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Mar 25, 2015

Copycat Series Recipe #1 - Chicken Hakimi

Here's our welcome to summer, when we seek the privilege of staying indoors, avoid mid afternoon luncheons and wish our kitchens were air conditioned! This mini series of copycat recipes come from a soon to be felt need to eat at home as often as possible, no reflection on hygiene per se but it's easier to cool off at home. Sometimes a summer commute is enough to kill my meal, especially if outdoor parking is involved! Despite the fact that my work as Editor-Events at CaLDRON Magazine and at Chef at Large keeps me 'eating out' at an average of 3 times a week, I end up finding comfort in standard favourites at hand picked cafes and restaurants in my city. I flag this series off with one of my all time favourite Kebab Houses, Al Karam's, owned by dear friend but he knows all to well, we love the food as much as we love him! There is nothing gourmet about Al Karams but it is by far the freshest, most authentic Old Delhi kebab house in town, the flavour are honest albeit hyper-spiced but then they're supposed to be that way. 'Purani Dilli' food is fiery and one must tread with caution, we found a friend in their Chicken Hakimi, where the fire of the chicken tikkas is lightly doused by dollops of cream and a sharp, almost bitter flavour of dry fenugreek. The cream comes into play once more and adds a much needed sweetness to offset the fenugreek.

Even as I child my mother used to say that I could 'read' flavours. I would taste a dish and identify a few key ingredients here or there and my mother would complete the (recipe) puzzle. She was famous for trying dishes in restaurants or even at wedding buffets for that matter and then trying to replicate them at home. A much revered one remains entrenched with Ashok Bhaiya, our man Friday for 30 years and possibly the only man with this recipe because the said establishment closed long ago. This was 'Chicken Khas-e-Kalinga' from the erstwhile Qutab Hotel's Indian kitchen and even though it tasted suspiciously like a regular homemade chicken curry, the addition of 'kalonji' or nigella seeds made it gourmet food fit for a 5 star, this was back in 1994! Mom wasn't with me long enough to see my food journey but I know she would be happy with the way the kitchen has shaped up in my home! We re-purpose, we are going somewhat organic (I'm still so iffy on so many things), we make our own snacks and breads, we make preserves and squashes, pickles too but most of all, we come together at the table and create lovely food memories, as often as possible. And some of those memories we bring home and recreate in our kitchen just to remain close to them!

Copycat Chicken Hakimi (Best had at Al Karam’s Gurgaon/Delhi)

Serves: 4

Ingredients:
½ kg boneless chicken, cut into 2” pieces

Marinade: 
 ½ cup Yogurt
1 tbsp Deggi Mirch
1 tbsp Coriander powder
1 tbsp Cumin powder
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tbsp Lemon Juice
OR
2.5 tbsp Tandoori Chicken Masala + ½ Cup Yogurt
Salt

For the ‘Copycat Hakimi’ gravy:
1 cup Cream
4 tbsp Kasuri Methi (dried fenugreek)

3 tbsp Olive Oil for frying
2 tbsp Chopped Fresh Coriander leaves for garnish
1 tbsp Ginger Slivers for garnish
Lemon Juice (optional)

Method: Marinate the chicken if you're cooking from scratch, if you're going with store bought marinated chicken tikka, then you may want to halve them since we won't be skewered and grilling or roasting. Marinate for about 2 hrs. As much as I love even an oven char, it tends to try the a meat like lean chicken breast, out pretty fast. Direct heat of a coal grill is best but then how many of us are blessed with tandoor's in our kitchens?! Sigh! 

Heat the olive oil in a deep wok, keep space for the meat to move around, this is all high flame cooking. Don't let it burn or overheat, add the marinated chicken and stir fry on a high flame for about 5-7 minutes or till the moisture evaporates and the pieces begin to pan char. Lower the flame and slowly add the cream, fold it in gently, once it begins to bubble, see if you want a bit more of the masala gravy and add a little milk to thin it. Check the salt, add the kasuri methi, mix it in gently. Transfer to a serving bowl, use a spatula to get all the good stuff, garnish with fresh coriander and garlic slivers! Enjoy!

Serving Suggestion: This is best enjoyed with a hot naan or a homemade pita.

Feb 22, 2015

Blondie Beyond Music

I love Blondie, one of my ultimate Rock icons, she's so much of a woman that it makes gape in awe, yes, I still watch her videos! Debbie Harry is one of those empowering influences in my life along with Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks, I still dress like Stevie! I still have that Blondie poster on my mind, I should try and find it online, I have a picture of me that I like to believe looks just like it (I wish!!). I have such vivid memories of exactly what was panning out in my life when I was addicted to Heart of Glass and then there was Call Me that still blows me away but my most favourite song by Blondie has to be, Rapture! This recipe is a tribute to the original Blondie, Deborah Harry, all the 'woman' a woman needs to be with boots that were meant for walking, meant for walking over millions of hearts ...that probably deserved it anyway! A Blondie is essentially a Brownie sans chocolate, I know, what's the point? The point is, texture, that chewiness, the slight bite and a crusty corner and there are plenty of times you don't have chocolate at hand, that's why the point of making Blondies. They also need such few and basic ingredients, I don't even use a hand mixer, so a mixing bowl, a whisk and a baking pan yields half a dozen bars of buttery, sweet-salty Blondie treats! They are also very versatile, you can top with milk chocolate, you can add chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit or flavours like coffee, hazelnut, almond, vanilla to the original recipe and make a different type every time. The key here is to let the Blondie slab cool before you slice and eat, the chewiness sets in and the crust becomes tight and crisp, it's true delight!

The Rip Her to Shreds Blondie!

Ingredients:

125 gms Salted Yellow Butter
150 gms Flour
1 large Egg
225 gms Brown Sugar, I use a large grain, lose packed for this, else it melts too fast
1 tsp Vanilla Essence
2 tbsp Instant Coffee Powder
10-15 ml Milk

Method:

Melt the butter till is soft but not entirely runny, add the brown sugar and use a whisk to blend it all; together, 3-4 minutes of whisking will do. Add the egg, whisk for another minute or so and add the vanilla. Sift the flour and coffee together, I use Bru, it's got a nice Espresso aftertaste, you can up the coffee by a tbsp and add another 5 ml of milk if you want it stronger. Add the coffee/flour mix to the egg, butter and sugar, whisk it all together, add the milk slowly to make a batter that's sticky and thick but not like dough coming together. Grease an 8x8" pan, I used the KitchenAid one, no need to line, the Blondie slab comes out perfectly. Use a spatula to pat in the batter evenly, fill in the corners, but wipe off excess that is over the level of the batter or it bakes and burns. Bake at 200C for30-40 minutes till it is firm and crisp looking on the top and coming off the sides. Cool completely, de-mould and slice into squares! Enjoy

The Shirazine Seafood Curry Soup



I am drawn to Asian food like I am drawn to French - Italian, it is something from within! I realize India is very much in Asia but when it comes to food, they are two different continents. Influences aside, just regional Indian cuisines could belong to individual nations, so including India in the whole of Asia is preposterous in my opinion.  I feel bad enough clubbing Asian cuisines as a 'block'! Take nonya sauce from Peranakan food, or Korean Gochujang sauce or Japanese Takoyaki sauce, all Asian and all exquisitely unique. I love how Koreans ferment food versus the Swedes or Germans. Kimchi over Sauerkraut, any day! Just the kick makes all the difference, not chilli or spice, the timing of the, the importance of it! I feel like my palate looks for these 'bursts' when I chew and that surprise is usually missing from European cuisines, as far as Russia actually and it has to be the Middle East where the presence of these surprise flavours began to emerge. Spicy Lentil Stews, broth made from bones of lamb, hooves even, cooked overnight where just one bayleaf makes all the difference! And here you can start your journey of 
soups. If you think the journey will break in India, here's the low down on Indian soups, we have way more than just Mulligatawny, a soup most Indians go their entire lifetime without ever tasting! Indian soups are versions of petered down curries of excess water from boiled lentils, seasoned and spices to make a concoction akin to soup and aren't always a course but more of a between meals, mini meal or snack or an elixir for the cold!

But our personal love for soups was nutured with Asian flavours. We usually ate them at Chinese restaurants and the staples included chicken sweet corn, hot and sour chicken and my all time favourite, Talumein. Urban legend of Punjabi Chinese eateries claimed it was a soup made with leftovers so it had a variety of veggies, pork, shrimp,  chicken and noodles. So here's the kicker, if you Google Talumein soup you get only Indian blogs and sites with a recipe for what I have begun to suspect is not so much a Chinese soup but a soup we think hails from China! Thankfully Pan Asian kitchens made an appearance and we could indulge in Manchow and even fairly decent Tom Yum and then we fast forwards to today when my favourites include Vietnamese Pho and Bak Kut Teh from Singapore. A deep, rich, pork soup made with short ribs. The best Pho is most definitely at Blue Ginger, Taj Palace Hotel and I haven't been able to find Bak Kut Teh locally unless there's a Singapore food fest in town! The next recipe is probably going to be Bak Kut Teh but till then, here's a staple from my kitchen, it is more of a meal and I like to mix it up by adding a variety of mushrooms or changing up the seafood selection. Try it with a few pieces of eel, the pre-cut kind from a sushi freezer will do because you need so little but nothing like fresh! Or make a mushrooms mix of oyster, enoki and button (for bulk and budget) and with throw in a shiitake or two for good will. This coconut milk based curry/soup is going to be the last of our winter soups, as much as I hate Gazpacho, I am tempted to work on a summer soup recipe, Maybe I will make it a natural cooler and not serve it cold!

The Shirazine Asian Seafood Soup


Serves: 2

Ingredients:


200 ml Coconut Milk
100 ml Fish Stock
100 gms Shrimp

50 gms Sliced Octopus
150 gms Fish, white, firm, cubed
75 gms Egg Noodles
2 Spring Onions, cubed
2" Lemongrass piece
1 Lemon Leaf
1 tbsp Ginger, grated
2 tbsp Fresh Coriander, coarsely torn up
1/2 tsp Red Chilli Flakes
1 tbsp Sesame Oil
1 tbsp Fish Sauce
1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Sea Salt

Method:

Since I was using the Philips Soup Maker for this soup, all I had to do was put all the ingredients together, into the jug and press 'Chunky'! I did tweak the liquid to make sure it didn't cross the 'max' marking but other than that, it took just 23 minutes for our meal to be ready. When I use noodles in the soup maker, the liquid goes in first, 23 minutes is a long time for noodles to cook so they tend to stick to the bottom. If you want to make this soup in a wok instead, you need to do pretty much the same steps, but you have the luxury of adding the fresh coriander and the noodles at the half way mark and probably let it cook for about 20 minutes or the fish could break up. I doubled the carbs and served this with sticky rice topped with fried spring onion and garlic and a garnish of black and white sesame seeds. Very Korean and very delightful. Enjoy!

Feb 19, 2015

An Ode to Winter with KitchenAid!

I don't think I will ever convert to baking in silicon, EVER! And I hope I never have to eat my words! The day the world runs out of stoneware or aluminium, ionized bakeware, that day I will start baking in whatever else I can find but wrapping my head around silicon is not likely to happen. So far I have managed fairly well with some of my mom's vintage glass bakeware from Pyrex, truly sturdy stuff, you won't find this girth anymore and a few pound cake tins because she made a pound cake a week. My collection is a motley assembly of aluminium or aluminized steel cupcake trays, plenty of cookie trays, cake shapes, even a hideous clover shape I never use but I'm always looking for more. When it comes to accessories, I am very brand conscious, my spatulas are from Rubbermaid but since they are so hard to source locally, I have converted to Le Creuset, they take heat extremely well. My whisks are basic wire whisks but no silicon or plastics again, I like the flexible ones most but for sauces, nothing like a solid stainless steel one! Basting brushes ought to be Rubbermaid too because we use it over grills, super high heat! So far the bakeware available locally has been very standard, no real difference in quality and absolutely no variety, which always lands most of us at Sadar Bazaar to buy aluminium that will dent and over heat too! There is Norpro and Wonderchef, but when you gauge them by weight and build, you will see what I mean by sturdy! Which brings us to the new bakeware launched by KitchenAid and they were nice enough to share a non-stick 6 cavity sized muffin pan (which comes in a set of 2) and a 9x9x2" square cake pan and my first impression was that these are by far the most professional grade baking pans available in retail! The sheer weight of the tray and the pan are indicative of quality, the non stick coating is matte and thick, I'm sure that adds to the sturdiness and the weight. Now weighty pans matter because they retain and distribute heat differently from basic tins. You will notice the most apparent difference will be in the cupcake liners, they won't brown as much when you use a heavier cupcake tray. Even distribution of heat obviously ensures even cooking, so no more squidgy centers!

The bakeware is made with professional weight aluminized steel resists warping up to 230 C and perfectly squared corners give perfect results if you're doing sheet cakes or bars. And since I also have a problem with run-of-the-mill non stick cookware, in KitchenAid products, I was happy to learn, they use
PFOA & PTFE free 3 coat non stick system which gives excellent non stick performance and ensures baked goods release easily from the surface. Though I used cupcake liners, I also made a batch without them, and the outer finish of the cupcake was smoother and crumb free, compared to a peeled cupcake baked in a liner. To celebrate my new goodies, I decided to pay homage to the season with two of my favourite winter fruits - oranges and strawberries. These light and fluffy orange cupcakes are dressed with a strawberry sugar glaze and can be topped with a variety of toppings, with a kid in the house, we had loads of fun with fresh strawberries, edible glitter and pastel sprinkles!

The Shirazine Orange Cupcakes with Strawberry Icing

Ingredients:

130 gms Flour
120 gms Butter
120 gms Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Essence
2 Eggs
1 tsp Baking Powder
40 ml Orange Juice, fresh is best
1 tsp Orange Rind, grated

Icing:

100 gms Icing Sugar
2-4 tbsp Strawberry puree

Method:

Mix the orange rind and baking powder in the flour and set aside. Use a hand mixer to beat the butter and sugar together, till it is light in colour and fluffy too. Add one egg at a time, whip it all up nice and good, 2-3 minutes, add the vanilla essence, after this the mix may look curdled but that's fine, it will all come together when you add the flour. Alternate and add the flour and the orange juice to get a thick, smooth batter. Line the cupcake tray, pour in batter to cover a little over half the liner. Bake at 200C for 10-12 minutes or till the tops are firm and a skewer comes out clean. For the icing, puree few strawberries with a tbsp of orange juice so you get a thick but not pulpy consistency. Use a wire whisk to blend the puree into the icing sugar, one tbsp at a time. Liquids soak up icing sugar spectacularly well, 2 tbsp of juice is all you need for a cup of icing sugar. Make smooth but slightly thick icing, too runny will get soaked in by the cupcakes. Muffins are more dense and hold runny toppings better. Once the cupcakes are done, remove and cool completely. Top with a dollop of icing and then you can have fun with decorating them! Enjoy!

New Toy in Town!

I'm talking about the all-new Philips Soup Maker (HR2201/81 1.2 litres) which has been my kitchen companion this past week and I have to say it, I kind of love it! I'm not a big one for gadgets, kitchen or otherwise, you can say I'm set in my ways. I enjoyed the process and the science of the Air Fryer but it didn't inspire me enough to go buy one. The 2 months we had it was about all we could manage of it! But the Soup Maker hits 'home' for me, we eat soup through winter time, either for breakfast or dinner and as much as I would like to believe, I don't really make more than 3-4 types. Can't say if it's the novelty or the convenience but this past week, we have had a new soup every day! Little larger than an electric kettle, this appliance is one of the easiest to use and store, much like a slow cooker, everything goes in together (unless you like to complicate things!) and you have hot, fresh soup in under 25 minutes, whether you choose chunky or smooth. Weighing just over 2 kilos, I won't say its one of the sturdiest products in the segment but it makes for easy storage, since counter space is soon becoming a luxury! There is a function for smoothies as well, probably to make it appealing for summer, that makes sense too, I wouldn't buy seasonal gadgets and since smoothies don't need the 'heat', they're done in less than 3 minutes. Given the weather right now, we only tried one smoothie, the Banana Mocha Caramel and it was smooth, creamy and thick, but then we used a dollop of ice cream and fresh cream to bring it together, so no real reflection on the appliance but it does the job! If I had one beef with the smoothie function it would be to do with volume, even the minimum is more than 2 glasses! The maximum however, makes soup for about 4 people as long as its not a main meal, in which case you may need two batches or add a side of breads, cheese and salad!

I started with the recipe booklet which comes with the Soup Maker, it's easy and fairly innovative, with summer soups on the lines of gazpacho. I was most curious about the 'chunky' feature because we like a little bulk in our meals. I realized after a soup or two that the cooking time for all the ingredients needs to be essentially the same, so if you're doing a Minestrone, then the vegetables need to be cut just right, else the macaroni will cook through but the veggies may stay al dente or worse, mushy! The chunky feature sets for 23 minutes, which is plenty of time to cut 2 cm pieces of carrots but potatoes tend to get too soft. You could spend time with the machine and set a rhythm, where you know when to put it off manually. For a simple noodle soup, it makes sense, I don't like very large pieces of vegetables or meats in my soup, so at times 23 minutes is a bit much. Creamy soups are a delight in this appliance, if you master the recipe to balance the liquid and the bulk, they do turn out rich and thick. The booklet recipes are very well curated because each one turned out near perfect. The only tweaking I needed to do was with seasonings and garnishes. By the end of the only downside was the 'cleaning' part, best done yourself because the jug 'body' has two electrical inlets built in. I use my thumb to cover the top of the handle electrical inlet and wash out from the 'pouring' side only. Sounds tedious but the soups are worth it. As a word of caution, if you plan to use fatty foods like cheese, pork, excessive cream, then the cleaning will be harder to do, the stainless steel body really holds on to that fat! Our first three soups were - Tomato & Roasted Red Bell Peppers with Parmesan, Bacon & Corn and Classic Minestrone! But for this post I wanted to use one of my favourite veggies and a very underrated one unfortunately, the humble pumpkin. Coupled with fragrant roasted garlic and the sharpness of aged cheddar, this is a hearty soup worthy of being a meal and if you're vegetarian then all the more!

The Shirazine Roasted Pumpkin and Garlic Soup



Ingredients:
 
1 kg Pumpkin, I usually use the green one but in winters even the yellow one is quite sweet and soft.
2-3 Spring Onions, cut into 2 cm cubes
6-8 Garlic Cloves
350 ml Chicken Stock*
2-3 tbsp Fresh Cream
1 tbsp Olive Oil
4-5 tbsp Grated Aged Cheddar
½ tsp Cumin Powder
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

Grease a cookie tray and place the slabs/slices of the pumpkin, drizzle lightly with olive oil and roast at 200C for 30-45 minutes, till the tops start to brown and the pumpkin has softened. You can use a small tart tin or the side of the cookie tray to roast the garlic, which needs just about 6-8 minutes. Remove the pumpkin once roasted, cooled and remove the skin, cut the flesh into large cubes. Set up the Philips Soupmaker, pour in the stock, the seasonings and the spring onions, add the roasted garlic and pumpkin, the pumpkin being sweetish can be sticky so it’s best to pour in the stock first.  Add the cheese and cream and set to ‘Smooth’, which takes about 23 minutes. Serve hot garnished with a sprig of mint and a dollop of cream or more grated cheddar, or as we would do it, both! This soup is slightly sweet-ish though the garlic cuts it perfectly, you could spice it up with a sprinkle of smoked paprika and if you don't mind the 'tang' then Tabasco works wonders as well!

*Chicken Stock

750 gms Chicken Bones, cleaned and washed
1.5 ltrs of water
2 Carrots, diced
1 Celery stalk, diced
2 Garlic Cloves
1 Red Onion, diced
For Winter Stock: 2" Cinnamon, 4 cloves, 4 cardamom, 1 bayleaf
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Put all the ingredients on a boil. If the chicken bones are clean, then you will have less scum on the top, you can just skim it off, sieving through a cheesecloth when the stock is done also helps clear it. Simmer the stock, covered for about 2-3 hrs, you can add 200-300 ml of water hafl way if you need to, though for strong stock, this will make 500 ml and can be kept refrigerated for a week.

**Read a detailed review of the Philips Soup Maker!

Feb 16, 2015

Winds of Change and Spiced Crackers

I remember the conversation Andy and I had when his work abroad began to pick up, it made more sense for him to be there while I had a lot building up here! So I stayed back in the home we had set up with all our love and a wonderful collection of vintage knick knacks and he took on the mantle of setting up his studio! The biggest saving grace at that point, for both of us was my dad, my brother had just moved to UK and dad wasn't too happy staying by himself, albeit just 6 km away, so dad moved in with us. It was one of the finest decisions we ever made! He is so good for Ally, just his presence, his wisdom, his love and of course his humour. Andy was able to spread his wings without worrying about his girls, the canine one included and for me the biggest shift began to happen in the kitchen. From making Andy's favourites, I was now cooking for a senior, one with a varied palate but a very different one. Dad's culinary challenges always included a lot of vegetarian cooking, something slightly alien to me, I can do plenty of sides but I have very few vegetarian main course stars on my menu. Though dad was up for a 18 piece platter of Nigiri, there were days he wanted simple joys - kadhi chawal, arhar ki dal, mangodi and fresh, homemade naans! So I can safely say that in the last 3 years, I have revisited my mothers recipes, dug into the cuisine of my maiden home and made 'nanu' as happy as Andy is when he is home!

This discovery or rather re-discovery coupled with a need to reduce our dependance on packaged products made me start baking for papa too. Ally could get away with peanut butter and banana muffins and a weekend of chocolate chunk cake cookies but for dad I had to think 'lean' and 'light'. He prefers savouries anyway and the languid days of matthi and achaar are few and far between, so I decided to improvise and make a lighter, baked version. The maths of the dish changed, it couldn't be too thick or it would bake forever and come out like baati and there shall be no dunking in ghee, so the final verdict was - Herb Spiced Crackers.

The Shirazine Herb Spiced Crackers


Ingredients:



125 gms Flour
100 gms Whole-Wheat Flour
4-6 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
100 gms grated Cheddar, smoked works very well or pick aged hard cheddar, it bakes better
1 tsp salt, taste the dough to check when you’re done, you can add a sprinkle of sea salt to up it if need be
1 tsp Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
1/2 tsp Red Chilli Flakes
2 tsp Dried Parsley
1 tsp Dried Mint, this adds a very slight hint of sweetness, I would love to put more but then these are savoury and the cheddar is sharp enough!
120 ml Water, you may need more to bring the dough together, but a tough slightly tight dough is better to roll out nice and thin
Flour for rolling
Sea salt to sprinkle over the rolled crackers

Method: 

Mix all the dry ingredients. Pour in the water to form firm dough, I use a paddle motion with my hand, the way a stand mixers paddles would move, it starts to bring the dough together much faster and there is less of the ‘sticky’ panic. Once the dough comes together, knead on a floured surface, gently, for few minutes so the dough becomes more pliable and the cheese and herbs settle in. Cover with cling film and let it rest on the counter for ½ hr or so. Liberally flour your work surface, take a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll out evenly, roll it as thin as possible, almost translucent. Gently transfer to a baking tray, you don’t need to grease it, these are paper thin and will bake and rise on their own. Use the tip of a sharp knife to cut the cracker sheet into squares/rectangles. Bake at 200C for 6-8 minutes or till the crackers appear evenly browned and crisp. Cool before storing, they tend to become firmer and crisper as they cool.
Makes: 18 - 24 pieces depending on the size you cut.



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!


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