Cooking with this versatile Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt caught my fancy when I was living in London a decade ago and my love affair with it continues. Sadly, there was no proper equivalent to it in India till Epigamia came along recently. Rich, creamy, luscious and yet, low fat. The perfect protein and calcium fix, I need at my age.

 

I have been picking up and devouring various flavours of Epigamia, Banana Honey and Vanilla bean and strawberry being my favourites.

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Of course while many of us cook with dahi or curd at home especially in Indian food, as amrinades or in masalas for gravies, I was intrigued when invited to Bastian. Famed for its food, helmed by maverick Chef Kelvin Cheung, Chef was going to serve dishes created using Epigamia, Greek yogurt, I was informed. Wow! That sounded exciting.

And exciting it was. The strawberry smoothie served at the outset wowed my palate with the flavours- thick, creamy and the touch of balsamic, I think, did the trick. Was refreshing alright.

Roasted spare ribs with mango yogurt, sounded enticing. Chef Kelvin used the yogurt as a marinade and left this overnight to absorb the yogurt and tenderize the meat. The result, melt in the mouth fare, well-spiced and balanced.

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The truffle mushroom sweet potato pappardelle took me by surprise. It is one of the best dishes I have ever tasted. The creamy texture imparted by the natural yogurt was a delight for the taste buds. In the non-vegetarian version, caramalised yogurt was used for the lobster. The flavour profiles matched perfectly and the textures were stuff dreams are made of. The crunch, bite, creaminess was a roller-coaster ride for the palate, which it gladly embraced. No, I did not miss being a Carnivore today.

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Chef Kelvin Cheung’s mastery over his craft is undisputed and his clever and skillful use of Epigamia Greek yogurt was ample testimony.

The dessert, expectedly was a treat. The honey banana yogurt was used to make a creamy custard and served with banana bread and black pepper honey it surpassed my expectations. The natural sweetness of the yogurt accentuated the other flavours and made it a delectable dessert.

A delightful afternoon of discovery, this meal turned out to be. And with Rohan Mirchandani, one of the founders for company, the afternoon was certainly memorable.

The versatile ingredient that Greek yogurt is has set me thinking. Time to do embark upon my experiments in the kitchen with Epigamia. Not just going to wolf these down but shall put them to sue in cooking too.

 

 

 

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Food meets films in vibrant ambience

Which one of us does not love and cherish the film Sholay? Most of us I think, do. Naturally then, when a restaurant is named after one of the famed characters of this iconic film, the intrigue factor heightens. Basanti and Co. in Seven Bungalows Andheri West thus beckoned me.

The colourful interiors, trendy decor and cheerful vibe, set the tome of our evening. The bric-a-brac and design elements thrown in appealed to me instantly. The seating area is spacious and the bar in one corner, eclectic.

The menu offered Awadhi and North Indian food with a special section of Chef Qureshi’s signature Biryanis. Yes, another chef from the famed Qureshi family.

The service staff seemed articulate and alert. Roy, serving us was well-spoken and well-informed about the menu too.

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Murg Badam shorba, is what we started with and the creamy soul was comforting. The hint of saffron and the crunch owing to the almonds seamless meshed with the creamy thick broth. There were chaats too on offer but we decided to skip those.

Murg Tikka Patiala was well marinated and grilled to perfection. The smoky flavours were apparent in each bite. The Dahi ke kabab however stole the thunder. Well-made, these were soft, tangy and wholesome.

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For mains, we ordered the makki ki roti and sarson ka saag with a lassoni addition. Did not work for me at all. The saag was far from the real thing. The Punjabi choley with mini lulchas, were robust and delightful. The Nalli Nihari was the star of the show. The pronounced flavours of mutton in a well-spiced gravy and soft well-cooked pieces of mutton and of course the nihari was an absolute treat. Chicken Tariwala too was a preparation which tingled our taste buds.

The assorted rotis were the perfect accompaniment- garlic naan, missi roti, makki ki roti and tandoori roti. The lamb kulcha sounded enticing too.

The dessert options were strangely limited. Jalebi rabdi and malai phirni was all they offered. Both were strictly mediocre as the textures were far from authentic. The phirni lacked the quintessential grainy texture and bite and was too pasty, whereas the rabdi was cloyingly sweet and again of a overly creamy texture. The crisp and well-fried jalebis got my instant vote though.

The thandai shot at the end of our meal was mild but served the purpose of an after-meal digestive.

This place offers an exhaustive variety -both food and the bar menu. Vegetarians need not fret as there are abundant options. The portions too are hearty and perfect for a family meal. The food is well-presented but sans any unnecessary frills.

We missed trying the biryani and in order to remedy that, I need to make a second trip to Basanti and Co.

Open for lunch and dinner, a meal for two without alcohol is approx Rs 1500.

Rating : 3.5/5

Fresh and Flavoursome

A huge fan of freshly cooked food, I like no short cuts and especially no packet, packaged and processed for me, as far as I can help it. Of course once in a while we all get lazy and give in but this is the exception in my home rather than the rule.

Thus, I was reluctant to try the range of products from Freshway Foods, a Vadodara based company, when a friend urged me too.

The packets arrived and looked attractive and the instructions easy to follow. In fact utterly simple.

Their unique freeze-dry technology, which is accepted worldwide as the best food preservation process, fascinated me. The colour, flavours and freshness of the food is preserved without affecting its nutritional value.

What’s more, their food is preservative free, which ensures it is as healthy as home-cooked food.

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The Palak Paneer, which I tried first, blew me off completely. The palak was delicious and the paneer soft. It was well-spiced, was bursting with fresh flavours and I could not believe it had been created in minutes out of a packet merely by adding boiling water.

The daal makhani was equally a surprise. A laborious dal, otherwise to prepare, this one was tasty all the way and ready in minutes.  The consistency was right and the flavours reminiscent of home food.

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From pulao kadhi to paneer bhurji and Veg Biryani to Moong Dal sheera, Freshway Foods offers them all. A complete vegetarian range, they have a lot of Gujarati delicacies apart from the universal favourites from all over India.

Freshway products pass through stringent quality standards and microbial tests at every stage of freeze-drying. Their strict hygiene and housekeeping regime ensures that every product is packaged with utmost hygiene and minimal wastage, keeping intact its nutritional values. That is perhaps what sets them apart.

Reasonably priced, the portions are decent too. This is the perfect solution for days when one is feeling lazy and does not want to cook and yet not order an expensive and oily takeaway. Bachelors, single working professionals and harried women can make use of their wide range.

One can order online and the packets get delivered to your doorstep.

I have actually heaved a sigh of relief now that there is a healthy food solution at hand, in terms of Freshway ready-to-eat meals. At last a brand that lives up to its promise of delivering fresh food.

 

Christmas Roasts

With Christmas round the corner, we all have stuffed chicken or turkey on our minds. While Turkey is usually the centerpiece for Thanksgiving dinners, chicken, pork, lamb  roasts are popular for Christmas.

Roast lamb with apricot stuffing is matchless. Another good combination for lamb stuffing is bacon, garlic and rosemary or bacon and shallots. If you’re looking for an exotic Christmas Turkey, then ricotta cheese or orange and prunes stuffing maybe the answer.

Roast Chicken

A good stuffing, believe me, can transform the taste of your roast, so spend time preparing it. Experiment with herbs, nuts and other ingredients. Some of us like cubed bread and garlic as the stuffing, while others prefer, bread mix with onion, thyme and parsley. Any type of bread will work as long as it has a firm texture and has been dried properly. Your roast can have luscious flavours owing to the unique fillings. Whatever be the filling, it is a laborious process, but worth it anyway.

My all time favourite is Roast Chicken with Apple-Sausage Stuffing, Pan-Reduced Sauce and Roasted Vegetables. And it is pretty simple and straightforward to prepare too. Mushrooms pair well with pork, so try adding those to your stuffing this year.

Make use fo fruits. These can rev up the taste of the dish to unimaginable heights. Apples, cranberries, dried apricots, dried plums, raisins are a good choice.

Bread, chestnut, sage, pork sausage, cranberries is a typical stuffing and the first choice of many.

If you don’t want to make the stuffing yourself, buying readymade ones (of course a prior order is mandatory) is also a possibility. In  Mumbai too, many take orders and supply great roasts on Christmas. And of course Mumbai hotels and restaurants have great roasts on offer for Christmas.

Roast Turkey with Cranberry Sauce, Brussel Sprouts, Roast Leg of Pork with Parsnips, are available at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar. Chef Sanjana Patel at La Folie Lab is offering a traditional English Roast with Chicken supreme breast with Buttered beans, Roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Oh! this one is not to be missed.

Made at home or purchased, or savouring one at a restaurant, a roast is a must on Christmas. Yes, with a bowl of gravy, some roasted potatoes, carrots, broccoli and wine. Merry Christmas!

 

A recipe that I love to follow :

Pork, sage, onion and chestnuts stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2 large onions, peeled and quartered
  • 50 g stale bread
  • 200 g vacuum-packed chestnuts
  • 1 kg shoulder of pork, trimmed and diced
  • 1 bunch fresh sage, leaves picked
  • 3 rashers smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped
  • freshly ground white pepper
  • sea salt
  • 1 whole fresh nutmeg, for grating
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange

Method-
Preheat your oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5. Blitz the onions in the food processor until finely chopped, then tip into a large bowl. Tear the stale bread into small chunks and whiz into breadcrumbs. Add these to the bowl, then crush and crumble your chestnuts in there too. Tip your diced pork into the food processor with the sage leaves, bacon, a level teaspoon of white pepper and a good pinch of salt. Finely grate in a quarter of the nutmeg, the zest of half a lemon and just 2 or 3 gratings of orange zest. Pulse until you’ve got some chunks and some mush, it won’t even take a minute, then tip into the mixing bowl.

Because the pork is raw, you’re committed to seasoning it well so add another pinch of salt and white pepper, then get your clean hands in there and scrunch it all up until well combined.

Take just under half of the stuffing out of the bowl to use for your turkey, then transfer the rest to a lovely earthenware-type dish that you can serve from. Use your hands to break it up and push it about, then flatten it all down. Pop it in the oven to cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour until bubbling and crispy. When done, you can pour away any excess fat before serving if you want to. It will be soft, juicy and succulent on the inside, then gnarly, crispy and chewy on the outside.

The Unstoppable Pastry Queen

There are a lot of chefs I admire. In fact I respect most of them for being so passionate about their craft and the hard work they put in unflinchingly. But some I deeply respect.

One such young chef with whom I share a good rapport and have followed her work closely from inception is Executive Chef and Partner, La Folie, Sanjana Patel.

Chef Sanjana Patel- La Folie

A creator par excellence, I love her dedication, her focus towards her work and her ability to learn and enjoy what she does. I have always found her to be extremely gifted and a cut above the rest. Not one to hobnob at social do’s or immerse herself networking, she goes about her work with quiet dignity. And her creations bear ample testimony to that.

An alumnus of Le Cordon Bleu, London,  Sanjana has done an apprenticeship with Pierre Hermé. After which, she worked with the likes of Emmanuel Ryon (of the famous Café Pouchkine in Paris) and Jean-Charles Rochoux.

Sanjana Patel returned to Mumbai eager to give the city the best dessert experience ever, using high-quality ingredients and keeping the menu limited and specialised. She started La Folie Pâtisserie in 2014 and changed the way, we Mumbaikars looked at desserts.

Avant garde creations are her forte as are classics. Less is more is clearly her mantra. A Sakura from Japan and the dessert Jardin – a grapefruit & yogurt pavlova, are two offerings which particularly impressed me at the La Folie Lab in Kamala Mills. Both labour-intensive and detailed.

Liege Belgian waffle - Nutella chocolate ganache

After opening La Folie Lab’s latest outpost in Kamala Mills earlier this year, she has now set up La Folie Du Chocolat at Kala Ghoda, a place where it all began. Basically she has reinvented it and presented the patisserie in a new avatar. “This is what I enjoy doing the most, ” she gushes effusively. She gladly delves into the myriad nuances of chocolates as she patiently takes me through her offerings. From Le baba to vegan bonbons and chocolate bars, Sanjana has them all.

Her inventive new menu features an affogato drip bar, a selection of coffees by Koinonia and premium teas by TGL. This tiny and vibrant Parisian Cafe is the perfect place to sip a Cortado and read a book or catch up with friends for a sweet treat.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Sanjana takes customer feedback seriously and is always keen to keep abreast of latest global trends and incorporate new learnings in her work. She painstakingly plunges into R&D, forever yearning to create new things – sometimes healthy alternatives to her desserts at other times indulging in experiments.

But none of all that she has created and achieved, I feel would be possible, if it was not for the rock solid support given to her by her sheat anchor, husband Parthesh. The way he handles the business, their customers, the operations making it all look like a breeze is laudable.

The effervescent and restless Chef Sanjana is simply unstoppable. And that’s what I love about Sanjana, among her many other qualities.

 

Tea Tales & Winter food

Winters are somehow all about indulgence. Given the weather when the temperature drops, one can getaway by giving in to one’s guilty pleasures. More calories are needed to generate body heat, we are told, so we all gladly embark upon that task. Sadly, Mumbai does not gift us real winters, yet, we unabashedly gorge on some winter delicacies.

Another thing which is synonymous for everyone with winters, is a hot brew-tea or coffee. I love my tea and  when a winter menu is about tea and food, naturally I am ecstatic.

Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea House (TMTH) has curated a new Winter Menu, using the most exotic and fresh produce of the season.  TMTH has handpicked season’s popular ingredients and created an interplay of flavours to intrigue the diner’s taste buds.

Irresistible this sounded, so I set about to explore it one evening.

As I settled in, I discovered each item on the cleverly crafted menu, was aptly complemented by one of their signature tea blends.

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The falafel chaat arrived on the table and was paired with  a pink guava and kaffir lime tea. The tangy chaat with palate-teasing flavours, was delightful. After a sip of the light tea, the flavours came alive with a vengeance. I was off to a good start.

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Next was the salad with paneer and the tea to go along, was a delicate Oriental Jasmine and rose. A unique blend of the East and West- a romantic tea, which uplifts your mood instantly. It did just that. It perked my taste buds and I found myself enjoying the hearty and crunchy salad even more.

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Teas being paired with every course, I thought was an exciting thing to do in order to enhance the dining experience. And it really worked wonders.

Risotto infused with Sambar was served next but the watered down version did not entice me enough. The silver needle and berries tea paired with it though, took me by surprise. Fruity and flavourful, it was comforting all the way and yet, added zest to my palate with its intoxicating flavours. Who needs wine with teas like this around?

The Idly Crust with Pomfret was the piece de resistance. Fresh fluffy soft fish with a delectable crust was a treat for the taste buds.

What can I say about the matcha semifreddo. It bore ample testimony to Chef’s mastery over his craft. The matcha tea flavours, lend themselves seamlessly to this dessert and in fact enhanced the taste. Layers of Matcha cream and cake covered with grilled almond slivers and served with chocolate sauce. Truly decadent. Paired with the robust mocha tea this course was truly memorable. Assam chai with a rich coffee cream crown and finished with cracked roasted coffee beans. Whew! I had tasted nothing like this ever before.

There is Chai cheese cake tart too, for dessert lovers, which I have to head back to try.

This menu is truly innovative and offers something for every palate. A special treat for the Vegans is using the winter staple Ragi in a contemporary Vegetable Quiche. Vegetarians can relish the Multigrain Hari Matar Burger, while carnivores will enjoy the Baked Irani Lamb Kheema – Aubergine parceled shells baked with lamb kheema inspired by Dhansak flavor and glazed with Béchamel sauce, among others.

I left the place with a smile as the manner in which teas had been paired with food,  especially the fish course was a true revelation. And I had sampled the very best of teas and food. It does not get any better than this. Winters had set in for me this evening, and I was not complaining.

Rating : 4/5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progressive, Yet Indian

A visit to Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, is always a coveted experience. The cutting edge techniques used to showcase progressive modern Indian cuisine is after all, make the food here unique and memorable. 

The prospect of sampling the all new sixteen course Tasting Menu, seemed both intimidating and exciting. 

Comfortably seated in this elegant restaurant, I was ready to embark upon my journey. Plated with molecular magic, the dishes looked appetizing and boasted of the characteristic flamboyance of this place.

I was ready to surrender myself to Chef Vaibhav’s culinary magic and expect the unexpected on my table. In keeping with Masala Library’s philosophy, Chef Saurabh Udinia has passionately and artfully designed the new menu, reflecting the vibrancy and diversity of traditional Indian fare with innovation and progressive presentation techniques.

My Amuse Bouche – mango egg, which looked like egg yolk in shells arrived. Of course they were not. Mango cream was what we were served and one could just gulp it down. I was off to a delicious start.

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The Deconstructed Samosa did not remotely resemble a samosa but was true in all its elements in terms of ingredients. The Charcoal Bhajjia, did not impress me. The lotus stem crisp with radish dip was exquisite to look at and in terms of flavours too. The lamb galouti was a pleasant surprise as it did not look anything like the usual one we normally savour. But the texture and flavour were perfect. The laccha paratha and Gujarati kadhi I thought were a bit too mismatched.

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The prawns with thayir sadam  or curd rice, were delightful and the contrast in the textures enhanced the experience manifold. The chicken tikka looked most ordinary when it arrived on the table but wowed me completely with its spices and marination. It simply melt in my mouth.

The desserts were an absolute treat, in keeping with the entire dining experience. The jalebi caviar with rabdi is something no one can tire of and I am no exception. Executed with precision and bursting with flavours, it is the stuff dreams are made of. 

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Each dish surpassed the previous one and I could not really decide which one my vote go to that evening. The food was carefully crafted, skillfully plated and cleverly executed. Many a time it could leave you guessing long after you had a bite of it. There were elements of drama but no unnecessary gimmicks. Everything only to enhance the dining experience and pulled off with panache. 

Impeccable service, articulate staff. And of course a superlative dining experience. Masala Library always spices up my meals.

Rating : 4.2/5