Friday, November 28, 2014

When food evokes 'happi'ness

When I heard that a new restaurant opened in the Bandra-Khar area a couple of weeks ago, my first reaction was, "Really, another one? Didn't know there was place for so many!" But when I heard that this restaurant was called 'Me So Happi', I was curious. And for someone who has been a journalist for a while, this curiosity can be funny business.

So when I was asked if I would go and check out this place, I agreed immediately. I checked with the husband, the man was free on a week night so we decided to head to Me So Happi for dinner. I'm also one of those who 'researches' about a place before eating there and when I saw that this restaurant had Bunny Chow on their menu, I was thrilled - the last time I had this was in Durban, years ago! I have pleasant memories of that trip and was eager to try this South African special.

The use of wood and ceiling-to-floor windows gives the restaurant a warm atmosphere

Quirky wall decor adds to the charm

Motifs inspired by video games

Given the number of restaurants in the Bandra-Khar area, I wondered if we could find the place easily. The good part is that it is right on the main road and there's a huge sign there. Difficult to miss and that's a good thing. As we walked into Me So Happi, we noticed that the place was huger than what we imagined it to be. I took in the colours, the cheerful decor, the board games and video game-inspired motifs as we settled down at our table. The husband remarked that almost every table had a plug point next to it, so necessary these days with smartphones draining out in a matter of a handful Now, the husband and I are non-fussy when it comes to food so we asked the Chef to go ahead and send us the food.

Beet & Quinoa Salad: Light, refreshing and absolutely delicious

Our meal began with this amazingly light and refreshing Beet & Quinoa salad, it had the right notes of sweet, tangy and citrus which complemented the many textures in the dish. I could have this for dinner. It was a promising start and I was looking forward to the rest of the meal. We washed down the salad with some mocktails - a Lemon Mojito and Kokum Bounty (kokum, lime and rock salt), which were perfect for the balmy weather.

Wouldn't mind seconds: Prawns on Fire

After this we were sent a plate of the Bombillo (fried Bombay Duck with a Chinese inspired sauce), which was good, but just that. This was followed by Prawns on Fire, a dish that I'd heard was one of the best here and I was curious to taste it. At first glance it looked like another dish of fried prawns, but, one bite down and I was grinning - the prawns were beautifully cooked and the best part was the marination, which was in a spicy masala redolent with the earthy flavours of curry leaves. It reminded me of Chennai. Home. Memories. That warm fuzzy feeling. I said to myself, "Me So Happi!"

We were quite full with these starters so asked the Chef to go slow on the order. He was surprised but when we told him we wanted to do justice to the food and not waste it, he agreed. And suggested that this would be a good time to take a walk around the place. The restaurant is a cosy place but the one place I was taken by was this charming replica of a kitchen near the billing counter.

The mini kitchen

Isn't that charming?

As we walked back to our table, Chef Aniruddh told us about how they wanted to start opening up the place for events and parties. Given that they have a decent amount of space, it seems like a good option.

Seafood Sliders

Since we were on our way to being full we had actually asked the Chef to cancel the order for Seafood Sliders, which were up next, but one bite into it and I was so glad he didn't listen to us! The seafood was fried in a tempura-like batter and then topped with a Thai-inspired sauce with loads of lemongrass before being stuffed into a slider bun. Just delicious. The Stuffed Potato Skins came next. Compared to the previous dish, this one paled in comparison and I couldn't eat more than half of a single portion. Maybe it was because this was vegetarian, but then, we love our vegetables. Maybe it was that the dishes before this one were so good that this didn't live up to the expectations. I reasoned it out in my mind and concluded that it was possibly the latter.

Stuffed Potato Skins, these paled in comparison with the other dishes we sampled

I had told the Chef in the beginning that I was eager to taste the Bunny Chow and he agreed, adding that it was one of their most popular items on the menu. The good part is that the curry changes every day. I guess we got lucky with this because the curry was spicy but had a velvety texture because of the generous use of coconut milk. Delicious!

Bunny Chow. So glad some place in Mumbai finally serves this dish

The Chef asked us if we had the room to try out one of their signature burgers, we groaned in protest. He laughed and insisted that we couldn't leave without some dessert. So I went in for the Sticky Toffee Pudding, which was sweet with a hint of salt and packed with dates. The husband had the Banana Caramel Pie, when you have banana, caramel and a dark chocolate base it is difficult to go wrong, even if you try. The desserts were as good as they looked and sounded, but the winners at Me So Happi are some of the appetisers and the Bunny Chow.

We called it a night after the dessert and decided to head home but not before promising the Chef that we would be back to try all the things we missed this time.

Me So Happi is located at Shop 2, Kusum Kunj, Khar, Linking Road. Opposite Guess Showroom.

PS: I was there on invitation so I haven't given you the prices

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Memories are made of these

They say death is a great teacher. Maybe it is true. But what I do know is that, death changes you completely - inside out, upside down. Even when you know that it is the most inevitable thing.

I lost my (paternal) grandmother last week. It didn't come as a shock. We were prepared. We knew she was going downhill. When she passed on we grieved but, we were also grateful she didn't have to suffer even more than she already had. Yet, despite all this, when the void hits you like a punch in the face, you realize that you can never be prepared for losing a loved one. You want them at the oddest times, you remember them suddenly, sometimes more often than not and then that void hits you, again.

My grandmother didn't fit into the stereotype of a grandma. Perhaps that is why her grandchildren are the way they are.  She was a lady who believed in principles and standing by them. Even though she wasn't a graduate, she wanted her grandchildren to study further. "How will you be financially independent when you grow up," she would ask me when I told her I'd enough of the books. It wasn't about bagging the first rank, she was thinking more long-term. I didn't understand why then but today I know exactly what she meant.

My grandmother was careful, not frugal, generous but not lavish. She had lived through times when money was tight and had also seen the good days. Not one to shower praises, I remember when I bought my first car, she asked me how much it was. When I told her the amount, her eyes widened in surprise, "Did you really have to spend so much," she asked, her cautious nature coming to the fore again. For a moment I was taken aback, 'I'm an adult. I know what I'm doing,' I thought. A couple of minutes later, I overheard her talking to a friend on the phone, "You know, my granddaughter has bought a new car. That too all on her own." That note of pride was unmistakable. And my grin stretched from ear to ear, literally.

These are memories I'll hold close to my heart. I'll look into this box of treasure when I'm down, when I'm happy and when I need some reassurance that I have another angel looking over me.

Memories of her are of the aroma of homemade hair oil, yes, she made that at home too! Memories are  made of the delicious doodh khadi (milk barfi), the warmth of her touch when I was sick, the twist she gave a simple curd rice, the lime-ginger juice that cooled us from the summer heat, her constant humming, her meticulous nature, her penchant for noticing beyond the obvious. There are loads of these that will keep me going for a lifetime. Yet, it is ironic that in the end, it is memory that failed her.

Did I also tell you my grandmother could make bread at home? Not the regular loaves or rolls, she would make the stuffed variety in a mind-boggling array of shapes. The tenacious lady that she was, even yeast didn't frighten her! That the jams she made were far, far better than the bottled stuff we get today? That she was the one who started the concept of  'soup and bread' dinners at home? That she made tomato sauce, pickle and even ice cream at home? There is a lot to be told and I soon will.

I wanted to write this post earlier but I kept writing and deleting. Yes, I'll admit, the keyboard even got damp a couple of times. It was never enough. So I decided today that I would just let the words flow. Something like how I thought of making this Pumpkin Orange Bread.

This bread is similar to my grandmother - earthy, bold yet understated, refreshing, honest and wholesome. And I know, if I'd given her a slice of this, she'd have eaten it in a minute and then quietly told me to save her some for tomorrow!

Pumpkin Orange Bread

1 cup of whole wheat flour
1/4 cup of bajra (barley) flour
1/4 cup of rajgira (amaranth) flour
1/4 cup of jowar (pearl millet) flour
1/4 cup of ragi (red millet) flour
1 1/2 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of baking powder
A pinch of salt

Mix these ingredients together. Keep aside.

In another bowl, mix the following
3/4 cup of pumpkin puree (I peeled, cut and steamed pumpkin cubes with a little water for this and then ground to a paste)
1 tsp of orange rind
1/4 tsp of cinnamon powder
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of flax seeds, lightly roasted, powdered and mixed with 1/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of demerara sugar

Take the bowl with the flour mixture and create a well in the centre. Now add this mixture to the dry ingredients and fold everything together. In case the mixture is too dry then add some cold water or milk to get the right texture.

Pour the batter into a greased, lined loaf tin and sprinkle a mixture of flax, pumpkin and watermelon seeds on this. I also added some rajgira (amaranth) grains for texture but you can skip if you want to. Bake this for about 30-40 minutes at 180 degrees celsius. Remove from the oven when a skewer inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

When the loaf cools down, cut into slices and serve. This bread stays well in the fridge for about 4-5 days too and can be frozen for up to a week.

*If you want a non-vegan but eggless/vegetarian version then replace the flax meal with buttermilk or 1/4 cup of curds/yogurt

*You can use 2 cups of wheat flour instead of a five-grain flour too

*Add 1/4 cup of orange juice for extra flavour

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Eating through the Seven Sisters

As a devotee of all things edible I'm always on the lookout for something new - ingredients, dishes, equipment or even cuisines. So when I received an email from Rushina's APB Cook Studio about a Dine & Demo session on the food from the North East of India, particularly the Seven Sisters, I was intrigued. I had to admit that apart from some Bhut Jholokia pickle and, of course, momos, I hadn't tried much from this part of the country. More reason to attend the session, I thought.

Gitika Saikia was our guide for this culinary journey. I met up with some of the other guests and we all chatted about our experience with cuisine from the Seven Sisters. And there was someone else who mentioned momos too! I heaved a sigh of relief. So I wasn't the only one!

Before we sat down to dine, we had to finish the demo part of the afternoon. Gitika began by showing us how to make the Dau Jwng Sobai Jwng, a dish of chicken cooked with black dal, which is typical of the Bodo community from Assam.

In between all the sauteeing and stirring, she spoke to us about the cuisine of this region and how it uses a lot of indigenous herbs.

One of the interesting things was that most food here is steamed or boiled, hardly anything is fried! After the chicken, Gitika moved on to making a pork dish that was flavoured with a black sesame paste. The Donheiiong, which is from Meghalaya, tasted as unusual as it looked.

Then came the best part of the afternoon - delicious food over lots of conversation and laughter. Can it get better? Here's what we had.

The meal started off with drink, an appetizer, made from dried amla/awla and some herbs. This was sour but had a sweet after-taste.

After this we moved on to a watery, fish-based soup from Arunachal Pradesh called Pasa.

This soup used a herb called 'Mosola paan', which had aromas similar to Tarragon. Gitika had a lot of these with her and being the generous person that she is, she was only too happy to give me some to take home. I immediately started thinking up of dishes I could make with this - use it in a burnt butter sauce with some gnocchi or maybe make a clear chicken soup from it, would it taste good if I used it in a pesto? But before I could let my thoughts wander further it was time for the main course.

The main course featured the chicken and pork dishes that Gitika had shown us how to make. By now, the aromas had filled the room and all of us were waiting to dig in. Sticky rice, wrapped in banana leaves, was served along with these dishes. 

As an accompaniment we were also served some chutneys - one was made from a fermented soy bean paste, called Akhuni, this pungent chutney takes a little getting used to but we were told that it is one of the most popular dishes from Nagaland. The other chutney was a flavourful one made with dried sardines, onions and tomatoes, called Mosdeng Serma from Tripura. Along with this, there was also the Eromba, a dish of mashed potatoes and dry fish from Manipur, since I'm not a huge fan of potatoes I tried just a little. 

As we sampled the two chutneys and the Eromba we spoke about the diversity of North East cuisine and how it needs to get the attention that it deserves. Perhaps events like this would help, we echoed. 

Just as we thought we were done, huge bowls of something that looked like a clear soup with lots of veggies arrived at the table. We looked on in curiosity. Was this an Indian version of the famous clear soup, some of us asked. Gitika informed us that the dish was called Bai, from Mizoram, and it was the only vegetarian dish that day. This is a soup-like dish that features a lot of vegetables but the difference is that it is eaten with rice and not noodles, like we usually have a clear soup. The Bai had clean flavours, minimal seasoning which meant that the vegetables shone. I quickly asked Gitika for the recipe, I was sure this is something I would make at home. 

Next it was time for dessert. Thankfully what Gitika had planned was something light - puffed rice with cream and jaggery. Now I don't like cream but I love jaggery, so I considered skipping this dish. But when she told us that the jaggery was made at her home back in Assam, I was sold. 

I tried a little bit of the dessert, mixed the puffed rice with the cream vigourously to allow the golden, almost caramel-like shades of the jaggery to stain the entire dish and then I took a bite. Heaven. If I could get jaggery like this here, I would be such a happy girl! It was almost as if Gitika read my mind, "Would you like to take some with you?" she asked. Why would I refuse?

 So I went back home satiated with the drool-worthy meal, some recipes, some ingredients, a lot of memories, definitely a lot more enlightened about food from the North East. Now, all that's left is to make a trip to this part of the country! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A tip or two for some 'smooth' sailing

Smoothies. I just love them. They're great as breakfast on the go and even better when you want to put together something quick, as a snack or even something post a workout. But what I'm totally sold out about when it comes to smoothies is that - there is no limit to the combinations. In fact, it doesn't take more than three ingredients to make a drool-worthy smoothie. Some time ago I saw this infographic on three-ingredient smoothies and every since I've referred to it a gazillion times! Check it out here.

This is all you need to know
Source: Pinterest

When Williams-Sonoma asked me to do a post on smoothies for their Smoothie Week, there was no way I'd decline! You should take a look at their range of blenders, if you're a smoothie-addict like me then you're definitely going to start jotting down these in your wishlist!

Actually, if you've been around here a bit you'll find some yummy smoothies here. Like this Scary Smoothie, which is nothing but a simple banana-cinnamon one or this Banana, papaya & almond one which is a powerhouse of all things good. Most times I use yogurt or even oats to bulk up the smoothie, the other alternative is to use some avocado, because with this you're getting the volume and also a whole lot of goodness. Take a look at this Mango & avocado beauty here! Sometimes I also add some texture by throwing on some granola to top the smoothie. I make the granola at home and it is pretty simple, you can see it here.

I've been looking at Pinterest a lot these days for some inspiration when it comes to smoothies. So I thought I should share with you some of the tips that I've picked up, not only has it made the smoothies yummier it has also made life simpler.

The guide to making a smoothie here

If you are in a hurry then all you need is some clever planning. Look here and you'll be thanking me soon!

Isn't this such a brilliant idea?
Source: Pinterest
When I have a little time at hand I like to whip up a smoothie that's nutritious, delicious and filling like some of the ones here.

Three power breakfast smoothies for summer. I never would have thought of putting some of these ingredients in a smoothie!!
Source: Pinterest

If you're a health nut then check out these green smoothies

50 healthy green smoothie recipes!
Source: Pinterest

And finally, some of the smoothies here don't just look or taste good but they also make you feel on top of the world! Try it out!

Don't we all love smoothies?! Here are 14 smoothies recipes that will definitely boost your mood! #Fitgirlcode
Source: Pintrest

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Some Mediterranean food, lots of beer and a bunch of new experiences

In my long period of silence I had some delicious food to eat. Yes, I didn't cook much but I did eat, oh boy, I did! When you travel to cities like Chennai (which, for me, is home), Hyderabad and then Goa, food can't not be on your agenda. Never mind the fact that some of these trips were to do with work! One needs a reward at the end of the day, isn't it?

So I had my share of biryani and Andhra food in Hyderabad, Chennai was all about my favourite-st food in the world - dosas, biryani, rasam and food that transports me back to some of the best days of my life. Goa, which is all work and no play for me, was about the most stunning Sausage chilli fry and Goan pao at George's. And I must tell, well I would insist if I could, that you have to visit George's when you are in Goa next, they serve some of the best food I've eaten. The place itself is unpretentious, all you need is to take a bite of the croquettes or dig into the Sausage chilli fry and you'll become a devotee too. This fantastic place is adjacent to the Panjim church so it's really hard to miss! And yes, you can wash the food down with some beer. The truth is I've been to Goa so often this year that I'm now familiar with the roads and for me that's a sign of familiarity. This also reminds me, that I need to do a post on the food in this state, but let's keep that for later.

What I did want to talk to you about today is some of the great food that I've been having in Mumbai.

Last week the husband and I turned two! *blush* it was in the middle of the week so we took off from work and decided to go out for lunch. With so many restaurants opening up in the city we were spoilt for choice but we decided to go with something that a) we both enjoy and b)something that meant a lot to us. So we decided to head to Aqaba in Lower Parel. This one is located at Penninsula Business Park and is pretty easy to find. Aqaba serves Mediterranean food, the husband grew up in Dubai and hence the fondness for this cuisine.

The place is bright and has a spot of greenery too, something very rare in this city, so it puts you at ease immediately. To begin with we asked for an Orange and Walnut salad, which was exactly what we hoped it would be - light, fresh and (obviously) citrusy!

The food at Aqaba

We were starving so we quickly ordered the Mezze platter. We opted for the Lamb Kibbeh, Hummus Ghunam (which is hummus with roast lamb), Baba Ganoush, Shish Tawouk (grilled chicken skewers) and some Fatayer (which is a pastry filled with spinach, pine nuts and flavoured with sumac). All of the dishes came in small plates, which was great, and for us the Hummus and Fatayer were the clear winners.

Post the Mezze we realised that we wouldn't be too hungry so we settled on a pizza. We ordered for one with lamb mince, aubergine and flavoured with za'atar. Delicious wouldn't be the word to describe this. In fact, our pizza took some time to arrive and we were getting a little restless. But one bite and we were singing! For the dessert, the husband chose to stay safe and ordered a Tiramisu but I spotted something with bitter chocolate and caramel on the menu, so I knew that no matter how full I was, I had to have this. The portion of this mousse was generous, so much so that I couldn't finish it. The Tiramisu, on the other hand, was just alright. I've eaten better so I won't say much.


So that was about something that happened during the week and now, I'll tell you about the weekend.

I'd seen online that there was a craft beer festival happening in the city. A little more browsing revealed that there would we craft beer that's been brewed from different parts of the country along with some special brews, to go with this there would also be a lot of food. In all it promised to be a fun afternoon. The husband is a fan of beer and I've taken to the brew as well, so that was reason enough to go.

As we stepped into Wodehouse Gymkhana on Sunday afternoon, the first thought that came to my mind was, "This is like a carnival!" And it was, tents of food stalls, beer flowing, lots of chatter in the air, the aroma of some great food and the sound of music. We took a look around first and decided that we just had to try the Pork belly salad from Eddie's. So we got ourselves an Indian Pale Ale and a Bombalore to go with it. The ale was smooth, the other brew had bitter overtones but it grew on you and the salad, oh man, the salad it made us want to burst into a song, we broke into a grin at the first bite and there was just happiness all around. It was one of those dishes that you fall head-over-heels for. Slurp! I want. Again. Sigh!

With tender pieces of pork belly, fresh greens, a flavourful dressing and studded with pork crisps, this salad was a winner

Look, just look, at those shades of beer

Suddenly we realised that we were quite hungry so we got some Poutine, which is French fries with a topping and cheese, we went in for the lamb mince version. The Poutine was yumm. And then we had some superb Pepperoni pizza, which was how a good pizza should be.

Yes, the Poutine isn't the smartest snack but boy, is it delicious?

Can't go wrong with pizza like this

Then I went and got us some more beer. This time another special brew and one called Cider. The latter was the standout of the evening, it was light, fruity and just addictive! If there was one brew I would go back for it would be this, I declared. And I did. Twice. *grins again*

There was Sushi and I just had to have it

Ah! That's what a good burger looks like

The husband decided the moment he spotted the burger stall by Woodside that he had to get himself one, so he got this Chicken piri piri burger with bacon. The burger patty was delish - spicy, herby and juicy; the bacon added that wonderfully smoky touch. Drool! This time I opted for some Sushi - salmon and crab - to go with the beer. I know Sushi and beer is not a very common combination but, if you know me well enough you'll know I don't do common. I was a happy girl, okay, fine, high, at the end of it and the husband was pleased with all the beer and grub. We agreed that this had the trappings of a perfect, lazy Sunday afternoon. And we also agreed that the city needs more events like these. Here's hoping! Cheers!

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