Saturday, July 31, 2010

Laadi Pav

The following is my entry to our food fiction event Of Chalks and Chopsticks that Sra is hosting this month.



No one – not our parents, not our closest friends, not even ourselves – could have predicted this. After all, we had always been a ‘solid’ couple. And yet here we were, separating after 8 years of marriage, sorting through our things and deciding who would keep what.


Part of me didn’t want this to happen, but somewhere, I realised that Yash was right – there was no point in living together under the same roof as strangers.


Strangers? Yash and I? Even the mere suggestion seemed ridiculous! We weren’t ‘strangers’ to each other even when we met for the first time in catering college. Though it wasn’t ‘love at first sight’ kind of a thing, we had hit it off very well and so, it was only a matter of time before we became a couple.


I glanced at him as he sorted through our huge CD collection. “Tell you what, you keep all of them. I am just taking a few. In any case I have a huge collection of songs on my I-pod,” he smiles. I nodded and walked away, trying not to step on all the stuff scattered all over the floor – stuff that held our memories – memories of better times. We were so happy together, I remembered. What went wrong? Just when did we become ‘strangers’, I wondered.


Yash kept coming and asking what to do with some of the stuff, but mostly, I left him alone. I was not too interested in what he took and what he left. After all, I was hardly home and when I was, I was mostly sleeping. My job as a chef at a world renowned restaurant took up most of my time and all of my energy.


I’d had to work very hard to get to where I was. It is ironical that though women are the ones who cook at home all over the world, in restaurants, it is a completely different story. Most top chefs are men and it is quite difficult for a woman to break through the glass ceiling. I was very proud of what I had achieved; in fact I was very proud of what Yash had achieved as well – his food based travel program was immensely popular.


Success hadn’t come very easily for us and the early days had been excruciating but on hindsight, we survived them because we had each other. Whenever Yash would be back from his travels, I’d have some fancy ‘welcome back’ cake baked for him. And ever so often, he’d whisk me off for a short vacation when he was travelling. Every free minute and we'd be on the phone or on the chat with each other. Somewhere along the way though, cakes, spontaneous getaways and chats gave way small matter-of fact post-its – “there’s some soup in the fridge for you” or “will be back on the 18th and going away the next day.” Strangers? Worse, it seemed! Most days, we hardly had anything to say to each other.


My thoughts were interrupted when my eyes fell on Yash who was leafing through a book. The book. The one in which we had written about our dream of starting a restaurant. The book had everything – the concept of our restaurant : a meeting place for writers and artists, the look: wooden floors and cozy sofas that people could sink into with bookcases and paintings across the walls, the menu: complete with the recipes we had experimented on.


A dream that seemed destined to be confined to the pages of the book. Forever.


Chancing upon the book after ages seemed to break the silence between us and we smiled at each other as we started talking about the time that was. And soon, we were talking about everything under the sun. Ourselves, work, politics. We stopped talking only when we realised that the afternoon had turned to dusk.


“Let me make us some tea,” he said. “Is there anything to eat?” So while he made tea, I pulled out some cookies and buttered a couple of slices of bread.


He handed me my mug and as I bit into the bread that I had dipped into my tea, I said “No one can make bread the way you used to make it.”

“What do you mean ‘used to make’? No one can make bread the way I do. Period.”

“Don’t flatter yourself! It’s been ages since you made bread.”

“Making bread is like riding a cycle. You never forget it,” he proclaimed. “Wanna see? I will bake you a bread you’ll remember,” he continued.


And so, I mixed the yeast and the sugar in some warm water, I measured out the flour and Yash started kneading the dough. Suddenly, it felt like the old times when we used to cook together.


“There is not too much space on the counter to knead the dough,” he says. “Let’s quickly vacuum the floor. Then I can knead it on the floor.”

“Whaaaaaat? And make laadi pav in the true sense of the word?” I was horrified by his suggestion.

“Oh stop behaving like a posh chef at home,” he teased with a smile that went straight to my heart. I was almost tempted to tell him not to go, when his cell phone rang. He had dough sticking to his fingers and so I held the phone against his ears, almost unable to bear the closeness.

“Yes, yes. 11 is fine.” “No, no, there isn’t too much to move. Yes, a small tempo should be ok,” he spoke into the phone.


When the call was over, we looked at each other silently for a moment and then I slipped out of the kitchen. He continued to knead; occasionally, I could hear a thud as he dropped the dough on the platform. Job done, he joined me in the balcony.


“Care for some wine?” he asked, finally breaking the awkward silence between us. In the time it took for the dough to rise, we’d polished off one bottle. While he shaped the buns, I opened another; by the time he put them in the oven, we had drained the second one too.


I wondered if it was the wine or the music or whatever else. I didn’t even remember who made the first move, but suddenly, we were in each other’s arms, kissing.


The ‘ting’ of the oven brought us back to reality. I went and checked the bread. It had this lovely brown crust and it was so soft and spongy that when I pressed it between my fingers, it sprung right back. I brought it to my nose and inhaled; the aroma filled me up.






“Perfect. I will always remember this bread,” I said as I went into the bedroom and closed the door behind me.


When I woke up, it was almost 10 in the morning. The movers would be coming soon, I thought. There was no sign of Yash; when I went to the kitchen to make coffee, I saw the post-it on on the fridge: Off to finish a project I should have taken up years ago. Will arrange to move everything once I am done.


I had fallen in love with Yash all over again and I missed him terribly but work kept me from brooding too much. Then one day, to my shock, I found him waiting for me at home when I returned at night. Laid out on the table were some legal looking papers – our divorce papers, I thought with a pang.


He started talking the moment he saw me, “I got stuck at the name. Other than that, in the last 3 months, I’ve done all the work on our restaurant.”


Our restaurant? What was he saying? I looked at the ‘legal looking’ papers – they were about a restaurant – our restaurant!


“So choose a name….I thought of Canvas, Chalks and Chopsticks. The other one is Plumes, Palettes and Plates….which one do you like?


“Plumes, Palettes and Plates,” I said as I moved into his arms. He continued to fill me in with the details, but all I could hear was the beating of his heart.






So just what is 'laadi pav'? Pav is a marathi word, taken from the Portuguese word pao which simply means bread. It is called 'laadi pav' more because of the way it looks. When baked with all the buns stuck together, it ressembles slabs of the floor and hence the name.

This is one very easy bread to make, I've taken the recipe from Vaishali's blog and except for a few.....ummm.....cosmetic changes, I have followed her recipe to the tee.



Ingredients:

Bread flour: 3 cups
Salt: 1 tsp
Baking soda: 1/2 tsp
Sugar: 1+ 2tsps
Yeast: 1.5 tsps
Warm water: 1 - 1.5 cups
Butter/oil: 3 tbsps

for brushing the top of the buns:

warm milk: 2 tbsps
melted butter: 1 tbsp

Method:

Stir the yeast and the sugar in 1/4 cup of warm water and let it sit for about 15-20 mins or till it expands and froths

Sift the flour and baking soda together and transfer it to a large mixing bowl.

Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and mix it into the flour. Pour the water in thin trickle and begin kneading the dough.

When it clumps together, turn it onto the kitchen counter and knead for a further 10 - 12 mins, till you get a smooth and pliable ball of dough.


Then, sprinkle the salt over the dough and add the butter, a tbsp at a time and knead till all the butter has been absorbed by the dough.


Leave the dough for rising in a well oiled bowl; it takes me about 3 hours for the dough to double.

Then, punch it down and divide it into eight pieces. Shape them into rectangular buns and lay them close to each other on a jam roll pan. Let them rise for another 30 minutes, once this rising time has elapsed, you will see that the gap between the buns has closed out, making the buns stick to each other.


Brush the milk on the top of the buns and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 deg C for about 20 mins. Turn off the oven, leave the door slightly ajar and let the buns rest for a further 5 mins.


Take them off and brush the melted butter immediately on top of the buns; doing this ensures that crust remains soft and the buns get a lovely shine.





Monday, July 26, 2010

Eggplant Pizza

In one of my earlier posts, I had claimed to 'love' eggplants. In retrospect, I now think that that statement was a huge exaggeration.

The truth is that I don't love eggplant per se. I love it only and only when it is cooked in a few ways - eggplant raita and baingan ka bharta - are amongst my favourite ways of having them eggplants. Any other way and I have small moment of hesitation before taking the first bite.


A few months ago, we were served this rather unusual 'eggplant pizza' at a party. Just one bite and I was completely bowled over by the taste. Soon, I was making it very often at home. And why wouldn't I? After all, it makes for an excellent appetizer or a light evening snack - tasty, nutritious and very, very easy to make!







Ingredients:


Eggplant - 1, large
Olive oil - 1 tbsp
Seasonings - salt, pepper and dried garlic flakes

Onion: 1 small, finely chopped
Bell pepper - 1/2, chopped
Grated cheddar cheese - 3-4 tbsps


for the sauce:

Tomatoes - 2 large
Garlic - 1 large clove
Onion - 1 small
Seasonings : Chilli flakes, basil leaves, salt, sugar - to taste
Oil


Method:


Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C for about 15 minutes.


While the oven pre-heats, prepare the tomato sauce. Blanch the tomatoes and peel the skin. Cut into half, scoop out the seeds and chop it up. Heat oil, saute the garlic and onions for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook till soft. Let it cool and then puree in the mixie.
Return to the pan, add the seasonings and simmer till the sauce thickens.


Cut the eggplant into 1/2" thick circles. Whisk together the oil, dried garlic flakes, salt and pepper. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with this mixture.


Grill the eggplant for about 5-7 minutes or until you get grill marks.
Turn the slices and spread the tomato sauce on the grilled side. Top with the chopped vegetables and the grated cheese. Return the slices back to the oven and grill for a further 7-8 minutes or till the cheese starts to melt and turn brown.



Now tell me, isn't this an excellent way to have eggplants? Or for that matter, pizza?




Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blueberry Pancakes


The markets these days are over-run with berries, especially strawberries and blueberries. Singapore doesn't grow too many fruits and vegetables, leave alone berries; being a land scarce country, most of the food that is consumed here has to be imported.

Consequently, though the markets here have a wide variety food from all over the world throughout the year, some of it does cost quite a bit.






Take, for example, my favourite berries - blueberries. Most of the times, a small packet of blueberries weighing just 125 gms costs around $4.

So, sometimes, when they are available for around $2, it sounds like a real steal. That is when I go and buy several packets and hoard them - by freezing them.


To freeze blueberries (and any other berry), first wash them in water. Gently pat them dry with a kitchen towel. I also let the berries 'air dry' for about an hour. Then, transfer them onto a plate in a single layer - ensure that you don't overcrowd the berries - and then freeze them for 24 hrs in the freezer. (Freezing them in a single layer ensures 2 things - one, the berries get evenly frozen and two, they don't stick to one another).

Then transfer them into re-sealable bags; get as much air out of the bags as possible.


Berries frozen this way can be used for upto 3 months - I am not quite sure if they last longer, I am sure they do but mine got used up and so 3 months is the longest that I can vouch for.

This - the tips on how to freeze berries - is my entry to Jaya's Back to Basics event.





Pancakes don't feature very regularly on our breakfast menu, but are such a welcome change every once in a while. Having frozen blueberries on hand means that I can quickly whip up some blueberry pancakes.


The recipe here is the one I found on the Dairy Farmer's Buttermilk carton; I've tweaked it just a tad bit.



Ingredients:
(makes 8 pancakes)


Self raising flour - 3/4 cup
Whole wheat pastry flour - 3/4 cup
Salt - a pinch
Baking soda - 1/4 tsp


Caster sugar - 2 tbsps
Buttermilk - 1.5 cups
Egg - 1, lightly beaten
Lemon rind - 1 tsp
Oil - 1 tbsp + some more for greasing the pan


(Frozen) Blueberries - 1 cup



Method:


Sift together the flours, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Stir in the caster sugar. Then pour in the liquid ingredients - egg, buttermilk and oil - and beat well to get a smooth batter.


Add the blueberries and the lemon rind and stir to combine. Let the batter stand for 10 minutes.

Pour a couple of ladles of the pancake batter on a greased and heated non stick frying pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the top surface is dotted with bubbles. Flip over and cook for another 2 minutes or until golden brown.




Drizzle some maple syrup or honey over the pancakes and enjoy!




Friday, July 9, 2010

Asparagus, Mushroom and Green Peas Risotto

Knowing a food critic is dining in the restaurant, 'everthing improves: the seating, the service, the size of the portions.' Therefore, the one thing a food critic really needs - in addition to a healthy appetite and a willingness to sample different foods - is anonymity.


As a seasoned restaurant critic, Ruth Reichl is very aware of this. But she also learns, much to her dismay, that even before she has occupied her desk as food critic for The New York Times, the restaurants in New York have been gathering all information on her. Reportedly, they even have her picture posted in the kitchen with cash rewards offered for adavance intimation of her visit.


Under such circumstances, how does she ensure that she gives her readers an objective and unbiased view of the restaurants she's eating in?



The book club pick for June, Garlic and Sapphires: The secret life of a food critic in disguise, tells just how Ruth Reichl manages to hoodwink the restaurateurs - with the help of one of her mother's friends, she disguises herself - thereby giving the masses an honest insight into what they could really expect from the total experience of dining out.


"You shouldn't be writing reviews for the people who dine in fancy restaurants, but for all the ones who wish they could."



In keeping with that line of thought, the disguises she dons are very representative of the ordinary diner: she starts off as Molly, a meek, former school teacher, then, she is Miriam, inspired by her own cantankerous and opinionated mother. There is also Chloe, a sexy, divorced blond, Betty, an old spinster who no one pays much attention to; her favourite is Brenda a warm -hearted and friendly red-head, and she is most horrified by the brusque and unkind Emily. The disguises are more than just outward appearances - each has a personality of her own and with every disguise she dons, she learns something about herself.


She eats in fancy schmancy restaurants and smaller, lesser known ones with equal enthusiasm and derives as much satisfaction nibbling on foie gras as she does slurping on soba noodles, much to the chagrin of some colleagues and readers.

The city was filled with people who did not think that Shanghai dumpling parlors, Korean barbeque places, and sushi bars merited serious consideration. They did not want these restaurants taking up the space that properly belonged to the French, Italian and Continental establishments they were accustomed to seeing reviewed in their Friday morning paper. But I was determined to give Asian, Indian and Latino restaurants the respect they deserved.



Garlic and Sapphires is an extremely entertaining and insightful read into the world of a restaurant critic. The one thing I particularly liked was that Reichl minces no words when she talks about the restaurants she reviewed, her colleagues or even herself. What makes the book particularly appealing is the way the stories about her various disguises are interspersed with actual restaurant reviews and some recipes. Now, if only she'd included pictures of herself in all those disguises!







With so much food on almost every page, coupled with some very interesting recipes, deciding what to make wasn't very easy. In the end, I zeroed in on the risotto simply because I hadn't made any in a long time!


Ingredients:

Arborio rice: 3/4 cup

Onion: 1 medium sized, finely chopped
Garlic: 1 clove, finely minced

Mushrooms: 10-12, chopped
Green Peas: 3/4 cup
Asparagus spears: 10-12

White wine: 1/2 cup (at room temperature)
Mushroom stock: 2 - 3 cups
Olive oil: 2 tbsps
Butter: 1 tbsp
Parmesan cheese: 2 tbsps (optional)


Method:

Heat the oil and add the garlic and onions, cook till the onions turn pink. Add the mushrooms and saute for a couple of minutes - I had some bacon bits that were fast approaching the expiry date and threw those in with the mushrooms.

Next, add the rice and stir till the grains are evenly coated with oil. Then, add the dry white wine and simmer over low heat until all the wine has been absorbed.

Now add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly till all the stock has been absorbed. Continue adding the stock, 1/2 cup each time, allowing each addition to be completely absorbed before adding in the next.



When three quarters of the stock has been absorbed, stir in the asparagus and the green peas.


Add the remaining and cook another 7-10 minutes till the rice is completely cooked; once cooked, stir in the parmesan cheese and the butter, adjust the seasonings and serve.



Making the mushroom stock:

Very often, when I made risotto, I would use ready - made stock cubes. After all, risotto is something that I cook more as a 'on the spur of the moment' meal; often times, I'd have no patience to spend extra time in the kitchen to make the stock.

It all changed when I experimented and came up this way of making 'instant' noodles. It has been a hit at home and that gave me the confidence to also make and freeze some basic mushroom and vegetable stock. Not only is it convenient, it tastes way better than the readymade stock cubes.





To make the basic mushroom stock, slice about 12-15 large mushrooms, toss in one sliced onion and a chopped carrot. Add these to 2 lts of water. Season with salt, pepper and some fresh herbs ( I used rosemary and parsley) and bring to boil. Reduce to a low heat and simmer till the water has reduced to half.

I normally freeze my stock in ice trays and once set, transfer the ice cubes into re-sealable bags. I use these when when cooking pasta, for making risottos and for making soups and stews.

Frozen mushroom stock is my entry to Jaya's event, Back to Basics.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

So, what do you call them?

In a city I studied in, I would sit in a rather run-down restaurant with the boyfriend, holding hands and whispering sweet nothings. However, as soon as these were put on the table, the hands were hastily disentangled to grab these and sweet nothings gave way to shouts of 'repeat the order'.


In a city that gave me my first taste of financial independence, ever so often, I'd eat these at the railway station on my way back from work. The trains would come and go and with each passing minute, the crowds would swell. Each passing minute meant getting even a toehold in the train became increasingly difficult but even that concern didn't deter me from eating one.


In a city that I moved to soon after marriage, I stood on a street corner with my boss who was discussing the market, our targets and sales strategies. I was new to the bank and knew I had to respond with something intelligent but after one bite of these, the only intelligible thing I managed to say was "boy, these are so delicious!"


I knew them as kathi kebabs in Pune, frankies in Mumbai and egg rolls in Calcutta. In other parts of the world, they are also called shawarmas or burritos or tacos or doner kebabs or simply (sandwich) wraps.


No matter what you want to call them - I call them kathi kebabs - the basic premise is the same: a flat bread folded over some stuffing that has been drizzled over with some sauces/dressings.







'Out of sight, out of mind' best describes my relationship with them kathi kebabs. When they were easily available, I couldn't have enough of them. When they were not, I didn't seem to miss them at all.


However, when I saw these egg rolls on Sandeepa's blog early this year, the craving to eat some right away had me in its grip. Her post convinced me that I could make egg rolls at home. They seemed so easy to make and looked so inviting that I lost no time in making them!

In the pictures that follow, you'll notice that I've used (leftover) chapatis to make the kathi rolls - it is the only time I've taken pictures, so that is what you see here - but pay heed to Sandeepa's suggestion and use frozen parathas - I normally do - they make a world of difference to the final taste.

Before you make the kathi rolls, there's this little bit of pre-preparation that you need to do.


Pre-preparation:


1. Marinate 1 boneless chicken leg (cut it into bite sized cubes) in 3 tbsps of yogurt + 1.5 tsps of garlic paste + 1 tsp of ginger paste + 1 tsp of chaat masala + rock salt.


Heat oil in a pan, fry half a sliced onion till it turns pink, add the marinated chicken and saute on a high flame till the chicken is cooked. Alternatively, you can even grill the chicken in an oven at 200 deg C.



2. Make the onion salad - slice an onion, to it add some chopped green chillies, chopped coriander leaves, rock salt and sugar. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and mix well.



3. Make the chapatis (Indian flatbread) or parathas or any other flat bread you choose to use.

Once your pre-preparation is done, making the kathi kebab is really quite simple:


1. Whisk together 1 egg + 1 tbsps of milk + a pinch of salt. Heat oil in a pan, pour the whisked egg. When the egg starts to cook around the edges.....





2. Put the chapati on top. After a minute....




3. Flip it over. Cook for another minute and then take it off the pan.






4. Put in the stuffing:


First, line the onion salad in the centre. Top it with the chicken kebabs. Squirt some sriracha chilli sauce or any other sauce of your choice.

(Nowadays, I make kathi kebabs to use up leftover food - chicken/mutton curry works brilliantly in these. Simply de-bone the meat and add curry in place of the sauce. Leftover paneer jalfrezi also tastes fantastic).







5. Fold and wrap the rolls in paper (you will ignore my rather messy looking paper napkin, won't you?), top with some more onion salad (keep lots of breath freshners handy) and chomp away!





Kathi Kebabs, inspired by Sandeepa's egg rolls, are my entry to Nupur's Blog Bites 5: Sandwiches and Wraps.



Speaking of events, Sra is hosting our food fiction event , 'Of Chalks and Chopsticks: 3' . So, spin her a yarn that has food as its main star and send it over to her on srablog{at}gmail{dot}com



It is not just about the ingredients or the recipe, good food happens when it is served with love!!

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