Sunday, September 28, 2008

This Book Makes Me Cook : Harry Potter Special

We are having a magical month at This Book Makes Me Cook. September is Harry Potter Special, and we have decided to create a recipe based on our favorite harry potter book. I so completely love the world Rowling has created in her seven books. But the magic starts wearing off just a little bit in her later ones, so I always enjoy the first three books in the series the most.

And my top favorite; that has to be the very first one. When a common little boy enters the magic castle and meets the half-giant Hagrid, the old wizard Dumbledore and (my favorite) the sorting hat. Oh! I completely love the first time Diagon Alley opens to show her wares to Harry, that first trip across the barrier to Platform 9 3/4, the first boat ride to the magical world that is Hogwarts.

If you have been following my trip to London these past days, you probably know already that I am far away from my kitchen and unable to cook. Which makes me sad because I would have so liked to create something from the feasts at Hogwarts. Instead, what I have today is my top five foods from the Harry Potter Series :

1. Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans : Every flavor, literally!

2. Treacle Tart : I always thought treacle's an ameoba, but it's actually a molasses like syrup that makes this delicious tart.

3. Mint Humbugs and Sherbet Lemons : Dumbledore's favorties

4. Foaming mugs of hot butterbeer

5. Hagrid's rock cakes : No one really likes them, but good to know they are there.

To bring this magic home, I am going to tell you how to get at least two of these five. For Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, head to the confectionary store within Harrods (that of the chocolate bar a couple of posts back). The jelly beans counter there has tens of jars all ready to dispense whatever flavor you want to eat. Some pretty unusual ones are there too!



You can also get traditional English sweets, mint humbugs and sherbet lemons included, at Harrods. But the best place to buy them is a tiny shop in a little nook of the very pretty Covent Garden Market. They have most English traditional sweets known to man, and you can mix-and-match to your heart's content.



Now, while I have to make do with these store bought substitutes, there are other members of the book club hard at work recreating the Harry Potter Magic. Some new members too this month!

Siri made the very English Crumpets.

Aparna continues the English tradition with her Vegetarian Shepherds Pie.

Foody Guru brings the christmas magic alive with her Christmas Pudding.

Rachel made Harry's favorite Treacle Tarts.

And Bhags, the original brain behind This Book Makes Me Cook, has come out of her exile to write about Harry Potter too.

The school stories continue at This Book Makes Me Cook for another month. For October, we are reading "The Naughtiest Girl in the School", a 1940s boarding school story by Enid Blyton. If you would like to join us, do leave a comment here and I will get back with details.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Macaroon-ed



Does it ever happen to you when you go to a new city that you pass by a place you want to go in, think you have enough time later, but never end up coming back that way. Always happens to me. I think I still have another 2-3-5 or whatever number of days, but the end always comes so soon and then I end up having lots of what-ifs, my little bits of unfinished business in the city I might never come back to.

Like this small kiosk set up by the french bakery chain Paul in a canary wharf mall. I had a sandwich there, but I was bewitched by their macaroons. It was morning, and too early for the sugar rush so I thought I'd come back in the evening. And every evening I'd get late at work and they would be closed by the time I got there.

So I made myself leave office a bit early yesterday. And Paul was open. And I got my little bit of heaven. Paul makes those super large macaroons filled with butter cream in a few flavors. But that's regular enough. What I loved at Paul was a tray of bite-sized macaroons. Each tray has 12 bites in six different flavors. The one I got last night had chocolate, coffee, pistachio, lemon and buttersctoch with cream fillings and a raspberry one with a jam filling. Crunchy yet light, sweet but not overly so, I simply love these macaroons.

There's another variation to this tray with more exotic flavors : coconut, figs, walnut, gingercream. Maybe I'd get to leave a little early tonight. If not, there's always next time, at least in London.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chocolate at Harrods



Now you probably know of Harrods already as the heaven for shoppers. Synonymous with luxury retailing, Harrods can be a bit over the top at time. But there is no doubting that an hour at Harrods can put you in touch with the best any store has to offer anywhere.

My favorite part of Harrods is (not suprisingly) their food halls. The confectionary, chocolates, cheeses, caviar and restaurants counters from around the world - I always get lost and end up spending hours there. And then I head up to second floor to a relatively unknown jewel at Harrods. It's called the Chocolate Bar, and the name really says it all this time.

You can have a chocolate shot - similiar to espresso but decidely more delicious. Or the long version, which is pure chocolate with cream or milk. My favorite is their big platter of strawberries and mini-marshmallows with a chocolate dip. In true Harrods style, you can have a glass of champagne to go with that.

I haven't tried their chocolate shakes but I have friends who tell me they are the best in the world. Isn't everything at Harrods!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dinner at 84 Charing Cross Road

It's now called Med Kitchen. But the oakwood floors are the same. You walk into the hall where Frank Doel came back from his buying trips; to ship Newman's first edition and Latin Vulgate to Helene. And you climb down the solid wood stairs to the cellars (now restrooms) that held long tables with their precious treasures.

I was sombre over my starter of olives with Pimms. By the time I finished my entree of Penne Arrabita, I was close to tears. I could not order dessert for the fear I'd burst out crying.

For gone are the display windows. And the upstairs room where Helene scooped up the white lettering. Also long gone is the Poole's at 86 where Pat Buckley showed up to get his copy autographed.

But how about this Helene - I finally made it!

PS: I wrote this in July 2007, but it is such an integral part of my London memories that I just had to post it...If you don't know what I am talking about, go read 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff!

PPS: Contrary to my fears, London weather is holding up beautifully. Five days, and it's still sunny!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tea for a queen


An average Britisher enjoys an elaborate meal of cucumber sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, jam and rich cakes sometime between lunch and dinner. The afternoon tea is more than a meal; its a tradition, the hallmark of British culture and almost sancrosanct. Right?

Extremely wrong, as it turns out! Sorry to disappoint all Jane Austen and Wodehouse fans out there, but the English afternoon tea is a fallacy re-created entirely for the gullible tourist. An average Londoner would hop into the nearest cafe and order a cuppa with some finger food just like an average New Yorker would pick up a coffee from Starbucks.

Ah well! a setback to my plans for non-touristy afternoon tea. But then, I can always go to one of the fantasy places. I am a tourist after all. The top of the tourist ladder, Ritz, is sold out. You apparently have to book six weeks in advance. I tried the more unconventional Wolseley instead, but they were full out for the afternoon. There's one thing to be said about London though. The people are so friendly. The conceirge outside Wolseley told me to walk down the street and try Fortnum and Mason.

I have been to the legendary grocery store before (is it heresy to call something as beautiful a grocery store). Today I headed upstairs to their tea room. It's beautiful : chandeliers, live piano, stuffy oversized chairs. Just like a Victorian tea-room should be. There was a queue but I got my table in less than half an hour.

On to tea. There's a wide choice of teas available but I picked Assam out of habit. And along with my tea pot came the three-tier cake stand of the Jane Austen's world. The bottom tier had cucumber and egg sandwiches (I remembered at the last minute, and told them to replace my meat sandwiches). In the middle were fresh, warm scones with clotted cream and jam. The top tier was empty but a very friendly waiter emerged with a plate full of mini-pasteries and tarts. I picked a fruit tart and a delicious little chocolate thing. All supplemented by my two cups of tea.

I haven't eaten so much at one go for a long time, but if those Victorians could do it so can I. And I loved every bit of it. To round up my afternoon tea experience, I plan to go for something less fancy next time. Top choices are Orangery (if its sunny and not too cold) and Cafe in the Crypt. I am a bit fascinated about the last one. Tea! In a crypt!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A sticky toffee pudding doesn't stick

That kind of defeats the point. But it's very very nice. Think of it as a warm, gooey, chocolate-y muffin coated with toffee sauce. I don't care much for the clotted cream that it comes with but it helps balance the sweetness.



This is from Browns, my lifesaver in Canary Wharf when I am jet lagged and so not up to going to town to eat. It's always Browns or Japanese fast-food chain Wagamama on my first day here. Because I get so little time in the city outside work, these are my London traditions. Little goalposts that define my feel of the city, places I return to on every visit.

Oh! I am so looking forward to rediscovering the city. Even though I know my next two weeks in London are going to be cold and cloudy at best; rainy and miserable at worst. Even though london never feels like summer, it feels great to be back!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Up, up and Away

Bombay Foodie is going away. For the next 3 weeks, you are not going to hear from my kitchen. But don't think that lets you off. My trip to London and New York might be work-only, but there will be some sightseeing sneaked in. And there will be food. For isn't that the only sightseeing I ever do : restaurants, grocery stores and farmers markets.

Stay tuned for a flavor of London next two weeks, and then some food reports from the Big Apple.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kadhi Chawal



I just can't think of what to write today. That's what my absolute favorite meal does to me, I just want to stop talking and dig right in. So I won't ramble and go straight on the recipe for kadhi.

First, make the pakoras that would go in the kadhi. Slice an onion lengthwise. Make a batter with 1/2 cup chickpea flour (besan), salt, red chilli powder and water. Dip onions in this batter and deep fry until crisp. Keep aside.

Now blend 1 cup yogurt and 1/3 cup besan into a paste. Add 3-4 cups water to make a very thin blend. Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan. Add a tsp each of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ajwain (carom seeds) and methre (fenugreek seeds). Let splutter for a few seconds. Now add a large onion, cut lengthwise into thin slices and cook until browned lightly. Pour in the yogurt/besan mix and add 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp red chilli powder. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for at least half an hour. You have to stir this occasionally but apart from this you can leave the kadhi pretty much on its own.

The kadhi has to be fairly thick - if you've had a thin, watery kadhi before that was the Gujarati version. This one's the hearty Punjabi one, so just before you take it off the stove add the reserved pakoras and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 tsp of garam masala to up the spiciness and a tsp of amchur (dried mango powder) to add the tangy flavor.

What are you waiting for now; go right ahead and eat with plain rice. And because it's impossible to make kadhi in small quantities (or so my mom says), you will end up having leftovers for dinner. I'm having mine with roti and plenty of ghee tonight!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It's raining, again

This has been a strange year for rains. The monsoons arrived late, threw a few tantrums and then dried up. Now, after a few dry weeks, we are most likely getting the last rains of the year.

The only thing I ever feel like eating when it rains are pakoras and chai. Vegetables, most likely onions and potatoes but sometimes paneer, dipped in a gramflour batter and deep fried. Warm and crisp - the most perfect antidote to grey skies there is.



There's another reason I'm making paneer pakoras today. We have a family tradition - it's always cakes and paneer pakoras for birthdays. Always, ever since I was a really small kid. You can add to this menu if it's a bigger party, but these two are must have for a very special birthday today.

Happy Birthday, Papa! You are the best father in the world.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Konkan Yatra

If you were wondering where I went to last weekend (and I know some of you did, since I vanished on our book posting day), I was out on a trip to the Konkan coast. No, not the Goa Konkan. But some truly beautiful, unspoilt, off-the-beaten-track beaches. Some lovely small towns, and a journey through the Ghats. Where the mountains and the sea give you a California-like feel.

Surprisingly, despite the fishing vessels spread all along its coasts, the town we went to was mostly vegetarian. At least, our resort was. Since being this close to the sea leaves them with very little fresh vegetable/fruit options, the cuisine is heavy on grains and legumes. As you can see in one of the our dinners:



This is by no means typical Maharashtrian food. But there are bits and pieces you won't see anywhere else. Like the nachani papad. Or the very delicious dal and aloo bhaji.

Oh! and the breakfast was such fun. We got sabudana wada and poha one day. Batata wada and sheera the next. A few thousand calories each time, but who counts on a vacation!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mumbai brings its favorite God home

The day started with drumbeats as Mumbai's public societies and countless homes started bringing in Ganesha idols. Ganesha, first among gods and Bombay's favorite, will be worshiped for the next ten days and then immersed in the sea. This is Mumbai's favorite festival, one that whole city celebrates.

Most homes would do the visarjan (immersion) tomorrow so today's the day for dinner invitations. And everywhere you go you see modaks, Ganpati's much loved sweet. And since I have three dinner invitations already, Bombay Foodie's celebrating with kheer instead.



To make kheer, wash 1/4 cup short grain rice and soak in 1/3 cup water for half an hour. Boil the rice in the water it was soaked in until the water almost dries and the rice is half cooked. Now add 3 cups (around 1/2 litre) milk. Bring to a boil and simmer until the milk thickens to a custard like consistency. Stir occasionally. Add 2 tbsp sugar, simmer for another couple of minutes and pour into a pretty bowl. You can also add a handful of raisins just before removing it from fire; they will absorb the liquid and get plump by the time you get around to eating kheer. Garnish with almonds and raisins. Leave to cool.

Kheer can be served hot or cold, but my favorite way to have kheer is lukewarm.