Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Master Chef at Office

WHO was all excited when he came home clutching an email print out that had declared a Master chef- chocolate special at their office. The instructions for the competition required each team with 3 members to come up with an innovative dish using lots of chocolate and strawberries/ any berries, nuts , kiwi or cinnamon.
WHO  told me I was part of his team because he had already committed to participate and his bosses had high hopes set on him.I invited this trouble by sending away to his office cakes and cookies for potluck and so when the team members had to be selected people unanimously yelled at how WHO deserves to lead the team because his wife ( that's me) is good at desserts. Frankly I don't believe the junta was madly in love with my cooking. This was perhaps their way of  enjoying a weekend by dumping the responsibilities onto someone else.

I have never experienced such a packed weekend with WHO all excited. We made three desserts over the  weekend and had my cousin brother over to finish them off. We made a strawberry cheese cake with white chocolate and a baked cheese cake by the way. It started seeping under my spring form tray and was mess when it cooled down. It did not give us the desired wow factor when we tasted a slice. My cousin forced us to try it once again because he found it heavenly. WHO was bent on the ideal dessert onto which he could show off some plating skills. And so I came up with the idea of trying a layered dessert set using ring moulds. We had a tough time getting the mascarpone cheese and white slab of chocolate. We felt our stars were waging wars to prevent us from participating in this event and as our first dessert flopped and then the chocolate mousse came out lumpy we decided we would not go ahead. And that's when I decided to go with ring mould and invent something of our own. And then we came up with this dessert. WHO named it " Chocolate layers with surprise strawberry centre"..The title I taught him was something complicated and so I liked his simple version.

And as we often deduce the climax of stories from the way they unfold you must have already realized that WHO indeed won the competition and he bagged first prize among thirteen teams and I am proud of my darling boy for taking our idea forward and plating it. He says plating and the surprise strawberry centre helped him bag the first prize.But I think it's his dedication too for if not him I would never bother trials of three desserts to try one.

 I am not giving away the recipe for now because I am waiting for few more pics taken by some of WHO's colleagues. It so happened that our camera was not functioning for two weeks and was under repair when this whole chocolate season began and I regret not having photographed  my creations giving them the due credits they deserve. But for the first time in our married life we got so engrossed onto a task so enjoyable so kudos to WHO's office for organizing this contest.

The winners and their creation. For those who aren't familiar with WHO he is the guy in the centre.

These are some of the creations plated by the other participants I guess the one below is a panacotta.

And this is a chocolate bundt cake with some strawberries and kiwi stuffed in the centre.

I am sure this bunch of guys had fun posing as judges and eating the cakes too :) 

I found the channa chocolate cake as per it's decoration quite interesting.

I like chocolate in any form so I can't say one was better than the other but obviously there was no novelty in most of the desserts according to WHO and maybe most desserts had an overwhelming chocolate feeling and the other ingredients was not sufficient to neutralise the chocolatey flavour.

I loved this dessert I could imagine how it would taste and this is something I would call my comfort dessert :)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

First day at school

I woke up today feeling quite nostalgic. I dreamt my first day at school. And I was quite excited while narrating it to my hubby over a cup of tea. I don't claim to remember every single incident of my childhood unlike my brother, but the very few incidents that I remember, I cherish for a lifetime. I believe , I remember them for a purpose. Every time I go through my self doubting phase, I open my treasure  of childhood memories and they strengthen me. It helps me understand how I evolved ( that's a trendier word, than admitting I changed)
Today morning I remembered my first day at school. I remember the lunch box I carried. It  was an orange coloured mini briefcase with hardees written on it in bold yellow. ( Hardees was the Mc D of my childhood). Inside the case was my lunch box with a sandwich and a thermos with horlicks)
I remember my excitement in carrying it to school. No matter how many times I was served sandwich and horlicks at home, the fact that I was carrying a tiffin like my dad did to work excited me a lot. Such was my pleasure of owning the lunch box that while the teacher taught us rhymes, I opened my box and started eating. I don't remember if I did this out of hunger or at the pleasure of the new found independence of having a box that I could open and eat whenever I wanted. But I remember the teacher trying to make me understand I could not eat when the classes happened. I remember my mom trying to explain school had rules and time table. Even as a kid I found rules absurd and conforming to them a pain. Maybe radical education was my motto from birth.

I just knew I was not ready. Not ready to smile and draw slanting lines or paint apple on top of a single ruled page with A written all over. I was not ready to wake at 6 am and form an assembly line at  7. 
As days passed by and the teacher realised coaxing would not help, she decided the all time favourite punishment of teachers - beating with a wooden ruler ( I am so grateful we had no canes in Kuwait). I must admit I was a retard to believe a stranger would behave like mom just warn me with stick rather beat me. So when the teacher actually struck me with her ruler, I peed instantly wetting my skirt. I remember walking home all wet in a spare skirt the aayah who assisted the teacher. I had learned my lesson for lifetime, to conform. I wonder how differently they could behave to students who find it hard to accept the disconnect between school and home, real life and the foster one school imposes onto students.Years later I still harbour the same feelings for school but I regret for the years in between when I was trained into a docile hound. Today after a long time I feel I am my 'self' again and to think of it 3 or 29 it doesn't matter what age you are to understand the hoax around you :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Taste of Jammu

I had a fabulous week at Jammu and Kashmir 3 weeks back. Though I have been trying to write about it, I was caught up with work and these pics got buried under my pile of unfinished posts. So before I lost track of my memories of Jammu amidst research, I thought I should put this up after all I struggled a lot with my weak batteries and tired camera trying to capture J&K in 7 days. Since I was on a conference at the University of Jammu, I spent 4 out of my 7 days in J&K at Jammu.

Jammu also known as the city of temples is a hot spot for pilgrims touring Vaishno Devi and Amarnath caves. I would call it a sleeper town, a very hot and arid one mostly located with dhams and a couple of small markets.But having lived in metro cities in the past 6 years, Jammu and it's silence was a warm welcome.I should admit at the outset I thought Jammu and Kashmir were twin cities and I was unaware of their cultural and geographical diversity. I landed Jammu Airport dreaming Kashmiri Wazwan and cold weather though I was well informed by then that Jammu was quite distinct from Kashmir. But then every city has it's charm and I did my best to unveil it through my gastronomical interest. Luckily I had a friend who was a Kashmiri pandit and from his mom I learnt some Kashmiri recipes. She was superexcited at our visit and prepared a banquet with all the popular Kashmiri dishes which I actually did not get to sample when I reached Kashmir. So thanks to Vikas and family I got first hand experience of Kahwa, Pink tea and many more delicacies right in Jammu which made my trip even special.

If there's something that excites me when it comes to shopping it's the sight of fresh vegetables. I think I inherited this interest from my mom. She ends up shopping more than we need for the week because she can't resist fresh veggies.I grew up in the Middle East- a desert basically. But the biggest joys of my childhood days was always connected to our weekly trips to the Fish market. I loved the sight of veggies and fruits even then. On my return back to India, I was disappointed at the sight of markets I visited. Vegetables always looked tired and asphyxiated. So I got used to the notion of munching on inferior quality veggies when the fresh ones were exported to far away lands like the one where I grew up for instance. So to the surprise of Vikas my friend I was in love with the vegetable market in Jammu and the vegetables looked so fresh, I thought I could eat them raw there.These pictures were captured in the dark and my batteries were really weak so maybe they can't give you a view of what I would want you all to see. But I found some fascninating veggies I hadn't seen elsewhere. The pic above ( starting from left) shows Gilki, Saag, Nadru and Shalgam. Gilki belongs to the Tinda, Lauki family. The saag has a pungent flavour something similar to leaves of Radish. Nadru is lotus stem and a delicacy the people of Jammu and Kashmir hold very dear. Shalgam or turnips are used in pickles, salads and curries.We visited this market for my friend who wanted to buy apples. We were told the apples come from Kashmir and is cheaper there but we were still happy to buy apples for Rs 40 per kg and pears for Rs 20 per kg. My friend had 8 kgs packed for her whole family while I managed to learn the local vegetables.

The prime attraction in Jammu city is Baagh- Bahu and Bahu fort with a garden and an aquarium which people boast is the largest aquarium in India. Both the garden and fort is named after the Raja Bahulochan who built this fort 3000 years ago. The fort is a religious place and has a temple dedicated to goddess Kali.It is here that Vikas introduced us to a popular snack popularly known as 'Kachaloo'. Kachaloo is a tuber similar to yam and mixed with a couple of spices it is a very spicy snack that could make you cry or worry your tummy. I just loved the ceramic bowl the hawker had in which he mixed his condiments.The aquarium was small and did not have the variety of fishes they promised us at the ticket counter and the gardens had very few flowers that wooed us but Kachaloo was worth the trip to the garden.

Though Jammu does not produce almonds and walnuts and they come from Kashmir, this was the first time my friend and I got to see nuts and pulses heaped like a mountain. Almonds, Walnuts and Razma ( not Rajma) is a treat for pilgrims who visit the city who might not make it to Srinagar thereafter.Though the nuts are overpriced than Srinagar it's way cheaper than any other part of the country. According to the experts a good quality almond when crushed between fingers produces oil. A decent quality of Walnut costs Rs 160 per kg with shells. Walnuts and Almonds are used very generously in the Dongri and Kashmiri cuisines. Kahwa uses almonds and Walnut paste is added in chutneys.

The Razma grown in this region is smaller than the Rajma we usually get in the market. And way it is cooked is different too, from the Punjabi or any other North Indian versions of Rajma.

A very popular snack in Jammu is kulcha. This is nothing but a bun stuffed with tomatoes, onions, chillies and cheese or any other stuffing. Kalari kulcha is the most popular kulcha which is bun stuffed with cheese. I love the pot the hawkers carry with the stuffing which is placed slanting on top of  another plate with the other veggies for the kulcha.

The conference we attended did not offer us non vegetarian food and since we stayed at a dham we had no access to non vegetarian food there either. I had lured my friend with pictures of Kashmiri Wazwan on the flight and since she was not joining me on my trip to Srinagar we decided to taste Mutton rogan josh from a restaurant. Now since Vikas my friend was a Kashmiri pandit settled in Jammu, he took us to a famous restaurant in Jammu that was run by Kashmiris. Though Vikas did not pass the rogan josh in flying colours and I realised his displeasure when I tasted his mother's rogan josh later, my friend and I had a wonderful time with Rogan josh after days of razmah chawal. On my trip to Kashmir later I realised the rogan josh served to me was similar to this curry that I had at the restaurant in Jammu. Which makes me wonder if there are different versions of Rogan josh in Kashmir. This one I tasted in restaurant was similar to the curries I had in the middle eastern restaurants in my childhood. Rogan josh has two meanings- Hot oil or Passioante red . I guess it gets this name from the red fiery Kashmiri chillies and the way of cooking it with a passionate heat.

Vikas's mom had a spread for us which she began cooking a day ahead.We were so stuffed with nuts and tea that when we sat for dinner we found it hard to finish one round of dishes served to us. My hubby said we would regret this later when we would wish we had atleast one of these gravies to savour.  The picture below shows Mutton pulao, Mutton Yakhni ( curd based gravy), Kheemia ( minced meat with spices), Dum aloo and Mutton rogan josh.

I have developed a fondness for yakhni and did try it in Bangalore once. I will update the recipe soon. Nadru or lotus stem was cooked in yakhni style too the pic of which you can see below. Nadru is also fried as chips for snacks.

I loved the way aunty made Kahwa. There are two versions of Kahwa and I will share both the recipes. Mughal tea is used for making Kahwa with tea leaves. A handful of almonds, cardamom and a piece of cinnamon is crushed. 2 tsp of tea leaves is boiled with 3 cups of water. When the tea has boiled sufficiently to the desired strength, the crushed condiments are added. Sugar can be added or avoided according to one's preference and the sieved tea is served as Kahwa. I found this version quite strong with flavour of cinnamon so I prefer the non tea- leaf version of Kahwa.

This version boils water with just one cardamom and three strands of saffron. And the result is a yellow coloured liquid which again can be taken with or without sugar. The pink tea however is a salty tea. The pink colour comes out when milk is mixed with the red coloured tea. But it was too salty for me and I had tough time associating salt to tea which prevented me from gulping copiously. I would go for the saffron version of Kahwa especially on cold wintery morning.

And it would be sinful to omit Vikas' favourite lacha kulfi. It was indeed the best kulfi I ever had minus the laccha which is just boiled vermicelli. Lali shah kulfi wala has the best kulfi in Jammu and if you ever happen to be there  don't miss it.

Looks can be deceptive they do taste way better than the pics and I loved them. My friend however had lot of salt on hers which she did not tell us till the end making us wonder why she  was tempting us poking around with her kulfi when Vikas and I were done and could easily go for another round. The kulfi wala was so sweet, he gave us a discount on the bill for this mishap and we had a wonderful time after a tightly packed day at shopping :)

The gastronmic journey of Jammu ends here and that means Kashmir is round the corner. Hope you loved this post as much as I did writing and researching on it. People tease me saying  J&K is famous for their scenic beauty and cuisine comes later well but I disagree perhaps it depends on the eyes of the beholder :)