Thursday, April 30, 2015

yellow cherry tomatoes and a crust less ricotta quiche recipe with them


I had planted a few varieties of tomatoes like I do every year but it has become a norm in my garden that only one variety of tomatoes makes a success story in one season. May be it is the survival of the fittest when planted together, it happens somehow that most of the other varieties remain stunted or never come to flower or bear just a few tomatoes when they mature. It could well be true as I plant all the tomato varieties in one place, in adjacent beds.

Whatever the reason, this year is the season of yellow cherry tomatoes. And I am not complaining.


I have been dunking them into salads and popping them into my mouth as it is, some of them are being sun dried for more delicious ways to eat yellow cherry tomatoes.

This salad is made using the yellow cherry tomatoes, black and green grapes, chopped cucumber and bits of red onion, everything mixed with some hung yogurt, salt and pepper and a generous sprinkling of flax seed dry chutney.


It is a delicious way to eat all the good things of the day in large doses.

Another is a chickpeas salad that has been repeated frequently, this picture is from last year when I had got only a few yellow cherry tomatoes. This recipe uses sun dried red cherry tomato paste in the dressing. Sun dried tomato paste is a very useful thing to keep, just dilute with some vinegar or water, some garlic powder and extra virgin olive oil and make a nice salad dressing quickly.



But the happy yield of yellow cherry tomatoes made me try them for a crust less ricotta quiche. I don't mind  a nice crust in my quiches, I even make a quiche with cornmeal crust, but this time I wanted something that can be consumed in one go between the two of us, so to keep the serving size suitable I skipped the crust. The recipe got quicker and easier too.


The recipe uses minimal ingredients and made enough quiche for 3-4 servings if served with some crusty bread and some sauteed vegetables on the side. Crusty bread because the quiche is very soft and creamy, yet well set to be made into neat wedges. I had baked it in a rectangular baking pan so we just cut square pieces and ate merrily without any bread.

A side of sauteed vegetables is enough with this crust less quiche when it is just the two of us. The leftover was sandwiched between slices of whole grain bread though.

ingredients 
(for 2-3 servings and some leftover)

home made or packaged ricotta cheese 200 gm (or use freshly made paneer without letting it set)
light fresh cream 50 ml (100 ml in case of home made paneer)
cheddar cheese grated 50 gm
salt and pepper to taste
roasted chilly flakes to taste
garlic powder 1/4 tsp
mixed herbs as per taste ( I used sage and rosemary crushed together)
extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top 1 tsp (optional)
as many tomatoes as you can layer over the ricotta layer, keep a single layer of slices though

procedure..

Mix everything together except the tomatoes. Mix the ricotta, cream and herbs together and knead well to make smooth sticky dough like mix.

You can add some sun dried tomatoes to the cheese mix or some steamed spinach which has been drained of all water. I left it plain as there was no crust to support vegetables.

Grease the pan (9"X7" size) and spread the ricotta cheese mixture on the base. Spread it using your fingers or a silicon spatula.


Now layer the halved cherry tomatoes over it. You can use slices of any tomatoes you like.

Press down the slices to embed them into the quiche. Sprinkle some more herbs and drizzle olive oil or mustard oil over the tomatoes. Trust me mustard oil tastes really good with ricotta.


Now bake in a preheated oven at 200C for 20 minutes or till the sides start bubbling and start getting pinkish. The tomatoes look shrinking and slightly dehydrated.


Serve hot.

This quiche is a minimalist recipe, the day I baked it was a hurried day and I clicked minimalist pictures too. But I think the taste and aroma of this ricotta quiche is something that I can feel even now staring at the picture. Hope it reaches you too.

This ricotta and cherry tomato quiche keeps well in refrigerator, gets more set and reheats well to become soft again. The tomatoes may get pulpy after reheating but that allows their flavour to meld with the cheese layer better if the leftover is being used to make a grilled sandwich.

The grilled sandwich was actually a very good way to reclaim the missing crust of the quiche :-)

There are some more yellow cherry tomatoes being sun dried.


Will be back with some more recipes using them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

food and coffee pairing session with Bonhomia and a recipe of apple peach walnut salad with home made feta cheese

Coffee and food pairing sessions make sense if you are someone who likes entertaining with a lot of coffee being served. I would probably have one shot of coffee during a meal or snacking session with friends, but when you are to learn the intricacies of coffee, you got to gulp down a lot of caffeine in one sitting. I was ready to take this caffeine assault greedily when Bonhomia hosted a coffee and food paring session at Le Bistro du Parc.


Le Bistro du Parc is a standalone French bistro located at the edge of a park in Moolchand market, a nice place to sit and relax while dining with the company of old trees. The bistro, founded by Naina de Bois-Juzan serves French cuisine using locally grown seasonal ingredients, not too difficult as we are growing almost everything now. The fresh ingredients make a difference and that is evident at Le Bistro du Park, of course I could witness the finesse with which the ingredients were handled too. More about that later.

Bonhomia is a premium brand of coffee that makes coffee blends packaged in capsules compatible to Nespresso machines, the coffee blend capsules are made for a single shot of coffee and are packaged in boxes of 10 capsules each. Now that is a convenient way to enjoy great coffee in the comfort of home. Coffee that gives a perfect crema, as I had learned with Illy coffee master barista Nicola Scognamiglio from Italy.


The coffee blends that go by the names like 'Free love', 'Dark deeds', 'Black viel' and 'Vanilla artisan' are blended creatively. Mr. Tuhin Jain (CMO, Bonhomia) introduced us to the nuances of Bonhomia coffee blends and that these are all sourced from high altitude coffee plantation of south of India. Mr Kunal Bhagat joined us later and discussed how these capsules of coffee are made locally using the best coffee beans.

A Tomato tartar prepped with lime juice, esplette pepper and basil wrapped in a pickled ribbon of radish was served in dainty portions along with the blend Free love. The freshness of the salad bites fits well with a medium strength espresso shot.

Next was garlic bread topped with baby romaine folded around goat cheese, sun dried tomato and radish microgreens paired with Dark deeds served as Americano. Sharp edgy flavours raising the bar to a stronger full bodied coffee blend.


Next came dainty bites of stuffed puff pastry with olive tapenade and confit peppers paired with Black veil, the most potent coffee blend of the day. It was served as cappuccino but I tried the espresso shot too and it is indeed a very robust coffee blend.

The dessert platter had an assortment of miniature almond financiers, lemon Madeleine, crisp meringues and pistachio tuiles with some fresh fruit bites. Vanilla artisan blend served as macchiato is perfect with dessert and the pairing was received well.

Now it was a lot of caffeine in my bloodstream. The food was beautifully done, the dainty lemon Madeleine proved that the French bistro is worth it's salt. The finesse in every little detail is very evident, the taste hits the spot perfectly.

And then I had to make the next meal that could hydrate me and be filling at the same time. I made this apple peach walnut salad with home made feta cheese and home grown rucola greens. Nothing could have served the purpose that day. The salad was so good it got repeated for the weekend breakfast too. Yes we do eat unconventional things for our meals.


Home made feta cheese makes so much sense for me, the reason being I love the creamy feta so much and the packaged feta is just too expensive. So I have to do the effort of making feta, it takes some time but I try and make large batches and refrigerate for about 2 weeks. Will share the recipe of feta cheese sometime soon. Have not been able to photograph the process for the purpose.

The dressing... whisk everything together

balsamic vinegar 2 tbsp
lime juice 1 tsp
brown sugar 2 tsp
salt and pepper to taste
crushed walnuts 2 tsp or walnut oil few drops

Chop one large green apple and 4-5 small peaches. The Himachal green peaches are starting to come right now and I love the complex flavours they pack. Chop about 15 walnuts halves and mix with the cut fruits. Tear a handful of rucola leaves and add. Drizzle the dressing and toss the salad.


Serve immediately topped with as much feta cheese as you want. We had kept some feta cheese on the side too and kept digging the fork to pick up the creamy cubes of goodness.

This apple peach walnut salad will be really great for a summer menu, especially during day time. If you chop the fruits a bit smaller the salad can be served over garlic bread too. But we eat breads very occasionally so the large bowl of this salad will be good any time. Check out another Peach and feta salad to see how you can make variations of this salad.

No coffee with this salad please.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

101 alternative flours | polenta cakes made using makki ka atta, with arrabbiata sauce | quick recipe of arrabbiata sauce


Polenta is my favourite. I think I have said it earlier too, probably many times. I like polenta as much as I like my makki ki roti. I know both are very different from each other but I always found a similarity, the sweet nuttiness of cornmeal that is so characteristic and the way both can be served in so many different ways.

 polenta cakes made using makki ka atta

The polenta I used to make earlier with corn grits was a regular for some time and then I started adding fresh corn to polenta, see the gruel type polenta with mushroom goodness and fresh corn polenta with cheese. Check out the baked polanta sticks too.

But then I decided to use regular makki ka atta (corn meal meant to make makki ki roti during Indian winters) to make polenta cakes. The result has been very encouraging, the polenta cakes set well and I can toast them really well on the cast iron skillet too. It doesn't take too much time in preparation and tastes really good. And the best thing is, that it is great even at room temperature. A win win situation really.

This time I served it doused with arrabbiata sauce and sage butter infused vegetables on the side, sprinkled generously with Parmesan.

ingredients...
(2 meal servings with loads of stir fry vegetables)

for polenta cakes 
corn meal (or polenta, I used makki ka atta) 150 gm
water 300 ml
grated cheddar 1 tbsp
salt to taste
oil or butter to grease the skillet and the metal rings to shape the polenta cakes

*arrabbiata sauce (I used home made) 1/4 cup (recipe in the end)

for stir fry vegetables
cauliflower florets 2 cups
cabbage chopped in big chunks 2 cups
sage leaves (fresh or dried) about a dozen
butter 1 tbsp
salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top of the platter

procedure..

Mix the ingredients for polenta cakes in a deep saucepan (except butter) and whisk together. Now place the saucepan over stove and cook while whisking till the mixture becomes thick and soft dough like. Take the pan off the heat and grease the steel rings.

Now place the steel rings over silpat or a greased surface, spoon about 2 heaped tbsp of cooked mix into each ring and press down making a flat round cake (or tikki like shape). You can spread the whole cooked dough over a greased silpat and let it cool while it sets. Then cut into squares or triangles.

You can toast the polenta cakes while still hot as they set perfectly well and quickly. Or you can cool down completely to be sure, the cold polenta cakes can be refrigerated for later use too. Toast on a greased skillet to serve.

Since I make them fresh and toast them while still warm, it takes about 20 minutes to make two servings.

Smear the cakes with prepared hot arrabbiata sauce, grate Parmesan cheese over them and serve with meat or vegetables or whatever you like it with.

I made this sage infused stir fry for the side.

Thyme butter sauteed cauliflower

To make the stir fry parboil the cauliflowers and cabbage chunks separately in slated water. Drain and immediately dunk into a skillet with butter and sage leaves, toss on high heat for a couple of minutes, season and serve immediately.

 polenta cakes made using makki ka atta

recipe of arrabbiata sauce..

ingredients 
garlic cloves 10
fresh oregano leaves 2 tbsp or dried oregano 1 tsp
fresh thyme leaves 4-5 springs or dry thyme a generous pinch
fresh basil torn about 12 leaves
red chilly flakes 1 tbsp or as per taste
salt to taste
chopped tomatoes (preferably blanched and peeled) 3 cups
balsamic vinegar 2 tbsp
olive oil (extra virgin) 1 tbsp
Parmesan cheese grated 2 tbsp

procedure

Add olive oil, garlic and herbs in blender and make a coarse paste. Add the paste to a pan and place the pan over stove. Let the oil and herbs start sizzle, add the chilly flakes followed by the tomatoes, salt and balsamic vinegar. Stir and cook till it all gets saucy.

Add the grated Parmesan and let it get incorporated. Adjust seasoning and consistency as required and bottle. Keep refrigerated for about a a couple of months.

arrabbiata sauce

This sauce is a good condiment to keep in the fridge. You can toss a quick pasta or even boiled potatoes or cauliflower with this sauce to make a healthier meal. Never make this kind of sauces in small amounts, make enough for at least three to four meals for the family. I like the arrabbiata auce hot but you can always tone down the chilly heat a little bit.

With this polenta cakes the sauce doesn't taste so hot. Polenta tones down the heat as it is a bit bland in taste, with a nutty taste of it's own of course.
.
polenta cakes made using makki ka atta

This is one of the most comforting meals one can have, that too very calorie efficient I must add. All the good fats, not an overload of proteins and all the carbs in the meal are complex and low glycemic index type.

Healthy meal.

Friday, April 24, 2015

noodling at Le Meridien : all kind of noodles with your choice of accompaniments...


I have always liked the soups and stir fried (wok tossed) vegetables at Le Belvedere, the 20th floor Oriental fine dining restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel. Apart from the beautiful view of Lutyen's Delhi, the top floor restaurant has actually impressed me with the consistency of the taste and presentation of the dishes, especially the seafood, the fresh vegetables stir fried minimally with just right seasonings, the way I like them.

Chef Balkishen Chauhan makes the best clear soups consistently.


And the fresh vegetables wok tossed perfectly to retain the textures and the taste. I always order a platter for myself whenever I am eating there.


This time I was there to get a taste of the Noodling festival, where they are showcasing different types of oriental noodles tossed up with seafood, chicken and vegetables. Among the noodles I liked the cold soba noodles tossed with seafood and vegetables and served with skewers of prawns.

Here is the festival menu to choose from. One can always order more from the regular a la carte menu too.



Pad Thai with chicken, Udon noodles with vegetables were also good. I wouldn't care for the crisp fried noodles with assorted vegetables, the texture doesn't work for me at all.


But it was not just the noodles, I tried crisp lotus stem tossed with chives and onions, crispy fried squares of Tofu tossed with spring onion, and wok tossed chicken. These were really good.

The taste of most of this food at Le Belvedere is fine tuned to suit the Indian palate that loves the Indian inspired Oriental food. Even the 'kimchi' served here would testify that. I have asked Chef Chauhan several times about the kimchi and this time he revealed people don't like soggy stinky kimchi here and ask for sweetish crisp 'freshly made kimchi'. And the taste of the patrons rules anywhere in the world.

I don't care much for the desserts but Date pancakes, Apple fritters, Toffee banana, Dark Chocolate pastry and a sugar free Orange mousse is on offer, served with ice cream and blueberry compote. Quite an unimaginative serving to say the least, but I like these dry triangular date pancakes in small doses. Desserts definitely need to be better here.


And all desserts don't need to be served with the same ice cream and the same blueberry compote. While the starters and main course dishes impress by the skill of presentation, desserts disappoint. Hugely.

Taste wise, the Toffee banana is actually well done with a hard crystalline coating of sesame encrusted caramel. Apple fritters are well done too.

If you love noodles, you would not want to miss tasting all this variety. The festival is on till the end of this month, go have a taste of a few of these Oriental flavours with your choice of noodles.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

101 gluten free breakfasts | buckwheat banana scones (egg-less) with cinnamon chocolate chips


When bananas get overripe you bake banana bread and when you want something gluten free you bake a round loaf for buckwheat banana scones. Scones are similar to quick bread, a little dense and dry than a bread and a little moist than a biscuit. I have loads of buckwheat that needs to be used up soon so baking this buckwheat banana scones was an effort to do just that. The scones were a good idea because I have just too many little jars of home made fruit preserves that I keep making now and then. We liked these scones with pomegranate and rhododendron jelly but orange marmalade, plum jam, strawberry jam or mulberry jam will be as good.


It has been long time since I baked something for week day breakfasts, all baking I did for the recipe trials of the products I develop and that kind of work almost killed my desire to bake anymore for the two of us. And when I decided to bake this loaf for the scones I was reminded of the cinnamon chocolate chips Deeba had gifted me long time back. These were lying unused since I was not baking for ourselves at all, a little because of all the travel I did and also because I was just too busy with work. The cinnamon chocolate chips are a burst of flavours on the palate, I had never imagined these will be so good, even for someone who is not too fond of chocolate.


The rich cinnamon chocolate chips added a beautiful depth of flavours to the scones,  I added some flax seeds to make the scones softer as buckwheat tends to get a little dry when baked. Baking with buckwheat flour gives better results when banana and flax seeds are used if not eggs.

ingredients 
(for 8 medium sized scones)

buckwheat flour 220 gm (I ground buckwheat groats in mixie)
baking soda 1/2 tsp
butter 60 gm
banana 140 gm (2 medium bananas)
flax seeds powder 40 gm
chocolate chips 50 gm
mixed nuts chopped 50 gm ( I used almonds and walnuts)
salt 2 gm

procedure 

Mix baking soda with buckwheat flour and sieve a few times to mix well. Add cubes of cold butter and rub to make it look like breadcrumbs. Or run through a food processor to get this.


Now mash the bananas and mix with flax seeds meal. Add this to the flour mix and add the chopped nuts and chocolate chips. Take care if the chocolate chips are kept at room temperature in Indian summers, it may disintegrate in the dough, so refrigerate for better result.

Mix to make a tacky dough, the dough is very soft and sticks to fingers.

Prepare a baking tray lined with baking sheet. Make a loose ball of the whole dough and slap it on the baking tray. Flatten with your fingers to make a 2 cm thick round shape. Usually scones are cut into wedges at this time but since this dough is too sticky, we will do it after the baking is done.

Bake this round disc at 180C in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Check with a skewer and bake a little more if required. The surface gets a few pinkish brown patches this way, if you brown it a bit more it gets a little dry after baking. Buckwheat flour behaves a lot differently than regular flour.

Let the disc cool in the baking tray, it might break if you try to transfer on a wire rack while still hot.


Cut into wedges when cool and store refrigerated. Reheat and serve with honey or fruit preserves. The scones are not sweet even though there is banana in it, the flax seeds and buckwheat almost absorb all the sweetness of bananas. I would still recommend not using any sugar in the recipe, you can always slap on as much fruit preserve or honey as you want.

It makes a filling breakfast with milk or juice if you wish. I rarely eat sweet kind of breakfast and I did not eat these too. I am more into 'idli steamed in my bowl' these days, I need my kick of spices and salt to start the day. The same buckwheat is being used to make my idli too, it takes just 2 minutes to steam in the microwave when I have the batter ready. Will share that too soon.

But these scones and any such muffins/breakfast cakes or quick breads make my mornings more organised as I don't have to worry about making a separate breakfast for the husband. He loves anything that is slathered with honey or fruit preserves.


These scones are perfect with a cup of tea or coffee as well. Served with either clotted cream or fruit preserve it could be a mini meal or snack any time of the day.

I am planning to bake savoury scones with buckwheat. I have some nice herbs growing in the garden and some yellow cherry tomatoes too. It would be great if I could use some of these to bake some nice scones or muffins using these.


Till then bake some buckwheat banana scones.

I have been getting queries about where to get buckwheat in India. My first choice is Down to Earth for whole buckwheat and buckwheat flour but you do get buckwheat in khari baoli market (old Delhi) too and some grocery stores stock too. Although the availability of buckwheat is better during Navratri days as this is a fasting food.


This buckwheat banana scones recipe is also a fasting compatible recipe and can be consumed during navratri fasting. I have always considered that Navratri fasting was devised for healthy living and detoxing the body twice a year.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Thai green mango or raw mango salad recipe to wrap up a crazy weekend


We had a nice brunch of multigrain uttapam yesterday along with some fiery chutneys and curry patta flavoured buttermilk. A nice relaxed late breakfast that powered us for a massive clean up of the cupboards, sorting things to give away and to rearrange, in a bid to get a bit organised. We often neglect housekeeping issues and they keep piling up, this was the weekend we decided to take it head on. And we did. The big breakfast helped a lot.


This thick onion laden uttapam is quite filling and I had made a quick pressure cooker pumpkin mash with coconut cream, the garlic flax seeds chutney adds up taste and fills you up fast too. Quite an energising breakfast/brunch it was.

We decided we will eat some fruits in the evening as usual and then prepare dinner or order something for dinner if we get too exhausted by the end of this exercise. But once we started sorting things to rearrange and bundling up things to discard or give away it just kept stretching endlessly. We had iced tea in between that I had kept ready in the fridge but we really got hungry by late evening. The maid was on leave and I had to start dinner from scratch if I do. Not possible I said and suggested we order something new for dinner. Normally we just call the corner dhaba and get assorted tikkas and roomali roti with loads of onion rings in such times but I wanted something light healthy and yet tasty. Was it such a tall order?


Made some nice strong cold coffee and we sat down to search for online ordering. I was not prepared for the kind of deluge of food options flashing on the screen. We had been hearing about Foodpanda a lot and tried it for the first time. Once I selected my area of residence and cuisine I was amazed to see the number of small and big establishments from near and far offering almost whatever I wanted for myself. Ranging from student breakfasts which is basically cheap, light but tasty breakfast options to sushi and miso soups I could order anything. Amazing.

We ordered a miso soup, a cucumber and seaweed salad and chicken teriyaki with sticky rice, all this with a 20% discount that was offered for the day. Not sure if the discount was for the day or forever as I was ordering food this way for the first time. I am embarrassed a bit about not knowing the options but not sorry about not depending much on take-aways and home deliveries.

Anyway, we enjoyed our meal, too tired to empty it into plates and bowls, we dug into the bowls it came into, and did not regret one bit.

And today the next episode of the operation housekeeping was followed. Same multigrain batter was steamed into idli and had with ghee and garlic flax seeds chutney to be followed by tackling plumbers and electricians. But today I had planned better and kept some green raw mangoes and red onions ready to toss up a nice salad in the evening. And by the end of the day I am feeling accomplished to be able to post the recipe with you as well.


ingredients..
( 2 large servings)

raw green mangoes 2 large or about 300 gm
red onion 1 medium or 100 gm
chopped fresh mint 1/4 cup
chopped fresh green coriander 1/2 cup

the dressing..
minced fresh red chilly or red chilly flakes to taste (keep a bit higher as chilly heat gets denatured by the tartness of raw mangoes)
brown sugar or grated jaggery 1.5 tbsp
salt 3/4 tsp or to taste ( I used a mix of regular salt and black rock salt)
light soy sauce 2-3 tsp
cashew nuts shallow fried in ghee or oil 1/3 cup or about 80 gm

procedure...

Peel the raw mangoes and slice thinly from the sides of the fruit. Arrange the slices and chop them into very thin matchsticks. Chop about 1/4th of the raw mango in really small bits to add texture.

Peel, halve and slice the red onion thinly. Dice a few slices in small bits too to add texture. This salad is a very good mix of taste and texture.

Chop the herbs and chilly. Mix all these together and keep aside, reserving the chopped chili for dressing..

Chop the cashew nuts roughly. Some of the nuts can be whole as it adds to the salad in a very good way. You might feel it is too much cashew but the salad is packed with fiber and balances the overall glycemic index and calorie count both.

Mix the dressing ingredients and whisk lightly with a fork. Pour into the chopped ingredients and give it a good mix. Let it stand for 10 minutes before adding the cashew nuts and digging into the flavours right away.


This salad will cast magic on whoever digs into it. Such a wonderful mix of flavours you would crave for more. This was a huge bowl of salad and we kept digging our forks into the bowl silently till we polished off the last shred. That good.

There is a raw mango and sprouts salad with peanuts that I make and that can also be dressed to taste. Raw mangoes, onions and fresh chillies eaten together are supposed to keep the body cool and energized, thanks to the mineral and vitamins that they pack.

Make this Thai raw mango salad this season. You can pack it to your lunch box, all mixed up and it will get better in a couple of hours stays in the box. This salad makes a nice snack for a bunch of friends too for a weekend drink. Think about it, you might like it rolled up in a crisp paratha too.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

frozen kababs, seekh kababs and sausages from Chevon. Are they good?

 I get a lot of questions regarding what meats are safe, where to buy and if chicken is better or mutton for everyday consumption. While it is a dilemma of sorts because in theory only free range animals and birds are good but we are fast loosing our grazing pastures so it's not a very practical idea to go find free range everything for everyday consumption.

I get very happy when I get to eat fresh fish caught from the rivers or lakes or free range chicken or goat meat but those kind of opportunities come by rarely for a city dweller. Life in villages is far better in terms of food security and nutrition quality I feel, city folks are spoiled by the packaged junk on one hand and do not get any good fresh produce at affordable cost on the other hand.

Most people are confused or ignorant about the types of ready to cook or ready to eat options of sausages, kababs and salami etc. While those suspicious 'chicken salami' is best avoided one can have bacon, prosciutto, ham and good quality sausages, salami and pepperoni made with the kind of meats it is supposed to be made from. Never ever believe in a 'chicken salami' and do not touch a veg sausage or salami even with a barge pole.

I was hesitant when folks from Chevon contacted me for my opinion on the goat meat products they have introduced recently. Not because mutton is bad meat in my opinion but because I have rarely come across good quality frozen mutton products. I am not the one who thinks cholesterol comes from animal fats, cholesterol is synthesized right inside our own bodies in response to inflammation caused by various reasons. Meats are not to be blamed for that.

But when I tasted their Turkish kofte kababs, Turkish seekh kababs and kofte kababs, I could see the quality was well comparable to the home cooked meatballs and seekh kababs. The Moroccan sausages were as good as the ones we get at Keventer's Darjeeling.


The good thing is, this Chevon range is a frozen ready to eat/cook category of kababs, seekhs and sausages and the taste and texture is as natural as you would cook at home. The packaging is good and practical, you can use half of the contents of the pack and put the remaining half back into the freezer if required. The contents need to be cooked for a couple of minutes in a greased pan for a recipe of choice. I cooked them on low flame for a little more time as I did not thaw them but the texture and taste was good even then.

I was a bit apprehensive about the binders used for the kababs and sausages and talked to Rizwan Thakur, Director of Chevon regarding this. He told me they do use some soy protein isolates which is stated on the label too but in minimal amounts. It was believable as the texture of the kababs is quite natural. Mr Rizwan told the products are made of tender lean goat meat and there is no offal added to them. I communicated my concern about the requirement of nutritional information being prominently placed on the pack etc. But I do agree the Chevon kababs would be a better option on the shelves if you want something ready to cook.

We tried the Turkish kofte kababs with steamed broccoli first and did not bother to take pictures as I was not expecting anything great to be honest. But the taste of the kababs converted me. Although all these variants were cooked for a quick dinner and pictures are poor quality, but they do communicate how the kabas and sausages are.

These Turkish seekh kababs are nice and spicy. I stir fried some pumpkin, carrots and zuchhini with butter, garlic and loads of fresh thyme. Served it all with a sour cream dip sprinkles with sumac and roasted chilly flakes.


Always eat loads of vegetables with any processed or fresh meats you are eating. Balancing act.

The next was a breakfast for dinner kind of day and we had the Moroccan sausages with fried eggs and grilled tomato and stir fry vegetables. This was to see whether these sausages are as good as the ones at Darjeeling Keventers. We would want to compare these with an Indian origin sausage only, as the quality of meat is different in other countries.


The Moroccan sausages passed this test. Nicely smoked and mild spices, good taste.

The next was a Moroccan pilaf made with chopped Moroccan sausages, chopped bacon, loads of minced cabbage, red and yellow bell peppers and fresh pomegranate seeds. This pilaf was spices with star anise, cinnamon, cumin, pepper and turmeric and the taste was quite good.


The sausages didn't disappoint here as well. We loved this Moroccan pilaf with all the textures and loads of vegetables, cooked with short grain rice. The pilaf was made within 15 minutes, I had cooked rice in the fridge, just had to chop and cook the pilaf briefly.

The Chevon range would not be suitable if you are looking for nitrate free processed meat. I don't have a problem with added nitrates as we consume nitrates in some other ways too, even naturally. A few convenient meals made this way wont harm if one is not dependent on such products for each meal.

Eat loads of natural fresh foods and try and learn conventional cooking every day, bring the convenience of good quality packaged foods whenever required.

Friday, April 17, 2015

chilled fruit soup for summer | papaya and orange soup with feta cheese and hint of star anise



I know you would say why not a smoothie. But you know a soup is different and this papaya and orange blend makes a real soup with a hint of spice and a tang of kala namak. A chilled soup with fruits makes a nice raw soup, much like Gazpacho but a bit different. You can make gazpacho with whatever combination of vegetables and fruits you like, I often add chucks of papaya or half ripe strawberries to smooth or chunky gazpacho for my meals.

But this soup is totally fruity with a hint of spice. You can add a bit of marmalade for a deeper flavour but it tastes great even without that.

ingredients
(2 servings)

papaya cubes (over ripe is the best) 2 cups
deseeded orange segments 1.5 cups
kala namak (black rock salt) 1/4 tsp
star anise powder a pinch
white pepper powder a pinch
citrus marmalade (optional) 1 tbsp
feta cheese or sour cream to top 2-3 tbsp

procedure..

Chill the fruits before peeling and chopping. Or put them into freezer for 30 minutes if in a hurry.

Blend everything together till really smooth. Adjust seasoning and pour in soup cups, top with feta cheese and serve immediately.

Take a picture if you wish and send it to your parents to tell you are eating your fruits alright. It is important :-)


This chilled fruit soup is a really refreshing meal on a hot summer day. You know it had got a bit hot 2 days back here when I whipped up this soup, but it rained again and the summer heat is gone. I am still using the bathroom geyser and we are eating our hot soup dinners too sometimes, in mid April for a change. There is some serious climatic change to be seen definitely.

The cold fruit soup of Hungry looks interesting too, this cold fruit soup I came across is partially cooked. Making completely raw cold fruit soups or cooking them partially to get more depth of flavours is a personal choice. But be assured this soup is very different from a smoothie though technically it might be a smoothie flavoured and plated differently.


One more way to eat your fruits. Just blend it, pour it, top it with sour cream or feta cheese or even hung curd if you please. And devour in it for a quite lunch staring at the signs of spring in the garden, summer gone totally confused in Delhi.

Sonkran festival at Neung Roi, the Thai new year brings cheer


It is interesting to know about the festivals celebrated in south East Asian countries, especially the ones that have similar significance and are celebrated around the same time of the calender. Thai festival of Songkran coincides with the Hindu Sankranti which is celebrated in India by the names of Baisakhi, Poila Baisakh, Bohag bihu, Vishu or Vaishakh Sankranti, basically to observe the beginning of the Hindu New year (solar calender) in different states of the country. It is fascinating to see how it is celebrated in so many different ways, a harvest festival that is deep rooted in the culture.

Songkran (celebrated between 13th to 15th April) is Thai new year and each such festival involves a feast. Neung Roi at Radison Blu (Mahipalpur, Delhi) is celebrating Thai Songkran festival and I had the privilege to taste the menu. Neung Roi is known for one of the best Thai spread in the city and I have had a real good time learning some Thai recipes from Chef Yenjai Suthiwaja at Neung Roi.

The festival menu was as good as the last time with a few low points that I don't mind when most of the menu hits the spot superbly. What made the day for me was a genius of an 'amuse bouche', half of a betel leaf topped with  roasted peanuts, few slivers of baby shallots, one slice of red chilli, few crumbs of rice crackers and a yummy tamarind sauce drizzled over it. The betel leaf is supposed to be wrapped around the ingredients and popped in, and it was the most amazing burst of flavours in the mouth. The meal started on a great note.


We ordered 2 starters from the a la carte menu before digging into the festival menu head on. The Taro fritters with Sriracha sauce and Mushroom skewers were really good. These Taro fritters are little pakodas that can be addictive and fill you up fast. Mushrooms were meaty and very flvourful when combined with the shallots sweet and sour dip it came with.

The Songkran starter platter had panko crumbed prawns, chicken lemongrass skewers, fresh spring rolls and raw mango salad. My favourite among these was the raw mango salads, captivating all my senses with it's beauty. Sweet and sour thin slivers of raw mango sprinkled with slices of shallots and red chillies, green coriander and generous bites of fried cashew nuts. This salad is going to be staple summer salad for me this season. Find of the day I say.


The second favourite was this chicken skewered upon a lemon grass stick. Quite aromatic, succulent and very pleasant to sink your teeth into. Panko fried prawns were meaty, succulent and crisp as it should be, I tried it dipped with the three sauces this platter comes with, and loved it. The fresh spring roll disappointed though, the wrapper was too chewy and a bit thick, the fillings (radish and bean sprouts) insipid and too mushy. The three dips were all great, a sweet chilly dip/jam, shallots and lemongrass salsa type dip and a plum jam dip, all required with the starters in small doses, adding flavours.


The soup (Tom pok teak, fresh seafood soup with hot basil and dry chilly) was served in a green coconut shell, scalding hot, so beware when you take a sip. Rich seafood stock loaded with chunks of prawns and fish, rings of calamari, and assorted mushrooms, I loved it.


Among the mains, I loved the kale and asparagus stir fry with oyster sauce since I am a sucker for greens and it was perfectly done for me. Retaining a bit of bite and preserving the flavours of kale. The Deep fried sea bass with kaffir lime scented Penang curry was just one word. Delicious. Loved the kaffir lime notes in it and the generous amount of snow peas that comes with it.


I quite liked the wok tossed tenderloin with black pepper too. A multi-hued base of green and black peppercorns and red chillies, the sauce is flavourful and flavours the tenderloin well. I had a bit of disappointment with the steamed Pandan infused rice. It seemed a bit dry and underdone to me, and I was a bit confused with the green colour. Pandanus leaves don't impart any colour to rice as much as I understand.


Desserts were also a bit disappointing sadly. I love Thai desserts to bits and was excited about the black sticky rice with fresh mango as I make it myself a lot, but then I know how and why it gets a bitter aftertaste when done wrongly. It actually had a bitter aftertaste because of the faulty cooking of the pigment rich black sticky rice. The corn coconut custard was interesting, really flavourful but the texture was too rubber like. Note that I am not a dessert person and am extremely picky about desserts, these were just rightly sweet for me but lacked the punch on other counts.

A great meal I would say, I will go again to Neung Roi for more salads as they do really really great salads. Arvind loved the food as much as I did and definitely wants to go back again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

my column for Exotica magazine | a lime and lavender posset recipe served with lime and lavender butter cookies



I know I am terribly late in sharing about this column I am doing for Exotica magazine. Seeing my interest in unusual ingredients, exploring new recipes with them and also my column at Down to Earth, I was asked by Exotica to do an ingredient based recipe each month for the magazine. The ingredients that we are growing in the country are great quality most of the times but don't get their due respect as most of us are unaware about them.

The biggest shock of my life regarding this lack of awareness about ingredients was when I heard a very senior cardiologist say that flax seeds are imported and not grown in India. This was about 6 years ago and I decided something should be done to correct such a lack of awareness, a lot of us are actually forgetting what our older generations used to grow and eat.

Not only about the traditional and native ingredients, there are many fruits and herbs that were 'introduced' by the settlers all across India and made it's own, so much so that we don't even realise the potatoes, the chillies and even the mango was not native to India once. India being so varied in the terrains all across the country, anyway has a very rich flora and fauna, type of food cultivation and food habits so there is always something new to explore in the far away corners of the country. I am hoping to explore some such native and 'introduced' ingredients and foods through this column of mine at Exotica. Suggestions from you are also welcome, I learn every day interacting with all of you too.

The first ingredient to be highlighted was Lavender, a bright violet that we had once seen growing in Palampur and had experimented with the aromatic flowers a few times, I was developing a Lime and lavender butter cookie recipe for Mittal Teas back then and decided to pair those cookies with a nice refreshing posset. Read my piece (verbatim) that was published in March issue of Exotica.




Lime and Lavender: a fantastic pairing of flavours for a delicate dessert

A mention of lavender brings thoughts of calmness as it is known for inducing sleep and relaxing the nerves. As if Lavender has borrowed it’s colour from Mother Nature to carry on the same vibe through visual senses too. The violet-purple haze of Lavender fields looks heavenly, like connecting the dots with all its beauty of visual, aromatic and flavour profile, the gift of God to soothe the nerves and bring tranquility to the face of Earth.
Adding lime to the mild aromatic flavours of lavender makes the lavender energy zingier, ready to seduce anyone who takes a whiff. Enjoying a dessert made with these flavours would be a perfect foil to wrap a meal with loved ones.
Lavender grows in Himachal Pradesh and is available fairly easily in India now. Many farmers are growing exotic flowers in the foothills of Himalayas to cater to domestic demand and Lavender is grown mostly for essential oils to be used in perfumery and aromatherapy. Recently I was talking to Mr. Vikram Mittal from Mittal Teas who uses Himachal grown Lavender for his tea blends and got to know this locally grown Lavender is as fragrant as imported blossoms. He gave me a fragrant sachet of Lavender to experiment with and I infused these beautiful aromatic blossoms in my tea that day quite predictably. Then I started thinking about some nibbles to be enjoyed with tea and promptly did a trial batch of Lime and Lavender cookies and the resultant flavours seduced everyone who tasted.
Later the same flavour bouquet was used in a simpler easy to cook posset with the same flavours to be served with the cookies. The Lime and Lavender cookies will be available very soon at all Mittal Tea outlets, the posset can be made within 10 minutes at home for a quick but delectable dessert.
Posset is a traditional British drink that was made by mixing hot milk with herbs and ale to curdle it and was served warm. Posset used to be a homemade potion for common colds and to induce good sleep in older days, lavender does absolute justice to that traditional way of having posset before bedtime.
Interestingly, Lady Macbeth used poisoned posset to knock out the guards outside the Duncan’s quarters in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It must have been a much desired drink to be used like this.
Later the posset became popular as an easy yet fancy set dessert to be served warm or chilled. This balmy lime and lavender set posset would definitely induce good sleep and would bring tranquility after a long day.

Ingredients

4-6 servings
Double cream 300 ml
Sugar 40 gm
Lime juice 20 ml
Dry lavender flowers 1 tbsp
Lime peel zested in large curls from one large lime

Method

Simmer the cream along with lavender, lime zest curls and sugar for about 6-7 minutes. Strain it and mix with the lime juice when it is still warm. If you want a creamier posset you can mix the cream with lime juice when completely cold, pour in serving glasses and refrigerate till set.
Adding the lime juice to cream mix while the cream is still warm results in a slightly grainy posset with a little bit of syrup in the bottom.

Serve with plain vanilla butter cookies or lime and lavender cookies to reinforce the flavours in this minimalist dessert. 


This posset is so easy to make you might like to combine rose or other aromatic flowers or herbs to make this, if lavender is not your favourite or not available to you.

April issue of Exotica is out too, will share the next story soon with all of you. Stay tuned please.