17 August 2017

No food like home food

          No matter where you eat, from street food to fine dining, nothing beats home food at the end of the day, especially if it's mom's, or even better, grandmother's cooking!
When we travel however, we do tend to yearn for that taste of home food, how the local cuisine actually tastes, something that restaurants can rarely recreate.
         This is the vision behind the endeavour started by Authenticook, to bring diners close to home food. The process is simple, as a diner you:
- choose the city you are in
- select from the cuisines on offer
- choose from the list of home chefs
- check out the dates the pop-ups are going to be hosted, or request for a date of your choice
- pay for the number of diners and you are good to go. Best to go in a small group or a family so the cost gets divided.
           I had an opportunity to try out this arrangement, and what better way to start out in Bengaluru than the taste of typical Karnataka food. The host, Mrs Soumya resides in Old Kanakapura Road, Basavangudi, about 5 minutes away from Lalbagh metro station. When I arrived at the location, I wasn't sure what to be more excited about - the food or the mansion itself which according to the hosts was more than 80-90 years old!

The residence is at the ground level and on the first level they have a superb games cafe called 1980s Games Cafe; which is just that. All board games that any 60s, 70s and 80s kid would identify with, simple pleasures that are sadly losing out to digital counterparts. You will also find the old style Chausar, Pallankuzhi apart from the usual popular board games. Plus you have quick eats available to boot.
Now back to the traditional food on offer. My menu consisted of:
Millets roti with chutney
Capsicum Vangibath with Alu Raitha
White Rice with Halsande Kalu Sapesru & Palya
Gavale Payasa
Dal Vada
Curds and Pickle
            Millets roti is a total sellout item in my opinion. The older lady of the house, Soumya's mother in law prepared them fresh herself, in fact, most of the cooking is by her. The cherry on the icing is the home made butter and chili chutney. Simply out of this world! The vangibath, raita, palya and dal vada were all just as I expected them, the homemade flavour, just as a grandmother would make it for you!
           Now the Gavale Payasa is an interesting addition. This delicacy is popular in Maharashtra and possibly North Karnataka too. The Gavale is our own version of the pasta, a pure labour of love, which can then be made into bhaat or kheer. It was simply amazing, my first time.
Beyond the food, what stands out in this kind of arrangement is the hospitality, the homeliness and you can have your food fully assured that it will be safe. Kudos to Authenticook for that.
           So go ahead and book your next home meal. Take your family, colleagues and friends with you, because the more the merrier! For now, enjoy these pics...

30 June 2017

Pindi - Pind da swaad

Pindi , a word that's synonymous with the villages of Punjab and frontier cuisine. Presently managed by the 3rd generation after Shri K.L Wadhwa, the founder, Pindi Bangalore continues its culinary legacy from its humble beginnings in Delhi. They say laughter is brightest where food is best. My jury is still out on that but I will say that Pindi at HSR is a great place to spend your afternoons and evenings with your family, friends and colleagues alike.
Here's a review (vegetarian dishes) after my recent visit to the place.
Starters - This is where Pindi scores BIG. I tasted :
1. Bharwaan Chutney Aloo - Potatoes well done, not over-stuffed, chutney just about spicy. Warning - You can't stop at one!
2. Paneer Kurkure - The papad crusted paneer rolls pack a nice crunch. Paneer is soft and well spiced. A flavourful crust is just as interesting as the stuffing, a pleasant change from the usual flour, oats and crumbs crusted fare.
3. Seekh kebab - This again was my favourite. After the first 2, the spice factor continues to flatter the palate. None of these 3 were a let down. Thumbs up.
Main course - The benchmark for anything is set against comparable parameters. For me, the benchmark for comparing north Indian dishes is by tasting the staple dishes. I had :

1. Pindi Chole - Sadly, this did not excite me much. It was more like Chole masala. I appreciate the spices are "homemade" but we tend to have a completely different vision and version of Pindi chole in our minds. Even to take it at its face value, the masalas did not encourage me enough.  
2. Palak Paneer - This was not the usual pasty Palak Paneer we often have elsewhere. The spinach was chunkier and the paneer was OK.
3. Dal Makhani - Liked this one. As homely as the taste gets. With Roti or rice, or I could have this on its own too!
4. Kadhai Paneer - This was OK, sadly no Wow factor. They definitely use Paneer better in the starters I  feel.
The Indian breads were standard fares and quite soft. 
For dessert, I tasted Gulab Jamun with Ice cream - Soft but a tad too sweet for me

Overall a must visit. Their mocktails, especially the flavoured Lassis are great. Service is good. Starters are a must have. And their rooftop dining is often talked about for all good reasons. 

Atte ka Halwa

Simple and easy to make dessert recipe using minimal ingredients...
ATTE KA HALWA (Wheat flour halwa)
Whole wheat flour - 1 cup
Sugar - 1 cup
Ghee - 1/2 cup
Water - 2 cups
Roasted cashews (in ghee) - a few
Roasted raisins(optional) - a few
1. Heat ghee in a thick-bottomed pan. 
2. Simultaneously mix together sugar and water in a thick saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat. Allow sugar to dissolve. We do not need any string consistency here. Once it comes to a boil, lower flame a little and let simmer.
3. Meanwhile, to the ghee, add the wheat flour and roast well. Keep stirring till the flour lets out a roasted aroma and starts to turn golden brown. 
4. Continue stirring till ghee starts to separate and it becomes a pasty mix.
5. Once the sugar syrup starts to bubble, carefully and gradually add it to the roasted flour, stirring alongside to ensure no lumps. 
6. Keep stirring till all the water is absorbed by the flour and it comes together and starts leaving the sides of the pan.
Remove and serve hot (or warm) garnished with roasted cashews or other dry fruits of choice.

5 May 2017

Sweet & spicy Mango Pickle (Aam chunda)

Enjoy the mango season while it lasts..
Ingredients :
Raw Mango, grated - 3 cups
Sugar - 2 cups
Jeera - 1 tsp
Methi (fenugreek) seeds - 1 tsp
Cloves - 8
Cinnamon - 1 inch stick
Green cardamom (Chhoti elaichi) - 8
Red chili powder - 1 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Salt - 1/4 cup
(Note : Use the same cup across all ingredients for getting the measure right)

There are 2 methods for this, the no-cook and cooked ones, will mention both here.
1. Dry roast Jeera for 2 mins. Let cool and coarsely powder along with cloves, cinnamon stick and cardamom.
2. Dry roast methi seeds for 2 minutes, let cool and grind to a fine powder.
3. Add all the ingredients to a steel bowl (Pateela) and mix well with a light hand.
4. Cover the mouth of the vessel with a clean, dry muslin cloth. Place a lid over it and keep out in the sun for 5-8 days. Remember to stir once every day before placing in the sunlight. Once it turns into a honey-like consistency, transfer to a glass jar and refrigerate until use.

COOKED METHOD : (Helpful especially where natural 'sunlight cooking' is not easy)
1. Add the grated mangoes, sugar, salt and turmeric powder to a non-stick pan, mix once and let simmer on a low flame till sugar dissolves. Stir only occasionally.
2. Once it reaches a boil, stir continuously till you get a 1-string consistency.
3. Remove the mixture from the flame and let cool. Now add the coarse spice powder, methi powder and chili powder and mix well. Transfer immediately to a clean jar and refrigerate till use.


19 April 2017

Jo khaane se kare pyaar!

Jo khaane se kare pyaar, woh Prestige se kaise kare inkaar?!  
             Almost every Indian household has grown up using, cooking with and eating off Prestige cook and serve-ware. Evolution is an important aspect for everyone and everything, especially successful brands, to stay in the race. TTK Prestige is one such that has withstood the test of time and continues to innovate.
              It was a bright Monday morning, and I say bright only because I was looking forward to attend the exclusive 'Food-tasting'event organised by TTK Prestige at The Oberoi, MG Road, with Masterchef runner-up and well-known celebrity Chef Shazia Khan set to de-mystify 'Nouvelle cuisine' for the home cook. Ever since my first meeting with her at the Times Lit Fest earlier this year, I was really excited about meeting her again!
            The dishes lined up for the day were pretty interesting and kudos to Chef Shazia for finishing all of them with panache. Beautifully interweaving her cooking with quick tips and quips and inviting blogger guests to help out, Chef kept us hooked to her cooking. Here's a quick preview of the dishes and the cookware highlighted :
1. Dukkah crusted Paneer with creamy Beetroot - This dish demonstrated the use of the Omega Gold series cookware. The paneer was simply melt-in the mouth and one could finish off the creamy Beetroot on its own! I must point out here, as with my personal experience with the Omega cookware, one needs very little oil to cook the food and it just slides off with minimal effort.

2. The Brinjal Affair - This had three elements to it. The first was to roast, peel, chop and mix a brinjal with spices, akin to our Baingan bharta. Second element was a crunchy Peanut topping. The component I was waiting for was the Brinjal fry using the Air Fryer. The brinjal, simply coated with spices and bread-crumbs came out absolutely crispy, which otherwise would have needed deep-frying in loads of oil! Even a non-brinjal lover like me felt tempted to try!

3. Chili Mutton Sliders - Though being a non-meat eater, I was looking forward to this dish owing to the use of the much-hyped Pressure cooker with Clip-on + inter-changeable lids. This cooker comes in two sizes, the handy 3 Litres and the all-purpose 5 litres. That's not all, it is available in three shapes - Kadhai, Sauce pot and Handi. The best part is the new Clip-On lid, that just needs a simple twist to open. To be fair, it is slightly heavier than its predecessors, but considering the fact that there are no longish handles to manuevre around, this is a blessing. Above all, this lid can be used across the cooker, kadhai and handi, as also the Glass lid that converts them into serve-ware. Now this is definitely a blessing for people needing less crowded kitchens.
4. Cuban Chicken Skewers - The Orange sauce used in this dish demonstrated the useful juicer, Prestige Squeezo, that gives you fresh-pressed juice anytime in the comfort of your home. It's a slow-juicing technology that does not simply cut and mash up the fruits, instead takes its time to squeeze out the juice, helping to retain the max nutritional quotient.

5. Grilled Figs with Almond crumble and Vanilla mousse - An absolutely delectable dessert that, right from the creamy mousse, the grilled figs to the crispy Almond crumble made in a jiffy in the Air Fryer, every element was drool-worthy.

6. Grape juice Phuchka shots - Save the best for last, as they say. Another brilliant demo of the juicer. Make your own fresh juice at home sans preservatives and innovate with dishes of choice, as Chef Shazia did here with the all-time favourite Phuchkas or Panipuri or Golgappas. No matter which name we know it by, this snack is an absolute show-stopper anywhere, anytime. Served here with chopped apples, crunchy, fruity green chutney and the tangy-sweet grape juice.
            Last but not the least, mention must be made of the Prestige 'HobTop', the slimmest cooktop, that (apart from its good looks) doubles up as both a gas-stove and a hob. The Induction Cook top is another innovative product that has one of the most helpful features for any Indian cook - an Automatic Whistle Counter preset option. One can set the number of whistles required for the dish, and the cook top does the rest for you! Remember your mom/wife asking you, how many whistles did we hear, and the blank looks in response? Well, no more, because once the set number of whistles go off, the cook top goes into Keep warm mode.
          There was much to take away with us that day. From a crisp intro by Mr Chandru Kalro, Managing Director, TTK Prestige, the brilliant cooking by Chef Shazia Khan, the clever use of the cookware, the yumm dishes prepared to the brilliant lunch and hospitality by The Oberoi Hotel, this was truly a Monday to remember.
Sharing here some shots from the event....


12 April 2017

Eggless Whole Wheat Cupcakes

One really doesnt need a reason to indulge in cupcakes. And trust me, they are soo easy to make. Once you get the basic measure right, there are endless possibilities of flavours and ingredients.
Here's a simple and healthy one that's eggless and uses almost no butter!
Ingredients :
Whole Wheat flour - 1 cup (Or refined + Wheat flour, 1/2 cup each)
Baking soda - 1 tsp
Whisked curds - 1 cup
Butter - 1 tbsp
Ripe bananas, mashed - 2 medium or 1 large
Demerara sugar, powdered - 1.5 cups (or normal sugar 1 cup)
Clove or cinnamon powder - 1/4 tsp
Almond powder/Ready to mix Badam drink powder - 2 tsps (optional)

Method :
1. Add the mashed bananas and 1/2 cup curd to a bowl and mix well. Add the sugar and butter and mix well again.
2. Sieve together flour, baking soda, spice powder into a clean bowl.
3. Fold the flour into the banana mixture, a little at a time. If batter is too thick add the remaining curds little by little till you get a dropping consistency, resembling Idli batter.
4. Spoon the batter into cupcake moulds. Bake in a pre-heated microwave (I place an oven-proof glass bowl filled with water and let run on high for 2 mins) at 180 deg C for 7-8 mins. If the toothpick test fails, bake for few minutes more.
Remove and let cool on a wire rack before de-moulding.

10 January 2017

Thiruvadirai KaLi

          Just as with Karthigai, there are several stories that surround Thiruvadirai, also known as Thiruvadhira or Arudhra Darisanam. The day is celebrated with great fervour at the famous Chidambaram temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja. It's celebrated on the Purnima thithi in the Tamil month of Margazhi, which is also said to be the longest night of the year.
         Most south indian households prepare Kali-Kuzhambu (the 'L' in the Kali is stressed and not like the 'L' in Goddess Kali). Now this is a unique combination, because Kali is sweet and the kuzhambu or stew is pretty much like Sambhar, while some make it in a different style.
 Here's the recipe for the Kali, quite simple but very delicious.
Ingredients :
Rice - 1 cup
Channa dal (Bengal gram) - 2 tbsps
Moong dal (Green gram) - 1 tbsp
Grated Jaggery - 1 3/4th cups
Cardamom powder - 1 tsp
Ghee (Clarified butter) - 2 tbsps
Cashews - a handful

Method :
1. Dry roast the rice over low heat till it turns light brown. Keep aside.
2. In the same wok, dry roast the lentils till they let out a roasted aroma. Take care not to let them turn dark. Keep aside and let cool.
3. Now dry grind the rice and lentils together to a coarse, semolina (rava) like consistency.
4. Add the jaggery to the wok, along with 1.5 to 2 cups water.  Let simmer on low-medium heat till jaggery dissolves. We dont need a thick syrup consistency here.
5. Now add the rice-lentils powder while stirring simultaneously, taking care to avoid lumps. Stir till well-mixed and transfer to a pressure cooker vessel.
6. Pressure cook on high up to 3 whistles, lower the flame and let cook for 5 minutes more. Once pressure is released, remove and spread the Kali mixture in a wide plate or tray. Once slightly cooled, crumble the mixture till it looks more like an Upma. Sprinkle the cardamom powder and mix well.
7. Heat ghee and roast the cashews till golden brown. Add to the Kali mix and give it a good toss.
Serve warm with the kuzhambu or stew.

Note : If your rice tends to become too soft then use 1.5 cups to 1 cup rice. If your rice variety is aged and soaks more water, then use 2 cups.
2. For best results, once jaggery is dissolved, filter the jaggery-water mixture through a medium-netted sieve and re-add to the wok. This will remove any impurities.

6 January 2017

Green Pepper Pickle

          Fresh green peppercorns are the pre-dried form of the black peppers we use. These have a milder taste that hits the back of your tongue and a unique spiciness that has you wanting more!
         The green peppercorns are usually soaked in brine or pickled with other ingredients. These are known to be good for digestion. Coupled, rather pickled with ginger and lime, their digestive properties multiply.
         During my first trip to Coorg, apart from the weather and sights, I was looking forward to 2 things - coffee and pepper!! Imagine my delight when we spotted fresh green pepper, ready to be plucked at one of the home-stays (Violets homestay, Madikeri is where we got this). Back in town, the first job, even before unpacking was to pickle the pepper :) Follow my culinary tales on instagram - www.instagram.com/akshayam21
Here are 2 ideas that my mother used. One is the basic version we've used for ages, the 2nd is Kerala-style, adapted from a blog.
Ingredients :
Fresh green peppercorns - 200 gms
Rock salt - ½ cup
Juice of 6-7 big-sized lemons
Water - 4 cups
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Method :
1. Wash the peppercorns thoroughly but gently. There is no necessity to remove them from their stems. Drain and spread them out to dry on a clean muslin cloth.
2. Bring water to a boil and add the rock salt and turmeric. Let cool to room temperature.
3. Transfer the dried peppercorns to a clean pickle jar and slowly pour the cooled turmeric-salt water on top. Follow it up with the lemon juice and stir.
Note : All the peppercorns should be fully submerged.
4. Tie the mouth of the pickle jar with a clean, dry muslin cloth and cover with the jar lid.
5. Stir once daily for the first 4-5 days and let rest for about 10-12 days. Use as desired after that.

Ingredients :  (This one's inspired from Pachakam.com however, we omitted the garlic)
Green peppercorns - 250 gms
Ginger, diced - 50gms
Garlic (optional), sliced - 2 tbsps
Fenugreek powder - 1 tbsp
Lime juice - 1 cup
Dry red chilies (long variety) - 25-30
Mustard seeds - 2 tsps
Sesame oil - 2 tbsps

Method :
1. Wash and pat dry the green peppercorns as directed above.
2. Heat the sesame oil in a small kadhai and add mustard seeds, let splutter. Now add the dry red chilies and fry a bit. Remove the oil from the flame and add the fenugreek powder. Mix well and keep aside.
3. Add the green pepper, salt, chopped ginger, garlic and lime juice to a clean, dry bowl.
4. Pour the seasoning over it and stir well but gently. Transfer to a clean glass bottle or ceramic jar. Note that the green pepper needs to be fully submerged in lime juice, so add more of it if needed.
5. Stir once for the next 4-5 days and refrigerate after a week. Use as desired after about 2 weeks.

18 December 2016

Good fat is good

          I am a believer of balanced diet in every way. I aim to take the goodness of the foods we have and eat everything in balanced proportions. A common habit of most people I have seen is to completely avoid a certain food just because of their perception that it's bad.
          Take cholesterol for eg, the minute the fear of blood cholesterol is instilled in one's mind, the first thing they do is turn away from ghee, butter and oil, especially the former. Likewise with sugar. Sadly though, the same elements make way into their diet through other foods they consume!! The trick is to not avoid but to balance, to work out the ideal proportions to have a bit of everything.
          Any machinery to work well and last long needs proper lubrication. Then why must the most complex machinery of all, the human body be devoid of the same? We all need energy, starch in itself is not bad, the source needs to be good.
          The case of Palm Oil has been similar. Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) arranged a meet to help us understand the mixed perceptions around Palm Oil; facts that our sub-conscious may have heard and registered at some point but faded with time.
           We were given some exhaustive insights into the benefits of Palm Oil by Ms Bhavna Shah, Country Head, MPOC India and Dr. Meena Mehta, well-known nutritionist. Quite a few myths were broken during the session and Q&A that followed.
 Ms. Bhavna Shah
Dr. Meena Mehta
          The usage of Palm oil in cooking has faded in most households in time, what many have not realised is that the same oil makes way into our every day life in one form or the other. Consider this....Palm oil and/or Palm Kernel Oil is/are used in the making of Margarine, vanaspati ghee, soaps, and some personal care products too; Sodium Laureth Sulfate or SLES which is the detergent or surfactant element in most soaps, shampoos and other foaming products is derived from Palm Kernel oil.
Here are a few lesser known facts about Palm Oil :

- Palm Oil is the world's first certified sustainable vegetable oil.
- The Oil Palm tree has a life of nearly 25 years and has one of the highest yields compared to other crops considered for oil production such as, Sunflower, safflower and so on.
- The Oil Palm is known to have comparatively lower water footprint than the Olive trees for eg.
- It is odourless and flavourless, and has a comparatively longer shelf life.
- Palm oil also contributes to the Green revolution by playing its part in bio diesel production
- It has higher content of Vit A &  Vit E tocotrienols (which are also powerful anti-oxidants) than any other plant-based oil.
- Palm oil is resistant to spoilage, are stable at high heat and also trans-fat free.
- Above all, this oil is found to have balanced effects on blood cholesterol levels.

           Now that we see people questioning food practices, aiming to debunk myths and eat what's best, the myths surrounding palm oil need demystifying too. As for availability in India, well known group Adani-Wilmar is rated the largest manufacturer of palm oil in India. At the end of the day, it isnt about which oil is the best. The point is to do away with misconceptions. With Palm oil being a part of our life in so many other invisible ways, it needs to find its way back into our kitchens too!

Note : MPOC is a Malaysia-based organisation that aims to improve understanding of Palm oil, encourage the product diversification and most importantly, seek to clarify the myths and misconceptions surrounding Palm Oil.
You can read more about them at http://www.mpoc.org.in/ and also follow their social media updates at : @thinkpalmoil (Twitter) and MPOC (Facebook)
Last but not the least, there was a sumptuous lunch spread courtesy Vivanta by Taj that marked a perfect end to the session. It was an enjoyable afternoon as much for the enlightenment as for time spent with fellow foodies!