Saturday, 30 August 2014

What's in a name?

Yes we all know there is no ham in Hamburger and no part of a dog goes into the making of a hot dog. But if you thought those were the only misnomers in the food world, brace yourself. Things get a whole lot weirder when it comes to food names, propelling unsuspecting diners to make wrong choices or give up a perfectly delicious dish. Almost three years ago I had written a story about such dishes for the newspaper I then worked for. I thought it'll be fun adding a few more to the list and sharing them with you. I had real fun compiling this and making those crazy 30 second doodles, can I even call them doodles? I have also included links to a few of the recipes. Anyway I am hoping you'll have fun reading it. If you can think of more dishes with peculiar names, do write to me in the comments section. 

Tiger meat

What you might think 



What is really is 



No you won't be facing criminal charging for having having the meat of an endangered species for evening snack. Tiger meat is actually raw minced beef seasoned with garlic, celery, cayenne pepper and sometimes a hint of Tabasco sauce, spread on crackers and topped with a generous sprinkle of freshly grated cheddar cheese, a great hit in the USA

If you fancy some, HERE is a recipe I quite like

Ants on a log 


What you think it is 



What it really is




No, don't cringe yet. It is ok if you feel repelled by of the idea of picking out those creepy, crawly, six-legged creatures off a fungus infested piece of wood. This dish is anything but that. Ants on a log is the name for peanut butter slathered celery dotted with raisins. It's all about imagination, you see. 

There is not much to this dish, merely slather peanut butter on celery cut in sticks and top it up with raisins. Of course you could substitute raisings with dried black currants, cranberries, etc. Good to chomp on for a midday snack. 

Toad in a hole




What it really is 



 Forget ants, fancy toads do you?  It’s a traditional English recipe in which sausages are baked in a Yorkshire pudding batter and served with boiled vegetables, mashed potatoes and onion gravy. By the way frog's meat is actually very tasty, a lot like chicken, in fact softer. 

You could make a regular toad in the hole or you could try this amazing recipe by Jamie Oliver 

Angels on horseback  


What it really is 


So much for fancy name huh! No there are no winged angels made of sugar paste, and no there is no horse meat either. This absolutely delicious hot appetizer is nothing but oysters wrapped in bacon. Sometimes it is served as a main course, on a bed of rice and topped with a special sauce. 

In Calcutta Mocambo serves this dish, they use chicken instead of oysters and the bacon wrapped chicken come on a bed of rice which has sausages in it, topped with a sauce and potatoes and peas on the side. My absolute favourite. 

Ktzizot Kipod 

What you think it is 


What it really is


The name of this Israeli specialty literally translates to Porcupine meatballs. But again, don't get all squeamish yet. No you won't risk the chance of a porcupine quill punctured tongue. What you are looking at here are meatballs made with meat, rice ad breadcrumbs, in a gravy. The way the rice sicks out from the meatballs, just like the quills of a porcupine, earns the dish its name. 


I found this recipe on a blog about Jewish Food. 

Spaccadenti 


What you think it is 

What it really is 



You might want to pass this one if you came to know what the name of this Italian bite means. Well, it means, 'done to break your teeth'. In reality no one is known to have broken a tooth eating these delicious Italian biscotti made mostly with honey ad hazelnuts. 

Strozza Suocere 

What you think it is 



What it really is


Oh don't get your hopes high. The name might suggest something like designed to kill you mother-in-law but the truth is that it is only an innocuous little Italian cookie, unless you sneak in some rat poison into the cookie dough. Don't get ideas, be nice you. 

Welsh Rabbit  


What you think it is 

What it really is 

You are probably imagining a sumptuous rabbit stew, perhaps invented in the Welsh wilderness by hungry hunter centuries ago. Stop right there. There is no rabbit involved in this dish. And it's not a meaty stew. It is cheese on toast. Albeit delicious, with bechamel sauce and mustard and all, but cheese on toast. It is also called Welsh Rarebit 

You can't go wrong with this one. I particularly like Alton Brown's recipe 

 Gun Powder 

What you think it is 

What it really is 

No, you don't have to run for cover. Yes, there will be fire alright. Gun powder is a fiery mix of spices from the south of India, often had like a chutney on the side. It's red colour gives it the likeness of gun powder, hence the name. It is finger-licking good but be ready to have your mouth set on fire. 


Ask me again...what's in a name? 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Murgh Teen Pyaaza

Years ago, I was a child really,  I remember going through a phase when every time I ate at an Indian restaurant I ordered for a Murgh Do Pyaaza. This happened after I had discovered the dish during a visit to Delhi. I took a fancy to the dish like it was nobody's business. I especially liked fishing for those pearl onions and claimed each one that came with a plate of this spicy goodness. No one was allowed to have those pearl onions. My parents of course grew tired of ordering for the same dish every time. They tried to trick me now and then, but I wouldn't listen. Yeah I was stubborn when it came to food. Once I had demanded a chicken do pyaaza at a Chinese joint, Waldorf I think. My mother's palm had done the talking that time. And then the phase was over, and for years now I have never ordered for a do pyaaza again. 

Anyway, why do you think Murgh Do Pyaaza is called so. I always thought because the traditional recipe uses onions in two different avatars, regular onions (sliced or minced) and often pearl onions (whole). Going by that logic, I trumped up this dish which I am calling Chicken Teen Pyaaza. Onions, used in three different avatars, enjoy the glory spot in this spicy curried chicken.



It is true that I like to cook with fewer ingredients, but there are days when I keep adding spices, this and that, to a dish and create something new impromptu. This dish owes it origin to one of those crazy days in the kitchen. I had set out with a game plan, of course it metamorphosed into something else. But the result was outright delicious. I had no intention of sharing it on the blog, but my brother insisted I do, he liked it that much. So I made it again. Clicked a few pictures and here it is. 


Ingredients

Boneless chicken - 800 g  
Minced Garlic - 1 tsp 
Minced Ginger - 1 tsp 
Tomato puree - 4 tbsp 
Cinnamon powder - 1/2 tsp 
Roasted cumin powder - 1 tsp (heaped) 
Cashew nuts - 100 g 
Coarsely ground peppercorns - 1 tbsp 
Butter - 50+50 g 
Vegetable oil as required  
Whole red chilies (soaked in warm water) - 3-4 
(1) Onions thinly sliced - 3 large or 4 medium 
(2) Onions thinly sliced - 2 large 
Spring onion - finely chopped - 1 cup 
Baby tomatoes - 5-6 
Vinegar - 1 cup 
Chopped green chilies - 2 tbsp 
Salt to taste 
Sugar to taste 


Method 

In a bowl toss in the sliced onions (2) and chopped green chilies. Pour in the vinegar so that it covers the onions. Leave this for at least a couple of hours

Saute the cashew nuts in butter, cool and grind into a fine paste. Keep aside. 

Heat oil in a large pan and deep fry the thinly sliced onion (1) until a deep golden brown. Sprinkle a little sugar while frying the onions for a richer colour.  Do not burn the onions. 

Once the fried onions cool, in a blender make a paste of the onions and soaked whole red chilies. Keep aside. 

Now in a heavy bottomed pan, heat the remaining butter and a table spoon of vegetable oil. 

Add the ginger and garlic paste and fry until golden in colour. 

Add the chicken pieces and fry on high heat. Now add the tomato puree and the pureed fried onions and continue to fry until oil separates. Add salt, sugar, cinnamon powder and fry for another couple of minutes. Cover and cook until chicken softens. You might add a little water if it seems too dry, but it's unlikely you'll need it. 

Remove cover, add the finely chopped spring onions, baby tomatoes, roasted cumin powder, ground peppercorns and the cashew nut paste. Stir well and let it simmer on medium low heat until chicken is absolutely tender and oil separates. 

Remove from heat and add the vinegar-soaked onions and chilies, mix well. 

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve hot with rotis or paranthas.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Payesh Tarts with chunky cherry sauce : Birthday Blast


I am bored easily. I find it difficult to do one thing for long. And you are most likely to disagree with my notion of long. It is like a chronic disease. I am always looking for something else to do. One advice I get often is "Learn to focus, persevere." I haven't learnt how. I do not think I want to. Life is fun that way. Never knowing what you will do next or not do at all. Tripping slipping, sprinting and strolling through life goaded by impulse alone. Or should I say whim. So it surprises me that I stuck to this blog, which I started exactly a year ago. Yes today is my baby's birthday.

Before I started Let's talk Food, I had tried blogging twice. I started but never continued. Two posts, three at the most, and I was done. But this time something happened. I fell in love with it. So much so that I woke up one morning and decided to quit my job so that I could blog full time. And at that point, hardly anyone knew about the blog. But the satisfaction it gave me was matchless. The blog is my job now, and it is an amazing feeling, waking up every morning looking forward to work.

People ask me if it is a real career. If I make money, the more polite ones ask how is it economically viable. I don't make money from my blog. I do not know if I ever will. But the kind of gleeful satisfaction I get nurturing this blog, no salary-paying, incentive-giving job has. Not that I am not worried about the fact that my steadily dwindling bank balance (I am near broke now) will put me in a sticky spot soon! Anyway, the bottom line is I am psyched to celebrate the first anniversary of my blog and I'd like to say cheers to that. Of course, the blog would mean nothing if you do not read it. So thank you very much for visiting my space and encouraging me, just with your presence. Some of you have had the kindest words to say as well, and for that I am so glad.

Ok it is beginning to sound like an award ceremony speech.OK don't frown. OK I'll stop.

Coming to the thing that matters. What's a birthday without a party and what's a party without food. The last few days I have been brainstorming. I really wanted to post something special for you today. I was toying with the idea of baking a birthday cake, but I was not convinced. So I asked my mother. Mothers have answers to every question you could trump up. And this time too she had an answer. She said, forget cake, think in terms of paayesh, Bengali rice pudding.

Why didn't I think about that. I mean, what's a birthday without a bowl of thick, creamy paayesh? Every year on my birthday I wake up to the smell of Ma making paayesh. It is my birthday scent. I mean if I had to describe how a birthday smells, I would describe the smell of paayesh. Not that anyone is crazy enough to ask for such a description. But you do get the point right? That's what matters. Making paayesh on our (my brother's too) birthdays is like a sacred ritual for Ma. It is important she takes a bath and performs the puja before she enters the kitchen to make the paayesh. No one is allowed to touch it before the birthday person has it. And even the birthday person cannot touch it until lunch time. It makes me feel special. My mother struggles to work in the kitchen owing to her health issues and yet no matter how she is feeling, she makes that paayesh each and every birthday. And she makes a fabulous deal out of it. Of course, not just me, but almost every Bengali kid has grown up on the Birthday Paayesh ritual.

I like my paayesh neither runny, nor too thick, and never too sweet. And I do not like too much spice in it. By spice I mean the usual cardamom and bay leaves that go into it. Or I won't have it at all. Anyway, so I decided today's post would be around paayesh. But what twist can I give. Flavoured paayesh is nothing new. So I brainstormed some more, and of course I frowned, nagged and cribbed all the while. And then it struck me and I am mighty proud of what I have made for you today. So I made paayesh alright. But then I pored it into tart shells and baked it in the oven. And then I topped it with some chunky cherry sauce. Voila. Exotic and comforting all at the same time, isn't it. The other day I had this beautiful Mihidana Tart from Banchharam's sweet shop and loved it. That's where I got the idea from. But the cherry sauce just gave the tart another dimension. People at home loved it, I think you will too.


Ingredients 

For the tartshell 

Short crust dough. I followed Jamie Oliver's Recipe, using only half the measurement mentioned here, to make 6 tarts

For the cherry sauce 
Cherries - 200 g
Sugar - 1.5 tbsp
Water- 3 tbsp
Lemon juice - 1 t
Gobindobhog rice - 100g
Full fat milk- 1 litre
Sugar- 2 tbsp
Sweetened condensed milk/ Milkmaid - 2 tbsp
Ghee/clarified butter- 1/2 tsp
Cardamom pods - 2


Method 

Ingredients
Short Crust dough
(I have used Jamie Oliver's Recipe, but to make six tarts as I have, use exactly half the measurements mentioned in the recipe)



For cherry sauce 
Mix the cherry, sugar and water in a pan and place it on the heat. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer until the cherries are soft. Turn up heat and let it bubble away for another couple of minutes. Add lemon juice, stir well and remove from heat. Cool it and store it in the refrigerator, covered.


For paayesh 

Wash the rice, drain and spread it on a kitchen towel or tissue paper to dry off completely.

Once the rice is dry, add ghee and mix well, so that the grains are well laced with ghee.

Bring milk to a boil in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the cardamom pods and turn heat down to medium low and reduce the milk to half. Stir often.

Fish out the cardamom pods and add the rice. Let the milk and rice simmer together until rice is almost done. At this point add sugar and stir well. Cook until the paayesh is thicky and creamy.

Add the condensed milk, stir well and remove from heat. Let it come down to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.



For the tart

Divide the short crust dough into eight equal parts. Roll them into discs slightly bigger that the tart tins on a flour dusted surface. .

Now line each tart tin with the rolled out dough discs. Work the dough downward into the tin with your fingers rather than pull or stretch it upwards around the edges.

Fill them up with paayesh and pop into a preheated oven at 180 degree centigrade for 25 minutes or until the tart shells are a deep golden brown.

Serve topped with the cherry sauce and some fresh cherries on the side. Make sure the cherry sauce is poured just before eating the tart or the tart will turn soggy.



PS. Do not forget to participate in our Birthday Blast Contest. An awesome prize to be won.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Birthday Blast Contest

 Let's Talk Food turns ONE tomorrow. Thank you all for the support and encouragement. But what's a birthday without a party. And a contest too. Send in one of your own recipes to priyadarshini.chatterjee@gmail.com with Birthday Party in the SUBJECT LINE. I will try out the most interesting recipes and the best one will be featured on the blog with due credits. And a wonderful prize, let's call it a gift, shall be your way. Please participate and make this event a success. CONTEST CLOSES ON AUGUST28 11:59 PM



Rules and Regulations


1. Any individual above 18 is allowed to participate in the contest. Should anyone below 18 like to participate, they must provide permission from parents/guardian to participate in the contest along with their entry 

2. Participants must enclose their name, age and profession with their entries. 

3. All entries must be original recipes only. No plagiarism (recipes taken from books or websites, or cookery shows) shall be entertained. By participating in this contest the entrant agrees to send an original recipe only. 

4. Exact measurements for ingredients and detailed procedure must be provided. 

5. The final decision and result is the sole discretion of Let's Talk Food. 

6. The winner must agree to sharing a profile photograph and a short bio to be featured on the blog. 

6. Your entries shall be treated as your confirmation to adhere to the above rules. 

Friday, 22 August 2014

Keema Kofta: A Family Heirloom


This post is special. The dish I am going to share with you is special still. A recipe that has been a guarded treasure handed down through 5 generations of my aunt’s family. It is no less than a family heirloom and definitely one of my aunt’s most prized bequests. When my aunt married my uncle, that was nearly half a century ago, the recipe became our family’s pride too, as it had become in three other families into which her three other sisters married. Keemar Kofta, but no ordinary ones. Spicy Kofta, or meatballs, crammed with raisins poached in a spiced caramel jus infused with juices from the meat.

I have grown up devouring, craving, fervently waiting for Maiji’s Kofta. Every time she would make it, I would not leave her side in the kitchen, watching all the while as she trumped up her signature dish Maiji, that’s what I call her, has beautiful hands, long, slim fingers and I loved watching her sculpt the meatballs. She made it look like a sacred art. And then when she would skillfully drop the meat balls into the bubbling caramel water I would hold my breath till the last kofta was let into the pan. And then I would wait. It was such an ordeal, the waiting. But it paid off since I always got to taste first and I always got an extra one. 

 I remember one incident revolving around the kofta that didn’t end on such a sweet note for me. I was in school back then -a petulant teenager, not an innocent child.  Maiji had made a batch of kofta to be served to guests for lunch the following afternoon. My exams were underway, and that meant late night studies which in turn meant late night snacking. I had seen the bowl of kofta go into the fridge earlier in the evening, I kept thinking about it and could hardly concentrate on Sher Shah Suri. So I thought, I would have just one. So I went to the dining room, opened the fridge and popped a cold kofta into my mouth. It was so good despite being cold. I popped another one.Then I lost control and throughout the night I made innumerable trips to the dining room popping one kofta after another until less than half was left. I had had bowlfuls of the jus as well. When I did realize what I had done, I only made one more blunder. I added two bowls of water to the kofta bowl in my panic, to fill up the bowl. Next morning I left for school an hour early, I needed to study before the test I said. However, when I returned my mother was waiting for me with a wooden stick we had brought from Puri, Those ones hurt like crazy. My mother had sworn to break my legs. And that day though I didn’t end with a broken anything, I can still remember my burning cheeks after it had made contact with my Maa’s palms.

It is strange how no one in our house, not my mother neither my other aunts, ever tried making the dish. They always turned to Maiji whenever they craved the legendary Kofta. My aunt always said that she would have to take the recipe to the grave. “After me, no one will get to taste the kofta,” she rued. When I started cooking Maiji turned to me with hope. And though I maintained I will take kofta lessons soon, I always evaded it. Actually I was scared. The dish has such an iconic status in my house, and Maiji was such a pro at it, I hesitated in fear of making a fool out of myself. But when my sister-in-law, another fabulous cook, mustered the courage to make it, though she had initially forgotten to make the caramel and had added the kofta to plain boiling water, (she redeemed it later though) I finally decided I to take the plunge.I have never been so nervous while trying a new dish as I was this time. Maiji has no specific measurements for the recipe, she doesn’t need measurements, she simply knows. So, what I had was a list of ingredients, an outline of the procedure and my memory to guide me. 




Maiji insisted I feel the dish with all my senses, “enjoy the process of making it,” mull over the texture of meat as I mash it, relish the sight of the caramel jus bubbling away, take in the aroma of the whole spices flavouring the jus, listen to the hissing and whooshing inside the pan when I add water to the caramel. So, after an anxiety ridden afternoon I finally put on my apron and took the kitchen over.I was trying to emulate Maiji all the while, even in the way my finger moved through the meat, the way I carefully dropped the meat balls, one by one, from one corner of the pan, into the bubbling jus. I watched as the meatballs simmered, and how the jus, now infused with juices from the meatball gradually reduced and took on a dark brown colour, I caressed the caramel coating on the meatballs with my eyes. Of course, every few minutes I dipped a spoon in and tasted. Finally, the dish was ready, and though I wouldn't confess yet, my heart did do a somersault after I tasted the dish the final time, before taking it off.

10 upon 10 Maiji said, and my brother, her son and my greatest critic after my mother, had disbelief on his face. “I couldn’t make out a difference, he said.” Earlier in the evening he had teased me saying this was going to be my greatest kitchen disaster. “No one can make kofta like my mother, you know that right?” he had said. And now he was raving about it. Ye perhaps he was exaggerating a little when he said it was as good as Maiji’s, but I was happy to have come close at least.  

And with Maiji’s permission I am sharing the recipe with you guys. 






Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Easy Chicken Pepper Fry


The past few days I have been thinking about a trip I took years ago. A whirlwind tour really. It was such a mad rush of a tour that I have a hard time digging up the memories or merely the residue of it, typically random, mostly fuzzy impressions. The reason why I was forced to take this trip is something I am yet to wrap my brains around. So, I was accompanying a friend and her family on a trip to South East Asia, yes the standard Thailand-Malaysia-Bangkok circuit, a package tour by the way conducted by a local travel agency who promised us authentic Indian food every day on the trip, much to my disdain and many of the others relief. This was back in 2007. However, it was my first trip abroad and boy was I psyched. However, my friend’s father was a banker and the group we were travelling with comprised his colleagues and their family. Now apparently some weird rule requires employees of nationalized banks to touch the furthest tip of the country before they can leave the country. So our travel agent had crafted a six day itinerary for a hurricane trip of South India.

After what I am convinced was the worst train journey I will ever take, we reached Chennai at 4 in the morning and were greeted by hammering rain - thunder bolts, lightening, the entire package. We waited in the not-so-inviting waiting room for a few hours, 4 precisely, fighting fatigue, boredom and irritation with a vengeance, and finally boarded our bus to Pondicherry at 8:30. Pondicherry was delightful, the French quarters charming, the food delicious, but we only had a night designated for this stop, besides we were dead tired, so exploration was at a minimum. I do remember the evening by the sea, it was windy and we sat there somewhere along the promenade chomping on bhajiyas and sipping on coffee. Next day we took a trip to Auroville and the same evening we had a train to catch from this small station called Villupuram. I shall never forget that episode. The train stops at the station for a minute and a half and we were forty of us, and each one of us with a truckload of luggage. We waited at the platform, relieved that we had strategically parked ourselves exactly where our compartment would grind to halt. When the train came an hour later we all watched shocked, our mouth agape as our compartment swooshed by, moving away, further and further away. I have never ran like that in my life. No one has seen me run like that. I don’t want to think about it. It was nothing short of a miracle that all of us finally managed to tumble into the compartment.

Next morning we reached Kanya Kumari and I was besotted. I have never seen such colours of the ocean before. For me the visit to the Vivekananda Rock was by far the highlight of the tour. I will never forget sitting along in a corner of the temple courtyard looking out into the deep blue sea only to shift my head just a little to see its brilliant green glory, further up it seemed a dark, steel grey. That evening I spent hours on the hotel balcony watching the Vivekananda Rock in it resplendent glory amidst a sea of pitch black.
Next morning we drove to Kovalam. The beach was unusually (or is it) deserted except for a few fishermen tending their boats and nets. I was down with a pitiful stomach ache which unfortunately the otherwise moving sound of waves crashing against the shore could do little to soothe. Later we drove back to Chennai. Or did we take a train. Next day we did a half day tour of Chennai followed and the same night, exhausted and tanned beyond recognition we boarded our Thai Airways flight to Bangkok.

In retrospect, the one thing I regret about this tour is the fact that I couldn’t sample much of the food there. And my soft spot for South Indian flavours is no secret. Yes I did have a couple of memorable meals in Pondicherry and one thali meal in Chennai I still drool thinking about, but I can’t wait to take a trip down south sometime soon to sample the extraordinary fare. What I am getting at with this recollection is today’s recipe inspired by Southern flavours. I love Kerala mutton pepper fry and this dish Chicken Pepper fry takes inspiration from the dish, at least in essence. In my verson, which is a quick and easy version of the iconic dish, I use fewer spices but with maximum results. In this recipe I wanted the coarsely ground black pepper to enjoy the glory spot. It is done in 15 minutes plus time for prepping (which isn’t much either) and is one of my favourite doses of fiery goodness.


Ingredients

Boneless chicken diced into small pieces – 700 g
Whole red chilies – 4-5
Finely chopped onions – 1 cup
Garlic paste – 2 tsp
Ginger paste – 1 tbsp
Curry leaves – 10 + 5-6
Coarsely ground black pepper – 2.5 tbsp
Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Yoghurt – 100 g
Vegetable oil as required 


Method

Heat vegetable oil in a deep bottomed pan. Once oil is hot add the garlic and ginger paste and fry until a deep golden.
Now add the onions, 10-12 curry leaves and whole dry red chilies.
Fry on medium heat until the onion is translucent and soft.
Turn up the heat, add the chicken, turmeric powder and black pepper powder and fry until all the juices from the chicken have dried up and chicken is almost tender. Oil must separate at this stage. Adjust heat along the way.
Cover and cook chicken for a few minutes until absolutely tender.
In a bowl beat yoghurt, remaining curry leaves and salt to taste along with a pinch of sugar.
Add this to the chicken and stir until the yoghurt is well blended, crank up the heat for the last two minutes to dry up any trace of liquid. Keep stir frying all the while.

Serve with plain rice or paranthas. 


Monday, 18 August 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey and a few favourites


The last time she called my friend M insisted I watch filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom’s latest release, The Hundred Foot Journey. “It is all about food, I hear,” she said, “You must go catch a show.” The film is a feast for the eyes, she said.  Yes I could trust Lasse Hallstrom to trump up dribble- inducing, hunger-pangs-provoking, lip-smacking visual feasts that’ll make you shift in your seat and ache for a bite of the gorgeous food on screen. 

Remember Chocolat, the 2000 film about a young woman who winds up at a conservative French village and opens her chocolaterie during Lent provoking consternation of the townsfolk and the wrath of Count Paul de Reynaud. Yes the one starring Julliette Binoche and Johnny Depp? It is one of my favourite films, especially for the visual indulgence it offers. I have drooled over the thought of steaming mug of luscious, hot chocolate infused with exotic chili pepper or the chocolate seashells, I can almost imagine their gooey goodness lace the insides of my mouth, and the velvety sheen of the chocolate ganache, and the swirls of white and dark chocolate.  All that chocolate and on top of it Johnny Depp, the film actually calls for a drool deluge.

So this weekend I took M’s suggestion, booked two tickets for an afternoon show at INOX, tricked a friend into joining me and finally watched the film.

Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val is a ridiculously charming French village and the supercilious and exceptionally successful restaurateur Madame Mallory is one of its most distinguished inhabitants. Her chic restaurant Le Saule Pleureur, a sensation in the world classical French gastronomy, boasts a dazzling list of patrons that includes the French President. But Madame Mallory’s life and the fate of her restaurant face a startling crisis when the raucous Kadams, a family of Indian émigrés who left their homeland after a tragic event, seeking their fortune in Europe, move into the house, across the street, exactly 100 feet away. And to add to her woes the family’s irrepressible and willful patriarch, Papa, is hell-bent on opening and running a traditional Indian restaurant, right there.

The film starring Helen Mirren and our very own Om Puri, narrates a heartwarming, and appetizing, tale featuring a motley bunch of characters that touch your heart. And a generous drizzle of humor, a dash of emotions, a smattering of mushy romance, together crank up the film’s feel-good quotient. But above all it is a particularly good-looking film. With the stunning, beatific beauty of rural France as a backdrop and an abundance of saliva-jerking gastro-porn, the film is indeed a feast for the eyes.

The opening sequence of the film transports you to a classic Indian fish market, and amidst the deafening din, the haggling and yelling, a young boy cracks open a sea urchin, scoops out its rue with his fingers and puts it into his mouth, licking up the last vestiges, and savours it with such ecstatic pleasure that’ll make you grab one of those balls of needle like spikes yourself. However, I do not particularly fancy sea hedgehogs!
But few minutes later the sight Hassan Kadam, the protagonist, is busy grilling yoghurt and spice-laced chunks of meat and chicken legs and lobsters on a charcoal grill, under a tarpaulin tent, amidst torrential rains, had me squirming in my seat, my buttered popcorn suddenly bland.

And then there were the five delicious mother sauces of French cooking, béchamel, Hollandaise, Espagnole, Tomate and Veloute in small glasses served with a tempting assortment of classic French cold cuts, I couldn’t get my mind off. Even the heirloom spice box encasing jars of spices like Elaichi, Kalonji and Madras Masala, a bequest of Hassan Kadam, passed on to him by his late mother, evokes a yearning for a spicy Murgh Masalam, in this case paired with a classic French wine, I would go for a Chenin Blanc, I think.

And who could sit still with the most luscious looking Boeuf Bourguignon a la Hassan, stuffed pigeon in truffle sauce in sight but not a morsel to sample. And of course there were the delectable canapés Madame Mallory serve on Bastille Day and mind boggling spectacle of molecular gastronomy. And of course the fluffy omelet that decided the course of the protagonist’s life. Culinary consultant and Floyd Cardoz is the man behind the delectable dishes that make the film so appetizing and their stunning presentation. He has orchestrated a brilliant fusion of classic French cooking and the nuances of Indian culinary traditions with the infusion of Indian spices like cardamom and cumin. In fact, Le Cordon Bleu has come up with special recipes inspired by the dishes as portrayed in the film.

The storyline is pretty simple and straightforward. It doesn’t stun you with a sudden twist in the plot, or overwhelm you with emotions. It has a few slothful sequences and to me the film falls short of potryinf the seductive chemistry between the protagonists and food which it sets out too achieve. But it has a quaint appeal that’ll warm your heart. I have read reviews that declare the film predictable. I would say it is only partly predictable, and definitely not stale. Yes the film does begin on a note of obsessive rivalry between the conceited Madame Mallory (Hellen Mirren) flabbergasted by the rambunctious ways of her alien neighbours and intimidated by the extraordinary culinary ingenuity of the young Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), and the headstrong Mr. Kadam, Hassan’s father, who undeterred by Madame Mallory’s Michelin starred glory and is determined to give the French a taste of his son’s exceptional culinary skills. You might begin to wonder if it would end in the dramatic triumph of the culinary underdogs, the Indian family in this case, over the high and mighty, in this case a disdainful French restaurateur.

But the film turns out to be more about embracing differences, cultural or gastronomical, rather than resisting them. And it turns our Madame Mallory has a heart after all and can’t stand firm against Hassan’s honest and indomitable passion for cooking.  The Hundred Foot journey is not only one between the two rival restaurants; it’s a journey that seeks to bridge the gap between two absolutely different cultures.
Hellen Mirren, as is expected of her, delivers a superlative performance in the role of Madame Mallory, while the equally talented Om Puri matches steps with the flair of a seasoned actor, in the shoes of the somewhat-crude but endearing Papa. Manish Dayal successfully conveys Hassan Kadam’s sacred love for cooking, while Charlotte Le Bon, in the role of Hassan’s romantic interest and a sous chef in Madam Mallory’s restaurant, is commendable. (I wish I could cycle around the French countryside in pretty floral dresses, or go mushroom picking in the picturesque woods in rural France)

FOODIE FILMS I LOVE
I am not saying these are the best food-centric films there are, but here’s my list of films I keep returning to especially for the delightful food, even if in a scene or two, they feature. I have a long list of gastro-films to watch though.Here I am sticking to Hollywood productions, will soon tell you about my list of Bollywood flicks that have some great gastro-mush if not porn! 


Chocolat: I have already told you why. And I’ll just add that I have always fantasized being Counf Renaurd in the scene where he succumbs to temptation and devours all the chocolate her can ad falls asleep in chocolate, literally, perhaps dreaming chocolaty dreams. And so I ask you what indeed could be more harmless, more innocent than a piece of chocolate?


Julie & Julia: The film intertwines the tale of the life of culinary legend Julia child and food blogger Julie Powell's journey through the challenge of cooking every dish in Julia’s first recipe book.. And the mere mention of Raspberry Bavarian Cream and chocolate soufflé is enough to make me return to a film again and again. In this case there was a lot of cooking going on to.  I do not have to tell you that the film evoked the first thoughts of turning to food blogging in whatshername.


Ratatouille: In the film a young cook is helped by a rat with exceptional culinary skills. I am not sure if I would like to have a rat, a culinary genius or not, in my own kitchen, but the idea seemed extremely endearing in a film. And I have been craving Ratatouille ever since I saw the film for the first time. Love the pun in the name of the film too



Charlie and the chocolate factory: The film sees five kids win the one of a kind opportunity to tour the world’s most awesome chocolate factory with its eccentric owner as the guide. What makes this film delectable? One, Johnny Depp again, he is equally delicious even as an eccentric candy maker. And of course the strawberry flavoured chocolate-coated fudge and raspberry kites with licorice instead of strings have featured in my dreams numerous times.



Waitress: Who could resist a film which has the protagonist, a young waitress who is a pie baking genius and invents a pie for every emotion or event of her life, trumping up a marshmallow mermaid pie or a quiche of egg and Brie cheese with a smoked ham center; it’s another story that it is called Bad Baby pie. And then there are dialogues like “You take bittersweet chocolate and don't sweeten it. You make it into a pudding and drown it in caramel.” For me Jenna’s rancid marriage to Psycho Earl and the salacious details of her affair with her doctor, all take a backseat when Jenna brings out the pie dish.
 


The Big Night : The film revolves around two brothers who own a traditional Italian restaurant. But their business is in a slump and they cannot mess up their only chance to save their restaurant. I will simply leave you with a few of the dishes they serve on their Big Night, which will decide their fate and the fate of their restaurant.  Pancetta and Rosemary Risotto Balls, Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Crostini, Melon and Virginia Ham, Timpano, Plum Clafouti and Chocolate glazed Chocolate Tart! By the way Timpano is nothing but a mouthwatering jumble of pasta, boiled eggs, cheese and meat encrusted in a giant pasta bowl, baked in a mold. 


Under the Tuscan Sun: A young writer goes on a vacation to Italy and ends up buying a villa in Tuscany. Her new home is where she wants to begin her new life. It’s a charming film with the fairy tale Tuscan countryside as a backdrop and I especially love the scene where the protagonist cooks the most amazing Italian delicacies for the group of men helping her restore the villa. 


All image courtesy Google Images 

Friday, 15 August 2014

Til wale Murgh tikka


"Aloft the banner's flying o'er ancient Hindustan, Ye Saffron, White and Green 
proclaiming Freedom's sweetest morn"

I had not planned to post an Independence Day Special. This morning, I thought, why not? Since I started blogging I have resisted making tri-coloured dishes on Independence Day and Republic Day. Too may of those appear around this time. However,  I had made these succulent til wale kebabs yesterday and clicked photographs of it, later while correcting the images I realised I had incorporated the three colours of our national flag in the photographs. So I said 'what the hell... join the party already' Cliches are fun too. 

Talking of cliche, another Independence Day cliche in this country is the debate if we are really free. I once participated in a debate with the motion "India is a pseudo democracy, freedom a mere illusion" It was one of the most engaging debates I have participated in, I spoke for the motion, and the house was in favour of the motion too. That was in school. Today I wouldn't want to indulge in that debate. I feel such debates boil down to mere ranting, finger-pointing and muck hurling. We all have opinions, we all know who are to blame for all that is hindering our rightful pursuit of freedom, we are all conscious of all that is wrong and we are even more conscious of our rights denied or flouted. However, very few of us ever give a thought to our duties. All the hullabaloo about how voting or not voting determines whether or not you are a responsible citizen, is all good. The problem is we go vote, take our responsible citizen certificate, in this case the dot of ink on your index finger, and then we sit back on our couch and watch television, convinced that we have fulfilled our responsibility, and wait for things to change. By the way, now a days hotels and restaurants are offering free drinks and food, if you go and vote. But you probably know that by now. 

Oh and when things don't change in a week or two the diatribes against a new government begin. "Oh we feel disillusioned, our hopes are razed to the ground, etc etc," we say, as if we could solve our mundane domestic problems that fast. And in an age when every one is a bona fide political commentator, it is exhausting really. However, we will do all of that, what we will never, ever do is take some responsibility ourselves. Oh we are paying taxes you'll say. You pay taxes for your house too, does it mean you don't maintain it? 

We put our patriotism caps on this day, declare our love for our motherland, some of us shed a few tears too (what's our country without some drama), hum "mere desh ki dharti", "hum honge kaamiyaab' (Bollywood has taught us songs our indispensible to the expression of emotions)etc , the truth is this country is perhaps the most brazen example of "utter disregard for a fellow citizen." We do not care. All we really do is hark back to days of yore, barking (yes bark...not merely bask) in the glory of our distant past, making claims to our illustrious cultural heritage, while in reality all that is nothing but history. And tomorrow when our present  becomes history, it would be one of utter degeneration and decay, of tale of an entire nation's festering dreams.

OK I am ranting too. Who dare take the Indian out of the woman. 

Today, for every one in this country I wish the freedom of choice. For ultimately it all boils down to the choices we make in life. Every choice we make has a larger connotation that affects more than just our lives. 
And I wish this world freedom from all things that divide,  freedom from them and us, freedom from you and me. And for myself I wish freedom from my own vices.

Yes I watched Narendra Modi's speech ceremony. No I couldn't resist giving a speech myself. That's another thing we are awesome at....Speech. We take freedom of Speech very seriously, quite literally and without a thought!

Coming back to my Til wale Murgh Tikka, I had it a few days ago at a Punjabi specialty restaurant in town, fiery chicken tikka with traces of coarsely ground sesame in its crust. and loved them. Of course I couldn't coax and cajole their guarded recipe out, so I trumped up my own. These ones are great too a more sesame. I love the nuttiness especially 


Ingredients 

Boneless Chicken - 1 kg
Sesame seeds (white til) - 100 gms
Thick yoghurt - 180 g + 2 tbsp
Garlic paste = 1 tbsp
Ginger paste - 1 tbsp
Coarsely ground cardamom - 1 tsp
Red chili powder - 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil - 6 tbsp
Melted butter for brushing


Method 

Marinate the chicken with all the ingredients listed, overnight or for at 4-6 hours.

Preheat the over at 200 degree centigrade.

Thread the marinated chicken pieces onto wooden skewers and grill in the over at 200 degrees for 30 minutes or until chicken is tender and a dark saffron in colour. Midway through, bring out the chicken and brush them generously with melted butter.

You could crank up the heat to 250 degrees for a few minutes towards the end to get those charred edges.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Tears of Joy: Bhutanese Food Festival at The Park Kolkata

I think I have an invisible genie at my service these days. All I need to do is obsess over a kind of cuisine for a couple of days and I receive an invite for a food festival showcasing that very cuisine in my inbox. First it was Chettinad, now Bhutanese.

I had never tasted Bhutanese food before but I was smitten nonetheless. Chilies, cheese, rice, potatoes, dried meat, what else do you want? Beside, I love how each dish is simple yet delicious and has only few, mostly fresh,  ingredients. Bhutan is still on my list of places yet to see, but luckily I got a chance to sample the beautiful mountain country’s fiery cuisine at The Park Kolkata’s Oriental restaurant Zen a few days ago. Chef Dorjee, a native of Bhutan, and Chef Sharad Dewan, Area Director(F&B), have together crafted an elaborate menu showcasing some of Bhutan;s treasured recipes for the ongoing Bhutanese Food Festival and they promised authenticity and superlative taste. Chef Dorjee had  some of the ingredients imported all the way from his homeland and that evening he cooked up a storm for us. Or should I say a firestorm…


The meal started on a rather innocuous note, innocuous yes, but not insipid. A warm, filling bowl of comforting goodness, the Thhup, a thick soup (it has a more porridge-like consistency) made with Bhutan’s heirloom red rice, the country’s most cherished staple, and slivers of tender chicken, mildly spiced and garnished with finely chopped coriander leaves. Of course, you could add a dash of chili flakes to crank up the spice quotient, but I found it just as good without the chili flakes served alongside. Other than the beautiful soft russet hue, the red rice gives the thhup a distinct nuttiness and these heartening earthy notes I particularly enjoyed. I think I would best enjoy the dish on a cold winter night, in bed, under my favourite quilt, listening to my grandmother recount tales from her distant childhood. 


A typical Bhutanese cucumber salad, Chompa, and whole Poblano chilies, stuffed with butter and char-grilled, came up next. The Chompa is basically a salad made with diced cucumber and onions dressed with a moderately hot cheese and chili dressing. The dish is one of contrasts, while the cucumber is cooling on the palate; the chili cheese dressing has a distinct peppery kick. But it was the grilled, butter-stuffed Poblano chilies that made me take my first hasty glugs of water and order a can of coca cola.  Let me tell you one thing, the Poblano is quite the trickster. So, at the first bite, I rolled my eyes and I declared this is a cake walk, “Gimme some heat,” I said. I took a bigger bite the second time, and this time I could feel my eyes beginning to well up. By the time I took the third bite, my mouth was on fire. I bit my tongue for being flippant, took a few glugs of chilled water and hand gestured the good man waiting on us for a can of coke. I let the rest of the Poblano be.  Apparently the Poblano chili gets hotter as your proceed from the tip upwards. 



My tongue had only begun to recover from the Poblano blitz and I could feel the tear stains on my cheeks when the next dish, Juma, arrived. The name of the dish hardly betrays its rudiments. Well, Juma is nothing but blood sausages, stir-fried in a chili-laden, piquant dressing made with select Bhutanese spices. And while I loved the smoky, fiery notes of the sauce, I was not particularly fond of the sausage. It is a matter of personal choice that is, the sausages were gooey and pasty, and lacked texture, while I like mine with texture. But like I said, it’s just me. Otherwise this dish could kick start your party on a red hot note. By the time I was done with Juma, my can of coke was empty too. And my tongue was begging me to stop.


I must have done something right in this lifetime, because soon came untainted respite in a bowl – Thukpa. After the Juma, the Thukpa seemed rather plain, but that was exactly what I needed at that point. The piping hot noodle soup, I let it cool a bit though, loaded with finely sliced vegetables like carrots and French beans and shredded chicken, felt like a gentle caress and the sumptuous soup also fortified me for the subsequent chili onslaught.  The ambush happened alright, but not immediately.



The following dish made me very happy. It was like meeting an old acquaintance in a foreign land. The dish was Jasha Maroo. You see a few weeks ago I had made this dish at home, of course I shared it here on the blog as well, and it was a huge hit. It is one of the simplest dishes I have cooked, and also one of the most delicious ones.  I made the dish guided by rough skeletons of recipes shared by friends from Bhutan, and I have wondered ever since what the real deal would be like. Jasha Maroo is simply diced chicken cooked with onions, ginger, garlic, tomato and loads of green and/or red chilies, and no other spices. Chef Dorjee, however, has added a whole new dimension to the dish by adding glass noodles to it, (glass noodles, also referred to as cellophane noodles, is so called since the noodles turn translucent when cooked in water). The dish was deliciously flavourful in a relatively subtle manner, and I couldn’t resist a second helping. The dish also confirmed that my blind shot had hit bull’s eye.



I quite liked the Bhutanese Fried Rice too. Bright yellow coloured rice studded with bits a colourful vegetables and morsels of chicken. The dish is fairly simple, but the flavours distinctly different.  However, though both the Jasha Maroo and the fried rice made me happy, what they also did was make me drop my guards. For the next dish that came up was no less dangerous than deadly ammunition.


Ema Datshi literally translates to chili and cheese and is popularly deemed as the National dish of Bhutan. And I have always wanted to try it. It’s basically chilies and Bhutanese farmer’s cheese cooked together, a chili cheese curry. Chef Dorjee had recreated the dish for the Indian palate, toning it down, going easy on the heat quotient. And yet the dish is quite a fireball. Still it came with a statutory warning. But I quite liked it. By now my tastebuds had had a breather. But for those who had it in them to dare, Chef Dorjee had also prepared a portion of the real deal. I am not someone to shy away from a dare, so I smirked and said “Bring it on”.

Let me tell, no word of warning would have primed me for this dish. I took a spoonful in my started mouth, started out to say delicious, the tart cheese laced the insides of my mouth at that point, but in moments the chilies struck and before I could say cious my mouth was on fire, I could feel the heat coming out of my ear in bursts and it seems like my head would explode. Beside me a former colleague and a friend was saying how too much heat gave him hiccups and all the while he was digging into his share of Ema Datshi, and across the table P was savouring hers with panache. I on the other hand was struggling to breathe, my eyes had welled up and I was making impolite hissing sounds too. To add to my misery just then the Deputy Consul General of Bhutan, Phuntsho Dukpa, a jolly man with a sense of humour, joined our table. I managed to mutter a few polite words but even my lips hurt. The next few minutes went by in a blur. Dukpa was talking about his homeland, about the Calcuttan’s love for Bhutan, the best time to visit the beautiful mountain country, dried meat and chilies, but for me it was all a jumble of words I would make sense of much later.

I love a good dessert but I am not much of a dessert person. But I have never been happier to see desserts arrive, than I was that evening. Dessert was a rustic red rice pudding served with a drizzle of sweet cream and fresh fruits. For me it was redemption on a platter. The dessert was another comforting dish, a soft mush of red rice with a distinct “roasted” flavour.  In four bug mouthfuls it was over and finally I sighed a sigh of relief.

This was a unique dinner, I laughed as much as I cried. And though I struggled with the heat, I didn’t miss the essence of Bhutanese food. Each dish was well executed and despite my tears and tribulations I thoroughly enjoyed the repast. Only, I had the next morning to worry about.