Friday, February 24, 2012

Gourmet Gifts

I have always loved receiving food gifts. There is nothing more personal than someone bringing over something they have baked at home from scratch, or something impossibly sinful from a gourmet store. Brownies seem to be a big hit, and the chocolate dense cake from Theobroma is a favourite with my Cuffe Parade / Colaba friends. Moshe's also started making a chocolate dense cake recently - and it's a close call. Wine, of course, is a classic, and... easy...

My recent visit to two gourmet stores gave me tons of ideas of ready made food gifts (since I am not much of a baker), a refreshing change from the customary bottle of booze...

Like for example...

... wouldn't these beautiful bottles and pots of artisanal vinegar and mustard be the perfect housewarming gift and look incredibly appetising in a brand new kitchen?

Them, here is something totally out of the box:

English fruits for cheese?? Well here is something that I didn't even know existed! Imagine this little nifty container in a hamper with a selection of fine cheeses and a crusty French baguette? I almost gifted it to myself!

The following, however, is what really got my attention:

An absolutely beautiful jar of honey and nuts aptly called "Turkish Delight". I can't even start to fathom how the nuts were arranged so artistically inside the honey, without floating and staying in perfect order. Now, wouldn't you really feel special if someone showed up with THAT on your doorstep?

If the fiend you are visiting loves experimenting with exotic cuisines, a selection of these Moroccan sauces, spice mixes and rubs, would be a great choice. This was the first time I was seeing such a large variety of Moroccan flavours on a shelf and I was seriously tempted too!

Or in a more corporate environment, wouldn't you love to have this on your desk? Little incentives make a big difference...

All the above items can be found at the Westside food store in Kala Ghoda, Bombay

However, the absolute star of my recent discoveries are the gifts in a jar offered at Country of Origin on Napeansea Road. Imagine if, like me, you sometimes love to bake, but only truly enjoy the result and not the process. And someone gives you this: 

A perfectly layered in a beautiful jar, pre-measured dessert ready for you to mix up and stick in the oven. And just consider the flavours you get: Cookie Dough, Caramel & Cream, Cookie Dough & Hazelnut Crème, Red Velvet, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Oh-my-God! And you can say, "I baked it all by myself!"

And last but not least, if your friend is the hands-on, crafty type, yo can gift her a selection of seeds, pots and soil to plant her own window sil herbs garden.

The Ratanshi store in Byculla is famous and it offers anything a budding or an experienced gardener could ever need, including a huge variety of seeds.

Divine Simplicity

It is so hard to achieve the ideal combination of simplicity and contentment in terms of food! And sometimes at lunch, I feel just like that - I just need some bites thrown together on a plate - simple, clean flavours, satisfying enough to let me carry on through the hectic afternoon. And today is one of these days when my lunch was just that: divine simplicity!

Basil and dried tomatoes bread, homemade labneh and caramel baked yoghurt, all from Country Of Origin ( on Napeansea Road in Bombay, a store which has been there for quite some time, but I only found the time to drop by today.

The bread was incredibly soft and fresh, the labneh was crisp and not sour at all (I dislike it when it's sour) with generous chunks of black pepper inside and bright green stalks of thyme floating in the olive oil. And the caramel yoghurt was positively the discovery of the year for me. Dulce de Leche ice cream loaded with calories no more for me!!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spotted at Moshe's...

What I like about Moshe's ( is that they constantly reinvent themselves. Every time I go to their Cuffe Parade outlet for the odd loaf of delicious sandwich bread or for a slice of baked Philadelphia cheese cake (which I normally polish of in the car before I even reach home - and I live just down the lane!!), I find something new on the shelves. This time, these jams caught my attention:

Green Apple & Kiwi; Apple, Honey and Cinnamon; Sweet Chilli; Pear and Vanilla... Just reading the names makes me happy and hungry! And if my fridge wasn't already full with my aunt's incredible white cherry and wild strawberry preserves, I would have definitely picked some up... Now, that gives me a perfect excuise to drop by again next week...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In season... And an LWL contest. READ ON AND MAYBE YOU COULD WIN A PRIZE

A few days ago, since there weren't two toddlers strapped at the back seat, I could actually stop and enjoy some of the colours and freshness at my local vegetable vendor's van.

Could not take my eyes off the green pepper and these juicy, shiny red chilies. But was most of all amazed to lift my head up and see, strapped to the roof of the van, a bunch of fresh garlic sporting a long, crunchy, white "beard"! The sight of it brought me right back to my childhood, when my mother used it in a cold summer soup called tarator (a mix of chopped cucumbers, dill, yoghurt, oil, salt and garlic, much like the Indian raita and the Greek tzatziki, but more liquidy) - so my mom would use the fresh garlic when it was in season and it made a dramatic difference to the taste!

But... the other point of this post is to put you to the test and hopefully learn something new in the bargain!!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

LADIES WHO LUNCH INAUGURAL EVENT: Tribute to Fida Kahlo - after two months of going back and forth, our club finally got together

Like every impressionable young girl, I was a huge fan of Frida Kahlo since my teens. Her life, a mixture of suffering, passion, incredible talent, joie de vivre, fearlessness, was fascinating to me. I will never forget walking, in awe, around the exhibition of her paintings at the museum of modern art in London, a few years ago. I read anything I can find on her. 

Some time ago, while browsing a book store in Bombay, I chanced upon a book called “Frida’s Fiestas”. I did not even think twice - I grabbed it and started reading it this same evening. The book revealed another completely different and unknown to me facet of the artist I love - the Frida who spent hours in the kitchen, in the market, and in her garden of the blue house in Coyoacan. Wow - I never knew this about her. Not only she loved to prepare elaborate feasts and entertain (any occasion was an excuse to celebrate), she also took amazing care of decorating the table with intricate flower, fruit and vegetable arrangements (some of them she immortalised in her still lives), and select every piece of crockery and cutlery with care. 

The book is written by Guadalupe (Lupe) Rivera (daughter of artist Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband, from his previous marriage) and Marie-Pierre Colle. It literally brings to life the universe at the blue house: we learn of parakeets chattering in their cages, of the monkey Fulang Chang, of people congregating in the famous tiled kitchen. It contains more than 100 recipes for the traditional Mexican foods that Diego loved to eat and Frida loved to prepare. 

The saying “The way to a man’s heart passes through his stomach” finds a classic example in Frida Kahlo... When she got into a relationship with Diego Rivera, Frida was extremely anxious to keep a good house for him. She had big shoes to fill - his ex-wife, Lupe, was an excellent cook and fed him all the Mexican delicacies he loved. On the other end, Frida was hopeless in the kitchen... The two women shared a relationship of friendship and intense jealousy in equal doses. Lupe calmed down a bit when she re-married, and the two couples even shared an apartment block for some time. The tiny kitchen was common and cooked with charcoal and wooden implements, kettles and earthen ware crocks. This is where Frida started taking cooking lessons from Lupe. When they worked together, there was hardly any room for the two of them (Frida’s elaborately starched and frilly skirts always came in the way). But that was hardly a problem, as both of them relished in making country-style stuffed chiles with sweet and sour tomato sauce, shrimp tortitas, refried beans smothered in cheese... For these were all Diego’s favourite dishes.

It is only when Frida and Diego got married (Lupe cooked their wedding feast!) and moved to their own home in Coyoacan (known as the blue house, now a museum), she really had a completely free hand inside her own kitchen. The stove was decorated with white, blue and yellow spanish tiles, and the entwined names of Frida and Diego were spelled out in tiny eartherware jugs on the rear wall. On the wall above the stove hung eartherware pots from Oaxaca, copper kettles from Santa Clara, glasses, cups and pitchers from Guadalajara and Puebla and Guanajuato. The overall effect was typically Mexican. Frida and Diego had purchased these pieces from their travels around the country, and gradually they put together a living collection of beautiful objects created by the most gifted artisans in the country. 
For Frida, setting the table was a ritual, whether she was unfolding the white tablecloth from Aguascalientes, or arranging the simple plates that she had customized with her initials, or setting out Spanish Talavera plates  and hand blown blue glasses and heirloom silverware. She particularly enjoyed the act of placing the flower vase in the center of the table. The flowers were always plucked from her own garden. Frida grew plants and flowers herself. She went to the garden every day to see how they have grown and which were in bloom. These she put in her hair or around the house. 

Master Rivera’s bad moods vanished before the delicious dishes - white or saffron rice, huauzontes in diffrerent sauces, stuffed chiles in broth and Oaxaca mole. Even preparing his lunch basked was an elaborate affair, which started well in advance, in the morning, every day. The blue pewter dinner pail was divided into compartments, each one of which contained one of “Dieguito’s” favourite dishes. There would be tortillas and bread still warm from the oven. There were also fruits, arranged along with freshly cut flowers. For a covering, Frida would chose colourfully embroidered white napkins that featured floral themes and whimsical birds. Occasionally there was lettering too, that spoke of affection... For Frida, providing food was truly an act of love.


I read the book for months, whenever I needed some peace and quiet, the way one would read fiction. I devoured every detail, but never dared to experiment with any of the recipes - the ingredients seemed way too exotic, the list of things that went into a dish was intimidating, and I just never mustered the courage to even try and replicate any of the “fiestas”. 
To me it was quite clear that for our very first meal together as a club, I had to get out of my comfort zone and create something memorable... 


Pico de Gallo Salad - Frida’s perfect remedy for a hot, sunny afternoon
Pear, apple, orange and radish with chili powder
Red Passion Cocktail
Tequila and pomegranate juice 

Chiles Two Ways:
Stuffed with cheese, soaked in tomato broth
Stuffed with chicken and bacon, in walnut sauce
Fried Chicken With Guacamole
Shrimp Tacos
Lettuce, Tomato, Cauliflower and Beets Salad
Green Lemon Water 
(contains food colour)

Eggnogg Mold
(contains uncooked egg)
Fruit salad
Orange blossom or Jasmine tea served with Frida’s favourite macaroons and cat’s tongue biscuits

The preparation was intense. I spent two days selecting recipes. Since many of the ingredients were typically Mexican, I had to select only those which were possible with local ingredients, or with substitutes. Then I spent a whole afternoon making the shopping list, ordering over the phone, writing out the recipes... One more afternoon was spent prepping - chopping, roasting, peeling, cleaning, grinding etc. Thankfully, in India you can get someone else to help with that... I started cooking a day before (was really tough with the two kids crying for my attention all the time), or should I say the night before... Thanks to all the careful preparation, things were going smoothly. I first made the filling for the chiles and stuffed them. It was much harder than what I thought and this is where the holes in my research started popping up - the Indian chiles are much smaller, so I had prepared huge amounts of stuffing and had to freeze half of it. I had to be very careful not to tear the tiny delicate chiles, so I had to use my fingers to stuff. Also Indian tomatoes are smaller and never ripe enough. So for the recipes that called for peeled, deseeded and chopped in cubes tomatoes, I needed more... 

All hell broke loose when I started making the eggnog (I guess 12.30 am is not a really smart time to start making eggnog from scratch, for the very first time in your life). I completely miscalculated the fact that between each phase of making it, I have to let the milk go from a boiling to a completely cooled down state. So there were long periods of wait (it didn't help at all that I helped myself to some of the rum and took generous "trial" sips from the eggnog mixture), until finally, at around 2 am, bleary eyed and slightly high, I stuck the eggnog in the fridge and crashed - no way I was going to make the mold this same night! 

The next morning, so many things went wrong, that I was really close to canceling the lunch or ordering in. The functioning of an Indian house is something of epic proportions. Each morning, the doorbell doesn't stop ringing. The cleaning lady, the ironing guy, the newspaper man, the building guard... And they all have a question for me. I was getting interrupted every 10 minutes. However if being a mother of two has taught me something, it is infinite patience. So I literally caught my breath and did something that my yoga teacher had taught me - started chanting "om" in my mind until I was centered and focused again. 

More things started going wrong when I realised somehow I had forgotten the radish for the Pico de Gallo salad, the cauliflower for the cauliflower salad, and the flowers for decoration. Also the eggnog mold was just refusing to set - so I put it in the freezer. My cook almost threw away the painstakingly made ice cubes with pomegranate seeds inside (for the welcome cocktail) because he thought that "the ice was spoilt"!! When I finally finished, I had just half an hour before the guests arrived to have a shower and change, take printouts of the menu and recipes to hand out, make the flower, fruit and vegetable arrangements, keep the starter and welcome drink ready, and put on some music ("Oriental Grooves" for lack of Mexican). When everything was ACTUALLY in place, I almost felt like high-fiving my Indian cook who would have thought "memsab" has gone crazy. 

Now I was totally looking forward to the arrival of my foodie friends, an eclectic and really fun group of women. Phew.....

This is how the table finally looked like:

One final disaster was that I had to serve one Pico De Gallo salad without the orange flower, wich had somehow gone missing in the chaos. And I did not have another orange...

But hey, I guess the tiny amount of leftovers proved that all was well... 

Everyone came dressed for the occasion, Frida style - flower hairbands, chunky jewelery, bright colours, frills... They all looked spectacular:

And the DID justice to the food and drinks:

Pico de Gallo salad

Tequila and pomegranate cocktail

Chiles stuffed with chicken & ham, in walnut sauce

Fried chicken with guacamole

Shrimp tortillas

Chiles stuffed with cheese, in tomato broth

Lettuce, cauliflower, tomatoes and beet salad

Lemon water

Eggnog mold
Meringues and Cat's tongue biscuits (Frida's favourites), courtesy my lovely friend and member of Ladies Who Lunch, Tarina Rallan, the Pagli Chef

It was also nice to get some food gifts:

In the jars, cookies made by Renisha and Vicky, LWL members - waffle cookies, lemon and pepper and oatmeal crunch. I truly hope their business venture takes off!


This appetiser, along with tequila, went really well with the mid day heat and Frida’s cook liked serving it to her and Diego’s daughters. 
(8 servings)
2 medium jicamas, peeled and sliced (I substituted them with apples)
6 white pears, peeled and sliced
2 big white radishes, sliced
2 oranges, peeled and sliced
red chili powder
Arrange the fruits and vegetable on a serving platter in an attractive design. Sprinkle with salt and chili powder.
Along with it, serve an ice cold coctail of tequila and pomegranate juice. 

This dish was made as part of Frida and Diego’s wedding buffet. With the exception of a splendid oyster soup, the wedding banquet was a modest affair. The oysters were served as an entree, thanks to the common Mexican belief that they stimulate the appetite. The guests had their choice of dishes prepared by Lupe Marin and cooks who were brought in from the nearby market place. Lupe was responsible for the Mexican rice, the white rice with plantains, the Huauzontles in green and red sauce, and these chiles... All guests had at least one slice of the delicious wedding cake that Frida had ordered from the finest bakery in Coyoacan. At that time Diego believed that only the bourgeoisie used silverware. So for the soup there were blue enameled metal spoons. The rest was eaten with the sole aid of tortillas. Celery- and pear-flavoured pulque and tequila flowed like rivers. 
Ingredients for 8 servings:
16 poblano chiles (substitute with the mild, big and long chilies available in the Indian market), roasted, peeled, devined and seeded
4 cups/450 gms queso fresco (substitute with a mix of feta and paneer)
5 eggs, separated
corn oil
For the tomato broth:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
10 medium tomatoes, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped (I did not bother - I just put them in the blender)
1/2 cup vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Stuff the chiles with cheese and dust lightly with flour. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Beat the yolks with a pinch of salt and fold together with the whites to make a batter. Dip the stuffed chiles in the batter and fry in very hot oil till golden. Drain on tissue. To serve, place the chiles in the tomato broth.
To make the broth, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and carrots until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in the oregano and continue to cook for 10 minutes more, or until the broth is flavourful and the tomatoes are cooked through. 

For Frida as for all Mexicans, September was “the patriotic month”. She threw herself into the festivities with her customary energy and excitement. On September 15th, everyone went to the Mexican Night that the authorities of Coyoacan organised every year at the Centenary Park. The next morning they watched the military parade, and the evening at the Kahlo/Rivera household saw a grand dinner to which Diego had invited his old friends, comrades all in the National struggles (Diego was a staunch communist). Chiles in walnut sauce was one of the dishes customary at the time of national holidays and a personal favourite of Frida. There is an interesting story about the origin of this dish. It is said that one of the first presidents of Mexico visited Puebla. In their determination to please him, the women of the town invented something unique to add to the feast of regional dishes: famous stuffed chiles with walnut sauce. In honour of the president, the dish combined the green of the chiles, the white of the ground nuts, and pomegranate red - colours of the Mexican flag. Frida set the table with her best white Puebla ware, blue blown-glass tumblers and pitchers filled with patriotically coloured drinks - green lime water, white rice water and red Jamaica flower water. She made a centerpiece of green, red and white pears, stuck with little Mexican flags; pomegranates and limes. 
Ingredients for 6 servings:
12 poblano chiles, roasted, seeded and devined (substitute with the mild, big and long chilies available in the Indian market)
6 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon salt
corn oil
3 pomegranates, seeded
1 kg ground pork (I subsituted this with chicken and bacon)
1 onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves
8 tbsp / 125 gms butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups tomato puree
1 apple, peeled and finely chopped
2 peaches, peeled and finely chopped (I omitted the peaches)
2 plantains, peeled and finely chopped (substituted with green bananas)
1/4 cup candied citron, finely chopped (substituted with a touch of grated lemon rind)
1/4 cup / 60 gms raisins
1/2 cup/70 g blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper
Walnut sauce:
2 cups/225 gms walnut halves
1/2 cup/70 g blanched almonds
1 cup/ 125g queso fresco (substitute with paneer)
1/2 cup half-and-half (half light cream, half milk)
1/4 cup sherry
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Rinse chiles and pat them dry. Spoon some of the filling in each of them, careful not to overstuff. Spread the flour on a plate and turn each chile in the flour to coat lightly. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Beat the egg yolks with the salt. Gently fold the yolks and whites together to make a batter. Dip chiles into the batter to cover completely. Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a heavy skillet. Fry the chiles, one or two at a time, until lightly browned. Drain on brown paper. The chiles can be served cold or at room temperature. Dip in the walnut sauce until completely covered. Arrange on a platter. Cover with a little more sauce if needed. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and parsley. 
To make the filling:
Place the minced meat, quartered onion and garlic in a saucepan. Cover with water and boil for 20 min. Drain and set aside, discarding the onion and garlic. Heat the butter in a large skillet and saute the chopped onion for about 4 min, until translucent. Add the tomato puree and cook for 10 min, stirring occasionally. Add the meat, fruit, citron, raisins, almonds, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat for about 10 min.
To make the walnut sauce:
Puree all the ingredients. If the sauce is too thick, add more half-and-half.

This chicken normally has to be served with a peanut sauce, but I decided to substitute the latter with guacamole to add a fresh and light touch to the meal. 
For the fried chicken (8 servings):
2 chickens, cut in parts
salt and pepper
Corn oil
6 eggs, separated
2 cups/240 gms bread crumbs
ground cinnamon
Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Fry in an inch of hot oil, turning occasionally, until golden and cooked through. Drain on brown paper. Beat the egg yolks until thick. Beat the egg whites until stiff and combine with the yolks to make a batter. Coat the chicken parts with cracker crumbs, then dip into the batter. Fry briefly in the oil and drain on brown paper. 
For the guacamole (8 servings)
4 ripe but firm avocados, peeled
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup/30g chopped cilantro
green chilies to taste
I could not resist adding some crushed garlic and a drizzle of olive oil
Soak the chilies in hot water for 10 minutes, combine all the ingredients, mix well and roughly crush with a fork.

(8 servings)
1 head romaine, cut in chunks
4 medium tomatoes, peeled and quartered
2 cups cooked cauliflower
2 beets, cooked and sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp mustard
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon honey
Arrange all vegetables in a sald bowl. Make the vinaigrette by mixing all the ingredients in an air-tight container and shaking vigorously. Dress the salad.

1 medium onion, chopped
4 chilies, chopped
4 tbsps/65 gms butter
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper
500 gms cooked shrimp
20 store bought tortillas (yes, I sinned :-)
Saute the onion and chilies in butter until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 minutes, until the tomato is thoroughly cooked. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes, just until they are heated through. Serve with warm tortillas on the side. 

Frida made this dessert at the occasion of the Epiphany - Feast of the Three Kings, in January, when it was traditionally a time to indulge in sweets and pastries, along with the traditional cut of Rosca de Reyes (Epiphany cake)
To make eggnog:
(8 to 10 servings)
2 quarts milk
4 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups rum
Combine milk, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 min. Add the sugar, stirring constantly until dissolved. Simmer for 30 minutes, let cool and strain. Beat the egg yolks until thick and stir into the milk. Add the baking soda and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool, stirring occasionally to prevent skin forming on the surface. When thouroughly cool, add the rum.
For the mold:
4 envelopes / 28 gms unflavoured gelatin
1/2 cup/125 ml cold water
4 cups milk
4 cups eggnog
Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let stand for about 6 minutes to soften. Bring the milk and eggnogg to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the gelatin mixture. Stir until completely dissolved. Pour into a mold and refrigerate until set, for about 2 hours. Unmold into a round platter to serve.