Thursday, May 14, 2015

Product review I Tropicana Slice Alphonso

The heaps of mangoes all around is enough indication that summer is here. While I'm not such a great fan of the fruit, I do enjoy it occasionally and relish some variants in desserts and beverages.
So when the guys at Tropicana & Slice asked if I would be willing to sample their new offering - an Alphonso mango drink, I was game. Having tasted products by both these brands individually I was curious to see what they would come up in this collaboration.

I was surprised when a huge carton arrived at home, I was expecting a much smaller one and something that wasn't so neatly packed. The OCD in me was thrilled with the packing! Inside the carton were six, yes all six, bottles of the beverage. Immediately my head started racing with ideas of what all I could make - a cocktail for sure, maybe a cheesecake or even in a smoothie. But let's leave that for another day.

Just out of the box!
Since I'm not such a big fan of mangoes I asked a couple of other people to taste it as well. The colour is a beautiful, deep yellow. The flavours are spot on, as close to the Alphonso as you can get. But I felt that the consistency was a little lacking, a  bit thicker and it would have ticked all the boxes for me!
Mango mania

Monday, April 13, 2015

Flavours of Maharashtra

You know it is funny, I've been in Mumbai for over two years now but I've not had the chance to have a proper Maharashtrian meal. There's been the occasional one at a Malvani style seafood place but nothing that gave me an experience of the variety of flavours that the state is home to. So when I received an invite to check out the Maharashtrian Food Festival at House of Asia, The Mirador Hotel in Andheri, I grabbed the chance.

One look at the menu and I was drooling. I just couldn't wait for the meal to begin. We started off with a Aam Panna, which happens to be one of my favourite drinks to have this time of the year, and some Sol Kadhi.

Aam panna (left) and Sol kadhi

Close on the heels of these came the soups - a Tamatyache saar (tomato soup) and a Kekdyache saar (crab soup), interestingly it was the vegetarian one that caught our attention with simple, clean flavours.

Kekdyache saar (crab soup)

Pangat: An informal setting

This was followed by an array of starters - Kelfuache vade (banana flower fritters) which had a bitter aftertaste - the chef informed us later on that this was meant to be - then there was the Kothimbir vadi (chickpea flour and coriander dish), Dalimb Batate (potato patties with a pomegranate stuffing). The brain behind this food festival - Chef Kamlesh Salve, told us that the festival is called Pangat because that's what an informal setting for a Maharashtrian meal is known as. The chef also told us that he hadn't restricted the menu to just one part of the state but attempted to capture the best of every region.
Kelfuache vade

Kothimbir vadi

Some stunning chutneys to go with the starters: (From bottom left) Black sesame chutney, Raw mango and chilli chutney, Mint chutney, Tomato and garlic chutney and some Date and Tamarind chutney in the centre

Dalimb Batate 

Then came some of the non-vegetarian starters, out of these, the Bombil fry stood out. Paired with the Raw mango and chilli chutney, it made for one lip-smacking combination.

Makli Masala (squid)

Jeerameerichi kombdi (chicken with cumin and black peppercorns) 

Bombil (Bombay Duck) fry 

 By this time we were quite stuffed and wondered if we would be able to do justice to the main course that was waiting in the wings. We requested the chef and his team to serve us just tasting portions. Out came a thali, which was visually appealing with all the bright colours and the irresistible aromas was stirring up quite an appetite. I tasted a little bit of each of the dishes before I dug in and each one was distinct with well-rounded flavours. The best part of this thali was that individually each of the dishes were delicious and together, they added up to something that was nothing short of a treat for the tastebuds.

Here's what our thali looked like:

From bottom left: Kombdi (chicken) sukke, Kairi chi kadi (raw mango curry), Masale bhaat, Amti (lentil dish), Bharli vaangi (stuffed brinjals), curd, Dhanyache usal (mixed pulses curry) and Pandhara rassa (a mutton dish native to Kohlapur). In the centre is the Tandla che bhakri (rice flour flatbread) which is typically served in a Maharashtrian meal 
Like all Indian meals, this one too, ended on a sweet note - with some Puranpoli and Olya naralachi karanji (a dumpling stuffed with a sweetened coconut mixture and fried). That was the end of a fantastic meal and my only regret was that I wished I could do more justice to the main course, if you're planning a visit to House of Asia, then I strongly recommend you give the starters a miss and head straight to the main course - it is worth it, trust me!

Olya naralachi karanji


Address: House of Asia, Hotel Mirador, New Link Road, Chakala, Andheri (East), Mumbai
Contact: 6649-5000
Date: 10th to 16th April 2015
Time: 7:30 pm onwards

Price: 900/-

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Strawberry madness

How many of you out there like strawberries? Okay, I see a fair share of hands going up. I agree, it is hard to resist these deep red beauties. I'll also admit that I tend to get a little carried away when they're in season - you'll find me making bottles and bottles of jam, like they're going out of fashion, then there's the smoothies, flavoured yogurts, pannacottas, ice creams and the list goes on!

Just when I thought that the berries were disappearing from the market, I saw boxes of them on my way home. Being the end of season, I was able to strike a bargain and I came home with an armload of boxes, much to the husband's amusement. I didn't want to make jam again. I wanted something simple, chilled and a dish that didn't require too much effort. It was also one of those days when I didn't have too many ingredients with me so I'd to play around with what I had, that's how this Strawberry Custard Tart was born.

The tart is really simple to put together. If you have kids at home, you can get them to help out because it is a fun recipe to make. And there's a lot of scope for licking the bowl of custard clean, nibbling on some strawberries, which makes the process even more fun.

Strawberry custard tart

For the base
200 gms of digestive biscuits, crushed
1 tbsp of white butter, melted

Mix the two together and press it to the bottom of a pan. Place it in the fridge and let it rest for a minimum of two hours.

For the filling
3 cups of milk
2 tbsp of sugar
3 tbsp of custard powder (I used Brown & Polson)
1 tbsp of strawberry jam (I used the homemade one)

Make custard according to the instructions on the pack. When it is done, allow it to cool down for a bit and then mix in the jam. Let it cool down till it has reached room temperature, by now the custard should turn thick and be on its way to setting.

Remove the pan with the biscuit base from the fridge and then gently spread the custard over this. Allow it to chill for about three hours or until the custard has set.

For the topping
6-8 strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tsp of icing sugar

When the custard has set, remove the pan from the fridge and arrange the slices of strawberries over it. Let it chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Dust the icing sugar over it just before serving.

* You can make the same recipe with any other fruit of your choice. Cherries, mangoes, peaches, etc. work really well

* If you're feeling indulgent, top the custard with whipped cream and then place the strawberries

*If you want to make individual portions then use smaller tart moulds 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Meeting a Masterchef and beating the heat with a skinny pannacotta

For those of you who know me, you'll know by now that I'm a huge fan of Masterchef Australia. So much so that I tend to go into an anti-social mode when the series is on. Australia is one of the places I want to go to but, that's not for the Great Barrier Reef or Sydney Opera House. I have a one point agenda - meet the judges of Masterchef Australia! The husband thinks I'm cuckoo, well then, what is life if not a bit of madness?

Creamy Polenta with Mushroom Ragu 

Brent Owens in action

So when I got to know Brent Owens, winner of season 6 of the show, was going to be in Mumbai, I hoped and prayed I'd get to meet him. I'll confess I wasn't a huge fan of his but then, if it meant meeting someone associated with my favourite show, I was game. I entered the contests on Twitter and was lucky enough to win one of those! Friends of mine, who find Brent to be quite the dish, gave me strict instructions - don't come back without a picture, actually, take a selfie, they said.

Ready to serve

Brent was just like he was on the show - chilled out, down-to-earth and extremely at ease behind the stove. He took us through one of his favourite recipes, Creamy Polenta with Mushroom Ragu, which was an absolute stunner with earthy, mellow flavours that just flowed seamlessly. A little conversation with the Masterchef winner, which is when the selfie was taken, revealed that Jamie Oliver is his favourite chef. Ah ha, now this is one chef I'd do anything to meet. With that in common, my smile grew a little wider for our picture together.

Happiness happened!


Summer is here and that means, at home we include a lot more light food in our meals, use ingredients that keep the body cool and basically eat sensibly to avoid burning in this punishing heat. One of the desserts that I make pretty often this time of the year is pannacotta. You'll find several versions of this on the blog. The best part about this is that you don't have to spend more than five minutes to put it together, the fridge does the rest of the magic. The other reason I prefer making pannacotta is because it goes so well with a variety of flavours right from fresh fruits like mango to more intense ones like coffee and chocolate. 

Ever since my grandmum told me that gulkand (a paste made with rose petals) helps combat body heat, I try to include it in our diet. The husband enjoys it mixed with milk, but I'm more of a fusspot - I can't stand milk so I've to think of different ways to have it! That's how I thought of using this in a pannacotta. 

Perfect for the summer

I'd been reading a lot about 'light' pannacottas and wanted to try my hand at it. This seemed like the perfect chance. I wasn't too confident about completely eliminating the gelatine and cream so I substituted just half of each. This pannacotta was served topped with some sabja (basil) seeds and silver sugar crystals. So good after an Indian meal. This is one dessert that's sure to become a regular at home. 

Gulkand pannacotta 
3 cups of milk 
2 tbsp of cream 
2 tsp of corn flour 
1 tsp of gelatine 
1/4 cup of water (room temperature)
2 tbsp of gulkand (since this is sweet enough I didn't add sugar) 

To garnish
A betel leaf (Kolkata paan variety)
Silver sugar crystals 
Sabja seeds, soaked in water till they've swollen up 

Sprinkle the gelatine over the water and give it a quick mix. Cover and keep it aside, allow it to bloom. 

Mix the milk, cream and corn flour together till there are no lumps. Gently heat this over a low flame, stirring continuously to avoid the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the gulkand and mix again. 

Now add the gelatine to the mixture, remove from the heat and allow it to cool down. Pour the mixture into prepared moulds and chill for about six hours or overnight until done. 

To serve: Unmould the pannacotta and place it over the betel leaf. Spoon some of the sabja seeds over this and sprinkle the silver sugar crystals to finish. 

*You can make this with only cream. In that case, use 2 tsp of gelatine for 3 cups of cream, eliminate the corn flour too. 

* In case you enjoy the taste of paan it is a good idea to finely chop betel leaves and add to the pannacotta mixture just before adding the gulkand 

*Top the dessert with chopped nuts to add crunch and texture 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Stuff memories are made of

You the thing about nostalgia? It's just like - karma, catches it up with when you least expect it to!

As a student in Mumbai I had my fair share of chai and Samosa at Café Samovar. But when I moved back here a couple of years ago and started working, there were different places to explore, new dishes to try and a whole lot of interesting adventures at hand. The good ol took a backseat. Anyway, it's not like much would have changed I thought, and pushed the visit a little further down my list.

The entrance to Cafe Samovar

Then last week I received a jolt as I woke up to news of this iconic café shutting down. The memories flooded back. Chatting nonstop over chai. Five of us sharing a sandwich courtesy our pinched pockets at the end of the month. Giggling over samosas. Talking about life, our dreams and hopes. I wished I could go back just once, one last time but given my crazy schedule I wasn't very optimistic.

So on Instagram the other day I saw a post by Rashmi Uday Singh asking if people wanted to join her for a meal at Samovar. I jumped at it. I had to rearrange schedules and actually leave work while the sun was out but I knew it would be worth it.Eleven other foodies - many of them bloggers - were present at the packed café. We exchanged notes, spoke about what we loved here and how sad we would be when the place shut. 

Old style: Menu on a blackboard

The elegant Usha Khanna, founder of the café, joined us for a while. Charming as ever, she and her daughter told us they were so delighted to note that even youngsters have fond memories of the place. The staff at Samovar bought us plates of pakodas which we had with their famous red chutney, cups of chai, glasses of the kalakhatta juice, lime soda, kheema Samosa, aloo Samosa, sandwiches and then insisted we try the kheema roll too. The food was fantastic as usual, but,  just this one time it wasn't so much about the food. The conversations, the busy vibe and all the warmth shone through. Perhaps that's why the place will be missed!

Messages like these are testimony of the fact that this quaint little cafe is indeed special 

Not just another brick in the wall!

A surprise visitor in the form of Jaya Bachchan dropped in for a quick bite and to spend time with the café's founder. Apparently the Big B and her were regular during their courtship days. The actor got into action during our photo session - she picked up one of the cameras, instructed us on where to stand and then clicked away. What a delight to see someone so revered on the silver screen effortlessly shed that larger-than-life persona! That's when it hit some of us, it's moments like these which the café has witnessed, will be the real loss.

Jaya Bachchan organising our photo shoot

Our evening ended with a fun photo session at the entrance of Jehangir Art Gallery. There was a whole lot of laughter and cheer, Rashmi's bubbly nature is contagious and that surely was another highlight.

Melt-in-the-mouth brownies 

Cutting Chai with pakodas

A book-full of memories

Looking at the menu, one last time

These chutneys tempt you to eat just another bite and then, another 

When you have memories, good food, company and laughter it is difficult to go wrong.
So long Café Samovar, you will be missed but we'll always remember you with fondness!
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