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Jan 1, 2015

The Shirazine 2014 Tribute - Bacon Jam!

Our love for bacon is legendary, this statement feels like deja vu, I have a feeling I've started a post this way before! Our hunt for the perfect slices of bacon continues though we do have better choice now than we did 18 years ago when I was in culinary school and met a kindred soul in the shape of Andy! We communed over food and music and our love for bacon had us devouring platefuls whenever stock arrived in Manipal, all the way from Bangalore! Then and now! Now we can get heritage bacon in the neighbourhood gourmet store or go old school and hit 'Khubchand Piggeries' in Connaught Place and stock up on cooking bacon. Thick slices of beautifully layered bacon, meat and milky, white fat, waiting to wrap itself over a roasting bird or be the base of a Frittata or better still, become pulverized to little short of posterity, in the form of Bacon Jam! One of the best versions I've had was at Holy Smoke, a BBQ/Grill in Cyberhub. Relatively dry, salty, sweet, spicy goodness, with a hint of cumin and bacon bits, smoked to perfection. I wasn't aiming to mimic that, I want more of a relish, moister perhaps and something that retains more chewiness and less crispiness that comes from smoked bacon. I did research my BBQ Bible and found an interesting recipe with Bourbon which came together with an idea from Martha Stewart, though her version seemed a bit too sweet for our liking! After which a batch of shallots were discovered, abandoned in the fridge, which meant, Bacon Jam had to happen! I like how shallots caramelize versus red onions, which shrivel up and brown, shallots won't let them burn I figured, so as always, the pantry birthed a recipe!

The bacon in stock was sadly breakfast bacon, a bit to thin for this prep and not salty enough in my opinion but since recipe was a resolution for 2015, it had to happen. I made a small batch and have tried to tweak the recipe in the experiment #2 today, this one has more balanced flavours and thicker, saltier bacon. Bourbon had to be a component, that's where I want the smokiness from, the spice kick will come from chilli flakes (pizza delivery bonus!) and since maple syrup has a distinct flavour, I decided to go with honey for sweetness and no brown sugar as a lot of recipes suggested. The final product is more of a relish that a jam, a little high on spice and sweet, the salt comes when you have bacon in a bite, since I had packed in the bacon in my second attempt, I loved the balance. This is a fantastic table relish in this weather and given that I retained the bacon fat and added honey, it should stay for a month, if it lasts that long! It makes for an excellent condiment with roasts, roast birds in particular need a sweet, relish add-on and if you want a royal breakfast, fry a couple of eggs, sunny side up, a side of pan roasted tomatoes, potato wedges, a buttery croissant and this Bacon Jam!


The Shirazine Bacon Jam

Makes: About 650 gms

Ingredients:

400 gms Thick, salty cooking bacon or 2 packs of breakfast bacon
2 large Red Onions, chopped fine
2 Shallots, chopped fine
7-10 cloves of Garlic, smashed
150 ml Bourbon
100 ml + 50 ml Honey
2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tsp Cumin Powder
2 tsp Red Chilli Flakes
Sea Salt

Method:

Heat the olive oil in a shallow saucepan or frying pan large enough to hold the bacon and liquids. Add slices of the bacon evenly and fry till crispy. Try and keep the flame high and turning the slices occasionally, sometimes a lot of moisture and fat is released on a low flame and the bacon simmers instead of frying.  Once the bacon is well fried and evenly brown and crispy, remove on a paper towel and add the onions and garlic to the fat. Saute on a medium flame and let the onions sweat and start to caramelize, once the red onions start to brown, add the cumin powder and chilli flakes, mix it up and pour in the honey and bourbon. While that starts to bubble, cut up the bacon into small bits with a kitchen knife and set aside. Put the flame high and let the mix reduce to a thick, syrupy relish, about 4-5 minutes. Check the seasoning, time to add the sea salt if you feel the bacon isn't salty enough, which local breakfast bacon usually isn't. In a glass mixing bowl, throw in the bacon bit and top with the cooled relish base, use a hand blender or food processed to give a quick buzz to bacon and relish together. To get a thick, chunky Bacon Jam, just a quick whiz would be enough, if you want a slightly finer texture, go for another! If you plan to serve this as a side with a roast then don't process at all, keep it bit sized and thick. Cool the mix completely before bottling in a clean, air tight mason jar. Enjoy!

Dec 30, 2014

BEST Hot Chocolate Ever!

Today is exceptionally cold and it brings back memories of when we used to have longer frosty spells! Back when mom would warm our beds before we tucked in, she would sit under our blankets and read while we washed up and changed. She would make us hot drinks on winter nights, I loved Ovaltine and my dad would stock it when he traveled, that malty aroma is so comforting for me even today. We grilled in the balcony and I loved how mom made pomfret, one for each of us, there is no greater 'food' joy for a child than to have a 'dish' all of their own. Probably the reason why I loved quails so much, and partridge which was a better size to make one portion. Since we weren't allowed coffee, our winter staple was Bournevita or Boost but on special and very cold nights, our mom would melt a bar of chocolate in a saucepan of milk, add cream and make our dreams come true. The secret was the chocolate she used. It was cooking, dark chocolate from Modern Bazaar. I don't remember her baking with it, she used copious amounts of cocoa and usually made devils food cakes. So I guess, hot chocolate was where it went! The beauty of these memories is that I now buy 70% Lindt from the Modern Bazaar in my neighbourhood, 20 km from the one my mom went to. Sometimes they have a 1+1 offer, that's when frivolity is in order and our version of hot chocolate shall be made! Make this before you tuck in and don't forget to pick a good book or movie, savour it slowly and a few butter cookies with it never hurt anyone!

The Shirazine Best Ever Hot Chocolate

Makes: 2 Mason Jars

Ingredients:

1 cup Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 slab 70% Lindt Chocolate or equivalent
4 tbsp Salted Caramel

Method:

Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan, break the chocolate into small pieces and add to warm milk. Use a wire whisk to gently let it melt and bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into mason jars, stir in 2 tbsp of salted caramel into each of the two jars and ENJOY!

Cookies, Cuddles and Cozy Afternoons!

We are on winter vacation and we take vacations very seriously! Apart from the daily mail check and a bunch of calls, we try and spend most of the day in pursuit of personal enhancement. Which could well be in the form an hour or two at the spa, window shopping or baking cookies to make the kitchen warm on a frosty, cold day! These past few days have been very frosty and we have just come out of a whirlwind of good time, which is always how it is when Andy is here! We went for a staycation, we shopped, we ate our hearts out and most of all we spent Ally's b'day and Christmas together, that's our 19th one together and 9th with Ally, very very special! The menu for those days was exhaustive but we are in somewhat of a detox mode these days, the only indulgence being 'something sweet'. One evening we made fresh, piping hot 'Karha Prashad' and it was like being blessed with every spoonful. We make the prashad while reciting the 'mool mantra' with every step, it's beautiful. Whatever your faith maybe, keep it intact and remember it most when the going is good! Enough with the philosophy, we were baking cookies remember?! For Christmas we received so many that all we made were Karmolas, Apple Pie and a Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake (click on the name for the recipe!). So this week we decided to go back to baking and make simple, hearty snacks so we can catch up on movies!

Since I love involving Ally in the kitchen as much as time and patience allow, we thought of making the simplest of cookies where kids have that one thrill of finishing the product. They get to make thumbprints in the cookie and they get to add the topping when the cookies are baked. So we made Nutella Topped Thumbprint Cookies. These buttery, sugar-crunchy delights can be topped with pretty much any sweet topping. And now that we are hoarding a stash of Bonne Maman preserves, I actually made half a batch with the Cherry Preserve, sweet perfection! This is an ideal recipe for kids, they can pretty much do the whole thing only with supervision, it is also a handy recipe to have for quick cookies, I refrigerate the dough for just about 30 minutes or not at all if I have to.This is also a fun cookie for an activity with kids, line up a variety of topping, maybe a few sprinkles and let them make there own cookie! Ally loves to collect these recipes and ideas and since we are done with cupcake decoration, these cookies will be our next activity for play dates!


The Shirazine Nutella Thumbprint Cookies

Makes: 12

Ingredients:

120 gms Butter
100 gms Sugar
150 gms Flour
1/2 tsp Vanilla Essence

6-8 tbsp Nutella for topping

Method: 

Cream the butter in a mixing bowl till light and fluffy, add the sugar and the vanilla essence and mix till creamy. I use a hand mixer so I can get it all in, stand mixers are best for larger batches or wetter batters. Switch to a wooden spoon and blend in the flour, till it all comes together into a ball of soft dough. If it is too sticky, you can add a bit of flour, if it is too dry, then you can knead it, the warmth of your hand will soften the butter to moisten the dough. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1/2 hr, I feel I don't have to do this in winters if I am in a hurry. Line a baking tray with butter paper and use a tablespoon to measure the dough balls, roll in your palms and flatten to make a small, badge sized flat cookie. Place on the tray and make fairly deep thumbprints in each cookie. Bake in a pre-heated oven, at 200C for about 8-10 minutes or till the cookies are browning. If the thumbprint indentation rises, you a teaspoon to gently flatten. Remove from oven and cool, once cooled you can top the cookie with Nutella. As I said, you can use from onion balsamic relish to bacon jam for a cookie like this. Enjoy!

Of Season and Savoury Tarts!

I hosted my first event this Christmas, it's a lot like hosting parties which we do a lot of but the fun part is that all you have to do is invite your friends and enjoy the evening! I suppose it pays to know the right people!! The other cool part was that the event was one of my all time favourite brands - Le Creuset! Inspiring cookware that I have slowly begun to collect. After bulky collections like mini jugs and cookie tins, this one is going to need a pantry of it's own! Half my collection has already been sent to our other home, so I'm starting the Le Creuset journey with one saucepan and one casserole, a whole lot of stoneware and the hopes of buying the Tagine Pot sometime soon. The event showcased 3 bakers/caterers who were asked to use Bonne Maman preserves in recipes for the demo that evening! I loved each recipe, the marmalade dressing for the smoked turkey and rucola salad was amazing and the chocolate and cherry preserve tart had such simple panache! And finally, the cake, a blend of dark chocolate ganache and mandarin-esque marmalade, a product I'm planning to cook a lot with. So now I this fabulous stock of Le Creuset, I can't stop the ideas from flowing, to add to that we have a pretty decent stock of puff pastry left from Andy's visit, homemade goodness! My mother in law makes some of the best puff I have ever had, she makes these shrimp patties that are to die for! This was a puff made for savoury pies, so we're going to make a savoury puff pastry pie that needs a side of meats to become a meal. I suggest lamb or pork!

Since I have always loved incorporating fruit in savoury foods and meals, preserves add a whole new dimension to this pursuit. Especially savoury friendly preserves like Apricot, Bitter Orange Marmalade and Mixed Wild Berries. These go best with game meats, red meats and birds like turkey and even quail. But if you want to make a simple roast chicken, spiffy, you won't believe what a smear/rub of marmalade can do for the skin! And where there is fruit, there has to be cheese (or chocolate, but that's a whole new post!) My latest favourites are mostly soft cheese, Goat Cheese, Feta, Haloumi and a little more aged, Brie! Feta is always in stock at home, so this savoury tart was coming together by the sheer force of pantry supplies. Onions are always there and so is peeled garlic. There you have it, the tart of the day - Bitter Orange Marmalade, Feta and Puff Pastry Tart! The flavours will be balanced out by a clove of garlic for zings and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper which will bring out the sweetness of the marmalade! This should ideally be served with a side of meat in jus and fresh rucola leaves. You could make mini tartlets as starters too but I would imagine them being popped pretty quick!

Onion, Bonne Maman Bitter Orange Marmalade and Feta Puff Pastry Tart

For 2 Mini Tarts

200 gms Puff Pastry

Flour for rolling

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves

4 tbsp Bonne Maman Bitter Orange Marmalade

8 tbsp Feta Cheese

Freshly Ground Pepper

1 tbsp EVOO

Pinch of sea salt

Halve the pastry dough and roll out circles on a floured surface, the size should be sufficient to will drape over mini tart moulds, I used Le Creuset Junior Fluted Pie mould, about 11 cm/4.3" in dia. Dust the pie mould lightly with flour, drape over the puff pastry and gently tuck into the bottom sides to take the shape of the mould, the excess can be snipped off with a pair of kitchen scissors. I like to fold over the pastry dough at least 3-4 times to get a flakier finish. Line the bottom with a layer of feta cheese, about 3-4 tbsp, top with sliced onions, evenly as a layer. Sprinkle coarsely ground, fresh pepper and drizzle half a tbsp of EVOO. Tuck a garlic clove in the center and top the last layer of marmalade. If you want it less sweet, then reduce the amount of marmalade and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the onions. Bake at 200C for 8-10 minutes or till the pastry browns and the marmalade bubbles.

Serve hot in the mould, cool if you wish to de-mould, though the marmalade tends to spill over and made the sides sticky, so you might need to use a paring knife to loosen the tart from the mould.

Oct 14, 2014

Epic Party Times at The Shirazine Kitchen

So I finally watched the movie, Chef! And it hit me hard! Being a food reviewer and a Chef, I actually identified with both protagonists albeit at different levels. I've never been a 'nasty critic' per se but I have had unpleasant meals and been forced to chronicle them by the sheer compulsion of my job. I did identify with the 'Chef' the most, Chefs are meant to cook in restaurants, its the first question anyone will ask you if you introduce yourself as a chef! Or are they? I'm a chef who creates recipes for brands, creates content for F&B projects, styles food for photography and reviews food for a living! But this guy and I have one thing in common, the 'passion' for food, the pleasure of seeing food you created, satiate people and actually touch their lives with your work. I, probably like him, realized long ago that if you have to be 'obsessed', be obsessed with a craft as opposed to material things or worse, people! It was this movie that inspired me to create a menu for the few people I am lucky to have in my life and the few I cook for with complete abandon. They are my darling Guinea pigs and I thank them for it! The menu started off as a spread, much like in the movie but was further fortified by my favourite Bourbon, Jim Beam. I was going to be the lucky recipient of Jim Beam Bourbon bottles which would add to the 3 I already had! That's when things got interesting, there was going to be booze in the food, loads of it!

The Whisky Menu at The Shirazine

Bourbon BBQ Lamb Sliders with Jalapenos
Sea Salt Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder
Pineapple and Single Malt Pulled Lamb w/ Pita
Sweet and Sour Pork (Special Request!)
Crispy Chicken Wings with Bourbon Dipping Sauce
Choux Cheeseballs
Za'atar Bruschetta
Watermelon and Wasabi Salad
The Shirazine Salad with pine-nuts
Thoum
Balsamic Onion Relish
Olives, Turshi &Gherkins

I'm not a fan of whisky but Bourbon I can drink copious amounts of! Though I love the Devil's Cut, so far only the 'Original' is available in India and it's got the right notes of smokey and even sweet, at least for my palate. The other cool part is that you can mix Bourbon with most anything, we did a Tiki shot with coconut milk and a drop of vanilla, dear God, it was good! But my usual mix is something sweet like Cranberry juice or even apple for that matter. Bourbon is also excellent for BBQ marinades, meat marinades and dipping sauces, though the alcohol burns off when cooked, the dipping sauces (if raw) remain nice an potent with a smokey, boozey after taste.

Bourbon Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:

100 ml Ketchup
50 ml Soy Sauce
50 ml Honey
3 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
50 ml Red Wine Vinegar
200 ml Jim Beam Bourbon
2 tbsp Garlic, minced or pureed
Salt, as per taste

Method: Just give is a quick whiz with a hand blender or use a whisk to blend it all together. Store in a jar or the Bourbon will evaporate, leaving behind just a regular BBQ dipping sauce!

The other 'hit' that evening was the Watermelon and Wasabi salad! Mainly because it was so different from what I usually serve and what we usually order. Inspired by Chef Raman Kohli's Wasabi Litchi appetizer, stuffed with goat cheese, this salad had no cheese but I did add fresh cilantro for a 'herb' flavour to the sweetness and the wasabi 'fire'! In retrospect a bit of Philly cream cheese would have added a bit of personality but without it too, this dish was oozing oomph! The idea is to get real wasabi, not the powder, the paste, not a tube, a jar and read the fine print, make sure it's not Horseradish which is all pungency and no real flavour. This salad makes for an excellent starter and can be replicated with melons too, which have a more tropical taste, the secret here was the sesame oil, the nuttiness is just fantastic!
Watermelon and Wasabi Salad

Ingredients:

1 bowl of Watermelon cubes, 14-16 pieces
Fresh Cilantro
1 tbsp Wasabi paste
1 tsp Sesame oil
1 tbsp EVOO
Salt

Method: Mix the wasabi paste with the sesame oil to make a thick dressing. Cube and deseed the watermelon, dress with EVOO, toss with the wasabi dressing, garnish with Cilantro, season and serve cold! Enjoy!


Aug 13, 2014

The Shirazine Grilled Mediterranean Salad

My father traveled a lot when we were kids. Mostly the Gulf, United States and Japan and even though my mother loved collecting Bohemian Cut Glass and perfumes, he always brought her 'food gifts'! Saffron, spices, kiwi fruit (there was no sign of it in Delhi back then!), cream of tartare, candied fruits and even olive oil. This was back in the late 80's, early 90's and I have no idea how she found information about what all she could make with these treats. She had a beautiful collection of cookbooks though, which I am blessed to have inherited but the book my mother in law compiled is exquisite in comparison, those are recipes actually passed down generations and collection from neighbours, co-workers, family and friends. This trend of food gifts continues in my life too, even though Andy is great with gifts, it always the kitchen loot that excites me most. He never misses a thing on my list and my lists aren't usually small. The last time I had asked for pine nuts, he brought me 4 bags and we ate them in everything. We had pesto flowing out of the fridge, chicken tagine on weekends and in salads of course. This is one of my favourite summer salads, though by peak season, roquette leaves begin to wilt and peppers get very expensive. My work is such that I am forced to eat lighter meals at home so salads need to be dynamic, saucy and happening, else I will settle for a portion of dessert for a meal!

The best way to differentiate your salad selection is by grouping of veggies and the one overpowering flavour in the dressing. This taken care of will mean you will have different tasting salad every time. I love combining raw and cooked elements in a salad so that there is a sense of satisfaction, cold, raw foods rarely satiate, which is why Sushi is still a starter in so many meals. Try grills with salad vegetables or roasted meats with greens, add a twist to the dressing by upping the mustard or going Asian with fish sauce and sesame oil. This particular salad is inspired by Arab food and their love of grills and roquette leaves. I wanted to keep it vegetarian, though grilled lamb steaks would be great in a prep like this.

Ingredients:

A bunch of fresh Roquette Leaves, try and use small, young ones, they're less potent but haven't turned bitter yet
4-5 Garlic cloves
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tbsp EVOO
2 tbsp Mustard, you can use Dijon too but we prefer the grainy one, it has a deeper flavour
1 tbsp Honey
1 tsp Sumac powder
1 tbsp Zaa'tar, this optional, its a mix of dried Arab greens, you can use a mix of parsley, thyme and oregano instead
1/4 cup Pine Nuts, you can lightly roast them if you don't like them soft, just 10 mins in a hot oven, on 140C
2 tbsp Goat Cheese
Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper, both work best for grills and salads.

To Grill:

1 large Red Onion, cut into 1/4" thick slices
1 medium round Aubergine, cut into 1/4" thick slices
1 each of Red and Yellow Bell Peppers, cut into strips of the same thickness as other veggies for the grill

Method:

Oil a grilling tray for the veggies. Baste the grilling veggies with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill at 180C till soft and lightly charring, about 20 minutes. The aubergines will soak oil and they need to so add a few extra drops to those slices. Halfway through oven grilling, add the whole garlic cloves. While this is happening, prep the dressing. Mix together the EVOO, honey, and mustard, blend is with a small whisk, now add the sumac powder, which mimics lemon but with a berry undertone, fruity in a way. Don't season the dressing, add the sea salt and pepper when you finish the salad. Once the veggies are grilled, cool slightly and arrange in two bowls, tops with fresh roquette leaves, dribble dressing over the salad and sprinkle a generous dose of pine nuts. Season with zaa'tar, sea salt and fresh pepper, top with the goat cheese and serve immediately. This salad makes for an excellent side dish with grilled meats or BBQ's. Try it with a rusk slathered with goat cheese and add the missing carbs... enjoy!

Jul 30, 2014

The Shirazine's Pulled Lamb w/ Pita!

We love lamb, actually we love mutton but lamb always sounds better when I create a recipe. And since the current food trends include Pulled pork and lamb, I love this recipe even more. My Mother in Law taught me a version of it with pork, about 16 years back. She handed me a rump of pork and a bowl of cloves and said, stud it! It looked so pretty after it was dotted all over with cloves and the 3-4 hours it cooked, the house smelled like heaven (yes to me heaven smells like cupcakes, pork and Chanel No. 9!). The whole idea was to cook the meat long and amply moistened. For the lamb, I use what we call 'raan' or the hind leg/thigh cut, it's meaty and usually weighs about 500-700 gms which is great for about 6 pita sandwiches. There is actually no work in this at all, it just cooks and cooks and all you have to do is keep an eye on the liquid content. Roasts are a big deal in our family, we pride ourselves in our grills as well. Andy is super at BBQ and every time he is here, we have at least 2 BBQ meals at home. I miss our rooftop from the old house though. Andy had built a little tavern there and we put Moroccan hanging lamps and wicker furniture, which wore out so beautifully as the years passed. It was where we communed with family and friends, ate and drank, made merry as they say! We re-live those times in our condo apartment now but all the love and joy is well preserved along with the memories. That's the thing about family and about enjoying a long history together, the distance doesn't change how you feel at a core level and you're almost telepathic.

Anyhow, that's about to change dramatically, at least for Ally and I, I've never left home before except for 4 years at Culinary School but since I speak the universal language of 'food', I'm sure the change is going to be great. The three men in my life, Andy, Dad and V have kept us like princesses and we are so spoiled now but thankfully, we have family to spoil us there as well! My sister-in-law/BFF for one!

Okay, back to the lamb (how I digress?!), get a nice meaty slab, always with the bone, bone adds so much flavour and moisture from the inside. Use a heavy bottomed (I love that word, remember, curves are good!), wide pan, I use a stockpot and needless to say, use good ingredients, as fresh as possible.

The Shirazine Pulled Mutton

Ingredients:

500-600 gms Mutton Raan
2 large Red Onions, thinly sliced
8-10 cloves of Garlic, smashed, lets out all the flavours
2 sticks of Cinnamon
4-5 Cardamom
4-5 Cloves
1 tbsp Whole Black Pepper
1 ltr Orange Juice
2 tbsp Honey
3 tbsp Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Method:

Heat the oil in the wide pan, saute the onions till transparent, add the garlic and the whole spices. Fry for a minute or two, till all the aroma begins to escape. Now add the washed and dried slab of mutton, turn up the heat and sear for 3-4 minutes on each side to seal in the juices and add colour to the meat. I don't like boiled looking red meats, there has to be sear on the top. Now pour in half the orange juice, season with salt, bring to a gentle boil, turn down the heat and cover. Cook for an hour, just check in to see if you need to add more orange juice. For the next hour, add the rest of the juice and check the tartness because juices differ and that's what the honey is for, to balance the sweet-salty-tangy flavours. Grind a bit of fresh pepper on the top, flip the slab and cook for the next hour. By hour 2, the meat should be easy to pull apart, use tongs so you don't destroy the deep, colour of the surface. If the meat is of an older animal, you may need another 20-30 minutes more, for which you will need more juice. To serve, check the seasoning, sea salt is excellent for roasts and pepper can always be added when eaten. Use all the reduction, the onions, spices, remnants of juice and honey. I use this pulled mutton for pita sandwiches, with a dressing of 'thoum' or garlic hung curd dip. Make a hot and cold combo, it's magical. Keep a side of rucola for texture and for the greens on the table. Enjoy!