Thursday, August 14, 2014

The truth about Mondays

Monday. That very word is enough to draw sighs and long face. Talk about the power of one word that can bring out so many emotions in different people! Well I have this thing about Mondays, no I don't like them, but I have a technique that will make them easier, better, oh well, just a little more tolerable - I ensure that I do something I like at the end of the day. Simple. Whether it is catching up with a girlfriend for a quick drink, something the husband and I like to eat for dinner or even watching my favourite movie. Yes, something that simple. Try it. I know it's worked for me and you may find that it eases the Monday Blues for you too.

So when I got this invite from Food Bloggers Association of India (FBAI) for a tasting at Vicinia on a Monday morning, I was kicked. I knew I had my solution for this Monday. Vicinia is a quaint little cafe-cum-bar that's located in Kemps Corner. Since it is not too far away from home, the husband and I had been there before and we quite liked it. But I was curious to find out more especially because they said, "The menu has been revamped." So I reached the place when it was pouring outside and there were already a few bloggers who had arrived at the same time. Introductions were made and we were all chatting about the weather, the awful traffic and the Mumbai food scene in general.

Star Wars
I wanted to have something warm and even though my glass of Chenin Blanc was at the table, I decided to waited till the Seafood Bisque came. It was worth the wait, the soup was warm, comforting and just what I need to calm the chills. Next came a glass of Sangria, which I wasn't too impressed with, as one of the people behind Vicinia, Girish Ragnekar, joined us to take us through the whole concept and what he has in mind for the future. Girish suggested we try some of the signature cocktails - one was a Green Dragon, which was a olive and jalapeno martini and the other, Star Wars, which was a mix of Limca, Gin and star anise. I went in for the latter and found it very refreshing.

Spicy chicken skewers
Cranberry and goat cheese crostini 

Meanwhile we also sampled some of the starters, some spicy and delicious Chicken Skewers, which looked simple but were an explosion of flavours that just made the senses tingle. We also had some Beetroot hummus, which was strictly average, and some Goat cheese and cranberry crostini. While the combination for the crostini topping was yumm by itself I wasn't very convinced about it all coming together. For me, it was a bit too sweet and creamy, I wish there was some arugula or rocket leaves used as a garnish to add some texture and also colour.

Beetroot hummus

Lamb and cheese tarts
Next we had some Bacon wrapped prawns being served at the table. I've eaten some very stellar versions of this dish so I had my hopes up really high. And I guess that was the problem, the bacon was a little chewy and I was hoping that the prawns itself had some more flavour which could make up for this. We were also served some Lamb and cheese tarts, which looked exciting, but unfortunately the tart shell was sweet and for me this ruined the whole thing. By now I was hoping some dish would come along that would make us all go wow. So next up was this salad that stole my heart. Really. This was a Poached pear salad with walnuts, the pear was poached in wine which gave it this real depth of flavour and a beautiful, silky texture. The salad had about three ingredients but it just worked so well together. Since I liked this salad so much I ate a little more that what I should have, I know that would mean compromising on tasting some of the other dishes but I didn't mind.

Salmon, caramelised onion and arugula salad

Following this was a salmon, caramelised onion and arugula salad, which was a beautiful combination of flavours that were sweet, salty and sharp at the same time. This was followed by some Mushroom Risotto, which had that beautiful earthy flavour that you get when you've cooked the mushrooms really well. It smelt great so I was eager to dig in. Now risotto is a very tricky dish to master, it is known as the 'death dish' on Masterchef Australia for a reason! This one was packed with mushrooms, which I loved but the rice was bit more than al dente so I wasn't too impressed but on the whole, it was a good dish to tuck into.

Mushroom risotto 

I knew that after this I couldn't eat much so I only managed a teeny weeny slice of the seafood pizza that came next, this was delicious and I wished I could have another slice but I knew I'd be pushing it. Anyway, this was okay with me as I had to leave at this juncture. I would have loved to stay on and see what else Girish and Vicinia had to offer but, maybe some other time.

Seafood pizza

If you want to visit Vicinia, here's where you need to head to:
Ground floor, Chinoy Mansion, Near Gangar Opticians, Kemps Corner. Mumbai. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The one time you need to keep your dietary restrictions, finickiness and Google maps away!

There are two things you must have if you want to go and sample all the Ramzan delicacies at Mohammad Ali Road in Mumbai. One, is of course, an appetite; because in the spirit of the festival each stall owner will try and stuff you to the gills. If you refuse they take it as a personal insult, it is hard not be endeared by their generosity and love for food. Two, you need to have the ability to throw away all the concern for hygiene, etc. If you're one of those who wants street food cooked in mineral water then you are looking down the wrong alley, literally!

So having said that now, let me proceed to tell you about this year's encounter with the Ramzan delicacies.

It is like some kind of a pilgrimage, an annual tradition of some sorts, that I need to carry out. Perhaps it's my dad's legacy that I'm carrying forward or maybe it is just the plain ol' love for food. But whatever it is, these little things bring me immense joy.

After our trip to MA Road last year, the husband and I turned wiser. How? We knew exactly what we wanted to eat and it seemed like the stars had aligned accordingly too! The cabbie that I got on my way home from work was also observing Ramzan. I asked him if he could take us there, because in my 15 minute ride home he gave me delicious little nuggets of information, but he had to rush to break his fast. Thankfully the Rain Gods didn't play spoilsport this time, I told you, the stars were aligned.

We got off at Shalimar Restaurant and walked right up to the big mosque at MA Road and plunged into one of the bustling lanes. Just this time, we put our phones away. No Google maps, we chose to let our sense of smell be the guide for this journey.

It was like an attack of aromas. We could make out the smoky aromas of kababs, the mouthwatering samosas and the sweet smell of the various desserts. So we began with some simple Chicken Tikka and a Kesari Kabab, the former was simple and spiced just right. The latter was something new for us to try, it was intense but not overwhelming, the kesar was subtle and that is always a good thing.

As we finished with our first round my senses were in for another aroma attack - this time it was of something being fried. One of the things I wanted to have was the chicken samosas, of the patti variety. I told you that the stars were aligned, didn't I? So as we walked away with our formerly hungry tummys satiated with kababs, I spied this hole-in-a-wall kind of stall which was selling all things fried. Normally, I would have just taken a deep breath and walked past but this time I knew I couldn't just walk past. So the husband and I decided to taste the samosas. Oh man! That crackle of the patti (outer dough of the samosa) and that juicy, spicy chicken filling. If I could have one of these every day then I'd be a happy girl. Sigh!

The husband wanted to sample some Seekh kabab with paratha, now the paratha in question is not the one that's fried on the tawa. This one is a deep fried version which is almost like a puri, it is often served with kababs. Yes it does make for an artery clogging meal option but come on, when you are celebrating a festival it always helps to stay true to the tradition, especially if the tradition has something to do with food! So the seekh kabab was everything a good seekh kabab should be - moist, juicy, mildly spiced and delicate without falling apart. Yum!

Now after all this feasting we were beginning to feel a little full. I would have loved to try some khichda but I knew I wouldn't be able to do justice to it. So I knew we had to head for dessert. I also knew what the husband wanted - Ande ka Malpua. This is not something I would eat so I went in for plain and simple Gulab Jamun. But the Malpua piqued my curiosity, I watched fascinated as the guy in front of this gigantic kadai expertly mixed the batter, poured it into the hot oil and coaxed it to brown evenly before serving it hot with rabri. Simply marvellous.

I wish I could have gone back to MA Road there would have been another adventure waiting in the wings and another story to tell. But for now, I'm happy with the memories. Till next year then! Eid Mubarak!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Getting the better of butter

Raise your hands if you are in favour of quick dinners? Whoa! I can see a whole bunch of you nodding away now. Yes. I know on days when you're harried the best way to end the day is to rustle up something by throwing in a bit of this and that and then finally tucking into a warm, comforting meal. Heaven!

Prawns and I go back a long way. Sometimes I crave for it. Correction. Often I crave for it. Other times it is an all-consuming need to bite into the juicy shellfish that tastes of the sea. And then, most times, it is the most obvious choice. What I love about prawns, apart from the way they taste, is that they're so versatile - you can add them into a soup, use in a salad, make a lovely, robust curry, toss them into a stir fry or even make a glorious biryani with the prawns. Sigh!

I'd once had Butter Garlic Prawns at Mahesh Lunch Home and it was love at first bite. Really. Ever since I've tried to recreate that dish at home but, with varying degrees of success. I knew what the issue was - I was reluctant to add the butter and it took me a couple of tries to get this right. Some what like attempting a dive for the first time. But when I did take the plunge, it was a party in my mouth.

Butter garlic prawns
5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp of butter
1 tsp of olive oil
250 gms of prawns
1/2 tsp of chilli flakes
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Salt to taste

Heat the butter in a pan, when it begins frothing add the olive oil and then follow with the garlic. As the garlic begins to turn golden, tip in the prawns and toss them around gently till they begin to curl.

When the prawns have cooked add the salt and chilli flakes, stir fry for a minute and turn off the flame. Finish with a dash of lime. Serve immediately.

I served this with a side of bell pepper salad. Here's how you make it:
1/2 each of yellow, green and red bell peppers, sliced
1 tsp of fresh dill leaves, chopped

For the dressing
1/2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp of balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the ingredients together for the dressing. Let it rest for about 15-20 minutes.

Pour the dressing over the bell peppers and dill and gently toss it around.

* You can use finely chopped chillies instead of chilli flakes in this dish
* I've used olive oil but you can use anything that's neutral in flavour like canola oil or sunflower oil
* The prawns are usually served on a bed of lettuce, just to add that crunch

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Through my father's eyes

Given a chance I would love to bring my inner wanderlust to the fore. There's such a beautiful and colourful world out there that it would be a shame not to explore it, but then again, for me, travelling is not something I want to do just for the sake of it, or to add stamps to my passport. I want to visit places that have a story behind them, I want these places to beckon me and invite me to explore its underbelly and experience it in a way no one else can. I want to feel a connection with the places that I travel to so that when I come back, I return with a bagful of memories, souvenirs and a bond that lasts a lifetime.

If you've been around the blog long enough you'll have noticed for sure that I am an out and out Daddy's girl. And maybe that's also the reason why some of the places that are on my bucket list for travel are those that have been in some way influenced by my father.

In the early 80s, this was even before I was born, my dad spent a couple of years in Muscat. He worked at the Ruwi Hotel here and whenever he spoke about those years, his eyes would always light up. He would always tell us about the fun times he had, the friends he made, the places he visited in Oman and the treasure trove of memories that he came back to share with us. Several times when he spoke of, what he called, 'the good ol' Muscat days', I would always make a little wish - I wanted to go to this fascinating city with my dad. Somehow I knew that having him with me would be better that a guide book or maybe even one of those fancy travel apps that so many of us have become so dependent on! Unfortunately, I will have to now rely on either or both of these two.

Oman. First things first, I love the way the name of this country slides off my tongue, that in itself lends it an air of exotic adventure that's waiting to be experienced. Well if I was going here, the first thing I would do is ensure I book myself that the hotel my dad spoke so much about. I know Oman is filled with lots of history and spots that bear a testament to its legacy, so visiting these are definitely on the to-do list. Being someone who loves the sea, which I find has a calming effect on me, I would then proceed to check out the beaches. Oman has a coastline that stretches across 3,165 km and going by the pictures there's going to be a lot of beach-hopping on my itinerary. If I'm planning to be the ultimate beach bum then I'm also going to carry a good book along so that I can lounge by the white sands, soak up the sun and just breathe in the salty sea breeze. Ah, bliss!
Al Khayran
Source: Flickr
Checking out the beaches of a country also means that there are several opportunities for adventure sports. And one of the things that I've always wanted to do is to scuba dive. Perhaps going for a dive along Al Khayran, near Muscat, would be a fitting tribute to the man who insisted I get over my fear of the water and learn to embrace it instead. 

Absolutely gorgeous coastline

The wonders of nature have never ceased to amaze me and that's why one of the things that will be on my itinerary would be visiting the Muscat GeoSites and looking in awe at nature's creations. Of these, I'm particularly keen on seeing the Al Fahal island, the Concentric Fold and the Nodular Limestone. I know I'll be on a photo-clicking spree here so carrying enough batteries for the camera is going to be on the top of my packing list!

I didn't know that Oman had so many islands associated with it until I began reading up about the country sometime ago. The Al-Dimaniyat Islands Nature Reserve looks like a place that's been blessed and there's no way a trip to Oman is going to be complete without this. Another discovery that I made while reading up about this country is about an activity called Kitesurfing/Kiteboarding, this is an adventure activity that combines paragliding, wakeboarding, windsurfing and gymnastics - yes, it does sound like you need more than a bit of guts to do this, but if you haven't experienced that heady adrenaline rush, you haven't really lived, have you?
A souk in Oman
 And then, finally, if I'm going on a trip it would be terribly incomplete if I didn't sample the local cuisine. So some of the things that I would definitely sample on my trip to this wonderful country are the mind-boggling and scrumptious varieties of kababs, a dish with roasted king fish and lemon rice called Mashuai, Maqbous which is  a rice dish flavoured with saffron and cooked with spicy meat. I'm already drooling as I type this and I can picture myself washing this down with a steaming hot cup of Kahwa, Omani coffee flavoured with cardamom. There's no way I'm coming back without some shopping either so I am definitely getting myself some ingredients from the local markets, some frankincence and myrrh to carry the aroma of a memorable trip back home, a replica of the khanjar (dagger), some silver jewellery which I absolutely adore and maybe even some Omani pottery.

A delicious Omani meal that's full of flavour

Now, that, would be one trip that's going to easily be on my list of favourites!

This is an entry for IndiBlogger's contest on Beautiful Oman.

One of the things that Oman definitely is, is that it is a land that's a melting pot of colours, cuisines and cultures. As a tribute to this, I'm sharing the recipe for this colourful vegetable salad. This one is so simple to put together and extremely easy on the palate. If you have something like a creamy pasta or a clear soup on the table, this salad serves as a perfect accompaniment as it is full of vibrant hues and bursting with flavours.

Mix veggie salad

2 cups of purple cabbage, chopped
1/2 each of green, yellow and red bell peppers, deseeded and chopped
1 cup of lettuce leaves, torn
1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup of carrots, grated or finely chopped
1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup of broccoli, chopped and steamed

Place all these ingredients in a salad bowl and chill for half an hour.

Meanwhile mix the salad dressing together by combining

1 tsp of olive oil
1/2 tsp of balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp of tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp of mixed herbs, I used basil and thyme for this one
Salt to taste

Whisk all these ingredients together. Drizzle over the veggies, toss them around so that the veggies are coated with the dressing and serve immediately.

* You can use any combination of veggies, just make sure you have a minimum of three colours in the salad
* The veggies are chilled to retain their crispness. However you can add the tomatoes in the end so that the rest of the veggies don't turn soggy
* Add some toasted watermelon or sunflower seeds to add a crunch to this salad

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cheesy does it!

Cheesecake is a favourite at home, the hubby loves it and I'm slowly beginning to warm up to it and that's a good thing I guess because it means it gives me enough bandwidth to experiment with various recipes. While the husband is happy that cheesecake is made at home frequently enough, I'm content with puttering about as I delve into another world of gloriousness that is cheesecake.

That I love stone fruit is something I don't make a secret of but, what I do like doing with these fruits is making something that brings out all their flavours and soaks in their juices. So this time of the year there are a lot of jams, preserves, cobblers, crumbles and the likes that are made in my kitchen.

The summer often means I make a mango cheesecake, it is one of those annual traditions, pretty much like my Christmas cake. This time around I took a little time in making the 'yearly' cheesecake because, as usual, I wanted to make it from scratch. Some call this complicating things but as for me, I like to make things from the basics just so I can have control over what goes into the final dish. Yes, I'm a control freak like that. So this cheesecake was made with homemade quark cheese, which is by far one of the lightest, creamiest cheeses I've made; I also used a mix of mangoes and peaches for this recipe and both the fruits complemented each other so well that the flavours were in perfect harmony!

Mango & peach cheesecake
For the base
200gms digestive biscuits, crushed
2 tsp of melted butter

Mix the two ingredients together and press it to the bottom of a glass dish or a loose-bottom baking tin. Let it chill for about two hours in the fridge.

For the filling
1 large mango, peeled and chopped
2 peaches, stoned and chopped
2 cups of quark cheese, see the recipe I used here
2 tsp of sugar, optional
1/2 tsp of vanilla essence
1/2 cup of milk
1 tsp of lemon juice
1.5 tsp of gelatin
1/2 cup of water  (chilled)

Mix the gelatin in some water. Cover and allow it to bloom.

Puree the mango and peaches, leave some of it coarse and chunky just to enhance the texture.

Beat the quark cheese until smooth and then add the puree to this, add vanilla essence and  the sugar if you're using and then beat well again. Heat the milk with some water and add the gelatin to this. Stir vigourously. Pour this into the cream mixture and mix well. Add the lemon juice and mix again.

Spread this mixture over the biscuit base and keep it in the fridge. Allow it to set for about four hours, for best results, leave it overnight.

Garnish the cheesecake with slices of mangoes and peaches. Slice and serve.

* You can use coarsely ground almonds for the base instead of the biscuits, if you want a gluten-free option

* Quark cheese is easy to make. I've used fresh cheese in this recipe but you can make the cheese a day ahead to save on time

*You can also make this cheese cake with only the mangoes, I'm sure that will be delicious too

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