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Sep 22, 2011

Me Jopo?

I sometimes wonder if I qualify as a ‘Jopo’?! A Jopo is defined as a person who is obsessed with everything Japanese, including culture, language, food, and lifestyle, okay maybe that’s too strong a word for me but I am somewhat half way there! I am certainly keen on their turbulent history, their rituals and their food but I am not blessed with enough years on earth to know all things Japanese. Momentary love affairs with Ishiguro, Murakama and a latent kinship with the book Memoirs of a Geisha has made me a pop culture aficionado of Japan and not a true believer. I always feel that feeling which happens in the gut when you know you’re cheating, when I have this feeling of faithlessness and it happens ever so often when I order Japanese food. I don’t cheat in the sense of not enjoying what I am eating or feigning a sense of comfort with the food, I cheat when I choose to eat Japanese food outside of Japan or as a ‘fusion’ meal (don’t get me started on ‘fusion’...please! Like all things it has a limit!) and if I must surrender to my fear of flying (not because of the bad sushi I once at onboard ...onboard!!!!) I have no choice but to eat Japanese food here.

This brings me to my latest and most magnificent find! Yes that monologue has a definite (and delicious) conclusion, read on! I rarely eat out mainly because my family and friends find me overtly critical, hyper involved and surgically deconstructive of meals we are having! I don’t mean to be, I am in it for the ride, the experience, the nirvana every menu screams of! I am well aware of the good intentions that go behind each and every kitchen (which is why I do not critique, I merely inform!) so when I eat out I must be served with what is promised and what is deserved (read: worth-every-penny-finger-licking-good). I try to discount meals I don’t understand, unfathomable fusion and generally lack lustre culinary performances and I have myself a fair appraisal of something truly divine! Which was my breakfast early one balmy weekday morning, yes, I said week day! I had completely earned this frivolity (read: pure indulgence, much like the perfect chocolate mousse!). My view was a thousand shades of azure and foliage, the temperature was perfect and everyone chose that morning to be speak softly, not a mobile rang! It was ‘the’ day for divinity!

The whole thing started a day before when I caught ‘The Ring’ on World Movies and had a sudden and insane craving for either real tempura shrimp or real miso, neither of which was immediately available! Lugging the quandary through the day, I made a reservation at Baywatch for a Bento Breakfast with a dear dear friend. This had to be done, the news was fresh off the Hibachi, and you could order a Bento Box right here in the heart of the Delhi-land! If I can’t eat right then I will at least make regular but feeble attempts at doing the right thing, this was going to be my magnum moment and I am happy to report, it was!

The WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi is truly a pleasure; it is old school chic and takes me back to my college days with ITC Hotels! Why I chose this Bento was because it was Chef Nakamura’s creation, a man I had followed around the city for a while. Having settled in with the fare at Sakura, Gurgaon, I was personally keen to know where he would surface next? I found him and I MET him...he brought me my Bento and an hour of pure joy! He watched me eat and I didn’t care, he had to know how I felt! I started with a small bowl of salad; with a dressing only a chef can do....no artificial aftertastes and a perfect blend of vegetables and seasonings. The chiffonade was sooo beautiful, I almost felt criminal consuming it. Then arrived my Bento, in an ornate Bento Box, the colours exploded out of it ...the aroma was such a smack over the morning breakfast buffet fragrances. I tucked in right away! The Miso was perfect, just readied, off the stove kind of wholesome, I loved the pickles for their colours and their coolness, they were like a wakeup call and since I hadn’t dulled my palate with coffee, they really worked with the meal. The rolled omelette was light, airy, wonderful and then came the two most beautiful elements of this treasure, the super silken tofu (I am not a tofu person mainly because I have more Chinese food and their tofu is always tough) and the Sole in light soy, I was happier it was sole over a red snapper, which I prefer coal grilled most of the time. I drenched the rice with Miso, the hand minced/powder beetroot was sooo perfect over the rice. The meal ended with the sipping of Japanese tea, topped up every time I looked away. I felt so content; it was like an hour of meditation. I am a complete eggs and bacon person, so pleasing me at the breakfast table is something only my mother could do and then there was today, here, with the beautiful food. This is an experience you must have!

Japanese Breakfast components -

Hearty servings of Miso Soup, Cold Japanese Pickle, Cold Omelette, Cold Tofu, Steamed Japanese Rice and Grilled Red Snapper in Light Soya Sauce promise to pamper your mood and bring alive the magic of the Orient, straight from the 'Land of the Rising Sun'.
Completed with Japanese Tea and cut fruits

Available from 7am -10:30 am, all days of the week. 24 hours prior reservation required.
Price: Rs. 1500 (exclusive of taxes)

About Chef Nakamura:

Chef Nariyoshi Nakamura from Tokyo, Japan trained under the master chef who was a member of the Japanese Royal family for 4 years and learned the nuances of cooking. His passion for experiencing new cultures and societies made him travel to The Guam Island and Saipan Island, US. He worked as an Executive Chef in the Nicco Hotels there. He went on to travel to Brisbane, Australia and worked in the renowned steak house, Daniels. Nakamura satiated the taste buds of Brisbane with Tepanyaki steak, charcoal grill steak and quintessential Japanese fare. In May 2010 Chef Nakamura joined Pan Asian, WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi Hotel. A senior Chef in Japanese fare Nakamura has received several accolades for Best Japanese and Best Oriental cuisine in the different restaurants he served in addition to being commended by several heads of state, diplomats, CEOs and leading personalities of the country. Chef Nakamura at Pan Asian, WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi Hotel will be showcasing a new menu which will offer different varieties of Tempura, Japanese noodles, Yaki Tori, Sushi and Sashimi.

Sep 13, 2011

Family Fettuccine

Moms seem to have the most absurd starts to potentially fun and exciting weekends! It’s a fact; it’s practically a Murphy’s Law! We’re coming into a three day weekend and I get a call from Ally’s school, bang in the middle of a hugely busy day that she has hurt her ‘tongue’...ouch!! Hating the fact that I embrace ‘women make bad drivers’ statement and don’t drive, I ask my dad to make a pit stop at school just to check coz she sounds fine on the phone! Oh those 20 minutes, he’s closer anyway ...she was fine, her chin banged into another kids head and she was brave enough to refuse going home with gramp two hours early! Was happy to tell her teacher that she should be proud of Ally’s choice, all credit to her!

Anyway the story goes straight to the kitchen, she was advised to avoid spices and eat something easy on the palate. So I asked her what she wanted and she said, cheesy pasta which is kidspeak for Fettuccine Alfredo and Ally loves it with bits of pan fried chicken breasts. So in sympathy she got to come pick me up from work, which is way earlier than most working people I know, so we got an hour of shopping squeezed in. We got boneless, chicken, salad stuff, a tub of cream cheese and sour cream for the Marble Cake we had planned for later. The best part about being asked to make this pasta is the fact that it is super easy and for Ally, I need to add ½ cup of boiled peas of boiled chopped spinach and this is a whole meal. That’s one thing I love about a lot of European cuisines, their sheer simplicity. Maybe I don’t know regional Indian cuisines well enough but I do know Indian cooking is essentially tedious. This recipe is something I have made for years and it needs 2 seasonings and a 3rd that’s optional, that’s how basic this is and it turns out divine. TGIF serves this as well and I am telling you, if you try this at home you ain’t ordering that sh** again!

Pasta:

Fettuccine bundles 5, 4 lts Water, 1 tsp olive oil and a little salt to boil the pasta. We don’t much care for al dente, that’s fancy for pasta with a bite, so I usually need about 15 minutes for this to cook through.

Meat:

3 chicken breasts, these were about 500 gms in total

Marinade for it:
1 tbsp fresh crushed garlic
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

The Sauce:

2 tbsp Butter1 Onion, sliced
4-5 Garlic pods crushed
2 tbsp flour
500 ml milk
150 gms cream cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Mustard powder
½ cup grated cheddar for topping
1 celery leaf

Method:

Marinate the chicken and refrigerate while you work the pasta and the sauce. Boil the pasta in abundant water, drain and set aside. What i love about fettuccine is that it can be revived very easily. I always bring the pasta back to life in cold water if I will bake baking the dish thereafter but if I have to serve then I dunk it in hot water for a minute or two. Start the sauce by frying the onions in butter, let them soften and get transparent, i don’t like to caramelize them, just keep them light and sweet because the cream cheese is fairly tart. Add the garlic, give it a minute or two. Sprinkle the flour on the onions and toss it around, add the milk slowly and keep stirring, this will make the whole ensemble thicken so you may want to take it off the fire at this point, just for a couple of minutes. Best to way to use cream cheese is at room temperature, so use it soft. Add to the thickening sauce, add the seasonings and cover for 2-3 minutes till the whole sauce gets cheesy and creamy, stir and take of the fire. In a separate pan, heat oil to fry the chicken, if you use a non stick, you just need 2 tbsp or so. Keep the heat high, slap on the chicken and flash fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, use tongs to turn, so you don’t spoil the light charred yumminess. Remove on a wooden chopping board and cut into 1x1” bits.

To assemble the Fettuccine bake, set the pasta in a baking dish, cover with the sauce, toss in the chicken bits, top with grated cheese and tuck few torn pieces of the celery leaf into the pasta...spread out. I usually add a few tbsp of breadcrumbs with the cheese to make the topping crunchier. You can tweak the milk, cheese, flour balance, because different brands produce different results, recipes don’t have to be hard and fast. Bake at 200 till the top if light brown, don’t overbake or the pasta will become too dry, serve with crusty bread and hot sauce!

Sep 12, 2011

Lamb Days!


I have always loved foods that are so flavoursome they don’t need curry, gravy, sauce or even a condiment. A lot of middle-eastern food is like that, yes they have their amazing dips but those are Mezze buddies, the real food is fish on rice, kebabs and khubus....so rich and abundant with spices that you don’t need to douse it in anything. Kofte and rice is quite like that, sounds dry but it isn’t. I tweaked this recipe a bit because I get weak in the knees if you say lamb and rice; I just have to meddle with that in a way where the food will have a big bold stamp that says – The Shirazine!

Lebanese Kofta with Rice


Ingredients

Kofta

2 lbs. fresh lamb
14 g. fresh mint (finely chopped)
1 bunch parsley
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 medium onion
1 tsp. Baharat (recipe below)
½ tsp paprika
Baharat
¼ cup ground black pepper
¼ cup ground allspice berries (Keya has a lovely pepper mill with an allspice mix)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
Rice
1 tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup vermicelli pasta (broken into ½ inch pieces)
2 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. pine nuts
2 cups parboiled rice
4 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. salt
3 ½ cups water
1 tbsp. Butter (make garlic butter, minced a few pods and fry for a minute or two in butter, preserve in a dry airtight bottle!)

Preparation

Kofta

Loosen the mince you buy, if you make your own then nothing like it but most of us don’t, so bring the meat to room temperature, hand mix it to get the protein moving. Add the remaining ingredients for the kofte and mix well. Scoop one tablespoon of the meat mixture and shape into a ball. Keep a bowl of water, moisten your palm and do it, they will hold better. Put four meatballs on a bamboo skewer; wet the skewer first so it holds. Repeat with remaining meat. Roast skewers over a grill or in an oven for 12-15 minutes until nicely browned, you can do this in a pan as well but I worry they may break up with all the moving around. Use a cookie tray and flip them just once. Serve skewers on a bed of Lebanese rice with lemon wedges and lots of warmed pita bread.

Baharat
Mix all ingredients well and store in an airtight jar.

Rice
Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Toss dry vermicelli in oil till browned lightly. Add minced garlic and pine nuts and cook until soft then add the rice, salt, baharat spice mix (1 tbsp) and fresh parsley and sauté for two minutes. Add water (carefully) and cover. Turn down heat and let simmer until rice is softened. About fifteen minutes. Fluff rice with fork and add garlic butter and season with salt to taste.
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