Friday, August 26, 2011

The only pizza topping recipe you will ever need



Specially if, like me, you are always clamoring to order Pizza Hut's Kadhai Paneer or one of those tandoori pizza. I used a store bought pizza base for this one, but the topping is really the topic of discussion here. Think of it as a new and improved version of veg jhalfrazee, the mixed vegetable dish that inevitably shows up on any restaurant menu.

My pizza topping has mushrooms, babycorn, paneer and spinach but you can really pick any combination of vegetables you like. Cut everything into small pieces, say the size of the pea. So, for my pizza, I diced 4-5 mushrooms. Then sliced 4 babycorns into thin round slices. Took a handful of spinach leaves, rolled them up and cut into thin strips. And yes, cut paneer into little dices.

In addition to the vegetables you have picked, you need to finely chop a small onion, tear a handful of basil leaves into little pieces and get yourself a pack of tomato puree. You would also need some dried oregano, although I just used those leftover seasoning packets from Pizza Hut.

Let's get to cooking the topping. Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan. Add the onion and let it cook until it starts to brown. Add 3 tbsp of tomato puree and stir for a minute of so. Now add the mushrooms and babycorn and cook, stirring on a low heat, for 5-7 minutes until they are just about cooked. Add spinach now because it needs just a minute. Finally, mix in the paneer and basil. Add a couple of packets of Pizza Hut seasoning (or a tsp of oregano), then taste the sauce and add as much salt as you think it needs. Also some fresh ground pepper and you are done making your pizza topping.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

An Apple A Day

It was in fact a lot of apples at Brown Paper Bag's Forbidden Fruit Workshop at JW Marriott this afternoon. Now I am generally a self taught kind of cook/baker. But I've been to BPB's workshops in the past and they are generally good fun. Plus tarts and pies have been a source of contention within me - I like the ones I bake but know they are not perfect - so this was just the chance to learn from a pro.

Chef Savio Fernandes is the presiding pastry chef at Marriott and he promised to spill some secrets in the three hours we spent baking. We started with the classic shortcrust. That's been my nemesis so far. So I watched the chef like a hawk, and I fully intend to copy his movements and get the consistency of the pastry where he got it the next time I bake tarts. We put the pastry to rest in the fridge and the chef moved to tarte tatin.

A French feast of caramized apples over puff pastry, the recipe starts with - horror of horrors - a dry caramel. I've burnt my hands, literally, trying to make this caramel without any water so that was the second scoop of the day. Chef Savio showed a technique that certainly falls in the realm of "interesting" and again, it's something that makes to my to-try list. There was, alas, no recipe for an easy puff as the chef suggested we save our sanity and use the store bought version.

The next two hours were quickly lost in baking a classic apple pie and two tarts. The rabdi and caramelized apple tart showed the fusion techniques of our pastry chef. The second tart is the one I would squarely put down as whimsical. You will have to wait for details on that one though as I am working on a variation myself.

Once the tarts were all in the oven, the folks at the restaurant brought out sandwiches and icecream. Coffee was on the table already and then trays after trays of the goodies came out. And we ate, well, a lot! My only regret is that the workshop was not very hands on. But some top secret baking tips, 15-20 amateur foodies and a whole afternoon spent in the middle of sugar and butter has left me very happy indeed!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Lost Traditions

Challi Aboo je.... a loud voice rings out in front of my house in Amritsar. And then this man rolls in with a cart. On top of the cart, a beige box filled with sand. And packed in this sand is that wonder called aboo challi, or roasted corn on the cob. Yet, it's not what you think of when you first hear corn on the cob.

Let me explain. Aboo challi is a rare breed. Unlike the charred, grilled corn on the cob, there is no open fire. The cart guy fills the beige wood box with red hot sand and then buries raw corn cobs deep into the hot pit. Several hours later, the corn slowly cooks into a flavor that's quite unlike the boiled or the roasted versions. The sand is still smoldering when the cart rolls into our neighborhood in the afternoon. The cart guy dips his hand in and brings out a perfectly cooked piece, brushes off the sand and then proceeds to brush rock salt and lime juice all over the corn.

Alas! aboo challi is a dying breed. My dad tells me that it takes too long to roast corn cobs the traditional way so the vendors have resorted to a shortcut. The boil the corn, then put it in lukewarm sand to create the same atmosphere but not the same flavor. No wonder the aboo challi I bought on the trip home last week did not bring back any memories.

And then I realized, Punjab (like indeed, any other place) is full of food traditions no google search will bring up. Food traditions that my parents and uncles and aunts grew up with, but traditions that are now just memories. So I'm going to sit these people down, get their stories and write them here. Just so someone remembers!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Enid Blyton strikes again!

Cherry Crumb Pie by Bombay Foodie

Now you may not remember because this was such a long time ago, but my book club - This Book Makes Me Cook - actually started with an event that Bhags ran. Read a book, and bring back the story and a recipe is what she said. Eventually, more than half the participants brought in their memories of food read from the pages of Enid Blytons.

This month, it's once again back to the memories Enid Blyton put into our young minds way back in school. The book club is reading the Malory Towers. There are six books in the series, chronicling the life of Darrell Rivers, as she goes through six years of education at this Cornish boarding school.

We could have read any one of the books. But once I started, I couldn't stop and ended up reading all six. The camaraderie of young girls living together, the bonding over books and games and the various little things that bring excitement to their otherwise dull lives - Malory Towers is something you can enjoy at any age.

Now food at Malory Towers can tend to be boring. Specially the supper. But not on the first day of the term. When the girls return for another term at school, the cooks put up a feast to welcome them. There are always cakes and pies at this term and I like to think Darrell would have been welcomed to her favorite Easter term by this cherry crumb pie at least once.

I adapted the recipe for the pie crust from something I saw at Masterchef recently. It was not an unqualified success so I'd suggest you go with your favorite crust. But the filling and crumb topping is so gorgeous, its something you absolutely must try.

Or just go see what other book clubbers got to this month.