Monday, December 29, 2014

Baking I Gluten-free Hot Strawberry Souffle



I have a slight obsession with strawberries. Considering we only get them in India in the winters, I stock up on them like no tomorrow, so that they at least last me till late spring.

This year though, the strawberries have come early. Normally we see them sometime in January, this time they've creeped up on us in December. But no matter when they come I know I have to just do something with them.

One of my favourite ways to eating strawberries is just macerating them in a bit of balsamic vinegar and sugar. In fact this Vanilla bean pudding with balsamic strawberries always makes it to my must-have strawberry dessert every year.  As is my Strawberry Citrus tart, which I totally adore.




I also love using frozen strawberries to make Frozen yogurt and Granita . Sometimes I mix it up with other fruits, other times I just love them plain. I've used them in baking too - in loaf cakes such as the Lemon Strawberry cake or cheesecakes such as Mini lemon cheesecakes with Strawberry compote - but I haven't ever used up the pureed fruit.



This recipe of the hot strawberry souffle is from pureed fruit. Just a bit of fresh strawberries, pureed cooked down a bit with sugar and then folded into stiff egg whites and baked. Eaten hot, it's like picking a warm berry out of its hedge. The strawberry souffle is so light and so delicious, it just makes for a perfect warm winter dessert. Served on the side with some fresh strawberries, you could just live in that ramekin.

I did add a bit of balsamic in my strawberries, you could instead just add some lemon juice. But a friend of my gave me a bottle of this barrel-aged chocolate balsamic, that just take these berries to another level.  You have to cook the strawberries, otherwise they'll get too runny and you'd end up with a soupy souffle, which is, well, not nice at all.

Don't be daunted by the word souffle, as long as you eat it right out of the oven, there's very little chances of it falling, and even if it falls, it's really quite ok, you'll still be getting a delicious dessert.







Hot Strawberry Souffle
Serves 2

Ingredients 
200 grams strawberries
4 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp corn flour
1 tsp balsamic vinegar / lemon juice
4 egg whites
1 tsp butter


Method

1. Butter your ramekins well. Keep aside
2. Hull the strawberries and puree in a blender. Add it into a non-metal saucepan with the sugar (adjust sugar according to how sweet your berries are). Cook until the strawberries turn a deep shade of pink and most of the water evaporates.
3. Stir in the corn flour and the lemon juice. Set aside.
4. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites till the form stiff peaks. Stir in the strawberry puree until just combined.
5. Pour into buttered ramekins. And bake for about 12 to 15 minutes. Serve hot



Restaurant Review I Kathputhli





The simplest meals are sometimes the most joyful. That's exactly how it was with Kathputli. Home-style vegetarian Rajasthani and Marwari food in an all-you-can-eat style thali. Filling, comforting and delicious.

Having grown up on the thali-culture down south, I'm a sucker for all things that come in that shiny steel plate. A thali means a large sample of the goodies of the day. A thali means you get to taste everything on the menu and yet opt to eat what you like the best. For a glutton like me, this has always been the perfect answer.

We started our meal with a warm corn shorba, which was like a thin-yogurt curry with a lovely tempering of spices. Piping hot and mildly sweet and spicy, this was quite the appetite whetter. As our shiny thalis were laid out, the chutneys came out first - mint, tamarind and garlic - all equally good. With crisp roasted pappads, it was only moments by the time we'd chomped down our crispies.




The menu at Kathputli changes every week, so this week our starters included Khaman and a matar ka samosa. The Khaman was slightly bland but did well after a few dunks in the chutney. I loved the matar ka samosa, as the peas were fresh and had a sweetness that it lends itself to only in the winters. 

Next up was the raw papaya salad - almost like a som tam - it had been tempered with curry leaves and mustard leaves to give it that Indian flavour. This was truly my favourite of the day. The traditional Ker Sangri also made its way to our plates - which we saved to eat with our khichadi later.

Dal Baati Choorma - the three things I'd been waiting for arrived. I loved the baati - it had been dunked in ghee but was still crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. So delicious. The Dal could have been a lot more flavourful, it lacked a sort of a punch, that I guess a bit of salt and tartness could have helped. 





As our bowls started getting filled up - we ended up with gatta curry, gujrati kadhi, dahi aloo, raita, methi malai matar and hot phulkas and bajre ke roti. I really enjoyed everything, but of the lot the kadhi and the dahi aloo were really stalwarts.

We ended our meal with a good helping of shrikhand - or sweetened yogurt with saffron and pistachios and realised that we hadn't eaten very greasy food. Instead this was food from our homes, food that reminded of  the years bygone. This was great home-style cooking.

Turned out it was a Maharaj / a home-style cook who had been cooking. I suppose there's something left to still say about good old fashioned simple food. The kind that really makes you happy.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Baking I Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Christmas Cake. AKA The easiest Christmas Cake You'll Ever Make




It's not too late to make your own Christmas cake. Yes, you read that right. Because this cake requires no special ingredients  and no soaking. Yes it will take you about 20 minutes to put together, but it's only that much time and not a minute more to make this finger-licking delicious cake with just the right hint of spices. And... there's chocolate in it.

You know the best part about this cake is that you can put in just about anything that you have lying around. Don't have cranberries, omit them completely. Don't have almonds, put cashew instead. Don't want booze just up the coffee instead. And don't want chocolate, well, who doesn't want chocolate.

This recipe makes the most moist fruit cake ever. I would recommend that you put in three different kinds of dried fruits - I used prunes, raisins and cranberries in this - but black currants, figs, apricots, dried mangoes, dried strawberries, currants - just about anything will do. And if you don't have three kinds, just cut the recipe in half and feel free to use just one fruit and one nut.




What I love about this cake is its ability to retain moisture for a super long time. Because the fruits are cooked in a bit of coffee and rum (You can just omit the rum and up the coffee and add a bit of orange juice instead), they just breathe out the excesses very gently.  Plus with the addition of aromatics such as cinnamon, dried ginger, nutmeg and clove it just leaves you warm and fuzzy inside.

I suggest that you multi-task while you make the cake. In the sense, while the fruits are in the microwave with the liquids you toast your nuts. And while your cooling your fruits and nuts down, you measure out the spice mix and the dry ingredients.

Once the cake is baked, you just need to let it rest for an hour before it cools completely. And after that, just devour.




Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Christmas Cake
Makes 20 generous slices or two loaf  tins

Ingredients

To quick soak and cook
100 grams raisins
100 grams prunes
100 grams cranberries
1/4 cup coffee
1/4 cup rum / orange juice

To toast
50 grams almonds
50 grams walnuts

For the spice mix
1 tsp ground cinnamon powder
1 tsp ground ginger powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp clove powder

For the cake
100 grams butter
100 ml oil
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
100 grams dark chocolate chip
1/4 cup rum / orange juice / cointreau
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tablespoon corn flour

Method

1. First, in a large bowl measure out raisins and cranberries. Chop the prunes and throw them into the same bowl. Measure out the coffee and the rum/orange.
2. Put the bowl in the microwave and zap it for four to five minutes. Alternately you can put all this in a saucepan and let it cook for five minutes on the gas. Set aside and let it cool.
3. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts and almonds and set aside
4. Now, measure out the spice mix and keep aside.
5. In a large bowl beat the oil and butter together. Add the eggs to it and all the spice mix and vanilla extract as well as the additional rum /orange juice/ cointreau. Beat well.
6. Add all the dry ingredients - flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and corn flour - just mix until incorporated.
7. Add all the dried fruit mix, and the toasted nuts and the chocolate chips. Stir until incorporated.
8. Pour into parchment paper-lined tins,  bake at 180 degree centigrade for 55 to 65 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
9. Serve with additional ganache or a drizzle of icing sugar.



Friday, December 19, 2014

Baking I Linzer Cookies with Strawberry Jam



I've been wanting to post a Christmas recipe for the longest time now. Something, anything. But it still hasn't felt like Christmas to me as yet. I suppose that's because my tree hasn't gone up and frankly I'm in no mood to celebrate either.

It's been a tough year - moving all over again - trying to figure out what I really want to do - and starting from scratch. Just a tough tough year. But that's for another time.

So as I sit here and reminisce, I can't help but crave for something warm to drink. Something to calm the nerves, something to soothe. But what I really want is something to dunk into that warm thing. A piece of rusk, a biscotti or a cookie. Anything that can really make me feel slightly festive and well, content.



The first time I ate a Linzer cookie, was when I sneaked it off a Christmas display. There was this gingerbread house that housed some fun looking things to eat including a cookie that was drenched in jam. One bite and realised that the cookies really hit that spot. Almondy and jammy, they were just terrific.

Named after the Austrian city Linz, the cookies are an off shoot of the Linzer Torte. Short crust pastry with jam baked in. The cookies are pretty much similar - some lemon zest some cinnamon, lots of almonds and then topped with jam. And these are made mostly during Christmas time.

My Linzer cookies were made one night when I was so troubled by the world and I needed to make something to calm my nerves. The only jam in sight I had was a Strawberry and White Pepper preserve and I just needed to pop something sweet in my mouth asap. The only catch with jamming the cookies is that they get soggy super soon, so I suggest you make them and jam right at the end.



Linzer Cookies with Strawberry Jam
Adapted from Joy of Baking

Ingredients

1 cup (150 grams) whole almonds2 cups (260 grams) flour 1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground cinnamon1 pinch nutmeg1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) saltZest (outer yellow skin) of one small lemon 1 cup (226 grams) butter3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar , divided1 teaspoon (5 grams) vanilla extract2 large (40 grams) yolkTopping:1/2 cup (60 grams) confectioners' (Icing or Powdered) Sugar1/2 cup Strawberry jam

Method1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) with the oven rack in the center of the oven. Place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake about 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant.
2.  Remove from oven and once the nuts have cooled, place in a food processor, along with 1/4 cup (50 grams) white sugar, and process until finely ground. 3. In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour,nutmeg,  cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest. 4. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and remaining 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). 
5. Beat in the vanilla extract and egg yolks. Finally, beat in the ground almonds and then the flour mixture. Divide the dough in half, cover each half with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm (30-60 minutes, or up to two days).6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.Remove one ball of dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch (.5 cm) thick. Using a 3 inch (7.5 cm) cookie cutter (star, round, square, heart, etc.) cut out the cookies. 
7. Place the cookies about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheet. Use a smaller cookie cutter to cut out the centers of half of the cookies on the baking sheet. 
8. Reroll any scraps and cut out the remaining cookies. Repeat with the second ball of dough. (Note: If you find the cookies are soft, place the baking sheets with the unbaked cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to chill the dough. This will prevent the cookies from spreading and losing their shape when baked.)
9. Bake the cookies for about12 minutesor until lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Assemble Cookies:  Place the cut out cookies on a baking sheet and lightly dust the tops with powdered sugar. Spread a thin layer of jam on the bottom surface of the full cookie (top of cookie will face out). Place the cut-out cookie on top and gently sandwich them together. Using a small spoon or a piping bag, fill the cut-out with a little more jam.

The filled cookies will soften when stored. If you want the cookies to stay crisp, assemble the day of serving. The assembled cookies can be stored in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for several days.


Food Festival I Shahajahanabad ki Sair. At Ssence, The Suryaa Hotel




There's something magical about food that tell stories. And not just ordinary stories, but tales of kings and kingdoms and things they liked to eat.

The Shahajahanabad food festival a Ssence at the Suryaa Hotel is nothing short of magic, not only because of the history it's seeped in but also because of the person who was making it. Food from the bylanes of Old Delhi cooked  by Nazish Jalali, a lady who's had connections with a long line of royal khansamas.

Nazish Jalali is no ordinary woman. Despite no formal training, she's a Rampuri woman who's managed to collect recipes of the Mughal era that are on the verge of being forgotten, . And then has cooked up a storm that's truly fit for the kings. Home-style cooking that obvious won over the kings.



On the night, we went to attend the food festival, the spread reminded you of an old fashioned daawat. Served on beautiful silver crockery, you knew that you were going to be pampered. A platter of mutton seekh, chicken seekh and kachche kheeme ke kebab were brought out. Along with kathal ki tikki and the bhutte ki tikki under the vegetarian umbrella.

Osama Jalali, Nazish's son and the curator of the event explained how at home however these kebabs were made on the sigri and therefore retained all the fat and all the flavour.Unlike in the hotel, where it was made in the tandoor where it lost a significant amount of flavours. Yet the kachche kheeme ka kebab was stellar. Midly spiced with a pronounced fragrance of the badi elaichi, it was realy quite excellent.

As the main course was laid out, we heard tales of the mother and son's cooking escapades - about five-year-old Osama standing on the edge of a tandoor looking down at it, about a daughter who learnt cooking from the royal cooks and a new bride who cooked for her father-in-laws guest.



Aloo Gosht, Chicken Korma and Mutton Nihari were set out in front of us. And a mildly spiced parwal was piled onto our plates. Hot sheermals and khameeri rotis were laid down for us as we plodded our way through the curries. The chicken Korma was exceptional - curd based gravy that was scented with cardamon and tomatoes, I could have eaten it by the bowlful. The aloo gosht was superb too, light and easy on the palate, this was also Nazish Jalali's speciality. 

The Nihari though deserves an paragraph on its own. Simmered over for six hours, the mutton was so succulent that it melted in the mouth. Spiced generously with fresh ginger and coriander, it was one of the stalwarts from the festival. 


Steaming hot plates of biryanis were brought out. Nazish told us that they served it with a spicy garlic chutney instead of raita. The three coloured rice was mild, and not oily, so home-style that it won my heart over.



For dessert we had the zarda rice and sevaiyyan, both tasted fab and was a great end to the this fantastic meal. 

The food festival is on till December 21st, so go there as soon as you can.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Salad I Chickpea Cucumber & Feta Salad with Mediterranean Spices




It's been a while since I've posted a salad. Which is stupid because I make salads a lot. I mean, really a lot.

The thing about salads is that trial and error is a great way to go about them. And if you keep seasonal produce in mind, then well, you know you'll have a hit in your hands.

Ofcourse I love my leafy salads, so plenty of argula or rocket, watercress and iceberg lettuce always find their way into my refrigerator. But sometimes, you find a salad that's so easy to do that you can probably do without them leaves. This is one of them.

When my friend Niv, came this time from Dubai, she got me lots and lots of Zaatar and Sumac -Mediterranean Spices, that deserve a pedestal of its own. Oh, don't get me wrong, ofcourse they already are, I meant in Indian homes.




A mix of herbs, Zaatar has strong thyme flavours (since it's got bits of basil thyme and regular thyme) mixed with sesame seeds. It's sharp yet slightly pungent makes for excellent spice rubs for all kinds of meat and fish. While the sumac is a dried berry powder that is typically used as a souring agent. Ofcourse, you can get both these two in India now, but the middle-eastern versions, are just far more superior.

Coming back to the salad - this is a great way to use up leftover chickpeas and as long as you don't add that bit of salt and lemon, it'll keep for a few days as well. Feel free to make adjustments, but this is great as it is. Also you can omit the feta and add goat cheese instead, or well no cheese, either ways it's just wonderful.




Chickpea Cucumber & Feta Salad with Mediterranean Spices
Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tablespoons walnuts
3 tablespoons sugar
200 grams soaked and boiled chickpeas
1 cup Pomegranate seeds
100 grams Feta cheese
2 medium cucumbers
1 tsp zaatar
1 tsp sumac
2 tbslp olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt to taste

Method
1. Start by caramelising the walnuts. In a saucepan melt the sugar until it browns and all the walnuts to it. Using a spoon fish out the walnuts and leave them on a piece of butter paper to harden. Keep aside.
2. In a separate bowl add the chickpeas and the pomegranates and mix with the olive oil and sumac and zaatar. Keep aside.
3. Chop the cucumbers, preferably with skin on and seeds removed and add to the chickpeas mix. Add the feta cheese as well.
4. At this point, this mixture can be kept in the refrigerator for over two days.
5. Just before serving, toss in the lemon juice and salt and add the caramelised walnuts on top.


Restaurant Review I Monkey Bar, CP


Every once in a while comes a place that you just cannot have enough of. Monkey Bar is one such place. When it opened in Bangalore, us Dilliwalas couldn't wait for it to open in the capital. And when it opened in Delhi, we couldn't wait for it to spring another branch somewhere so that we didn't have to wait in lines.
And it didn't let us down. Opening in the heart of the city, Monkey Bar in Connaught Place, has found a perfect spot for its redux version. Nestled in the corner, overlooking the Outer Circle, this Monkey Bar gives you a fantastic view of the hustle bustle in CP. 

Ofcourse, coming back to Monkey bar meant that you wanted to try something new but still stick to the old favourites as well. So we knew pretty much what we wanted to drink as soon as we sat down - the Shazia Imli and Mangaa. Both fantastic cocktails that were sweet and sour and just perfect for the slanting winter sun.


We started our meal with three of the newer things on the menu - Pat Pong Chicken Skewers, Bang Bang Prawns and the Malabari Keema Samosa. 

Of the three, the Bang Bang Prawns were our favourite, the addition of the curry leaves gave the prawns almost a sort of gassi flavour - Manglorean flavours - that they were just succulent and fantastic. The Malabari Keema Samosas also had a beautiful crisp curry leaves stuffed inside that gave it a great texture, almost like a crackling in the mouth. 



We wanted something soupy next - so the Mobar Laksar was up next. I loved the bits of vegetables that were in the shrimpy broth Flavourful and hearty, we should have really stopped at that. But no, instead we also opted for the Waffle Sandwich. 

And here was where we had a bit of an issue - I love my waffles. People who know me, will attest to it, so a soggy waffle is a big no-no for me. As is too much fat on a strip of bacon.  Somehow the combination of a soggy waffle and bacon with so much fat was a big turn off. And considering that so many places are now doing a waffle sandwich, maybe Monkey Bar, should up their game a bit and make a sandwich that's well, atleast not soggy.



But the thing that really was outstanding was the Butter Chicken Khichadi - part risotto, part makhani and rice, it was just fantastic. Served with pappadums and a salad, it totally made my day. It was warm, comforting and so delicious. Something I can see myself ordering over and over.


As if that wasn't enough, it was time for dessert - the Filter Coffee Panna Cotta and the Mobar Sundae cup - were up. I love love loved the filter coffee panna cotta, it had the most beautiful robust flavours of coffee we just couldn't stop eating. The Sundae though could have done with a bit of a something fudgey, especially since it was supposed to be a take on the Nirula's Hot Fudge Sundae.

All in all, it was an afternoon well spent. Good food, great company and gorgeous views, could you really ask for anything more?


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Baking I Red Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Kahlua Ganache



This is the story of the first chocolate cake I've ever made. Or atleast the first chocolate cake that I have truly loved. This is the story of a summer that really got me into baking seriously.

I'd just about written my final exams for the twelth grade when we had a host of house guests, who were all in Chennai to write their finals as well. Chaperoning them was my step mother's friend who had carried with her this cookbook that had some fascinating recipes, and she swore by them. Called the Mennonite Community Cookbook, this was a recipe book that barely had any pictures, but was a collective of recipes from across America from the Mennonite community.

From relishes to cakes to savoury baking to mains, this book had everything. And all I had for the longest time was a photocopied version of this book. (I finally bought the book two years ago)

So through the month, we'd pick out a recipe to try out in the sweltering heat in May in Chennai. Some nights we ate some delicious quiches, other nights we settled for deliciously simple cakes and some days were just simple mains that did the trick.



It was the name that did me in at first - red chocolate cake. I had a lot of questions such as why was it red? What made the cake red? Why was it called one of the easiest cakes to make?

In those days the Internet wasn't as fast as it is today. But I'd spend hours on "Ask Jeeves" to get the answers I wanted. I understood that red was a reaction that the baking soda had with the boiled cocoa. I figured that even though this was not a one pot cake, it barely took any time to whip up because it was made from simple pantry staples.

What I loved the most about this cake was the amazing crust that formed on top. Ok, I know that good cakes aren't supposed to be all crusty, but there was something so amazing about eating a crispy piece of chocolate cake.

Now, I must warn you, this is as cakey a cake can get. By that I mean it's got a lovely light crumb but is still on the denser side. It has a deep chocolate flavour, because of boiling the chocolate with some water and sugar and it keeps extremely well for a whole week.



This was a cake that became my go-to recipe when people asked me to bake a cake for them. I filled it with whipped cream and fresh fruits sometimes, good quality jam or good old chocolate sauce. This is the cake that went as a part of my sister's and brother's tiffin boxes. This was a cake that was made for my grandmother's tea parties.

I suppose it was while I was whisking all those eggs and sifting all that flour that I realised that loved feeding people. Because I really didn't need a reason to throw a party. Because I was never daunted by guests dropping in all of a sudden. But one thing was certain, this red chocolate cake lay high on my list of things to make at a dinner party.

Which is why I thought it was a fitting tribute to the Jaipur Marriott, because that spritzer filled with Kahlua really deserved a standing ovation on it's own.

I halved this recipe and sliced it in half. Then I spritzed my red chocolate cake with plenty of Kahlua and even added a bit of it to the ganache. The result was a super moist, delicious cake that really hit the spot.

You can of course, just make a plain old fashioned cake and take it to share with your friends



Red Chocolate Cake
From the Mennonite Community Cookbook: Favourite Family Recipes by Mary Emma Showalter. Available in India, US and UK

First part:

1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cocoa
1/2 cup water

Mix together and bring to boiling point. Cool.

Second Part

1/2 cup shortening (I used butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp teaspoon soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla

1. Cream butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy
2. Add eggs and beat well
3. In a separate bowl sift flour, salt and soda together.
4. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with water and vanilla and the cocoa mixture.
5. Pour into a greased tin and bake at 180 degree centigrade for 30 to 40 minutes

For the ganache

100 grams dark chocolate
100 grams fresh cream
3 tblsp Kahlua

Boil the cream and pour over chopped chocolate. Stir until glossy. Add in the Kahlua

Assembly

1.Let the cake cool completely. Using a sharp knife remove the crusty layer (Save to eat later)
2. Cut the cake into two equal layers.
3. Brush the first layer of the cake with a rum and coffee solution. This will keep the cake moist.
4. Using a butter knife or a palatte knife, spread 1/3 of the chocolate ganache on it.
5. Put the second layer on top and repeat.
6. Using the remaining chocolate ganache fill the sides as well.
7. Cool and eat.









Friday, December 5, 2014

Review I Jaipur Marriott. Media Fam.



Those 48 hours. It was as if they had barely begun, that they ended so quickly. It had everything that you needed on a vacation - personalised service, luxurious indulgences and great food plus, the amazing company to go with it. Could you really ask for anything more?

Apparently you could. Because as we drove to our Fam trip organised by Jaipur Marriott, we couldn't help but jabber on about the good things that came our way.

It all started with an early morning start and a pit stop at JW Marriott' s Delhi Baking Company where handwritten notes greeted us. A warm cup of hot chocolate and a goodie box later, we set out on the highway, only to stop on a dhaba midway to grab a couple of tandoori paranthas and copious amounts of sweet chai. With Maneesh, Deeba and Binisha and me in one car, a lot of gossip and chatter later, it was as if the journey had whizzed past us. Kalpana, Mridula and Natascha were in another car and we couldn't wait to catch up with them

So when we stepped out of the car at Jaipur Marriott, it was no surprises that we were ready to sit down for lunch. But first, we checked into our rooms, only to be greeted by monogrammed pillow cases (which we got to keep btw!) and a plate of petite fours.



Monogrammed napkins were set out for us as we sat down for lunch at Okra, their all day dining area. We also got to spend some time with the Executive Chef Sahil Arora where he talked about what the hotel and the food with us.

A spa session at O2 spa, where I opted for the Swedish massage and a good 15 minutes in the steam room later, we were all set for a casual tapas-style dining at Lounge 18, Jaipur's first ever transitional lounge. This lounge acts as a very grown up sort of recreational bar till 11 pm after which it morphs into one of the city's nicest night clubs.



I, ofcourse, settled close to the cheese while we were plied with the signature drinks. Here we got to interact with the General Manager, Rohit Dar, the F&B director, Sudeep Sharma and Lovesh Sharma, the director of sales and marketing. The evening wore on effortlessly as we listened to some music and nibbled on delicious bits of mezze, platter of cold cuts and ofcourse endless platters of cheese.

It wasn't until we were stuffed to our gills that we decided to call it a night and retired to our rooms, only to find a box of chocolates and a mister with Kahlua. Oh how they spoilt us.


The next morning, Deeba and I managed to find ourselves near the pool, before heading over for breakfast. And my word, what a breakfast it was. Waffles, pancakes, salads,eggs and a cereal bar. Oh and samosas and jalebis. We couldn't stop eating, because everything was delicious. But the jalebis I have to say, were by far the best thing on the menu.



We set out to sight see a bit of Jaipur - Albert Hall, Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur Pottery, later we decided to call it a day and sat down for lunch at Spice Court, where we encountered a very sweet cafe called D'Zurt that served us some delicious hokey pokey.




Shopping was next on the agenda, so we went to Johari bazaar and only returned when our feet couldn't move anymore. A tour of the Jaipur Baking Company and a little downtime later, we were set to have dinner under the moonlit sky at the poolside which paved its way for dinner at Saffron, the fine dining restaurant. Chef Paramjeet Singh Oberoi, had made a sumptuous meal for us, that included lots of kebabs (the mushroom galouti in particular was spectacular), many kinds of chutneys and some fabulous raan, that we just couldn't stop eating. Even the butter chicken is worth mentioning .



Oh and then there was dessert, a very interesting tomato halva, phirni tartlet and this amazing gulkand ice cream with brandy schnapps. Oh I was in heaven.

But it wasn't over as yet. Another handwritten note and a goodie bag that had a lovely notebook and a photoframe made the day even more special.



The next morning, as we all rolled out of bed and headed out for breakfast, we decided to keep things light. After all that eating through the last two days there was no space for some more. But I did attack the cereal bar, I couldn't help but dip my hands into a bowl of Rice Krispies and eat a big bowl of flavoured yogurt and well, some more jalebis.

It was time to say goodbye, but not until we'd all been given yet another present - all our monogrammed goodies came home with us, and beautiful Jaipur Blue pottery as well - and we still had to take a photograph of the whole group.

Jaipur Marriott showed spectacular hospitality. I have to say, it was one of the nicest mini vacays I've had in a long long time. Add to that a mix of really lovely staff, it was just as if I was meant to be there.

Now you see what I mean by those 48 hours.



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Baking ! Apple and Feta Walnut Honey Tart



I haven't been a good blogger for a few months now. I've been erratic and very moody. That's showing in my cooking too sometimes. I have no excuse, just that I needed time out for myself. Having said that, I am today, feeling better about things and am going to challenge myself to a post off.

Blogging is therapy. Cooking is therapy. And I feel stupid that I didn't pursue it thataway. Instead I looked at it as a chore, which was by far the stupidest thing I've done in a while. So as I get back to full time blogging, I realise I'm going to have to be a lot more honest and a lot more out there with what I make.

So I start with a recipe which has been languishing with me for a bit. The apple feta and walnut tart drizzled with a spot of honey. The idea behind this recipe was to be making a sweet version and a savoury version using almost the same ingredients - because apples can easily be both tart and sweet.



But the really hero in this recipe is the honey, yes it sweetens the deal but it also makes the tart more savoury. I think this makes for an excellent appetizer as it does for a part of a buffet meal. The saltiness of the feta works so well against the apples, because as we've always known apple and feta is a match made in heaven. The crunch of the walnut with the liquid goodness of the honey works so well against the puff pastry.

In a way this is a two part deal - because I will be posting a sweet apple tart as well - in a few days.

You can make your puff pastry from scratch using this recipe, but I always have some handy in my freezer because I like to make a few batches and keep. You never know when you have unexpected guests at home and you need to roll out a tart in a matter of minutes.




Apple & Feta Honey Walnut Tart

Ingredients
For 4 individual tarts

250 grams puff pastry recipe here
4 tbslps feta cheese
2 apples
2 tblsps roasted walnuts
4 tsps honey
1 egg - for egg wash (or use cream instead)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade.
2. Roll out the puff pastry into a thin rectangle. Cut into four pieces.
3. Score along the boundary of the puff pastry sort of making a little moat along with edges. This is so that the edges rise well.
4. Into each tart spoon in one tablespoon of feta cheese. Drizzle half a tsp of honey on each.
5.Meanwhile slice the apples as thinly as possible. And arrange on top of the feta. and honey Sprinkle walnuts on top.
5. Brush the edges with egg wash and set it into bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
6. Once the pastry is browned on the edges, take it out and drizzle with the remaining honey just before serving.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review I The Winter Menu @ Olive at The Qutub



I have a deep appreciation for chefs who develop menus according to the season. Because it means two things - 1. they respect seasonal produce 2. that they know change is the only way to go.

Ofcourse the food at Olive has stood the test of time, so there's little I can say that can do justice to it. Having said that ,Olive has perhaps always been a favourite for winter brunches for me.

This winter, Chef Sujan S. has designed a menu that is a combination of comforting flavours and new techniques that are at par with the current international trends. So yes, you have the gnocchis and the chocolate fondant but you also have the angus sirloin and the tuna tarte tartin.



Our expansive meal started with a choice of winter special cocktails where I opted for the Spiced Tea. It had a strong star anise flavour which is perhaps for me, the least favourite of all the spices. With its strong licorice flavour, it was a bit of an overkill to the delicate flavours of the tea.

Up first was the Oyster Rockafeller, which was baked with a mornay sauce and served with a bit of cilantro. As much as oysters are enjoyed fresh out of the sea, these were cooked just the right amount - you could taste the sea as well the bits of sauce. I also thought the seasoning was perfect.



The Tuna tarte tartin was perhaps my most favourite of the appetizers. It was served with a quail egg and bean salad which I loved. The pastry for the tart was light and crispy and the tuna was almost like a sashimi barely cured.

Two salads followed - the beetroot and artichoke and the citrus, fig and duck with seasonal greens. I really really liked both the salads, and spent a while guessing what all went into them so that I could replicate it at home.



Just when I thought we couldn't have any other spectacular appetisers - the baked camembert with sauteed mushroom was brought out. Now, as you know, I have a great love for all cheese, so without a doubt I ravaged the whole cast iron pan. This dish was simplicity in itself. But the combination of the melty cheese with the woody mushrooms worked spectacularly. This is the dish I'm going to go back for again and again.

With that, the entress began - the zuchinni gnocchi with pea puree and blue cheese emulsion, the chillean sea bass with caramelised brussel sprouts, braised pork belly with vanilla mash, lavender scented duck breast with potato fondant and ballotine of chicken with canadian bacon and onion puree.



I think my favourite of the lot of the chicken which was really tender and flavourful as well as the sirloin cheek that came with truffle jus which just melted in the mouth. I wish I could describe all the dishes, but these two were what really stood out for me and truthfully, by this time, I was really stuffed.




Which is why I barely had space for dessert - the chocolate fondant was all melty in the center but I wish it had a bit of salt that could have elevated it completely while the vanilla poached pear was really the star of the evening - simple, elegant and divine.

Olive has always been a great place to dine under the stars, and the winter menu this time round is both comforting and warm - making it a fun place for an evening out.






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