January 31, 2011

Mad about momos

If you are a lover of the ubiquitous kozhakattai, or our very own samosa, then there is no doubt that you will lust after its Tibetan counterpart — the momo. These steamed little dumplings of heaven not only provide a tantalising treat to your taste buds, but are an extremely healthy alternative to the junk we get in the name of health food today.

I first tasted these delicacies when I went for a holiday to Calcutta. My grandfather and I trudged along the streets one fine morning when he took me on a ‘sight-seeing’ walk. Howrah bridge apart, the only sight that caught my eye were these plump, snow-white dumplings that sat prettily steamed in a busy street as resident Tibetian families fed hungry office-goers mounds and mounds of these simple looking beauties. One bite, and I was hooked.

Be warned, making momos does require patience simply because of all the kneading and rolling. However, the end result is well worth its weight in gold. Since the parcels are made from a thin layer of dough, the stuffing can vary from cooked meat, vegetables and cheese to even chocolate on occasion.

The stuffing usually depends on the region the momos come from and every area has a different speciality. Served with a hot chilli dipping sauce that proves to be the perfect foil to the simple, yet subtle flavours of the dumplings, these sinfully delicious in-between bites sure have found a calling in Chennai.

I have tried a variety of filings, but I personally feel the traditional ones are still my favourite. No cream cheese and broccoli momos for me please. I have posted a really easy and simple recipe below which I’m sure you guys can try. Get the hubby/boyfriend to roll out the dough. (good way for him to work his muscles eh?)

250 gm mushroom, carrot, cabbage, boiled and minced
500 gm plain maida
2 onions finely chopped
1 inch ginger cut into slivers,
2 green chillies finely chopped,
2 cloves garlic finely chopped,
1 tbsp soy sauce
Salt to taste
1 tbsp oil
METHOD: Combine flour, oil and salt in a bowl, mix well. Add water to make it a soft dough. Chop green chillies, onions, garlic and ginger. Combine them with minced chicken. Add soy sauce, mix well and set aside. Make small balls from the dough. Roll them into a small round and put one tsp of the filling in the middle. Seal it and steam for about twenty minutes. Serve hot with chilli-garlic sauce.

January 29, 2011

Cheesy does it!

You remember how I was telling you that I loved cheese? Well, considering I have become more or less a wine drinker now (less calories people, it has nothing to do with being a snob!), I have decided to put together a wine and cheese pairing for the girls sometime soon.

And while I did some research and spoke to a few sommeliers and Maître Fromagers (yeah I know, see these fancy terms I have learnt!), I came to realise how grossly unaware I was about the different types of cheeses that exist in the market.  By the end of my shopping expedition, not only had I tried and tasted everything from Norwegian Gjetost (yate'-ohst) with its magnificent caramel flavour, to something called the Stinking Bishop (this is a type of hard cheese that is made from cow’s milk. It is washed in an alcoholic drink called “Stinking Bishop” which is made from pears. It has a very strong, ripe flavour and smell, but does taste gorgeous).

Now I have to admit while I tend to lean towards more soft cheeses (think Brie, Camembert, Boursault, Brillat Savarin and the like), I have found favour in some delicious hard cheeses like Gospel Green and Cumin Gouda.

Assembling a cheese platter is actually quite simple. Here is how I thought through it:
  • Traditionally, a cheese platter should include a variety of cheese, progressing from the very mild to the more pronounced, but tastes vary. So, it’s important to get your basic mix right. This way, you will satisfy everybody’s palate and there will be at least one variety of cheese that will appeal to everybody.
  • When you head to the supermarket to buy your cheese, always ensure that you taste everything you buy. For instance, feta is a salty cheese and parmesan is dry. However, unless you taste it, you will not know the difference in the flavours and whether or not it is suitable to be served in a cheese platter.
  • Usually, hard cheeses form the majority of cheese platter, but there are certain exceptions to the rule. Camembert and brie, both soft cheeses, usually find their way to the palate as they are mild and suit most taste buds.
  • Most common cheese on a platter should include cheddar, smoked gouda, Swiss blue cheese, emmental, gorgonzola, camembert and brie. After you buy the cheese, ensure that you use a wooden board to assemble them. Avoid using metal as this may alter the flavour due to oxidation.
  • Always remember that cheese tastes best when served at room temperature. Set knives by the cheese plate, ideally one for each cheese. Cheese markers are a fun way to identify the types of cheese you are serving. Provide napkins and small plates. Also, keep aside different types of bread such as rye, multi-grain and a variety of crackers. Always keep a bowl of pitted olives, prunes and fruits, apart from cold cuts. These serve as the perfect accompaniment to the cheese.
  • Finally, remember to set out the cheese half an hour before serving to ensure that they attain room temperature. This helps bring out the flavours of the cheese.
Remember, a cheese platter doesn’t have to be after dinner! It makes a sensational lunch accompanied by a mixed salad of greens, fresh fruit, crackers, nuts and bread. And what more do you need than a couple of bottles of wine to get the party started? Hic! I’ll drink to that!

January 28, 2011

Spanish sojourn

There is nothing ordinary about Zara. Not the ambience, not the staff, not the music, not the drinks…and most definitely, not the food. Food, did you hear? Yes, you heard right. While the popular restobar in the city has the crowd ooh-ing and aahing about their delectable, yet affordable cocktails, one service that hasn’t got its due is their delightful food.

Armed with an appetite and a determination to discover more, my colleague and I set off one sunny afternoon to try out the tapas and more at Zara. It’s my friend’s first time here (yes, I know shocking!) and needless to say, she is charmed. “Reminds me of the pubs I used to haunt in the UK,” she quips. I somberly remind her that my club experiences have been limited to the Indian map, but if this is what UK pubs are like…then I’m sure, I will like!

Not wasting any time, we decide to tackle their lunch combos. We pick the sangria as our weapon of choice, a refreshing white one for me and a heady, sweet, red one for her. With crisp, juicy chunks of tropical fruit, the sangria not only soothes my frazzled nerves, but is a revitalising start to the meal. For the starters, our pick is the crumb fried cottage cheese fingers, the Mexican fried spicy chicken wings and the chicken sausages tossed with soy and ginger. While the cheese sticks were simple and subtly flavoured, the sausages were zingy, spicy and complemented our drinks very well. The dipping sauces come in the form of salsa, an interesting spicy mayonnaise and a smooth and piquant tomato sauce.

Slightly stuffed but in the mood for more, the main course brings us to a plethora of choices, but mostly of the Mexican, Spanish, Italian lineage. While the garbanzo beans and mixed vegetables cooked in spicy tomato gravy, reminds me of our very own chhole, the vegetable and bean burrito, passes muster. However, the curried cottage cheese with Alfredo sauce and cheese was a mouth-watering treat, as was the batter fried fish, topped with creamed spinach and cheese.

With no place in our stomachs for even a single morsel more, my friend and I decide to take a rain check on the desserts. However, the next time around, the crepes with orange glaze and ice cream is surely going to be a must have on my list.

The food choices at Zara keeps changing once a month, so as to ensure that the menu is always fresh and updated; something we rarely find at restaurants nowadays. The very healthy portions and affordable prices do not compromise on the quality of the food and this is where the Tapas bar scores way above its counterparts. Salud!

January 27, 2011

Fun Republic

Hey, yes I know it has been two days. Missed me much? I love holidays…but mid-week ones are the best! As the evening of January 25th approached, I was already letting out little screams of joy. Sigh! Hello Republic Day bliss.
So what does on look forward to on a holiday? Well apart from the actual holiday itself (waking up late and all that), it’s the night before that is most fun. So my best friend’s hubby and I got talking on chat to ‘put’ plan for the evening:
Me: Are you off tom?
Him:  Yeah man, bring on the partaaay!
Me: What do you wanna do?
Him: Dude, what kind of question is that? Let’s drink ourselves dry and high!
Me: Hmmm, okay sounds good..what time, what about food?
Him: Bring on the pasta baby!I’ll bring the booze, you make the food!
Me: Ok awesome…can we watch Black Swan please? It’s supposed to be a brilliant movie…
(Cuts me short…)
Him: Dude, I’m not watching some ridiculous, weird girl becoming a swan movie. Nobody dies also. No way, lets watch Rambo, part 100!
 So in essence, though I did get to watch Black Swan while he was away, the majority of the night was spent slaving in the kitchen as my friend’s hubby and I cooked up a storm. Did it come out great? Oh you bet, so much so that we had people coming home only to eat the food! I’m posting below my version of a Penne Ala Vodka for you guys to enjoy. Tell me how you like it:

Penne A La Vodka
Penne/Rigatoni/Farfalle                                         500 gm
Fresh Cream                                                             500 ml
Blue Cheese                                                               250 gm
Strong cheddar cheese                                             250 gm
Mixed herbs, salt, paprika                                        To taste
Minced Garlic                                                           12-18 pods
Pureed Tomato                                                         200 gm Milk                                                                           2 litres Vodka                                                                        200 ml
Olive Oil                                                                    1 cup
Bacon/Pancetta                                                         200 gm

METHOD: Fill a large pot to the brim with water and set to boil. Throw in some salt and oil. Once the water is boiling add your pasta and stir occasionally. It should take about 20-25 mins to cook. Once done, drain out the water and immediately dunk in ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to cool.
For the sauce, Pour the olive oil into a pan and once it starts to heat up, throw in the garlic and let it sweat for a few minutes. Now, pour in the vodka, and add the spices and sauté for another 2 mins. Throw in the pureed tomato and let it simmer for about 15 mins, till the tomato is cooked. Now, throw in the cheeses, and once melted, add the milk. Let it reduce in the pot, for about 45 mins. The consistency should be such that it coats the back of a spoon. Add the salt and cream, let it simmer for about 5 mins. Meanwhile, cut the pancetta/bacon into bite size pices, season with pepper and fry them to a crisp. Toss the pasta with the sauce, add bacon bits and serve piping hot.

January 24, 2011

Through the grape wine

When American novelist and wine connoisseur Ernest Hemingway said "Wine is the most civilised thing in the world," he sure had a point. Wine is often looked at as a status symbol, and wine tasting is regarded an art. So if you know your merlot from your shiraz, then rest assured, you have made it to the elite circle. For those who do not have an iota of knowledge about wines, do not despair, here are a few easy steps to fool even the most experienced sommelier.

The first step is to carefully look at the wine. Start by tilting your glass to a 45° angle and observe three factors: colour, intensity, and clarity. Red wines have the tendency to lose colour as it ages, whereas whites on the other hand tend to gain colour. So a young red will look purple and an aged one will be more garnet. When it comes to whites, the shades range from a watery green to a golden yellow.

Now it’s time to look snooty. This is the only time that you can put your nose up in the air and people will actually look at you in awe.Take your glass of wine, swirl it around, poke your nose into the glass and take short sniffs. All you need to do is identify whether the wine smells floral, fruity or spicy, depending on the notes. Not too hard is it?

This is the easy part. What is a glass of wine, if you can’t tell how sweet or sharp it is? While tasting though, please try hard not to pucker up your nose if you don’t like the taste. Now, the sweetness of the wine will be detected at the tip of the tongue. The acidity of a wine will be felt on the sides of your cheek bones. A good wine should achieve a balance between the two, and the flavour will last beyond the first hit. It should fade, not disappear. The balance refers to tannins and acids, which are present in all wines. Tannins are naturally found in grapes, especially the skins and crushed seeds. High tannin content is ‘hard’, giving a puckery taste and even feeling like the teeth are getting coated. Wine with too much acidity may be tart. Simply put, tannin is a mouth-drying feeling; acidity is a mouth-watering sensation.

Now that you have understood the art or should we say act of tasting wine, remember to enjoy your glass. You don’t need to be an expert to know if you like what you drink; seriously, it is just a matter of your olfactory senses working. Don’t get intimidated by the socialites around you, truth be told, they are probably as much of a novice as you are. Now that you have cracked the code; enjoy your wine tasting with verve and remember that like wine, even the process of tasting gets better with age and experience.

January 22, 2011

Lots at steak?

A hot day usually calls for some creamy ice cream or some frozen, frozen yogurt. Funnily and ironically enough, on a blistering summer afternoon, with the sun throwing spears at us, we head out for sizzlers! 
Kobe, our destination, is a famed sizzler and steak joint that enjoys a staunch following in Mumbai and some other metros, and the joint at Chennai is located inside a inconspicuous building. Sitting in functionally done interiors, sipping on some extremely welcome iced tea, we ponder over the menu, which is exhaustive. Considering it is supposed to be an out and out steak joint, we are sorely disappointed to see manchow soup on the menu. Originality anyone?

The starters section again, offers everything from aloo chat to Weiner Schintzel (thin lamb strips with chips), and then there are the pizzas, sandwiches and pastas. The soup menu is pretty global, while the salad section offers options ranging from the staple Caesar salad to the innovative macaroni and fruits, and to the not-so-healthy fish mayonnaise. This leaves us confused, so we decide to rely on our trusted steward’s advice. Unfortunately, he also doesn’t seem to have a clue and suggests that everything is ‘yexxxellent’ so we must try as much as we can! I look at him irritated and wonder to my self if our not so petite frames have anything to do with his wise-ass suggestion, till the logical part of my brain takes over.

We begin our meal with sausages and chips; while the sausages are tasty enough, they are a tad dry. We had a real problem with the chips…or the lack of them (almost). A few more (or a lot more) fingers thrown in wouldn’t hurt so much, would it? Next up, we bite into the famed chilli cheese toast and pretty much get why the item is so popular up North. The toast is delightfully good, with a creamy sauce and just the right bite of fresh green chillies that makes our taste buds stand up at attention. We have a problem with the portions again though.

The small talk done with, we are ready to get to the point finally. Bring on the sizzlers. Now, the sizzlers are the titans in this eatery and they clash and crackle merrily in tune with your raging appetite. The chicken satellite (boneless chicken with mushroom sauce, mushroom, fresh cream and cheese) is just about okay. Topped with oodles of cream cheese, it smacks of no originality. The vegetable sizzler with pepper sauce and mushroom also disappoints. The only redeeming feature? The wine and mushroom sauce, which is spicy and light, with a nice full-bodied flavour. Maybe the seafood and lamb options in the section will help change my opinion, but that will have to wait for another day.

Not wanting to be deterred, we optimistically opt for the sizzling brownie. An utter disappointment, the brownie is too hard and tastes a bit burnt. The food at Kobe is smokin’ and sizzlin’ all right, but just for all the wrong reasons.

January 21, 2011

High on Thai

I’m not a big fan of dessert. When fellow foodies ooh and aah over the most decadent chocolate cake, the most luscious berry compote and the creamiest of ice creams, I sigh and ask for the next bowl of pickle.
It’s strange, but it’s true, that even though the people in my family are addicted to sweets (yes my mum, dad and grand dad all have their own stash of chocolate and hide it from each other), I prefer foods that pack in a punch – gimme salty, tangy, bitter, sour, spicy over sweet nothings any day

(Statutory warning: this does not reflect my personality)
That being said, there are a couple of sweet treats that make me go weak in the knees. My love for cheesecake has been professed in a previous post, but I also cannot resist ice-cream cake, butterfingers, peanut butter cups (till the point that they make me sick) and anything jelly or jam filled.
However, if there is one dessert that has me lusting and how, it is a rather funny sounding – Tub Tim Grob. I first had this gorgeous dessert when I went for a meal with the family to Benjarong. After my disastrous escapade in ordering desserts (I always end up asking for the most exotic sounding dish, only to send it away because it tastes miserable), my mum sternly warned me against making a choice. I meekly submitted and asked our politely smiling steward what was the speciality of the house and he suggested - Water Chestnut Rubies in Chilled Sweetened Coconut Milk.   
I figured I had nothing to lose and asked him to bring it on! I kid you not when I say that it was love at first bite. The chilled milk proving to be the perfect foil for the crunchy chestnuts, which was just the right amount of sweet. Determined to make this recipe my own, I met and pestered master chef Regi Mathew, COO, Fine Dine, Oriental Cuisines Private Limited, to part with the recipe.
Tub Tim Grob

·         Water chestnuts diced small                                            ½ cup
·         Tapioca starch                                                                   1 cup
·         Edible food colouring – red                                              10 drops
·         Water                                                                                  4 cups
·         Fresh coconut milk                                                            1 ½ cups
·         Sugar syrup                                                                        1 cup
·         Jasmine essence                                                                 2 drops

Method: Put food colouring in a bowl of water and then throw the water chestnuts in. Let the water chestnuts absorb the water for about 20 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and mix it with the tapioca starch until all the chestnuts are covered completely. Put water to boil and throw in the water chestnuts and let it boil until the starch becomes clear. Now dunk the chestnuts into cold water immediately. Once this is done, put the chestnuts in sugar syrup so that they are evenly coated. Before serving, remove the chestnuts from the sugar syrup and put it in a bowl with the chilled, sweetened fresh coconut milk that has been flavoured with the jasmine essence. Serve Tub Tim Grob chilled with freshly crushed ice cubes.

January 20, 2011

Don't do the dew!

After much hype and hoopla, a couple of friends and I decided to check out Dewberry's one sunny afternoon. Ravenous, and wanting to vent about office woes, all of us were geared for coffee, cheese steaks and more.
With a vast and extensive menu, what I will give the team at Dewberry's is that they have come up with a menu, which has something for everyone. However, that, sadly, is also their shortcoming. Because not one, and I repeat NOTHING that we tasted on the menu was worth its salt (In my case, I got salt only after I went up to the counter and got it myself).
We ordered a portion of cheesy, garlicky bread, an alternate topping on bruschetta and a portion of fries. Both were extremely small in terms of portion and absolutely lacked ANY taste. In fact, the bruschetta bread was soft and the cheese dry. The banana and oats shake that a friend ordered smacked of absolutely no originality and had a crust of bournvita on top. Determined not to let our initial impression leave a bitter taste in our mouth, we ordered a portion of pesto penne and a chicken steak, which was supposed to be stuffed with something, I don't remember what (but then again, it was not worth remembering either).
My penne was overcooked, the pesto was gooey and runny (quite a feat to achieve both at one go, don't you think) and had exactly three sliced black olives. Even though we did manage to finish it, we were terribly disappointed. Our friend on the other hand got a chicken steak that was uncooked (on asking they said it was poached and hence it had that flavour and colour), insipid and he REFUSED to finish it. We did complain to the manager who merely said 'Ok', did not present us with a comments card, just our cheque. Now that I have vented, I will tell you my basic problem with a place such as Dewberrys.
  • Staff that looks absolutely disinterested in serving you and are trained to say just a few words: No, Can't, Not Available.
  • A beautiful setting that could have people flocking by the droves, if only the food were palatable.
  • Prices that do NOT justify the portions.

    I really hope the management does something to improve the quality and standard of the food at a place that I personally believe has the potential to become a success, if only it had something substantial to offer on the plate.

    (Note: Pictures are for representative purposes only, and bear no resemblance to any of the food we ate that day)

January 19, 2011

Eats shoots & leaves

A couple of months back, a friend picked up this book by Lynne Truss about grammar – aptly titled Eats, Shoots & Leaves it spoke about how Important punctuation, among other things was when it came to sentence construction. Read the book, also thought that it was not greatly written as most of us could spot grammatical errors in the book, but I did think bits were cleverly written.

Like the headline I have chosen for today’s post – which I think is befitting considering my topic for the day is vegetarianism. First off, let me tell you that I am not a hardcore vegetarian. I would like to think of myself as a moody/hypocrite non-vegetarian…what is that? Well, I eat meat on a whim – I like KFC & cold cuts, I like galouti kebab & shish tawouk, and I also like the Syrian beef fry that my friend forces his mum to make every time he goes home.

But put a steak in front of me or a completely non-vegetarian meal in front of me and I tend to grimace. No fish head curry for me, no eggs in a basket or trotters (maybe this is the Iyer part of me that kicks in on call), I seem to quite like my veggies. And much to the dismay or ridicule of my carnivorous friends, I thoroughly enjoy the idea of a ‘vegetarian steak,’ yes I know you don’t think such a concept exists and quite happily polish off my chilli cheese burger too!

I would like to make a basic point here – all of us are non-vegetarians. There is no concept such as vegetarianism (yes vegans, get with the programe)…what we can be divided into are herbivores and carnivores. While some people eat plant, others eat animals – all living creatures, only the latter expresses visible emotion, while the former portrays a stoic, dignified exterior.

 I am not taking a moral high ground or stance and condoning one diet over the other, but there are some basic ideas that I just don’t understand:
  • How can carnivores love animals but still eat them? (please do not cite the 'food chain theory' to me, that is only your way of consoling yourself)
  • How, why and for what practical purpose was veganism founded (yes I have researched and read every possible link on it but it still doesn’t make sense)
  • Why would anybody eat soya ham, soya chicken or any soya type fake meat at all? If you so badly want to taste the real thing, eat the REAL thing!
I suspect a lot of irate readers have much to say as they read this post, so please keep the comments flowing. As you can see from my ‘About Me’ section, I do love a good, healthy argument. Till then, I shall continue to chomp away on my order of mashed potato, cheese and mushroom steak, with a portion of salad by the side. Oops, did I forget to mention the portion of bacon strips? Ah, the beauty of irony…