar with 2 cups water in  a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring till sugar dissolves and the syrup thickens to one-string consistency.
4. In another saucepan, combine the milk with saffron and prepared sugar syrup and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.
5. Heat the clarified butter in a kadhai over medium heat, and deep fry the bread slices till golden and crisp.
Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
6. Soak the fried bread slices in the warm milk for 2 minutes.
7. Sandwich the cooked apricots between the softened bread. Add the drained apricots to the syrup and cook till tender. Remove apricots from syrup and set aside.
8. To serve, arrange the sweet apricot sandwiches on a plate and spoon rabdi over. Sprinkle over with pistachios and garnish with silver leaf. Serve warm

The book is a keeper for me as it has recipes of the signature dishes from some of the best known restaurants in Mumbai. My favorites are Bade Miya Seekh Kabas, Dakshin Culture Curry, Mahesh Lunch Home, Oh! Calcutta, Trishna and Vrindavan among others. The street food section is an absolute favorite with me as I love Indian street food and craved it in London, while I was away.
The title 'A culinary journey through India's melting Pot' is an apt one for the book as the restaurants selected cover diverse dished from across the nation. The dishes we had at the event were selected keeping this in mind. Chicken Cafreal from Goa, Kaju Kothambir Vada from Maharashtra, Kacche kele ki Ashraf from Hyderabad, Guava and Cottage Cheese Salad from Allahabad and Khubani Ka Shahi Tukda from Lucknow. Add to that list Konkani, Gujrati, Parsi and so on.
The restaurants are listed in alphabetical order making the list easy to comprehend, each restaurant has a photograph of the entrance which makes an instant connect, a short description and the writer's connect with it, followed by recipes. The recipes are well written and easy to understand. The only 1 thing which stood out for me was that the Indian names of ingredients are in brackets... almost as if the book wasn't targeted at Indians. The pictures lend color and are pleasing to the eye.

Go ahead buy it, it's a pleasure to read. Takes you down memory lane if you've been to Mumbai and if you haven't, it make you want to be there and experience this phenomenon first hand .

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Day Has Finally Arrived ~ Le Cordon Bleu London Graduation Ceremony

The excitement.... it just wouldn't let me sleep the night before. A dream  coming thru... it was finally sinking in..... Chef Nachiketa it's going to be....

The chefs in school have held our hands, guided us, taught us, fed us, whacked us, stared at us for picking up food, said soothing words while we were fretting over exams n practicals, seen me thru a severely burnt wrist and no recollection of those 5 minutes of my life, the celebrations and tons of chocolate, sugar, butter, flour and eggs....... They were absolute pillars....

Friends for life.... 1 year in London was like another lifetime.... The bonds made over pastry shall never be broken.....

Friday, August 24, 2012

Badam Kulfi - The Chakle India Cookbook - A Review

A new cookbook launch from an Indian author is always interesting. Laid my hands on Aditya Bal's book The Chakle India Cookbook and read it end-to-end as I lay in bed nursing an allergy induced ENT shut down. Having the doctor tell me to keep quiet for a few days and not talk is torture. Having Aditya's book for company was a bright spot. Having watched his show on NDTV, was curious to see what he's put together in the book. Like the show, his book is a collection of recipes from different parts of India. A book is not a mere collection of recipes... It's a story... It's a connect... The book has lovely pictures of Aditya with various people across the country in each section.

What I like about Aditya is his gumption to follow his dream in the world of Food... being a crossover.. having changed his career from modeling to a television food show host.... he has a lot under his belt to show for the short years he's spent in this space... Travelling to various parts of the country, entering the kitchens and homes of countless people, bringing a focus on diverse regional cuisines in India is something admirable. The map on the front and back cover of the book is a sweet nuance.

Recipes like Rogan Josh, Mutton Yakhni, Galawati Kabab, Amritsari Paneer Bhurji, Kosha Mangsho, Goan Prawn and Mango Ambotik, Malabari Prawn curry and Moru Sambhar represent the varied cuisines from most states of India especially from Kashmir(Since he was born there) and Goa (his favorite place where he trained at some of the restaurants).

Am more of a baker than a cook in the kitchen, with a h-u-g-e sweet tooth.... Started reading the recipes in reverse from the desserts section... There is Badam Kulfi, Nariyal Ladoo, Doodhi ka Halwa, Fruit Custard, Shrikhand, Phirni, Gulab Jamun, Aam ki Kheer, Seviyan and Shahi Tukda....

Haven't made too many Indian desserts before so thought of giving Badam Kulfi a shot. Yes, I hear you... my ENT is shut down and yet I choose Kulfi..... What to do... am a total icecream lover... promised my friends online that I would have just a bite to taste...
pick up

Badam Kulfi
Recipe from The Chakle India Cookbook by Aditya Bal

1 cup blanched, peeled and ground almonds
4 tbsp fresh cream
1 cup condensed milk
Apinch of saffron strands
1/4 cup of milk
A small handful of pistachios
A small handful of almonds, blanched and peeled

1.  First, to make the kulfi mixture, put the ground almonds, cream and condensed milk into a bowl and whisk thoroughly, till it's fully combined and thick.
2. Heat the milk in a small frying pan and when it's steaming hot, add the saffron strands to the pan, and let it infuse. turn off the heat and let the milk cool, stirring it every few minutes.
3. Once the milk is cooled, add it to the kulfi mixture and fold it in to combine well. The ground almonds will act as a thickener and absorb the milk completely. Whisk the mix well, till it is thick, creamy and homogeneous.
4. Now, heat a small frying pan and add the almonds and pistachios. Roast them for a few minutes on low to medium heat, till they are nutty and aromatic. Transfer to a chopping board and crush them coarsely with the side of a heavy knife or a rolling pin.
5. Reserve about 2tbsp of the crushed nuts and add the rest to the kulfi mixture. Stir through to combine. Now the mix is ready for pouring into the kulfi moulds or clay kujjas.
6. Spoon the deliciously rich and creamy mixture into each mould, cover with a piece of butter paper and secure with a rubber band stretched across the rim of the mould.
7. Put the moulds into the freezer and freeze for 3-4 hours or till the mixture has perfectly set and is hard in texture.
8. Take them out of the freezer and remove the butter paper. Dip the moulds into hot water and turn out the kulfi on a plate. Sprinkle a little of the reserved nuts and serve right away.

I kept the kulfi overnight and got lovely results the next day. It was as Aditya described it delicious, rich and creamy. The only small thing i's have done was to add some crushed cardamom to enhance the flavour a little more. It's a thing with personal taste and not Aditya's kulfi.

Leafing through the book, I found many Meat, Fish n Seafood and Vegetarian recipes. The snacks were interesting too. Would have loved the book even more if it could have better pictures, most of them were extremely close up shots of the dishes with their garnish standing out. Since this is Aditya, the traveler's book, would have expected pictures which did justice to both. Would have loved to hear a traveller's tales on how he collected these recipes from various people across the country. I believe every recipe has a story to tell which gets handed from from 1 person to the next gathering lots of moss on the way making it a tradition.

All I can think now is Saffron.... It's an artists's delight on canvas... The crimson strands making a yellow hue on warm white milk....  While making this recipe, I chanced upon a large number of packets stashed away in my mom's pantry. Am just sooooooo compelled to use them. Had infused some of it in milk for taking these pictures and had it with a glass of milk this morning.... Step aside, cold coffee... make way for saffron milk every morning.

Anushree from Westland publishers sent over the book for a review. Thank a ton, really enjoyed it :)