Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Proud to be a Punjabi

There is a lot to be said about growing up in Punjab. For starters, its the rustic charm of the place and its warm, friendly people. Then there's poetry and music. Not just bhangra, but also heer and mirza and sufis of Bulleh Shah's stature.

And then, the food. The stories of mounds of butter on sarson ka saag (mustard greens) are all true. So are the legends of huge lassi tumblers. But then, Punjabis have always been farmers toiling away on their land all day and needing nutrition to match. Not surprisingly, Punjabi food is heavy on fats and dairy. My mother would still cook all her curries in ghee. Olive oil? What's that!

Ever been invited to a vegetarian Punjabi home for dinner. You don't need to tell me the menu, for I can guaratee it was either chhole or rajmah. And a paneer curry - there's always paneer on the menu when guests come over. I don't have guests coming over today, but I am in a mood to indulge so there's paneer on my menu too. This is the paneer curry my mother would make - it's so much like your paneer makhani or paneer butter masala and yet it's not.



Punjabi Home Style Paneer

Cube 200 gms paneer. Grate 2 onions, or chop them finely. Also puree 2 tomatoes (or do what I did : grate them, but leave the peels out). Heat a tbsp of ghee in a pan, add a tsp of cumin seeds and let them splutter. Add onions and fry until lightly browned. Now add 1/2 tsp turmeric and stir for a few seconds. I know you would usually add turmeric at the much later stage, but adding it now will take away the raw turmeric flavor you don't want in your curry.

Stir in tomatoes and stir fry until the onion-tomato mix is well cooked and oozing ghee. Now add salt and red chilli powder. Add a cup of water to the pan, bring in to a boil and let the gravy simmer for a few minutes. Now add paneer and cook for 5 minutes or so to let the flavors mingle. Your curry should be fairly thick by now. Just before serving add 1/2 tsp garam masala.

This goes on as an entry to Srivalli's Curry Mela. And now that I notice that this also fits another couple of events, here goes to:

Vandana for Paneer - a delicacy, and

Sangeeth for Eat Healthy - Protein Rich

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Boat Party

It's that time of the month again when we present our book club read of the month. "This Book Makes me Cook", the book club Bhags and I started last month has added some new members and this month all of us were reading Jerome K. Jerome's classic "Three Men in a Boat".

Somehow, despite my chronic reading habit, this is one classic I never read. And I thoroughly enjoyed it now. The story of three hypochondriac English gentlemen (and a dog!) who set on a week long boat trip on the Thames is simply hillarious because these three have no experience in, well, anything. They can't pack, can't sail and definetely can't cook.

I like the times they stop in small English towns (oh! they sound so different in Jerome's telling from how I remember them) and cart away pies and tarts and so much else. But even before they set out, they pack food. And heavens above, they actually pack eggs. I mean, who takes eggs to a picnic or a boat trip. They would just smash, and theirs' did. But some were left and Harris, the most unromantic of the lot, decided to make scrambled eggs.

This was a novelty, something the other two have never heard of before and Harris' cooking surely reads like voodoo, a dish that required dances and incantations for its proper cooking. He didn't end up with much to show for it though, just a burnt teaspoon of mess. So I decided to make what these gentlemen could not eat for breakfast that day on the boat, but really wanted to.

They might not have known this, but scrambled eggs were a popular dish eaten in the late 19th century (at least across the Atlantic if not in England). And how do I know? For I am the proud owner of the 1896 edition of The Original Boston Cooking School Cook Book. I learned to make the scrambled eggs from Fannie Merritt Farmer, and I still make them the way she made them way back in 1896.



To make scrambled eggs, beat 5 eggs slightly with a fork. Add 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Mix everything in. Heat a pan, put in 2 tbsp butter and when melted, turn in the mixture. Turn and scrape until eggs are cooked and you're done. No spells required.

There are more reviews and recipes from Three men in a boat coming your way:

Rachel made a Spiced Apple Tart
Bhags made Rhubarb Tart
Siri made Fried Eggs with Baked Beans
Dee made Spicy Orange and Fig Jam

For next month, we have picked "Anita and Me" as the book club read. As always, the book review and a recipe inspired from it will show up here on last sunday of the month. So watch out on August 31. And if you would like to join in, do leave a comment for me or Bhags.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Loaded with Flavors

Most people I know don't like the food at Ruby Tuesday. I might have been one of them, but for this one menu entry that reads “Loaded Fries”. Just look at the sheer brilliance of the idea. First you take a plate full of French fries, a tempting thing by itself. Then you top these fries with cheese and bake them. Now plonk a spoon of sour cream somewhere in the middle of the plate. Finally, get these to the table along with a creamy ranch dressing.

I agree it’s gross. But give me loaded fries with a milk shake any time of the day, to make my day. Or wait, for Bharti just made my day with a Rockin' Girl Award.



Thanks to this Sindhi veggie foodie, now I rock!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cheesy and Corny

No, we are not talking about the latest bollywood hit. This is my entry for this month's Taste & Create, the recipe swapping event hosted by Nicole of ForFood. I was super thrilled to have a partner who originally comes from Mumbai. Aditi now lives in Chennai (in southern India), but her blog is full of Maharashtrian recipes. When I first saw her blog, I told her I will make a traditional Bombay dish from her blog.

But then, I kept coming back to her Cheese Corn Balls. As Aditi said, this is a favorite dish ordered at restaurants - for her, and for me. So why pass up the chance to make this delicious appetizer at home.



To make these perfectly delicious cheese balls, boil a cup of corn and grind until coarse. Be super careful because this only takes a few seconds, and you don't want a fine paste. Blend the corn with 100 gms paneer, 3 cheese cubes (cut into really small pieces), 2 tbsp corn flour, 1/4 cup plain flour, a pinch of baking powder, 1/2 tbsp lemon juice and salt. Aditi also added ground coriander and green chillies, but I had neither at home so added some black pepper for that zing.

When everything's blended into a dough, make lemon sized balls. I got 10 balls with my dough, which I put in the fridge to chill for 10 minutes. Remove from fridge, dip each ball in cold milk and then roll in bread crumbs to coat. If you are making double my recipe like Aditi did, and you are working in Bombay heat, it might be a good idea to do this in batches. With my 10, the last 2 were quite soft and melted when I dipped them. Put them back in the fridge for 10 minutes to set.

Take the cheese balls out of the fridge. Heat oil until piping hot, then reduce the heat. This should take a couple of minutes so your cheese balls will be ready to fry by then. Fry on a really low flame, so that they take a few minutes to brown and are cooked through. Eat immediately with your favorite chutney.

Favorite restaurant food that's easily redone at home. Perfect, and delicious!

Chesse corn balls also go to Vandana for her Paneer - a delicacy and to Sangeeth for her Eat Healthy - Protein Rich event.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Blog Picks : Lemon Rice



Our next blog pick and my last night's dinner was courtesy Bhags' Crazy Curry. I dig the simple, yet good looking food she creates. And I dig good lemon rice anywhere, so this was an easy recipe to bookmark.

I had to make one adjustment to her original recipe because Bhags, like good Indian cooks anywhere, assumed that lemon rice needs onions. No, it doesn't, but she realized it only after she had posted the recipe. I dutifully excluded those, and the rest of the recipe was simplicity itself.

Boil 1/2 cup long grain rice (basmati for me) until done. Spread in a plate and mix in juice of one lemon. Heat oil in a pan. Add a few curry leaves and 1/2 tsp each of mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Once they splutter, add a tbsp each of chana dal and urad dal, let them fry for a couple of minutes and throw in a tbsp of cashewnuts. Add a pinch of turmeric for color, now add the rice and mix to coat and color everything yellow. Add 1/4 tsp salt (or more if you like) and cook for another minute or so.

Okay - here's a confession. I forgot the salt! Yes, and I only realized it once I'd clicked my pictures and sat down to eat dinner. So what I did was heat up a tbsp of water, added salt to it and then mixed in the rice. Let it cook for a minute and it was as good as new. Lemon Rice seems to be a tough recipe to mess up.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In search of a perfect bagel

There is no other word for it - the Bagel Shop in Bandra is cute. A small bungalow in posh Pali Hill full of interesting knick-knacks. Serving the chewy Jewish bread you rarely see outside New York.

You get a choice of five or six varieties - my favorites are multigrain and poppy - and you can tell them to load it with cream cheese or make a sandwich with your favorite vegetable or meat filling.

Impressive stuff!

Except that bagels are not meant to be impressive. Bagels are something you snatch off the rack on office cafetaria, pop in the toaster, apply a hint of cream cheese on and take to your desk to eat. All for 80 cents. That's what's satisfying about the bagel.

Cute as it may be, the Bagel Shop can't give me the deeply satisfying "Everything Bagel" of the NY cafetaria!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Blog Picks : Soft Yogurt Sandwich Rolls

Much before I started blogging, I started reading through food blogs. And bookmarking recipes I would like to try some time. The list has grown so long that it would soon be enough to last me a lifetime. So I have decided to give my experiments in the kitchen a rest and go the tried and tested way with choice picks from my favorite blogs.

The first blog pick comes from a baker who inspired me to bake my first cookie. I never miss a recipe on her blog, but this one was specially appealing. For I haven't graduated to baking a loaf yet and I wanted to bake buns before I take the big leap. So here comes this recipe for soft sandwich rolls and I promptly bookmarked it.



Nicole has an excellent step-by-step recipe on her site so I am not going to repeat it here. But I must say that the buns were easy to make, and super yummy. I halved her recipe and made smaller rolls so ended up with eight of them. They never reached the making sandwiches stage because a few were eaten straight off the oven and the rest were yummy just slightly warmed and with cheese spread next day.

For someone hooked on small single-serving breads like me, this recipe's surely a keeper. Sending this over to Aparna who is hosting the bread baking day this month with the theme small breads.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Best Baked Potatoes in the World



There are two reasons for this post. One, I can never find baked potatoes to satisfy me. They are always too bland or undercooked or something. Two, I had a jar of mayonnaise left over from the biscuits I made for last month's Taste & Create and could not think of any use for it.

To make these super quick baked potatoes, preheat over to 180C. Cut potatoes into thin slices and arrange in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet. Sprinkle salt and pepper to coat all slices. Bake for 7-8 minutes until half done.

Bring the baking sheet out of the oven and dot the potatoes with mayonnaise. Back in the oven for 5 minutes - I actually speared a slice with fork to figure out if they were soft and took them out when they were. Perfect as a side dish, or just on their own!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

On breakfast buffets and bear hugs

Now there's nothing to beat the kick you get out of a great meal first thing in the morning. And the breakfast at Vista set me thinking about what would constitute the “best breakfast buffet” for me.

The essential part of the buffet is that is should have a lot of variety. But then, all the parts should add up. So here’s what to add and what to leave out of my perfect breakfast buffet.

The Must-haves

1.Fruits – lots of them and as many varieties as possible. And those flavored yogurts you get to pour over your fruits.
2. A range of sweet breads. I usually go with the chocolate/cinnamon roll or a muffin
3. Even better – warm pancakes and/or waffles with maple syrup
4. Then it’s over to the savory and hot section. Idlis/vadas are usually my first choice out of the buffet.
5. Its an egg-white omelet next with baked potatoes/hash browns. Somehow, on these occassions, I don't feel the breakfast's complete without eggs
6. Croissant to go with the eggs; even better if you find me a New York bagel
7. Coffee to end the great meal. Sometimes, every once in a while, I would go for the Masala Chai instead.

Take it or leave it!

1. Juices and milk shakes
2. Cereals – even if there’s variety, this is something I eat at home every other day
3. Plain toast – simply boring!
4. Baked beans and baked tomatoes – I can’t stand either!

And now, before I sign off...a thank you to Sunshinemom for her giant bear hug.



I would like to pass on this jaadu ki jhappi to:

The bubbly Swati from Chatkhor, and

The immensly friendly Srivalli from Cooking4allseasons

And a virtual hug back to Sunshinemom :)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Making a Hash of It

Do you like hash browns? I like them, in theory. Grated potatoes formed into cakes, shallow fried until crisp and served as a breakfast food alongwith your omlette and sausages. What's there not to like about it. And yet, every single place I've eaten hash at so far managed to goof up and create something you simply wouldn't like.

That was until yesterday morning. Then I went for breakfast at Vista, the coffee shop at Taj Lands End. And there on the buffett table, I met this really good looking hash brown. Perfectly round patties, crisp not just on the outside but all over. I had one with my egg white omlette and then went back to get a couple just to eat on their own.

These hash browns put Vista on my list of best breakfast buffets. And now, a list of best and worst 5-star buffets in Mumbai:

The Best Buffets

1. Lotus Cafe at JW Marriott

2. Peshwa Pavilion at ITC Grand Maratha Sheraton

3. Vista at Taj Lands End

The Worst Buffets

1. Grand Cafe at Grand Hyatt

2. Frangipani at Hilton

The ones that don't feature here either have average buffets (most likely) or are still untested (less likely, since I never pass up a buffett!)

So what's a good breakfast buffet, you ask. Watch this space tomorrow

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I'm tagged!

First, the promised drink from my party. This one is a blackcurrant-orange drink. I don't have a name but I have two recipes.



For the mocktail, pour 2 tbsp blackcurrant crush in a glass (I use one of those Mapro bottles you get from Mahabaleshwar). Sprinkle a generous pinch of rock salt (black salt). Add enough orange juice to fill half the glass and give it a stir. Top with plain soda.

To make the cocktail, pour 30 ml vodka in a glass. Add 2 tbsp blackcurrant crush and stir. Now add orange juice to fill the glass to half and fill with soda. If you would like a sweeter drink, replace soda with limca.

And now the meme:

Sunshinemon, my fellow Mumbaikar has tagged me for this one.

1) LAST MOVIE U SAW IN A THEATER?
Sarkar Raj

2) WHAT BOOK ARE U READING?
Three Men in a Boat - our book club's pick for this month's This Book makes me Cook

3) FAVORITE BOARD GAME?
Scrabble

4) FAVORITE MAGAZINE?
Economist

5) FAVORITE SMELLS?
Bread baking, oranges - any citrusy fragrance

6) FAVORITE SOUNDS?
Laughter, sea waves, spattering of rain, soft music

7) WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD?
Why think of it!

8) WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF WHEN U WAKE?
Do I have to?

9) FAVORITE FAST FOOD PLACE?
McDonalds

10) FUTURE CHILD'S NAME?
Not sure

11) FINISH THIS STATEMENT—’IF I HAD A LOT OF MONEY I’D’
Spend some, save some and give some to charity

12)DO YOU DRIVE FAST?
Yes

13) DO U SLEEP WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL?
No

14)STORMS–COOL OR SCARY?
Romantic

15) WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?
Maruti 800

16) FAVORITE DRINK?
Strong Milky Tea

17) FINISH THIS STATEMENT-IF I HAD THE TIME I WOULD…
Travel the world

18) DO YOU EAT THE STEMS ON BROCCOLI?
If they are tender

19) IF YOU COULD DYE YOUR HAIR ANY OTHER COLOR, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR CHOICE?
Burgundy - I like the name

20) NAME ALL THE DIFFERENT CITIES/TOWNS U HAVE LIVED IN?
Amritsar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Mumbai

21) FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH?
Don't watch any

22) ONE NICE THING ABOUT THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU?
She has a beautiful name and a beautiful heart. And she likes Calvin and Hobbes

23) WHATS UNDER YOUR BED?
Dreams

24) WOULD U LIKE TO BE BORN AS YOURSELF AGAIN??
Absolutely

25) MORNING PERSON OR NIGHT OWL?
Night Owl. I hate mornings

26) OVER EASY OR SUNNY SIDE UP?
Well done

27) FAVORITE PLACE TO RELAX?
Anyplace quiet with a book

28) FAVORITE PIE?
Apple, what else?

29) FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?
Butterscotch

30) OF ALL THE PEOPLE U HAVE TAGGED, WHO IS THE MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND FIRST?
I don't know many people who haven't done this already, so I am only tagging one person. Bharti, do it if you like.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Party Time

Had a party last weekend, and while I didn't do much in the way of food (was too busy having a good time) the drinks were a big hit. I always mix drinks on the go, and so it was with these two creations that night. The group was split right down the middle among those who drink alcohol and those who don't so I made cocktail and mocktail versions of both drinks.

Here's my favorite - a lemon and mint cooler. Or rather what a mojito will look like if you don't own an ice crusher.



Drop 2-3 thin lemon slices and a few mint leaves (4-5 for me, more if you like) in an old fashioned cocktail glass. Add a tsp of demarara sugar and 1/2 tsp lemon juice and muddle it (i.e. give everything a sound beating). Fill the glass with ice cubes. If you are making a cocktail, now's the time for you to add a small measure of vodka. Leave it out if you are a mocktail maker and then, no matter what camp you are in, top up the glass with limca.

I didn't take any photographs of the other drink, so that's coming up as soon as I recreate it. In the meanwhile, this refreshing drink goes to Dee who is getting up close with mint for this month's herb mania.