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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Baking I Italian Ricotta and Yogurt Cake

A few years ago, I met fellow baker Bijay Thapa at a friend's place for the first time. Bijay brought with him this Japanese Cheesecake, which is also known as a cotton cheesecake. It was perhaps, the most delectable thing I've ever put in my mouth.

Like most good cheesecakes, this was baked. And like most cheesecake it tasted of good quality cake. But unlike most cheesecakes, it had a quality that was both light yet rich and dense at the same time. I obviously am not explaining it well, but you have to eat it to know what I mean.

Ofcourse, logic would say that you should put it away after one slice, but he had managed to throw in blueberries that were sitting in the bottom which made the cheesecake so much more fun to eat. So therefore you couldn't really stop at one slice.

I've been wanting to make that sort of a cheesecake forever, but just haven't had the right audience for it. Instead I stumbled upon this cake which just reminded completely of this cheesecake. So for now the Japanese Cheesecake goes into the to-do list.

This cake is as accidental as they get. Or coincidental. Whichever you like. Because three things happened to me at the same time. One - I had a tub of ricotta cheese that needed to be used up in a day or so. Two - I was thumbing through my copy of The Silver Spoon when I chanced upon this cake. Three - it was as if the stars had aligned since I had all the ingredients in my pantry.

So I whipped this cake up, because really there was hardly anything to it - sugar, yogurt, ricotta, cornflour, and some flavouring and eggs.

It took me less time to put this cake in the tin than it took the oven to pre-heat. So it's a winner all around.

Also, it's gluten-free. Which is a great thing isn't it?

The cake is so light that each mouthful is a surprise because you'll be wondering - am I eating a cake? Or is that a cheesecake. The tang from the ricotta is noticeable and I accentuated it with a bit of lemon juice and lemon rind. I also over baked the top a bit because I felt it needed some colour and served with a lemon drizzle.

This is not a very sweet cake, so you can easily add another third cup of sugar to this decadence or add some honey. And here's the best part - this cake can be made by ANYBODY. It's really that simple.

Italian Ricotta And Yogurt Cake
Adapted from The Silver Spoon. Available in India, US and UK

Serves 8

2/3 cup hung yogurt
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
juice and zest of one lemon
1 1/2 cup (about 200 grams) ricotta cheese
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup corn flour or corn starch
a pinch of salt


1. Preheat the oven to 200 degree centigrade.
2. Separate the eggs.
3. In a bowl mix together the yogurt, ricotta, egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon zest, corn starch/flour, salt, and vanilla. Mix well. Keep aside
4. Beat the egg whites till stiff, cut and fold into the ricotta mixture.
5. Pour into a lined tin and bake for 40 to 45 minutes till the top browns and a skewer comes clean. Cool completely. Serve with lemon drizzle.

Review I Zu Tisch

The thing about going to a restaurant with a fun name is that you go in without any expectations but you come out pleasantly surprised.

Our meal at Zu Tisch was zippy. We were tired, hungry and crabby and yet the food that appeared in front of us, was both comforting and filling. Calling itself a German Bistro, Zu Tisch serves as many schnitzels and sausages as it does burgers, sandwiches and pizzas. We tried to be good and order the more bistro-like food.

So we skipped the cocktails and chose to order the soup. And boy, I can tell you for sure that was the right choice. The Beer and Cheese Soup hit the spot and how! It wasn't too beery, it wasn't too cheesy, instead it was light and flavourful with undertones of the barley from the beer. Since we'd ordered the vegetarian version, there were plenty of carrots, mushrooms and celery bits giving it a great texture in every mouthful.

Next up were mozzarella parcels and the pork ribs. The mozzarella triangles were good but just like any other deep fried snack. The pork ribs though were outstanding. Falling off the bone, smothered in house-made barbecue sauce, they were just fabulous. We'd not only licked our fingers clean but the bone too and were truly ready to call dibs on the second. The barbecue sauce was really quite exceptional - sweet, sticky, tangy and smoky it checked all the boxes for me.

We refrained from ordering the burgers or the pizza, instead opted to eat the slow-cooked lamb shanks and the blackened corn-fed chicken. While both were perfectly cooked, my problem really was with salt that was used rather heavy-handedly. Which basically made the chicken unpalatable. Because the chicken too had been salted before.

The lamb shank though was salvageable. And it was cooked to perfection. There was a mellow peppery flavour that resonated with every bite and the meat was extremely succulent and tender. Served with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes this was as comforting as a meal could get.

To finish the meal we ordered for the only dessert on the menu - a chocolate honey date cake - which was excellent. And as the owner very honestly told us, had been ordered from Elma's bakery.

But here's what really made the dinner for me. The music. It was a blast from the past for both the husband and me - music from the late 90s and early 2000s, music that we grew up listening to. And somehow we both left feeling really good after a rather terrible day.